My teacher and mentor, both academically and in the practical world of politics and activism since the 1980s, Prof. Jibrin Ibrahim (Mallam Jibo), in his Daily Trust column of April 5, 2019 argued that the decision of the All Progressives Congress leadership to endorse the candidature of Senator Ahmed Lawan and Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila for Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives amounted to imposition. Citing Comrade Adams Oshiomhole’s (APC National Chairman) firm position to the effect that the only position the party is not interested is that of Minority Leader, Mallam Jibo accused the APC of being “rash, brash, haughty and self-aggrandising in the management of party affairs.” Perhaps to justify his position, he pointed “numerous unverified stories about financial dealings being the currency of post allocation in the running of party affairs.”
These are very weighty statements and may be one should ask is there a relationship between “rash, brash, haughty and self-aggrandising” management of party affairs and the decision to endorse Lawan and Gbajabiamila for the leadership of the ninth National Assembly? If “financial dealings” is “the currency for post allocation in running party affairs”, could that imply that Lawan and Gbajabiamila procured the endorsement of the party leadership? May be discussion of issues around the contest for the 9th National Assembly leadership only presented an opportunity to rub in the subject of party management. The decision of the party to endorse Lawan and Gbajabiamila may not be related after all. But it is for Mallam Jibo to confirm.
A major submission of Mallam Jibo was that the National Assembly has won the autonomy battle and the Presidency and the party cannot impose leadership that it does not want. Citing Senator Ali Ndume’s declaration for the Senate Presidency, he said: “I suspect it is too late for the APC to retrace its step.” Is there any need for any retracing of step? Could the retracing of step here imply withdrawal of the party’s endorsement for Lawan and Gbajabiamila? Assuming the party is to take such a step, what value will that present for our democracy? Reading through Mallam Jibo’s column, I have serious difficulty reconciling his prescription that APC leadership, in this case President Muhammadu Buhari and Comrade Adams, should focus themselves to “cajoling” members. How should this “cajoling” be carried out, if I may ask? How can this be any different from what was done in 2015?
Some reminders may be helpful in this respect. In 2015, for over three months, the party, at different levels, locked itself in meetings after meetings with members-elect, exploring as many negotiating options as possible. At some point, there was the reported internal contest, something akin to a primary. Somehow, the contending aspirants simply just refused to accept all resolutions. One of the dummies sold by the Abubakar Bukola Saraki group against both Lawan and Gbajabiamila, for instance, in 2015, was that of being surrogates of the National Leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. It is interesting how now they are also being accused of the same thing, this time around surrogates to Comrade Oshiomhole and President Buhari.
It is unbelievable that Mallam Jibo is the proponent of the 2019 allegation. Often, we try to use very negative terminologies to condemn what we detest. In this particular case, it is distasteful to be associated with Comrade Adams and President Buhari. Would it have been more encouraging if Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Chief Uche Secondus (Peoples Democratic Party National Chairman) have endorsed them? In which case, then it will be very democratic for Lawan and Gbajabiamila to aspire for the positions as surrogates of Abubakar and Secondus? I am very sure, this is not what Mallam Jibo is looking for. But unfortunately, his analysis suggests that anybody but President Buhari and Oshiomhole may be right to endorse Lawan and Gbajabiamila. If one can ask: what should be the role of the party in constituting the leadership of the 9th National Assembly? Why do we have parties, if so-called liberalism suggests no role or responsibility for the party and its leaders in the process of leadership formation?
One is inclined to believe that the hangover arising from some of the bitter contests during the 2019 elections appears to be influencing most contemporary political analysis. Some of our leading scholars, including Mallam Jibo, make some simplistic submissions reducing political contests to some moralistic expectations. Interestingly, however you look at it, President Buhari and Oshiomhole, being leaders of APC (the ruling party), will always be unpopular. In other words, give or take, win or lose, they will be condemned as both the problem of the party and the nation. Whether Lawan and Gbajabiamila win the leadership of 9th National Assembly or not, there will always be some problems traceable to the party, Buhari and Oshiomhole. This underscores the fact that in the end leadership is not popularity contest. No further explanation on this will be required when one remembers that President Buhari and Chief John Odigie-Oyegun (immediate past APC National Chairman) were inadvertently responsible for the emergence of Saraki and Hon. Yakubu Dogara as leaders of the 8th National Assembly. Why? Simply because they cajoled and cajoled, with President Buhari openly declaring that he will not intervene in the process of electing leaders of the 8th National Assembly. How else could he have demonstrated so-called celebrated recognition of the independence of the National Assembly?
As a young student in the 1980s, Mallam Jibo and all my political science teachers taught me that political competitions are contests for supremacy. Under liberal democracies, we were taught that political parties are the platforms for the contests and one of their functions is that of aggregating interests. May be “cajoling” is one of the strategies a party could use to aggregate interests of its members. Be that as it may however, I think somehow, coming from the President Olusegun Obasanjo’s garrison madness, which Mallam Jibo acknowledges, we are unable to concede that APC is in truth more liberal in its handling of leadership negotiations within the party. The sad commentary could be that even our politicians who are members of the party are not used to operating under liberal atmosphere, which may have accounted for the era of hostility between the APC Presidency and a fabricated National Assembly leadership that was pretentiously APC but PDP in every respect between June 2015 and October 2018.
