It is very common in Nigeria to hear the phrase ‘this is politics’. Often, to a politician it means, ‘this is my prerogative.’ In other words, ‘it is my jurisdiction and I set the rule’ seems to be the message. The ‘rule’ could be anything conventional or unconventional, written or unwritten, civil or uncivil, persuasive or forceful, legal or illegal, etc. Non-politicians, referring to non-partisan individuals (card-carrying party members, especially those seeking elective or appointive government positions), can only be observers, have to accept being at the receiving end and must take as given every action of the politician.
This is one factor that should challenge our opposition parties to think beyond the ordinary and come up with new approaches to political organising and mobilisation. Fortunately, as it is today, our leading opposition parties namely Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, Congress for Progressives Change, CPC, and Rochas Okorocha-led faction of All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, have accepted the need to merge as basis for strengthening their electoral prospects in 2015.
These parties have all set up merger negotiation teams and in an unprecedented manner have since February 6 announced agreement to merge under a new party – All Progressives Congress, APC. The Joint Inter Party Merger Committee has been working to meet other conditions for the merger as provided under section 84 of the electoral act.
The truth is that most Nigerians, including the PDP, never expected the merger negotiation to get this far. In fact, the expectation was that the usual personality conflict around the issue of candidature would stalemate the process and result in possible miscarriage of the merger just as happened in 2010 and 2011, not to talk of the first and second republic experiences. There were of course initial signs of disagreement when around the last week of January, Gen. Buhari while inaugurating the CPC merger committee announced that the CPC priority is merger with ACN, which suggest an exclusion of ANPP. There was a lot of apprehension that Gen. Buhari’s directive to the CPC merger committee may create some unhealthy dynamics that may present the merger negotiations as narrow and perhaps self-serving. That being the case, it may make the merger and the new party less popular.
Besides, given the indications of some understanding based on media reports early in January between ACN and ANPP, which indicated stronger potentials for merger between the two parties, a strict bilateral negotiation between ACN and CPC would have presented a moral dilemma for ACN. However, by the time the opposition governors met in Lagos in the first week of February and the next day, February 6, the meeting of the merger committees of ACN, ANPP, CPC and Okorocha-led APGA announced the resolve of the parties to merge and form All Progressives Congress, APC, it was a surprise to Nigerians, which must have translated to disappointment for PDP and those Nigerians who are opposed to the merger.
In terms of the consequence of Governor Peter Obi not joining the merger and pulling out a section of APGA from the merger, it is to the credit of the leadership of the merging parties and the merger committee that it has been very well managed and today it can be argued with some degree of certainty that the people of the South East where APGA is strong are fully involved in the merger process and Governor Peter Obi and his APGA faction are only singing their political funeral dirge. What has been established over the last two – three months is that the merging parties are resolute and week after week they are producing ground breaking victories. This is a major source of discomfort for PDP and their supporters who are doing so largely on account of the benefits they enjoy through being part of the banditry army of looters of public resources.
One thing is clear, that the merging parties have done excellently well managing the process of contracting new relations among themselves. In the post-colonial history of Nigeria, virtually all political merger negotiations crashed at this level. It is to the credit of the current negotiations that so far internal differences or interests are not threat to the current merger. There are however threats which are external to the merging parties. This includes the fact that PDP as the ruling party that will be unseated in 2015 if the merger succeeds, is not going to fold its arms. In fact, it has already shown its resolve in so many ways to throw in spanners in the merger negotiations. What is needed at this point is not to look for easy options.
This then means that provisions of APC manifesto must state category what actions the party intends to take annually to guarantee free education for citizens in the country? How will those actions translate into expansion for educational delivery capacity of our public schools to guarantee enrollment of all Nigerian children? What will be the annual cost of the envisioned actions and how will the APC government mobilise the needed resources
It is important that APC come through as honest and sincere initiative with every practical proposition and not reduced to academic exercise that can provide our politicians with all the escape routes based on generic provisions. This is needed bearing in mind that the main reason why many Nigerians are interested in the current merger negotiations between our leading opposition parties is for change in Nigeria to be guaranteed which should impact on the quality of life. In fact, if the truth is to be told, our dear nation will be at great risk of national collapse if our critical national problems are to be left in jaws of PDP. Most of our national problems are politically created and solutions lie in politics. Without the usual lamentation and blame analysis against PDP, we, Nigerians, need political change which should be a product of political competition.
Producing political competition is not about wishes but basically about stimulating the right framework that would engender the right actions, practices, culture and conventions. So far, since 1999, actions, practices, culture and conventions across all facets of our polity have been the same, on account of which our parties are practically almost the same. The current merger negotiation involving ACN, ANPP, CPC and Okorocha-led faction of APGA must produce the game-changer that would guarantee political competition.
We must continually remind ourselves about Frantz Fanon’s incisive clarion call to action with the words, “every onlooker is either a traitor or a coward.” We should not wait for the merger to produce a constitution and manifesto before we respond. We need to step forward with our demands in order to preempt the constitution and manifesto of APC. This is the best way to challenge the merger to produce working documents that would lay a more concrete and expanded foundation for political competition in the country. Otherwise, all that would be uppermost to the merger committee would be to package a constitution and manifesto that would only meet INEC requirement. Whether they (constitution and manifesto) meet the expectations of Nigerians would be secondary, if not immaterial.
If past experiences of party formation since 1999 is anything to go by, if the merger committee is left alone the constitution and manifesto of the new party (APC) may hardly go beyond those of the current merging parties. To that extent, the merger exercise face the great risk of taking members of the parties and Nigerians for granted. In the event that such a result becomes the outcome of the merger exercise, it can be justified by the phrase ‘this is politics’ – pure exercise of prerogatives by politicians led by the Tom Ikimi Joint Interparty Merger Committee. As citizens, we can only be observers, best qualified by the apt Fanonian description of cowardly
The fundamental issue therefore, relates to engendering a new disposition under the new party, APC, to provide Nigerians with choices and alternatives such that the people could broaden the scope and space for citizens’ participation in guaranteeing the realization of hopes and aspirations of our people. This is the organisational, leadership and political challenges facing us; if you like, it is the 2015 challenge. How are we going to respond to these challenges? Is the new party, APC, going to be able to produce new political organizations that would produce contrasting political values and therefore throw up new sets of politicians? Or, are we just simply re-inventing and reproducing PDP in different guises and forms?
We need to break current mindset by putting a halt to subversive politics of ‘this is politics’. We need to stop the culture of being cowardly onlookers as citizens and organized groups by coming forward to engage the merger process with specific demands regarding provisions of the constitution and manifesto of the new party. As Nigerians, we need to do this as minimum requirement to assist opposition politicians to overcome their limitations and put them on the service pedestal, which is the needed foundation for electoral defeat of PDP in 2015 and the victory of the new party, APC. The constitution and manifesto of APC should not be the prerogative of the Ikimi led merger committee. It should be the collective property of current and future members of the party, which is the needed foundation to guarantee the emergence of government of the people, by the people and for the people. So help us
Salihu Moh. Lukman is a Public Affairs Analyst