[Being an open letter to Professor Itse Sagay]
Comrade, greetings! You finally gave a piece of your mind to the bosses of the ruling party, the APC, this past week. The disappointments, the frustrations of serving as the Chair of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) finally erupted into a heady verbal and moral faceoff with the leadership of the APC. From the ruling party itself, the work of yourself and the other members of the PACAC was being undermined and “wasted” and you couldn’t take it any more. You are a man of tremendous moral energy and unstinting dedication to principle. But, obviously, the party bosses did/do not know you as those of us who have been your colleagues in the academic and legal professions know you. Dem no know say you be no nonsense man!
At first, you were restrained and even wily in your criticism of the party bosses. You called them “rogue elephants” who were gradually and inevitably destroying the APC. You also said they were “weak” and “unprincipled”. It is a great moral and political condemnation to be described as “weak” and “unprincipled”, but apparently, that was not what got under the skin of the party bosses in your criticism. What got to them, what angered them was being called “rogue elephants”. Now, this is rather funny because that idiomatic phrase does not mean being a thief, a rogue; it means being wild, uncontrollable and aberrant. The phrase comes from the world of nature in which an elephant or any animal that naturally and typically belongs to a herd breaks away from the group and begins to act wild in pursuit of its own impulses and desires. Not understanding this, the party bosses thought that a “rogue elephant” is a rogue and therefore you, the Chairman of PACAC, was calling them rogues! And in great umbrage, they unloaded all manner of accusations and assaults on you and your character. In particular, they said you were an opportunist who was ungrateful and disrespectful to President Buhari who had made you the Chairman of PACAC.
I do not wish in this open letter to go point by point or blow by blow over your imbroglio with the APC party bosses. I admit that I found the exchange very colorful and indeed somewhat very close to political theatre of a high satirical order, even if it was not pre-scripted and happened in real time. “I am an accomplished man, not a ‘come and chop’ politician like you” you said in what I considered the coup de grace in your counter-attack on the party bosses. But let us leave all this aside and go straight to the main point of this open letter to you. And what was this? It is the fact that you mentioned names and took sides in what you take to be a raging internal battle within the APC for the soul, the conscience of the party. In the interest of those who might have missed this encounter between you and the APC party bosses, permit me to give a brief outline of the cast of characters and the battle lines that you indicated in your ersatz dramatis personae. I might also add here before giving an elaboration of the point at the end of this essay, that I disagree almost completely with how you characterize the internal battle within the APC.
For now, here’s how you line up and characterize the forces in contention within the APC today. On one side, the side of the good guys, the heroes, the protagonists, are Buhari, Osinbajo and Tinubu. Of Buhari in particular you are unrestrained in your praise, your glorification: “a man of great honour and integrity and who I admire and who inspires me.” And you add, with respect to the Vice President, Osinbajo: “I took this job because of Buhari and Osinbajo, who I admire greatly.” On the other side, the side of the villains, the traitors and turncoats, the antagonists, are Bukola Saraki, the Senate President, John Odigie-Oyegun, the Party Chairman, and ‘one’ Bolaji Abdullahi. In this lineup, you cast Saraki as evil and treachery incarnate, one whose goal is to destroy the APC in the pursuit of his unbridled ambition, an ambition in the pursuit of which he is willing not only to destroy the APC but the country itself.
To provide a resonant historical support for this stunning plot outline, you invoke the example of the wartime British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, whose appeasement policy toward Hitler led to the invasion and bombardment of his homeland by Hitler. Your point, Comrade Itse, in making this analogy is unmistakable: all the tolerance of corruption, all the broken electoral promises, all the indecisions and outright lack of moral imagination and political will that we are seeing in the APC today, all are aspects of a serial concatenation of appeasements of Saraki, the evil genius who is biding his time and will strike and destroy the APC when the time is ripe for him to do so. And for good measure, here’s what I think you’re suggesting, you’re hinting as the “moral” of this symbolic and cautionary demonization of Bukola Saraki: appeasement never works with evil and megalomaniacal power brokers; the more you appease them, the more they wax stronger and bolder in their nefarious schemes and ambitions.
