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Is it any coincidence that three of the characters in

the picture (Babangida, Abacha and Obasanjo) have

ruled Nigeria for the past 30 years and by every

indication are bent on carrying on? Surely such

coincidence  lend credence to the several conspiracy theories



Masters of the Political Game in Nigeria

By Uche Nworah


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are by no means an endorsement of the principles of the characters being explored, this is only an unbiased analyses of the political philosophies and strategies of  the characters from the standpoint of  the ideologies of master political and war strategists  such as Carl  von Clausewitz, Niccolo Machiavelli and Sun Tzu.

The accompanying photograph to this article which depicts a much younger Olusegun Obasanjo (OBJ) and Ibrahim Babangida (IBB) playing a game of draught, with Danjuma and Abacha in the background acting as umpires makes it difficult not to believe former Police PRO, Superintendent Alozie Ogugbuaja’s widely reported swipe at the Nigerian military back in 1986. He had alleged that the military did nothing at their officers’ mess other than drink beer, eat pepper soup and plan coups.

The picture may also suggest that in addition to the ‘officers mess pepper-soup coup plotting theory’, the military (ex and serving officers) also meet at the officers’ mess to plan their strategies for dominating governance in Nigeria.

Is it any coincidence that three of the characters in the picture (Babangida, Abacha and Obasanjo) have ruled Nigeria for the past 30 years and by every indication are bent on carrying on? Surely such coincidence lend credence to the several conspiracy theories making the rounds in Nigeria, some of which has been well documented by Seyi Oduyela in his The Owners of Nigeria series and the cabal that they are subservient to. Some conspiracy theorists have even gone on to claim that whatever political scripts being acted out in Nigeria’s political stage today, are scripts written several years ago by the principal characters in the picture. This school of thought alludes to a sinister pact entered into by the characters; what is not clear from such insinuations is where the oaths were sworn to being that the Okija shrine hadn’t yet become a major feature of Nigerian politics at the time.

Mischief makers claim that the principal characters involved (IBB and OBJ) may still be seeking to cash in or make good on bets which they may have made years ago over a game of draught, on who will be the longest serving Head of State in Nigeria - in or out of uniform. Political analysts like Chigbo Ugochukwu who belong to the latter school of thought maintain that “the thing between OBJ and IBB is a matter of pride and honour, driven by selfishness rather than national interests”.

Whether such theories are true or not, the fact remains that IBB and OBJ arguably remain the two most controversial leaders Nigeria has ever had, and for various reasons.

The stage is now set for another battle of the ex-generals as OBJ has started making moves to secure a constitutional amendment that will allow him to seek a third term mandate, IBB himself has recently stepped out of the shadows and has declared himself a candidate for the 2007 presidential elections. How will this battle of the generals pan out? And of what consequences will their fight and antics have on Nigerians who unfortunately are the pawns in their political draught games?

Sunny Ogbu, an Abuja based entrepreneur says that “as far as the battle of the generals go, the OBJ/Buhari electoral fight in 2003 was a mismatch and will pale in comparism to the coming OBJ/IBB battle in 2007”, according to him, the two generals will fight to the finish, “both being in their twilight years, it will be a winner takes all battle, everything or nothing”.   

These indeed must be interesting times for political scientists and analysts in Nigeria, but it may seem that just like the proverb that says “the grass suffers when two elephants fight”, it is the Nigerian people that will suffer the consequences of such political manoeuvres.

An analysis of the stratagem of the two generals may be necessary here, as they may be good indicators of which of the two candidates may likely come out tops come 2007. My premise after surveying the current political landscape in Nigeria is that there seems to be no other serious candidate that may challenge IBB and OBJ and seriously upset their plans, the reasons being that party politics in Nigeria is a high stakes affair (money politics), to run a presidential campaign will require limitless budget and political structures that only an IBB or an OBJ could afford. The reasons being that both have ruled Nigeria during periods of oil boom, occasioned by the Middle East crises and have thus benefited from unfettered access to national treasury.

