From TAIWO AMODU/FRED ITUA, Abuja
The major opposition parties in the country have been engaged in merger talks towards forming a formidable platform against the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2015 general election. Former governor of Kano State, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, who is the chairman, National Rebuilding Inter-Party Contact Committee, set up by the All Nigerian Peoples’ Party of Nigeria (ANPP), is leading the discussion on behalf of his party.
In this interview with journalists in Abuja, he offers an insight into the terms of discussion and the conviction of all parties: CPC, ACN and ANPP to the deal.
ANPP’s dwindling fortunes
Our party, the All Nigeria Peoples’ Party (ANPP), is one of the major Nigerian political parties since the beginning of the current dispensation in 1998. Many will recall that the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) and the ANPP were, in fact, the strongest parties. You will recall that ANPP was parading much heavier weights in terms of individuals even more than the PDP. Somehow, as every organisation will face for good or for bad, we passed through some very turbulent periods. I didn’t know much of the earlier days of the party because I joined in 2002. I was a former national president of the Conference of Principals of Secondary Schools. I rose from the low rank to the highest position.
Right before I came into full partisan politics, I was already familiar with what was going on. Our party, like all other parties, is a serious organisation. It is only a serious organisation that will pause and look back at what has happened over the years, then fathom ways on how we can address the issues. Failure to recognise that you’ve a problem is a problem itself. Our party sat down and analysed the situation.
We felt there was need for us to pause and look back to see how we can change the circumstances we have found ourselves. Since we are part and parcel of the democratic process in the country, we cannot just limit ourselves to the party. We must look beyond ANPP. So, in the end our party came up with a 21-man committee which I have been privileged to chair. I will just give you a summary of the assignment. It is basically in three categories. The first category given to us is to rebuild the party.
This entails how to make the party more functional at all levels of the structures. From the ward to the national levels. It is one thing to have a party, it is another thing to go over to the local governments and to the states to really see them functioning as a party. A situation where a party cannot even fly its own flag at a local government party headquarters, then something is really wrong. It is supposed to be a functional place and kept alive. We said let us actually find a way to make the party more functional. Related to this of course is funding. When you want to make the party functional, you are talking about equipping the offices and provide stipends to the clerical staffers. So, in whatever form you look at it, funding is very central to the functionality of the party. This is the first leg of our assignment; how to make the party functional and increase funding, because the two go together. We have since commenced this. A sub-committee was set up by our board of trustees for a similar assignment. We have been going round states and local government offices to assess the problems of different magnitudes. So, we have to do the assessment. The sub-committee is also working on ways and means through which we can generate funds. We have set up a 7-man sub-committee from our committee to handle this aspect. The second leg of our assignment is on how to broaden our membership. How do we encourage others to come back and bring in new ones? As I told you, we sat down and reflected back that we had very prominent founders of this party that have left us for one reason or another. We now have a sub-committee under this committee to look into what really happened. We realize that some who left the party had problems at their local, state and national levels. Some were as a result of the election process. People left for all kinds of reasons. This sub-committee will look at those reasons and then reach out to all of those people. We have many members who left and didn’t even join another party. They are just folding their hands and watching. Tom Ikimi, Vincent Ogbulafor, former PDP national chairman and other prominent members even from the north. We can go on and on with the names of prominent Nigerians that have left our party. So, these are some of the issues the second leg of our assignment will cover. We have set up a sub-committee made up of 8 people to out and reach out to as many as possible. The third assignment of this committee is the inter-party relations. Our party has mandated us to commence discussions with any interested opposition party, including civil societies and non-governmental organizations that have interest in working with us. This is the third part of the assignment which we have commenced already. All these three segments have taken off out of the seven terms of reference given to us. For us to succeed in the task we have been given, we decided to undergo a zonal tour. We would have loved to visit every state, but our assignment is for six months. You are aware that elections are time-bound. The issue of rebuilding the party is an endless thing. We have decided to go and listen to our members. We have a time-table on when we will embark on these zonal tours. We have selected different states in the zones where we will meet. All party leaders from different states within the zones will converge at the designated states. Elders, caucus members and leaders of the party at the state levels have been invited to these meetings. All those elected under the platform of the ANPP whether current or former are to be brought into the fold. By the time you put of all of these categories of people together in one state, then you have captured the key leaders of the party in that state. Merger talks with other parties Our party has made it very clear to the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) that we are committed to total merger and nothing else. We have had alliances in the past. We want to reach an understanding that in the end, we will dissolve into one entity because we have studied all the experiences right from the first republic. Ninety percent of the alliances entered into from the First Republic till date has not really worked. We believe as we progress in these discussions, more parties in the opposition will