•APGA participation shaky
•INEC gives green light
•PDP: We remain the party to beat
Chuks Okocha and Onyebuchi Ezigbo
After months of intense negotiations, four opposition parties Wednesday resolved to float a new political party, All Progressive Congress (APC), on whose platform they would pursue their avowed determination to wrest power from the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2015 general election.
The four parties that make up APC are the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).
The parties announced the decision to team up under the APC at a news conference in Abuja after a meeting of the merger committees of their respective parties.
APGA's representation at the merger meeting, however, became a matter of dispute with the national leadership of the party disowning Senator Annie Okonkwo who stood in for the party at the meeting.
The announcement of the new party came a day after a meeting of opposition parties’ governors in Lagos where 10 governors from the four parties endorsed the merger bid, which they said would provide them an opportunity to rescue Nigeria from the PDP.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) also endorsed the floating of the APC yesterday, saying that the action of the opposition parties is in line with the 2010 Electoral Act, as amended.
In a swift reaction to the announcement on the floating of the new party, the PDP said it was not worried by the action of the opposition parties, adding that it remains the party to beat in 2015.
The Chairman of ACN Merger Contact Committee, Chief Tom Ikimi, who was the spokesman of the coalition at the news conference in Abuja, said with the formation of the new party, the opposition parties would commence the processes of registering it with INEC.
He said: "At no time in our national life has radical change become more urgent. And to meet the challenge of that change, we the following progressive political parties, namely ACN, ANPP, CPC and APGA, have resolved to merge and become the All Progressive Congress (APC) and offer to our beleaguered people a recipe for peace and prosperity."
At the news conference were all the chairmen and members of the various merger contact committees, including Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau (ANPP), Alhaji Garba Gadi (CPC) and Senator Annie Okonkwo APGA).
Also in attendance were Senators Kabiru Gaya, Chris Ngige, Bukar Abbah Ibrahim and Sani Yerima.
According to Ikimi, the APC will strive to uphold democratic tenets and to do everything it can to address the problems of corruption and insecurity in the land.
"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, determined to grow our economy and create jobs in their millions through education, housing, agriculture, industrial growth and stop the increasing mood of despair and hopelessness among the 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," he said.
Ikimi said the parties believed that by coming together, they would be able to restore national dignity and return the country to its position of pre-eminence in the comity of nations.
On the issue of APGA representation at the merger talks, Okonkwo, who signed the joint resolution on behalf of the party, said he was acting with the mandate of the leadership of the party, which had asked him to attend the meeting.
But his claim was disputed by the party’s National Secretary, Alhaji Sani Shinkafi, who said the party was never invited to the merger meeting and that at no time did any of the relevant party organs take any decision to participate in the coalition bid.
Shinkafi told THISDAY in a telephone interview that before the party could take part in any merger negotiation, its National Working Committee and National Executive Committee would have to approve of it.
"APGA did not receive any invitation to partake in the merger talks and therefore it is unaware of any merger meeting going on. As the national secretary of APGA, I am not aware of any merger talks to which the party was invited.
"Before any decision to participate in merger negotiations, there are relevant party organs like the NWC and NEC where such an issue will be tabled for discussion and approval. But none of these bodies has discussed it nor approved of it. Therefore, any member taking part in the merger talks is on his or her own and does not have the mandate of APGA," he said.
INEC welcomed the merger of the opposition parties, stating that they are within the 90 days stipulated by the Electoral Act (2010) as amended.
Responding to enquiries on the merger on whether the political parties have met the conditions for merging, Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman, Mr. Kayode Idowu, referred to Section 84 of the Electoral Act, which he said provided the guidelines for such an exercise.
Section 84 of the Electoral Act, as amended, states that: “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.
“(2) Political Parties intending to merge shall each give to the Commission 90 days notice of their intention to do so before a general election.
“(3) The written request for merger 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 and shall be accompanied by:-
(a) a special resolution passed by the national convention of each of the political parties proposing to merge, approving the merger;
(b) the proposed full name and acronym, constitution, manifesto, symbol or logo of the party together with the addresses of the national office of the party resulting from the merger; and
(c) evidence of payment of administrative costs of N100,000 or as may be fixed from time to time by an Act of the National Assembly.
“(4) On receipt of the request for merger of political parties, the commission shall consider the request; and if the parties have fulfilled the requirements of the constitution and this Act, approve the proposed merger and communicate its decision to the parties concerned before the expiration of thirty (30) days from the date of the receipt of the formal request.
“PROVIDED that if the commission fails to communicate its decision within 30 days the merger shall be deemed to be effective.
“(5) Where the request for the proposed merger is approved, the commission shall forthwith withdraw and cancel the certificates of registration of all the political parties opting for the merger and substitute therefore, a single certificate of registration in the name of the party resulting from the merger.
“(6) Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (2) of this section no merger of Political Parties received by the commission less than 90 days before any general election in the country shall be considered by the commission.”
According to Idowu, “The Electoral Act stipulates that the merging political parties must give INEC 90 days before merger and this is within the 90 days as stated in the Electoral Act.”
Also reacting to the merger, PDP National Chairman, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, said the ruling party was not afraid of the formation of the APC.
According to him, the PDP remains the party to beat in the 2015 general election.
He also said the merger, which he described as “beautiful and the more, the merrier,” would widen the political scope.
Tukur, who likened the 2015 general election to a football match, said: “If you go for a contest, you have the striker; you know Lionel Messi, PDP is Messi in this contest. They (opposition) are not a threat at all.
“Let me tell you, there is no polling unit in the whole of Nigeria where you do not have one member of PDP. PDP is the only party in the country that fields candidate in every polling booth in the country. We are the only party and remain the party to beat. The merger will only charge us to action. That shows the acceptance. PDP is the party in government now that is in the majority at all levels of government.
“It does not mean that we want the country to be a one-party state, but there is no opposition; in fact this merger is a charge to action for the PDP.”