Opposition party leaders involved in negotiations for a possible merger are scheduled to meet in Abuja on January 10 to consider lingering issues that could threaten their common goal to dethrone the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2015 general election.
The planned meeting is coming just as the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) has finally named a contact committee to represent it at the merger talks.
But the lingering crisis in the CPC may stall efforts by the leading opposition parties to present a united front against the PDP in the next general election.
Another internal crisis in the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) that might have threatened the party's participation in the merger talks, it was gathered, has been resolved as both the Chairman of the party's Board of Trustees (BoT), Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, and the party's National Chairman, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, have reconciled their differences.
A source at the merger talks told THISDAY yesterday that the contact committees of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), ANPP and CPC have agreed to meet in Abuja next week.
He said the meeting was being enlarged to include some members from the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and Labour Party (LP).
According to the source, one of the key issues to be discussed is the nomenclature of the proposed coalition party.
"The parties are to consider issues relating to party symbols, logo and manifesto. The committee will also try to harmonise positions on the move for a common opposition ideology which is considered as very critical to the success of the merger arrangement," he said.
A leading member of ANPP and member of the party's contact committee, Senator Bukar Abba Ibrahim, had two weeks ago, said in Abuja that the opposition parties were striving to ensure that a new political party from the coalition talks emerges by March.
"Before March 2013, we are all going to reach an accord on this merger, that is the deadline for the coalition 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," he said.
THISDAY gathered also that CPC, which in the recent past had became a clog in the merger process following a crisis of confidence in the party over whether to go ahead with the merger bid, has finally formed its contact committee.
The CPC committee is to be headed by a former Deputy Governor of Bauchi State, Alhaji Garba Gadi, who will replace the party's national leader and former Head of State, General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), in the negotiations process.
In order to wriggle out of the power tussle, CPC had barred its leaders, including Buhari and all the members of the national executive committee from further participation in the merger negotiations.
The decision to keep notable leaders out of the merger talks is aimed at avoiding a clash of interests, which had jeopardised previous attempts at forming an opposition coalition.
The source explained that the choice of Gadi to head the CPC contact committee was based on his perceived neutrality in the internal politics of the party.
The merger bid had caused a crisis in the CPC owing to the emergence of influential power blocs within the party, each trying to outwit the other.
Among the power blocs that engaged in the tussle for control of the party machinery include the one led by Tony Momoh, the party's national chairman; one loyal to the National Secretary, Alhaji Buba Galadima; and the third one comprising new entrants and foot soldiers of a former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Mallam Nasiru el-Rufai.
Yet another force is the splinter group made up of former national officers of the party, led by Senator Rufai Hanga, who are opposed to the present leadership of the party and had taken the party to court over the issue.
THISDAY has also learnt that the Hanga faction has chosen to embark on parallel negotiations with the ACN and ANPP.
The Hanga faction had hitherto opposed CPC's participation in the merger talks because of its legal action to unseat the Momoh-led National Executive Committee of the party.
There will be a ruling on the court case at the Abuja High Court on February 28 to decide which of the factions is de facto leadership of the CPC.
Ahead of the court ruling, the Hanga faction said as the authentic representative of the party, it should be the only one to negotiate with others on any binding merger agreement.
Hanga told THISDAY on the phone yesterday that although they support the merger talks, they would not allow the Momoh-led executive represent the CPC in the negotiations.
Hanga said as the pioneer chairman of CPC, he initiated the alliance talks with ACN as part of a strategy to win the 2011 presidential election, but the move was allegedly thwarted by some elements in the CPC that were opposed to the plan on selfish grounds.
He said: "In fact, the problem I had with Galadima and Sule Hamman before the last general election started when I supported the move for alliance with ACN and ANPP.
"I originated the plan for merger with other parties.
In fact, my group has been talking with ACN, ANPP and others but we are forming our own committee so that we can formally cement the negotiation. We have been talking on the merger individually but we now want to form a committee in order to formalise our discussions.
"We have the instrument that will facilitate the merger. We are in possession of the party registration certificate as well as the rightful mandate of the members of the party to go into alliance/merger with other parties. We are fighting because we want to get rid of the Momoh executive because they were the problems the party had. They are illegal and cannot speak for CPC on the issue of merging with opposition parties.
"We do not want a repeat of the experience of 2011, that is why we are going for the merger, and we will not allow them to spoil things this time around. We will be represented by our own committee at the merger negotiations later in the month."
On the group's relationship with Buhari, Hanga stated that the group was no longer contending with the Buhari factor.
"We are not in touch with Buhari right now because he is still going along with Buba who has been feeding him with the false state of affairs within the party. All we know is that a time will come when he will discover the deceit they are leading him into, " he added.
Hanga said Buhari and other party leaders have no choice but to embrace the merger plan as it appeared to be the only alternative for CPC to make an impact.
'I think the idea of a merger is like a soft landing for most of them in the party since the dismal performance at the 2011 elections," he said.
While the CPC is still grappling with internal crisis that could affect its negotiation in the merger bid, the ANPP has overcome the crisis that could have impaired its participation in the coalition talks.
ANPP's involvement in the merger arrangement was said to have ignited a controversy during the last BoT meeting when the move by Sheriff to have it stepped down was voted out by majority of the members.
However, speaking in a phone interview yesterday through his Special Assistant, Umar Duhu, Sheriff said he was fully committed to the merger process.
The former governor of Borno State dismissed insinuations that he had been a PDP mole in ANPP, saying he remained a loyal party man, "fully committed to the ideals of the party and the popular desire to see to the successful emergence an opposition alliance."
Sheriff also said he has been in touch with the head of the ANPP's contact committee, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, and is monitoring the progress in the merger talks.