Situating Jonathan In The Power Grid By Femi Odere

Enough  empirical evidence has made two
things to be crystal clear since the
advent of Nigeria’s democratic
dispensation in 1999. The first is that
Nigerians are not in charge of their
country because they’ve been practically
excluded from the economic and
political conditions that affect their
existence as a people. The second is that
Nigeria was never founded on justice,
equity and fair play. The country’s
political arrangement is such that her
rulers are always from the same small
clique of people, probably not more than
a hundred, out of which a chief of
state—either military or civilian—
emerges. This structure has been in
place since the civil war. It is a political
arrangement that John Campbell dubbed
the “patron-client networks” in his
seminal book.
Campbell is no ordinary foreigner. He
probably knows Nigeria inside out,
including all her secrets as result of his
position as a former US ambassador to
Nigeria. In the book titled “Nigeria
Dancing on the Brink” Campbell lucidly
dissects Nigeria and its political players,
which, to the discerning, may have
explained why the country may never
amount to much in terms of
development because of this entrenched
“patron-client networks,” the only road
through which political power can be
attained. How these networks works in
the book is just one of the startling
revelations about a seemingly hopeless
Nigerian condition. In the book, the
author says that the networks have
rules, which is virtually unwritten but
well understood. A patron at the helm
of the country’s affairs may push the
power envelope as much as possible but
never to violate these rules. Some of the
paramount rules of the networks are
“that there is to be no president for
life. Another is that patrons at the
pinnacle of the networks are never
killed by their rivals, though their clients
are fair game. A third is that money
accumulated by a political figure in
office is sacrosanct.” He also says that
“rival patrons, however, ensure the
personal and financial survival of an
ex-chief of state. Those who aspire to
the highest office in the land or to
control that office through surrogates
want no precedent of presidential
accountability by legislative oversight—
nor do they want a presidential killing
that could someday be a precedent
applied to them, hence the durability of
national political figures such as Gowon,
Buhari, Babangida, Obasanjo, Danjuma,
and (late) Ojukwu, despite the pervasive
violence of Nigerian politics.” Campbell
says further that the networks “have
held power, lost power, and lived to play
again.” The “coteries of patron-client
networks are interconnected at every
level of society and government [that]
even the Lagos Area Boys, thugs involved
in various extortion and protection
rackets, have their oga (patron). So,
too, do the ‘rag pickers’ working the
Lagos refuse dumps. The system is based
on mutual dependence and support.” It
is this political arrangement that has
been labeled by a Human Rights Watch
as “criminal politics.”
President Goodluck Jonathan’s ascension
to the country’s highest office was
serendipitous. He (and by extension his
geopolitical region) was ‘drafted’ into
the main vortex of power because some
of the main deciders (patrons) of the
networks had no choice. Jonathan’s
region was never really reckoned with
and its leading political lights are not
considered part of the key patrons of
the networks despite their being the
‘geese’ that lays the golden eggs. If
anything, the region’s political players
probably play a fourth fiddle to the
paramount power bloc of the networks.
But some daring elements, on account of
an egregious socio-economic injustice
meted against their people by the
Nigerian state changed this time-tested
political arrangement when they took up
arms against the nation and succeeded
tremendously, probably beyond their
wildest imagination. Even they received
from the state other incredible largesse
they did not ask for. Jonathan was
never one of the key players even in his
region let alone in the nation’s complex
networks. He was a complete outsider to
the power structure, which has always
been the exclusive preserve of patrons
from the core north, the southwest and
the near north as a significant political
appendage of the former. Yet,
Jonathan’s emergence on the pinnacle
of political power was a combination of
political expediency by the patrons
(because the militants have found out
that the emperor [Nigeria] has no shirt
after all). These militant elements
discovered that—just like a bully
whose outward brigandage is the direct
opposite of his internal insecurity and
low self-esteem—Nigeria would engage
in draconian measures in order to prove
a small point. But when faced with equal
violence even from a small band of rag-
tags, she cringes and asks you to name
