However, once one gets over the shameful display by the cleric, the content of Mbaka’s complaint begins to demand a review on its own terms. Here, I have highlighted into three components worthy of reflection – his amateurish abuse of the pulpit for political hustle, the legitimacy of his claims against Buhari’s post-election conduct, and a traceable pattern of consequences that befall politicians of different hues who support Buhari’s ambition.
Although there are no objective means of measuring how far it went, some of the most worthwhile decisive perceptions Buhari’s image garnered before his 2015 electoral victory came from Christians. They softened his image of the man who would “Islamise” Nigeria and made him more appealing across the board. Part of this change happened as a result of Buhari’s choice of a pastor and a professor of law, Yemi Osinbajo, as his deputy. Part of it also came from pastors like Mbaka. His endorsement radically deviated from the almost consensual support of the South-East and South-South voting public for the “Christian” candidate in the name of Goodluck Jonathan. Mbaka’s action, as Catholic clergy, cut through more than regional voting blocs; it altered the powerscape of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway Pentecostal pastors’ dominance in national politics.
Four years later, it is now apparent that no God spoke to Father Mbaka, his prophetic support for Buhari was a calculated risk that paid off when Buhari won. Political prophecies in Nigeria have always been more of a combination of coincidence, of studying the terrain and expecting the odds to align, and good old bluster. The video of Fr. Mbaka threatening to withdraw his spiritual support for Buhari makes his pulpit politics look “amateurish.” He does not yet seem to grasp that the mechanism of rewarding spiritual leaders for their support goes beyond what he was asking Ganduje. Also, hustling Ganduje – someone accused of bribery whose boastfulness has been untrammelled and sickening – to build God’s house, shows how elastic the accommodating capacity of modern Christianity can be. Given the outrage the video of the alleged bribery scandal generated, the governor is the type of character Jesus would have driven out of the temple with a whip of cords.
Here is the controversial part: Mbaka’s claims on Buhari are legitimate if you look at them within the logic of the reciprocal nature of political support in Nigeria. Despite his lack of ethics, Mbaka still has a point.
No politician ever wins an election solely on the strength of their charisma. They all depend on the rather feudal system of building a pyramid of support from the grassroots up. For Buhari to have won, he had to solicit the help of regional lords who have both influence and following. Those ones, in turn, used their vassals to percolate all the grey areas of localised politics while promising their constituents benefits that are outside what the democratic structure guarantees.
When all those people “delivered” their constituencies, they expected to be rewarded with gains with which they grease the structures of their relationship with their constituents. When Mbaka lamented that his relationship with Buhari has not paid off in terms of gains to his people, and that he now finds it hard to face his constituents and ask them to support Buhari again after the shabby way they were treated, he is speaking to the structure of this relationship.
Part of me agrees that Mbaka deserves better from Buhari, particularly on his suggestion that the President should have come to his church post-election. I agree with him largely because such a gesture in the wake of a divisive election would have been a grand one; a leader’s demonstration that he was willing to transcend ethnic and religious divisions and be for all. Unfortunately, the man proved that he was not for such niceties. He did not only fail to reconcile a nation fractured by his election, he even made that unfortunate 97 per cent to five per cent support comment.
The third part is now Mbaka’s treatment evinces a pattern of treatment of influential southern political agents by Buhari. Everything Mbaka was griping about was quite similar to that of the Senate President Bukola Saraki, in a recently leaked video. Both men’s lamentations were prefaced by the complaint by Senator Remi Tinubu that her husband, the Jagaban of Borgu and the political juggernaut of the South-West, was “thrashed” by Buhari after he won the election. What all these mean is that Buhari used all these people’s power structures but dumped them after achieving his ambition. Their constituents, of course, look up to them to fulfil all the promises they made on behalf of Buhari. When they cannot meet up, they become diminished. The slight variation to this pattern of behaviour is Buhari’s reaching out to Tinubu again when he faced the prospect of the 2019 elections and needed the man’s power structures to win the South-West.
Like I noted earlier, this point is controversial because it presents an ethical conundrum of sorts. One could easily argue that Buhari snubbed these people based on some principled stand on his part. We can claim on Buhari’s behalf that knowing that the only way he could rise to power was through using structures that have been established by otherwise “tainted” people, he had no choice but to tuck in a part of his integrity at the time. Now that he has achieved his aim, he needs not further the agenda of corruption they represent. That point would be wholly valid, but only if it were consistently true.
If Buhari’s use and subsequent abandonment of these people were based on some moral stand, he would have meted out a similar treatment to Ganduje. As President, he can afford to no longer cuddle corruption as a means towards an end. The All Progressives Congress could have at least used their internal disciplinary structures to intervene in the bribery allegations against Ganduje. But no, Buhari has not only been indifferent to the Ganduje affair, but he also went all out to defend him during a recent trip to Paris. He cannot denounce Ganduje partly because of his 2019 ambition. He needs Ganduje to “deliver” Kano’s votes for the APC and no allegation of corruption – no matter how credible – will trigger a crisis of conscience in them.
What we are left with is a picture of a man whose post-election actions weaken political agents of southern extraction. At least, that is what the lamentations of Mbaka – along with those of Tinubu and Saraki – show. Perhaps, one needs to add that more broadly, this administration has shown hostility towards people who, like Buhari, also command a mass following that is convertible to political capital. We see this pattern in the example of the IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, and the Shiites’ leader, Ibrahim el-Zakzaky. Of all of these instances, el-Zakzaky is the only northerner, and given the Sunni – Shiites politics, his treatment in the hands of Buhari government is unsurprising.
Credit – Abimbola Adelakun (The Punch)