Leadership (Abuja)

13 February 2013

Nigeria: APC's Birth - the Day After

All Progressive Congress (APC) is born. That is the truth as at now, but the aligning parties that merged to form it are yet to demobilize. Would that mark an implosion or is it yet Uhuru? UCHENNA AWOM takes a cursory look into the final consummation of the merger, its high and low points.

Was the final consummation of the merger by the opposition political parties received with wild and wide ululation? Were there skepticisms among the opposition? Was it marred by some controversy? Is it good for Nigeria's democracy? The answers to these questions are all 'YES'. Such was expected because no political calculation anywhere ever meets the expectation of all. So, the emergence of the All Progressive Congress (APC) as the umbrella political platform of the opposition, particularly the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), All Nigeria People's Party (ANPP) and to some extent, the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), seems a welcome development. The latter, however has turned out to present the most point and of course, it perhaps answers the question number three.

The truth of the matter is that all Nigerians including the ruling-Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), to a large extent, agree that a second forceful political party in Nigeria is quite desirable. To many it is a welcome dawn that at last, the people would be availed of a potent alternative choice. Unfortunately, many uninformed would make the mistake of interpreting and placing the development squarely on electoral contests between two contending platforms.

This perception even exists among the players in the merger arrangements, but the truth is that the real meaning is and must be located on the development of Nigeria's democracy and the strengthening of its contextual foundation. It is not only about a plot to dislodge the ruling party. If that is the case, then it is an effort aimed only at contesting power and not planning to provide leadership to the yearning Nigeria public. In that case, it could mean that the failure of the merger began the moment it was consummated. Many political analysts posit that the merger should be analyzed holistically, bearing in mind its import on the evolutionary process of the country's democracy.

Therefore, it could be said that the applause that heralded the announcement of the birth of the APC was predicated on this premise and not based on the whims of some of its promoters, who may have narrowed down its positive import solely on partisan considerations.

This much was given credence to by the reaction of some PDP chieftains, like the Niger State Governor, Babangida Aliyu and Alhaji Tanko Yakassai.

Aliyu had in a reaction praised the opposition political parties for the successful merger, saying that with strong parties, the politics of the country would be more valuable to the extent that charlatans won't just occupy the political space. " I am one of the few people in the PDP praying that the merger should become a reality because I believe with strong political parties, the politics of Nigeria would be valuable to the extent that not every riff-raff would become this or that. They will learn the ropes and listen to people who have done those things before."

Similarly, Yakassai told LEADERSHIP on phone that the success of the merger was a welcome development and one that is in the best interest of the country. He said the opposition parties had little choice left than to come together to form a strong party since it was obvious that none of them could on their own, dislodge the PDP.

"If you look at the parties involved, you will see that they are limited in scope the ACN is concentrated in the South west The CPC in the Hausa/Fulani or the

North West, APGA in the South east and ANPP in the North. Unlike the PDP that has structures in all the regions.

So it is good that the merger succeeds because it will re-enact the politics of the first republic and even the second republic", he said.

Yakassai recalled that similar effort was at play in the first republic with the near merger of the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA) and the Nigeria National Alliance (NNA), but for the military intervention both parties could have fused to form a formidable alternative party for Nigerians. The same thing happened in the second republic with the Progressive Peoples alliance (PPA) championed by Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim and Mallam Aminu Kano.

"Check out, Nigerians welcomed even the creation of two political parties by former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida. That was the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (NRC)", he added.

However, he premised his support on the fact that such alliance would cement Nigeria's unity because the new party will have presence in all the ethnic nationalities unlike the parties that made it up.

Yakassai nonetheless, advised the promoters to be wary of the risk of individual interest, otherwise it is a welcome development.

The foregoing represents the thinking of the wide spectrum of political observers, who hinge their expectations that the promoters of the new party should rather see the arrangement as a pan-Nigerian thing, rather than a platform for particular individuals to realise only their ambition. To them, the good thing is that it would reduce the impunity that arises from a sole party that can impose candidates irrespective of qualifications and character.

In that case, the emergence of the party is applauded based on what it represents in Nigeria's political development.

Scepticisms

On the second part, the merger is viewed with scepticism and it is premised on what may have been the driving force of the promoters. There are fears already within the rank that the first test will come from the offices and post sharing formula. The issue of which of the merging parties is senior and which is junior will also come to play. The criteria that will confer seniority is another matter altogether. Another problem, said an insider, is how to accommodate all shades of opinion and not seen to be alienating others. Already, the place of the ANPP is still shaky owing largely to the no love lost between it and General Muhammadu Buhari of the CPC. Will the APC promoters accord ANPP the recognition as the second largest party in the pack? What of APGA? Which of the APGA's is in the merger? What positions will ACN take in the party is leadership structure? Is Bola Tinubu going to remain as the national leader of the party; a position he occupies in ACN? Is Chief Bisi Akande going to retain the chairmanship of the new party? What of Lai Mohammed?

