10 February 2013

Nigeria: APC Is a Small First Step

Mid last week, four of this country's leading opposition political parties announced that they have merged to form a brand new party, All Progressive Congress (APC). They made the announcement at a press conference in Abuja by the merger committees of the four parties led by former Foreign Affairs Minister Mr. Tom Ikimi. The four parties that make up APC are the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).

This merger came about after several months of negotiations, following which each of the four parties formed a committee to represent it at the merger talks. Present at the news conference to herald the coming of APC were the chairmen and members of the various parties' merger committees. While ACN's was led by Ikimi, former Governor Ibrahim Shekarau led ANPP's team; former Bauchi State deputy governor Alhaji Garba Gadi led CPC's team while Senator Annie Okonkwo led APGA's merger team. Senators Kabiru Gaya, Chris Ngige, Bukar Abbah Ibrahim and Ahmed Sani, Yariman Bakura also attended the news conference.

Chief Tom Ikimi said at the news conference that with the formation of the new party, the opposition parties would commence the processes of registering it with INEC. He said, "At no time in our national life has radical change become more urgent. And to meet the challenge of that change, we the following progressive political parties namely ACN, ANPP, CPC and APGA have resolved to merge and become the All Progressive Congress (APC) and offer to our beleaguered people a recipe for peace and prosperity." The formation of APC was made easier because a day before, ten state governors from the four parties met at the Lagos State Government House, Ikeja and endorsed the merger talks. Governor Kashim Shettima, who spoke after the meeting, said they were "extremely concerned about the state of the nation" and had "fully endorsed the merger initiatives already commenced by our various political parties".

This move by the opposition parties has been warmly welcomed by many Nigerians who are worried that this country's democracy has degenerated into a one party affair. Right now, 23 of this country's 36 states as well as the Federal Government, both chambers of the National Assembly and most of the local government councils are controlled by one party, the PDP. The country's politics has assumed a skewed character with most politicians gravitating towards PDP. None of the opposition parties, acting alone, is likely to muster the necessary strength to beat PDP in a national election, hence the need for a merger.

An unusual development in Nigerian politics is that the opposition parties learnt a key lesson from the 2011 election, which is to come together in time to satisfy the Electoral Act's provisions. Back in 2011, alliance talks between ACN and CPC took place on the eve of elections, but this merger is coming two full years before the next general elections. As such, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has already stated that the action of the opposition parties is in line with Section 84 of the Electoral Act, which requires registered political parties that intend to merge to do so at least 90 days before a general election.

Beyond satisfying provisions of the law, there are many more hurdles that APC must now cross. Already, there is a problem with one of the merging parties, APGA. Its representative at the talks Senator Annie Okonkwo was questioned by a rival party faction, and last Friday a high court ousted the party's leadership from office.

Even though these merger talks have been on for over a year, it is doubtful if the party leaders have properly consulted with their members before the final plunge. A registered party must hold special conventions to endorse the merger before INEC could agree to withdraw its old registration certificate. So far, none of them has done so. Right now, they have not produced a constitution, logo or manifesto, without which they cannot proceed to the stage of seeking INEC registration.

These are only the technicalities. The politics is even more crucial. As the merged parties seek to streamline their officers in every state, they must reckon with the jockeying that is likely to take place between elements of the four merging parties. Such issues could however be solved with real commitment and give and take. Then there is the challenge of the national election. One of the things that give PDP a bad name is internecine intra-party conflicts. This problem could easily be worse in APC where there are four identifiable parties struggling to fuse together. The task of producing the men or women who will fly its flag in the next elections is a very delicate one that the new party's leaders must start examining very early.

Finally, there is the very big problem of convincing Nigerians that this is not just a marriage of convenience in order to replace PDP but continue to do what it is doing. This fear is real because the opposition parties have not shown that they are more internally democratic than PDP is or that they have a more coherent ideology and program. In fact, many of APC's leaders are former PDP members who fell out with the ruling party over petty personal issues. As such, chests should not be beaten just because an opposition mega party was formed last week. There is still a long way to go before we have a credible alternative to PDP.

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