Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria: And Now for the Hard Part

"Lots of Folks Confuse Bad Management With Destiny." K. Hubbard

THE planned merger of three or four parties is a major development in the nation's current political disposition. Whether it lives up to its billing as the most significant development since 1999, or it falls flat on its face in the next few weeks will be determined by many issues and challenges.

After many false starts, the planned merger appears to have all the ingredients of success. The negotiations started at a period designed to emphasise this is not an electoral alliance, but a genuine merger of parties. General Muhammadu Buhari and Chief Bola Tinubu appear to have agreed to put a past of disappointments behind them.

The involvement of the All Nigeria People Party (ANPP) and the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) suggests that the leadership of the CPC is willing to rise above some bitterness, while some elements in APGA see some hope in distancing the South-east from a possible disaster in 2015.

The timelines allowed by the Electoral Act can all be met to ensure that all activities towards a merger are satisfied.

These are important parts of a foundation, but not enough to build on. There is, first, the issue of giving the deal real teeth and substance. The document signed is actually a statement of intent. Now the hard task of holding party leaders and members firmly behind the agreement will challenge it.

The APGA schisms are already casting a major shadow on the merger agreement. It is by no means certain that deeply-entrenched animosities in relations between CPC and ANPP will not resurface and threaten the merger. Chieftains and money bags of the ANPP wield huge influence in it, and the widespread suspicion that there is a very thin line between them and the PDP will not evaporate with the signing of the document. Just sharing a room with leaders of the ANPP and CPC would have been unthinkable a few months ago, and thorny issues such as logos, and flag, seniority, spread and clout will encounter many of these deep-seated and emotive residues among many politicians who once belonged to the same party.

There will also be difficult matters to settle over allocation of power and sharing of offices. All parties in the merger will say there is more to it than 2015. They need not bother. It is all about 2015. The new party they plan to float will have to have a constitution, elect leaders and resolve issues over strategy towards 2015.

The ACN will attempt to pull rank, and will demand a strong say in all matters. The CPC will resent an over-bearing influence of the ACN, and will particularly fight against an attempt to dictate who flies the party's presidential flag in 2015.

The ANPP will contest any claim by the CPC on followership and size, and will insist on criteria for allocation of offices which gives it advantages over the CPC in the north. CPC will flex its muscle as a principal partner in the merger negotiations, and an arrangement that allows it a say over how other parties (particularly ANPP) is rewarded in the new party.

All of them will now have to accept to be smaller fish in a bigger pond.

In the build-up towards a viable alternative platform to the PDP, the manner the new party handles intra-party matters will be decisive. The political parties which will form the APC will not dissolve or vanish. They will continue to function as interest groups, and jostle with others in the party for positions and all other advantages.

If the merger works, and the parties float the APC, they won't have the luxury of falling back to their pre-merger status as individual parties. If they fall apart fighting over allocation of party positions, flag-bearers or grand strategies, they would be even less of a threat to the continued dominance of the PDP than they are now. If they fall out on the eve of elections, they will make the disaster worse.

There will also be the need to ensure that all the legal requirements for registration as a merged party are met. The law requires the consent of party members through congresses to give effect to party mergers. INEC will watch closely for defaults, and fifth columnists and others genuinely opposed to the merger of their parties will play the roles of spoilers. PDP is unlikely to sit and watch a potentially damaging alliance emerge.

The joke that is going round about the merger of the PDP and INEC, following the planned merger of CPC, ACN, ANPP and APGA is a reminder that the PDP is much better at playing INEC than all the other parties combined.

INEC is unlikely to refuse to register the APC, but it will do the democratic process a world of good if it insists that essential requirements, for the merger are met. PDP will watch these developments like a hawk, and will activate its sleeper members in opposition parties to make it more difficult, or resist attempts to railroad INEC into registering the party.

But by far the biggest obstacle will be the manner political ambitions and egos are managed. The spoken word is that ACN is interested in forging a formidable alliance with all parties but principally CPC and, if it is possible or desirable, ANPP.

If other parties, such as APGA or their members want to come on board, they are welcome. What is not made public is that the party is anxious to break out of its ethnic cocoon, and become part of a national political platform with influence at the centre. Similarly, the bulk of the membership of the CPC think that the entire merger issue is to give General Buhari a larger, stronger platform to stand on in future.

It will be difficult for them to see 2015 without him as a presidential candidate, and it will be a monumental task to convince him and his inner circle that someone else should be supported by him in his place. The ANPP sees an opportunity to expand opportunities for its ambitious members in the merger, and already has one or two presidential materials warming up.

Politicians in the South-east worry about the fortunes of the zone in the event that President Jonathan insists on being sworn-in for the third time in 2015, and the elections set the nation on fire once again.

There are also issues of perception which are important. If the merger is seen only in terms of improving the chances of a northern presidency, it will suffer from massive hostility, and provide a rallying point for the PDP.

If it is presented as if the South-south and parts of the South-east and northern Christians are comfortable with a Jonathan presidency (even after 2015), and only the far north and the South west are opposed to an administration and a ruling party which have brought the nation to its knees, it will suffer from ethno-religious backlash, and may not serve as the bridge it wants to be.

But the biggest threat is the electoral process. Even if all parties in Nigeria today merge, they will have no effect on the PDP unless there is a marked improvement in the quality of the electoral process. Merger or no merger, further improvements in election management must be made.

Indeed, if our elections are better conducted, all this business of merging will not be as necessary as they are being made out to be. The next few months will show whether the politicians in the parties planning to merge are better than those in the PDP they want to replace.

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