By Salihu Moh. Lukman
Open Memo to Nigerian Opposition Politicians
The APC merger negotiations have progressed very well with encouraging outcomes. It is to the credit of the leadership of the merging parties that so far issues of potential candidates, post-merger party leadership, etc. have not disrupted the merger negotiations. In fact, they have not so far emerged as serious contentious issues; although no doubt in not too distant future they are issues that the merger must address.
On account of the progress the merger negotiations has achieved, many Nigerians look forward to the conclusion of the merger and the eventual emergence of APC as a political party uniting major opposition politicians in the country and to that extend therefore a major electoral contender in the country with the bright prospect of defeating the PDP. The hope of the defeat of PDP is founded on combinations of poor living conditions and the fact that the PDP has imposed itself on Nigerians since 1999. One of the factors that made that possible was the fragmentation of opposition politicians at all levels.
Notwithstanding the progress that the APC merger process has recorded, Nigerians are daily worried that somewhere along the lines, opposition politicians may blunder and plunder and as a result crash the merger process and dash the hopes of Nigerians. One of the ways, opposition politicians will blunder and plunder is by orienting the new party – APC – the PDP way and to that extend all candidates and invariably public officials the party will produce assume exactly the image of PDP, if not more ugly image.
This will basically mean organising the party structures around individual candidates who will ensure that only party members that are loyal to them emerge as leaders of the party. These so-called leaders of the party would then secure the candidature of their sponsors based on which funding can be guaranteed. Upon successfully winning their elections, public officials will then take their ‘rightful’ positions as leaders of the party and dictate to the party structures. That way Local Government Chairmen will be party leaders at Local Government levels. Governors will be party leaders at state levels. At national level, it will be the President.
This will translate into subordinating party structures to the dictates of the executive arm of government. Party decisions will be mainly about crude demonstration of loyalty. Party funding will be mainly through individual political entrepreneurs who would regard party funding as investment that should yield dividend upon electoral victory.
Legislative arm of government at all levels will continue as surrogate of the executive and in many respect centres for huge personal enrichment of members. In the circumstance, internal democracy in the party will be a far cry. Democratic development would remain a dream. Should that happen, then our opposition politicians would have succeeded in mobilising and organising themselves to defeat PDP but continue to operate a PDP government with so-called APC members.
Is this a possibility or a reflection of the dominant pessimism and cynical mindset of Nigerians? Besides, assuming, our opposition politicians are able to do everything right, will they be able to survive the PDP booby traps, which may include winning current legal battles with INEC and some political merchants claiming to be trying to register so-called African Peoples Congress with the APC acronym?
These are issues that call to questions the organisational, leadership and intellectual superiority of Nigerian opposition politicians as reflected by the parties currently negotiating the merger – ACN, ANPP, CPC and Okorocha-led APGA. In terms of organisation, so far, about four months after the commencement of active merger negotiations at national level, there is hardly any formal communication to states, local government and ward structures.
There may be some flow of information through representatives attending national meetings with some contacts with leaders at these levels. To be fair to CPC and ANPP, there are reported cases of mobilisational meetings with members across the country. However, the major orientation was basically to get the support of members and prevent any blackleg.
With respect to the ACN, there were meetings of the National Working Committee, National Executive Council and National Caucus, first to give approval to the commencement of merger negotiation including the composition of the merger committee and subsequently to execute all statutory responsibilities leading to the merger convention of April 18. At the end of all these meetings, there were no clear instructions, delineation or delegation of responsibilities to party structures at states, local governments and wards levels.
Arising from the absence of any communication from the national level to states, local governments and wards regarding activities to facilitate local negotiations towards harmonising the structures of all the merging parties into a single one producing the APC and against the background of the dominant PDP culture of organising parties around candidates, states, local governments and ward leaders are mostly unclear about what to do.
In most cases, there is a preponderance of peripheral informal discussions around which party will eventually produce what position in the new party. Part of the expectation is that it will just be a case of appointment. There is no expectation that it will be a product of elections. And since the issue of results of 2011 elections may be the yardstick for measuring popularities of the parties in the merger, as well as the question of resources needed to stimulate local consultations so as to guarantee even the acceptance of any formula for the emergence of the leaders of APC, the emerging reality is that potential candidates at state, local governments and ward levels are imposing themselves as APC-gatekeepers. Unfortunately, in most cases, party leaders at these levels have submitted themselves to these potential candidates.
