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The Counterfactuals Of Nigeria’s Politics



By the year 1998, Nigerians had had enough of military rule. The desire for change, for true democracy was all over the air, and seemly, everyone was ready, even the military.

A few retired military generals, including the former head of state, General Ibrahim Babangida and his side -kick, General Aliyu Gusau, rooted for one of their own, a former head of state, Olusegun Obasanjo; who had previously been detained by Abacha, the deceased head of state.

When Obasanjo was overwhelmingly elected, thanks to the effort of his former military colleagues, his inaugural speech to the nation overtly displayed ingratitude. He firmly (paraphrased) said, “I thank all those who made it possible for me to attain, again, this position of responsibility to our nation, but I can tell them categorically that their effort is a wasted investment. I am my own person; I do not succumb or allude to their ideals.”

Most Nigerians who witnessed the transition from the military era to the new dawn of a democratic government didn’t understand Obasanjo’s unappreciative bile. Although his words instantly echoed throughout the political realm of Nigeria, his future actions explained the nuances of that rhetoric.

In 2006, just about one year to the terminal end of his tenure, Obasanjo had labeled his deputy, Abubakar Atiku, an unworthy successor. The then President’s failed attempt to elongate his administration into a third -term, unleashed his wraths on all suitable candidates who opposed his third-term agenda.

The former President knew that Umar Yar’Adua, the then governor of Katsina state, and a younger brother to Shehu Yar’Adua, Obasanjo’s one-time deputy in the military regime, was diagnosed with an undisclosed terminal illness. Yet, that was President Obasanjo’s choice.

As expected, Umar Yar’Adua died barely two years of a four-year tenure. His scarcely unknown vice President, Good Luck Jonathan, misruled Nigeria for six years, until the tsunami that brought Buhari to the fore of Nigeria’s leadership.

Former President Obasanjo’s counterfactual thinking truncated the socioeconomic reforms he had started. His best bet would have been the nurturing of Atiku Abubakar to advance any uncompleted programmes of his administration, but vindictiveness and malevolence were more important to him than a systematic upgrade of Nigeria’s future.

All over Nigeria’s political environment, politicians counterfactually plunge into blunders that usually erase their legacies. Political godfathers are ditched, rebuffed, and rejected by their political surrogates, with negative consequences.

My first empirical result of a godfather/surrogate conundrum was between former governor Ahmed Makarfi and his political godson, Namadi Sambo. While Sambo, a former businessman, whose benefactor was Governor Makarfi, did not incline to lead the state at the expiration his boss’s tenure, Makarfi saw no other person suitable to protect his legacy, but his surrogate. Even Haruna Saeed, one of his closest confidants, his classmate in the university, and his accountant general, did not appeal to the then governor as a possible successor.

The fundamental attribution error, again, blinded Makarfi from separating the essentials from accessories. He realized the irreversible mistake shortly after the governorship election, when Sambo won and, turned from a friend to a perpetual foe, even to this day.

Another super story of immense magnitude is the everlasting feud between Ali Modu Sheriff, the former governor of Borno state and his surrogate, the current governor, Kashim Shetima. The rift between these erstwhile political benefactor and beneficiary has exceeded its usefulness, while Borno state languishes in perennial attacks by the Boko Haram insurgents. The finger- pointing of who is the actual sponsor of the Boko Haram sect is the latest, climax of the war of words of Sheriff and Shetima, with no visible boundary for a truce.

Again, the counterfactual effect is at play here. Before handing over power to Shetima, Ali Modu Sheriff was the ultimate godfather everyone in Borno state wanted. Shortly after taking over the reign of leadership of the state from Sheriff, Shetima proudly exalted the former governor as the most prudent political leader in the country. The newly elected governor even announced that the state’s treasury had in excess of N60 billion– purportedly left behind by his predecessor, and political benefactor.

The battle between former governor of Kano state, Rabiu Kwankwaso, and his surrogate, the current governor, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, is another anecdote worthy of highlighting. When Kwankwaso left as the governor, he took his godson, Ganduje along with him to Abuja, when he, Kwankwaso, was made a minister in Obasanjo’s cabinet. Kwankwaso fought back to win a second term as the governor of Kano, after defeating Shekarau in one of the most heated elections in the state. As predicted, he made Ganduje his deputy. At the terminal end of his governorship ambition, he virtually handed over the state to Ganduje in a landslide victory for the duo.

Today, the two are the most vicious male lions of warring prides. It has become so bad that Kwankwaso aborted, on several occasions, his trip to his home state because of clashes by their pitted political camps that would have turned to extreme violence. Ganduje’s camp and Kwankwaso camp are the worst bitter political rivals in Nigeria today.

What has changed in this short period between the most admired friends of northern politics? The answer lies in our narrow view of life, the counterfactual thinking of our mind, or fundamental attribution error.

The same political battle of state titans has dawned on Akwa Ibom, too. Former governor Akpabio and his political surrogate, Udom Gabriel Emmanuel, the current governor, are at war of attrition that will eventually distort the next governorship election in Akwa Ibom state. The gladiators will clamour for followers, and will naturally become ache political rivals for a long while, just like the previous duel between Attah and Akpabio himself, when he, Akpabio, wanted to mount the stage of the state’s leadership.

The question politicians and even ordinary Nigerians must constantly review is: what is loyalty, and to what extent does the godfather expect to be served? Once power is transferred from the father to his son, the son instantly becomes the father. The war between former governor Goje of Gombe state, and the current governor, Ibrahim Dankwambo, Goje’s former surrogate, shows the primordial and parochial mind of a human being.

This week, former President Obasanjo, in his usual attitude of stirring political sentiments, criticized President Buhari of ineptitude. It has echoed all over the nation, and the reverberation will spread throughout the airwaves; raising more discontentment for Buhari’s government.

The counterfactuals dominate human minds; but only the wise can discernibly exercise restraint from being sucked by the illusions of power.



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