It has not been a good week for the ruling APC. The Ekiti Convention for the gubernatorial primaries was a disgrace with thugs and violence producing a stalemate. The same thing happened in many congresses in various States. In certain cases, lists were declared elected without the congresses taking place. It was the old politics we have been used to. There was no evidence of change.
It was therefore not surprising when members of the so-called “New PDP” who moved to the All Progressives Congress (APC) and helped the party win the 2015 Presidential elections, lamented the lack of appreciation of their efforts by President Muhammadu Buhari and the party. I presume the “New PDP” refers to the five governors elected on the ticket of the PDP – Musa Kwankwaso (Kano), Murtala Nyako (Adamawa), Chibuike Amaechi (Rivers), Abdulfatah Ahmed (Kwara) and Aliyu Wamakko (Sokoto) who defected to the APC on November 26 2013. Other notable members of the PDP who joined the APC at that time were Senators Bukola Saraki and Abdullahi Adamu former governors of Kwara and Nassarawa States. There were also former governors of Kebbi, Adamu Aliero; Gombe, Danjuma Goje; Osun, Olagunsoye Oyinlola; former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar; former acting National Chairman of PDP, Abubakar Baraje and the ex-Speaker of the House of Representatives, Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State.
In the letter, the self styled nPDP on Wednesday, the group requested that the National Chairman of the APC, John Odigie-Oyegun facilitates a meeting for them with President Buhari within seven days or else! The letter signed by Baraje and Oyinlola described how their movement to the APC not only swelled the ranks of the party but also ensured success at the polls. They asserted that most of them “delivered” their states and even neighbouring States to the APC at the elections. The nPDP described their efforts in the APC as a “watershed moment in Nigeria’s political history”, which they achieved in spite of the fact that the presidential ticket was taken by the erstwhile Congress for Progressive Change, (CPC) and the Action Congress of Nigeria, (ACN) blocs of the party.
As President Buhari has publicly called for the election of a new Chairman for the APC and Odigie-Oyegun is on the verge of being humiliated out the party, the letter is a direct challenge to the President who is currently receiving medical attention in London and is likely to return just as the ultimatum date arrives. The question that is posed is whether the moment for action on the rumours that have been circulating for long that there will be a mass defection away from the APC has arrived. Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar had not waited for the mass defection and had since returned to the PDP. Are the others also going to move to the PDP or to another party where they can fight against President Buhari? Do they have the capacity to affect the mass cult following that President Buhari has in the North East and North West?
The nPDP group complained bitterly in the letter that in the constitution of the Federal Executive Council, (FEC) by President Buhari, their block ”was generally sidelined as virtually no position was conceded to it”, except one – which might be in reference to Rotimi Amaechi, the transport minister and former Rivers governor. They also argued that there has been no significant patronage and appointments to executive positions in various government agencies such as chief executives and executive directors of government agencies and parastatals. They are therefore clear that their political concerns are about benefits that should have accrued to them, which would make it easy for President Buhari to argue that they are still in the old politics of entitlement to themselves rather than service to the people.
The real issue however is that the ruling APC was formed by the merger of four parties: the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and a faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and there has been no attempt to fuse the groups into a coherent party. I had argued in my column of 22nd December 2013 that there is great difficulty in ddifferentiating APC from the PDP. My key question already at that time was whether the APC was becoming the new PDP as more and more PDP leaders join it or was there still something different about the party?
I argued that the APC would become the new PDP unless the then new party was able to build an ideological platform that defines a progressive pathway for itself. Not only did the party failed to do that, it was not even meeting to ask themselves why they came together and what they were trying to do with the power they acquired. From its inception, the APC never tried to define what it was and focused all its attention on attracting barons from other parties.
In his book on comparative political parties, Professor D. L. Seler defines catch-all parties as organisations that are interested in aggregating notables rather than establishing a large membership base and the notables use their clientelist networks to secure votes for the party. This was the political model introduced into Nigerian politics with the establishment of the National Movement, precursor to the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in 1978. The origins of NPN as a catch-all party was in Gowon’s cabinet where erstwhile political opponents such as Shehu Shagari, Obafemi Awolowo, Aminu Kano, J. S. Tarka and Anthony Enaharo had worked together and started imagining a new type of politics in which all leaders will operate within the same political formation. They wanted above all to avoid the crisis of 1964/65 when the political class divided itself into two factions – Saudauna’s NNA with the NPC, NNDP, MDF and NDC and Zik and Awolowo’s UPGA with NCNC, AG, UMBC and NEPU and fought to create conditions that resulted in rigged elections, the coup and civil war.
The NPN was focused on the notables and the idea of a catch-all party collapsed when many of the notables in the National Movement such as Waziri Ibrahim, Obafemi Awolowo and Aminu Kano walked out of the scheme when they realised that they had no chance of clinching the presidency within the formation. The PDP started as a formidable force but always had the problem of keeping all the notables happy. PDP notables became unhappy in 2013 and left to form the APC and today they are saying they are unhappy with the APC as well. I had expected that the leadership of the APC would have learnt from this history and focused its attention on building a new type of party where members rather than notables matter. I had expected that immediately after registration, it would go on a massive membership drive to recruit ordinary Nigerians into the party. I had hoped party meetings by the members would be holding at ward and local government levels so that input from the grassroots would inform the direction towards which the party evolves. I have not seen any of this happen.
The governors and notables invited into the APC came in with the understanding that they would be allowed to completely control the party machine in their states and their zones. With the 2019 elections round the corner, the question being posed is – who “owns” the party in this state or zone? The election of party executives and the subsequent nomination battles that would be coming would be a real challenge in terms of maintaining the capacity of the party to deliver votes. For the more important question of parties capable of practicing issue-based politics directed at serving the interest of the people, we need to wait longer.