In the circumstance, it may just be a matter of time for our APC to just emerge as a shadow PDP. In which case, from formation, APC may be dominated by mediocre leaders who will not be interested in running the party based on rules, conventions and knowledge. The only most important qualification will be money which will confer the authority to manipulate. Since money is a most important qualification, responsibility in government will just be the needed opportunity to convert public treasury into personal holding.
Once that happens, the culture of corruption, violence and dictatorship will be the natural outcome. Given such a situation therefore Nigerians may as well be ready to regret voting out PDP. Depending on the extent of compromise of basic democratic values, we may also find ourselves missing PDP government just like today we are in some ways missing the regime of Gen. Sani Abacha and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo on accounts of poor performances of successive governments.
It is important that these issues are openly discussed with the objective of focusing the APC merger process to do the right thing. Nigerians deserve an opposition party committed to basic democratic values around which the conducts of candidates and public officials can be regulated. Nigerians are fed up with parties that are controlled by candidates and public officials. We, as citizens, are really exasperated by the existence of political parties that only promote corruption and the plunder of public resources.
Nigeria is in desperate need of a party that will promote service and the development all parts of the country irrespective of religion, ethnicity or any form of differences. It is clear that APC present a potential of being a strong opposition party but it is coming with a big risk of being comprised, weakened and eventually emerging as another election platform controlled by candidates for elections who will be driven by all the negative vices of ethnicity, religion, etc. in order to win elections by any means possible. This will represent a huge national political disaster.
Can this disaster be prevented? What is it that we can do to prevent this disaster? To the extent that the merger negotiations are still ongoing, APC present an opportunity. What is needed is for Nigerians to aggressively engage the leaders of the party and persuade them to do the right thing. Often, it is not the big issues that will produce the right results.
It is the combinations of the smaller issues that assist in producing the right results. Given the need to facilitate the emergence of united structures at states, local governments and ward levels, it is incumbent on our leaders negotiating the merger to come up with a complete new, all-inclusive and democratic approach for the evolution of the newly elected APC leaders out of what we have today.
No doubt, there have been so many concerns around this but hardly new thinking. All discussions are tailored towards producing an interim leadership based on some formula. Once that happens, the party risk losing the needed democratic credentials. In fact, at all levels, the arrival of the party will be greeted with sharp division and internal fights and at the end completely neutralise any electoral potential.
One of the recommendations to take care of this major problem and place the party on a democratic pedestal is to seek to start building the party from lower structures. This will mean rather than appoint interim executives based on some sharing formula for the new party, can all members of current executives of the merging parties constitute themselves into the caucus of the party at all levels. In which case, basic guides about delegating responsibilities for Chairman, Secretary, Treasurer, etc. can be democratically resolved within the context of such a structure.
This will then guarantee that all members of the current leadership of the merging parties are integrated as part of the leadership of the new party. With such a structure, internal disagreement can be better managed and since already the draft harmonised constitution of APC has envisioned the existence of caucuses at all levels, they can then form the starting point of the organisation of the new party.
This will then require that clearly defined responsibilities are given to the caucuses. A good recommendation will be taking steps to unite all party members, starting with stakeholders who are elected representatives and those who served as candidates for past elections. In the context of these responsibilities States and Local Government structures of all our parties can be mandated to organise meetings and begin to prepare everyone for the merger. These caucuses could also begin to explore issues of strategies for membership mobilisation, including fundraising to implement merger activities.
This will no doubt go a long way in boosting the democratic potential of APC. Somehow it is not being addressed because there is a strong belief in our leaders negotiating the merger that the most important aspect in the merger is their ability to reach agreement at national level. If the experience of CPC is anything to go by, agreement or consensus among national leaders is not a guarantee for the emergence of strong democratic leaders at local levels.
