By Femi Odere
As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” – Donald Rumsfeld, former US Secretary of Defence during a news briefing on February 12, 2002, about the lack of evidence linking Iraq’s Saddam Hussein with the supply of WMD to terrorist groups
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s visit to President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday, August 8, 2015, was promptly reported by the nation’s media establishment. It was almost instantaneously reported by the various social media platforms. But Nigerians did not know that the immediate past president of the republic, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, had come and gone to also see his successor on Thursday, the day before Obasanjo’s visit. Jonathan’s visit to Aso Rock, reportedly made at night, was also reported to have been facilitated by former Head of State Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, who is the chairman of the 2015 Elections Peace Committee. News reports also had it that Jonathan’s attempt to see his successor was not particularly smooth-sailing, as Abubakar himself had to rally other arrowheads in the nation’s power centers to intervene for the former president before the Aso Rock gate could be opened. If true, it shows the ultimate futility of power. As if given a report that the visits of the godfather and his godson (now estranged) may not have yielded the results they expected, the following Tuesday, members of the 2015 Elections Peace Committee “invaded” the villa to meet with President Buhari. In what can now be referred to as a stampede, in less than five working days, Buhari had received three former heads of state either individually or within a group, in addition to the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, who is also the spiritual leader of the nation’s Islamic faith, and other high profile individuals in the committee. Although it may not have been expressly and officially stated, Nigerians do not need to be told that the rush to the villa was on account of Buhari’s vow to kill corruption before it “kills” Nigeria.
Perhaps the best way to look at the sprints of these major power centers to Aso Rock is to situate their convergence on the “Rock” (in quick succession) within the context of the epigraph above. The above epigraph encapsulates the relationships (mostly convoluted) that exist between the various power centers that these people represent, on the one hand, and the relationship between President Buhari and these power centers on the other. On the “third” hand is the relationship between the Nigerian electorate’s yearning for change as an emergent power center—represented by Buhari—and the entrenched, elite power centers in the country, who are responsible for its sorry state and that of her people. Buhari’s emergence through the democratic process has revealed the gory state of the nation and the debilitating, suffocating stench in which Nigerians are mired, no thanks to the most vicious corruption that the world probably has ever known. By now, Buhari himself may be wondering if Nigeria has not already been “killed” by it since there are things he knows that the visitors to the “Rock” now know he knows. These are the “known knowns.”
It would have been foolish on the part of these power centers not to have sought an audience with a man who not only deliberately, unrepentantly, and unapologetically stands apart from these power formations in which they are either individually or collectively a part of, but a man who has also long been suspected that he may one day be their nemesis, a man furthermore known for his pathological disdain for corruption, which some of them deliberately fed, nurtured, and injected with massive dosage of steroids that mutated the monster into a “HYDRAPUS” (a hydra-headed monster and octopus combined) as aptly coined by Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka. They do not need to be told that things have really become serious when a president of the most populous country in Africa blurted in exasperation, in the faraway United States, that the monies in the accounts of these corrupt elements in our midst was “mind-boggling.” For Buhari, whose country is already known in the international community to have taken corruption as a way of life, to have made this damning declaration must have sent serious shock waves to the corrupt but very powerful class in the polity. Hence the marathon race to the villa, because the things they believed Buhari did not know—the “known unknowns”—have become the “known knowns.” Thanks to Buhari, the hapless Nigerian public now also knows that a minister carted away more than $6 billion within four years.
Buhari must be reminded that the power centers’ “pilgrimage” to the “Rock,” most probably to wrest concession from him not to go the whole hog, or at least give some people, if not some on the entourage, some slacks in his war against corruption, are among a group of very powerful people that tried in his previous attempts—even in the last presidential election—everything humanly possible to shut him out of the presidency, even by foul means. The president must not lose sight of the fact that these people hardly wish him and his administration well, because his presidency happened in spite of them. Jonathan’s reply, when Buhari intimated him with some of the earth-shaking corruption that took place under his watch that he was “hearing about some of the graft allegations for the first time,” was the most irresponsible statement to have been made by a former president. Hardly did he realize that the statement, in itself, was a serious indictment on his leadership. But we’re relieved that Buhari was reported to have also told the former president in no unmistakable terms that “all looted funds must be returned to the nation’s coffers.” Just as that statement was another testament to the fact that Jonathan’s thoughts and utterances, if not his approach to governance were far below the office he was saddled with, one is not fooled that what was inherent in the statement was his intentional refusal to acknowledge what he knew; the “unknown knowns” that psychoanalytic philosopher Slavoj Zizek says is the fourth category of Rumsfeld’s declaration that he either deliberately left out or, ironically, wasn’t aware of.
Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah’s statement in the aftermath of the 2015 Elections Peace Committee’s meeting with President Buhari that they “are concerned about [the] process” because the Buhari administration “is no longer a military regime” was most insidious and a dead give-away that the meeting with the Nigerian president had nothing to do with Nigerians’ collective desire to stamp out corruption after all. One may want to ask the Bishop if Buhari had arrested anyone on account of what he now knows—from the fool-proof evidence supplied by the international community—about these corrupt elements. He should also be asked if the president had thrown anyone in jail without any trial. One then wonders what would have warranted this unfortunate comment if not to intimidate and/or blackmail the Nigerian president. A committee imbued with strong moral values should not have allowed some of its members, most especially Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, to attend the meeting with the president on account of his alleged passive involvement in a morally despicable and illegally attempted gun-running with the use of his private jet. The Buhari presidency represents the very first time in the nation’s democratic history that Nigerians have a government of the people and for the people. But the sad and unfolding irony is that the battle line is slowly but surely being drawn to obstruct the “by the people” component, which gives democracy its name and meaning. This phenomenon has furthermore been exemplified by this recent rush to Aso Rock just as the war of attrition currently underway at the National Assembly, most especially in the Senate, is another testimony. Buhari can use all the support he can get from those Nigerians whose future has long been mortgaged by these corrupt elements, which are ready to fight with all the “weapons” in their arsenal. It’s now time to be vigilant more than ever.