Tinubu and Buhari
Vincent Obia looks at the prospects of the newly formed opposition unification party, All Progressive Congress
Time was in Nigeria when there was always a possibility, when treating malaria, that the patient will be placed on pills that were popularly known in the country as A.P.C. This is not, as you may suspect, a product related to the military transport vehicle, the armoured personnel carrier. It was the Nigerian rendition of an oral combination, aspirin, phenacetin, caffeine, widely used in treating malaria, aches and pains.
A.P.C. was traditionally well-accepted, cheap, and easily accessible in every nook and cranny of the country. That was decades ago.
Today, the acronym, APC, is staging a loud comeback into the country’s mainstream, this time not in the medical field, but in the political arena. And promoters of the present political acronym say they want to make it as popular and effective as its medical forebear and “a recipe for peace and prosperity” in the world’s most populous black country.
Leaders of four leading political parties in the country, Action Congress of Nigeria, Congress for Progressive Change, All Nigeria Peoples Party, and All Progressives Grand Alliance, announced at a press conference in Abuja on February 6 that they were merging under a new party, All Progressives Congress.
Chairman of the ACN merger negotiation committee, Chief Tom Ikimi, read the position paper, which was jointly signed by his counterparts, Malam Ibrahim Shekarau of ANPP, Alhaji Garba Mohammed Gadi of CPC, and Senator Annie Okonkwo, who represented APGA.
Ikimi stated, “We, the following progressive political parties, namely, ACN, ANPP, APGA and CPC, have resolved to merge forthwith and become the All Progressives Congress (APC) and offer to our beleaguered people a recipe for peace and prosperity.
“We resolve to form a political party committed to the principles of internal democracy, focused on serious issues of concern to our people, determined to bring corruption and insecurity to an end and stop the increasing mood of despair and hopelessness among our people.
“The resolution of these issues, the restoration of hope, the enthronement of true democratic values for peace, democracy and justice are those concerns which propel us. We believe that by these measures we shall restore our dignity and position of pre-eminence in the comity of nations. This is our pledge.”
Their aim is to wrest power from the Peoples Democratic Party, which has dominated the political space since inception of the Fourth Republic in 1999.
The announcement of the merger came the day after its endorsement at a meeting in Lagos by 10 governors from the opposition parties. They were the five ACN governors of the South-west, namely, Babatunde Fashola (Lagos State), Raufu Aregbesola (Osun State), Ibikunle Amosun (Ogun State), Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti State), and Abiola Ajimobi (Oyo State).
Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State, an ACN member, who could not attend the Lagos meeting due to flight difficulties in Benin, sent his word of support to his colleagues.
Other governors that attended the meeting in Lagos were APGA’s Owelle Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima of ANPP, Zamfara State Governor Abdul Aziz Yari of ANPP, and Nasarawa State Governor Tanko Al-Makura of CPC.
The Yobe State Governor Ibrahim Gaidam of ANPP was represented by Senator Jejere Alkali.
History in the Making
No successful merger has happened since independence. For 50 years, every attempt at merger by existing political parties has failed to bear fruit. They do not follow it through. Though, some political parties have occasionally tried to forge agreements to collaborate during elections.
The first major attempt in the country by political parties to align to unseat a dominant party was in 1963/64, when the National Council for Nigerian Citizens and the Obafemi Awolowo faction of Action Group, among others, formed a coalition called the United Progressives Grand Alliance. Their aim was to remove the ruling Northern Peoples Congress. The ruling NPC responded by entering a counter-alliance with the Samuel Akintola faction of AG and other smaller parties to form the Nigerian National Alliance.
But the opposition alliance collapsed before the 1964 federal parliamentary elections and the 1965 regional parliamentary polls, and each of the parties went into the polls with their original identities.
Another attempt by the opposition to go into an alliance during the Second Republic in 1982 suffered a similar fate. Then 12 professed progressive governors from the then Unity Party of Nigeria, which controlled the western states; Nigerian Peoples Party, which controlled the eastern states and Plateau State in the Middle Belt; Peoples Redemption Party, which controlled Kano and Kaduna states; and the Great Nigerian Peoples Party, which was dominant in the north-eastern parts of the country, had met in Lagos and pronounced their intention to contest the 1983 general elections as Peoples Progressive Alliance. But that collaboration fell to the combined weight of the alliance partners’ contradictory political ambitions and alleged antics of the then ruling National Party of Nigeria.
Following the botched alliance, the opposition parties fought the 1983 general election on their individual strengths and they came out seriously trounced by NPN. From their pre-election position of 12 states, the opposition parties retained control of only six states after the 1983 election.
Suddenly this time, the opposition parties have promised they would see their merger through. Last December, former Yobe State governor and member of the ANPP contact committee on merger, Senator Bukar Ibrahim, hinted that the opposition merger arrangement would be consummated by March.
“Before March 2013, we are going to reach an accord on this merger, that is the deadline for the merger materialising.
