by Segun Gbadegesin
Since the announcement of the mega merger to form the All Progressives Congress (APC), there has been a new art of scaremongering and there is something paradoxical about it.
Let me substantiate. Various spokesmen of the ruling party have gone from demonising the leaders of the proposed merger to scaring one segment of the electorate, especially in the Southwest, that APC is their death knell as a people. In series of press briefings and statements right after the announcement of the merger, Presidential spokesperson Doyin Okupe had some harsh words for the party and its prospects.
On the one hand, Okupe asserted that the merger will crumble within a year on the ground that “it is a weak association.” The basis of this assessment is unclear given the widespread nature of the membership of the merging parties and the levers of power they presently control. But Okupe is so sure of his position that he chose to stake his future identity on the veracity of his prediction.
On the other hand, however, in an effort to paint ACN as a regional party, Okupe ended up disparaging the Yoruba as diehard regionalists. In his thinking, the only attachment that the Yoruba have with ACN is its identity as a regional party. This translates to the view that the Yoruba are not worried about the programmes that are beneficial to them, nor are they concerned about the ideological orientation of a political party. “The party’s only relevance in the Nigerian politics is that it is the outfit with which the Yoruba politics stands out. So when they have lose (sic) that garb, they are gone,” Okupe predicted.
Recall that this has always been the tragic resort of opponents of both the Action Group and the UPN. Okupe indeed referenced these parties as examples of his meaning. Recall also that one of the campaign slogans of PDP in 2003 was the need for the Yoruba to go into the mainstream of Nigerian politics. Now, the leadership of ACN is making the move via a different route and the scaremongers are at work.
From another angle in the same art of scaremongering, the leader of the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF) Alhaji Mujadid Asari Dokubo declared in an interview with Saturday Sun that the “emerging merger of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) with the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) and a faction of the All Peoples Grand Alliance (APGA) will spell doom for Yoruba people.” In Dokubo’s chauvinistic assessment, “it is political suicide for the Southwest to align with the North in the power equation.”
The reasoning is so far out that it is hardly worth examining from a rational perspective. First, if the issue is about experience, isn’t it true that the Southsouth in general, and the Niger Delta in particular have always aligned with the North in federal elections since at least the second republic? Dokubo asserted that “nobody calling himself progressive would go and align with feudalists.” This is a valid point; but it begs a question: Do we identify feudalism with ethnic nationalities or with mindsets and practices? Do we dismiss offhand the prospect of progressive policies coming out of particular groups and individuals just because of their ethnic origin? This appears to be Dokubo’s challenge and the challenge of all of us having been so caught up in ethnic politics and name calling that are detrimental to whatever aspirations we have as a nation.
Recently, I came across a YouTube video on the visit of the late Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa to the John F. Kennedy White House in 1963 and I was pleasantly surprised. I never heard Alhaji Balewa speak during his lifetime, and watching that video sparked in me a pride in the founding fathers of this country that I found myself giving a standing ovation at the end of the video. Balewa spoke with class. He was articulate and confident. His speeches were brief, casual and off-the-cuff, yet profound. Of course, we could disagree about the policies of his party but we should now learn that name calling is a game beneath our collective dignity as a nation. After all, no one has a monopoly over such practices.
The second question is this: in what sense is the proposed merger of four parties into APC an alliance with any particular zonal establishment? The parties are spread all over the country. While ACN has control of state houses across the Southwest, it also draws membership and National Assembly members from other zones. The leaders of the merging parties have consistently declared their intention to uphold the principle of internal democracy within the party and in particular in the matter of the choice of flag bearers at all levels. Yet the scaremongers cannot wait for the party to emerge and demonstrate its commitment to democratic principles. They want to cause so much stress for the pregnancy so that their desire for a miscarriage would be realised. In whose interest is this?
Here then is the paradox. The leaders of the proposed APC have been so methodical and deliberative in their choices that opponents are so scared about the possibilities and potentialities of the party that they would rather not have it come to life. The deliberativeness is not just about the months of dialogue and negotiations; it is not just about the choice of ideologies and manifesto. It is also about symbolism. When they chose the name of the proposed party, they came up with an acronym that carries so much symbolism that it scares the hell out of the opposition: if you have a headache, APC is the answer. In case you are molested by kidnappers and armed robbers, we are the Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC). In a political universe where symbols are sometimes much more effective than substance, it is not uncommon for the sensibilities of the electorate to be attracted to such eye-catching symbol as the broom and the promising chorus of “change” that comes with APC.
There is a third question: if the reasoning of the NDPVF leader is valid, why can’t the Northern zones be apprehensive of an alliance with the Southwest since indeed, the ACN can boast of its strength and the widespread nature of its mandate? It seems that the thinking here is that what makes an alliance with CPC so scary is that the North can consume its partners. Yet in the same breath Dokubo suggested that former President Obasanjo, a Yoruba, “changed the political landscape” because he made “a conscious effort to create a balance in the patronage distribution in Nigeria.” But it was very clear to all in 1999 that the North wanted Obasanjo as president and voted overwhelmingly for the PDP. Was that not an alliance with the Northern establishment?
The bottom line is this. APC is becoming a reality and there is palpable fear concerning its impact in the political scene in 2015 and beyond. Whatever side one takes—for APC, PDP or against both—the one benefit that the nation as a whole stands to gain from the emergence of a strong APC is the deepening of democratic norms and practices. Two strong parties vying for acceptance by the electorate at the center is the best thing that would happen to the country since the aborted third republic.
What makes this approach better than the Babangida initiative of a two-party system is that it would have evolved from the practice of democracy itself. Having learned the importance of numbers, and having benefitted from the frustration of the people with the ruling party and the lackluster leadership at the centre, political sense dictates the rationality of splinter parties coming together under one umbrella for a common cause. Of course, the new party must have to show that it is different, not just in terms of symbols but more importantly in terms of the substance of its programs encapsulated and effectively articulated in its manifesto.
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Segun Gbadegesin