This is dedicated to Mr. Sam Nda-Isaiah, a founding member of the APC and Presidential Aspirant on the platform of the party in 2014, who died on Friday, December 11, 2020. May God Almighty grant the family and all our leaders the fortitude to bear this heavy loss. Amin!
Barrack Obama, former President of the United States of America, in his recently published Memoir, A Promised Land, asked the questions, “What made some movements succeed where others failed? Was it a sign of success when portions of a cause were absorbed by conventional politics, or was it a sign that the cause had been hijacked? When was compromise acceptable and when was it selling out, and how did one know the difference?” Certainly, Obama is using the term political movement in the context of organised group of people working to bring about political change. Without going into theories of political movements, it is very striking that the question of obsession with conventional politics is posed by Obama in a way that clearly mirror the challenges we face in Nigerian politics today, especially in APC. Does obsession to conventional politics indicate failure and could such failure be the result of possible compromises or sell out?
Conventional politics refers to political behaviour and conducts based on the prevailing practices. Such political behaviour and conducts cover issues of membership recruitment, candidate selection, to the realm of party funding, management and accountability mechanisms. The conventional approach in Nigeria is that individual politicians aspiring for political offices recruit party members who are their loyalists. Party leaders at different levels emerge from the members who are loyal to the politician, who will in turn become the candidate of the party for election.
Being in control of the structures of the party, the politician, who is the candidate of the party and eventually elected representative or leader of the party will be responsible for funding the party, as well as party administration, including recruitment of party personnel.
It will be unfair to argue that the leaders of the legacy parties that produced the APC – Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Rochas Okorocha’s All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and later the New Peoples Democratic Party (NPDP) – did not make conscious effort to depart from the conventional Nigerian politics at the point of negotiating the merger in 2013. It is to the credit of our leaders that the 2013 merger negotiations adopted a comprehensive process of party building covering issues of membership recruitment (registration), leadership formation (congresses and convention). Even the administrative setup of the party was a product of negotiation as the merging parties had to dissolve their administrative structure into the new APC.
Between February and June 2014, membership registration was followed with Wards (Saturday, April 5), Local Governments (April 12), States (April 23) Congresses and National Convention (June 14). Membership registration was organised with a clear vision that the party will produce a membership database, which should be democratically accessible with all the necessary infrastructural platforms. Accordingly, investment to establish a computerised Data Centre for the whole country located at No. 10 Bola Ajibola Street, Off Allen Avenue, Ikeja Lagos was undertaken.
This was the first of its kind undertaken by any political party and it underlined the commitment of APC leaders to produce a party, which is democratically controlled by members of the party. This implied that members will be able to produce both leaders of the party and candidates for elections as against the prevailing practices of some few delegates dictating the process. As part of those initial debates, there was the decision that every election in the party, during Congresses, Convention and Primary will be based on the direct method, which will require every party member to take part. This was employed during the Ward Congresses of April 5, 2014. Part of the challenge was that the Congresses held at the time when the APC membership Data Centre was being setup and therefore records of membership wasn’t very organised.
As a result, the various Congress Committees for Wards, Local Governments and States encountered problems of reconciling membership records, which were largely manipulated by aspiring candidates for the 2015 general elections positioning themselves to ensure control of party structures. A clear indication that conventional politics of aspiring candidates taking over control of party structures was already rearing its stubborn face in the young APC.
This created many disputes during Ward Congresses across the country, which was partly responsible for the decision to conduct the Local Government and State Congresses based on the delegate system since Ward leaders have already emerged.
As at this point, in April 2014, the vision still remained that candidates’ selection process within the APC will be conducted based on the direct method involving every member of the party. To achieve that, under the Chief Bisi Akande leadership, the party invested considerable resources to complete the membership Data Centre before the commencement of candidates’ selection for the 2015 general elections. Unfortunately, on November 22, 2014, the APC Membership Data Centre was vandalised by operatives of the Department of State Security (DSS) based on the allegation that the party was going to “clone INEC Permanent Voters Cards.”