The truth is that strong democratic leaders at local levels can only be guarantee if there are very good framework that enthrone orderly conducts leading to the emergence of leadership. The absence of this is cancerous and will eventually lead to the collapse of the party, starting with dramatic electoral defeats. These were signals that CPC experiences in 2011 elections highlighted. Ordinarily therefore, it should be expected that our leaders need not to be reminded about this fact. Well, if just to be absolutely certain, this should awaken our leaders on the need to be steadfast.
Part of the reasons why attention is not being paid to states, local governments and ward levels is because there is too much concentration around who will emerge as presidential candidate of the party. This is an area where credit must be given to Gen. Buhari, Asiwaju Tinubu, Alh. Shekarau and all national leaders of the merging parties for moderating supporters such that the issue of presidential candidate of the party is yet to become a priority.
However, it is important that we also recognise that although it is not directly on the negotiating table, it is very much around such that almost every person on the negotiating table is constantly relating with virtually every issue based on the presidential prism. In fact, there are many members of the merger committee relating with virtually every issue based on positioning strategy in order to gain recognition or advantage in one way or the other. As a result, it was therefore very convenient to ignore our local structures.
Sincerely, our leaders must work based on a strategy to produce a party leadership that is stronger and more powerful than any government or elected official the party will produce based on the capacity to command moral authority. One of the obvious limitations of the current merger negotiations so far is that moral authority is not a consideration at all. On account of which issues of public perception and support have been almost jettisoned. To some extent, it is also a reflection of over confidence.
There is hardly anyway these issues can be discussed without reference to the conduct of our leaders. In some ways, although both Gen. Buhari and Asiwaju Tinubu have moderated supporters not to flag up issue of presidential ticket, there is a way in which it is a matter that in future be determined with reference to the two of them. As a result, the current party leadership permutation hardly factors them or their role in the leadership.
So long as the role of Gen. Buhari and Asiwaju Tinubu in party leadership is being ignored, the possibility of undermining the democratic base of APC is very high. This is because there is no way these two individuals will be in the party as ordinary members. Any interest they expressed will naturally elicit strong currency and therefore it is very necessary to factor this reality based on clear delegation of responsibility.
In some ways, the existence of structures with good measure of responsibilities in the harmonised constitution of APC provides the basis for shared authority by all our leaders. A good reference point is the existence of the position of National Chairman and Chairman Board of Trustee (BOT). Either Gen. Buhari or Asiwaju Tinubu can be the National Chairman (not interim) or BOT Chairman and vice versa. And since we have ANPP as the third party in the merger, they can produce the National Secretary. Between Alh. Shekarau and Chief Onu, anyone of them can be saddled with the responsibility of being the National Secretary.
The reality is that no one among these leaders can dictate to the other and it is almost certain no one person can take decision without the consent of the other. Each of these leaders has capacity to veto any decision. Therefore consultation among leadership will be paramount. In addition, no government produced by the party at any level can dictate to anyone of these leaders.
In other words, the party leaders will wield far more influence than any elected representatives, on account of which every government produced by the party can be subordinated to party control. As a result, all that ordinary members can look forward to will be to secure the support of any of these leaders and the party. In so many ways, this will guarantee contest within the party, which is what democracy is all about. The danger is if clear internal rules are not provided for the contest.
How then will the issue of presidential candidate then be resolved? This should have a life of its own. It will not be an easy task. The starting point will be for our leaders to start debating the quality of people to qualify as potential presidential candidates.
This should also be cascaded down to gubernatorial and legislative candidates. Situations where individuals seek to position themselves based on some loyalty permutations is unhealthy, undemocratic and portend serious dangers. If APC is to come through as a sincere democratic project, all decisions including ones producing leadership must be founded on good parameters informed by consensus across party leaders.
It is important that we are able to humble our leaders so that they don’t mismanage the merger negotiations and create a situation where APC is founded on mediocrity, ignorance, money politics and manipulation, which has so far constituted a strong bottleneck to our national democratic development. Mediocrity, ignorance, money politics and manipulation will only continue to entrench corruption, violence, dictatorship and hopelessness.
Should our leaders represented by Gen. Buhari and Asiwaju Tinubu fail to ensure that the merger negotiations produce a strong, united democratic party at all levels, history will hold them accountable for whatever will be the result of governance and leadership failures of today.