Buhari’s bi-partisan parley and new direction in Nigeria’s shaky democracy

President Muhammadu Buhari welcoming Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Caretaker Committee Chairman, Senator Ahmed Maikarfi, All Progressives Congress (APC) National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Chief of Staff to the President, Alhaji Abba Kyari, to a joint courtesy and unity visit to the President at the State House, Abuja… yesterday PHOTO: PHILIP OJISUA

The meeting of the Presidency with the leadership of the ruling APC and the main opposition, PDP, may have set a new tone for party politics in Nigeria. If the goal is to douse national tension, there is still a little more to be done as other political parties, suspicious of the parley of “the identical twins,” kick against their exclusion.

The meeting last week, of President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo with leaders of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has opened a new window into the management of Nigeria’s democracy and raised dust about the intention of the conveners especially when other political parties were not invited.

The meeting which has not only confirmed the long-held belief of Nigerians that there is a thin line of difference between chieftains of the two leading political parties who cross the carpet at will depending on which side the grass is greener, it also showed that most, if not all the power brokers in Nigeria, are found only in the two political platforms.

And in the emerging power equation especially in the preparations for the 2019 general elections, the parley has also confirmed that the PDP, which last month got over a 14-month leadership crisis through a judicial pronouncement of the Supreme Court, has become a force to be reckoned with.

Held within the confines of Aso Villa seat of presidential power, the meeting, which was attended by the chairmen of both parties, John Odigie-Oyegun of APC and Senator Ahmed Makarfi of the PDP accompanied by senior members of the parties’ leaderships, was the first of its kind in the country.

Although no agenda known to the public preceded the meeting which also did not end with a communiqué, it was gathered that the fulcrum of the discussions was the current socio-political development that bothers around renewed agitations for restructuring of the federation, the heat in the polity because of activities of separatist groups and how the issues were affecting internal security and threatening the country’s continued existence as a united nation.

While it was learnt that the PDP actually sought an audience with the president “to discuss issues of urgent national importance”, it was not clear weather the position of the party on its claim that the anti-corruption war was targeted at its members only, was tabled at the parley.

But sources disclosed to The Guardian that the presidency used the opportunity of the meeting to appeal to the opposition to tread softly in its criticisms of government actions and policies while attempts were also made to convince the gathering on why the steps being taken towards socio-political and economic renewal of the country should be supported.

The meeting that lasted for more than one hour, also, according to the sources, appealed to the attendees, especially members of the PDP, to shun partisanship and look at the bigger picture of national survival in their criticisms of government since “even if the opposition takes over government, they will still need to rule over a united entity.”

For a ruling party that was so ferocious in opposition, some political analysts believe that the APC is already feeling the heat of criticisms and may have began a subtle appeal to the PDP for a breathing space that it never gave when it was seeking political power.

The fact that the meeting was restricted to only the two political parties out of the about forty registered to participate in elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), showed that the meeting was actually meant to address the PDP since the president and his vice are members of the APC which would not need such a meeting before opinions of the presidency were channeled to them.

In the last five weeks, especially after the resolution of the PDP leadership crisis, the party has shown enough clout and demonstrated will to play such opposition politics that could chase a ruling party out of power as it was done in 2015 when the APC chased it out of Abuja.

For instance, the PDP had been very strident in their call for restructuring even though it was silent on why it refused to tackle identified national problems in the 16 years that it ruled the country. To the PDP, the quest for restructuring has become an opportunity to woo the electorate to its side and present the APC as insensitive to the yearnings of majority of Nigerians.

According to the PDP which claimed that its attempts to redefine the country in line with ethnic and regional agitations were thwarted by the APC which did not support the convocation of the 2014 National Conference, the report of which it is planning to consign to the dustbin of history, the ruling party that was singing the song of true federalism during the campaigns, deceived Nigerians.

While an opposition APC, judging from its antecedent in the preparations for the 2015 elections, would have been more vocal than the PDP currently is, it may have realized that unbridled opposition is a threat to national unity especially when a new dimension of hate speeches is being added to incendiary materials in a near-volatile polity.

Despite insinuations that the meeting could be an evidence that the ruling party is getting jittery of the newly-found voice of the opposition, and not wanting to be paid back in its own coin, decided to set a new rule partisan engagement, the parley has shown a new direction in the management of Nigeria’s democracy.

It is a complete departure from the era of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, a PDP president who, rather than engage the opposition, always approached politicking and electioneering from the perspective of a soldier in battle.

In the politics of Obasanjo, a retired General and civil war hero, a Garrison Commander in the person of late Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu, was needed in Ibadan to whip the opposition, even from within the ruling party, to line.

Rather than win during free and fair elections, states and constituencies were “captured” under Obasanjo and those opposed to either his ambition or policies, were severely dealt with. Some governors who became pawns in the deadly power game were impeached and campaigns took the form of military strategies to defeat an opposing army.

The seeming discontinuation of the old “garrison politics” in the current arrangement and the rapprochement between the two political parties could be signs that Nigeria’s democracy is growing under a “more politically-matured” Buhari who like Obasanjo, was a Military Head of State that also displayed some level of “dictatorial tendencies” at the commencement of his administration in 2015.

Expectedly politicians in other political parties who were not part of the meeting have been kicking against it while some of them have actually threatened to drag the president to court over the matter.

The National Chairman, African Democratic Congress (ADC), Mr. Ralph Nwosu, who claimed that neither he nor his party was informed about the meeting said it doesn’t matter if the president and some of his party members were putting arrangement in place to woo the leadership of opposition parties into alignment.

