By Ntia Usukuma
Until the last century, the name quinine was one of the most dreaded among children globally. This anti- malarial drug that comes from the back of the cinchona tree has, over the years, served as the taste thresholds of other bitter substances. The substance is so bitter that other bitter elements are rated relative to quinine. When political lexicographers in Nigeria coined out the term “Tambuwalquine”, it was with the full depth of its origin.
Some call it “Saraquine” or “Dogaraquine”, but the main ingredient of this blend is clear. It is the same bitter mixture concocted and served by the All Progressives Congress (Then ACN) at the 7th House of Representatives that was reformulated by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and served at both chambers of the 8th National Assembly. The concomitant imbroglio is a reflection of just one area of the many challenges that could distract, confuse and derail the plans of Nigeria’s highly trumpeted turn –around leader, Muhammadu Buhari. The poor capacity of the system to resolve disagreement before they grow into full-blown conflict is an indicator of a cloudy future that ruffles many analysts.
Power Consolidation vs. Patronage
Conflict has always been part of the human existence. When the legendary Greek philosopher Aristotle said over two thousand years ago, that humans are political animals, and political animals they are destined to remain, he spoke from hindsight of politics being eternally a fundamental and complex human activity. In Aristotle’s view, it is that capacity to be political—to disagree, bargain, cooperate and compromise—that makes the difference between humans and animals, success and failure. Incidentally it could be the lack or refusal to exercise some dexterity in this capacity that will derail the re-engineering plans of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Unless there were enough of every valued resource to go around, or unless the world was big enough that all humans could exist without coming in contact with others, life would be a constant conflict. The type of life, philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588– 1679) describes as “war of all against all.” It is the ability to determine who, in the words of Harold Lasswell, “gets what, when and how” that saves humanity from this fate. The inability of critical stakeholders to persuade, cajole, bargain, compromise, and cooperate in the coalition or power platform called APC could be the biggest threat to the promised repackaging of brand Nigeria by the Buhari led administration. Unlike the last Nigerian government of President Goodluck Jonathan where consolidation was swift due to the limited number of power blocs, the current party in government is a by-product of different levels of partnerships and alliances. Apart from the initial four political parties or groups that formed the party namely, ACN, CPC, ANPP and a faction of APGA, we also have at present, three other major blocs within the party with varied interests. There is the Northern bloc led by the northern establishment; the
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South-West led by the National Leader of the APC, Bola Tinubu; and the five former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governors who defected to APC in 2013 led by former Rivers Governor, Chibuike Amaechi, and Senator Bukola Saraki.
Early conflict among power blocs over issues of patronage, even before the regime can consolidate its hold on power, has obviously jolted the President’s plan and pace. For those who could recall, the President had promised that he would “hit the ground running” The delay for almost a month, in the appointment of ministers, special advisers, Secretary to the government and other heads of parastatals/ units reveals the capacity of this trend of disorganisation to unsettle Buhari’s change programme.
A Deregulated Political Platform
Building a successful well-knit political coalition involves series of steps. The first is the recognition of compatible interests. Potential coalition members must be persuaded that forming a coalition would be to their benefit. To do this, members need to ascertain that the goals of all groups are similar and compatible and that working together will enhance all groups’ abilities to reach their goals, and that the benefits of coalescing will be greater than the costs. Through processes like negotiations and agreements, members combine forces to produce common objectives, norms and agreed ways to utilize resources as they aggregate power.
From what is emanating barely one month after taking over the reins of government, it is obvious that these steps were not followed through in the formation and consolidation of the political platform in power presently in Nigeria. Differences among individuals, power blocs and groups in values, preferences, beliefs, and perception seemed to have persisted or even exacerbated. Since key political decisions involve allocation of “scarce resources” like political positions and patronage, intense rivalry will continue to permeate all facets of party activities, at least in the near future. The emergence of unhealthy contention as the central dynamics in the competition for space and relevance can derail the lofty plans and promises of the Buhari administration. Within an under- bonded system that pervades APC, allegiance to blocs and individuals seems stronger than collective party interest. Party discipline, regulation and control have noticeably been challenged to near extinction.
With this type of charged scenario, distracting and destructive tendencies will continuously resurface with their concomitant destabilizing capabilities.
Politics Without Character
In a political party where elites persistently clash over issues that should normally be settled at party caucuses, binding norms and courteousness must be applied so that elites with competing interest can work together. It is compromise that makes democratic politics possible. Regrettably, comments and actions of political gladiators from the ruling party in recent times don’t reflect this.
They reveal the warped mentality of the average Nigerian politician. When a party chieftain refers to a sitting Vice President from his party as an “ordinary commissioner”, it is obvious that materialism has taken precedence over good judgment. No seer is needed to reveal that the ultimate casualties of this destructive power struggles are the lofty programmes of President Buhari on the drawing board.
