Akin Osuntokun: What has Buhari done to mediate in the Boko Haram conflict?

by Akin Osuntokun


If any was needed, the proof positive of Obasanjo’s hegemony was the unfettered discretionary powers he had and exercised to determine who would succeed him as president. In the attribution of presidential hegemony, Obasanjo set the precedent for his successors to follow.

In the light of the centenary celebrations it occurred to me that 100 years of Nigeria’s political history can be recalled through what I call the transitions of Nigerian hegemony; from the British colonialists to the Northern region, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and President Goodluck Jonathan. I assume that by now the Nigerian reading public is familiar with the usage of the word hegemony. It connotes the exercise of imperial dominance or preponderant influence and authority over others.

The usage originated in the context of international politics where a country or a group of countries are subordinated to the imperial and colonial domination of a more powerful country. Hegemony is also interchangeable with the concept of the sphere of influence especially with regards to the partition of Africa among the European powers; and the cold war era bipolar division of the world between America-led geopolitical Western hemisphere and the Soviet Union-led geopolitical Eastern hemisphere.

At the 1886 Berlin conference on the partition of Africa, Nigeria (the territories that were subsequently consolidated to form Nigeria) fell under the British sphere of influence. Thus as a nation the first Nigerian experience of hegemony was British imperialism and colonialism. The first phase of this British hegemony lasted till 1960 when Nigeria attained political independence and sovereignty. The second phase is called neo colonialism which describes a situation in which the formality of independence has not translated to substantial social and political autonomy; a situation in which the former colony, Nigeria, remains in a patron-client or mother-child relationship with the colonial master, the mother country, in this case the United Kingdom.

It is in the exercise of this hegemony that the British colonial authority is alleged to have manoeuvred and manipulated the Northern regional political establishment to political dominance of post-colonial Nigeria. To the extent that there is mutual commitment by both Britain and Nigeria to have Nigeria remain in the British sphere of influence; to the extent that the independence of Nigeria was amicably negotiated and guided by Britain; to the extent that the British colonial master believes it has a vested interest at stake in independent Nigeria, the allegation should not generate contention. The allegation is further supported by the theory of social reproduction and the phenomenon of neo colonialism. Social reproduction can be simplified by liking it to biological human reproduction-where a lineage, a family heritage, is perpetuated and preserved in a manner that best fosters patriarchal continuity.

Over the years, British neo colonialism of Nigeria has gradually waned resulting from a combination of internal (political maturity and economic buoyancy of Nigeria) factors; and international developments-mainly alteration of international power configuration including, but not limited to the increasing pan Africa assertiveness of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU); the formation of the Non Aligned Movement; and the recession of United Kingdom as a global power. At the instigation of its British mentor, Northern regional political hegemony gradually came to fill the vacuum created by the lingering departure of the colonial power. The succession was initially tentative and it took the highly consequential Action Group (the ruling political party in the Western Region) crisis of 1962 onwards for it to fully crystallise.

The manifestation of the new hegemony came in the form of a Tafawa Balewa federal government partisan intervention to effectively decide for the Western Region which of the two AG factions was going to constitute the regional government. Under this contrivance and apparently in conflict with preponderance of political sensibilities in the region, Premier Ladoke Akintola was returned to office while the orchestration to emasculate the Obafemi Awolowo faction ultimately climaxed with the conviction and imprisonment of Awolowo for treason.

The protracted violent political revolt that followed and the containment strategy of militarisation eventually snowballed into the military coup of January 1966 spearheaded by young Igbo military officers. By default or design there ensued a perceived Igbo hegemony personified by General Thomas Aguiyi Ironsi as military head of state which was tragically short lived. It was successfully challenged and decimated in the regional counter coup of Northern military officers in July 1966. The counter coup proved the obvious-that possession of the superior means of coercion is the ultimate guarantor of political power.

From July 1966 to the end of the civil war in 1970 and thereafter the momentum swung decisively in favour of the Northern Regional power elite as it came to be represented and led by its dominant military wing-with a brief elected civilian rule interlude between 1979 and 1983. The Northern hegemony ran into a crisis in 1993 with the mismanagement of Chief Moshood Abiola’s sneak victory at the presidential election of June 12, 1993 and its degeneration into a virulent personal dictatorship of General Sani Abacha. It was rescued by the providential death of Abacha in June 1998 and redeployed to recruit Obasanjo as elected president the following year.

