SUNDAY NARRATIVE: Another Look At The Party System

Alabi Williams CopyTHE last is not heard yet of the face-off between some leaders of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the new leadership of the National Assembly. The manner of election of principal officers of the NASS on June 9 did not go down well with some leaders of the party. The NASS went on a two-week break to sort out logistics and also use the opportunity to allow the party mend broken hearts and egos, but all through last week, pronouncements were still of malignant effusions. Despite party chairman, Odigie Oyegun’s preference for a ‘ forgive and forget’ attitude to the matter, wounded interests have refused to heal. Yes, for those who are familiar with the history of chicanery in Nigeria’s party politics, such actions are not forgiven easily. And that is worse for a party like the APC, which is largely yet to attain complete maturity in the real sense of a political party.

While Oyegun keeps appealing and promising quick resolution of the matter, others are still kicking. Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, former governor of Kano State, spent the whole of last week whining and threatening those who have stolen the two principal offices in the Senate to return them. He was particularly peeved that the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) took home the prized stool of deputy Senate President, which according to him is unacceptable. He said the PDP for 16 years as ruling party did not yield an inch of that space to any other party. He now sounds as if the PDP that gave him the biggest leap in his political career has become leprous, not to be touched at all.

Kwankwaso’s position is easy to understand. Here was a man who left the PDP in search of some greener pasture, because the climate in his former party did not favour his calculations. The APC appeared to fit into his plan and he jumped into it. Despite entreaties, he was very visible during the keenly contested presidential primary of his party, at which he came second, after then Gen. Muhammadu Buhari. He left no one in doubt that he was in the APC to market himself. To underscore that, he spent resources (despite states’ declining allocations) to persistently announce the number of delegates who voted for him. He picked a costly earpiece location of some dailies to ventilate that point.

And last week, Kwankwaso kept reminding his party of the huge votes he mobilised from Kano State during the presidential election, and the ones he got for himself. The point he keeps stressing is that he was instrumental to the victory of the party. In these days when governors are going to Abuja to beg for financial bailout, Kwankwaso did not tell Nigerians how much his state contributed to federal revenue while he was governor. As far as he is concerned, his state’s population is number one when it comes to voting, not revenue generation. But that is beside the point, after all, democracy is a game of numbers.

Party chairman’s disposition and good intentions to quickly douse tension in the APC will not achieve good result if he does not understand the character of the party. There are big time political investors in the APC whose immediate concern is the cumulative advantage they could muster before 2019. The sore point for those who are kicking now is the aggregate deficit they will suffer if they do not play in the first eleven team of the National Assembly for good four years.

When some party leaders and their media commentators rushed to adduce party supremacy as reason why Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara should not be allowed to progress in their new task, I shuddered and asked, what party supremacy? The issue is not yet about party supremacy, because the APC is yet to attain such height. The party as it is today, is a federation of investors who donated population and material to make the party what it is and you have to sort everybody out in order to give the party some rest of mind. Until they do that, the APC will continue to be volatile. This is not just about the APC, but a malaise that afflicts our parties since 1999.

It is different from what we had in the Second Republic, when each party had one respectable father figure to whom all members surrendered their ambitions. Then, no state governor or party leader would boast how much he or she had contributed to the party, for which he/she should be compensated with certain appointments. In the Second Republic, you could talk about party supremacy. But what we have now are equal joiners and founders. Perhaps, funders too.

The APC even assisted to denude its phantom supremacy when it embarked on a first wave of reckless membership drive without any censorship. Like lawyers say, you cannot place something on nothing. The APC cannot now demand party discipline from members it considered to be ‘supreme’. When it went into PDP states in 2013/2014 to poach members, politicians like Kwankwaso, Saraki, Rotimi Amaechi and others were more or less supreme. The leadership surrendered the party machinery in states where legacy parties already existed, like the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) in Kano, to the new PDP joiners. It gave the new joiners an air of supremacy.

That was the situation when formidable politicians like former education minister, Ibrahim Shekarau had to abandon the new party for Kwankwaso in Kano. In Kwara, the Belgores and others who were originally in the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) had to take shelter in a disheveled PDP, which Saraki and his group had ransacked. The explanation was that it was those PDP governors that had the resources to prosecute the task at hand, which was to drive the PDP out town at all costs. For a fledgling party that pretended to be progressive and whose mantra was change, such crass opportunism certainly has a reward. That disgraceful outing on June 9 is the reward for a previous grave error. APC is reaping disobedience today because it took on board persons whose actions it may not have immediate control over.

How does a peace-loving Oyegun call to order these men who invested heavily to give the party its weaning streak in the 2015 elections, in the expectation that they would get rewarded bountifully? How do you manage such powerful and ‘dangerous’ party members when they begin to extract their reward forcefully or cunningly, so that they do not plunge the house into further mess?

This, I think, is what lovers of APC should ponder over, rather than trading blames and calling persons names. They have labeled former vice president Atiku Abubakar as one of those responsible for the loss suffered by the Bola Tinubu camp in the scramble for positions in the NASS. They also blame former governors Raji Fashola and Kayode Fayemi as being moles in the house. How does that address the peculiar trouble the APC has found itself? Did they expect Atiku to fold his hands and not have a say in the inner workings of the party; do they expect the man not to scheme for something to leverage on when 2019 comes; is he not one of the big investors in the party?

My concern is that the APC is yet to have in place a working corporate governance policy, to address issues of party discipline and appropriate conduct by members, respect for party leadership and relationships across board. Until the party gets to that point, which is going to take a number of years, there will continue to be frictions of this nature.

It is worrisome that President Muhammadu Buhari, who is about the only father figure of the party, does not get too involved in details of party management. The fact that age is also not on his side, like he confessed in South Africa last week, could further compound the trouble for the ruling party. In case Buhari does not run for a second term in 2019, he should begin early to lay a solid structure for the survival of APC. If he continues to remain aloof and allow the various levers of the party to operate at random, he might be laying the foundation for an inevitable dissolution of the mega platform. That is exactly what the party is for now, a platform that took advantage of the internal weaknesses of another platform (PDP) to form government. The journey ahead is more than the one already traversed.

In any case, why would a Buhari not be able to assemble all the camps in his party in one hall and call everybody to order? Why should the new NASS leadership seek help in faraway Abeokuta, where the PDP could not get help until it was nearly destroyed? Going to Minna or Abeokuta is not where solution is. Externalising the challenges of the party this early could only yield further crisis.

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1 Comment
  • Anthony Akinola

    Quite an interesting piece. The current trouble in the National Assembly can be blamed on a shoddy constitution. I would have wished we copied the American model whereby the Vice President is also the Senate President. He or she does not participate in the deliberations but only casts the deciding vote whenever there is a tie. The senators are members of constituencies that enjoy equal status. The ambition to be more important than your equals was always bound to be conflictual.