The current tension within the All Progressives Congress over power sharing arrangements could prove to be the party’s undoing if not properly handled.
The recognition granted to the All Progressives Congress by the Independent National Electoral Commission in July 2013 was a historic event which rekindled the hope for the return of vibrant opposition politics in the country.
For the first time since independence, opposition political parties, who had over the years worked as distinct ineffective entities, decided to fuse into one potentially strong political force. Several such attempts in the past failed largely due to the inability of major players to make concessions for the greater good.
The new party defied earlier projections that the merger, which remains the first of its kind till date, will fail. Political pundits cited the incompatibility of its major promoters and vaulting ambitions among its growing army of supporters, as major reasons why the merger would be impossible.
For instance, some argued that there was no way a conservative General Mohammadu Buhari would team up with Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and Malam Ibrahim Shekarau on the same platform.
Having overcome the challenges posed by the merger and subsequent registration the party has succeeded in attracting a number of high profile personalities into its fold. These include five erstwhile Peoples Democratic Party governors and 37 members of the House of Representatives among others.
The entry of the five governors has, however, brought with it a fresh set of challenges. If not properly handled, this could become the party’s albatross.
The leadership of the three legacy parties -the Action Congress of Nigeria, the All Nigeria Peoples Party and the Congress for Progressive Change- especially in states controlled by the five governors, have used every available opportunity to announce that they would not play second fiddle.
In order to douse the tension, the party leadership has set up reconciliation committees in some of the states, and has agreed in principle to extend privileges enjoyed by governors in APC controlled states to the defectors. This generous offer has pitched some members of the legacy parties against the new governors.
Some members of the legacy parties argue that the governors are coming to reap where they did not sow; they have vowed to resist what they referred to as injustice.
In Kano State for example, members of the defunct ANPP, loyal to Shekarau, a former state governor, have not hidden their objection to an alleged plan by the APC National Headquarters to hand over the party structure to the incumbent governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso.
The group sent a high-powered delegation, made up of members of the National Assembly, state House of Assembly and other stakeholders loyal to Shekarau, to appeal to the party leadership not to recognise Kwankwaso’s claim to the leadership of the party in the state.
While this was going on, leaders of the defunct ANPP, including a former presidential candidate, Bashir Tofa, and Senator Kabiru Gaya, visited Kwankwaso. They pledged their support to his leadership thus recognising him as the APC leader in the state. This infuriated Shekarau’s supporters. They observed that Tofa and his folks made the visit in their individual capacities.
A former Chairman of the state chapter of the ANPP, Alhaji Sani Hotoro, addressed a press conference to state their case. He alleged that Tofa, a former presidential candidate of the defunct National Republican Convention, who led the team, had announced his retirement from politics prior to the visit.
According to Hotoro, the former Presidential flag bearer also declined to serve in the merger committee of the ANPP when he was approached at a time the APC was still at its formative stage.
Hotoro said, “It is in the public knowledge that, members of the APC coming from the defunct ANPP in Kano State, have on December 18, 2013, under the leadership of our 2011 presidential candidate and former Governor of Kano State, Malam Ibrahim Shekarau, delivered a letter to the APC interim leadership in Abuja conveying our concern and the way forward.”
Kwankwaso on his part, promised to work together with all members of the party to salvage Nigeria. His Director of Press and Public Relations, Baba Dantiye, told The PUNCH, “His Excellency is prepared to work with everybody to salvage this country. His joining the APC is not about his person.”
A similar scenario is playing out in Adamawa State. The governorship candidate of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria, Marcus Gundiri, and his counterpart in the defunct Congress for Progressive Change, Buba Marwa, both rejected any arrangement that would give the state governor, Murtala Nyako, the upper hand.
Nyako, who has declared that he was no longer interested in running for elective office, however, dismissed insinuations that he and his four other colleagues were aiming to take over the party.
Nyako said they were rather driven by higher patriotic motives which included the need to provide Nigerians a viable opposition platform that would check the current drift in the polity especially with regards to the replacement of all democratic cultures and tenets with a culture of impunity and political brigandage.
The governor argued that at the time they pulled out of the PDP, they had several options, which included the formation of a new political party or joining a newly registered party or any of the other existing political parties in the country.
Nyako said the once aggrieved governors opted to join the APC because it represents a broad-based coalition of democratic forces built on the ideals of progress and development. He urged all members of the APC to hold on to these ideals at all times. Nyako stressed that under such circumstances, there should be no reason to disagree on anything, least of all, leadership of the party at any level. This plea has not succeeded in dousing tension in Kano and Sokoto states.
Herein lies the challenge. The now defunct CPC was one political party that enjoyed popular support especially in north western Nigeria. In less than one year, the party became the party of choice for those who wanted an alternative to the ruling PDP.
It attracted a crowd of popular and not so popular Nigerians, who expressed a desire to provide an alternative voice but alas, the party was dead on arrival. This was due largely in part to the fact that party officials at various levels reportedly began to behave in a manner which did not differentiate the CPC from the ruling PDP. Candidates, who won the party primaries and obtained the party’s tickets to contest elections at the state and national levels allegedly had the tickets withdrawn and given to others based on “orders from above.”
Such cases were more pronounced in Kano and Katsina states, where the party had its largest support base. Mohammed Abacha, who emerged winner of the party’s governorship primaries, was allegedly denied his victory, first, by the party’s top hierarchy and then the courts. A similar case was reported in Katsina State, where Senator Garba Lado was disenfranchised.
It also took the intervention of the courts for the rightful winners of the National Assembly primaries to claim their seats in the Senate and the House of Representatives. Supporters of popular candidates, who felt cheated, took it out on the party at the polls. When the dust settled, the CPC could only form the government in Nasarawa State, which was one out of close to seven states the party was projected to win.
Often times, there is a tendency among leaders to assume that the initial popularity of a new party will immediately translate to votes, no matter how unpopular its choice of a candidates is. There is also the tendency to ignore genuine complains of party members on issues of internal democracy and high handedness of some party leaders.
The National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, however assured Nigerians that the party was pro-active. He promised that the party would deal with all these issues before they get out of hands. According to him, the party has learnt from the mistakes of the past and is prepared to make the needed adjustments to succeed.
Mohammed said, “We will address all these challenges before our registration exercise, which is coming up in a few weeks time. We are aware of the task ahead and our committees are working very hard to ensure that justice and fairness is done to all.”
Whether or not the party will succeed in this venture remains a question of time.