The newly registered APC has never minced words in its desire to uproot the PDP come 2015. Chibuzo Ukaibe, examines some of the tough challenges before the new party in achieving this feat.
For a party that intends to sweep away the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from the presidency by 2015, the All Progressive Congress (APC) has its work clearly cut out. At the least, most analysts believe that their ability to produce an acceptable candidate to fly their presidential ticket; galvanise and consolidate party membership across the country; and ultimately sell a practicable manifesto to Nigerians would be key to their success. More so, it is open to conjecture what political leverage the APC can amass with the evolving crisis in the PDP ahead of 2015, being mindful that such clashes of interests, though typical of the ruling party as it prepares for the presidential elections, have never caused them presidency since 2003.But, proponents of the mega opposition party, readily posit that the 2015 scenario would be different.
They aver that the swelling disenchantment with the ruling party in the country and the potential bulk votes they would amass as APC, unlike the previous elections where the votes were split among the three major opposition parties, gives them the edge. Yet, the challenge is much more than the wave of the symbolic broom. The immediate task before the mega opposition is to ensure its holds up a formidable front, ahead of inevitable clash of interests. In the heat of the merger negotiations, the media was awash with reports of disagreement. While dissenting views are expected in such negotiations there were concerns however, that the overbearing interest of few individuals cut across the three major merging parties- ACN, ANPP and CPC- was threatening the arrangement. The speculation then was that the powerful individuals were posturing themselves, via imposition of their cronies, to hold firm the structure of the new party.
Severally, however, the merging parties refuted such claims, saying they were part of the antics of a frightened ruling party bent on scuttling the inevitable change of government. But these speculation, in a post merger era, has refused to go away, which prompted the Interim National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Muhammed, to issue a press statement debunking any frost relationship within the party. in fact, labelled the speculated friction, as existing in the imagination of the peddlers of the rumour, stressing that the relationship of the top party leaders cannot be more cordial as it is at present. But some pundits aver that the scheming for who becomes the party's presidential flag bearer is a major fuel in the rumoured rancour within the party. As it stands, the APC has not stated which part if the country it would zone the presidency to but the former presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) General Muhammadu Buhari has indicated interest to take a shot at being the party's presidential candidate.
Others speculated to be in the radar of the party's presidential platform include the Speaker, House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, Governor Raji Fashola of Lagos, Comrade Adams Oshiomole of Edo state, former National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Audu Ogbeh, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu. Even General T.Y Danjuma according to reports is being wooed to take the party's ticket.
However, speculations are rife about a political permutation by some northern leaders to field a work towards fielding a northern candidate, pending the decision of President Jonathan to declare his intention to seek reelection. For proponents of this idea, they believe a Christian presidential candidate would be strategic for in getting the presidency by 2015.
But it would seem that the ambition of General Buhari is leaving ripples within the party. There had been a subtle revolt against his emergence as the party's flag bearer. As some pointy there were reports, albeit unsubstantiated, that as part of the merger deal, he and former governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu, decided not to nominate themselves for any elective position.
They further cited his failure at pervious presidential elections of 2003, 2007 and 2011.
Still, Buhari has at every opportunity said he would seek the party's presidential ticket. Speaking with journalists in Minna recently at the maiden edition of the publisher of Leadership Newspaper, Sam Nda-Isaiah Annual Lecture Series, General Buhari reportedly pointed out that his intention to take a shot at the Presidency in 2015 was to answer calls by well-meaning Nigerians who are yearning for a genuine and transparent leadership. But he, however, said he was ready to rest his ambition under the yet-to-be-registered APC.
According to him: "I will be ready to step down if there is a formidable and better candidate. It is not about me but for the survival of the party and the country. APC is about ensuring internal democracy and transparency. So, whoever emerges is the person I will support and I will be ready to step down". General Buhari insisted that Nigerians must be rescued from the hands of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and this can only be achieved if a formidable candidate emerges as the standard bearer of the newly formed but yet-to-be registered APC in 2015 general elections.
There is also the notion that while Buhari commands the respect of the Northern masses he is feared by its political elite and that while he is loved by Moslem voters but not taken in by many a Christian voters. But former National Publicity Secretary of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Mr. Rotimi Fasakin has said that nobody can stop the former military head of state Major-General Mohammadu Buhari(rtd, from testing his popularity at the presidential primary of the All Progressives Congress (APC).Fasakin who in an interview Wednesday with some journalists in Abuja said, only the decision of the party members at the presidential primaries can alter the CPC's leader's plan to run for 2015 Presidency.
Against the background of claims by Internal sources have confirmed that the APC was already working on the calculations that the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal could be convinced join the fray with a view to presenting him as the party's candidate in 2015, Fashakin said there was to suggest that Buhari will jettison his ambition. A reliable source which confirmed the move, said some APC leaders were working on Tambuwal because on the basis that he is younger with an appreciable appeal across party lines, adding that one thing that is going from him is that he is from the north-west which is the highest voting bloc today in the country.
However, Fashakin told reporters that there was no time such an arrangement precluding Buhari from running was made.The ex-Spokesman of CPC who insisted that he has an inside knowledge about the initial agreement on the merger, described the purported arrangement to oust Buhari and Tinubu as a ruse. "We need to tell you we all know that the said arrangement is mere propaganda to stop General Buhari from again testing his popularity but it will not work." Let me tell you, come 2015, General Buhari will participate at the APC presidential primary and nobody can stop him, I repeat, he will contest and no one can stop him from doing so", Fasakin said. The insistence of the leader of the CPC that he would contest the 2015 presidential election has put the newly registered APC on the edge.
