Nigeria’s APC: Muscling Through The Minefields
By Richard Mammah
For many within the ruling party in Nigeria, the emergence of former Nassarawa State Governor, Abdullahi Adamu as the new Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, alongside his expanded executive team of 77 members is indeed an act of relief.
Given the intrigues that have dogged the national convention process over the past two years, it is clear that the ruling party did really need this thawing. This is more so as its internal atmosphere has really been heavily poisoned by the infighting within the different camps that had emerged from within its fold in the build-up to the convention. And now that it has a breather of sorts, the onus is on it to build on it.
A lot of credit has understandably been given to the camp of President Muhammadu Buhari for engineering the current outcome. By stepping out with all of his weight to vote for the current outcome, the President has seemingly muscled in the peace within his conclave once again. But there are worries about how enduring this peace would last.
Indeed, Nigeria’s ruling All Progressives Congress, APC is in a place where it should not be. It came to power in 2015 after very heavily demonising the erstwhile ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. It accused the latter of corruption, incompetence, cronyism, cluelessness and every other imaginable governance misgiving under the sun. For pointing all of these out, Nigerians opted to give it the driver’s seat. Alas, the APC has now ruled the country for the better part of seven years, with many Nigerians clearly unsatisfied with its offering till date.
Nowhere else does the party’s Achilles heel stand out in such glaring naked light as in the matter of sustaining its own internal cohesion. Riven apart at the seams, it has taken the strong hand of its leader, President Muhammadu Buhari to keep the house together up to this point. But one year to the end of the Buhari presidency, many discerning observers believe that there is still no fundamental clarity as to the future of the APC outside of this factor.
According to the Nigerian constitution, to contest elections and get a chance to be elected into office, aspirants must join political parties and present themselves for election on their chosen party platforms in primaries contests before coming over to be presented by the parties as their candidates.
This presupposes the presence and smooth functioning of the party vehicles as the same constitution also permits aspirants to switch parties (which they so frequently do) when there is a situation of rancour or division within their chosen political party.
While rancour is the middle name of the leading political parties in the country, the ruling APC has had more than a fair share of it even since its inception, leading to a situation where it has had to be led by interim and caretaker administrations for almost half of its shelf life this far.
At its inception, the interim leader was Pa Bisi Akande. Akande gave way to the elected John Odigie Oyegun who was however to be eased off the perch and replaced with former Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole. In turn, Oshiomhole was also to be booted out and replaced with a Caretaker team led by Yobe State Governor, Mai Mala Buni.
The Buni led Caretaker team, which had continued to hold the fort until recently, was clearly a stop-gap measure to allow a cooling off period before a more substantive executive would be introduced. Accordingly, it was given a six-month tenure. It finally was however to spend some two years in the saddle until it has now being eased out of the way.
Where all these leave the ruling party is that it conveys a picture of instability that does not rub off quite positively on the equally less than satisfactory performance of the government that it had also spawned. For example, as the convention was being held in Abuja, insurgents were invading an airport runway in nearby Kaduna, university lecturers were in the second month of their resumed strike action and fuel queues were still the order of the day in some towns within the country, with the general feeling being that very little attention was being paid to matters of governance.
Roots that go deep
Analysts say that the roots of the challenges the APC is facing as a party definitely run very deep. They place it its origins in the fact that the three major tendencies that fused into the party in 2014 were actually only bonded in real terms by a mutual desire to see off the PDP from the leadership perch that the latter had dominated since the return to democracy in 1999 and not by any quite fundamental vision for the nation and deeply shared values. This they say is why cracks had begun to show up in the APC as far back as the transition period when Buhari had been pronounced as President elect but not yet sworn in as President. The crisis continued even post swearing in on May 29, 2015 and was a major reason why it took almost a half year of waiting before the administration was able to put together its first ministerial nomination list.
Says the commentator, Rufus Eze:
‘The APC is still a party of strange bed fellows. After Buhari’s era, his empire will crumble with all the centers of powers taking their members with them. A smart opposition would make mincemeat of them. The party has even lost its Buhari mystique, around which the party was ostensibly built. It is an image that has been unmasked, with the leader being exposed as being incompetent and about the worst political leader in the nation’s history.’
While there is no doubt that the APC may indeed really be in a tough place as evidenced for example by the fact that though it has presently survived the convention hiccups, it still has the more critical primaries process to navigate. Indeed, on this score, the party’s troubles seems to have also been compounded by the umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC which has outlined that the primaries of parties to choose their candidates for the 2023 polls process should compulsorily be held from April 4th through June 3rd.
Though the party has presently latched on the leeway provided it in the amended Electoral Act which had enormously liberalised the selection process to include the consensus option, for many a discerning observer, it is as if it the party was literally test-running this soft navigation leverage when its leaders broke into ‘an executive session’ during the contest for the National Executive positions and threw in the consensus card.
And what about those who feel under-served at the end of that process? Well, their options at that point may simply be to ‘shape up or ship out.’ But would it be that easy in the instance of the forthcoming presidential primaries should the same card be deployed? And what about the limited time duration?
Whichever way things pan out, Ahmed Balufon, an APC stalwart is optimistic.
‘We will find a way around things. It is a tight calendar no doubt but I am confident that the party can still hold its presidential primaries in particular before the mandatory June 3rd.’
Hypothetically, this should not be an all-consuming challenge for the party internally, if antecedents are anything to go by. But the stakes are indeed much higher at this point as there are far bigger personalities, larger egos and fatter interests to negotiate in particularly the instance of the presidential primaries. Truth be told the APC would need all of its wits together at this time if it s to avert an implosion.
But just looking at the face of it all, there is still that additional worry: if the APC has been in power for seven years and they are at the moment still struggling to work through the primaries process, what does that say? Not the best place to be. Indeed.
On the other side of the pendulum, the main opposition rival, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP is also not smelling roses on the same matter of leadership selection. While the party scraped through an equally bruising congress late last year, the debates over zoning of the presidency have also left the party in a quandary of sorts. Like is the case with the APC, the anticipation is that some of its leading lights who may get the shorter end of the stick in the forthcoming primaries may at the moment be considering alternative options. Indeed, in what appears to be a sign of things to come, former Kano Governor and Minister of Defence, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso had already moved to embrace a nascent ‘third force’ political vehicle of sorts, though he later clarified that this did not mean that he had outrightly abandoned the PDP for the moment. But he had made the point. How many more such movements would we see going forward? If history is our guide? A lot. And just as we were putting the final stop to this piece, one potential game changer card was o be introduced into the PDP presidential field with the entry of the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike into the fray.
Beyond declaring aspirants on the APC/PDP divide, there is one other preliminary point even; about the differences between the two main parties in the country. For the average Nigerian voter who is expected to step out in 2023 to choose from options placed before him, the APC’s brand image for example is also being denuded by a distinctiveness challenge.
One development that brings this into stark relief is the political bio of the new APC helmsman. A founding member of the main opposition, PDP at the commencement of the transition to civil rule programme in 1998, Adamu moved on to serve as two-term governor of Nasarawa State under the PDP platform. He was also to serve as Secretary of the Board of Trustees, BOT, the highest advisory body of the PDP and as an elected PDP Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2011 before his defection to the APC in 2014. Eight years later, he sits atop the saddle as APC National Chairman.
A case of Jekyll and Hyde? Well, the late Bola Ige may not have been wrong after all when he described the difference between Nigeria’s original 1998 political parties as that between six and half a dozen. Sadly, not much has changed through the years. And all at the expense of hapless voters.
*Culled from April Issue of PAV Magazine