by Jide Akinbiyi
It is generally agreed that the performance of the Goodluck Jonathan Administration leaves much to be desired; that the country now needs a more dynamic, more efficient, better organised and less corrupt government for it to make any real progress. For this reason, the idea of a new political body that promises to change the deplorable socio-economic situation in Nigeria and give us a better government, deserves some consideration.
The merger of four political parties, the ACN, the CPC, the ANPP and APGA is not the first time opposition parties in Nigeria would come together for the purpose of unseating an inept and corrupt Federal Government, which has been our misfortune since independence. All past efforts have failed in their mission, not so much because of the overriding power of the reigning party in rigging itself back to power but because of internal differences and the incompatibility of the merging parties. This time around, one would want to know if the parties involved have thrashed out those differences to make their merger a workable arrangement. We need to go into history and locate why opposition parties have failed in their coalition against the party in power.
The first attempt was in 1964. Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe’s National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC), which had been a junior partner in the Federal Government with Sir Ahmadu Bello’s Northern People’s Congress (NPC) since 1959, decided to team up with Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s opposition party, the Action Group (AG) in the general election of that year. The NCNC and AG then formed the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA) to unseat the NPC. At the end of the election, the NPC had succeeded in rigging itself back to power. Without any hesitation, NCNC leaders went back to the NPC in a new coalition government. They told the nation that the alliance with the Action Group was a mere political alliance, but the coalition with the NPC was to form a government.
Again in 1983, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s Nigerian Peoples Party whose members had been in President Shehu Shagari’s NPN Federal Government since 1979 decided to team up with Awolowo’s Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN); Waziri Ibrahim’s Great Nigeria Peoples Party (GNPP) and Comrade Michael Imoudu’s Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) for the purpose of unseating Shagari’s government in the presidential election of that year. They came together under the banner of Progressive Parties Alliance (PPA). But they could not agree on who would be their presidential candidate. Awolowo wanted to run, so did Azikiwe and Waziri. At the same time, Shagari who was sure of his victory assured Dr. Azikiwe and his NPP that he would give them ‘juicy’ positions if he was returned to power. Being thus wooed away from the PPA, Dr. Azikiwe described himself as a beautiful bride torn between different suitors. In the end, Shagari won the election and fulfilled his promise by appointing NPP members into his cabinet.
Let us now consider the present merger, the APC. Are they strong enough to unseat President Goodluck Jonathan? Are they indeed compatible to be able to muster that strength? I have very strong doubts. In the first instance, party coalition or merger works better under the parliamentary system of government. That was what we had during the First Republic with the NPC and NCNC coalition. A similar coalition of two parties obtains in Britain today. It had similarly worked in India where the parliamentary system has never been abandoned since the country’s independence in 1947. The interesting thing about the parliamentary arrangement is that it is less rigid and a party to the coalition can pull out and team up with another party in parliament to form a new government. This is not possible under the strong executive presidential system that obtains in Nigeria, the United States and many other countries. Once the parties to a merger agreed on a presidential candidate, the government belongs to him if he wins the election. The law does not recognise parties to the merger, but the President as the chief executive of state. Any agreement by the parties to the merger is not legally binding on the elected President. He is limited in his powers only by the legislative powers of the National Assembly and by the ruling of the courts. Not even the Vice President who might be a member of the other party in the merger could have a hold on the President as we have in Zimbabwe today. In the light of this and in the context of the present merger, what the masses behind the parties to the merger are looking forward to is to know their presidential candidate.
It is now clear that the CPC decided to go into the merger because it needs it to capture power at the centre, a goal, which its leader, General Muhammadu Buhari has failed to achieve in past three attempts. Therefore, to the CPC leadership, its followers and the people of the far north, the merger means so much for the possibility of ‘power returning to the north’. On its part, the ACN simply wants a more dynamic, truly progressive and less corrupt government at the centre. Unless its leaders are prepared to concede the presidency to Buhari’s CPC, the merger would collapse. However, if ACN concedes, the party would be paving the way for General Buhari to succeed where he had failed thrice. In this, they could not be sure of carrying along the people of the south-west who in their own wisdom and political judgment, had flatly rejected not only the candidature of General Buhari but also that of ACN’s own candidate, Nuhu Ribadu and voted overwhelmingly for PDP’s Goodluck Jonathan in 2011.
A close study of voters’ behaviour in that election offers enough lessons to politicians, especially ACN leaders that the people of the southwest are sufficiently enlightened to take their own electoral decisions regardless of politicians’ sentiments. ACN leaders should reflect on why the southwest electorate, which voted overwhelmingly for their governorship and assembly candidates, turned round to reject their presidential candidate in favour of the PDP’s, whereas they rejected PDP candidates in all other elections. This is food for thought and I would want them to do their homework properly and carry their people along before going into the unknown.
Finally, I do not believe that the ACN really needs this merger, but the CPC and the north are desperate for it. What is more important for the party is to consolidate its position in the southwest and give the rest of the country good examples in governance. The party has a lot to benefit from the faults now tearing the PDP apart in many parts of the country. With its strength in the southwest, the ACN can continue to win more adherents in places where the PDP has failed the people, and indeed be the viable alternative. What is paramount in the minds of most Nigerians today is the constitutional restructuring of Nigeria into a more meaningful and effective federation. An ACN, properly entrenched in the southwest, can be the strong voice in the realisation of that highly desirable goal.
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Jide Akinbiyi