Democracy is limping in Nigeria, partly due to political parties that are anything but such. The Progressive Governors’ Forum, Abuja author of this piece argues on how one of the collapsing parties could be rescued. He is reachable via firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Salihu Moh. Lukman
With the emergence of APC in 2013 following a very successful merger negotiations led by the leadership of defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), democracy in Nigeria has been able to record more progress. Not only that the merger was the first time Nigerian political parties were able to successfully unite and become one, the leadership of the parties that merged made every sacrifice required to ensure the emergence of APC as a strong united political party.
Part of the components of the contributions of the APC to Nigeria’s democracy include how it has reduced to the minimum the problem of imposition of candidates within the APC, at least in the 2015 elections. Unfortunately, that is where the party’s problems started. Contestants in party primary elections failed to develop the needed sportsmanship to accept results. The old habit of aspiring candidates taking over leadership structures of the party and positioning themselves to predetermine the results of the primary elections remained the case.
Consequently, since 2015, conducts of primary elections within the party has been rancorous in virtually all our states. The National Working Committee (NWC), which is saddled with the responsibility of managing internal processes, facilitate resolution of the problems, is unable to do so. Inability to resolve problems associated with management of 2015 elections have been compounded by more problems from 2019 elections. In fact, multiplicity of these problems has made the party to lose elections in Adamawa, Bauchi, Oyo, Sokoto and Zamfara states.
Perceived weaknesses of the Chief John Odigie-Oyegun-led NWC served as the justification of electing Comrade Adams Oshiomhole as his replacement. Sadly, challenges of internal democracy and fair competitive practices during selection of candidates in the party remained a dream. Now, clearly the problems associated with that process has produced what can be regarded as an electoral college. Citizens can vote but our Supreme Court will eventually determine the winner; all as a result of very poor management of the process.
Unfortunately, the party’s NWC is hardly able to come up with responses reassuring to all. The crisis in the party is clearly getting worse and worse by the day. It has gotten to a stage whereby the competence of members of the Comrade Oshiomhole-led NWC to provide needed leadership to ensure victory in every election has been eroded. APC finds itself compelled to surrender victory to opponents even where it wins the election and this on account of some inabilities to competently manage legal challenges associated with nomination of candidates. This is the stuff in the Supreme Court judgment of February 13, 2020 in respect of November 16, 2019 Bayelsa elections. It was also the case with the May 24, 2019, Supreme Court nullification of the election of all APC candidates in the 2019 elections in Zamfara State.
In other words, NWC can be described as a very efficient Trojan horse that opens the backdoor for electoral victory to political opponents. How could all these be happening under the watch of Comrade Oshiohmole as the National Chairman? Comrade Oshiomhole’s leadership credentials cannot be disputed. But given what is going on now in APC under his watch, it is very clear that he is not that same Comrade Oshiomhole that was an inspiring union leader who competently handled all organisational leadership challenges to the admiration of Nigerians.
Part of the problem now is that he is surrounded by sycophants mainly from Edo State. Any attempt to help him through objective advice is condemned as betrayal especially when such advice come from people who were close to him. Many of those who claimed now to be his supporters and loyalists are people who only relate with him based on his position of power and capacity and are, therefore, there to influence access to political positions. His success as a leader who is able to direct the party towards electoral victory is never their consideration except if they are the candidates.
One cannot blame the sycophantic crowd around the National Chairman. But one would definitely express disbelief at the way Comrade Oshiomhole has, all of a sudden, become a leader who is intolerant of criticisms. His level of intolerance is so high that any disagreement or criticism expressed against any of his decisions or actions is classified as betrayal and, therefore, requiring disciplinary actions. The procedure for disciplinary actions has become so cheapened such that all the relevant provisions in the party’s constitution are violated. As a result, Comrade Oshiomhole is today the leading accuser, prosecutor and judge in almost all cases where disciplinary actions have been administered in the party. The only probable exception may be the case in his Ward in Edo State where he is also being alleged to have been disciplined.
