Wike and Khama; Fubara and Masisi – By Kehinde Yusuf

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*Photo: Prof Kehinde Yusuf*

In the mid-1970s, the Kenyan government claimed it was making progress on the economic front as shown in the number of prosperous citizens it had created. A witty politician, J.M. Kariuki, retorted, “We do not want a Kenya of ten millionaires and ten million beggars.”

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How I wish I knew this inimitable sound-bite – “Ten millionaires and ten million beggars” – in 2014 when a Nigerian President was reported to have said that the success of his government’s economic policies was reflected in the increasing number of private jet owners in the country.

Today, let us see what else we can learn from Kenya, through the life of the late President Daniel arap Moi who died on 4 February, 2020 at the age of 95. He was eulogised as a “political giraffe”, who could see very far, and as a “Professor of Politics”, for his superlative grasp of Kenyan politics.

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In the beginning of his political career, Moi had the disadvantage of belonging to a minority ethnic group, and was written off as a low-threat, unambitious, easily manipulable and readily discardable person by the political hawks around President Jomo Kenyatta, who belonged to the Kikuyu main ethnic group.  Moi did not create any condition that could make those who had the unedifying impression of him to think they could be wrong.

Rather than throw his weight around as President-in-waiting, he being the Vice-President, Aljazeerah reported that “wary of any threat during that uncertain period, Moi fled his Rift Valley home when he heard of Kenyatta’s death, returning only after receiving assurances of his safety”.

The political powers-that-be around the presidency therefore did not have much reservation about allowing him to be sworn in as President. According to the New World Encyclopedia, “Daniel arap Moi [was] popularly known to Kenyans as ‘Nyayo,’ a Swahili word for ‘footsteps.’

He championed what he called ‘Nyayo philosophy,’ which means following the leader and is, he claimed, a distinctive African tradition of leadership. He claimed to be following the footsteps of the first Kenyan President, Jomo Kenyatta. … The Kikuyu elite referred to him as ‘a passing cloud’ and  a ‘limping sheep that could not lead other sheep to the pasture,’ the implication being that he would be pushed aside in a short while to allow them back in power.”

Ironically, this presumed weak place-holder spent twenty-four years, from 1978 to 2002, in office as President, by guts and guile. He has as such had the distinction of being the longest serving President of Kenya. Certainly, the road did not lead in the direction in which the political chess players set their sight. That is the way political strategists do sometimes miscalculate; and those they perceive as the meekest turn out to be the most ferocious.

One of such miscalculating political strategists is former Governor Nyesom Wike. Mr. Wike, from the Ikwerre ethnic group, is a lawyer, former Chairman of Obio Akpor Local Government Area of Rivers State, former Chief of Staff to the Governor of Rivers State, former Minister of State for Education, immediate past Governor of Rivers State and current Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.

So, he is not a spring chicken in Nigerian politics. To succeed him as Governor of Rivers State, Wike preferred Siminalayi Fubara, a member of the Ijaw ethnic group, a man with a meek mien who had served as Director of Finance and Accounts, Permanent Secretary and Accountant-General of Rivers State. The going appeared good between them, and Wike worked assiduously for Fubara’s victory in the governorship election.

After Fubara’s inauguration as Governor, Wike was appointed as the Honourable Minister of the FCT, Abuja, by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

Then the bubble burst, and Wike has been full of public lamentation. In an interview with some television stations on 24 November, 2023, he accused Fubara of betrayal, trying to dismantle Wike’s political structure and instituting ethnic politics in Rivers State.

Specifically, Wike declared, “I don’t like ingrates. … What is happening now fits very well with what Odili said in his book – ‘Give a [person] power and money. It’s then you’ll know the person.’ … We never knew that it will be in three months [that you will set out] to scatter a political structure that built you up [and] begin … propaganda… You know what is painful about these allegations…, who and who sat with me when he was picked as the governor? …. I will [not] allow anybody to crumble our political structure. It will not happen.”

Fubara hit back. In his address to the quarterly general meeting of the Rivers State Council of Traditional Rulers in Port Harcourt on 8 December, 2023, he said defiantly: “Let us not forget that Rivers State is our collective inheritance, presently under my watch, to protect, defend and advance it as the governor.  I assure you that I will not fail in this responsibility nor will I surrender our mandate and progress to intimidation, blackmail and deliberate sabotage.”

Today, worrisome headlines about Rivers State are the norm. They include: “27 Rivers Assembly members defect to APC from PDP”; “Court order recognises Ehie as Rivers Assembly speaker”; “Rivers government demolishes House of Assembly complex”; “Defection: Rivers speaker declares seats of 27 lawmakers vacant”; “Governor Fubara presents 2024 budget to 4 member assembly”; and “Just in: Four more Rivers commissioners resign from office.”

