In March 2014, at a time Boko Haram terrorism ravaged the country, 12 northern Nigeria governors travelled all the way to Washington D.C. to make a case against President Goodluck Jonathan before his American counterpart Barack Obama. These governors, who got a chance to meet Obama’s National Security Adviser Ms. Susan Rice, accused Jonathan of sponsoring the terrorist attacks. According to media reports—still archived online—Governor Murtala Nyako of Adamawa State launched the attacks by reading a laundry list of the president’s sins to the high-ranking officials attending the meeting. Two governors specifically named as joining Nyako to attack Jonathan were Governors Rabiu Kwankaso of Kano and Kashim Shettima of Borno. It got to the point that the Nigerian Ambassador, Prof. Ade Adefuye, reportedly had to intervene and stop these men from “washing Nigeria’s dirty linen in public.”
If you wondered what the novelist Chimamanda Adichie’s name was doing in the same sentence as that of the vice president-elect, I am sure you made the connections now.
Adichie’s recent open letter to US President Joe Biden highlighting the ill-conduct of the February presidential election did the All Progressives Congress just as dirty as some of them once did Jonathan. While the US government is unlikely to publicly react to the letter, her account still delegitimises a government that characteristically looks to powerful western institutions for legitimacy. Before Adichie’s essay was published, Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, had gone to Washington to market the last election as “the freest and fairest in the history of Nigeria.” For him to feel the need to travel to justify their government to journalists and international observers who must have been following the whole drama online, they must have been quite anxious to be taken seriously. Then came the open letter.
For an incoming presidency already under all kinds of scrutiny, Adichie’s letter must be a body blow. From the frenzied responses and the accompanying hormonal howls from the usual attack hounds, that letter’s contents must have touched their rawest nerve.
Expectedly, they accused her of “colonial mentality,” “anti-patriotism, and of course, “tribalism.” Since we are here, they might as well clarify if Shettima and his jesters’ crew who sidestepped all the local institutions and headed for Washington were on an agenda of decolonisation. And why did they not return there when the government of President Muhammadu Buhari similarly failed to control banditry? Which patriotic virtues drove Shettima to de-market his president in 2014 but restrained him under Buhari’s debilitating regime? It was all self-serving politics.
The APC and their supporters thundering over Adichie’s letter and the irreverence of the Obidients must combine weak memories with moral inconsistency. From all the noise they have made about Obidients in the past week, one would be forgiven for imagining that an online mob of partisan political supporters is a historically unique phenomenon. They seem to forget that it was that Buhari was once outed for inaugurating a troll farm to battle online opponents and sow discord. Apart from the shadowy ones of the Buhari Media Centre who routinely creep out of the underbelly of the internet to muddy issues, he also appointed a retinue of media aides who probably outnumber his economic team. To justify their salaries and also establish some social relevance, those ones have spent the past eight years identifying and attacking supposed enemies. So how is it possible to have an atmosphere where trolling is accorded presidential gravitas, and you would not have formally created the same enemy you claim you want to destroy? If anything, the online ferocity we are presently seeing owes a lot to the Buhari regime’s formalisation of trolling.
It is amazing how people see Hitler and Mussolini in the Obidients when Buhari’s supporters are those whose election politics have serially inflicted physical violence. In 2011 when Buhari lost the election, they went on a rampage and killed an estimated 800 people. They were the ones who almost killed the man who named his dog “Buhari.” They once attacked Charley Boy in Abuja for protesting against Buhari. In April 2021, two anti-Buhari protesters were whipped in Kogi State by some Buhari supporters. Following that incident, Kogi State officials put an official statement justifying the violence saying, “We are placing it on record that the fanatical following of Mr President by Kogi people is borne out of our faith in his integrity and quality leadership.” How do you expect a society where the state legitimates violence not to face reprisals from those fed up but lacking commensurate political power?
The obvious lesson from all this is that the toxic politics that the APC sowed is overripe, and the rotten fruits are falling on their faces. The weapons of warfare that the APC used against the PDP while it was the “opposition” party are also widely available for those seeking to supplant the APC. Thanks to the internet, we have entered a historical phase where politicians seeking the highest office—and for whom the odds align—will get an online army of supporters to propagate their message and counterbalance those deemed the establishment. Every generation employs the tools at its behest to propagate the politics of its time, and this is no different. As it was in 2015 so is it in 2023 and will likely be in 2031. Unlike earlier eras where self-promoting politicians set up media houses to drown out opponents, social media now grants similar narrative power to people who would otherwise have been unheard. If they can form a mass, they can be heard. And jarring the ears of those inured to chaos entails not just shouting but lots of irreverence to boot.
The less evident part is that vengeful politics has been a good strategy for the APC. If it took Shettima from Borno to Aso Rock, it must have some viability. And if it works for them, what motivation do they have to give it up? And if those tactics work for one side, what stops the other from appropriating them?
To maintain their hold on power, they must keep holding up the specter of “the enemy” so that their supporters can concentrate their primal energies on trying to destroy it. But they must also be discovering how terribly exhausting such venomous politics can be. I am amused some aides of the incoming president have resolved to battle the Obidients to demonstrate that “nobody has a monopoly of madness.” I wish them good luck as they spend the next four years of their lives exchanging bitter words with the zestful users of the internet. Not only will they keep the rest of us entertained now that the present cohort of media aides appears battle weary, but they will also hopefully combust themselves in the monomaniac pursuit of the enemy they created in their own image.
In their bid to punch up and down at their enemies, both online and offline, they would have repudiated every allegation of righteousness and national interest once levelled against them. The good thing is that by the time they are done with their agenda of de-monopolisation of madness on Twitter, they would have disavowed every pretence of patriotism, every sliver of virtue, and every intellection they ever postured in their previous existence. I sincerely hope they do not get tired until they are entirely stripped of all pretences.