Where are the APC’s Progressives?

Engagement With Chidi Amuta

 The quantum of reservations and growing public disapproval of the Tinubu government has little or nothing to do with ideology. I am pretty sure that if anyone ever accuses Mr. Tinubu of being anything resembling ideological, he could draw a pistol. Yet his unrelenting dismal job approval rating and increasing popularity deficit is the result of  a fundamental ideological mix up.

The president would like to be popular, admired by the masses and praised by the elite. But his policies keep grating on ideas that make a leader popular. People do not want to pay more for fuel, electricity, essential drugs or a myriad of taxes. Yet these are the basic essentials of the Tinubu presidency for which he and his team want us to clap and sing their praises. It works the other way round. The more you subject us to suffering and poverty, the less popular you are likely to get. Yet, the crisis is not only Tinubu’s. It is that of his party or rather the way we have come to run our politics of nativity.

As a growing tradition, Nigerian politics attaches little or no importance to ideologies. The hints of ideology that appear in our party acronyms and names say nothing tour politicians or the public . It says nothing about who qualifies to join or control each party. It says nothing about the programmes and policies of the party even when it does come to power. The acronyms are mere labels that distinguish one party from the other. And the parties themselves are merely vehicles on which politicians ride to fight for power at elections. The vast majority of party members know nothing about the ideological implications of the labels of the parties they join or run on.

With luck, there may be a handful of party elite who dream up party names and use the ideological implications to craft a manifesto or party agenda for purposes of registration by INEC. Once registered, our parties proceed like renegades to wrestle and battle for power at state and federal levels. Politicians make promises and articulate programmes that have little bearing to the names or ideological hints of their parties. Win the election first and be reminded of the name of the party and what its ideology, if any, means after inauguration day.

When it is time to take stock of party and government achievements at the end of a tenure, the Nigerian public, even the elite, hardly judge our parties and governments by the implications of their ideologies. It is the personal stamp of the individual incumbent that is judged. It is the Obasanjo government, the Buhari administration, the Tinubu presidency that are at issue etc. Our subsequent elections become merely referendums on the individual whose imprint the departing administration carried.

If it is a PDP government that is in question, no one cares how “democratic” it was or how much it cared about the “people” implicated in the party name. If it is an APC government, no one asks whether its achievements were “progressive” or not.

And yet, political parties remain the bedrock and cornerstones of every democracy. By their nature, they are carriers of ideological values by the very names they bear. These labels are carriers and embodiments of core beliefs and values. To that extent, a party ought to “answer” its true name by maintaining a certain fidelity to its names and distinguishing ideological implications.

If you insist on being a “national” party as with the defunct National Party of Nigeria, we expect you to leave a legacy coloured by nationalism (“One Nation , One Destiny”). If you were  the UPN of old, we expect you to be a beacon of “Unity” at least among your membership and the larger society if possible.  In these days of the APC, the PDP and the Labour Party, we expect “progressives”, “democrats” and “workers” interests to dominate our political discourse.

But sadly, the clashes among the three dominant parties for popular support is being waged about the credentials of Mr. Tinubu, Mr. Atiku and Mr. Obi. Our quarrels are not about how “progressive” the policies of Tinubu are or how democratic an Atiku presidency would have been or how much the interests of workers and youth would have been protected if Mr. Obi became president. Instead, we are embroiled in ugly street disputations about Mr. Tinubu’s controversial  certificates, Atiku’s many vacation homes in Dubai or Obi’s perennial black costume and Onitsha market wealth.

In the specific instance of the ruling APC, something curious and more far reaching seems to have happened. Mr. Tinubu has chased away all the progressive elements of the party either by confining them to the periphery or chasing them into political “exile” as it were. Many are now asking: where is Rotimi Amaechi in the present scheme of things in the party? Where is Yemi Osinbajo in all this? Where is Adams  Oshiomhole in his unfolding drama? Why is my friend Nasir El-Rufai being tormented for all the progressive policies he pursued in Kaduna? Where are all the progressive elements in the APC who fought to chase off Mr. Jonathan and enthrone Buhari?

In contrast with Tinubu, under Mr. Buhari, the APC managed to be an inclusive amalgam of an ultra conservative president and his tribal cohorts surrounded by a mixed bag of “progressive” thinking leading lights with some confused rabble of state  functionaries and party apparatchiks. Mr. Buhari could at least work with state progressive governors and party leaders like Rotimi Amaechi, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, party Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole and Governor Nasir El-Rufai.

These gentlemen were progressive in a loosely defined sense of advocating social democratic and modernist policies and programmes. They at least showing an abiding concern for the welfare of the ordinary citizen through broad based programmes. Osinbajo used his office as Vice President to administer  credible popular  empowerment programmes like Cash Transfers, Trader Money, Small Business Support Loan Scheme and instant relief for those in extreme vulnerability. Mr. Amaechi used his office as governor of Rivers State to build modern schools in which education up to secondary level was free. Children were supplied free school sandals and uniforms and primary health centres were multiplied and equipped with life saving devices and competent personnel. Oshiomhole pursued similar policies as governor of Edo State and constantly reminded APC members of their commitment to the elements of progressivism as party Chairman. His trade union background came in handy here.

Rightly defined, Progressivism as a political movement and idea is a left of centre movement. Its core is a certain commitment to social democratic principles. It is decidedly pro-common people and in the process advocates policies and programmes that enhance the welfare of the common folk. Access to the basic essentials of life is the corner stone of all progressive movements. Access to basic healthcare.  Access to affordable popular education. Access to employment. Access to food security and security of life and property.

These, as against the advocacy of the interests of the rich and big corporations, tax relief for the rich, the protection of big energy companies and massive taxation of basic goods and services, would distinguish a progressive government from either a conservative or neo liberal pro-capitalist party.

