by Tolu Ogunlesi
In November 1954, the Daily Times and the West African Pilot reported that the Northern People’s Congress and the Action Group were considering the possibility of a formal union, to become the ‘Nigerian Peoples’ Congress’. (It never did happen; and one wonders what course Nigerian history would have taken had it taken place).
Almost 60 years later, another set of influential Nigerian parties, the Congress for Progressive Change and the Action Congress of Nigeria– both loosely aligned with the regionalist orientations of the NPC and AG –have succeeded in pushing through a merger.
I didn’t think the Independent National Electoral Commission would approve the registration of the All Progressives Congress. Having failed to take the steps to protect the acronym, and allowed its enemies to take advantage of this, I found myself thinking it was high time the party resigned itself to the prospects of looking for a new name. It was therefore great news to hear of the registration, an act which has no doubt burnished the independent credentials of INEC under Prof. Attahiru Jega.
After all the controversy that has attended the evolution of the party, it is tempting to regard the registration as a cause for celebration. Alas, it isn’t. This is no time for celebration, considering the roughness of the journey ahead.
I’ve recently been reading Richard Sklar’s 1963 tome, “Nigerian Political Parties: Power in an Emergent African Nation.” It’s been a deeply revealing journey into the beginnings of organised political consciousness in Nigeria, from what is widely acknowledged as the first political party in the country, the Nigerian National Democratic Party, founded by Herbert Macaulay on June 24, 1923.
I have now come to the conclusion that politics in Nigeria has always been denominated by desperation, playing out in the same guises – intimidation, manipulation, dodgy mathematics (from the bitter dispute that saw the AG and the NCNC both claiming they owned a majority of the 75 non-Lagos candidates elected to the Western House of Assembly in 1951, to the puzzling twelve-two-thirds saga of 1979, to the 16 vs. 19 Nigeria Governors’ Forum controversy in 2013), and a shameless appeal to ethnic and tribal instincts.
Political history in Nigeria is a student’s nightmare, what with the feverish rate of activities – a ceaseless stream of factions and new parties and mergers and alliances and defections. There are, not unexpectedly, no permanent friends or enemies, no permanent parties or party names, only permanent interests, focused on only one thing – power for the sake of power.
Ibrahim Babangida – a maestro of political engineering if ever there was one – summed up the attitude of Nigerian politicians this way, in his October 4, 1989 speech announcing the creation of the Social Democratic Party and the National Republican Convention:
“… [The] prevailing attitude appeared to be that every Nigerian wanted to be a ‘founder’, and no one wanted to be a ‘joiner’. Everyone wanted to be a leader of a party, or a close associate of the leader […] Every ‘founder’ cornered the political association to himself and his small circle of friends and associates, and proceeded to prescribe closed shop ‘admission rules’ that were guaranteed to subordinate ‘joiners’, a gangster clique strategy most of our people resent. In a true political association there are no ‘founders’; all are ‘joiners’. Political parties should not be political foundations belonging to anyone.”
The biggest challenge facing party democracy in Nigeria is the creation of true political parties, as opposed to vote-capturing, sentiment-manipulating or ego-massaging Special Purpose Vehicles.
The second biggest challenge is doing away with the one-party system we’ve been saddled with since 1999. On the surface, it appears to be a multi-party system – there are dozens of registered parties – but in reality what we have is a virtual monopoly of the political space by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party.
Even the much-maligned second republic demonstrated greater balance. In the 1979 elections, the National Party of Nigeria won only 37 per cent of the seats in the House of Representatives, 38 per cent in the Senate, and seven of the 19 state governorship seats. Close on its heels was the Unity Party of Nigeria, with 25 per cent of the House of Reps, 30 per cent in the Senate, and five state governorship seats.
Compare that with the 4th Republic where the PDP has consistently won, in the presidential, National Assembly, and governorship elections, more votes/seats than all the other parties combined. Unlike in the 2nd Republic, the mathematical possibility of having the leading opposition parties band together to present a formidable counterpoint to the ruling party has been close to nil, since 1999.
Now that 2015 is upon us, will the APC be the party that finally seriously challenges the unbroken dominance of the PDP? Don’t we think that after 14 years, it’s high time another platform got a chance to rule – or misrule – Nigeria from Abuja? Even if just for the sake of novelty?
The good news for the APC is that the PDP is in a very weak position at the moment. But then there’s an argument to be made for the fact that it has always been a deeply divided party, and that there’s no greater unifying impulse than self-preservation; the quest to retain power and maintain the status quo – which will be the PDP’s joker in 2015.
And, if the power sector reform continues on course, and generation hits 10,000MW anytime over the next year (which looks likely, considering that the NIPP alone should add more close to 5,000MW this year), you can bet that Nigerians, blessed with some of the shortest memories in the world, will forgive President Goodluck Jonathan for the many disappointments he has saddled them with.
But I insist, it would be good to see the PDP cured of the arrogance and entitlement mentality that set in when you’ve been winning the presidential elections of Africa’s most populous country; the sort of arrogance that permits you to discuss unwritten internal party agreements (zoning) as though they were constitutional matters.
The biggest challenge before the APC would be to prove that it is not like the PDP. That’s going to be hard, considering that, generally, many of its members would feel at home in the PDP – indeed a good number of its members are PDP alumni, losers in the endless vicious quests for space at the PDP dining table.
Lest we get over-excited about the emergence of a messianic APC, let’s consider this fact: All political parties in Nigeria share the same DNA. The activist and political mobiliser, Salihu Mohammed Lukman, in his 2012 book, “2015: Manifesto of Nigerian Opposition Politics”, has an account of the histories of our current political parties.
From it, we can trace the roots of the APC to the PDM (according to Lukman, the AD, precursor of the ACN, was founded by a group of South-Western PDM members; the PDM is the same platform that produced the PDP) and the APP (which became the ANPP, from which the CPC broke off in 2010). It could easily be argued that what we have in the APC is simply a reconstruction of old alliances: Old wine in old but re-labelled bottles, if we want to be really cynical.
The APC is actually like 1999 all over again, considering that the AD (the precursor of the ACN) and the APP (the precursor of the ANPP and the CPC) came together in a loose alliance to produce a joint presidential ticket for the 1999 presidential election. The difference this time is that this is a merger, not a temporary alliance.
The APC also has to contend with the fact that it’s the ruling party in the Boko Haram strongholds of Borno and Yobe states, and is also home to the leading advocate of child marriage in Nigeria, Ahmed Sani Yerima. (I guess the explanation will be that every party has to find a way to accommodate its necessary evils).
For the party to succeed, its two main “strongmen” – Bola Tinubu and Muhammadu Buhari – will have to swallow a lot of ego and pride and agree on a long list of things, not the least of which will be a presidential candidate for the next election. We all saw how brilliantly they worked together in their 2011 alliance, didn’t we?
And then there is that small matter of internal democracy, which the ACN and CPC don’t seem to think much of (admittedly there are some interesting arguments in support of that stance).
In any case, none of these challenges can be addressed overnight. What is perhaps most important is the demonstration of a commitment to creating a party the likes of which Nigeria has never seen before. Such a commitment is what the PDP has never even pretended to care about.
For starters, it would be nice to see the APC make clear its vision; its thoughts on development and citizen welfare, and its plans about genuinely engaging with young Nigerians.
It’d also be great to see the party concentrate on using the dozen or so states it currently controls as “test-tubes” to demonstrate the sort of transformation it plans to unleash on Nigeria if, or when, in 2015, it succeeds in transforming the PDP into an opposition party.
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Tolu Ogunlesi