It was External Affairs Minister Professor Bolaji Akinyemi who, in the 1980s, spearheaded the formation of a Concert of Medium Powers. What we got in Nigeria this weekend was a Concert of Anti-Party Activists. At the weekend, news-hungry media houses splashed stories that former Secretary to the Government of the Federation [SGF] Babachir David Lawal and former Speaker of the House of Representatives Yakubu Dogara visited Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike in his country home in Rumueprikom, Obio-Akpor Local Government Area.
Insofar as Governor Wike is actively seeking to undermine his PDP party’s Atiku Abubakar/Ifeanyi Okowa presidential ticket and insofar as Babachir and Dogara are actively trying to undermine their APC party’s Bola Tinubu/Kashim Shettima presidential ticket, the threesome meeting is best described as a concert of anti-party activists. I do not know if the term existed in the First Republic. But when Second Republic politics kicked off in 1978-79, political pages of newspapers were soon replete with stories of politicians being expelled by their political parties for what was called “anti-party activity.”
Anti-party activity was broadly defined in that era to include paying a social visit to the home of a member of another party, giving out your daughter in marriage to the son of a member of a rival party, allowing tenants in your compound to hoist the flag of another party, or even being seen exchanging banters by the roadside with a member of a rival party. To politicians, anti-party activity is the equivalent of a soldier fraternising with the enemy in wartime. There was this story I once read that during the First World War, German and Allied unit commanders in one small sector in France declared a Christmas Day truce. The guns fell silent; one German soldier stood up in his trench, waved at enemy soldiers and wished them merry Christmas! Some Allied soldiers responded, and they soon emerged from trenches, met in the no-man’s land in-between and fraternized.
When the truce ended, the soldiers dived back into their trenches and resumed fighting, but with less enthusiasm. As one American soldier later recounted, a German soldier he met during the truce was his age mate, who just like him was from a rural area, who just like him dropped out of college when he was conscripted into the army, and who just like him had a mother and a sister who were praying for him to survive the war. The commanders on both sides who orchestrated that damaging truce were arrested and, at least on the German side, were executed.
Babachir, Dogara and Wike may not be in danger right now of facing the political equivalent of arrest, trial and execution by their respective political parties because both major parties are still reeling from the aftermath of their nominating conventions and in particular, their choice of presidential running mates. What did the three men discuss at their meeting behind closed doors? Babachir told reporters after the meeting that “their mission was a brotherly visit to the Governor of Rivers” because “every now and then, the Bible enjoins you to visit one another.” The question is, why did Babachir ignore this biblical prescription to visit Wike all these years, until now, when he thought he found common political cause with him? Dogara on his part said “they were on a quest to build an all-inclusive Nigeria,” meaning that his party’s Muslim/Muslim ticket is an all-exclusive Nigeria.
Tellingly, the two men went to Rivers straight from a meeting in Abuja of a hastily formed organization called APC Northern Christian Political Leaders. Back in the Second Republic, when different political associations often came together to form political parties, the first rule was to disband all previously existing groups and to insist that “everyone joins the party as an individual, not as a group.” No formal groups are allowed to form within the party afterwards, though in practice old alliances and camps persist. When a formal faction emerges within a party, such as nPDP in 2014, it was usually preparing the ground for exit. A disgruntled politician does not however exit from a party until he does as much damage to it as he possibly can. That way, he will be more valued by the new party that he defects to. In 2015 Governors Rotimi Amaechi, Rabiu Kwankwaso, Murtala Nyako, Aliyu Wamakko and Abdulfatah Ahmed did much damage to PDP before they defected to APC, where they were welcomed with open arms and state party structures were promptly handed over to them.
If Babachir and Dogara were merely setting the stage for their exit from APC, they probably overdid it because the APC Northern Christians Political Summit they organized in Abuja resembled The Great Schism of 1053AD. They did not stop at the political issue at hand, but threw in many other issues from appointment of polytechnic rectors to selection of traditional rulers. The Babachir/Dogara Schism however falls short of a Reformation because it lacked Martin Luther’s moral authority. Babachir is a problematic champion of Christendom. He fell from a prestigious government position due to the infamous grass cutter scandal. In the run up to the APC presidential primaries, Babachir did much to derail a prominent candidate, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who is also a pastor.
The most obvious reason was that Osinbajo chaired the presidential panel that probed Babachir’s deals in the grass cutter scandal and recommended his sack. How can a man who helped to torpedo the presidential aspiration of a Christian pastor, turn around and say Christians are marginalized because they did not get a running mate? Between running mate and the candidate, who is in a better position to help the faith? As for his allegations against Tinubu, it was rather late in the day to accuse him of religious sectarianism because Babachir was on record in 2015 as saying that it was Tinubu who stood firm and ensured his appointment as SGF despite opposition from some Northern quarters.
Dogara too could be interrogated for multiple standards. In 2015 when he clinched the House Speakership even though he was not favoured by President Buhari, he filled a plane with Sayawa tribal chiefs from Bauchi State and took them to Sokoto to thank Governor Aminu Tambuwal, whom he credited with single handedly making him the speaker. Maybe, as Babachir and Dogara alleged at the Summit, there is an agenda to politically, religiously and economically suppress and oppress the Northern Christian. But neither Babachir nor Dogara is a good bearer of this message, if first Tinubu and then Tambuwal helped them to attain the highest positions in their political career, as they themselves attested.
Both men were initially mentioned as likely running mates to Tinubu after he won the APC ticket. Trouble is, politicians’ top calculus in these matters is demonstrable electoral strength. Both men’s home states of Bauchi and Adamawa are PDP controlled. It was not for nothing that the three men shortlisted for Atiku Abubakar to choose his running mate from were all from PDP-controlled Southern states. APC members from Babachir’s Adamawa State and from Dogara’s Bauchi State were quick to point out that both men lost their local government areas to PDP in the 2019 presidential polls. In Babachir’s Hong LGA, they said, APC got 20,471 votes while PDP got 23,039. In Dogara’s Bogoro LGA, APC got 5,284 votes while PDP got 23,664. The kind of figures that party chiefs like are those from running mate Kashim Shettima’s Maiduguri Metropolitan LGA, where APC got 146,181 votes to PDP’s 9,632.
But if Babachir and Dogara were looking for a way out of APC, why did they go to Wike, who is possibly looking for a way out of PDP? While the two of them may be looking towards PDP, Wike might be looking in the direction of APC. He recently said that his party’s presidential candidate, Atiku, told many lies during his Arise TV interview. Wike recently tweeted that he “will speak soon and Nigerians will know the truth of all that has transpired in the PDP in recent times.” It promises to be quite a story. The operational word here is “all.” Can Wike tell all that transpired, including the tools that he used to come second at a convention widely alleged to be awash in monetary inducement of delegates?
It is not for nothing that Army Generals do not allow their troops to fraternize with the enemy in war or even in peacetime. They may find out that they have much in common. Babachir and Dogara’s visit to Wike may not achieve much because each side is looking to cross over to the side that the other is trying to exit from. Trouble is, in case each one remains where he is, they, just like that German soldier and his American enemy, will be thinking that they have much in common with the other side. Governor Wike, whose mouth is a human assault rifle, may hold off some rounds lest he hits his new found friends.