By Salihu Moh. Lukman
Today, Saturday, May 11, 2013, both the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) are scheduled to hold their conventions aimed at securing the approval of members of the two parties to join the merger process for the formation of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Already, on Thursday, April 18, 2013, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) has successfully held its merger convention and obtained the approval of its members to merge with other opposition parties including the ANPP and CPC to form the APC.
All indications points to the fact that the conventions of ANPP and CPC will be successful and Nigerians can expect with every certainty that the APC will finally be born and, at least, ACN, ANPP and CPC will dissolve into our new APC. Last Tuesday, May 7, in Owerri, at a rally attended by the 9 progressive governors, the Okorocha-led APGA has announced its decision to join APC.
There is no debate about the fact that this is a new development in Nigerian politics. Since independence in 1960, this is the first time political parties are able to contract agreement among themselves and accomplish all the statutory requirements for merger. Past attempts crashed at the preliminary stages and never gets to the point of obtaining membership approvals. The main reason being inability of the leaders of the merging parties to accept the principle of sacrificing current positions in order for merger negotiations to have any life.
It can therefore be logically argued that the APC merger negotiations has come this far and today ACN, ANPP, CPC and Okorocha-led APGA have delivered a new political party, APC, to Nigerians. It is purely a mark of the capacity of leaders of these parties to make sacrifices.
Where past Nigerian political leaders have failed, our today ACN, ANPP, CPC and Okorocha-led APGA leaders have succeeded. What does this success mean? Is it going to end as simply a formal union of leaders of ACN, ANPP, CPC and Okorocha-led APGA under a new APC? Will it result in a new dispensation coming with a new political practice (culture) producing higher commitment to issues of national development and citizens’ welfare? Is our new APC going to just narrow itself to developing strategies for 2015 elections and to that extent focus more on the challenge of producing candidates? Or is our APC going to focus more on the task of organising a strong and competent political organisation and therefore seek to mobilise patriotic Nigerians to join the party?
There are a lot of public suspicions basically suggesting that APC is nothing but rebranding project for the political union of ACN, ANPP, CPC and Okorocha-led APGA which will not produce anything new in Nigerian politics. There is almost a national consensus that it is simply a strategy for 2015 that may not go beyond being a common platform for candidates’ selection involving ACN, ANPP, CPC and Okorocha-led APGA. The task of organising a strong and competent political organisation coming with mass mobilisation of Nigerians will not be the priorities of APC. With Gen. Muhammadu Buhari intermittently, sometimes without any clear prompting, at least not from the merger negotiation table, re-asserting his availability to serve as a presidential candidate for APC in 2015, the public suspicion of APC being a rebranding strategy continues to gain some credence.
Should that be the case, the birth of APC will not result in anything new in Nigerian politics. It will end up as the continuation of the politics of ACN, ANPP, CPC and Okorocha-led APGA. What is the politics of ACN, ANPP, CPC and Okorocha-led APGA? What is even the prospect that APC can produce a successfully united strategy for ACN, ANPP, CPC and Okorocha-led APGA?
Looking at these four merging political groups, it can be argued that their politics is centrally about contesting elections hardly associated with clear policy commitment. The closest may be ACN whose governments in the five states of the South West are making some claims to free education based on leanings to Awoist philosophy. ANPP can hardly be associated with any policy commitment except perhaps Shari’a given that it originated from ANPP controlled states. With no policy to be associated to CPC, its emergence out of ANPP may be an unfair description of its policy thrust as is currently being speculated. Okorocha-led APGA can hardly be associated with any clear policy commitment too, not even in relation to the experience of the 7 years of APGA in Anambra.
What is very clear is that all the merging political groups are regional in orientation and therefore their politics being regionally focused. There lie the major limitations of the politics of these parties even in terms of the narrow issue of candidates’ selection. Outside the regions of strength, parties have not been able to acquire the necessary electoral strengths. Often, they have to recruit aspiring politicians from other parties to be able to field candidates for elections. As a result, the politics of all our merging parties is centrally driven by some few regionally-based popular personalities; notably Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu – South West, Sen. Ali Modu Sheriff/Sen. Bukar Abba Ibrahim/Alh. Ibrahim Shekarau/Sen. Sani Yerima – North East/North West, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari – North West and Chief Rochas Okorocha – South East.
Partly because of the weight of these personalities, party organisations as represented by our merging parties have been subordinated and weak on account of which tasks such as party management and membership mobilisation were driven by issues of loyalty. A major outcome that is manifest in all the four parties is weak secretariat organisation, if not incompetent, which has resulted in situations where statutory party organs and implementation of their decisions are driven more from outside party structures. This is the case virtually for all our four merging groups.
The fact of statutory party organs and implementation of their decisions being driven more from outside party structures has resulted in situations where even the task of choice of candidates at all levels is more handled outside party structures. This is what has given legitimacy to the complaint for lack of internal democracy in our parties, thereby creating internal crisis, anti-party activities by members and factions. Our political leaders are at the centre of all these. This is the story of Asiwaju Tinubu in ACN, Gen. Buhari in CPC and depending on the state in focus; it is the story of Sen. Ali Modu Sheriff, Sen. Bukar Abba Ibrahim, Alh. Ibrahim Shekarau and Sen. Sani Yerima in ANPP and of course it will be the story of Okorocha-led APGA in Imo and parts of the South East.
So far, the APC merger negotiations have successfully addressed technical issues bordering on developing the draft constitution and manifesto. There is some focus on issues of leadership sharing formula. All these hardly touch on the substantive issue of practice and experiences. This limitation may result in reproducing a situation where basically the APC is designed based on acknowledged areas of influence for current leaders. In which case therefore it could be expected that formal structures of the party will be weak, the secretariat may even be incompetent and statutory party organs and implementation of their decisions will continue to be driven more from outside party structures.
