APC: Alternative Platform or Club of Strange Bedfellows
Before the merger that led to the All Progressive Congress (APC), I was a little skeptical and apprehensive about its success especially considering what the original merging entities, that is the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and a faction of All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) had in common except the desire to form government. Apart from many other reasons, I wondered whether there will ever be a level playing field or that a particular entity will definitely have an upper hand. While many of us have applauded the successful registration of the APC as a very positive development that could potentially alter the political permutations in 2015, other pundits have raised relevant and potentially contentious issues worthy of some discussion. Many of such concerns relate to the public perception of the personalities of the two prominent leaders of the merger in the persons of Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu and Gen. Mohammadu Buhari(rtd). That the formation of APC constitutes an important alteration of the political landscape is a fact that cannot be emphasized. However, many analysts are keenly watching how the relationships of these entities can be effectively managed to guarantee internal democracy and prevent centrifugal or cantankerous consequences.
Now let me state very clearly that the furious mood of the nation offers a great opportunity for any credible political platform to challenge the party in power. The ruling Peoples' Democratic Party is falling apart rapidly. Never has there been a time that Nigerians have become this angry and disillusioned - may be only comparable to the days of Abacha dictatorship. The kind of anger I am referring to here is not the type where people are smoldering internally and can easily retreat to complacency and a laisser-faire attitude. No. This is an anger that is palpable. You can literally touch to it as you walk on the streets. It cuts across gender, religion, ethnic group or even class. The teeming unemployed youths are roaming the streets almost hopelessly without knowing where a job or the next meal will come from. The most maddening part is that all these are happening side by side the indescribable profligacy and squander mania of the political elite, their cronies and appendages even domestic ones. Many of our youths have almost given up on the government of the day and some of them have resorted to self-help. There is now a gradual shift in the society's construction of who is seen as a role model. Criminals, thugs, oil thieves and vandals have been given so much recognition that such illegitimate endeavors are becoming attractive options for our young people. God forbid! Resort to violence is now the fastest way of expressing any grievance whether justifiable or not. Simply life in Nigeria is fast becoming nasty, brutish and short like the classical Hobbesian State. Can the new APC harness this anger on the streets and quickly convert it to electoral value? How soon can they coordinate themselves and formulate alternative policies upon which Nigerians can be mobilized to dethrone current apostles of transactional politics, incompetent opportunism, extreme clintelism, competitive particularism and unbridled corruption?
But the APC itself comes with obvious carryovers that may not be too different from those they want to dethrone. For instance the ACN is clearly a dominant member of the new party judging from the fact that it is currently controlling six states. With a maverick politician as Senator Ahmed Bola Tinubu as its leader, the party had done very well in the South West region. The Asiwaju of Lagos, as he is fondly called, had also expanded the reach and influence of his platform beyond the South West in the last elections, capturing Edo State and effectively threatening Benue and Akwa Ibom States. Today, the achievements of Governors Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State, Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti, Abiola Ajumobi of Oyo State and Adams Oshiomole of Edo State have shown good examples in their states in way that has portrayed Tinubu as the man who knows those who can do the job. The last time I visited Ibadan, the capital of Oyo State, it was visible that the road infrastructure had improved a great deal. However, many of the successes of former ACN as a party has been unwittingly built around the personality of the Lion of Bordillion himself rather than an enduring grassroots based party structure. Sadly a regional toga still hangs around his neck and that of his former party. Now with the seeming predominance of the former ACN in the newly formed APC, that regional toga may still remain for some time to come. In a diverse country like Nigeria, political parties must strive to be defined along the lines national outlook, spread and internal democracy, the factors outlined above may turn out to be counterproductive. These traits were missing in the former ACN and many fear that they could inflict or afflict the new APC.
Another concern is around the personality of General Muhamadu Buhari. Buhari means many things to many people. But no one can challenge the fact that he has managed to cultivate for himself, an impressive followership among the peasants popularly known as the talakawas in the Northern parts of Nigeria. It is so massive that some see it as a sort of 'cult'. However this impressive grassroots popularity is yet to be converted to electoral victory as the former military leader is said to be detested by the elite. In the 2011 elections, despite the impressive numbers that were flaunted by the leader of the then, Congress of Progressive Change (CPC), the party could not even dislodge the Peoples' Democratic Party (PDP) to win Buhari's home state Katsina. Some will say that the elections were rigged. But part of the problem was that General Buhari imposed his preferred but unpopular candidates on the people. It was also alleged that himself was resisted because many Northern politicians are seemly opposed to his public anti-corruption stance. After the 2011 elections, CPC was able to capture only Nassarrawa state not because of the popularity of the party per se but partly due to the intra- party disagreements between the doyen of Nassarawa Politics, the Sarkin Yaki of Keffi, Senator Abdulahi Adamu, and his estranged political godson, former Governor Ali Akwe Doma. But for that disagreement, the CPC could not have won any state. It is also note noteworthy that the popularity of the CPC at that time could not extend beyond the northern region. Therefore the same provincial perception of the ACN, also plagued the CPC. In addition, some segments of the Nigerian society rightly or wrongly associate General Buhari with extreme religious views due to his public comments and alleged reluctance in voicing sustained condemnation against rising issues of religious fundamentalism in the North.
Now with these two entities led by these individuals, many people wonder how can they enjoy trust, first among one another and the party hierarchy, secondly, elicit same among Nigerians. When will they re-engineer the new party as a platform that has overcome the perceived inadequacies of the original platforms where they are coming from? What time do they have to transform themselves to a truly national party with structures in all nooks and crannies of the country. The Peoples' Democratic Party (PDP) may be in a self-inflicted crisis at the moment, but they still remain the party with the highest national spread in Nigeria. Any platform that will challenge and effectively oust them must demonstrate both national spread and superior policies. In short with the negative sophistication of PDP, any party that will dethrone it must be nothing short of a mass movement. The faces of APC at the moment are spent forces like Chief Tom Ikimi, regional champions like Bola Tinubu and Buhari and disgruntled politicians like Nasir El-rufai. The frontline positions being occupied by these characters may turn out to be political liabilities. APC will have to rebrand urgently and build a mass movement if they want to present anything beyond sterile opposite in 2015. They must also begin to look beyond the usual suspects for a Presidential candidate in the next election. Clearly, the potentials are there but whether they will be converted to tangible results that will result to the change Nigerian need remains a matter of conjecture.
But in merging successfully, all components unit of the APC and, particularly, the individually strong characters of the leaders have scaled a major hurdle and have demonstrated a strong will to salvage the Nation, not only from itself but, also from the savage claws of a presently clueless behemoth called the PDP. In so doing, they have set aside, against all odds and expectations, their personal and individual idiosyncrasies and achieved, at least common grounds for now. This depicts their greatest achievement so far, which incidentally, translates to the best hope for a people that were fast losing hope. But for them to translate the people's renewed hope to a victorious reality for the nation, those who lead the APC must continue this show of selfless sacrifice, that strong will to agree not to disagree, and ensure that their respective egos, personal and or provincial, remain subdued in favor of national transmutation so that the critical mass required for the much desired pan-Nigerian mass movement, which the APC promises to be, can be achieved. For only then can we, as a Nation, transit beyond the realm of conjecture into the threshold and comfortably say uhuru.
Uche Igwe is doctoral researcher at the Department of Politics, University of Sussex, United Kingdom