Anybody who is interested in the growth and maturation of Nigeria’s democracy will readily welcome the recent registration of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as a political party. The coming into being of the party was not a tea party.
The coalition formed by the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) passed through teething times before it got a favourable consideration from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) . Even as I write, one or two political groups are still in court contesting the abbreviation known as APC.
That the new political party sailed through, regardless of the persisting distractions, is a welcome development. Before we got to where we are now, many Nigerians, particularly those sympathetic to the APC cause, felt that INEC would not be favourably disposed to registering the new coalition. They suspected that the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) would teleguide INEC and have it frustrate the APC effort. But all of that turned out otherwise. INEC has proved critics wrong. It has demonstrated, at least for now, that it is not taking instructions from the ruling quarters. APC should therefore savour its registration and recognition as a political party.
Beyond that, the generality of Nigerians should recognize the real place of APC in Nigerian politics. The new party is not an alliance. It is a full blown political party which came into place through a successful merger. We must recognize that mergers that eventually culminate in the formation of one strong political party has never been possible in this country. Attempts at mergers by political parties or groups have failed in the past. That was why many also felt at the beginning that APC would remain stillborn. If we take the history of political party formations in Nigeria into consideration and juxtapose it with the difference that the APC has made, we cannot but say that Nigerian politics is beginning to move towards substance. If I were APC adherents, particularly the brains behind it, I would cash in on this breakthrough and seek to make the best out of the new platform.
As it is, the APC is a strong force. It will pose a formidable challenge to the PDP. This is especially in the light of the fact that its geographical spread is impressive. The platform is strong in South West Nigeria. It is also a force to reckon with in parts of the North. The party should build on this strength and seek to spread its tentacles to other PDP strongholds. This, I think, should be the major preoccupation of a political party that wants to wrest power from the ruling party.
But I am worried that the APC is misdirecting its energies. Rather than do battle with the PDP which it seeks to defeat in future elections in Nigeria, the APC is busy concentrating on the personality of President Goodluck Jonathan.
In the last few days, for instance, the biggest issue we have been treated to is the name-calling between the APC and the Presidency. Chief Bisi Akande, the interim National Chairman of the APC, descended angrily on Jonathan last weekend. But the high point of his denigration of the president was the Kindergarten label he placed on Jonathan. Anybody who is familiar with the brand of criticism which the defunct ACN used to heap on Jonathan will readily know where Akande is coming from. Alahaji Lai Mohammed, the National Publicity Secretary of the ACN, and now of the APC, has before now, made a fetish of what appears to him to be the incompetence of Jonathan. The ACN congregation does not seem to reckon much with Jonathan. They hardly talk about the PDP that produced him. They are more interested in the Jonathan personality.
It is this established pattern within the ACN fold that has been transferred to the APC. It is the same mindset that led to Akande’s outburst. This is all about stereotype. Jonathan, in the eyes of the ACN is simply incompetent. They do not reckon with him. But I must say that the characterization of Jonathan by the defunct ACN, and now the APC, is jaded. It does not impress many of us. Those who see Jonathan in such a dismissive light are largely driven by a certain misguided impression. They feel that Jonathan did not labour to get to where he is. They see him as a child of circumstance. They do not see any rigour on his part that should have eventuated in his becoming the president of Nigeria. They like to dismiss him as one amateur politician who was propelled to the height by sheer luck. They feel that if you take luck out of Jonathan, what you will have is a rookie, a non-starter and a misfit. This is the stereotype characterization of Jonathan. This is the impression that rules the ACN fold.
I do not want to bother about what the Akandes and Lai Mohammeds of this world think about Jonathan. They are certainly entitled to their opinion of the president. But my worry is that the fixation with the personality of the president will not make the APC be the true opposition party that it is supposed to be. Jonathan is not the same thing as the PDP. Whereas one is the president of the country, the other is the political party that produced him. To oust Jonathan therefore, the APC should direct its energies to the PDP. It should seek to weaken the party by whatever means. But one of its strategies should not be to denigrate the president and the office he occupies. The APC may be in order if it has good grounds on which to fault the actions or inactions of the president. Jonathan is the president of the country and discerning Nigerians who have any issue with his presidency are free to say so. But when you reduce an entire presidency to one man as the ACN, and now APC, has been doing, then you run the risk of throwing away the baby with the bathwater.
It must be noted, and this is too much of an elementary fact to know anyway, that the presidency does not end with Jonathan. When therefore you package an entire presidency as ‘Kindergarten’ you are simply saying that all the technocrats, scholars and professionals in the present government are all incompetent. The description is too sweeping to be true. Akande and other opposition elements who are seeking power must know that they cannot force the APC on the rest of us by simply denigrating Jonathan. Nigerians who seek an alternative to PDP will be interested in knowing what APC has to offer. In what positive ways is it different from PDP? What will Nigerians gain if they jettison PDP and embrace APC? . In other words, what makes APC a viable alternative? Nigerians are interested in dispassionate answers to these questions. While seeking to clear this fog, the promoters of APC must also be realistic enough to know the extent of their powers. A political party does not automatically translate into an alternative. APC must weigh its influence across the zones vis á vis that of PDP. As things stand today, the PDP controls and will still control the majority of the states in Southern Nigeria in 2015.
Then again, APC has to work very hard to topple the PDP in the Northern states where the PDP is presently in control. This will not be an easy task. When you weigh the chances of the two parties and march them with the behavioural voting pattern of Nigerians, you will readily agree that the APC has a tough task ahead. The same thing is true of PDP, which has to work harder to retain its hold on power.
Let the parties play the politics, let Nigerians swing from one tendency to another. In whatever way these things resolve themselves will be clear to all at the appropriate time. But the APC has a responsibility to play the right opposition politics. It should not misdirect its energies on the Jonathan personality.