TUESDAY WITH REUBEN ABATI
Just take the phrase: “impending” in the title above with a pinch of salt. I use the word because in politics as in life, things happen – as seemingly absolute situations become redeemable and what originally appears impossible could be the catalyst for fresh opportunities. Otherwise, the truth is that the ruling Nigerian political party, the All Progressives Congress is already imploding, it has in fact imploded; the party is in the throes of a debilitating illness. The implosion began almost as soon as the party assumed power in 2015. The APC emerged as a special purpose vehicle – composed almost entirely from second hand, used groups from the CPC, the ACN, APGA, ANPP, and a break away faction of the PDP, known as new PDP (nPDP) – even if there was nothing new about it, with the sole objective of taking power from the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and the then incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan.
Pro-APC persons described the APC as a child of necessity. They were convinced that 16 years of being in power had made the PDP complacent, arrogant and that its members had lost focus. They also argued that the Jonathan government needed to be changed by all means possible. Political coalitions often work when for one reason or the other, the ruling party loses either credibility or legitimacy, and the coalition gains the support of the people but the extent of the coalition’s success depends on its level of preparedness for office, and the quality of consensus among the partners. The APC coalition is not the first in the history of Nigerian politics, but it is perhaps the most impactful- even if driven by hate speech, populist propaganda and mass hysteria and hypnotism. It was a question of politics meeting with the public mood, and an unstoppable moment anchored on the symbolism of a strong man coming to “rescue” Nigeria. The electorate that bought into this narrative and turned it into votes is today full of regrets.
The APC began to unravel from day one, particularly at the centre. It took the government that emerged about six months to put a cabinet together, and almost two years to make some other critical appointments. Members of the coalition struggled for space, influence and power among themselves, and almost immediately, there were issues over the choice of the leaders of the National Assembly. The drama of the choice of the Senate president and the Speaker of the House of Representatives left many power brokers out in the cold. If there was any power sharing formula among the partners, somehow this was ignored by the CPC arm of the coalition led by the President, all made worse by the domination of the levers of government by CPC and Buhari loyalists. Non-Fulani members of the APC soon began to sound as if they had been attacked by a band of imported herdsmen. Party members including Governors and Senators, and party officials expressed frustration openly.
In less than three years, some of the bitterest criticisms of the party have come not from the opposition but from within the party itself: Timi Frank perpetually complaining about party processes, Shehu Sani and other Senators from Kaduna State at loggerheads with their State Governor, personality conflicts in virtually every state, most notably in Adamawa, Imo, Kano, Rivers and Lagos state, Governor Ortom of Benue openly accusing the Federal Government of negligence, Governor El-Rufai, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and Senator Shehu Sani at various times sounding notes of warning, Senator Dino Melaye assuming the role of an in-house critic, and members of the ACN and the nPDP alleging that they have been used and dumped. The APC wing of the National Assembly is divided among its ranks, and has posed more threat to the Executive arm of government than the opposition. The APC is also the biggest challenge to its own promise. In 2015, the party promised to tackle three main issues: security, the economy and corruption. It has since found itself in the uncomfortable situation of disowning some other promises it made. It even took more than two years to launch an economic blueprint. The party over-promised and under-delivered.
It is possible to argue that differences and contestations are part of the democratic process and that this is the only way political parties can grow. Except that in this case, the conflicts are not ideas-based, even members of the APC themselves have no idea what the party really stands for, but they all seem so sure of their personal ambitions, hence the obvious lack of order and coherence. Knowing this to be so, President Muhammadu Buhari, who is also the leader of the party, had set in motion a reconciliation process, and appointed Asiwaju Bola Tinubu to lead it. This has not worked as Tinubu soon found himself in the heat of acrimony with the party Chairman, Chief John Oyegun and some of his own former protégés.
The extent of this implosion became more evident during the party’s recent state congresses. Parallel congresses were held in more than 10 states, there were reports of boycotts, violence and general confusion. Given the tone and nature of the conflict, it seems obvious that the APC is a victim of its own lack of three things – internal democracy, originality and sincerity of purpose.
It is a familiar scenario. The APC leadership should learn from the example of the PDP and how that party lost the 2015 general election. The first major crisis faced by the PDP was the failure to manage the exit of the five Governors in 2013, and the subsequent mischief over the 2015 campaign process. Powerful forces within the party for their own selfish reasons caused disaffection among members particularly at the grassroots level. Internal democracy was frustrated at all levels by those who regarded themselves as powerful Abuja forces, the same drama that is now being played out in the APC. The PDP went into the 2015 elections, as a divided party, with fifth columnists among its ranks. The APC now faces the same challenge. The nPDP wing of the APC has already served what looks like a quit notice. There are cases in court. The usual attitude is for those who emerged triumphant in the state congresses to insist that whoever wants to leave the party should do so. It was this same attitude that messed up the PDP.
