The Nigerian presidency: Assault with a deadly weapon

Pius Adesanmi

Americans love to describe their president as the most powerful man on the face of the earth largely because of their ignorance of the omnipotence of the Nigerian presidency. In Nigeria, we have been able to perfect a travesty of Federalism which gives the head of the Executive arm of government powers unheard of over the state, over ALL other arms of government, and, over the constitution, and, above all, over the life of the citizen. The Nigerian presidency has powers to decide whether you live or die. The American presidency has no such powers. The Nigerian presidency can decide whether you die alone or you go as part of a pogrom or mini-pogrom. The American presidency has no such powers.

The Nigerian presidency’s post-civil war pogroms on unarmed civilians includes Umuechem, Odi, Zaki Biam, Agge, and Gbaramatu kingdom. The American presidency does not have the power to order air strikes on American civilians on American soil. The White House cannot wipe out an entire county. Babangida destroyed Umuechem, Obasanjo leveled Odi, Yar’Adua ordered air strikes on Gbaramatu kingdom. In America, they would be doing life without the option of parole by now. Yar’Adua’s family would be lobbying for a posthumous pardon, which may come more than a century after his crime.

 If Louis XIV stopped at “L’état, c’est moi”, the Nigerian presidency adds the literal letter of the Yoruba monarchical philosophy to that once upon a time aberration of the French state. Because the king in Yoruba monarchy is an earthly representative of all chthonic forces, he is “alase ekeji orisha” (owner/wielder of authority, second only to the orishas); his essence is demiurgic, hence, to his subjects who are mere mortals, he is “ka bi ee si” (kabiyesi): you don’t ask him any questions because he is not accountable to you. Combine these attributes of Yoruba monarchical philosophy with Louis XIV’s travesty of the state and the result is the Nigerian presidency. I say literal letter of the Yoruba monarchical philosophy because the Yoruba were wise enough to invent checks and balances that are indissociable from the institution of kabiyesi. The Nigerian presidency has the authority of kabiyesi without the checks and balances.

I emphasize the presidency and not the president for good reason. Because our presidency is an institutionalized travesty of democracy and Federalism, no President, no matter how well-intentioned, can escape the trap of despotism because even the most routine exercise of your constitutional powers, the most mundane performance of your constitutional duties, already makes you a despot in our strange democratic dispensation. It is precisely these immense and unheard-of powers that make the Nigerian presidency extremely dangerous. In the wrong hands, the Nigerian presidency is a deadly weapon. Bad news: the Nigerian presidency has always been in the wrong hands, is currently in the wrong hands, will always be in the wrong hands unless Occupy Nigeria rises up to its historic potential by forcing a fundamental redefinition of the Nigerian project.

One paradox: as omnipotent as the Nigerian presidency is, it is almost the most vulnerable to hijack in the history of modern democracy. Because of the nature of our system and politics, there is no clean and decent way to become the President of Nigeria. You get there through an accumulation of political and other dubious IOUs to “chieftains”, “stakeholders”, “elder statesmen”, and “business cartels” whose selfish interests and private agendas are always antithetical to the common good. Every president gets to office neck deep in political and other debts; every president gets to office a peon of the enemies of the Nigerian people; every president gets to office as a mere guarantor of the first function of the Nigerian presidency: the distribution of limitless patronage to the interests who put him there.

The Federal cabinet and the president’s coterie of personal aides are always a reflection of his loyalty to these narrow interests who only exist to defend a philosophical conceptualization of Nigeria as a national cake baked only for less than 1% of the population. When the incumbent president is sick or weak, the omnipotence of the Nigerian presidency falls into the hands personal aides, powerful ministers, and select “chieftains” and “stake holders”. Welcome to a scenario that my good friend, Patrick Obahiagbon, has recently defined as cabalocracy. That was what we had with President Yar’Adua and we need not rehash that recent history here. That is what is currently going on with Goodluck Jonathan.

What Obahiagbon failed to add to his cogent coinage is that cabalocracy transforms the Nigerian presidency into a deadly weapon in the hands of the people who hold the president hostage, misadvise him, and transform his presidency into the number one enemy of the Nigerian people. While Yar’Adua’s cession of the immense powers of the Nigerian presidency to the hijackers who surrounded him can be somewhat excused on account of his illness, two three reasons account for the much-similar scenario now unfolding with the Presidency of Goodluck Jonathan: personal weakness, intellectual inferiority, pedigree deficiency.

It is no longer news that the likes of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, Diezani Allison Madueke, Mohammed Adoke, on the one hand; and aides like Oronto Douglas, Reuben Abati, and even the lowly Reno Omokri whose brief is Facebook and Twitter on the other hand, are the new presidential hijackers in town. Of course, more hijackers abound in the sinewy mould. I have only limited the list to the most garrulous ones.

President Jonathan is a study in personal weakness and intellectual inferiority, never mind his alleged doctorate in zoology. Imagine the combined intellectual firepower of the incorrigible paracletes the Bretton Woods/Washington consensus theology around him: Okonjo Iweala, Allison Madueke, and Lamido Sanusi Lamido. Do you believe that a president, who cannot even successfully place one incoherent sentence after another incoherent sentence in a scripted address to the nation, can hold his own in a strategy meeting on the economy with these IMF/World Bank agents? Worse, as Dele Momodu reminds us, Iweala, Madueke, and Lamido Sanusi are aje butter kids who enjoy immense class and pedigree superiority over the shoeless kid from the backwaters of Otuoke. They intimidate him. Do you also see the President holding his own in a conversation with Reuben Abati, the latest convert to the anti-people philosophy of the Bretton Woods jihadists who have hijacked the president? Reuben Abati is a First Class product of the Arts and, until recently, one of Nigeria’s most formidable public intellectuals. Really, the President stands no chance.

It is easy to see why the aforementioned hijackers of presidential powers and initiative are extremely dangerous. In their hands, the omnipotent Nigerian presidency is a deadly weapon and the fuel subsidy removal tragedy makes all of them guilty of assault with a deadly weapon against the Nigerian people. The hijack scenario also foregrounds the necessity of a struggle to redesign and redefine the Nigerian presidency. The nightmare we experienced with the hijack of the presidency under Mr. Yar’Adua was an occasion for us to go back to the drawing board and put measures in place to forestall a reoccurrence. There should have been a process to punish the hijackers after Yar’Adua’s death. Michael Aondoakaa and all the Yar’Adua cabalocrats should have been tried and convicted for numerous offences against the Nigerian state. That would have established precedence and deterrence. That would have warned future aides and Ministers that our democratic polity is now more conscious of the nature of the advice they give to the president: that there is a price to pay for irresponsible advice.

As with all things Nigerian, we did nothing and we are now paying the price. We have a worse and more corrupt Attorney General in Mohammed Adoke who understands that Aondoakaa got away with his crimes against the Nigerian people. A vastly intellectually superior breed of hijackers has emerged and their pawn, Goodluck Jonathan, is even weaker and intellectually inferior to Yar’Adua. Therefore, the future we envision must necessarily be one in which Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, Allison Madueke, Mohammed Adoke, Labaran Maku, Lamido Sanusi Lamido, Oronto Douglas, Reuben Abati, and Reno Omokri, shall face formal consequences for their role in this national tragedy. The era of walking free after an irresponsible hijack of the presidency must be over after the current brood of hijackers. Beyond N65.00 and sundry issues, Occupy Nigeria must take a close, hard look at the Nigerian presidency. Unless that Presidency is demystified and redesigned, we will always temporarily postpone our problems.


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