come on board. But these three main opposition parties have it in writing. The three parties have exchanged letters of interest among themselves. A lot of processes are involved. This is in a nutshell what this committee is out to do. We have been given six months to do all of these. Any need to approach former members of the party who are now in either ACN or the CPC since your merger is likely to happen soon? Even if all the former members of ANPP in CPC or the ACN come back to the party, that doesn’t remove of the other parties since they are registered already. CPC is still there as a registered party and the process of de-registration is not a day’s job. Even if it is a one-man party, as long as it is registered, you treat them as a party. It is likely that there could be some areas of over-lap. Let me give you an instance. The person chairing a similar committee in the ACN is Alhaji Yusuf Alli, a former national chairman of the ANPP. So, when I am meeting him, it will be as an ACN man. Maybe his former membership of the ANPP will be a plus in negotiating our merger. Most of the key people in CPC are former members of the ANPP. Both will be going concurrently. In 2011, conflict of interest was seen as a major impediment that led to the collapse of the merger talks. What is the assurance that the same conflict of personal interest will not affect the merger this time around? I think there is a fundamental difference between the period you are talking about in 2011 and now. There are two fundamental reasons that make them different. In 2011, we started late. The second reason is that, negotiations started after all the parties have already held their congresses. They already had their presidential candidates on ground. That was part of what really made it difficult. There was the argument of who was going to step down for the other. Even if I wanted to step down for another person, I didn’t have that freedom because it was not a personal mandate since primaries had already been conducted before the negotiations started. Again, our parties had already submitted names of candidates to INEC. When you merge, it is beyond the national election. When you merge, what do you do with the gubernatorial candidates in a state like Kano? These were not part of the discussions. In the end, we told ourselves, “look, let us talk to ourselves sensibly.’’ Another factor then was that we had only some weeks to go to the elections. What assurance do you have to adequately enlighten the electorate on their new identity? The candidates were all scared. These were all the difficulties. We agreed that after the elections, then we can start. If we are able to finish within the next six months, we will then have more than 2 years to sell our new identity to the public. These were the fundamental reasons that scuttled the previous one. It is 50 percent solved already. Some stakeholders are worried that personal ambitions of some politicians could scuttle the merger process. Is your committee ready to address that? One thing that we agreed on, at least, on our own side is that we have made it known to the leadership of other parties that nobody should come to merger table with any condition of a given position -whether the party office or political position. We are all coming to the table on equal terms. When we melt into one, everybody goes back to the same level. Unlike what we had in 2011, parties had already produced candidates. This time around, it is different. Will the three parties involved in the ongoing merger talks submit their certificates to INEC before forming a new party? Of course, that is what merger means. The electoral law is so clear on the procedure of merger. The difference now will not just be to pass a resolution by the different political parties to change a name, but all of these will be simultaneously done. There will be a programme, where all the parties will jointly agree and we will notify INEC. INEC will now come and witness that you are carrying the party members along through this structure. Once that is done, INEC has no choice but to register your new identity. There are many options of this merger. At least, there are three major outstanding options. Parties that are merging will have as option one, to adopt one of the existing names. The second option is juggling of the identities. It will a bit of every party coming together to merge. The third option will be to completely forget all the identities of different parties and go for something new that is not in any of the existing parties. These are the options and everything will be based on the discussion. There are other things that will follow. The major thing will be to agree on the identity. Once we agree on that, then everything will become easier. Like the PDP, will the new party that will emerge incorporate the zoning arrangement into their new constitution? Let me first of all say, that it is purely a PDP affair. I am aware that only the PDP has it in its constitution that the office of the president will be zoned. Unfortunately for them, they abused the arrangement. This is the problem with the PDP. They are very insincere and inconsistent. If you want to change, go back to the drawing board and change the constitution. Because of the problem PDP had with their zoning problem, they brought it to the street. Because of the size of the PDP and because they are at the centre, everybody thinks all the parties now have zoning arrangements. As for my opinion, I will insist that the issue of zoning must not have a place in our party constitution as far as elective offices are concerned. When do we expect this merger to finally be consummated? Well, this is like a court case. No judge will tell you when a case will be over. Until the complainant is done presenting his witnesses, the judge cannot conclude. You must realise that all the committees involved in these discussions are answerable to the leadership of our various parties. We are still talking a little bit informally. Our party has told us to conclude these discussions within six months. We will tell other parties involved that by April, these talks must be concluded. By end of April, our party expects us to have concluded all of these. When we start the discussions formally, there will certainly be a time frame. My personal opinion, however, is that, if we really want this thing to succeed, by end of April, we should be through with all of these discussions. This will give you twenty four solid months before April 2015 to go through all the rigours of holding congresses at all levels. We need enough time to do all these.