Even IBB himself subtly acknowledged this fact while answering questions about his chances in the impending battle for Nigeria’s presidency, “it is not easy to defeat an incumbent but it is not impossible” he said, thus rating his chances of succeeding OBJ highly. Obviously aware that OBJ has not yet declared any vacancy in Aso Rock, IBB pitched his campaign on the side of the people saying that his major preoccupation was to “wake the consciousness of Nigerians in the months to come, so as to make them defend their votes”. 

An anonymous respondent to my questions in the course of researching this article says that Nigerians should discount any moves being made by Vice President Atiku, Muhammed Buba Marwa, Ahmed Sani Yerima and other Presidential hopefuls from Northern Nigeria, according to him ‘There is a northern agenda Nigerians don’t know; Atiku and the rest may just be diversionary tactics for a wider agenda. The difference between the northerners and the southerners is that the northerners could easily unite and work towards actualising a common agenda, whereas greed, selfishness, in-fighting and other bickering make any such unity and alignment of goals impossible amongst southern politicians’.

The respondent who is also a keen observer of Northern politics within a broader Nigerian political landscape cited the cases of the reported bust-up between Andy Ubah and his brother Chris Ubah over Andy Ubah’s gubernatorial ambitions in Anambra state, and also the back biting and lack of unified position in the Senate post -1999 elections, over the nomination of a senate president between Evans Enwerem, Chuba Okadigbo, Pius Anyim, Jim Nwobodo, Arthur Nzeribe and Ike Nwachukwu.

“That goes to show the extent of the problem with southern politicians” he says.  “When even two blood brothers can not agree to work together and pool together their influence and resources to achieve success at state gubernatorial elections”.

This respondent’s position is not any different from that of Prof. Ihechukwu Madubuike, the former Health Minister who in his 2001 paper Incongruencies in Modern Igbo Politics lamented thus: “At the state level the same antiphonic relationship has been at play. When it is not Nnamani and Jim, it is Anyim and Egwu or Mbadinuju and Emeka Offor, or still Orji Uzor Kalu and Ojo Maduekwe, et al.

Yet a little circumspection, a little display of the spirit of give and take here and there, a little regard for the image of Ndiigbo, a consensus of some form, would have spared Ndiigbo the current spectacle of shame and the derision of our compatriots who see us as a people who cannot put their home in order.

A symphony of talents, a congruence of ideas and abilities, would extirpate political collusions and enhance political consensus for our common good. It will enable us to channel our abundant energies into more creative enterprises and solutions. It would help us to syndicate and synchronize (Okadigbo). The "carrot and stick" principle will always be at work, but that is not a good enough excuse for ethnic infidelity”.

While such ethnic disunity or infidelity is not common only to Ndigbo, it may seem therefore that successive governments in Nigeria have always exploited it to their advantage, especially OBJ and IBB who seemed to have perfected the divide and rule ideology, which in a way is in line with the survivalist theories of Sun Tzu and Machiavelli.

IBB does appear to be a better strategist here though, OBJ is widely reported to have very few loyal friends, allegedly his main reasons for wanting to stay on is not because he wants to complete his reform programs, according to an anonymous Abuja based politician and an Aso Rock insider “Baba is afraid of his life, he has stepped on so many toes and so wants to use the machinery of the state to protect himself till his God calls him”.

Compared to IBB, OBJ is widely reported to have crude manners, he is known to have openly verbally abused people that may disagree with him, he has also been reported to have maltreated journalists in the past including physically assaulting them by flogging them at his Otta farm. Some analysts wonder how he is able to pull off his many diplomatic coups at the international stage for a man that lacks finesse.

IBB on the other hand seems to have more panache, though veiled in evil. He knows how to build bridges and how to get even his worst enemies to his side. Examples that may come to mind here are Tai Solarin who was ‘settled’ with a Chairmanship position at the defunct Peoples Bank to calm him down. That still didn’t stop IBB and his security operatives from shaming Tai Solarin on national television (NTA) in the now infamous Ebony magazine affair.

