It is less than three years to the 2015 general elections and the country’s opposition parties are making plans yet again to join forces that they hope will wrest power from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). CHINELO OBOGO x-rays the possibilities of such a merger.
The talk about a merger of opposition political parties in the country has always headlined political discussions such that it has almost become a tradition that whenever general elections approach, opposition parties scurry to join forces to wrest power from the PDP. Since the inception of this democracy in 1999, when it became apparent to other parties that the PDP had firm control of power at the Federal level and in a majority of the states, talks for a merger started gathering momentum among the opposition.
It was such that during a meeting of members of the PRONACO group shortly before the 2007 elections, the late Chief Anthony Enahoro had told those gathered among whom were notable members of the country’s opposition parties, that the PDP had failed the nation and it was time a formidable party strong enough to battle and win the PDP was formed so that the country could move forward.
The outcome of that meeting paved the way for what Nigerians will always remember as the Mega Party Movement (MPM). The MPM attracted a lot of political heavy weights like former vice president Atiku Abubakar, former governor of Sokoto State, Attahiru Bafarawa, former military head of state, Muhammed Buhari, former governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu, former governor of Kaduna State, Balarabe Musa, Lawan Kaita, Pat Utomi, Shitta-Bey Rasheed and many others. One thing that many of the key players had in common was their grouse against former president Olusegun Obasanjo.
The initial strategy was to merge the then Action Congress (AC), led by Bisi Akande, with the Democratic People’s Party (DPP), led by Bafarawa, the National Democratic Movement (NDM), headed by Mustapha Tanko, and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Buhari’s new party.
But hardly had the plans begun when it fell like a pack of cards over what observers believed was the personal ambition of some of the key players in the project. Though the plans for a merger failed, Atiku emerged the presidential candidate of the AC and contested the elections on the party’s platform in 2007 and lost to the late president Musa Yar’Adua.
He later went back to the PDP where he contested in the PDP primaries and lost to President Goodluck Jonathan. When asked why the mega party project failed and why he returned to the PDP, Atiku had told a national daily: “I really did not face any stumbling block in AC as such. But right from inception, I said it in AC meetings that AC alone could not be a viable opposition to the PDP.
I made it clear that we needed a bigger party and that was why I championed the coming together of other opposition groups to be able to form a viable opposition party. Now I realise that most of them are not prepared or do not have the spirit of give and take so that a viable opposition party can emerge and if there is any frustration or disappointment I had in the opposition camp, it was because none of them was genuinely and sincerely interested in forming an opposition party.”
Before the 2011 general elections, more talks about a possible merger among political parties also began. There was so much hype about it that the noise it generated became deafening. Again the AC which had changed its name to the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) began fresh negotiations with the CPC on an alliance they believed will see the PDP out of power. A lot of people believed that the alliance would pull through and expectations were high that the alliance would give the PDP a good fight. But like the previous one before it, the alliance failed again as the parties involved could not agree on the modalities for an alliance.
When the alliance failed a second time, Tinubu told Daily Sun in an interview what went wrong. According to him, “They wanted us to surrender everything; our candidate to withdraw; no vice-presidential slot and nothing. And if you look at it, we have more governors in ACN. So, all of that unfortunately played out. We all learnt from it; I don’t want to apportion blames. Now is the time to start early, to start building that understanding, that cohesion that can really provide a strong alternative.
That to me is what we should do at this moment and we are working hard at it. We are still talking; you will have some people behaving like house rats immediately they are given some little fund. They’ll go out and abandon the ship. They never progress in their calling anyway but engage in political prostitution to gain something for themselves. You equally have scavengers around the corridor of powers that will not make it possible but I won’t blame the other party not wanting to get together anyway.
It is its prayer and it makes efforts to destabilize and sow seeds of discord among you. They must have their surrogates one way or the other; if you are not conscious of that, you are doomed to fail. So, going forward, we will.” After months of dilly dallying, the parties have taken another shot at a possible merger that they believe will see the PDP out of power in 2015.
The plan is for the parties involved to collapse their identities, return their certificates of registration and form a brand new party that would bear a new name which will be registered by INEC. According to Sections 222 to 225 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, political parties cannot approach the commission for re-registration or registration as another party and it make provisions that if political parties want to form a merger or an association, the Independent National Electoral Commission would have to be informed and they will come with the identity of that association they have coalesced into not with their individual identities.
The move by these parties to merge has been applauded by the Conference of Nigeria Political parties (CNPP). The National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Osita Okechuwku urged parties that have been deregistered by INEC to join the merger plan. According to him. “CNPP is in support of the three political parties that are trying to merge and calls on those de-registered to join the merger plan.”
However, one of the opposition parties that is averse to this merger is the Labour Party which presently controls Ondo State. In a political discussion on a private television, African Independent Television (AIT), the National Chairman of the party, Dan Nwanyanwu said the LP shares different ideologies with the political parties involved in the merger talks.
According to him, “it is not enough to say there is going to be a merger because we want to wrest power from the PDP. The question that the LP has always posed to the proponents of this merger is after wresting power from the PDP, what next? What plans do they have for the economy? Are we going to experience the same thing that we are complaining about the PDP?”
But Lai Mohammed, the ACN National Publicity Secretary believes that the merger is done, sealed and delivered. According to him, “the merger talks are going on well and I can tell you that we are committed to this. The three parties are committed to this, and the Peoples Democratic Party is aware that we are coming up stronger, which may not be good for it.” On his own part, Buhari has assured that the merger plans will be finalized in June.
He spoke during the inauguration of the 18 man committee on the merger. He said the first phase of the merger is between the CPC and the ACN, while the ANPP will join later and this will be concluded in 12 weeks with the floating of a new party. Setbacks Already, there are speculations that one of the parties involved in the negotiations is insisting that other parties fuse into it, by carrying its name and logo. Also the CPC is embroiled in a leadership tussle which has given rise to two factions. One led by Tony Momoh and the other led by Senator Rufai Hanga.
Both men are individually claiming to be the chairman of the party and this has caused a prolonged tussle. Hanga insists he is the National Chairman as the party’s certificate of registration is in his custody while it is believed that the merging parties are carrying out negotiations with Momoh’s group.