“From all indications, the parties are looking forward to forming a totally new party where all the opposition parties will come together as one entity,” Ibrahim told newsmen in Abuja.
But things appear to be moving quickly. Having agreed on a name for their new party, the opposition parties are now trying to hammer out details, such as the flag, logo, constitution, and manifesto of the party.
Many among the opposition are upbeat about the merger. Former Zamfara State governor, Senator Ahmed Yarima, was quoted as saying, “A good number of members of the National Assembly and some governors elected on the platform of the PDP have indicated interest in the merger. We expect them to join us as we march ahead.”
Okonkwo, who led the APGA delegation to the merger announcement, said, “The leadership of the party has taken it fully and endorsed the merger and I came here on behalf of the party to represent APGA.”
But one of the two APGA governors, Peter Obi of Anambra State, has denied the party’s involvement in the APC merger.
APGA is enmeshed in a factional crisis that seemed to worsen recently with the sack of the party’s national chairman, Chief Victor Umeh, by an Enugu High Court.
Obi said penultimate Saturday, “As far as APGA faithful are concerned, there is no merger because, ab initio, APGA has not even discussed such a matter, not to talk of consummating the process.”
He said, “I consulted widely on the matter. I called the party leadership and they said they heard it in the media. I called notable foundation members one after the other. When I got the Nigerian Ambassador to Spain, Bianca Ojukwu, who is the wife of our late leader and hero, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, and who from the onset was part of the entire process, she expressed outrage at the development.
“I called the only Board of Trustees member of APGA (BoT), Dr. Tim Menakaya, who said he was not aware. I called the Nigerian Ambassador to Burundi, Odi Nwosu, who was the closest person to Dim Odumegwu-Ojukwu, who also expressed shock. I called other notable foundation members of APGA and they expressed the same sentiments.
“I also decided to call our recent notable members, namely, Senator Chris Anyanwu; former Minister of Information and Communications, Professor Dora Akunyili; former Ambassador and ex-Minister of Culture and Tourism, Frank Ogbuewu; some other National Assembly members, namely, Hons. Uche Ekwunife, Eddie Mbadiwe, Chris Azubogu, Emeke Nwogbo, Victor Ogene and Cyril Egwuatu. I also called Chief Reagan Ufumba, a former governorship candidate in Abia State; Chief Chuma Nzeribe, a former House of Representatives member as well as senatorial candidate, among other members, and they all said they were not aware of the development that led to the so called merger.”
APGA is believed to be torn between members aligned to the second term ambition of President Goodluck Jonathan, a member of PDP, and others that want to present a presidential candidate of South-east origin in the 2015 general election. While Obi seems to lead the former group, Okorocha, apparently, belongs to the latter.
Imo State Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism, Mr. Chinedu Offor, told THISDAY last Sunday that APGA’s progressive wing was involved in the APC merger and moles of the ruling PDP were the ones opposed to it. “For us in APGA, we are happy to join other progressive-minded people to wrest power from the PDP. Nigeria is not a one-party state, so it is a healthy development to have an alternative,” he said.
The APGA factor seems to be the first major challenge APC would face, especially in the South-east.
But there are other challenges.
Abandonment of Party Identities
Analysts say one major disincentive to possible last minute withdrawals from the merger arrangement is the renunciation of the existing identities of the merging parties.
Section 84 of the Electoral Act, states, “Any two or more registered political parties may merge on approval by the commission following a formal request presented to the commission by the political parties for that purpose.”
Section 84 (2) provides, “Political parties intending to merge shall each give to the commission 90 day’s notice of their intention to do so before a general election.
“(3) The written request for merger among other relevant requirements shall be sent to the chairman of the commission and shall be signed jointly by the national chairman, secretary and treasurer for the time being of the different political parties proposing the merger.”
This would entail the voluntary de-registration of the various parties in the merger, which may prove a complicated and difficult issue to resolve.
Chairman of the ANPP National Rebuilding and Interparty Contact Committee, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, told journalists in Abuja in December that the three major opposition parties – ACN, ANPP, and CPC – would drop their separate identities by April this year, when their merger arrangement is expected to be concluded. Alternatively, he said the coalition would adopt the name of one of the merger partners.
“Certainly, we are going to submit our party certificates to the Independent National Electoral Commission after our merger. That is what a merger means. The Electoral Law is so clear on the procedure for a merger.
“If we decide to merge, the next thing is that we go back to our parties, call National Executive Committee meeting, and discuss with the members, in the presence of INEC officials. Then, you can call congress and that is all,” the immediate past governor of Kano State was quoted as saying.
For some of the parties, the relinquishing of theit registration certificates may be a difficult pill to swallow. Some analysts believe this could be easy for ANPP and ACN, but certainly not for CPC and APGA.