your price. Some luck? Yes. Jonathan
must also have had the intervention of
the divine (for those so passionately
religious). So, the patrons admitted him,
even if grudgingly.
Upon becoming the new chief of state
outside a power structure that has taken
more than half a century to build,
Jonathan must choose one of two
available options. He could either use
moral suasion to convince and encourage
patrons of the networks that it is in
their own long term strategic interests to
dismantle the networks that has chained
down the country and her people, and
build a just, equitable and sustainable
society, akin to what Mandela did in
South Africa despite the age-long
injustice to his people by way of the
apartheid system. Or he could build his
own network to compete, supplant or
cooperate, as the case may be, with the
rest of the networks to deepen the
pauperization of the country and her
people. He chose the latter. Jonathan
probably could not have opted for the
first option even if he had wanted. He
most likely would have been vigorously
resisted. This is because all state
institutions, including his executive
branch are either controlled directly by
other patrons or indirectly by their
clients. He would have been clipped
and/or his seat summarily removed
from under him because the rules of the
networks did not include making Nigeria
a great nation. She’s to be plundered.
Since he must build a network that is
formidable enough to withstand the
vagaries of the entrenched, battle-
tested networks and do so quickly,
Machiavellianism is just what the
political scientists ordered as strategy.
Political brigandage in which murder
and assassination are not exempt,
mind-boggling corruption that can
otherwise be described as heist, and
impunity are the tools required to
building a formidable patron-client
network. After all, the patrons before
him deployed these same tools. Even with
his own re-definition of corruption and
reckless impunity, Jonathan is still
within the bounds of the rules. Veteran
patrons of the networks are just too
shocked that a supposedly naïve,
‘shoeless boy’ from a backwater could
best them at the game they invented.
That is the reason why militants who
should be spending the rest of their lives
behind bars are now stupendously
wealthy and politically influential that
some of them had supplanted some state
governors. Since his network must
compete and supplant other networks
that had taken decades to build and
nurture, caution and operating within
the constitutional framework are
hindrances that Jonathan cannot
afford. Therefore, cash haulage by an
aircraft belonging to a client of his
network ostensibly to procure arms made
more sense. Going through some
international procedures of arms
procurement would have left a paper
trail. So, in building a formidable
network of his own, Jonathan’s
clients—among them a stark
illiterate—secured pipeline protection
contracts and procurement of gunboats
while the country’s navy drools. It’s not
for nothing that the two most important
Service Chiefs, Army’s Kenneth Minimah
is Jonathan’s kinsman and his Defence
counterpart Alex Badeh is a minority
Christian from the north whose people
are probably tired of playing a second
fiddle to the networks of the core north.
These two clients possess the real power
to roll out the tanks to protect their
patron if push comes to shove.
Nigerians may have been angered, and
justifiably so, by Dokubo’s war threats
should Jonathan lose. They may have
been riled when Tompolo said he would
take away the oil (our collective
patrimony?) should Jonathan not be re-
elected because the commodity is the
only thing that makes unity more
meaningful to the patrons. But they’ve
come of age to understand the game.
Jonathan’s clients in his new network
are probably wondering why the fuss in
their looting spree when other patrons at
the helm and their clients, since the civil
war, did the same and heaven did not
fall. So, when Danjuma said that the
president’s clients should be arrested,
and Obasanjo, probably the Grand
Patron of all the networks and has been
relentlessly castigating Jonathan in the
public, it means that some consensus
may have been reached among them
that Jonathan must not be allowed
another term, otherwise it would be more
tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in
Jonathan’s second term than for these
patrons. The president can either
negotiate a safe exist and enjoy his loot
and that of his clients, which is
permissible under the rules. Or he can
‘engineer’ his own electoral victory and
damn the consequence. He will probably
do the latter. Only he himself can make
this choice. After all, power concedes
nothing without a demand.

Femi Odere is a media practitioner. He
can be reached at

views expressed are not necessarily the opinion of blog author.

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