Am I fair and accurate in my summation of your vision of the internal battle within the APC today, Comrade Itse? I hope so. At any rate, based on that summation, I now wish to make a few comments that will hopefully demonstrate the relevance of the essential component of the title of this essay: the condition, the dilemma of being between a rock and a hard place. The dilemma in this condition lies not in the fact that a rock and a hard place are virtually identical; rather, the dilemma lies in the fact that you cannot not choose between them. In other words, I am arguing that if, like you, we must choose Buhari and his faction over Saraki and his gang, we must at least recognize that one side is not a soft, lush place while the other side is a hard, hard place; they are both hard, very hard, Comrade!
Of Odigie-Oyegun and Bolaji Abdullahi, I have little to say beyond the fact that everyone who knows what is going on within the APC knows that right from the formation of the party to the present time, Buhari has had little or no respect for the Party Chairman. This is bad enough, but the matter gets even more onerous because it is also well-known that Buhari does not have much respect for the party itself. Since I cannot believe that you do not know of this fact, Comrade Itse, I must say that it surprises me that you leave it completely out of your account, your profile of the battle for the soul of the party. In other words, Comrade, APC has no soul; or, perhaps more accurately expressed, its soul is still uncreated because no political party comes into existence with its soul, its humanistic conscience, already in place. Buhari had and still has a big role to play in the creation of the soul and the conscience of the party, but how in the world can he play this role when he thinks so little of the party, never mind the fact that it finally fetched him the presidency after three previous and totally hopeless attempts?
I suspect, Comrade Itse, that the tolerance of or for corruption of which we see so much in the APC is what troubles you the most in your critique of the problems with the leadership of the party. If your point was only and exclusively the observation that Bukola Saraki and the legislature over which he presides together constitute the most arrant manifestation of this great tolerance for corruption, I would have been totally in agreement with you. But isn’t it the case that tolerance of corruption is to be seen everywhere in the ruling party and in the federal administration that the party supervenes? Wasn’t it from the presidency itself, acting in concert with Saraki’s legislative stronghold, that opposition to the appointment of Ibrahim Magu as the substantive Chairman of the EFCC was mounted?
What of the case of the brazen act of corruption against the suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir David Lawal? Did Buhari himself not tolerate it by the inordinate circumspection with which he shielded the SGF from swift and equitable justice? And the appointment of Abubakar Malami as the Attorney General of the Federation? Nothing, absolutely nothing in his experience and character gives the slightest hint that Malami has the will, the wisdom and the cunning to direct the war on corruption on the legal front, the most crucial of all the redoubts of corruption in our country. The only excuse that can be offered in exculpation of Buhari’s appointment of this man as the AGF is the probability that the President himself had little understanding of what it would take to effectively fight corruption in our judicial order. But that excuse is not good enough, Comrade!
In bringing this open letter to you to its conclusion, let me add, Comrade Itse, that it seems to me that the real basis of your righteous tirade against Odigie-Oyegun and Saraki is the suspicion that in the coming presidential elections of 2019, Saraki will do to the APC what he did to the party in his seizure of the senate presidency in 2015, that is betray the APC by linking up with elements of the floundering former ruling party, the PDP. Most political commentators and pundits in the country think so too. As much as I think that this hunch is correct and needs the critical attention of all truly progressive and patriotic Nigerians, I don’t think that it should be the focus of our attention and energies in the months and years ahead of us.
I shall be completely frank with you on this matter. We are between a rock and a hard place. More correctly, we only seem to be so. In reality we are between many diverse rocks and hard places. This is because there are not two but possibly four to six major factions within the APC. And not one of them is truly and genuinely progressive enough to warrant our tying our fates, our destinies with it. If I am wrong in coming to this conclusion, do let me know. You have spent most of your adult, professional life struggling for a just, egalitarian and truly democratic order in our country. I salute the humility with which you talk about those you respect and admire within the APC. But I ask you to think of those that YOU have inspired, within and beyond the APC. Please, Comrade, protect and safeguard that hard-won integrity and independence!