The CPC leader and former military Head of State, General Muhammadu Buhari, who has run for the presidency since 2003, has said he would vie again in 2015, though, there is an ongoing effort to dissuade him. Buhari is believed to hold the registration certificate of CPC and he may not be willing to give it up unless the whole question of the merger’s presidential candidate is resolved in ways that satisfy him.
The APGA registration certificate, too, is believed to be held by the party’s beleaguered national chairman, Umeh, who may not be keen on releasing it.
Leader of the newly registered United Progressive Party, Chief Chekwas Okorie, says the merger partners’ best bet is to change the name of ACN or ANPP and come under its banner. He believes ACN and ANPP are the only “unencumbered parties” in the APC merger plan.
Parties have been formed by such simple name changes before now.
In 2002, the then All Peoples Party merged with United Nigeria Peoples Party to form ANPP, just as Action Congress changed its name ACN on August 9, 2010 during a convention in Lagos, to accommodate other interest groups.
Issue of Presidential Candidate
The choice of an acceptable presidential candidate ahead of 2015 is another tricky challenge faced by the APC merger. The two main promoters of the merger, Buhari and ACN national leader and former Lagos State governor, Bola Tinubu, are widely believed to nurse presidential ambitions that seem to negate each other. The irreconcilability of the duo’s political ambitions was seen as the major hurt of the ill-fated pre-2011 general election alliance talks between ACN and CPC.
However, the parties seem to have learnt from the 2011 experience and now appear better disposed to a merger. There are intense moves to try to dissuade Buhari from seeking the presidential ticket of APC, while Tinubu is said to have accepted to shelve his presidential ambition.
The attempt to dissuade Buhari, sources say, is the brainchild of former Federal Capital Territory Minister Nasir el-Rufai. El-Rufai who was a prominent member of the administration of Jonathan’s erstwhile godfather, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, is currently one of the fiercest critics of the Jonathan government. The former minister is, certainly, keen on preventing anything that could cause the opposition to miss what is believed to be a chance to eliminate PDP’s stranglehold on power.
A decision by Tinubu and Buhari to steer clear of the presidential race would be a significant demonstration of the opposition parties’ commitment to the emergence of a strong and credible front that would be able to defeat PDP in the next general election.
2015 and Unresolved Geopolitical Questions
But there is still the issue of geopolitical quests for power. The elite in the north have since the period before the 2011 general election struggled to produce the country’s president. They based their quest on the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s non-completion of his eight years tenure zoned to the north in line with a north-south rotation arrangement within PDP. Though, Buhari was not openly associated with the Adamu Ciroma-led Northern Political Leaders Forum, which had spearheaded the presidency agitation, the CPC candidate stood out as the obvious beneficiary of the regional and religious sentiments in the north.
No one knows if the northern elements within the APC system would hold tenaciously to the presidency pursuit and how the other sections of the country would react. This is a dicey issue that the APC leaders must agree to resolve.
There are suggestions that a credible candidate from the far north and a running mate from the South-west would make a perfect combination for APC in 2015. But this goes against the grain in the South-east, where many political actors are demanding a chance for the zone to produce the next president of Nigeria.
Across the country, however, many seem to be excited by the merger idea.
Opposition to PDP
APC seems to go towards the 2015 election with a base that is built more on opposition to PDP and frustration with the ruling party’s failures than loyalty to the political reputations of the elements in the opposition merger.
“In this country, this is not the first time we are hearing of merger talks. But this time around, there appears to be some very clear systematic steps that political parties in the opposition are taking in order to make a mega platform a reality. Interestingly, the parties involved are actually major opposition parties,” says political scientist, Professor Sam Egwu.
“What then do you think this can do to Nigerian politics? My take on it is very simple. In one sense, when you have a strong opposition challenging for power, it helps a lot because it keeps the government in power on its toes and, therefore, under pressure to deliver.
“In another sense, when you have strong opposition parties, even though they don’t win the presidential election, they are likely to win more seats in the legislature at the national and state levels. That would ensure we have diversity of representation. And you have healthy debates taking place in parliament and it is not a situation in which the ruling party enjoys dominance in the assembly and translates that into holding down the pace of development and actually denying the people of the quality of governance they deserve.”
Egwu believes the opposition parties must think beyond the immediate purpose of winning elections. “We want to see the nature of these political parties that we have in place. How democratic are they internally if they are going to offer democracy to the Nigerian people. To what extent are they strong institutions for building democracy? To what extent are they membership driven? To what extent are they not just driven by the temptation of capturing power?”
Successful pre-election mergers have never worked in Nigeria and they are a rarity in the history of party politics the world over. What appear to be fashionable are post-election alliances, as could be seen in Kenya and Zimbabwe in Africa, Germany and Britain in Europe, and Israel in the Middle East.
In Nigeria, excessive focus on the sole target of capturing power has spelt doom for attempts at opposition merger in the country. Promoters of APC have to prove that they are not just fixated on the narrow intent of replacing PDP. They have an unparalleled opportunity to exploit the failings of PDP. Their only limit would be their immoderate political ambitions.