Cabals of Nigeria: Past, Present and Future

from the fence

Some words suffer prejudice, that is, they are not allowed to ‘explain’ themselves or to be put in right context and they are forever preempted to do evil.

Cabal is one of such words. Once we here of a cabal our minds immediately think of some evil group of people somewhere, usually holding a system to ransom through intrigues. But the truth is that cabals are a necessary or even inevitable result of human relations and shouldn’t always mean evil.

Cabals are like marriages, getting them right is like heaven on earth and getting them wrong is like ….. yes, your guess is right.

Politically, cabals are always around the corridors of power, whether in developed or underdeveloped countries, either as friends of power or wannabe friends of power who antagonize the actual friends of power. These wannabes will bid their time like a 2nd, 3rd or 4th wife whose time to be with the husband has not come.

The circumstances which lead to the formation of the cabal and then the content and character of the cabal are things to be considered when the goodness or otherwise of a cabal is being analyzed.  Two or more partners automatically make up a cabal, whether romantic, matrimonial, political, professional, social-cultural and so on.

Nigeria has had and is still having its own share of cabals, group of men and women who have determined behind the scenes the course of events in the country, and sadly a major share of its cabal experience has not been positive.

We can rightly state that in Nigeria the formation of cabals began a little with the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates in 1914 by the British colonial power. With the clamor and politics of decolonization the cabals became more region centric as southern and northern politicians worked hard to see that the soon to be achieved independence and federal power rested with them and ultimately their individual regions.

January 1966, 6 years after independence, a major event took place; the first military coup in Nigeria carried out by 5 majors of the army who were themselves a ‘cabal’. One of the reasons among many others given by these 5 majors as to why they staged a coup was to rid the government of corrupt politicians or cabals as we may also call them and thereby establish an efficient system of law and order.

From 1966 to 1998 the military cabal kept on being involved –directly- in the governing process of Nigeria. The difference with cabals in military rule and civilian rule is that the military didn’t tolerate any other cabal (at least in theory) apart from that which existed in the main caucus of power, usually the Supreme Military Councils in power, but democratic  rule permits multiple cabals, small, medium and great, who might not bother much about holding power but making sure that public resources are filtered into their pockets through dubious means like sham contracts, oil theft, budget padding and so on.

This is where corruption in the civil service more often than not escapes scrutiny, not minding that the civil service could actually be more corrupt than what is obtainable in formal politics. The civil service from local to federal levels is a den of cabals, a frolicking between all levels of service up to the directorates.

When we talk of cabals in Nigeria, the head of state is usually not involved (in theory), most times he is unaware of what the cabal is doing because he exists like a charmed lover, ironically it is the outside world that knows much of what the cabal is up to. Take the case of President Jonathan, at a time in government, the popular opinion or knowledge was that some of his ministers and associates had hijacked the government machinery from him, that he was just there as a figure head for ceremonial functions.

People believed that this happened because of the gentle or rather soft nature of President Jonathan as he was not the first to have cabals or kitchen cabinet in Nigeria. Obasanjo too had those who were close to the corridors of power when he was head of state, but no cabal can be singled out to have held his administration hostage mainly because he was what analysts call a strong man in politics, which should have seen him scale through in his third term ambition.

Overtime a shift has taken place in the dynamics of cabals in Nigeria. It first started for the purpose of maintaining political power among select groups of people, but it is now tilted to maintaining financial power albeit through political means irrespective of the regions where members of the cabal hail from.

Political means here implies that politicians may play the ethnic card for example, but it is only a means to an end of looting public funds.

Cabals are the nemesis of the masses and the saving grace of governments; they are the reason why citizens suffer as this group of individuals usually syphon a nation’s resources to their private pockets, they are also the reason why heads of government have soft landings, for people will say the failures of government are from the cabals not the leader at the top. As saving grace of governments, they take the blame for an administration’s failure, this is after they must have enriched themselves through public largesse, so the accusations are just like water on a rock. In fact most cabal members outlast successive administrations.

There are rarely one-man cabals, but president Buhari has been fortunate and unfortunate in having both a one-man cabal and the conventional group cabal. Fortunate in the sense that Buhari’s military reign between 1983 and 1985 had his second in command, Maj Gen Idiagbon, who could be considered as a cabal on his own, create positive remarks for the Buhari military-led administration; one or maybe the only ‘fortunate cabal’ Nigeria has ever had. The regime then was not perfect, but Idiagbon who was almost the De Facto leader made up for the shortcomings of the administration.

In Buhari’s second coming as a democratically elected president in 2015, there was another one-man cabal that came with him in the person of his chief of staff, Late Abba Kyari. This gets one wondering if this is an intentional strategy of Buhari to leave the running of a major part of his government to a trusted confidant always, just like witnessed in the case of Idiagbon, or maybe his friends find a weakness in him and capitalize on it, whichever way, it often works for him by taking some responsibility and media spotlight off from him.

But why was Kyari not praised the way Idiagbon was praised. Two possible answers; maybe Kyari was not as upright as Idiagbon, and the other reason could be that corruption has become more vociferous than it was in the 80’s and so it may suffice to say that Kyari suffered blackmail from other cabals who couldn’t find a way to public resources.

Now, it cannot be denied that there are multiplicity of cabals in Nigeria today; some pilfering in millions, some in billions and some in trillions. O yes, TRILLIONS! They are everywhere, in Aso Villa, civil service, oil sector, ministries, on the streets and so on. A country of over 200 million people has over 80% percent of the population groaning under difficult conditions all because of desperate cabals who cannot see beyond their noses.

With increasing globalization and the passage of time, the ‘masses of Nigeria’, the less honorable MONs, are becoming a cabal to be almost reckoned with. But not all of them can win contracts, pad budgets, engage in oil theft, embezzle public funds and damn the consequences. So they will use whatever means accessible to them more easily, like was witnessed in the #ENDSARS protest in 2020.

As Nigeria’s general elections is just months away, the candidates irrespective of party lines must know that the masses cabal are getting more powerful and determined by the day and  will therefore take nothing less than an efficient government with results and not excuses.  The masses will be buoyed by the expectations of dividends from the inputs they are currently making to elect new leaders, whoever comes will be held accountable, anything short of that might lead to something greater than the #ENDSARS protest, something no government force might be able to quench.

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