31 January 2013

Nigeria: Opposition Merger - After Constituting the Committees

The three major opposition parties set to merge to challenge the PDP in the next presidential election have set up committees to meet with one another on the matter. Our correspondents look at the politics of the composition of the committees and what to expect when the talks begin.

The background leading to the setting up of committees to handle the issue of merger by each of the political parties involved, indicates the kind of challenges that would trail the resolve of the All Nigeria People's Party (ANPP) the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) to fuse into one to form a mega party to dislodge the Peoples' Democratic Party (PDP), in 2015.

The aim of fusing into one which did not start now, has always been that the ruling PDP, has grown into a behemoth, that a confrontation by fractions of diverse small units of independent forces would not serve the purpose of dislodging it.

The resolve is to put all resources together to form a platform that is equally gigantic in magnitude to launch a frontal attack on the PDP.

National publicity secretary of the CPC, Mr. RotimiFashakin expressed the point in an explanation saying the opposition parties have realised that it would be difficult to unseat the PDP if they failed to team up. "Before now, the three political parties had tried individually to dislodge the PDP from power, which did not materialise," he said.

The last time an attempt was made to unite the opposition for the sake of forming one mega party was in 2011, but the deal could not be sealed as each of the parties had a perception of its size and strength that was not shared by the others which made it difficult to decide who was to make the least or most of the sacrifices needed to have a common platform.

In the end the alliance talk crumbled and the opposition parties went their separate ways making it possible for the PDP to pick the coveted prize.

Former governor of Kano State, Ibrahim Shekarau said the 2011 alliance did not work then because the talks did not commence early in the day but were held almost at the same time the elections were holding which made it difficult to iron out crooked lines in the discussion talks.

Lagos State chairman of the ACN, Henry Ajomale corroborated this point saying the 2011 talks failed because they began too close to the election hence could not be consolidated.

"Individual parties involved had to scamper back to their platforms to be able to take part in the last general election. It was too close to the election, so it did not work out," he stated.

This time, talks on merger commenced almost three years to the next election. It is as if the opposition had decided that the earlier the talks, the better the chances of resolving the issues before the elections.

After initial high level meetings involving leaders of the parties, the three parties have set up committees to identify issues that peculiar to them and to project the interest of each when inter party negotiations would commence.

The committees

The CPC merger committee which was inaugurated January 16, 2013, has as chairman; former Bauchi State deputy governor, Alhaji Garba Gadi while other members include; Governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura of Nasarawa State, Prof. Tam David-West, Alhaji Sabo Nanono, Senator Hadi Sirika, Chief Okoi Obono Obla, Owelle Oscar Udoji, Engr. Ife Oyedele, Mr Osita Okechukwu, Chief Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, Mrs Lucy Ajayi, Air Cdre Bernard Banfa (Rtd), Engr. B. D. Lawal, Dr Haruna Yerima, Mr James Ocholi SAN, Barrister Adebayo Shittu, Prof. Buba Bajoga and Dr. Osagie Ehanire.

The ACN merger committee announced January 20, 2013 on the other hand, has as chairman; former minister of external affairs, Chief Tom Ikimi while its other members are; former Ogun State governor, Aremo Olusegun Osoba, former Ekiti Governor, Otunba Niyi Adebayo, Governors Babatunde Fashola of Lagos and Rauf Aregbesola of Osun, Sen. John Akpanudoedehe, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyawu, former Benue State Governor and Senate Minority Leader, George Akume and House of Representatives committee chairperson on Diaspora, Rep Abike Dabiri-Erewa.

Others are ACN national secretary, Senator Lawal Shuaibu, Chief Audu Ogbe, former Imo State governor, Chief Achike Udenwa, former Edo State deputy governor, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, former Anambra State governor, Senator Chris Ngige, former national secretary of ACN, Dr. Usman Bugaje, Hadjia Rabiat Eshak, former Minister of Police Affairs, Dr. Ibrahim Y. Lame, Alhaji Yusuf Ali and Alhaji Lai Mohammed.

While ANPP merger committees has as chairman; former Governor of Kano, Malam Ibrahim Shekarau.

The other members are former Borno State governor, Senator Ali Modu-Sheriff, Governors Kashim Shettima of Borno, Alhaji Ibrahim Gaidam of Yobe, Dr. Abdulazeez Yari of Zamfara, former Governors Bukar Ibrahim of Yobe, Ahmed Sani of Zamfara, Senator Kabiru Gaya of Kano, Alhaji Attahiru Bafarawa, Rear Admiral Lanre Amosun (rtd) and George Moghalu.

With the formation of the committees by each of the parties, it is expected that the inter party talks that would finally define the terms of the fission would start setting the pace for the birth of the much touted mega party.

What composition of the committees suggest

But the composition of the committees have also been a subject of debate in political circles.

While the CPC committee is headed by a former deputy governor and has the only governor on the platform of the party as member, the ACN committee has former minister of external affairs, Chief Tom Ikimi as chairman with three former governors and two serving governors as well other high ranking politicians like former PDP national chairman; Audu Ogbe as members. That of the ANPP on the other hand has a former state governor as chairman but with three serving and four former governors as members as well as other notable politicians on the committee.

