by Sonala Olumhense
I warmly welcome Nigeria’s newest political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC).
As constituted on February 6, 2013, the APC comprises the former All Progressive Grand Alliance, the Action Congress of Nigeria, the All Nigeria Peoples Party, and the Congress for Progressive Change.
As I understand it, the merger is to advance the best interests of Nigeria through correcting the lapses in our polity identified since 1999.
It is widely-known that those lapses are symbolized by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which has wielded power at the centre since that time.
Now, the sins of the PDP are many. So are its sinners.
But Nigeria’s sinners are not only in the PDP. The PDP has become the symbol of Nigeria’s decay only because of its carnage in the center, but none of the parties that have held power in the States in the past 14 years are innocent.
In other words, the real issue is not the PDP; it is the Nigerian politician. The question is whether the Nigerian politician of the APC is different, or will be.
It is known that the immediate objective of the APC is to unseat the PDP and President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015.
Mr. Jonathan has not confirmed he will run. If he does, that would indicate an unrepentant PDP.
It will also be good news for the APC because Jonathan ought to be pretty easy to defeat. In my view, Jonathan’s biggest opponent in 2015 will be Jonathan, not a party or a presidential candidate.
In 2011, he never debated anyone but himself; in 2015, he will. Since 2011, he has put in the most atrocious shift a Nigerian ruler ever has, and failed to honour his promises and pledges. In Jonathan’s care, Nigeria is worse than an open sewage.
Jonathan is Jonathan’s biggest weakness because his presidency has been but a broadcast of his limitations. The Jonathan that has emerged since 2010 is, even by PDP standards, not a marketable one. Unless Nigerians are such fools that that they will again mistake “clueless” for “shoeless,” it is unlikely he will make it past his own party’s primaries.
In other words, in the 2015 elections, the APC will have more than a fair chance to wipe the slate clean.
But the task is not just removing the PDP; it is putting in, and putting first, Nigeria. To do that, the APC must demonstrate the capacity, not just the rhetoric, for democracy. It is an age-old challenge: many proclaim it, but few are strong enough to understand its implications.
The question is whether, in practice, the replacement party is cut from the same cloth as the PDP. Since you cannot get yam from cocoyam, will the men and women offered by the APC be achievers and people of character?
The new party has outlined its priorities to include agricultural development, jobs, free education, affordable healthcare, infrastructural development, adequate power supply, eradication of poverty and corruption, and rapid technological advancement and industrialisation.
That is all very good, but it is also just an overloaded shopping basket. Any political party, especially a new one, can tender such a shopping cart at the checkout counter. Does the APC have the political and patriotic capital to pay for it?
I certainly hope so, but the new party may be looking at the microscope from the wrong end. Regrettably, that is the same exhaust pipe from which the PDP has always looked at the country, and it is the end from which Nigeria has been sold the most rotten goods.
The correct and sensible place to start is for the APC to assume the character of a party that seeks power not for the sake of power, but for service.
How is the APC to be seen to be programmed to serve, and not simply to serve its members?
My answer is that the new party must set clear standards, and demonstrate that those standards are higher than partisan politics and the APC itself. Before contesting for power, it should show that it is serious about things being done, and done right.
In this regard, I challenge the APC to set such standards into a code of conduct and of obligations, and publish it. This will demonstrate that the party understands the quality of the challenge that is before our nation, and that it intends to subordinate itself to it.
The APC must understand that it will be held to a higher standard than the PDP because, by its nature, it has proclaimed itself to be the superior of the two.
Beyond any doubt, Nigeria’s failures stem from a dearth of men and of institutions, and it will require the most courageous and patriotic of Nigerians to commence the rectification of this problem.
Is the APC the right batch of men, or are they simply taking advantage of the moment? Let the new party define its character by publicly setting the lowest limits of its aspirations at the level of the most essential reforms that Nigeria needs.
In this respect, the first, most desirable, and lowest-hanging fruit is our electoral system. A system where the party in power, through the president, defines elections through the pivotal ability to appoint the electoral boss is a joke and cannot guarantee decent elections or attract decent candidates. The APC should, therefore, pick the Uwais Report, which contains all the answers, off the floor, and labour to make it the basis of true electoral reform. There is no reason to start over.
Think about it: so we have an “Independent” National Electoral Commission (INEC)? If so, exactly what is INEC independent of? It is certainly not independent of the ruling party or the president.
Here is proof: In 2010, Attahiru Jega, the current INEC chairman, loudly announced that the new electoral register had captured many well-known multiple-registering politicians. Jega was effusive that he would make an example of the offenders by prosecuting them. Two and a half years later, he has done no such thing. The reason is simple: most of them belong to his employers: the PDP. If we implement the recommendations of the Justice Uwais panel, we will be spared these hypocrisies.
Second, the APC should put into play, without delay, a nationwide voter- education plan that will not only consolidate it as a political party, but will demonstrate a grassroots machinery of education and voter-registration. That is how you broaden party membership and develop national presence.
Three: a true anti-corruption response. If the APC considers itself to be ready for prime-time, it must tell Nigerians how it intends to combat corruption. Without a dogged and determined anti-corruption plan, the APC will simply become the PDP in another name.
Nigerians know that the current “anti-corruption” scheme is a ruse. A true war will have many of the current anti-corruption leaders in jail within one month, and stripped of their loot.
The same regime will also put proponents of the ACP on trial and separate them from both their loot and their hypocrisies. The APC must demonstrate that it is willing, ready and capable of assuming this challenge. Nigeria does not lack resources for development; what we lack are men who will retrieve the resources from our many thieves and plough them into development.
The PDP must go. But the APC must prove that it is the answer.
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Sonala Olumhense
*First Published As “Welcoming the APC,” February 17, 2013