By Edwin Madunagu
(As I was completing the rough draft of this essay, the announcement came of the official registration of the new “merger-party”, the All Progressive Congress (APC). If this means – as I think it does – the effective dissolution of three previously existing main parties and their incorporation into the new party, together with fractions of some other parties then it is a new development in mainstream politics in Nigeria. Projections will follow after this opening segment).
Before I went on my last short break, I was trying to catch up with, and making meaning of, the current political situation in our country. One of my objectives was to isolate the various elements of this crisis and see how they are linked to produce the current conjuncture. My refrain, I said, was: “Laugh not, weep not, but understand”. In the course of that exercise, I recalled (in the last piece before the break, Tales from our political history, July 18, 2013) two tragic-comical political events (1992 and 1999). I intend to continue from there.
From 1999 until a couple of months ago, the Nigerian Governors Forum was united: it had all the 36 state governors as members. In the group were state governors produced by the ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and five opposition parties: Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN); Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) and the Labour Party (LP). The forum is a voluntary association. It is not mentioned in the Nigerian Constitution and therefore has no constitutional role in this political dispensation. I don’t know if it was even registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).
Until recently, I did not know that the forum had a Constitution, a Secretary and a Director-General. I did not know how the forum selected its leaders and spokespersons, but had observed that they had almost always been PDP governors who dominated the group numerically. But sometime last year Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State, a product of opposition All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), addressed the press after a meeting of the forum. Then I said to myself: “These people must be very liberal”. It was recently, during the current crisis that I knew that Peter Obi was the Deputy Chair of the forum and had addressed the press in that capacity.
Even now, as I write, I don’t know which came before the other: the national governors’ forum or the regional /party forums. However, in spite of my ignorance of, and disinterestedness in, the organizational details of the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF), I had recognized it as an informal group created to exert collective pressure on the “big brother”, the Federal Government. That made sense to me in a multi-tier hierarchical governance structure and a strong presidency that the country now operates.
I also knew that the forum could, and would, be used for other things, and that new friendships and alliances, across party lines, could develop within the forum. The two projections have come to pass – transforming the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF), a informal gathering, into a powerful factor in the current political crisis and power struggle in Nigeria.
The various conclaves of Nigerian governors, including the Nigerian Governors Forum played a critical role in General Obasanjo’s re-nomination as presidential candidate of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2003 general elections. I understand Obasanjo had to beg (some say, prostrate before) the PDP governors before he was adopted. Informed by experience, Obasanjo first had to “settle accounts” with the forums and their leaderships before imposing his choice of successor president on his party and the nation in the 2007 presidential election. The governors’ role in resolving the problem of successor to late President Yar’ Adua is well known.
What was the secret of the Nigerian Governors Forum or, rather, the PDP state governors’ power? There are two sources. First, PDP state governors are the leaders of the party in their respective states. They stand not in the state structures of their party, but above them, above the state executive committees of the party. In fact the PDP state governors largely determine the composition of the party’s state executives.
As executive governors they have the “financial muscle”; this translates to having immense powers of patronage. The state governors largely control state delegates to national conventions and this translates to dominant influence in the composition of the National Executive Committee.
These powers are not possessed by governors of other parties. This is one of the differences between the PDP and other political parties active in this political dispensation. These differences were not deliberately created by anyone; they were compelled by the unique origin(s) of the party (as a ruling class party) and its motive force. An understanding of this uniqueness, – which I may call the existence in the PDP of multiple centres of gravity, rather than a single one (like in other mainstream parties) – will help us see, more clearly, the power struggle going on in the country – in particular what happened in the Nigerian Governors Forum and, above all, what is happening in, and to, the ruling party.
I may here propose that the immediate political future of Nigeria will be determined more by how the current crisis in PDP is resolved, or resolves itself, than by any other factors we can see now. Just a small error or tactical miscalculation or accident may suddenly produce this resolution or self-resolution even as I write.
A certain ideological trend, strong and transcending class boundaries, has existed in Nigerian politics since the period of decolonization, that is, from around 1950. This trend has existed both on the Right and on the Left. On the Right it takes this form: “The country needs unity to overcome underdevelopment; thereafter we can talk of ideologies and ideological differences; for now there is no need for ideological politics because the country is not ripe for it.
For this desired unity we need a non-ideological national party”. On the Left this ideology of “national unity” is expressed this way: “This is a period of National Democratic Revolution and not Socialist Revolution or even Popular- Democratic Revolution. This period calls for a national party of all virile social classes and forces, a national party in which the Left should strive to play active role and work very hard – preferably silently – for the next stage of the revolution, namely, a socialist revolution”.
I hasten to add that this “Left” ideological formulation of political necessity has been stoutly rejected by the Marxist Left – although I would concede that the trend has been able to cause disruptions and win “souls”, that is, co-opt prominent leftists, for “non- ideological” national politics. I shall not pursue this matter here – since it is not the focus of this article – beyond saying that it did not take long before the merger of the Right and Left formulations of “national unity” ideology.
This “non-ideological” national ideology took a leap after the Civil War (1967 – 1970) which its ideologues on the Right and on the Left claimed vindicated their positions. The ideologues rejected ethnic, tribal, regional, religious and socialist parties. Of course, they arrogated to themselves the exclusive capacity to identify “undesirable” political parties. The ideology of “national unity” was claimed to have informed the formation of the Second Republic’s National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and the present Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
How did the inspirers, founders and promoters of NPN and PDP go about their tasks? Basically the same methods although their formations were separated by 20 years (1978 and 1998): Political groups and prominent Nigerians of all ideological tendencies and regional or ethnic colourations were invited to join the “national effort”. Negotiations were conducted with every group or personage that came along. The usual question was: “What is in this thing for us and for the people we represent?” Something was always promised. If a group wanted “assurances” they were given; if a signed agreement was demanded, the group would be obliged.
What were the “somethings” that were usually demanded for the purpose of negotiation? Generally they included party and government positions and positions in institutions and parastatals already existing or to be specially created. In particular cases where a group or individual was bringing along a large and strong constituency, it could be promised a geopolitical sphere to control at certain levels. These latter promises were usually documented and signed. Groups and individuals given promises of “control” constituted jealously guarded interim centres of gravity of the new party – to be confirmed at pre-inauguration caucuses.
As expected, disagreements and splits often occurred at pre-convention caucus meetings or even as late as at inaugural conventions. Splits occurred at the final stages of the formations of NPN and PDP, but the damage in each case was quickly repaired. Other mainstream political parties in the two political parties (that is, other than the NPN in the Second Republic and the PDP in this dispensation) were not formed the way these two ruling parties were formed: the former were usually fully-formed, with leaders, leaderships and structures, programmes, main organs, – and sometimes presidential and gubernatorial candidates – before open invitations for membership. Each of them had a single centre of gravity.
• To be continued