My political science teachers, both in classrooms and our Marxist study groups, shaped my worldview with the incontestable knowledge that politics is all about contest for power and however one looks at it, it is a dictatorship. Those were times when hardly could there be any political discussion without reference to the opening statement of the Communist Manifesto – the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle. In those glorious times, struggle was hardly in contention. Rather, what was the contention was class struggles and the denial of any possible revolutionary outcome. While issues around the contest for the leadership of the 9th National Assembly cannot be interpreted based on class struggle analysis, they are however struggle nonetheless. Could there be any manifest elements of dictatorship? What could be the possible variables driving such dictatorship?
To be fair would be to recognize issues more objectively. Under PDP and especially under President Obasanjo, leadership imposition was the name of the game at all levels. All candidates produced by PDP for leadership at all levels have to be sanctioned by the Presidency. The party, PDP, was in every respect extension of the Presidency. It had no voice but that of the Presidency. Such a framework produced unstable situations especially between 1999 and 2007. Virtually all the legislative sessions experiences leadership disruptions in at least one of the chambers. The only exception was the 7th National Assembly, which had Senator David Mark and Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal from 2011 to 2015. Mark partly because of being the Senate President of the 6th Senate enjoyed the support of Jonathan Goodluck’s Presidency to continue as leader of the 7th Senate and by extension the support of the party too. Hon. Tambuwal was however a product of rebellion as the choice of the Presidency and the party for the Speaker of the 7th House of Representatives was Hon. Mulikat Akande. Having therefore rebelled against the Presidency and the PDP, Hon. Tambuwal’s leadership of the 7th House of Representatives had to defy all machinations to get it out of office, including forceful security take over.
This must be what Mallam Jibo must have referred to as “hard-earned autonomy”. It is also the inspiration for the exciting leadership contest that took place in both chambers of 8th National Assembly in 2015. May be if the rebellion in the 7th House of Representatives of 2011 did not take place, the 2015 narrative would have been different. Why aren’t we then celebrating Chief Odigie-Oyegun and President Buhari for the outcome of the 2015 contests in both chambers? Without doubt, Ndume would want to ride the 2011 “hard-earned autonomy” to contest the decision of the APC to endorse Lawan and Gbajabiamila. I don’t think we should debase the justification of leadership aspirants opposed to the choice of Gbajabiamila in the House of Representatives with reference to ethno-regional mobilization. We don’t have to agree with them but we need to respect their choices just as they respect those of us supporting the party’s choice of Gbajabiamila.
This is where I have a big problem with Mallam Jibo’s arguments in his column of April 5, 2019. If Lawan and Gbajabiamila are “excellent choices” for the leadership of the 9th National Assembly, what should be the role of our (organic) intellectuals who are expected not just to engage in social commentary and analyzing mistakes and shortcomings of leaders but more importantly to facilitate socio-economic and political changes? Having known Mallam Jibo and been one of his committed students all my working life, I will expect that consistent with his teachings, he will further expatiate how Oshiomhole and Buhari can “cajole” APC senators-elect and House members-elect to ensure the emergence of Lawan and Gbajabiamila. Maybe it is a matter that needs to be addressed confidentially. Three issues need to be recognized however.
First, Ndume should be acknowledged both by the party leadership and President Buhari. Under no circumstances should Ndume get projected negatively for merely expressing his resentment. Oshiomhole as National Chairman must take steps to bring Ndume very close such that he is able to earn his friendship. It is a case similar to the kind of opposition he experienced in the hands of the leadership of petroleum unions (NUPENG and PENGASSAN) when he was President of NLC. Without disclosing much, I am sure Oshiomhole will understand the point being made here. It is a responsibility, which can be discharged through proxies.
Secondly, related to this is the need to ensure the institution of some regulatory requirements in the conducts of both Lawan and Ndume and by extension all aspirants for all leadership positions in both chambers. There are very hard decisions that party need to take. Beyond pronouncing the endorsement of Lawan and Gbajabiamila, what other steps could the initiate, especially with reference to the rule of the National Assembly to ensure control of the leadership emergence? Difficult as it may appear, this is necessary given that the party is also developing its own conventional approach for democratic selection process.
The third issue is that the public endorsement of both Lawan and Gbajabiamila by President Buhari and Oshiomhole is just the first step. I think the fear of Mallam Jibo is that given recent experiences during the APC primaries for the emergence of 2019 candidates, the process of leadership negotiation for the 9th National Assembly risk being mismanaged. This is a valid fear. But do we need to overload such fear will all the unverified public allegations against Oshiomhole to make this fear legitimate? Certainly not. In any case, some of these allegations bordering on financial impropriety are simply untrue. Unfortunately, because we are in a society that has condemned every leader as a thief, all criticism against our public officials are incomplete unless they include allegations of corruption even if they are unverified as Mallam Jibo himself acknowledged. Mallam Jibo is certainly way beyond that.
Finally, does the party’s endorsement of Lawan and Gbajabiamila really represent imposition? Or does the resentful decision of Ndume to offer himself for the Senate President mean a rejection of the party’s decision? I believe that both the party and President Buhari, for being able to take a definite position on the leadership of the 9th National Assembly, are taking every step to correct the problem of 2015. More importantly, I think the definitive position of the party present a negotiable threshold. So also the offer from Ndume is a bargain commitment. The question is: will there be negotiation? Will the party leadership, Lawan, Ndume and all the aspirants come to the bargain as contestants seeking to win votes or will they come as warlords fighting to conquer fellow legislators? How can we help in ensuring that the process leading to the emergence of the leadership of the 9th National Assembly institute a democratic negotiation platform? Mallam Jibo’s brash commentary begs more questions than answer!
. Lukman writes from [email protected] and is of the Progressive Governors Forum, Abuja.