Also Wole Soyinka was appointed the Chairman of the Federal Road Safety Commission, an organisation that the Nobel laureate turned into a ‘private army’ by recruiting only members of the National Association of Seadogs (The Pyrates Confraternity), an organisation that he founded in the 1960s. Also, in the spirit of self-preservation, IBB was reported to have bribed junior army officers during his regime (to placate them from planning coups against him) with the gifts of cars, cash and promotions. This probably must have been one of the reasons why Augustine Avwode, the Assistant Editor of the Lagos based Daily Independent newspaper remarked thus – “IBB is seen as the face of the maverick Nigerian politician. He is seen as representative of all that is wrong with Nigeria”.

Max Gbanite, a self- styled IBB loyalist would not be surprised if IBB eventually comes into power again. In his essay IBB: The man is still standing, he argues that IBB “does not and has never claimed to be an angel or a saint. All he wants to do is to be an instrument of change.Babangida is a thoroughbred revolutionalist and quintessential Nigerian, and his Nigerianess is unquestionable.

This man’s approach to issues is determined by the intellectuals that surround his environment and the quality of books found in his library. He truly understands that in leadership, consensus sometimes is not the best. His style of leadership is consistent with Dennis A. Peer’s statement, “One measure of leadership is the calibre of people who choose to follow you.”

Therefore, it is not by coincidence that the likes of Honourable Clement Akpamgbo (SAN), Prince Bola Ajibola (SAN), General Akinrinade, Prof. Wole Soyinka, (Nobel Laureate), Dr. Tai Solarin (of blessed memory), Prof. Jibril Aminu (former Oil Minister, immediate-past Nigerian Ambassador to the US, and currently a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria), Dr. Chu S. P. Okongwu, Chief Olu Falae, Prof. Tam David-West, Chief Alex Akinyele, Chief Onabule and many others all of whom are erudite in their chosen professions and attended the best schools in the world, and are considered primus inter pares by their colleagues, accepted to serve with the man.

If Nigeria’s political and economic reformation project has failed, then it is prudent to call these mentioned personalities to explain what advice they gave, what was implemented, and what was not implemented”.

What Mr. Gbanite failed to mention in his analysis is that IBB also stocks the books of Machiavelli and the likes in his library, also his statement that IBB has never claimed to be a saint in a way is also an indirect endorsement of IBB’s ‘evil genius’ political status. 

E. Terfa Ula – Lisa, an American based public analyst however disagrees, in Politics, Power and Government, he writes that “Those rented crowds who want IBB, the person they perceive to be the best manager of the commonwealth, to be president should first prove their selfless love of country by convincing us they have no personal benefit in the event of an IBB government.

It is okay for IBB to be likeable to his admirers, even the devil took away a third of the angelic hosts and he still deceives the majority of mankind. IBB is not qualified to be my president because he lacks vision, his past antecedents do not recommend him to high office; he lacks integrity and forthrightness; he is not straight-forward. He is too clever by half. He has dribbled too often just to show off and has scored an own goal”.

Although IBB is a reported disciple of Machiavellian principles, OBJ however seems to be a later day convert and disciple. Both seem to be following the tenets set out in Niccolo Machiavelli’s seminal work – The Prince that “The bold would succeed better than the hesitant”, according to Machiavelli, “fortune was a woman and favoured those bold enough to treat her roughly”. IBB rough rode Nigerians for years and kept on shifting the political goal post until 1993 when he decided to ‘step aside’.

OBJ as well is on the same plane having been emboldened by the lack of serious opposition, and the willing accomplices he found in some members of the national assembly, now he wants to have a go at a third term. Both men are following Machiavellian principles to the letter, he wrote that “men had fixed characters: brave or cowardly, bold or hesitant, sometimes circumstances might favour one style of action, sometimes another”. 