President Obasanjo and defence minister, General Theophilus Danjuma, collaborated to progressively subvert the military power basis of the Northern regional hegemony from 1999 to 2003. Both dramatis personae found common purpose in their alienation from a hegemony that appeared to have gone rogue.

The alienation of Obasanjo peaked with his humiliating and near death imprisonment experience following from being framed for coup plotting. For Danjuma it is the identity crisis syndrome resulting from a deepening intra-regional schism between the Christian and Muslim North. In this mission, Obasanjo was greatly aided by the omnibus power vested in the president by the 1999 constitution and his unique military career which culminated in his appointment as military head of state 23 years earlier in 1976. He also benefited from the messianic proportions of the latitude ceded to him to retrieve a nation perched precariously at the edge of the precipice and received further ammunition from being the compensatory candidate of the Yoruba power bloc.

If any was needed, the proof positive of Obasanjo’s hegemony was the unfettered discretionary powers he had and exercised to determine who would succeed him as president. In the attribution of presidential hegemony, Obasanjo set the precedent for his successors to follow.
In an ironic twist of fate he was the first entity to experience the short end of this imperial power projection at the hands of his protégé turned Nigerian overlord. In the erection of his own hegemony late President Yar’Adua turned physical indisposition and inaccessibility into a formidable instrument of power-a personality cult of the few elect sprung up around him and stared the Nigerian public down. He had two conspicuous ramparts upon which his hegemony was hoisted-his Muslim North regional constituency and the mandatory presidential powers bestowed by the 1999 constitution. To the bargain, he boasted of two state governors as sons-in-law — and still counting — until his death.
Jonathan is distinguished in certain respects. He was installed, in exceptional fashion, not by any predecessor but by the Nigerian constitution. His predecessor, Yar’Adua, would most certainly have dictated who succeeds him were he to survive his tenure and the lucky crown prince may or may not be Jonathan. In the new Nigeria equation of balance of terror he personifies the crude oil veto. The practical meaning of this veto is that his exit from Aso Rock Villa can only be imposed by the limitation of two-term tenure not by the 2015 elections. If he decides to waive his right to seek re-election in 2015, nobody is in a position to contest his hegemonic prerogative to determine the next Nigerian who answers to Mr. President.

Now we are off to the commencement of the National Conference whose importance is not diminished by its recurrence. Again it is up to Jonathan what he makes of it. If he is overly seized with securing a second term tenure he may capitulate to the status-quo forces who do not fancy any review of Nigeria’s political structure. If he is not, then there is a possibility of a radical redress of the status-quo. But how did a president come to be this powerful and hegemonic? And does this augur well for Nigeria?
The location of the peculiarity of the all-powerful president and the personalisation of hegemony since 2003 in one single individual resides in the 1999 constitution and the progressive centralisation of power from 1966. If Nigeria is to make any progress, the trend has to be urgently reversed and I will test my hypothesis with the Boko Haram insurgency. And it goes as follows — were we to have a functional and empowered tier of government at the North-east regional level rather than the enfeebled Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States, I propose that the insurgency would have been better managed and contained than is presently the case. The omnibus presidency we operate has become a big distraction and a fall guy for our collective failure. What are we doing at the individual, community, state and regional levels to help ourselves and take responsibility?

Albeit of a much lesser magnitude, when the Western Region was confronted with the Agbekoya insurgency in the late 60s, it was the late Chief Awolowo who braved the ominous passage of the dense Akanran jungles to go and dare the lion in its den. Succour and respite soon followed. He did not wait for nor glorify in blaming the military government for governance incompetence before performing the obligation of his social and political status. I recall that it was only Obasanjo, of all the elder statesmen of similar status, who went to Maiduguri to seek mediation of the Boko Haram conflict. What is it that Generals Mohammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida and Abdusalam Abubakar especially Buhari have done?

I did not include General Yakubu Gowon because he has a permanent peace mission which even predates Boko Haram, ‘Nigeria prays’. I singled out Buhari because he compares favourably with Awolowo in sub-regional leadership popularity and he is presently the most politically active. Would it have made a difference if these leaders had followed Obasanjo’s precedent? And the so called Jonathan’s body language should not be an excuse for culpable inaction. All these personalities and regional affiliates like the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Northern Elders Committee, Afenifere, Ohaneze Ndigbo and others have been doing what pleases them without regard to his person.



Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

One comment

  1. Are the Northern Leaders to be blamed?
    By Muntasir Dauda Sharif


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