The composition of the committees is said to be as a result the kind of intrigues that attended the bid to to ensure the interests of the parties are protected in the process.

For the ANPP, the crisis that attended the setting up of the merger committee is well known as there were oppositions to appointing Shekarau to head the committee due to his presidential ambition. Again, some of the chieftains of the party are known to have preferred to work with President Goodluck Jonathan rather than with other opposition parties. At the end, the need to ensure that the committee commands respect from the other two parties prevailed and the choice of Shekarau sailed through only because he was said to be an experienced negotiator whose integrity cannot also be questioned.

Sources say the process for selecting the leadership and members of the CPC merger committee on other hand was not exposed to much friction as it was decided that since it was going to be a straight and open talk, there's no need bickering over it and the former Bauchi deputy governor, was chosen in order to have somebody in the mould of Buhari who could not be easily compromised.

For the ACN, sources say a lot of things were considered. Sources within the party said the ACN felt it has too much at stake to let go and decided that the level of discourse should be raised to the highest intellectual level possible to make the other parties see that the ACN has kept its house in order and should be the principal partner in the merger.

This sources say, informed the choices of Ikimi, Osoba and the rest of the big names on the committee.

The hurdles

But even as at now, the effort to merge has been derided with cynicism as the ideological differences between the three parties are said to be too sharp while the interests of individuals within the parties, are said to be conflicting that it will be difficult for them to come under one umbrella.

Former governor of Yobe State, Bukar Abba Ibrahim gave such an indication recently when he posited that the ANPP will not allow its structure and identity to be sacrificed on the altar of merger as he said the party had come a long way and that it would be inconceivable for the other parties to assume it would collapse its structure, resources and identity into theirs.

He said this is because the party is older than both the ACN and CPC and that the structure it has at the grassroots given it an identity that resonates with the rural populace hence it would be foolhardy to throw all that away for structures that do not command the same level of followership.

The CPC on other hand believes that having polled the second highest number of votes in the last presidential elections, it is only right that it should be treated with more respect in any talks that has to do with the presidential election while the ACN believes that with six states under its control, the resources in pool together cannot be equalled by any of the two other parties.

While the ANPP is older having been registered at the commencement of the present political dispensation, it currently controls only three states having lost some vital grounds in previous elections.

Apart from the size and enormity of the parties, a bigger problem lies in how to convince the various individuals and groups to step down their interests for the good of all. While younger politicians like Tinubu and Shekarau are interested in the presidency, General Buhari has remained the main motivation for the strength of the CPC and many fear that without the presence of his very strong personality the attraction would vanish, hence it would be an up hold talks to ask him to step down for any other candidate. Tinubu too has a grip on the ACN especially in the South West where the party is very popular that asking him to step down for any other candidate would require a lot of convincing to do. Recently there were reports that both Tinubu and General Muhammdau Buhari would be asked to drop their ambitions to allow a younger candidate in the interest of the alliance but the CPC has denied anything like that saying talks have not even commenced not to talk of broaching an issue like that.

Within the ANPP, Shekarau is known to be highly interested in running for the presidency but the romance between other party members like Ali Modu Sheriff and other with President Goodluck may make it difficult for the party to accept any decision that seems not to give Jonathan an edge.

Suspicion trailing ANPP's involvement

While the CPC has other issues affecting its internal cohesion like the legal tussle over the leadership of the party and the issue of the 10 Katsina lawmakers, the bigger problem in the alliance many say, has remained the ANPP, which is neither here nor there in the alliance merger talks. "In one breath it says it is ready to merge and in another it says it can only acquire the other parties," said a source.

The real intention of the ANPP leaders has remained suspect as most of them are suspected to be working for the PDP and that their presence in the ANPP and the opposition camps are only decoys to frustrate the plans to put up a structure that could stand up to the PDP.

Recently it was reported that former governors of Sokoto, Yobe and Borno states, Senators Sani, Ibrahim and Sheriff would decamp to the PDP. Though they have denied such intentions, they have not covered all the loopholes that could have removed the suspicion as negotiations are said to be going on with the trio to place one of them in the federal cabinet in a move that would seal the deal.

The PDP counter threat

Though the PDP has several times derided the opposition for the proposed merger while appearing like they are not concerned, there are indications that the party is keenly monitoring developments and may be set to do what it could to contain the cementing of that union.

National publicity secretary of the PDP, Chief Olisa Metuh, said recently that the PDP is not threatened by such a merger since the PDP remains the only truly national political party adding the attempt to merge will not work as Nigerians will choose "between a merger where vaulting personal interests will ceaselessly riot and yield no support to national stability."

But the wooing of some influential ANPP members is said to be one of the strategies the PDP is said to be deploying to make sure that the merger doesn't work such that when the merger is sealed persons known as key to strengthening the ANPP in their respective state like Sani/Sheriff and Gaidam would be asked to decamp to weaken the camp of the opposition.

Despite the odds, the parties seem more prepared to give the talks a trial and are said to be working on it to announce a definite date for the preliminary talks to introduce members and draw up guidelines for the discussions.

Fasakin, who confirmed that arrangements are on ground to start the meeting said the areas of difference noted are normal and that they have high hopes that they would reach and agreement for the birth of the mega party.

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