OBJ seems to have gone a step further, by burrowing into the ancient Chinese philosophy of Sun Tzu who said that “victory can be crafted even if the enemy is numerous”. PDP successfully did this in 1999 and in 2003. They were declared the winners of the presidential elections although independent observers reported large scale manipulations and electoral fraud.

OBJ and the PDP may have found consolation in the words of Carl von Clausewitz, who wrote in his book On War that “A great battle has never at any time been an unprepared, unexpected, blind routine service, but a grand act, which partly of itself and partly from the aim of the commander, stands out from amongst the mass of ordinary efforts”.

A combination of Clausewitz’s and the Machiavellian theory that ‘the Prince must employ any tactics, even vicious ones, needed to ensure his control over the state” may therefore seem enough justification for OBJ and the PDP of their actions. Notable incidents during Obasanjo’s government which reflect such thinking include the Odi and Zaki Biam massacres, the Audu Ogbe saga and the Abubakar Atiku affair. IBB also still has the deaths of Mamman Vatsa and Dele Giwa hanging over his head. 

OBJ has perfected this tactics; in most cases using the apparatus of state such as the EFCC to witch-hunt political opponents, from a long list will include the likes of Prof. Fabian Osuji, Governor Joshua Dariye, DSP Alamiesegha, Tafa Balogun etc. Orji Kalu’s SLOK business Empire was also dealt a huge blow with the revocation of SLOK Airline’s operating license. Kalu the enfant terrible has been a strong critic of OBJ and his government and even wants to run for President in 2007, a position that the incumbent still cherishes so much.    

In contradiction, both OBJ and IBB seemed to have missed the section where Machiavelli cautioned that “it cannot be called prowess to kill fellow citizens, to betray friends, to be treacherous, pitiless, irreligious. These ways can win a prince power but not glory”. In continuation, he advices that “it is necessary for a prince to have the friendship of the people; otherwise he has no remedy in times of adversity”. OBJ obviously no longer enjoys the friendship of the Nigerian people and may just sooner than later find out that he has no one watching his back if he goes ahead with his plans for a third term.

IBB on the other hand boasts that he is in touch with the mood of the Nigerian people and by implication enjoys their friendship. In a recent statement while declaring his presidential ambition, he said: “Having been born and bred in this country, I have a working knowledge of the Nigerian’s mind., what he thinks, how he thinks and what he is likely going to do; and I am fortunate there is no doubt about it”.

Are these empty boasts? Not really, especially considering the nature of this political animal. According to Sun Tzu “A great general establishes his position where he cannot be defeated. He misses no opportunity to exploit the weakness of his enemy. A winning general creates the conditions of victory before beginning the war”.

IBB obviously knows OBJ inside out, and having bided his time long enough has now stepped into the political arena, after his reported ‘stepping aside’ post – Abiola and June 12th, many politicians obviously owe him favours and he sure would want to cash them in now. According to Mike Ikhariale, “many people still go to him (IBB) for money and he is reputed to be very generous and anyone that seeks his favour gets it without too many hassles. That sets him apart from the rest of the pack. And in a society that is as poor as ours, it is obvious that many people would continue to sing his praises even if, deep in their minds, they actually hold him in utter contempt”.

In this case, Machiavelli’s words here may be sweet music to IBB’s ears, he says that “when a prince has the goodwill of the people he must not worry about conspiracies” and that “men are won over by the present far more than by the past; and when they decide that what is being done here and now is good, they content themselves with that and do not go looking for anything else”.

Could Nigerians have forgotten June 12th, Dele Giwa, SAP and all the other socio-economic issues that bedevilled IBB’s government? Maybe not, already anti-IBB groups are springing up all over the world, at the same rate as the anti- OBJ 3rd term groups. There is an Against Babangida website showing that Nigerians are not just folding their hands.  

To be continued

Uche Nworah is a freelance writer and would wish to interview Africans who are excelling in their professions either in Africa or in the Diaspora, the stories of such unsung heroes can be an inspiration for us all. Do you know of anybody? Please email their details to  posted 19 April 2006

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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update 29 November 2011




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