While it will be dishonest to claim that the attack on the APC Membership Data Centre is responsible for why the party resorted to the use of the delegate system to elect the party’s candidates for the 2015 election, it is important to recognise that the vandalisation of the Data Centre weaken the capacity of the party to produce credible membership register. The old practices of taking over structures of party leadership by aspiring candidates for various elections has already consolidated itself in the APC. Perhaps, the only aspiring candidate that did not resort to that was President Muhammadu Buhari, who is perhaps by far more needed by the party.
Once the party is able to produce candidates at all levels for the 2015 general elections, which ended with the December 10, 2014 National Convention that produced President Buhari as the party’s Presidential candidate, attention shifted to winning the 2015 election at various levels. And having won the 2015 elections at federal and 22 states, attention shifted to lobbying for appointments into both Federal and State Governments. The business of party building was practically suspended. In fact, once President Buhari emerged as the Presidential candidate of the party, negotiation for the selection of running mate was done outside the formal structures of the party. This is perhaps, one of the steps taken, consciously or unconsciously by power blocs within the party that undermined the capacity of the party to be able to exercise strong influence in many of the decisions of President Buhari’s administration both during his first term and now, in this his second term.
Informal demands and choices of party leaders became the decisions of the party, depending on which section of the leadership is making the demand. This confirms the point Obama made about the limits of durability of democratic values given that “commitment of leaders to democracy and rule of law might last only as long as it preserved their power.” The compromise therefore was the consolidation of APC as the governing party since 2015 without the corresponding internal mechanism for political negotiations to produce appointees for various positions in government. For some strategic reasons, many leaders of APC opted for informal negotiations to access opportunities for appointments into government.
Between December 10, 2014 and May 29, 2020, virtually all the party structures at national level were suspended and, in their place, informal lobbies and consultations by individual leaders based on personal preferences became the attraction. Whether decisions from informal consultations and negotiations could sustainably substitute formal decisions of party organs seems to be one challenge that is taken for granted. It would appear that all the later day difficulties, between 2015 and 2019 especially, including cohabiting with a rebellious section of the leadership controlling the 8th National Assembly attest to the unsustainability of the APC governance model.
The truth is that after 2015 elections, leadership disagreements within the APC became the source of electoral strength of the PDP and other opposition parties. Most of the electoral defeats experienced by APC since 2015 is on account of inability to develop and strengthen processes of consensus building within the party, including issues of candidates’ selection. It is clear that the return to conventional approach to politics in APC commenced during the merger negotiations of 2013 and got consolidated with the electoral victory of 2015. Unlike what happened in PDP between 1999 and 2007 however, the dynamic in APC didn’t allow any power bloc to monopolise the control of the party.
It is very easy to dismiss the APC as being the same with the PDP. In truth however, the APC is radically different from the PDP. For instance, while the PDP leadership is still in denial that there are challenges facing the party requiring internal reform, the APC leadership since 2018 in fact recognsed the need for reform. It was the recognition for reform that led to the decision to change the Chief John Odigie-Oyegun leadership, which brought in Comrade Adams Oshiomhole’s leadership. Unlike in the PDP, there was internal debate about whether to change Chief Oyegun’s leadership or not. Instead of the conventional approach of forcing Chief Oyegun to resign, which is the practice in PDP, Chief Oyegun’s leadership was democratically changed at a National Convention.
With the emergence of Comrade Oshiomhole’s leadership in the APC, there was high expectation that the process of party building will return. A lot of the frustrations leading to the June 25, 2020 APC National Executive Council (NEC) decision to dissolve the Comrade Oshiomhole’s leadership has to do with the failure to return to the process of party building. With the appointment of His Excellency, Mai Mala Buni-led Caretaker Committee, the expectation is that the process of reorganisation and party building starting from membership registration/revalidation will commence. This means recruitment of new members at the same time with revalidation of old members so as to resolve any possible contention about who has left the party or not from the old register.