Like Wike, some commentators believe Fubara was hasty in showing his hands. But how would the “Professor of Politics” have handled such a situation? He bore the contemptuous attitude of the former President Jomo Kenyatta’s associates with equanimity until a coup attempt, four years into the Moi presidency, gave him the opportunity to assert himself.

When the “political giraffe” decided that it was time to strike, he did so with devastating efficiency, resulting in his effective consolidation of his hold on power. Moi’s demonstrated political sagacity is consistent with the tactical principle enunciated by the following Yoruba proverb: Tí owó eni ò bá tí t’èkù idà, a kìí bèèrè ikú tó pa baba eni. (‘Until the hilt of the sword is in your hand, don’t try to find out who killed your father.’)

It is not certain whether Fubara was guided by this principle, and it is yet unclear how the Wike-Fubara feud will end; but the present trajectory is not comforting. Ominously, it reminds one of the Yoruba proverb, Ajá tó bá maa pa líìlí, enu rè á s’èjè. (‘A dog that would kill a porcupine would have a bloodied mouth.’)

But Wike was not the only one sold a political dummy. Another is Ian Khama, a qualified pilot, retired Brigadier General, former Commander of the Botswana Defence Force, former Vice-President to Botswana, immediate past President and son of the first President of the country, Sir Seretse Khama.

Strategising for his succession, he chose his Vice-President Mokgweetsi Masisi, an educator, former parliamentarian and former minister who took acting as a hobby. On assumption of office, Masisi slammed Ian Khama with allegations of financial impropriety and unlawful possession of firearms, and the Masisi administration was alleged to have engaged in the unlawful arrest, unlawful detention and dehumanisation of Khama’s relations held in custody.

Khama had no choice than to leave the Botswana Democratic Party which his father Sir Seretse Khama and others founded in 1961and which has been the party in power in Botswana since independence in 1966. Khama, with others, then formed the Botswana Patriotic Front in July 2019. In 2021, he was hounded into exile in South Africa.

In a 7 September, 2022 speech, Ian Khama said: “It’s my fault that Botswana is where it is today in decline, because he [Masisi] was my Vice-President. I put him there knowing that he would succeed me. [He was] a good actor and he fooled me, when he was my Vice-President, to thinking that he was going to continue the trend and build upon it and not to do the reverse just like what Trump was doing to Obama. So, I regret that I put him there and I owe it to the nation to make sure that at the next election [in 2024] he’s removed.”

Addressing the media earlier on 8 June, 2019, Masisi stated: “Promises were made and assurances given that once he vacated office, he will always support government, that he will never destabilise government but now, a total somersault!” He then remarked defiantly in relation to accusations that he was failing the people: “Let me do what you ask me to do. If you’re tired of it, you’ll decide at the elections. You have a choice.”

Ian Khama said about Masisi: “I put him there”; and Nyesom Wike asked rhetorically about Fubara: “Who and who sat with me when he was picked as the governor?” So, as a Yoruba proverb puts it, “Kò s’íbi tí a kìí tí k’ádìe alé.” (‘No society is exempted from getting chicken to roost.’) Relatedly, an Ijaw proverb says, “A wise fish knows that a beautiful worm that looks so easy to swallow has a sharp hook attached to it.”

The unilateral choice or overbearing influence in picking presumably pliable candidates for office, or the outright imposition of such candidates, and their eventual uncontrollability, is the bane of African politics.

One solution to this problem could be the institution of “direct primaries”. The direct primaries mode is equitable and egalitarian and has the tendency to generate grassroots involvement in and even ownership of the candidate nomination process. It also has the tendency to reduce voter apathy. Moreover, it can reduce problems such as vote buying and political thuggery, because people see the candidate as their own project and are ready to invest in them and protect the process. With the digitisation of party membership lists, the potentials for the direct primaries mode to achieve the goals outlined above, and even more, are enhanced. Above all, the direct primary mode is not new in Nigerian politics. It was the mode adopted by Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s Unity Party of Nigeria for candidate nomination in 1983.  

In the end, regarding the predecessor-successor conundrum, it is like Nyesom Wike, like Ian Khama; like Siminalayi Fubara, like Mokgweesti Masisi. Considering the trajectory of the Khama-Masisi feud, it is hoped that beautiful Botswana, starlit Botswana and, as the former US Ambassador to the country, Michelle Garvin, described it, “small, but mighty” Botswana will not become another African nightmare.

Meanwhile, let us appreciate the profoundly sagely quote in the 18 March, 2020 issue of the Kenyan newspaper Nation in which the “political giraffe”, the “Professor of Politics”, the late President Daniel arap Moi, admonished: “Siasa mbaya, maisha mbaya.” “(‘Bad politics results to a miserable life for the citizens.’)”

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