By Theophilus Ilevbare
There is a need to provide a credible alternative to the electorate, a radical change borne out of the growing discontent of Nigerians with the failure of the PDP led government that has held power at the centre since 1999, to transform the country’s fortune despite multi-billion dollar oil revenue frittered by successive government – $67billion in foreign reserves in the last few years – deflating any hope of a breath of Jonathan’s “fresh air,” for these, the leaders of the coalition, saw an exigency in salvaging the beleaguered Nigerian people from the present socio-political and economic downturn as an impetus for the merger.
And so much was the euphoria that greeted the announcement of the All Progressives Congress (APC), that it sent jitters across the political divide. The coalition of ACN, CPC, ANPP and APGA to form the new alliance is an audacious bid to unseat the ruling party in the 2015 general elections.
Two recent events gave fillip to the merger. First, was the meeting of 10 governors from opposition parties to endorse the coalition. Secondly, the formation of contact and mobilization committee to expedite alliance talks.
Both moves, coupled with a new name, has helped to silence the sceptics who described the merger as a political jamboree that will soon go the way of the previous attempt to form an opposition party in 2011.
The political landscape has been dogged by the absence of credible and formidable opposition. The new party on the block, has a lot to prove to Nigerians; do they have something different from what the PDP has to offer?
Can they prove that they are not the same with the PDP? From their respective states, senatorial districts and other areas they represent, can they genuinely say that they have fared better than the party they oppose? These and more will determine if they will be taken seriously by Nigerians and how far they will go.
The political will demonstrated by the ACN and CPC so far must now be translated to persuasion with renewed optimism and enthusiasm to convince the indifferent factions to be part of the merger.
The leaders of the parties in the coalition must be ready to further shift ground in the sacrifice of personal and regional ambition for the merger to come to fruition.
The APC must rise above the debate on issues such as the logo, which many observers believe is trivial. Technical and ideological differences like the constitution and manifesto must be given priority as this is the basis for which the opposition party will be weighed with the PDP. There is no merger where the dissolving bodies remain adamant on their ideologies. A sound ideology will surely boost the APC’s acceptance and penetration. It can learn from the PDP’s lack of internal democracy that has led to incessant wrangling and animosity among its members.
The jostling for the allocation of offices among various political parties in the alliance will be the litmus test of how the APC will deal with the selection process for the candidates before the general elections. It will be interesting to see how the parties will shift ground to concede ideological differences in the larger interest of the new party.
The merger between the ACN and CPC alone might just be enough to see out the PDP, as a school of thought will have us believe. No, it is a political miscalculation. The PDP has gained cult followership over the last 14 years in most rural areas where they have a preponderance of votes cast.
A cursory look at the outcome of election since 1999, indicate the incumbent seldom lose election. The odds are always against the opposition. The PDP had boasted sometime ago, that the merger of all the opposition parties will not be enough to upstage them.
No surprise. Over the years the ruling party has enriched a lot of Nigerians who can spread a few billions around the country to win votes from an electorate, a greater proportion, living below the poverty line.
The merger must be consummated in time to allow the APC put proper structure across the geo-political zones to consolidate what the parties already have on ground. Immediate mobilisation and sensitisation of the electorate, down to the grassroots, on the manifesto of the new party must commence.
In the North, the CPC and ANPP have got four states governors; the ACN is well grounded in the South-West, capturing five out of the six states; they can also count on votes from Edo State in the South-South; and a faction of APGA led by Imo State governor, and a good structure in other states of the South-East.
It is still a far cry from the 23 states the PDP controls across the country, but with the merger, the APC can consolidate by retaining those states and hopefully win a few more. The consummation of all four political parties as part of the merger, will give it a national spread and outlook.
The APC must guard against surreptitious tactics by the PDP to stymie the new party using the factions of ANPP and APGA not part of the merger. Effort must be made to woo these disaffected factions who are indifferent to the coalition.
The APC must beware of smear campaigns against the drivers of the opposition alliance. With the storm always rocking the PDP boat, the APC should prevent aggrieved members of the PDP from cross-carpeting to the APC, as the aftermath could be grave.
The applecart in waiting for the APC will be the jostle for the nomination for their presidential aspirant and other candidates seeking ticket for various political offices.
One that is most likely to generate controversy is the presidential ticket. General Muhammadu Buhari has in recent time expressed his interest in contesting the 2015 election. His antecedents do not make him popular in the South but his followership in the North puts him in strong position.
There is the agitation from the South-East for an Ndigbo presidential aspirant in 2015. The APGA faction will definitely want a look in that direction, even if they have to settle for a VP slot.
The South-West has been in and around the corridors of power, Bola Tinubu, still very much in contention. Most Nigerians want a clean break from the old brigade like the PDP has done; preference for younger breed of outstanding politicians from the APC, the likes of Babatunde Fashola, Nasir el Rufai, Nuhu Ribadu, Oby Ezekwesili and a few others have been mooted. It will be interesting to see how things play out in the upcoming months.
There is ample time for the alliance to put its house in order and mobilize well ahead of the general elections, sensitising Nigerians across the nooks and crannies that they are a credible alternative to the PDP government.
Incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan’s lacklustre performance in office will give the opposition a real chance at the polls if they put their acts together. Gauging the pulse of Nigerians, many are discontented with his leadership. Whoever the APC presents as presidential aspirants might be given serious consideration at the polls by the electorate.
The APC should look beyond unseating the PDP at the centre. Changing the prevalent socio-political ideology, creating an alternative for development, restructuring and deepening of our political culture should be part of the underpinning ideas driving the new mega party.
The government of the day will respond better to criticism from a formidable opposition, thus, raising the bar of leadership and governance that has made the country totter, for many years, on the thread line of disaster.
Beyond reasonable doubt, the APC must prove to Nigerians that “when they come on board” it won’t be time for them to have their own share of the “national cake.”
Some cynics have expressed caution in the euphoria that welcomed the announcement of the APC as they reason it is a merger of strange bedfellows with a DNA of the PDP. They say the merger will fail, just as the previous attempt to form an opposition alliance in 2011.
Even if it fails, at least they had the courage to try. There is no political party made of saints anywhere, we all have a past that we are not proud of. The leaders of the opposition forming the alliance – if for nothing – laying their personal ambition on the alter of opposition merger should be commended.
Rather than playing second fiddle to the political party that vaunts itself as the largest in Africa, they have put individual aspirations aside in the hope of a new vista for Nigeria. For those who have chosen to remain armchair critics and spectocrats waiting for saints and perfectionist to form a political party, they need not wait much longer; the imminent collapse of the entity called Nigeria!