Kingibe and Nigeria’s negotiability, By Femi Mimiko
Again, just as it was when he melted into relative obscurity soon after exiting the Yar’Adua government, Kingibe has so suddenly reappeared. He started out as an operator from the backstage of the Buhari administration; but has, since the beginning of the President’s second term, come into the open as a key player, with mandate over some innocuous Lake Chad initiative, elevated to a cabinet status!
Would you think this uniquely gifted player is as slippery as an eel, or as smart as a fox? Whatever; but what is certain is that the unfolding, well laid out trajectory shouldn’t surprise anyone with attention to the Kingibe professional profile. This is a man from a rich educational background, a careerist who straddles, arguably, two of the world’s most prized professions, as a diplomat and spook. He has successfully lived both ends, and done so in a manner that would make his teacher(s) and mentors quite proud, how he has, over the years, translated those uncanny streams of thought he must have been stuffed with, into a veritable compass to his own acts; and ended up faring better than most people, his contemporaries and competitors alike.
Without doubt, the basis of this attempt at profiling, as it were, of Baba Gana Kingibe, is his unequivocal statement, on October 16, at an Abuja function, admitting that Nigeria’s unity is indeed negotiable! Hear him: “I think that a few of my colleagues believe that the unity of Nigeria is not negotiable. Of course, it is negotiable. Even the unity of a family is negotiable. Even the constitution of husband and wife is negotiable. The moment either parties feels this union is no longer bearable, that he or she will rather go his/her way, you help them to sit down, consider their condition after a careful and rational examination of the pros and cons of how to be married that they take the decision which suits them best.”
You would say this is trite, which in some other climes wouldn’t have amounted to much. It is so basic a proposition, consistent with how the state, referred to by Max Weber as the most complex organisational abstraction, evolves everywhere. But in Nigeria’s own peculiar site, many a leader of importance had kept on with the illogic that there indeed could be some human collective or enterprise that was non-negotiable! For good effect, Kingibe has now made the point most poignantly. And given his penchant for deliberateness, I venture to aver that he did so with this simple metaphor of husband-wife relations, such that would make anyone apprehend the import of his narrative, and what is at stake. That this same argument has been made by so many pundits in the past is not in doubt. What gives the Kingibe intervention its unique flavour is the fact that the man reportedly operates from the innermost recesses of President Buhari’s government, whose disdain for any talk of negotiating the future, or recasting the extant governance structure of Nigeria, is not hidden. More so, Kingibe’s is not, by any stretch of imagination, a face on the federal cabinet put there to fulfil all righteousness, to wit, meet the constitutional requirement of having a minister from each state; but that of a real player, who had played the game from behind the curtain hitherto, and now has been brought into the open – for whatever reason.
It would be so much gladsome if Kingibe’s thesis, diametrically opposed to that of his principal as it is, indeed represents a change of heart, a paradigm shift, as it were, on this existential subject for Nigeria, on the part of President Buhari. That would be such a welcome development, for only in such commitment to truly inclusive, consequential dialogue and negotiations lies the possibility of exiting what elsewhere I referred to as this ‘debilitating quandary.’ Or is Kingibe’s a mere kite to set off the motion onto a presidential run in 2023, needed to begin some careful march into some conceptual arenas held as sacrosanct by some powerful voting constituencies? I wish it were the former, such that a diligent and determined walk on that pathway, about which Kingibe spoke, would birth a new Nigeria defined by inclusivity, and capable of putting down several of the centrifugal forces contending for the very soul of the country – a new Nigeria by which the Buhari legacy could be defined.
The flip side of the time-worn thesis on the non-negotiability of Nigeria, which Ambassador Kingibe has now, thankfully, laid to rest, is the one that says the country is indivisible. I had repeatedly weighed in on this dimension of the argument too, which for many, is indeed non-sequitur. In my “Exiting this debilitating quandary: the place of agency in Nigeria“, first published by Premium Times on March 11, and by so many other social media sites thereafter, I had argued, inter alia: “In the final analysis, while recognising the profound advantages of keeping the country in its one big and expansive whole, I argue that in the event of the sustenance of the resistance to recomposing the state, the structural integrity of this social formation may be fatally compromised. Nigerians must acknowledge that the oft-repeated ‘Nigeria is indivisible’ thesis is patently ahistorical. History has demonstrated unambiguously that different types of state structures had unravelled in the past; and there is nothing unique about Nigeria that makes a similar path completely imponderable, especially where the conditions prevailing are akin to the ones that had propelled state failure in other climes.”
I argue, here again, as I did before, that “the agency of leadership is very crucial whenever a nation finds itself in such a situation as Nigeria is in today. … a similar historical moment was seized upon by President F. W. de Klerk to reconstitute South Africa, away from an apartheid system that was destined for calamitous collapse. What Nigeria needs at the moment is its own de Klerk – a metaphor for leadership – to wind down a structure that is neither working, nor workable; and replace it with a more functional alternative that can be the basis of economic growth, development, and national unity.” President Muhammadu Buhari has no reason not to step into this office, at this epochal moment of Nigeria’s history, defined by gargantuan security economic, power cum social relations challenges. A very critical first step in this regard is for government to commit to genuine negotiations, upon which it would become obvious that all of these problems are what I call, “regular nation-building challenges,” the type that many a nation across the world had gone through and triumphed over. It is more reasonable to choose the path of negotiation, which Kingibe has now lent some official recognition to, rather than allow the country to continue to atrophy, with the increasing possibility of things completely spinning out of control. Having a Kingibe direct such a negotiation process, under the watchful eyes of his principal, I venture to say, wouldn’t be a bad idea after all, now that the retired diplomat has made this seminal public intervention.
Femi Mimiko, mni, is professor of Political Science, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife; and a member of the National Institute. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org @FemiMimiko