Shortly after receiving a certificate of return from INEC on February 27 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari promised to run an ‘inclusive government’ during his second term in office, which begins on May 29 2019. He spoke against the backdrop of the rejection of the results of the election announced by INEC, by the presidential candidate of the PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who has since challenged the results at the election petition tribunal. Buhari was quoted as saying:
“Election is not war, and should never be seen as a do-or-die affair. I pray that we all accept this democratic approach to elections, however contentious…. That was why I encouraged my teeming supporters, in a speech I read earlier today, not to gloat. Our God-given victory is enough cause for joy, without deriding those who were in the opposition. All Nigerians, going forward, must stand in brotherhood, for a bright and fulfilling future.”
Like many words and phrases that are often bandied around in the country – such as ‘restructuring’ ‘building strong institutions’ and ‘good governance’, the notion of ‘inclusive government’, can mean different things to different people. Used tongue-in-cheek, it could be a way of saying the right things after a very bitterly fought election with the hope of dampening the enthusiasm of those threatening to challenge the outcome of the exercise. The implicit logic here is a coded message that those who lost (or were declared as the losers by INEC) need not fear any form of witch-hunt and may even be co-opted into the government “if they behave well”. The promise of running an ‘inclusive government’ could also be used derisively to mask triumphalism – just as false display of humility could be used to disguise a patronising attitude.
It is possible that Buhari really wants to run an ‘inclusive’ government – as he said. We need to give him the benefit of the doubt. But what exactly did he mean by ‘inclusive government’ given that he made no attempt to explain what he meant by the phrase. We can re-visit the context of that promise: After receiving his certificate of return from INEC, Buhari reportedly said: “I, therefore, want to assure that we will continue to engage all parties that have the best interest of Nigerians at heart. Our government will remain inclusive and our doors will remain open. That is the way to build the country of our dream; safe, secure, prosperous, and free of impunity and primitive accumulation by those entrusted with public offices,” (emphasis, mine). From this, it appears from the emphasized words that Buhari actually believes he ran an inclusive government during his first term in office. If this is the case, then the suggestion is that we should not expect any change in his style of ‘inclusive’ government. The corollary to this is that a big swathe of the country, essentially majority of the people in the Southern part of the country, will likely continue with their disagreement over his notion of ‘inclusive government’.
But technically speaking, what does an ‘inclusive government’ mean?
The notion of ‘inclusive’ or ‘all-inclusive government’, borrows from the philosophy of inclusive growth in economics, which is believed to be crucial not only for a fairer society but also for a stronger economy. The logic is that when there is a big gap between the rich and the poor, the resultant inequality not only undermines economic growth but also strains the relationship between the government and the governed and widens societal fissures. Applied to politics, inclusive government means deliberate attempt by the government of the day, to mirror in its personnel and governance philosophies, the diversity in the society and the contending ideas for development from the constituent units. For instance it is obvious from the results of the last presidential elections that the South has a relatively dim view of the Buhari presidency. This includes the South-west where the Vice President comes from and which is believed to be a major beneficiary of the government in terms of appointments and infrastructure distribution. That the South-west was divided down the middle was not because it is ‘ungrateful’ or ‘not to be trusted’ as some keyboard warriors were grandstanding. The truth is that whatever the zone has benefited from the Buhari government contends with other contrarian perspectives in the zone such as his alleged disdain for the clamour for restructuring, his alleged clannishness, nepotism and favouring of Northern Muslims (allegations, which the government constantly denies, but which probably also helped to valorise his base). In the South-east and South-south (which neither has an Osinbajo as “shon of the shoil” nor was especially favoured by the government), it was much easier for a single story narrative to dominate the public space, resulting in Buhari’s rejection (expressed as votes for Atiku and others).
Inclusive government also means doing away with cantankerous hardliners, who are perpetually in war and campaign modes, and who can only thrive by creating a simplistic binary of friends and enemies. In an inclusive government, efforts are made to marginalize such hardliners in favour of those temperamentally suited to reconciling and uniting people – irrespective of their beliefs, party affiliations or ethnic and religious identities.
Inclusive government is similar to, but not exactly the same with ‘government of national unity’. A ‘national unity government’ or ‘government of national unity’ or ‘national union government’ is a broad coalition government consisting of all parties (or all major parties) in the legislature, usually formed during a time of war, or when no single party is able to get a governing majority in parliament or in times of national emergency.
For instance in South Africa, the interim constitution negotiated in the run-up to a post apartheid government in 1994 allowed all parties that gained more than 10 per cent of the vote to participate in a Government of National Unity. The new government that was elected in 1994 in that country therefore had members from many political parties in the cabinet. Unlike a ‘government of national unity’, an inclusive government does not necessarily have to have members of other political parties represented in government, but the interests and agendas of the dominant opposition parties are factored into the philosophy of governance. A defining feature of an inclusive government is that it eschews triumphalism, privileges reconciliation and strives to build consensus among the different regional, ethnic and religious factions and fractions of the political class.
What are the chances that Buhari will run an inclusive government – defined technically as above?
Obviously we have to give him the benefit of the doubt – which may last to some months into his second tenure. But if inclusive government means the privileging of reconciliation over triumphalism, and deliberate attempts to mirror various contending ideologies and philosophies in government policy, then the ever rambunctious Adams Oshiomhole, the APC national chairman, seems to have a different idea. Oshiomhole reportedly said this of Atiku after he announced he was going to challenge the outcome of the election in court:
“Atiku’s desperation is so obvious. He is so desperate that in 2003, he challenged his own boss, Obasanjo. He decamped to join ACN and we offered him the ticket and he lost the election and returned to PDP…. He contested again and lost the nomination and because he has only his interest at heart, he decamped again from PDP.
“Do you think that such a political rolling stone, does he think that Nigerians are so insincere as to think that a man who is not stable and whose interest is about himself will be a possible candidate to be elected? What makes him have that sense of entitlement that he must be President of Nigeria? You cannot deny anyone the right to dispute the outcome of an election however free and fair.”
Oshiomhole also declared that his party would not share power with anyone in the National Assembly. He was quoted as saying:
“We will not share power in the House of Representatives and the leadership must ensure that critical committees that drive government are chaired only by APC members. If the Nigerian people wanted PDP to be chairmen of committees they would have voted for them,”
He further reportedly said: “PDP and other minority parties can have their say but working together, APC must have its way in legislative agenda, in the leadership of the National Assembly and the leadership of the committees in the National Assembly”.
So much for prioritising reconciliation over triumphalism and eschewing winner-takes-all mentality which are at the heart of any technical definition of ‘inclusive government’