However some members of the APC have expressed their desire to have a young candidate and a fresh face for the party. "Our earlier thinking was that the two leaders,(referring to Buhari and Tinubu should provide leadership for the new party and groom an acceptable candidate that will beat PDP's Goodluck Jonathan, because from all indications, the PDP will present him. "By our calculations, a younger and vibrant politician should run as our candidate so as to give the PDP a good fight; but from the way things are, we are stocked in between telling Buhari out rightly not to run and allowing him to continue with some ripple effects coming our way later", he added. But, if the permutations of the North for a Christian candidate to face a likely President Jonathan in 2015 is anything to go by, it is yet to be seen how the party will react to it.
According to reports, the move is targeted at establishing a working relationship with any of the major political parties that will zone its presidential slot to the Middle Belt, which comprises states in the North-central and a part of the North-east. Following the seeming alienation of the Middle Belt states, it was gathered that they would be acceptable to any of the political parties that would offer the presidency to the Middle Belt whose people are predominantly Christians. As such, the strategy is being sold to the APC.
Accordingly, if the idea is sold on the APC, its presidential running mate would inevitably, emerge from either the South-east or South-west.
Both dominant political parties also see the Middle Belt as the "swing zone" and when votes from the zone are added to those from their core support zones, it would make the difference between victory and defeat in the 2015 presidential race.
Perhaps, in a bid to play down the intensity of the scheming, the interim national chairman of the party, Chief Bisi Akande, at the inaugural executive meeting, said the focus of the party is not on presidency but building the party base across the states as well as winning Anambra State governorship election.
He said " we listen to people talking about presidency; no we have not reached that stage at all. Our major preoccupation is to set up the structure of our party"
On who will fly the party's presidential flag in the 2015 general election, Akande said APC could not be stampeded on the issue until the party's national convention likely to hold in December. He said the task of the Masari committee would be to advise on how to organise congresses at the ward and state levels of the party."Our duty is to organise party congresses from ward level to local and state levels and at the national level to hold the convention to establish a proper structure for the APC. Until the congresses and convention are done, we are having party leadership in the interim.
"We are trying to build our foundation from bottom to the top and not from the top to down and we have had some talks about possible names of APC presidential candidates, but that is not true, we have not reached that stage." Our major preoccupation is to set up the structure of our party. Until after November or December when we hold our national convention, where our national executive will be elected, there is no idea about who becomes our presidential candidate, flag bearer, governor or anything," he said.
However, he added that the only exception would be Anambra State where a committee was already working out modalities for nominating candidate of the party for the November 16 governorship election. He confirmed that there is going to be congresses for members in Anambra State soon to enable them decide who would be the party's candidate in the November poll. "The committee is to proffer strategies on how APC can contest and win elections in these places. You know political parties are in politics to win elections.
"We are also expected to hold our national convention in November and December and it is only after that that we can talk about the issue of the flag bearer or the presidential candidate," Akande added. According to him, the outcome of the committee's report would determine how and when to inaugurate these structures.
That meeting was however instructive in the face of recent, friction in some states, where defunct parties in the APC, precisely, the CPC felt alienated from the activities of the state.
For instance, the Ekiti State APC last week, expressed worry over how the leadership of the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, in the state had failed to turn up for Monday's rally to herald the formation of the new party in the state. Members of the CPC, led by the chairman, Mr. Babatunde Ajayi, had staged a boycott by refusing to partake in a rally organised by the PPA. Rather than participating in the rally, the CPC decided to stage its own rally at the party's Basiri office, at the other end of the town. Speaking with newsmen on why they refused to show up at the rally, Ajayi complained that the leadership of the defunct ACN had failed to carry them along.
But countering this position, Public Relations Officer of APC in the state, Mr. Adeleke, said all the merger parties were aware of the rally, expressing fears that the leadership of CPC might be acting the script of fifth columnists to frustrate the party in the state. He said: "All I am aware of is that the leaders of the ANPP and CPC met with our chairman and other executives in Ado Ekiti on the planned rally, because our leaders are interested in full harmonization of the merger in Ekiti so that the party can take off on a solid footing. "During the meeting, they reached some agreements which include that our secretariat should be the operational office of the APC. In fact, they agreed to all the proposals brought before them by our leaders. We gave them the date and the venue of the rally . With all these, I don't know how they were neglected or sidelined." Despite the fact that they were aware of the preparation, ACN did not collect a dime from them to organize the rally."
This week, however, expectations are high that some of the grey areas in the aftermath of a merger would be addressed when top leaders of the new party meet.
The meeting is poised to tackle any crisis of confidence that would erupt as the post merger party consolidates its structures. For a stakeholders meeting it will serve as a fence- mending move to try to rally support for the interim leadership, especially as it embarks of the setting up of party structures in the states and local council areas.
Still, analysts are appalled by the lack of constructive engagement between the APC and the PDP, since the registration of the new party. They view the recent banter and name-calling as diversionary and uninspiring especially at a time when critical ideas out to be churned out.
The concern reinforces the perception that the nation's political class is bereft of ideology and lack clear cut difference in manifesto framework.
In any case, with an evolving electorate, the contest for the 2015 election is one that holds a lot of promise, and opportunity for the political elite across board to elevate political consciousness in the country by presenting practical manifestos and show sufficient cause why electorates should continue to believe in the system.