If indeed Buhari struggled with finding a middle path between these possibilities,  President Bola Tinubu has had no problem with such a mixture. From the outset, he indicated a definitive option for conservatism and neo liberal capitalist policies. He chose Mr. Ganduje of the million dollar fame as party chairman. He opted for the famous Mr. Godswill Akpabio as Senate President and some other anonymous gentleman as House Speaker. He has also chosen a mixed bag of Ministers with the imperial Nyesom Wike, David Umahi and his Lagos gang of World Bank and IMF friendly Cardoso and Yemi Edun to man the economy. Tinubu maneuvered the National Assembly to ensure that the likes of Nasir El Rufai never neared his cabinet. It is also rumored that a former ally and progressive, Adams Oshiomhole, now needs special clearance to get an audience with the President in the Villa.

Almost like a deliberate policy, Mr. Tinubu has kept the real progressives of the original party at bay. No one knows his exact relationship with  Rotimi Amaechi  who was a founding pillar of the APC and principal enabler of the Buhari presidency. Amaechi is by no means a small tangential fish in APC waters. He came second in the presidential primary congress that produced the Tinubu ticket. In spite of sharing a common South West roots with Osinbajo, Tinubu has kept the former brilliant progressive Vice President at a distance. Not even the token emissary errands for which former vice presidents are famous!

In order to situate these developments and perhaps project on the future of the APC, we need to understand the major currents that produced the APC.

The APC was birthed out of Mr. Buhari’s resilient appetite for presidential power. Its victory in the 2015 presidential election was a product of both his regional cultic followership and a nationwide rejection of Mr. Jonathan’s bumbling presidency. Seven years afterwards, Buhari’s appetite for apex power has been fulfilled and arguably squandered. His pet nativist hegemonic project has come full cycle and overreached itself. And as he begins to gather his belongings to return to the pastoral anonymity of Daura, his APC vehicle now has an existential challenge: how does it survive in and of itself as a political party? How will it persist as a strategic national institution of democratic stability?

Looking back, the coalition of parties that gave birth to the APC was an inconvenient marriage of political convenience. There was nothing in common between a pseudo social democratic ACN, an ultra conservative CPC, a nationalist right wing ANPP, an ethno nationalist APGA and a renegade opportunistic centrist NPDP. The cardinal objective was to cobble together a workable coalition to wrest power from the PDP after 16 monotonous years. The idea of a multiparty coalition eventually gave way to the even better idea of a single opposition party.

Mr. Buhari facilitated and galvanized the marriage. He provided the amalgamation with a presidential mascot albeit one with a national name recognition. He also came dressed in an untested mythic garb of leadership prowess, governance prudence, barrack discipline and a reasonable level of personal integrity. Above all, he had managed over the years to build up a huge cultic following among the northern mob of rough uneducated and unemployed youth and regional power fanatics. Part of the motor park fable around Mr. Buhari was the infantile notion that once elected president, he would jail all the corrupt former government officials, recover the ill- gotten wealth and redistribute same among the poor masses.

Thus was born a party tailored more towards wresting power from an effete incumbent than for the effective governance of a country in desperate need for responsible leadership.  Given the tenacity of African power incumbents, the APC was more honed for the task of contesting the outcome of the 2015 presidential election possibly up to the Supreme Court. But when the results tumbled in mostly in its favour and Mr. Jonathan conceded defeat to Mr. Buhari, it was an overrated and unprepared APC that had to set up a government and ascend the pinnacle of national power. Victory came as a rude surprise with power as an unanticipated burden. Time has passed. Buhari has fulfilled his long standing ambition of wearing the toga of President. It is now time for the party to take stock of its stewardship and contemplate its future.

With the benefit of hindsight, the emergence of the APC reinforced Nigeria’s historic tendency towards a credible two party architecture. To that extent, it was a positive political outcome, one which promised a great dividend for Nigeria’s democracy. The new party came to power on the wave of expectations greater than its capacity and preparedness.

However,  the APC’s electoral success and stature as the de facto dominant party in the land has raised far too many fundamental questions about the present state and future prospects of Nigerian democracy. The central curiosity remains that of how a party with a dismal record of governance in the last eight years can score such overwhelming electoral success. If democratic elections are indeed periodic tests of the popularity and acceptability of a party, the verdict of the Nigerian electorate in this last election deserves closer look. Questions indeed abound.

Do electorates punish non- performing parties by denying them victory at the next election? Or, in the alternative, can a party, in spite of a dismal performance in government, still coast to victory at the next election irrespective of a massive popularity deficit? Is the electorate of registered voters a true representation of the popular wish at elections? Does the electorate have a mind, a memory, like a person, that either punishes or rewards past experience in the hands of a political party and its elected officials? Finally, is the public of voters in a democracy an insensitive mob that returns a party to power even if its government has hurt the people badly and betrayed the public trust and devalued the good of the nation?

Mr. Tinubu may not choose a definite ideological label to find his way around the maze of Nigeria’s problems. But his outcomes sill be badged by ideology. Even in the absence of definable ideological differences in our politics, the challenges that define today’s Nigerian reality call for ideological clarity.

We are drifting towards clear policy options that are ultimately ideological. Should we insist on obeying the IMF and World Bank by sinking more and more into unpayable debts? Or should we reduce waste, curb ostentation and instead invest our scarce resources in social welfare and empowerment of the majority. Should we save the nation or save the few rich oligarchs that our prodigal past has created?

Sooner or later, President Tinubu will have to choose between a reversion to the original progressive template of the party that put him in power and a tragic betrayal of that foundation. Either option is fraught with consequences. Without a clear choice, the president will be stranded at a critical junction in our national history.

Pix: Tinubu.,jpg

Related Articles