By Edwin Madunagu
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.
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”.
I would like to propose that hitherto every major political merger or alliance had not only shared features with preceding ones but had also exhibited a uniqueness reflecting the enduring nature of Nigeria’s capitalist political economy, pattern of primitive capitalist accumulation and the character of the ruling classes, on the one hand, and changes in the historical and political conjunctures, on the other.
And, given changes in conjunctures, a merger in 2013 may succeed – that is, go beyond the minimum expectation (coming into being as a healthy child) – whereas “similar” mergers or alliances in the past had failed.
Of course, we cannot do without reference to history and drawing historical analogies. But having done so – to obtain a general guide – you have to settle down to concrete analyses of concrete situations. The point is that the configuration of socio-political forces in the country at the moment is quite unique.
In 2009, midway into late Yar’Adua’s first term (which he could not complete), Dr. Anthony Akinola’s article, Fusion, not party alliances, was published in this newspaper.
More than three years later, on Monday, February 11, 2013, the article was re-published by the newspaper. Although I read the entire article and enjoyed it, what has arrested my attention since its second appearance is the statement carried by the opening two sentences: “There is no serious ideological divide in Nigeria.
What divides Nigerians is their ethnicity or religion”. I involuntarily shouted, “it is not true” as I read the two sentences. Then, I slowly went through the article to ensure I was not reacting out of context or, rather, reading my friend and compatriot literally or superficially.
Not satisfied, I phoned him. We talked for quite some time and he tried to clarify his statement. But I was still not satisfied.
As a general statement of social relations between Nigerians, Akinola’s statement is not correct. A formal refutation would be: “there are serious ideological divides in Nigeria, although there are also serious ethnic and religious divides.
It is the “mix” of these “divides” that is acted out in political struggles. As a statement of relations between political parties, groups and tendencies in Nigeria, Akinola’s statement is only partially true.
Many political analysts would agree that all the known political parties in Nigeria today (with or without certificates of registration) – and they are more than 80 – can fit into less than 10 parties.
What is responsible for the present number is neither religion, nor ethnicity, nor ideology. Please, ask touts struggling for passengers at the motor parks what divides them.
On the other hand, it would be false to say that there is no ideological divide between, for instance, the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) or between ACN and Balarabe Musa-led Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), or between the PDP and the various political groups and tendencies that collectively go by the description socialist.
But, then, why, in spite of clear ideological differences, is it possible for political parties to go into a combination – in form of coalition, alliance, “understanding” or merger?
The answer to this question goes deep into the meaning of ideology and the nature of politics where ideology is most explicitly played out. Ideology, or more strictly, political ideology, does not consist merely in listing what a group believes and propagates and on the platform of which it engages in political struggle.
A political ideology, properly so called, goes further to argue that its own vision of society is the best for humanity in general, or a particular nation-state, or both. I mean the entire humanity or nation-state, and not a fraction of it. A political ideology goes beyond its class base – which could be very narrow – and speaks to the nation in its entirety: “I am your saviour”.
It is because an ideological political party addresses the whole polity and claims to represent all its segments – however contradictory the aspirations within that polity – and, if it gets to power, rules over the whole polity and not a fraction of it or the party supporters alone, that the party is able to go in combinations.
Let me put this point differently and, hopefully, more clearly, since it can be easily misinterpreted. There are several contradictions and struggles going on simultaneously in society: class, gender, generational, occupational, as well as religious and ethnic.
Each of these contradictions and the resultant struggles has its own terrain, language and methods; but political struggle occupies the widest terrain, has the most general language (in fact appropriates all languages) and uses all methods (including, in particular, those of religion and ethnicity).
To use a technical formulation: Political struggles are waged at the level of the social formation as whole whereas other struggles are waged at the levels of social segments. It is because of this nature of politics, political struggle and political ideology that a political party, if it is serious and self-confident, should be able to swim across class, ethnic, regional, religious and gender boundaries – and, in doing so, expand its membership beyond its social base and form alliances and, in extreme cases, enter a merger.
But there are limits; there are “red lights”. Apart from theoretical limits, a serious political party need not be told when its specific content, what makes it a different party, is being dissolved.
A number of conclusions can be drawn from this long talk. One of them is this: The fact that two or more political parties have gone into a combination (alliance or merger) does not necessarily mean that they have or had no “serious” ideological differences or even major ideological differences.
It may rather be that the combining parties share ideological elements (not ideology) sufficient to fight together at a particular point in time; or that they all feel their existence threatened or have identified a common immediate enemy; or that their various “constituencies” do clamor for combination, etc.
These are all “positive” reasons. Turning to the negative, it may also be that the combination is informed by opportunism or “marriage of convenience”; or even a sudden discovery that they have no irreconcilable ideological differences after all!
One question that is bound to come up in the Left, especially in the circles of academics among them, is whether the party combination that has just been announced (ACN, CPC, ANPP and part-APGA) is a “good thing”, that is, a progressive political development for the nation as a whole.
This a responsible question – the type that only the Left can ask – provided it does not degenerate into a sterile academic exercise, the type that late Comrade Tony Engurube used to call “intellectual masturbation”. My present attitude is to abstract a smaller question from the larger one, and that smaller question is: “What effects – immediate and distant – is the combination likely to produce in the polity?
My response is first: that the merger of the current leading opposition parties, including ACN and CPC, will produce, in the country, two large and national ruling class parties: the new one being more populist than the older (PDP).
The more the number of smaller political parties, groups and tendencies this new large party is able to draw to itself the more national it becomes. All this, of course, depends on whether the new party (All Progressives Congress – APC) is able to survive its birth-pangs and the PDP also survives its current internal crisis, which is happening as the APC is being born.
If an implosion happens in either or both camps we are back to one dominant national party of the ruling classes – which may be an entirely new formation based on a combination of chunks of PDP and APC. Either way, “Siddon look” is not a response.
Since independence in 1960 there had been about four other major party combinations of the type that produced APC: The United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA) of the First Republic, the Progressive Parties Alliance (PPA) of the Second Republic, Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republican Convention (NRC) of the Babangida transition (1989 – 1993). Of these five combinations, two were alliances (UPGA and PPA) and two were mergers (SDP and NRC).
• To be continued