This is a very interesting book for the simple reason that it is about a ruling party in Nigeria, a party whose governance of Nigeria in the past four years is a subject of contested rating from which Nigeria must have lessons to draw. As such, a critical review of it to discover hidden voices, layers of meaning and congealment of power is in order. It bears repeating that a critical review is not about condemning the book but situating it in its conditions of possibility.
This is a very self-aware book, defining its subject-matter strictly in terms of what it is all about and, therefore, what it is not about. Readers are warned very early in the Preface to note that the book “is not an inquisition into the working of the All Progressives Congress, (APC) but an advocacy for building greater confidence in the party, its leadership and the political future of Nigeria”, (P. XII). Subsequently, attention is concentrated on questions of departures from the beaten path, especially on what the merger of the Action Congress of Nigeria, (ACN); All Nigeria People’s Party, (ANPP); Congress for Progressive Change, (CPC); New-PDP, (People’s Democratic Party and All Progressives Grand Alliance, (APGA) means beyond the formality, managing internal dynamics and building a party.
President Muhammadu Buhari cued on to the discussion by wondering aloud on what would have happened to Nigeria if there had been no merger. He demands of everyone to come to terms with how historic the coming together in order to defeat the PDP in 2015 is. He is quickly joined by Ekiti State governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi who, in his own case, declared the merger the first in the history of Nigeria because, according to him, all others were unsuccessful. He wrote the first of the two Epilogues defining the book. The second is by another governor, this time of Kaduna State, Nasir el-Rufai who advertised the merger as an Africa wide model for opposition. These two are the fused lodestar of the most self-conscious centre of power within the APC.
In 10 chapters, the author tries to capture the different themes of this celebratory narrative of the 2013 merger of the above named legacy parties in 196 pages but 219 pages in the electronic version. Chapter One tells the story of the processes of the merger, with a question mark on the New PDP as a legacy party. Chapter Two is on party funding and the claim about how the APC is a departure from its predecessor – the PDP. This distinction comes in the notion that, unlike the PDP, the APC raises funding from private sources. Somehow, there are some important questions in the second paragraph of page 39 on this issue in relation to leverage and control. The discussion of the issue is, however, so difficult to understand, what with sentences such as “it is one dream that could have been turned into political nightmare between 1999 and 2015 on account of poor political party and electoral management under the PDP”, (P. 39). For much of the book, the PDP is the yardstick for determining right or wrong.
Chapter Three dwells on struggle for leadership positions and conflict in the party while Four and Five are about its encounters with elections up to 2019, with peeping into the seeds of time in relation to 2023 coming into play towards the end of Chapter Five. In that sense, pages 98 – 102 might interest some readers in terms of what the thinking camp in the APC thinks are key party issues. Similarly, the section on former Chief Justice Onnoghen in Chapter Seven would excite some while infuriating some others in the narration of the incident as a case study in the nexus between the judiciary and the anti-corruption war. It is certainly highly discursive.
Chapter Eight is highly problematic because too many things are married together there in a manner that is difficult to synthesise. There are too many claims too. But it remains an interesting chapter in the elaborate attention it gives to the el-Rufai document on True Federalism. In this sense too, pages 155 – 163 would likely detain those keen on the sketch of the report presented in this book. Chapter Ten would be no less interesting. That is a short chapter where empirical documentation of Change is attempted. And then there is another Epilogue titled “APC Roadmap and the Future of Democracy in Nigeria”. It closes the book in the form of a manifesto or what looks so.