Failure has taught the PDP a bitter lesson: the party is only now just in the process of reinventing itself. It is ironic for example that the same PDP in the face of likely crisis in Ekiti state recently ended up having a peaceful party primary, with the defeated congratulating the winner and promising to work for the good of the party. In Kaduna state, the PDP also put up an impressive performance in the recent local government elections. It is important however that the PDP does not begin to see the crisis within the APC as its own gain. It still has a lot to do to convince the electorate that it can be taken serious again. In 2014, PDP strategists worked on the permutation that the APC, being a community of strange bedfellows would soon fall apart to the advantage of the PDP. It was a bad strategy which did not work then and which is also not likely to work in 2019. As things stand, the APC appears as desperate for power today as it was in 2014, and those who have sworn that the Buhari government cannot be replaced would do as much as they did last Saturday, to impose their will on the Nigerian people. Politics remains warfare in Nigeria because it is the surest ticket to power, cheap money and easy life. For the Nigerian politician, winning is therefore everything.
If anyone thought 2015 was a major turning point in Nigerian politics, the 2019 general elections may even prove to be more eventful, and while the PDP may not fully resurrect, the APC may suffer worse fate, paving the way for Nigeria’s new beginning…
Lessons from the Royal Wedding
I could not resist the temptation to watch the royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. The symbolism of the event was too compelling to be ignored – a Windsor marrying a bi-racial lady, a divorcee, an American and an actress, from an obviously dysfunctional background. When King Edward VIII chose to marry an American divorcee, Wallis Simpson in 1936 – the British royalty kicked, the government and the Church demurred. the public was scandalized. Edward VIII followed his heart. He abdicated. The British monarchy has been much transformed since then. Queen Elizabeth II presides over a modern, if not post-modernist monarchy; by granting the enabling order for the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markel, the Queen dug a hole through the walls of race and prejudice and offered hope. A future English prince or princess would end up having black cousins, aunties and uncles!
This symbolism was most felt at the wedding ceremony- with an all black cast of the Kingdom choir, wearing natural hair, buns and African hairstyles singing “Stand by Me”, Sheku Kanneh-Mason on the cello, and an impassioned sermon delivered by Bishop Michael Curry of the US Episcopal Church. Curry practically took Chicago to London, as he sermonized about the power of life, the fire of love, slavery…. Martin Luther King. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had asked the congregation to stand and sing a chorus or if he asked whoever wanted to give his or her life to Jesus Christ to step forward and be blessed…Bishop Curry’s performance will be long remembered.
The wedding was orderly, simple, classy and elegant. The bride carried herself with grace and dignity – not even a trace could be seen of the pressure that had been piled on her, a few days earlier, by her father who was not too sure if he would attend or not, and her uncouth half-brother and half-sister who chose her moment of glory to bring out dirty family linens. She had to walk alone half the way, before Prince Charles took her arm and walked her down the aisle – without giving her away, though.
The guests arrived according to schedule, and every one knew where to sit. I did not see anyone running up and down trying to greet people, and generally seeking attention. The Queen and Prince Phillip did not come late, not even for a second. The Queen carried her own bag and she didn’t have a retinue of noisy courtiers attending to her. In Nigeria, “big men and women” routinely arrive late to their own events, usually so noisily. All the celebrities at the royal wedding did not have barrel-chested bodyguards. I was at a wedding event in Lagos recently, the comperes – Ali Baba and IK Osakioduwa – spent so much time begging uniformed bodyguards to allow their bosses to be human for once. Nobody listened. At another event, Bisi Olatilo kept assuring every one that no VIP at the event will come to any harm. He was ignored. Six gun-wielding policemen accompanied one state Governor into the hall and they stood behind him throughout! When he was invited to the stage to make a speech – they followed him!
Social events are thus, indeed, iconic. They reflect a people’s level of socio-economic and cultural development. The church service in London was solemn. There was nobody shouting “Amen” and “Halleluyah somebody” on top of their voices. The church did not solicit for offerings or donations. There were no politicians hugging the limelight. Heads of State were not invited. Some of the richest persons in the world would have been glad to be in attendance, but only a few were called. Ha, I forgot: there were no photographers running up and down, sweating and disrupting proceedings, pushing their cameras in people’s faces, with flashy, blinding lights – photographers can be such a nuisance at Nigerian events!
When you attend most weddings in Nigeria, so much flesh is also often on display: from the bride to her bridesmaids, there is usually a nudity competition – bare legs, bare boobs, with some of the latter even threatening to break loose. This at a point became such a serious problem that some churches now inspect wedding gowns or offer specifications. No wedding is complete these days around here without heavy make-up either. You could run into a lady whose wedding you once attended and not recognize she was the one. In an attempt to be beautiful by force, every Nigerian bride engages the services of a make-up artist, and when the make-up is done, you’d think the bride is taking a role in a movie.
Nigerian weddings provide an opportunity for the guests to show-off and steal the show. Some people even go to weddings, to as they say, network, or advertise their new wardrobe, or dance crazily, some even end up dressing better than the groom and the bride. The wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex provided good lessons in taste, etiquette, elegance and the triumph of love. I enjoyed the wedding very much – on television of course.