Is he also going to remain the spokesman of the party? Mohammed no doubt, was a quintessential spokesman, but the two positions are very strategic such that both were seen as the face of ACN, and of course, they derive their powers from the national leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. If such becomes the case in the long run, then the APC may have succeeded in giving Nigerians an assignment to decipher the difference between ACN and APC, because the trio would most certainly find it very difficult to change their operational modus.

So, the reality staring on the face of the promoters is to create a delicate balance; that is to say, it would be plausible to inject new faces and introduce a semblance of an arrangement that break completely from the status quo in terms of structural make up.

Again, a keen observer of the whole scenario opined that while the merger sounds good now, at least for the Nigerian situation, there are still fears that in the final analysis, the new party could be inundated with arduous internal crises that could keep it busy. That being the case, it could be faced with the unfortunate situation whereby it would lose focus on the primary objective of balancing political acts in the country as well as providing Nigerians the much sought-after better alternative.

The best approach, he suggested, would have been to pursue the initial merger arrangement between the ACN and CPC, after which it can court a working arrangement with other parties.

In that case, the joiners will be given some conditions and not the other way round. "As it is all the political parties represented in the merger would expect an equal treatment otherwise, any form of dissention, no matter how minute, could be magnified to look as if it is a major crisis facing the APC ", he said.

The APGA Challenge

There is no doubt that the absence of a cohesive APGA would be a major setback. The import of what is happening with the unfortunate dilly-dallying of the party means that the APC will be denied of a block Igbo presence. Such situation will blunt the steady march for a holistic political realignment, which the new party represents. Not only that, alienating the South East in the merger will leave them with no choice than to either remain in the PDP or start looking for other regional partners. Weaving the face of Nigeria in the new party is what the promoters patriotically bargained for and of course, that is perhaps the most potent weapon that will give the PDP a serious run.

Unfortunately, APGA has denied ever mandating Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo state to attend the merger talks. In a statement signed for the party by Dr. Tim Menakaya, the party declared that the issue of merger with other political parties is not on the agenda of APGA for now, adding that its concern at the moment is to restructure, nurture and build a strong APGA capable of winning elections across the states of Nigeria.

"For the avoidance of doubt, we wish to reiterate that the issue of merger with other political parties is not on the agenda of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) for now. Our concern at the moment is to restructure, nurture and build a strong APGA capable of winning elections across the states of Nigeria. Our doors are wide open, and currently, there is a mass influx of people into our party. We call on all party members and the general public to disregard the misleading inclusion of our party in the on-going merger talk of opposition parties. It is not on the agenda of the party for now".

Nonetheless, the party said it was not against the creation of a mega opposition party, but added that it views the issue as a very serious one, which needs adequate consultations before a governor participates and makes a public statement, in apparent reference to the Imo State Governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha.

The statement read in part; "Our attention has been drawn to a press conference by a group of ten (10) governors, including the Imo state governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha after meeting in Lagos endorse a "merger of some opposition parties in Nigeria". While we are not against the establishment of a mega opposition party, we believe that the issue of merger of political parties

is a very serious matter that needs adequate consultations before a governor participates and makes public statements.

We wish to state after due consultations with many party members, including the following:-

His Excellency, Governor Peter Obi, CON- Governor, Anambra State, Senator Chris Anyanwu- Senator representing Imo Central, Her Excellency, Bianca Ojukwu, Nigerian Ambassador to Spain, Hon. Eddie Mbadiwe- APGA Leader, House of Reps (Imo State), Hon. Chris Azubogu - House of Reps member, Anambra State, Hon. Emeke Nwogbo - House of Reps Member, Anambra State

Hon. Victor Ogene- House of Reps Member, Anambra State, Chief Chris Uche - APGA Deputy National Chairman, South- East, His Execellency, Odi Nwosu, Nigerian Ambassador to Burundi, Ambassador Frank Nchita Ogbuewu- 2011 APGA Governorship Candidate, Ebonyi State and Former Minister of Culture and Tourism, Chief Reagam Ufomba - 2011 APGA Governorship Candidate, Abia State, Barr. Obiora Obiegue- 2011 APGA Governorship Candidate, Enugu State, Prof. Dora Akunyili - 2011 APGA Senatorial Candidate, Anambra Central, Former Minister of Information and Communications, Hon. Chuma Nzeribe - Former House of Reps member, APGA Senatorial Candidate, Anambra South, that we were never invited, consulted or informed about any political parties merger.