What does this tour allow us to conclude about the representation of the merger as an iconic move in the politics of building an Archimedean lever? One thing about the celebration of the merger is how the celebration is also an interrogation of the merger. Implied in the celebration is the question of “merger for what?” That is the question of why the merger might be considered historic as President Buhari and Governor Kayode insists? As the president says, it must be in the context of what could have happened to Nigeria if the merger didn’t happen. That is a manner of suggesting that Nigeria might be no more or be worse off if the merger didn’t happen. Readers would look for evidence for this claim, not necessarily in the book under consideration but inter-textually. Inter-textual reading of the book means asking, for instance, if a party just planning to establish an ideological school since the merger can make the claim the president has made. Yet, establishing a party school is what Adams Oshiomhole was talking about a week or so ago. Can a party which has no cadres who speak the same party language across the country claim to possess capability to build a nation? The aberration of parties without cadres has become the norm in Nigeria but it must be interrogated if a party that claims to be different is also lost about that. Is it not because there are so-called political parties without cadres who speak party language that party governments in Nigeria could still be totally helpless in the face of ethnic or religious violence? these acts of violence are driven by youths who are also supposed to be party members, meaning that they have not had the benefit of induction into the thinking of the party, of which ethnicity cannot be.
A party without a form of party school or space for cadre grooming is a non-starter. How and from where does it recruit leaders? Although the subsequent generation that eased out and took over the PDP from the real founders were so scared of their shadows they instantly killed the party school, it is interesting that the PDP over which the APC claims superiority came into existence with a party school. The fact that this issue was not raised in the book subtracts something from the text as well as from the author who is a member of the few beneficiaries of authentic radical politics who found themselves in the APC. The personality geopolitics of the author of this book makes it more so. Comrade Salihu Lukman was a president of the National Association of Nigerian Students, (NANS) when that platform was engaging in theory and in practice.
When this question of “merger for what?” is stretched to the empirical dimension of governance, it becomes even more complicated. Country wide insecurity alone has undermined any claim about the merger being historic. Historic when nobody is safe? And the party as well as the government worsens the case by openly lamenting that it is corrupt opponents or some such forces that have been organizing the killings that are the basis of recent bitterness in Nigeria. Assuming, for the purpose of argument, that it is true that corrupt people are out to make the country ungovernable, is open lamentation and finger pointing the options for the government? Isn’t there anything in that finger pointing that speaks more to incompetence than exposing ‘bad guys’? That is, incompetence in neither being able to crush the supposedly corrupt opponents nor negotiating a ceasefire with them as even a Lenin would have done and did. Meanwhile, the anti- corruption war that is at the heart of all these is generally rated to be a shadow of itself. And criticisms which cannot be blamed on ‘bad guys’ are mounting, from charges of nepotism to violent 2019 elections, rising unemployment to diminishing Pax-Nigeria.
There are other important issues around this text. For instance, is a party about what can happen or about what must happen? Historically, parties are about imaginaries or giving practical demonstration to an imaginary. There is power in that because it is driven by the force of a coherent set of ideas or imagining in contrast to the circumstantial determinism of possibilism. Two, how can a party which suffered the cross-carpeting that preceded the 2019 election be represented as a model in merger? Isn’t there an empirical challenge to any celebration of merger when even the government itself has been so fragmented that a presidential nominee was rated as unfit to hold the position for which he has been nominated by an appointee of one and the same president? Lastly, why is there no sustained attempt to trace back the politics of merger in Nigerian party politics beyond Kayode Fayemi’s one sentence claim? Is it not from a discussion of previous attempts that a more convincing storyline about this particular merger might have emerged?
The author has done great by putting pen to paper instead of joining gossipers. This review expresses solidarity with that attitude by offering this feedback. The assumption is that he would be able to collate all the feedback he gets, go back and transform the book into a more critical take on the phenomenon in question. For all we know, this book suggests that the radicals in the APC might have decided to begin to speak out at last. They are there but, for whatever reasons, have chosen to keep quiet since 2015. Since truth does not lie in facts but in the interpretation of facts, the self-understanding their writings provide could serve as key building blocks of the democratic order in particular and social harmony in general. This is particularly if the narrative of exceptionalism being accorded the merger can be connected to something similar to the way the People’s Redemption Party, (PRP), for instance, announced its arrival in power in 1979 by abolishing Haraji and Jangali taxes on Day One. Why is a nationwide version of that in a different sphere not what what the APC is celebrating? For, until that sort of thing, this merger stuff will hardly strike beyond being seen as a hegemonic, factional narrative in the context of a struggle for ascendancy within the APC and over larger Nigeria.