Should that happen, our new APC would confirm public speculation and all that we should expect out of it will be the emergence of our leading political personalities as candidates for 2015 elections. This could translate into for instance Gen. Buhari, on account of ‘pressure’ from supporters present himself as aspiring candidate for 2015. Once that happens, the Okupe’s one year prediction may come to pass and he (Okupe) can claim to earn his name.
The reason being, first the old ANPP problem that resulted in Gen. Buhari and his supporters breaking away from the party will be reincarnated, perhaps on a lower scale since Sen. Sani Yerima and Sen. Bukar Abba Ibrahim may just limit their political aspirations to the Senate. Sen. Modu Sheriff may also just negotiate his political protection by attempting to go back to the Senate. But Alh. Shekarau may, having played a very critical commendable role in the merger process, want to aspire for the presidency. Of course, in the case of ACN, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu may not be difficult to demobilise and depending on his capacity to strengthen his grip on local Adamawa politics, get settled with either party’s gubernatorial or senatorial ticket.
Assuming that normal democratic process is employed to resolve the matter in favour of Gen. Buhari, the second challenge will be the issue of selecting a running mate. This is because there are so many interests that could potentially emerge. Given the context of the merger, with Gen. Buhari coming from CPC, the focus will either be ACN, ANPP or Okorocha-led APGA. Within ACN, based on the need to produce a candidate from the Southern part, Asiwaju Tinubu, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and Sen. Chris Ngige are names that could be speculated. While no name is currently being speculated with respect to ANPP, the new reality may throw up Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu on account of the need for ANPP to assert its influence in APC. Of course, Chief Rochas Okorocha is already being speculated as a vice presidential hopeful. These are all very formidable interests and recourse to democratic methods may hardly produce acceptable results.
It is possible that in some ways, based on the focus to concentrate on producing candidates, challenges are resolved and APC roll itself successfully through to 2015. The point is that once the focus is about producing candidates, APC will not emerge as a strong party. A basic indicator of whether APC is going to emerge as a strong party or not will be the composition of its leadership. Will its leadership include Gen. Buhari, Asiwaju Tinubu, Chief Onu, etc.? Or is it going to exclude these strong personalities? Once they are excluded, it should simply be taken that they are being reserved for electoral contest. And in order to guarantee that happens, they will move to influence the emergence of loyalists who will in fact block any party action that can prevent their emergence.
By all account this will amount to cheating and far below standards of politics in the first and second republics. Both in the first and second republic, political leaders were able to combine their aspirations to contest for election with the need to build strong party structures. Why is our contemporary political leadership unable to do that? In particular, why can’t Asiwaju Tinubu and Gen. Buhari formalise their responsibility within the party and based on that build the party first? Why should they imagine that they can win an election without building the party? Let us even imagine they can win election without building the party. How can Nigerians then trust that when they become President and Vice President they can build a strong united nation? Should we assume that based on the records of Gen. Buhari when he was military Head of State and Chairman PTF? And from the record of Tinubu as Governor of Lagos state between 1999 and 2007?
Somehow, our leaders need to be told the truth; any such permutation is self-centred, deceptive and injurious to our new born APC. Noted that Asiwaju Tinubu has expressed concern about too much focus on ‘alleged competing personal ambitions’ of General Buhari and himself. The fact of the domineering consideration for APC to focus centrally on producing candidates for 2015 elections with probable outcome of Gen. Buhari being the presidential candidate and perhaps Asiwaju Tinubu as the running mate makes it almost incumbent to continue to interrogate such a possibility however remote. It has nothing to do with respecting these personalities but critically about the outcome it portend for the nation and even our new party APC.
The truth is that once we are able to reconcile the aspirations of specifically Gen. Buhari and Asiwaju Tinubu, actual or remote; we can then begin to have a clearer projection for APC. Our inability to reconcile the aspirations of our political leaders is resulting in situations whereby although we are all conscious about its existence, we are wary in engaging it. This wariness is resulting in a situation where lower political structures will get completely sacrificed based on which anyone with claims of loyalty mostly artificial can secure tickets to emerge as gubernatorial, senatorial, House of Representatives and house of assembly candidates.
Asiwaju Tinubu and Gen. Buhari, at 61 and 70 respectively, owe it to this nation to do what is right and provide selfless leadership. Nigerians are hungry for national heroes of the stature of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, Abraham Lincoln of United States, Fidel Castro of Cuba and most recently Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Our two leaders have been blessed in so many respects, including wisdom, courage and most importantly healthy long lives. As part of their blessed lives, they are today parenting a new political baby, APC.
The task of parenting requires close attention, which modern times necessarily involve maternity and paternity leave. In our case, the maternity and paternity leave should mean suspension of all political aspirations other than those directly dealing with building the structures of our new born party, APC. In the context of maternity and paternity leave therefore both Asiwaju Tinubu, Gen. Buhari and all leaders of our merging parties should declare a minimum of one year during which their main activities would be to building the party through membership recruitment, mobilising needed financial resources to open party offices, setting up rules and enforcing them towards managing members, negotiating policies and popularising them among members.
Anything short of this will send our new born party, APC, to abandoned political babies home that is today under the control of PDP. That cannot be the objective of our political leaders of today’s ACN, ANPP, CPC and Okorocha-led APGA. The onus of responsibility squarely rests with Asiwaju Tinubu, Gen. Buhari, Dr. Onu, Sen. Sheriff, Alh. Shekarau, Sen. Yerima, Sen. Ibrahim, Chief Okorocha, among others.
Nigerians are watching anxiously, history is beckoning and the time to act is NOW!