By Chido Onumah
As the merger of the country’s major opposition parties crystallized a few months ago into a mega party known as All Progressives Congress (APC), I received an email from my friend, Richard Mammah, who wanted to get my opinion on the new party. “Is the new mega party in Nigeria a marginal improvement over where we are coming from?” Mammah asked pointedly. My immediate response was emphatic: “It is (if it succeeds). It is important that genuine democrats and progressives find a way to key in as soon as possible”.
Since then, there have been debates (among progressives) about the desirability of “joining” the new party. Expectedly, the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) responded to news of the merger with disdain. “No merger will succeed against us in 2015” was the party’s official position through its former national secretary, Olagunsoye Oyinlola, who spoke to journalists in Abuja. Oyinlola dismissed the merger as “gang ups”.
“We don’t think we are threatened by what we would call gang ups”, said the former governor of Osun State who was sent packing by the court in 2010 before he could complete his second term. “In those days when the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) closed ranks, it was called an accord. When the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) and Great Nigeria People’s Party (GNPP) did the same, they called it gang up.
“Honestly speaking, ganging up is an indication of some weaknesses. Why can’t a party stand on its own and contest elections if it is sure that it would be acceptable to the people? You don’t need to gang up. If you are ganging up then you don’t have the strength. The only true national party today that cuts across every nook and cranny of the Nigerian federation is the PDP. Gang up has never succeeded; it will not succeed.”
Oyinlola’s diatribe was upped by Governor Sule Lamido of Jigawa State who described the opposition parties as “inventions of the last two years”. “They are the invention of pain, agony and anger”, Lamido said, adding, “They thought PDP is like them. We have political party history from 1998 when they were not in existence. Those who were talking in ANPP, ACN and CPC were formally PDP members that were flushed out in the field by the party (PDP).”
Bamanga Tukur, the national chairman of the PDP, in his now infamous reaction to the merger described his party as the “Messi of Nigerian politics”. “If you go for a contest, you have the striker. You know Lionel Messi (Barcelona and Argentine football star)? PDP is Messi in that contest. They (opposition) are no threat at all. It is better, it inspires PDP to action. In that contest, tell them Chairman said PDP is the Messi”. Football lovers in the country must feel insulted and incensed by this laughable comparison.
Of course, the PDP is grandstanding and its disdain for the APC is borne out of fear more than anything else. I can understand the position of the Oyinlolas, Lamidos and Tukurs. It is one that demands no response. For them, there is no meaningful job other than being in the corridors of power. And that has to be done by any means necessary. I felt differently, however, when I read a response on the merger from a much younger former colleague, Ohimai Amaize, who “joined” the PDP by way of political appointment about three years ago.
In his piece, “The APC, is it a merger or ‘maga’?” Amaize asked, “What is the core ideology of this new contrivance? What is its blueprint for Nigeria’s regeneration? An existing manifesto or some consultants are still working on it? When will it be ready? Perhaps, a few months to the next general elections! And this is part of the problem. Contrivances don’t work”.
According to Amaize, “The assumption by some of our youth that Nigeria will be transformed simply because some ‘big guns’ within the political class have assembled under the toga of a new opposition party remains nothing but an illusion. The notion that a group of recycled politicians uniting against the ruling PDP in the name of ‘opposition’ will present an already-made change, is at best, a hasty journey to a land of frustration. It is not that simple. There is nothing like already-made change. Nirvana does not exist. We must humble ourselves, bury our pride and work under existing political platforms no matter how educated and enlightened we think we are”.
Amaize admonished Nigerian youth to be wary of the APC. “When this new opposition party was being formed, what was its agenda for the youth?” Amaize wondered. “Is there any or will it hurriedly cook up one within the next few days? Which of the pro-APC youth activists on Twitter can confidently tell us the youth agenda of their new party? How many of my fellow Twitter busybodies were consulted to share their ideas for this merger before it was hatched? None! Because as far as they are concerned, you are not important in the scheme of things and do not exist”.
These are legitimate questions from a very “concerned” young Nigerian knowing Amaize’s antecedent before he joined the “transformation” wagon. However, the analysis shows a shallow and opportunistic reading of history. It presupposes Amaize is “happy” with the way things are in the country and if ever there is any talk of change, it can only take place “under existing political platforms”. And by this I am sure he means the PDP.
Of all the arguments in support of the emergence of APC, or what the response of genuine democrats should be to the new party, two stand out. Inhis piece “APC and the continuing crisis of Left politics in Nigeria”, Adagbo Onoja concluded that, “As long as there is no Left party or a broad based democratic coalition in Nigeria, comrades would have no options than spread to whichever platform they find space to continue the struggle in whatever ways possible”.
In his article, “Reflections on party combinations”, The Guardian, March 7 & 14, 2013, Edwin Madunagu noted: “The announcement of a merger of the leading opposition parties in Nigeria is a development which no serious political formation or tendency in the country can ignore or dismiss with cynicism of the type: ‘they always do this whenever a major election approaches’”.
“Yes, ‘they’ always announce coalitions, alliances, mergers, working agreements, etc, and the more uncharitable commentators may also remind us that they almost invariably fail to achieve their minimum post-announcement objective, that is, to actually deliver a living (and not a still-born or mortally sick) child”, Madunagu wrote. “When we have granted the cynics and pessimists their due, we may still insist that we are confronted with a development, which rules out the option of ‘Siddon look’.”
These two arguments speak for themselves and capture, to a great extent, what the response of radical and progressive elements, particularly youth and students, should be with regard to the APC as we head toward 2015.
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