There is this widely held belief in Nigeria, though some people hold it as universal, that in any altercation between individuals of higher standing in the society with those beneath them, the bigger man never wins.
The Late Mallam Aminu Kano often cautioned in the many of his sermons, during the heady days of the second republic: He would say, in the theatre of Nigerian politics, just as in a local wrestling match, when you throw the opponent down, don’t declare victory by overturning your opponent, pinning him on the ground, and placing your legs atop his stomach, in a triumphant gesture of conquest.
The reason, the late sage used to emphasize, is that with a little loss of concentration, the very next moment could find him on top of you such that the sweet scent of victory could quickly transform into a record of monumental defeat.
This is the reason why when Rivers state political crisis began, I deliberately ignored it by taking scant interest in the selfish battles of supremacy, except from the curious perspective of a student of politics, viewing the strategic interplay of political brinkmanship, where a political gladiator takes calculated risks against a leadership with the goal of securing victory by seemingly conceding defeat.
Actually, my major interest, in all the back and forth of the political conflict, was not who won the first battles or even which party got the upper hand in the short run, but whose strategies, in the long run, secured the coveted prize in 2015.
By way of a mythic recall, what I was specifically interested in was which group best internalized the Aminu Kano prescriptions for political victory in his metaphor of the wrestling match. If anyone would need this playbook as a guide to political strategy, I badly fear it is the president whose political strategy, in the politics of Niger-Delta recommends itself for new pathways.
If we may recall, the president, through his now famous Minister of State for Education, Mr. Nyesom Wike, took away the party from the governor and striped him of every instrument of federal power, most especially, the pleasure and privilege of being a chief security officer of a state, the person who gets to control the police, thus nearly rendering him politically redundant.
Then the gloating began and the open proclamations about the defeat of an opponent, who could not even give executive orders to his state police commissioner, because, of course, the state’s chief police officer would rather see himself not answerable to the governor.
On a good day, this could have been the end of the contest of supremacy, except for the fact that the particular personality in question, though thought to be hopelessly ineffective, still retained the control of his House of Assembly, while maintaining the loyalty of the significant membership of the National Assembly from his state.
This two instrumental organs of operative democratic governance, ensured for Rotimi Amaechi a redoubtable security of tenure, as well as the ability to set a path for confronting a presidential traducer, with the state assembly shielding the governor from any attempt to impeach him, while the federal lawmakers protected their embattled junior state brethren on the task undertaken, as well as on what accrues to the state in terms of federal funding.
As such, while the Abuja politicians were celebrating clipping the wings of the local champion in Port Harcourt, a crisis of acceptability erupted at Wadata Plaza, where a group of governors under Ameachi’s influence, refused to recognize the leadership of the national chairman of the People’s Democratic Party, when the supporters of the president chose to balkanize the Nigerian Governors Forum into factions.
In the positional battles that ensued, Amaechi’s angry peers effectively severed the party into a division of two opposing blocs, thus, for the first in the history of the Africa’s largest ruling party, the disunity within the ranks of the party in power became so self evident and the power of its principal leader whittled down against a chain of dissenting defectors.
As it is now, for a president who inherited a controlling power in the National Assembly, to get to a point of struggling to maintain a simple majority in the parliament doesn’t look like a decent balance sheet.
In the lower chamber of the House of Representatives, the biggest party in Africa is now only a minority, fearful of what happens in the next coming days of legislative agenda, and wondering whether its principal officers would be forced to wear the tag and wear the new toga of minority leadership, because, you just cannot lose a sitting majority and expect the reward of having higher number of elected representative delegates to the assembly.
From the upper chamber of the Nigerian parliament, despite the absence of clarity on who belongs to where, in terms party membership, what is at least clear is that the People’s Democratic Party still controls the Senate, or better to say, at least the loyalty of the majority of its membership.
However, after what happened a forthnight ago in Rivers state, repeated again last week, when a serving senator of the Federation was openly assaulted by the Nigerian police, the equilibrium has suddenly shifted, and the primal law of self and selfish institutional preservation has taken effect.
True, Magnus Abe, may be an opponent of the president, and a local operator within the context of Rivers politics, giving the administration the false comfort that he is a fair game in the destructive exchanges which defines political differences in the state, it soesnt easily add up that way.
In the context of the Nigerian systemic norm, he is also the representative of an institution, which has the mantra of peer equality in a distinguished chamber of power. This is a kind of a close-knit group of individuals, who are very jealous of their privileges, even if they hardly care about their other constitutional responsibilities. Thus, any attack on one of them is akin to an intrusive invasion against all, which will at the very least, leave the legislative agenda of the seeming attacker in peril.
Nasiru Suwaid, a constitutional and human rights attorney, lives and writes from kano where he is also a community development advocate.