With this kind of background, it is almost impossible to start any process of engagement to resolve problems in the party without addressing the issue of intolerance that is today the main characteristic of the Comrade Oshiomhole-led NWC. This is not in any way questioning the capacity or competence of the Chief Bisi Akande-led APC National Reconciliation Committee. No doubt, Chief Bisi Akande is one leader who has all that is required to assist the party and its leaders to resolve current challenges. Having led the party immediately after the merger negotiations, Chief Akande has everything at stake if the party is allowed to continue to suffer electoral loses simply because current leaders are intolerant inability to manage candidate selection process within the party.
In addition to Chief Akande, the Committee has very refutable members who have played very important roles during the merger negotiations of legacy parties in 2013. One is very confident that this team of very selfless leaders should be given all the support required to ensure that they succeed. But, how might that support come? The starting point has to be an appeal to the Comrade Oshiomhole-led NWC, who facilitated the formation of the Chief Akande Committee to convene a meeting of the appropriate organ of the party – National Executive Council (NEC) or National Caucus where a decision setting aside all the disciplinary actions at all levels of the party, including the NWC can be taken.
Such a meeting can also serve as an icebreaking platform where some good pronouncements can emerge which can encourage all aggrieved leaders and party members to express their disagreement and dissatisfaction at the way the party has been managed since 2015. Steps must be taken at such meeting to ensure that criticising or disagreeing with leaders does not constitute an offence.
If the Chief Akande Committee is to succeed in this very crucial assignment, it must be positioned to set in motion the process of rebuilding the party. The hard truth is that as it stands today, APC is not a functional political party. None of its organs at any level is meeting as provided in the party’s constitution. It is even debatable if our membership register exists. At best, it will be the same old 2015 membership register. With such reality, any effort towards resolving party’s problems may have to commence with verifying the issue of who party members are. This is an issue that will test tolerance limits. For instance, to what extent can we accept members such as Sen. Kabir Marafa in Zamfara who instituted the court case that led to surrendering the victory of the party in the 2019 election to the PDP? Or to what extent can members in Ogun and Imo who contested the 2019 elections under different parties be remembered?
There is also the issue of strengthening the confidence of party leaders at all levels based on provision of good working conditions. As it is today, party leaders at all levels don’t have any verifiable working condition. This is partly the case because, the party’s sources of income are still vaguely defined. Issues of membership subscription are yet to be concluded. These need to be addressed.
The task of reconciliation in APC has to have a life of its own. It is about commencing the process of rebuilding the party. As part of such commitment, initiative must be instituted to block all openings that further exposes the leaders to more conflicts. One of such issues is the question of refilling vacant positions in the NWC. Somehow, there appears to be decisions by the Comrade Oshiomhole-led NWC to endorse successors from states different from what was agreed at the last convention. If this is to go ahead, there will be more disputes within the party. If this is the preferred option, then it is safer to go for another convention where everything about leadership of the party can be renegotiated, and new agreements reached.
The task of the Chief Akande Reconciliation Committee is to bring back sanity in the conduct of leaders at all levels such that it is possible to begin to work to ensure that the party, APC, is rebuilt, with credible membership records, organs of the party at all levels are meeting as provided by the provisions of the party’s constitution, processes and procedures for candidates’ selections are clearly and unambiguously defined and steps taken to ensure that all aspirants accept results of primary elections conducted by the party, etc.
Most of the steps needed to ensure reconciliation on a permanent basis will most likely come with more challenges. For instance, how can aspirants accept results of primary when the party structures that will produce the voters is controlled by a particular aspirant? These are practical questions that will require some closer engagement with the Chief Akande Committee. Suffice it, however, to say that challenges of institutionalisation require longer term initiatives driven by patient and tolerant leaders.
This is where the Comrade Oshiomhole-led NWC need to make a choice as to whether it will align itself with the vision of President Buhari in terms of institutionalising the party or undermine it. To work for institutionalising the APC means that the NWC will have to demonstrate high measure of tolerance. Perhaps, the tenure of the Chief Akande Committee should serve as a transition period for the emergence of perhaps a highly tolerant NWC.
Any action contrary to this would undermine the work of the Chief Akande Reconciliation Committee and will be against institutionalising the APC as a party that can survive beyond the tenure of President Muhammadu Buhari as a ruling party. May God help all leaders unite under the common vision of rebuilding the APC as an institutionalised party capable of winning elections for all times!