Opinion: Buhari’s Shadow – By Sam Omatseye
Very few who are familiar with Abubakar Malami will doubt that he is a cocky man. He is a sort ofTunde Idiagbon, a shadow of Muhammadu Buhari. He hardly smiles in public. He has a stern mien, and speaks in even tones. His eyes sometimes peep into a soulless heart. He detonates but does not emote. Unlike Idiagbon, he wears no uniforms. However, his web of power is a subtle cult. It is like a spider’s malignant design. More powerful than the Ilorin-born soldier. Malami is an attorney-general, Idiagbon a general. But the soldier had no attorney. He was a one-faced warrior. Malami is both attorney and a predator of justice. That is fatal. He speaks to the president. The president agrees. He does not need to be right. He has to bring his sophistry as an artist of persuasion. The shadow is more powerful than the man.
In a sense, he is the chief mocker of the commander-in-chief. He probably laughs to himself, “once I tell him in a certain way, and project both sides of the issue and pretend I don’t belong in either, he will fall to the side I gently nudge him to.” He tries it. It works. It happens again and again. He has done it quite a few times. Whether it is about herdsmen, or NDDC, or the debt fight with governors. He skews the law and the president acquiesces. So, why not with the electoral law? Hence, they go to him who want to win, and he calculates where to pitch his tent.
Malami, whether we admit it or not, is Nigeria’s most powerful man. He is the giant in Aso Rock, not the president. Russian writer Anton Chekhov said a giant should not use his power like a giant. The shadow is scarier than the man. Malami does not use the giant status for good. He knows how to flatter the man’s secret hopes.
It is just like English man Thomas Cromwell who made his king Henry VIII into a marionette, and he became the throne beside the throne, a skein recreated to its psychological detail in Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.
Even those on Malami’s side who admire him do not like him. The governors, for example. They exchanged barbs barely a month ago over debts and deals. Now, the same governors have hidden under his many-layered skirt-like Anna Bronski, the wife of an arsonist who loved the skirts and grandmother of the anarchist Okar in what some critics believe is the best novel of the 20th century, the tragi-comic tale The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass.
So, the firestorm over direct primaries became a joy of foes. It reflects the drifts and quicksand of our political class. They embrace and race away, they hug and huff, and loyalties are as constant as the weather. The governors wanted indirect primaries. It was not a philosophical quest for them. It was a gladiatorial contest. They are desperadoes of survival. They want to pick their successors. The want to go to the senate. They want to remain puppeteers. They want to continue as monarchs of democracy. The system, though called a democracy, must continue as a ruse on their own account.
This is not the place to quibble over patches of the president’s infelicitous prose like the phrase “implications on.” But to say that the argument was specious, and insincere. The notion that direct primaries contradict freedom of choice is elitist. Who is making the choice? The party members, or the governors and a few wheel horses?
I recall the story of a former governor, now a minister, who did not like an unconscious quip by a house of representative member. He decided he would not return to the house. The fellow has not up till today. It was the whim of a man to decide who will represent a whole people. The fellow wanted a chance to beg. It never happened.
Those who say we should not go the direct route because it is too expensive are mere hypocrites. Where don’t we spend money? The general elections are vast, and they still spend money. I would rather we spend and get the right people than turn this democracy into a cult of a few men. We also forget that the Nigerian voter is getting wiser. They are learning to collect without being collected. They take your money and vote elsewhere. We are seeing it in the major polls already. The Anambra Governor poll reflected how many, especially in the APC and PDP, wanted money badly but wanted their Chukwuma Soludo more badly. We remember the iconic woman who turned down an offer. That is how democracy is brewed. Soludo won, in spite of money. We have to dare, and risk the democratic enterprise with the people rather than stay safe with governors. The president voted safety over venture. It is the coy option.
Ekiti Governor Kayode Fayemi did not speak truth to his hut when he said the governors are not afraid of direct primaries. We know the options are not that open. The other position that the people do not decide but they are influenced is correct. Democracy is a game of influences. Each side must make its case. Democracy absorbs influences in pockets around a constituency. Whoever wants to be nominated as governor must work hard across the board. He must meet the power centres who have great influence in their communities. The power centres are often trusted. They feel the pulse and project their demands and interests through these big men. That is what, for want of a better word, we call structure. Democracy is egalitarian when big men channel the fears and hopes of the common folks. It is not always perfect. The big men are not always good men. But they are the best we have and they are not always in charge. They also have to win or be defeated. The power to represent is one of the cardinal uncertainties of democracy. The fear is how do we define popular? Who is popular? How does the powerful man in a democracy become an autocrat?
That is what many theorists are debating in the wake of the rise of despots like Trump and Erdogan. Hitler was a product of democracy. It is not perfect, but it is the best means of popular persuasion known to man. So, ideas like direct primary are its own way of refining it for the people.
Is it an irony that a man who rose on the waves of Talakawas decided to pen his approval against the spirit of the Talakawa? The feudal lords who did not like Buhari’s rising will now benefit from his anti-talakawa signature. If it was so right to avoid corruption and expense, why not propose the general elections to be a platform of choices that could also occlude mass elections? After all, democracy started that way. In the United States, it started as a system of rich white men. Men like John Adams believed that majority should not vote. They are too foolish. Philosopher J.S. Mill described the majority as foolish. Former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli wanted votes to be weighed like fish in the market. Some people’s votes are bigger than a thousand men. That negates the American creed that “all men are created equal.”
The president through his Malami has cancelled for a generation a chance for the people to take back their democracy. It is a stab at equality. If the president were running for another term, I doubt if he would have taken that route.
This is no system by the people. Jefferson lamented that democracy only worked on election day. Not even so yet in Nigeria. Revolutions started because the people wanted to overthrow a greedy elite. In the collapse of the French Revolution, some Bonapartists, including Abbey Sieyes, coined the phrase: “Power from above, confidence from below.” It is what some have phrased in latin, “Pars imperans, Pars subdita” (some to rule, some to obey). This is in contrast with the revolutionary in the days of the 20th century Russian ferment who proclaimed, “if the system does not change from the top to the bottom, then it must change from the bottom to the top.”
This rather is a democracy of obedience.