by Mark Amaza
Finally, the much-awaited grand opposition merger has come to reality. The Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN; the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP; the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA and the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC have fused together into a new party, the All Progressives Congress, APC.
Quite expectedly, they have already gotten a lot of positive reactions from an electorate long disenchanted with the non-performance of the Peoples’ Democratic Party. There has already been talk of how the new party would displace the PDP come the general elections in 2015.
Inasmuch as I am excited about the arrival of a new mega-party on the block, I find myself proceeding with caution.
I am not wont to immediately pitch my tent with opposition parties out of a mere need to have ‘change’ in power, especially when that change is not defined. Simply calling yourself a ‘progressive’ because you are in the opposition isn’t convincing enough that with you, there shall be progress. You must make a convincing case as to why you will be better. I continue to hold the opinion that there is nothing the PDP has done, good or bad, that no other party has not done.
But beyond that, it is important that the opposition are realistic about who they are up against. The PDP doesn’t continue to win at the centre just because they control state institutions such as the police and the Independent National Electoral Commission; after all, the fact that election petitions fell by a whopping 68% between the 2007 elections and the 2011 elections bears testimony to the fact that our elections are becoming more credible. They win because, more than the opposition, the PDP has continuously employed the right strategies.
Contrary to what most people think, the PDP has an ideology, albeit something very different from what parties in other democracies we look up to have. At their formation in 1998, the PDP brought together Nigerian politicians of different religions, ethnicities and regions to fuse into a party with one goal: a party that will have power at the centre and at all levels of governance in Nigeria as much as possible. In other words, they desired to be a national party.
Contrast that with the Alliance for Democracy (much of which is now part of the now-rested ACN) that was Yoruba-dominated or with the All Peoples’ Party (later ANPP) which was a Northern party with an Islamist bent. Or even with other latter parties like the APGA (Igbo-dominated) and the CPC (Northern-dominated). Thus, what the PDP has achieved is no mean feat in a nation such as Nigeria considering our strong ethnic, regional and religious sentiments.
A clear evidence of this ideology is the zoning controversy that almost tore the party apart. Like I explained in this article, in a party with an ideology, all disagreements and battles are fought and won within the ambit of that ideology. The zoning battles, of whether the presidency should be by rotation among the geo-political zones so that they would feel a sense of national belonging, was within the framework of the party’s ideology of being a national party. That is why as heated and bitter as the battles were, it didn’t cause ‘Africa’s largest party’ to split; as a matter of fact, none of the major contenders (former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, for instance) has left the party.
Where am I leading with all this? Here is a fusion of 4 regional political parties, all of which have some form of internal crisis or the other: APGA is divided into factions, ACN is suffering from a one-man party syndrome, the PC which was primarily built to help one man achieve his presidential dream and his iron clutch on the party has caused it to lose up to 3 governorship elections (e.g. Kano state), and the ANPP which has gone downhill from being Nigeria’s largest opposition party (with 9 states in 1999) to a crisis-ridden shadow of its former self (with 3 states in 2011).
It is not that the PDP is without its problems; everyone knows of the running battles between President Goodluck Jonathan and former President Olusegun Obasanjo. But to expect 4 parties who do not have their houses in order to immediately fuse into one strong party capable of strongly challenging the PDP is very debatable.
This, for me, makes the party look like a house built on quicksand, as the smallest crisis might be capable of putting them asunder. After all, picking a presidential candidate in 2015 would not be without rancour as all politicians involved have their own personal interests. It will be a very rocky time for the APC.
Besides that, there is also the not-so-little fact that the PDP approaches every election with seriousness. This is one reason that they are the number one or two party in every state. Even in the Ondo gubernatorial elections of last year where everyone knew that the fight was between the ruling Labour Party and the ACN, the PDP was not found wanting in approach which resulted in them coming a surprise second. Contrast that with the attitude of the ACN to the Adamawa gubernatorial elections of February 2012, which was the start of my disenchantment towards the party as a pro-ACN person. Or even with the Kebbi re-run elections in which the strongest challenge to the PDP, the CPC came out to concede defeat, admitting that they were ill-prepared.
Can an alliance of parties who approach elections with such ill-preparedness and unseriousness suddenly be able to get their act together and make a good run for the presidency? This is something I very much doubt.
Lastly, I think the APC would be adopting the wrong strategy if it focuses wholly on winning the Presidency and leaving the control of most states and the National Assembly in the hands of the PDP. This is because no matter how well-intentioned a president is, the legisature and the powerful Governors’ Forum are capable of making his/her tenure a living hell.
Rather, they should win power incrementally: start with the realistic goal of winning more states and legislative seats; and while they should make a good run for the presidency, they shouldn’t insist on that with a win-or-die mentality. If they adopt this strategy and build their base and increase their sphere of influence, then they have a far better chance of winning in 2019.
Once again, it is an excellent thing for our democracy that excellent and strong opposition has finally arrived.
However, it is very important that we proceed with cautious optimism.