The process of membership registration/revalidation is expected to be followed immediately by processes of leadership formation at all levels. From all the internal debates so far, one of the underlying objectives is to resolve the challenge of electing new party leaders in the same year when general elections are to take place. Electing party leaders in the same year when candidates for general elections are to emerge only re-enforce the desperation of aspiring politicians to control structures of the party. With all the rebuilding process expected to end in June 2021, it then means that APC can have almost two years before the 2023 general elections to negotiate landmark political challenges and possibly produce some internal consensus, which should be able to throw up credible candidate for the 2023 general elections at all levels.
Interestingly, this is hardly appreciated by some section of the APC leadership, largely because of factors of denials of the problems facing the party, almost similar to the situation in PDP. As long as leaders can estimate high possibility that they will emerge as candidates for election, it simply means that everything is alright. Whether in the end they will win the elections after emerging as candidates is a different matter and not part of the political projection.
From all indications, the seductiveness of conventional politics creates a strong opposition to reforms within parties. It is the determinant of success or failure in capacities of political parties to produce the desired change citizens expect. Somehow, the disconnect between politicians and citizens is simply in the application of what Obama refers to as the durability of democratic values. While citizens, and to a great extent, party members, are interested in broad issues of democracy and rule of law, which should empower citizens and party members to elect leaders and make them accountable, for politicians, it is reduced to preservation of power, by whatever means possible. The point of unity between citizens, party members and politicians is simply located in the need for a strong political party with strong internal democracy to win elections and strengthen national democratic culture and practices.
A major issue will be the capacity of structures of the party, especially the National Secretariat, to serve as the coordinating hub for the implementation of decisions of the party. One of the major challenge of politics is that it hardly recognise the value of professionalism. Often, the extend to which professionalism is sacrificed narrow the scope of reform and quickens the resurgence of conventional politics. In other words, the whole business of reforming the party will be reduced to throwing up sections of the party’s leadership as candidates for general elections. This is already being speculated by sections of the APC leadership opposed to the reform going on.
Therefore, rather than ignore such allegations, there is the need to take every step necessary to ensure that the reform going on in APC strengthen internal democracy within the party. This will require that all activities of membership registration/revalidation, congresses and national convention are carefully planned. To achieve this will require that members of His Excellency Mai Mala Buni-led Caretaker Committee are taking the necessary steps to strengthen the capacity of the APC National Secretariat to implement all decisions. This is largely about taking responsibility and communicating decisions to party members and the public. Although, considerable progress has been achieved, it is important to appeal for more consultations, coordination and better communications of initiatives and all the internal reform process.
Poor consultations, coordination and communication makes party members to be contemptuous of every decision taken, which strengthens the confidence of those opposed to internal party reform. The solution to all these lies in the ability of the 13-member Caretaker Committee to work harmoniously with the required professional competence.
The Secretary of the Caretaker Committee should be able to facilitate the process of planning and one of the 13 members should be able to lead the process of members’ and public mobilisation. Therefore, instead of some of the dry press releases throwing banters at PDP leaders who are struggling to bounce back to pollical reckoning, the messages from the Caretaker Committee and the party should be about rebuilding the party.
Our leaders, especially the Caretaker Committee should bear in mind constantly the message of Obama in his Memoir, that “It was the nature of democracies to swing between periods of progressive changes and conservative retrenchment.” The swing to conservativism may be produced from within the party. The goal of reform therefore is to ensure that the party is fortified as the bearer of democratic values and progressive politics. This is the critical success factor for enduring reform that should come with commitment to democratic values and rule of law, which is not limited to preservation of power.
This is what is required to overcome the seductiveness of conventional politics. Eventually, the APC should be able to return to the original vision whereby every member of the party should have a voting right during the process of electing leaders for the party and selecting candidates for elections at all levels. Ultimately, the reform should be able to guarantee that all negotiations for appointments by governments produced by the party should be mainstreamed as part of the operational activities of the party.
* This position does not represent the view of any APC Governor or the Progressive Governors Forum – Salihu Moh. Lukman, Director General, Progressive Governors Forum