By Chido Onumah*
While the merger process of Nigeria’s main opposition parties – which led to the formation of the APC – lasted, I had reason to engage some of my comrades, colleagues and friends on whether the APC was necessarily a progressive move in the quest to reclaim Nigeria.
Even with all the misgivings and the seemingly lack of direction of the proposed party, some of us held out hope, partly because of the pedigree of certain individuals in the party and the fact that it afforded a broad-based platform and an opportunity for many Nigerians who were looking for a formidable pan-Nigerian opposition party.
At the risk of being dismissed as opportunists, some of us took the stand that the APC should be given the benefit of the doubt; that within the context of bourgeois democracy, the APC looked like a minimum agenda for change and therefore should be supported by all, including left and radical elements; that as a minimal strategy, genuine democrats and progressives could actually work in the APC to break the stranglehold of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) on power and begin the urgent task of national reconstruction.
I am not sure I hold the same view today. This piece is not a repudiation of my former position but a review that has become necessary in light of the current reality. The general direction of the APC has not been that of a party that understands the mood of the people and the anger in the country against a profligate ruling class that has used party politics as a channel to loot the national treasury and impoverish Nigerians. That anger manifests each time APC leaders cozy up to the same people Nigerians hold responsible for the current crisis.
It started with visits to former military president, Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (IBB) and former head of state, Abdulsalami Abubakar, but it didn’t stop there. Of course, we know IBB and what he stands for. I have been asking myself, since the pilgrimage began, the purpose and the end result. Regrettably, the leadership of the APC has failed to explain the rationale for this unholy alliance and the benefit, if any, to its bewildered rank and file.
For me, the last straw was the image that made headlines during the week; the image of former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, a man so violently consumed by self-interest, standing shoulder to shoulder with the leaders of the APC. Obasanjo needed that photo opportunity to save face after a scathing public rebuke by his daughter, Senator Iyabo Obasanjo. But for the APC it was a new low for a party still struggling to make an impression on Nigerians. I believe every party worth its salt must have basic beliefs and values that it must uphold at all times.
It was bad enough that Nigerians expecting a change in the political landscape witnessed APC leaders pandering to Chief Obasanjo; the reasons adduced for the visit left a bad taste in people’s mouth. “You have come out of tribulation and held the highest position in this country. We are here because of your courage. Nobody can claim that he has information more than you,” Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the national leader of the APC said of Chief Obasanjo. “You have surmounted a number of crises. Nigeria is divided (now), more than before. To realise a stable Nigeria we want to encourage you to continue to speak the truth. We’re resolved and determined to rescue Nigeria. We want you as navigator.”
Asiwaju Tinubu noted that the visit was not necessarily to get Chief Obasanjo to join the APC but “just to draw from the experience of an elder statesman.” What is Obasanjo’s experience? What readily come to mind are coups, a legacy of corruption, abuse of human rights, criminal impunity, undermining the rule of law and, of course, a dysfunctional family.
The inimitable Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, captured the popular sentiment in his terse statement on the APC visit to Chief Obasanjo when he noted, in reference to Chief Obasanjo’s new role as the “navigator” of the APC rescue ship. “If General Sani Abacha were alive today, would he also have been on the ship’s complement? As Captain perhaps?” Soyinka asked, while warning that the country might be headed for a shipwreck. He advised “families to begin the stockpiling of life-belts for the guaranteed crash.”
I think this is a warning we have to take seriously. Exactly two years ago, Asiwaju Tinubu had this to say about Obasanjo and his experience: “What integrity has Obasanjo in terms of his legacies for Nigeria to speak on elections? Apart from his aborted third term ambition, he brought about and left a legacy of electoral corruption in the country. What is Obasanjo talking about? He should go away and retire in shame politically. He should leave the political landscape of this country alone. He brought a whole salad of corruption, manipulation and failures.”
What a difference two years make! Nothing captures Chief Obasanjo’s legacy better than the preceding paragraph. What will Obasanjo bring to the APC? A mass following needed to defeat the PDP in 2015? While Obasanjo was lambasting President Jonathan in an 18-page open letter and explaining how he (Jonathan) was destroying the PDP, he was busy scheming – at least we learned that much from Iyabo Obasanjo’s letter – how his daughter will run for office on the platform of the APC.
I know in war, as in politics, there are no eternal allies or perpetual enemies, but eternal and perpetual interests, to paraphrase Henry John Temple, (Lord Palmerston), mid-19th century British prime minister. However, I couldn’t help but squirm when I saw the picture of Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), a three-time presidential candidate, beside Chief Obasanjo in the APC train; the same Obasanjo he had alleged violated the sanctity of the electoral process twice and denied him the presidency.
The APC is better served spending time strengthening the party in terms of an ideology and building a mass base rather than consorting with the likes of Chief Obasanjo and Gen. Babangida (retd.) Without this mass base, the party will implode in no time. But it appears that is asking too much of a party focused on short-term political gains.
It is a lot easier to open the floodgate of defection for those who are disaffected within the PDP; and the defectors are coming like flies attracted to feaces. At the current rate, the “original” APC will soon be a minority in the new formation. Ordinarily, there is nothing wrong with people defecting from one party to another. But that is if you are talking of parties with “character” so that, in the case of the APC, the “newcomers” will have to play second fiddle and fall in line with party principles and positions.
I don’t want to sound sanctimonious or puritanical. A political party, we know, contains “the good, the bad and the ugly”. But when you have a party that claims to be progressive recruiting people who are not in the least interested in a genuine discussion about the interest of Nigerians and at the same time acting as if its survival depends on that recruitment then there is reason to be wary.
I know a few leaders of the APC who are not particularly thrilled by the visits to “yesterday’s men” and what appears to be an alliance of desperation between the APC and the “new PDP”. But clearly, they simply can’t resist the only thing that seems to bind them together – the removal from power of President Jonathan.
Is APC a “progressive” party as the name implies, even in the limited sense of the word or just an association of those opposed to, not necessarily the PDP, but President Jonathan? The APC and the “new PDP” may well win in 2015. And after that what next? What will be the dominant tendency in the party? I am offended to think that I’ll sit down, if that opportunity will ever come, with Obasanjo, IBB, Kawu Baraje, Bukola Saraki, Ali Modu Sheriff, Ahmed Sani Yerima, etc., to discuss the welfare of Nigerians. If the prospect of that doesn’t scare APC faithful, then nothing else can!
Is the APC agenda about removing President Jonathan or rescuing Nigeria? If it is the former, then a revolutionary third force or in the minimum a coalition of small but progressive and mass-oriented parties is the only alternative!
The body language of APC leadership is that this is our party, our business, and we can damn well do anything we want with it. If that is the case, then voters have little or no choice as we head into the election of 2015.
**Chido Onumah Coordinator of the African Centre for Media & Information Literacy (AFRICMIL), in Abuja .He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org,Twitter: @conumah .