Building and developing an effective team in an environment where the natural tendency is total confrontation would be a
tough task for the president. It is interesting to note that The APC leadership is making conscious effort to mend broken fences. Stakeholders must be made to appreciate the fact that effects of consensual democracy can only be created if the political engineering is implemented in an atmosphere of respect for the values and principles that are generally accepted in a modern political community.
Dexterity in Leadership
The dynamics of the current situation has created complex conditions that put the new Nigerian leader under intense pressure to create innovative and creative approaches. The aim is to manage selfish, emotional or ego concerns among players before a winning team can be created.
[ad id=”169″]Kotter in 1985 put it more succinctly: “The challenges faced by strategic leaders in implementing complex and long-range consequential decisions demand that they be sophisticated with respect to issues of leadership, power and influence. The changes that are shaping the world today require that we develop the political will, expertise and personal skills to become more flexible, innovative and adaptive. Without political awareness and skills, we face the inevitable prospect of becoming immersed in bureaucratic infighting, parochial politics and destructive power struggles, which greatly retard organizational initiative, innovation, morale and performance”
In his May 29 inauguration speech, President Buhari rightly stated Nigeria’s numerous challenges and expressed his resolve to tackle them “headlong”. He promised to fix the economy, tame the monster of corruption, tackle the Boko Haram insurgency and other forms of insecurity, sustain the rehabilitation of the Niger Delta, improve power supply, tackle unemployment, provide infrastructure, and set the nation on the path of prosperity. He also appealed to the other arms of government and the citizenry to cooperate with him in achieving these daunting tasks.
These are good agenda. But Nigerians know that this nation has never been short on policies and promises. The missing link has always been implementation. If President Buhari must succeed, he needs the technical competence and conceptual skills to develop and grow his vision while proactively managing vociferous interest groups jockeying for relevance and position. He must settle “outsiders” like the South- East and South-South zones to avoid the mistakes of the past of sidelining any group or zone with the capacity to fuel trouble in the future. He must equally manage the expectations of groups or zones who feel they are the “owners” of the new mandate so that they would not rock the boat and distract him from delivering his mandate. Now, are there indications that President Buhari has the skills to avoid the numerous “banana peels” that can distract him? Can he create a winning team that would not get mired in bureaucratic politics or dysfunctional power conflicts?
He is obviously making great efforts. His recent diplomatic maneuvers reveal his high energy and physical endurance as well as the ability and motivation to work grueling long hours despite his age. He is also directing his energy and ability to focus on clear objectives, while subordinating other interests to that objectives.
However, there are areas where lacunas exist. The management of the imbroglio over elections at the national assembly reveals the limited capacity to pay attention to small details that are embedded in the big objective. There is the possibility of such “little” issues spiraling to a critical level that can distract the team, thus affecting the pace of activities.
There are also actions that seem to project President Buhari as a Leader who has learnt to do things one specific way, and is committed to predictable choices and decisions. Top on the list is his transitional committee populated by octogenarians. It reveals a leader who has remained bonded and loyal to specific groups and friendships, without considering the need for some elements of generational shift.
Any man who rode on a messianic chariot to leadership only to witness the total dilapidation of a system he believes he left intact about 30 years ago would be tempted to brand any political player of Nigeria’s fourth republic a rogue. He would struggle to believe they have nationalistic instinct until proven otherwise. This could explain his dependence on technocrats who were his contemporaries in government.
However, there is also the possibility of this alienating the government and impeding its change programme. Already there are grumbles from the youth population. It could be recalled that the massive digital campaign of the president’s campaign team had brought out a huge segment of young people who were encapsulated by the Buhari’s message of change. There would be more rumbles in the system if the trend persists. In the first three weeks of his government, President Buhari has been to five countries on working visits. He has prevented his Vice- President from joining him during security briefings. He prefers to go solo with his Defence Chief. The fear is that this mantra of a political messiah might gradually slide into micro- management of appointees and arrogance. This will definitely stifle team motivation and choke purposeful and creative energies of ministers and other players in government. With other players showing direct or veiled apathy towards the change programme, the President might stretch himself further by over-working to deliver his goals.
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With regular burn-out and being consistently under pressure, he could become a “boiling reactor”, lacking the calm temperament required to probe for in-depth understanding of complex problems. So he may consistently solve problems at a superficial level, leading to the sure failure of the change project.
If President Buhari must succeed against all odds, his limitations must be promptly and roundly complemented by a team of dedicated politicians and savvy technocrats. The team must be adaptable and flexible enough to manage all emotional or ego concerns in all situations. They must be skilled and motivated enough to engage and deal with conflicts in order to accomplish the change agenda.
The team must be willing to take on tough issues and challenges, and execute successful strategic decisions that would expand the President’s strategic power bases. Top on the list is managing the government relationship with the opposition party since the president would need them to ensure that bills are passed seamlessly. The team must be intelligent enough to know the right time for the President to exercise restraint for future advantage.