"We wish to make it clear that WE HAVE NOTHING AGAINST THE FORMATION OF ANY MEGA OPPOSITION PARTY, but we categorically state that All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), has never participated in any merger talk with any political party and is therefore not in the merger. We were never consulted by anybody before such a statement of our involvement was issued.

"The National Executive Committee (NEC), meeting of the party was held in July, 2012 and various stakeholders' meetings have equally been held in the last one year. In all these meetings, the issue of merger with other political parties was never discussed. For one of our governors to participate in a meeting where the merger of opposition parties was endorsed is ridiculous and unfortunate.

"The merger of political parties where the parties are expected to lose their identities, cannot be an ad hoc arrangement or a decision of one person. According to our constitution, the decision to initiate such discussions is vested on the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party and shall be ratified by the National Convention. It is not an executive action, but purely a party matter. Even Section 84(3) of Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), expects that such action must come through a special resolution passed by the National Convention of each of the political parties proposing the merger and the written resolutions of each of these parties communicated to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) through a letter jointly signed by the National Chairman, National Secretary and the National Treasurer of each of the merging parties".

Putting Records Straight

However, the ACN echoed fairness and justice in response to the APGA disclaimer statement. It clarified the situation under which APGA was included in the membership of APC, saying, "it was an act of good faith based on available information and prevailing circumstances, rather than a deliberate act to mislead Nigerians or railroad APGA into the merger".

ACN's National Publicity Secretary, Lai Mohammed, said in a statement issued in Abuja on Sunday, that the new party has absolute respect for the rights of individuals or groups on whether or not to associate within a democracy.

Mohammed further explained how APGA was included in the list of parties involved in the merger process.

According to him; "We recognize the person and status of Governor Rochas Okorocha, who as Imo state governor, has been a great player and figure in the Nigerian political landscape, as well as Senator Annie Okonkwo, a seasoned politician and respectable lawmaker.

"We believe in their representation that APGA is interested in the merger; hence we worked with them in good faith. They participated effectively and positively in the meeting of all governors of the parties concerned and in the meetings of the merger committees of the parties, leading to the statement released by all the governors endorsing the merger and the one by the merger committees announcing the formation of the APC."

Nonetheless, the CAN, he said, going by the APGA statement signed on behalf of some members by Dr. Tim Menakaya, the APC had come to the "full realisation that there is dissent in the rank and file of the party (APGA).

"In spite of this, and since democracy is about choice, alignments and re-alignments hinged on the fundamentals of individuals' freedom of association, we respect their position, and will like to describe as unfortunate, whatever misconception the purported full involvement of APGA in the merger may have generated.

"We also assure APGA that we are willing to work with the party whenever it normalises its internal process and is ready to join the platform. We all remain brethren within the Nigerian family and our doors remain open in the spirit of the new party," it said.

Continuing, he informed that it was not only parties that can join APC, adding that progressive individuals and groups are welcomed to the fold of the new party.

"On this basis, therefore, individuals such as the Imo State governor and others of like minds are still considered members of the APC," the party said, while reiterating its resolve and commitment to the merger of the ACN, CPC and ANPP in a final push to rescue Nigeria.

On Rescue Mission?

Well, the support expectedly swelled among opposition lawmakers. Senators tagged the merger a "National Redemption Project". Unequivocally senators who will make up the new party; APC at a news conference declared that the new political party will salvage the political, social and economic situation in Nigeria with a view to rescue the country from its present rot and corruption.

Led by the Senate Opposition Leader, George Akume, they said the APC will free Nigeria from the political and social ills bedevilling her and from the "fangs" of the ruling People's Democratic Party "maladministration".

He described the merger as a step in the right direction. "We support our leaders; we applaud their wisdom and patriotism in their epochal drive to stem this declining tide. We also appreciate the courage of our governors.

"We call on all the members of our parties in our senatorial districts, our political associates and followers to work assiduously towards the realization of this national redemption project.

"All progressive minded Nigerians are called upon regardless of political platforms to join this progressive political train. It is our faith that this collective worthwhile and noble endeavour will lead all Nigerians to realise the dreams of our founding fathers to have a country that works for all and sundry", he said.

The enthusiasm is high. Nigerians seem enthused but are watching in with bated breath what will eventually play out. The danger that lies ahead is how the individual interests that marred previous attempts to forge a granite alliance would be subsumed for the interest of the greatest number. For now, the applause reigns but only time will tell.

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