I told a friend last week that Senator Bukola Saraki leads the Buhari faction of the APC. The friend is not a fan of Saraki. He didn’t like what I said at all. “Since when?” He asked and I smiled and told him: “Since the Ondo election.” He changed the topic and I had a good laugh. There is a chess game going on with all the pieces and parts. The endorsement statement issued by Saraki’s Senate last week backing President Muhammadu Buhari’s residency in London was part of the game. The Senate said it was with the president, if you don’t like that go hug your street’s high tension wires. That was what my friend saw and he was shocked and I tried to help him. The reality as we speak is that the Senate’s endorsement of the presidential absence was an announcement of what Saraki has been doing for Buhari since the beginning of this year. If you are like my friend and you loath Saraki because of his politics, you are likely to hiss and say what I just said is a lie. Every one of us is free to believe what we want. It does not change the truth which is constant. Sometimes, or even most times, truth unleashes its joke on us and we deny its existence. Trying to understand how extreme positions in politics rotate to occupy same space is as simple as tracing how grains of millet stroll into the bowels of dangerous cobra. It does not eat millet but its delicacy is that rat that uses its stomach as silo for grains. That is why Saraki’s Bolaji Abdullahi is today on the very seat vacated by Bola Tinubu’s Lai Mohammed. That is why you read the Senate last week backing Buhari and his long absence from office.
Politics is like piracy – it knows no difference between morality and its opposite. There is no enemy, no friend. All are tools – vehicles to power. Riding licit and illicit horses to the destination is nothing unusual in politics. If politics is piracy then politicians are pirates. You remember that adventure story, Treasure Island, and the bloody deeds of “sixteen men on a dead man’s chest / Yo ho ho ho and a bottle of rum”? There are no gentlemen politicians. Pirates, in literature and in real life, dominate discourses and strive to alter the course of events. They do. That should explain whatever you don’t understand in events unfolding daily before your very eyes. There were protests in Abuja last week against Buhari’s continued absence. There were also marches in Abuja for Buhari’s continued absence. Things just don’t happen in politics. Those protests represented the forces grabbing at the essentials of Nigeria. These things we see may be mere rehearsals. The real action may be doing press-up across the street.
You saw the colours of those protests and the counter protests. You are likely to see more as the stakes get higher in weeks to come. You also saw the pan-Nigeria crowd at the week-long burial of the mum of Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State. The movement to Osogbo wasn’t just a burial party. It was more than that. The daily gatherings (for one week) were mini-congresses and conventions. With so many things happening at the same time between London and Abuja, it was necessary that those guys you saw in photo ops pay condolences. Bola Tinubu’s trusted ally, Chief BIsi Akande, also lost his wife a month earlier. There were persons of note there, but would you say it was same as you saw at the Osun State governor’s event? The unusual movement in Osogbo was respect for what Rauf represents in the highly mobile, lethal camp he belongs. If Bola Tinubu is the General Officer Commanding of that potent enclave, Rauf is the Field Commander. It is not a group I’m very fond of but it is a camp I respect for its strategy. It is a group that values its youths and maximally uses their brains to achieve results. I read that group and its key leaders as I read Machiavelli, Sun Tzu and Robert Greene. I dissect their every move for the blinding hints they drop. I’ll be shocked if anyone wants to sing any song in 2019 without listening to the silent drumbeats of the Lagos political ensemble.
But it is not as if Lagos is impregnable. It can be assaulted to devastation. Saraki proved that with the National Assembly elections of June 2015. Buhari’s candidate, Rotimi Akeredolu proved it too in the Ondo State governorship election of 2016. I said Saraki represents the Buhari tendency in the APC as we speak. His teeth were tested in the Ondo election to see how swift and deep he could bite. “The great rule of an army is prudence,” counselled Tzu. But Lagos ignores this wisdom sometimes taking on enemies without proper weighing of their strength. It happened in Ondo where Abuja empowered a confederacy of Lagos’s mutual foes to rout it. That outing was an early response to the reality of what Lagos could become and could do if fate plays a wicked one on the other camp. But the situation is not as clean-cut as it looks. Lagos is dangerous, especially if it is resolute on destroying anything or anyone. North to South, it is feared for the damage it can do. But Lagos can also overestimate its powers and the effectiveness of its strategy. It does underrate its opponents and believes noise can bring down any wall. It forgets sometimes that the only physical wall said to have succumbed to howls is the biblical Wall of Jericho. Noise has so far worked well for Lagos because it is an expert at writing and rewriting histories. The popular saying is that history is the account of the victor. With politics, it may not always be true. Where Lagos fails, falls and is defeated, it goes on to win by other means, manipulating history and accounts of wars. The result is the horrific mobilisation of the public and its opinion against the unbending, victorious foe. That has been Saraki’s lot and the lot of others in his shoes.
Politicians bond and blend well whenever a common enemy is identified and enemy territory is properly mapped. Saraki is a very wily politician with a very robust history of wars and conquests. His greatest strength appears to be his deceptive vulnerability. He doesn’t have a reputation for predictability. You cannot read him or his ways or his face. Lagos fell for it the last time it went for him. If I were a Nigerian politician, I would not have him as an enemy without playing his game. When the whole world thought his world would soon collapse with the Code of Conduct case, did you see him panic? Have you asked yourself how things have turned so dramatically in his favour? There is a Senator Marafa who was a thorn tearing through his flesh daily. There is a Senator Lawan who contested the Senate President seat with Saraki. Why are they his best friends today? Some persons have very strong chassis. To such persons, bumpy rides earn them respect, and even reverence. “They underrated our ability to absorb these shocks,” Saraki once told some journalists. Buhari is old and sick and is a poor sailor who needs safety from the pirates on the high seas of politics. Having the well-heeled Ilorin man with all the inborn intrigues driving his politics while he nurses his sickness in London is Buhari’s best deft move since 2015. Part of military strategy is to recruit allies who have the capacity to enhance your firepower. You cannot embrace a life of the seas and not appreciate the damage which sharks can do. You have options. One clever move is to empower whale sharks to hunt down dangerous sea dogs loitering to sink your boat. Let deadly fish handle its like in the eat-or -be-eaten depths of this dangerous game.
So many things are happening at the same time in Nigeria. So many complexities. While you look at Buhari and his Saraki and the Lagos strongmen, what they are doing and are capable of doing, remember there are other men of power who own the country. These ones are as dangerous as danger. They consciously have every actor within their strategic range. They have no respect for Abuja and Lagos. Putting them in overlapping circles of authority, they see both as manipulative dolls. We are likely to see more of these principalities as the match hots up. But the championship of protests in Abuja should be seen for what it is. It is the drama of chess nearing a decision; a demonstration that there are tempests in every endgame.