While he described the arrangement as mere effort in futility, Nwosu said, “The major challenge President Buhari has is his dictatorial tendencies. You would recall that he ran for the presidency four times under different political parties before he eventually got in on the APC platform. I could smell what he is trying to achieve but I know it would not work.

“I thought by now President Buhari should be able to understand that multi-party democracy is the best for this country but his dictatorial tendencies would not allow him to do that otherwise I do not see the reason why the leadership of other political parties should not be in the meeting. Whatever explanation he gives to justify his meeting with the PDP alone would not be acceptable. I am not surprised at all that the invitation was extended to the PDP and other parties left out.”

Wondering what are the differences between the ruling APC and the major opposition PDP, the ADC National Chairman said, “the backwardness of Nigeria to day is principally caused by the leadership of APC and PDP. This is a fact Nigerians know, understand and have also made up their minds to resist. Nothing of benefit would come out of the meeting for the country.”

He however said Buhari is beginning to see reason he should come down from “his high tower otherwise the Nigerian populace and international community would be shocked by what the 2019 election would bring. This is a fact because the two major parties in the country today are gradually dying.”

He added that Buhari and the APC are not serious about the meeting otherwise the ought to have informed the Inter-Party Council (IPAC), which is the umbrella body of all political parties in the country.”

Nwosu alleged that with the recent development President is on the part of building another high tower “which I can say will crumble very soon.” Speaking in a similar vein, the leadership of newly registered Advanced Peoples Democratic Alliance (APDA) said it was wrong for the Presidency to limit the invitation to just two parties.

In his reaction, Tosin Adeyanju, the Special Adviser to the National Chairman of the party, Alhaji Mohammed Shittu, said the president has given an impression that there are only two political parties in the country.

He added, “We were surprised that there were just two political parties at the meeting. There are more than 40 political parties in Nigeria, why would the Presidency invite just two political parties to a meeting? We hope that they would find time to correct the error.”

The Labour Party (LP) in its response said there was no difference between the APC and PDP.Speaking through its National Chairman, Alhaji Abdulkadir Salam, the LP said meeting with only two parties was immaterial, as it would have no tangible effect on the country’s political terrain.He said, “We won’t beg them to invite us to the meeting. Anyway, what’s the difference between the APC and the PDP? They are children of the same mother and father.”

While also expressing disappointment over the meeting, former National Secretary of LP, Kayode Ajulo said the development was expected “because some of us had accused Mr. President of running a parochial government since he came into power. I want to believe this is what Mr. President was trying to address by calling for the meeting but there wouldn’t have been any misrepresentation if he had called other parties to such meeting.”

Ajulo added that the president should realise the fact “the PDP and his party are not the only ones that dominated the Nigerian political landscape. He cannot be seeing to be correcting a mistake with another error.”

The National Chairman of the defunct National Transformation Party (NTP), Emmanuel Mok wondered whether the leadership of the PDP would be naïve enough to enter into “an alliance that Buhari was trying to lure them.”To him, the sentiment across the country has gone beyond whatever he hopes to achieve with such meeting that did not carry 38 other parties along.

According to Mok, “President Buhari needed to heed the call for the restructuring of this country instead of arranging meetings with PDP leaders. This is not the type of solution the country requires.”The National Secretary of the (NCP), Mr. Ayodele Akele said the meeting was part of the persistent errors and arrogance of leadership of the country.

He said, “The meeting was a wrong step in a wrong direction and there is no way it can be of any use to the nation’s democracy. It was a diversionary tactic. If you take a critical look at the present Nigeria, the country is much more divided now under Buhari than it has ever been before.”

But the candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in the 2014 governorship election in Ondo State, Dr. Olu Agunloye said the president might have realized he needed a broad based approach to resolve the problems confronting Nigeria and the fact that his party is not coherence enough to proffer the type of solutions that the country requires.

According to him, “The issue is that the more the APC crumbles, the more Nigeria crumbles and if urgent and necessary steps are not taken, it my be very difficult to pull the country out. However the approach was suspicious. For him to have exempted other parties from such a crucial meeting was faulty.”

Meanwhile, it has been reported that IPAC has threatened to drag the President to court for meting only with APC and PDP leadership.The National Publicity Secretary of IPAC, Yakubu Shendam, said the body might consider legal action against President Buhari for meeting with only the leadership of the two major parties, wondering why other parties were exempted.

Shendam, who is the National Chairman of New Generation Party of Nigeria (NGP), wondered why the President failed to invite other political parties, numbering over 40, to the meeting describing the parley as “a desperate attempt to derail democracy.”

According to Shendam, “The secret meeting between the two political parties is a clear indication that APC and PDP are birds of the same feather.“We are consulting to seek redress in court over the unholy alliance of the APC and PDP to share states ahead of the 2019 elections.

“Clearly, the disposition of the national chairmen of the PDP, Ahmed Makarfi and Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, at the Presidential Villa says it all that the internal fighting between Sheriff and Makarfi’s faction was a struggle for who to superintend over the sharing formula.“We find the decision to call a secret meeting between the APC and the PDP undemocratic, unreasonable and suspicious. We, therefore condemn it in its entirety.”

The APC has however described the meeting as a giant leap for Nigeria’s democracy. According to the party’s Deputy National Chairman (North), Senator Lawal Shuaibu, “The meeting couldn’t have come at a better time in the development of democracy in our country. Such interaction helped to deepen our sense of togetherness and understanding; and I think that it helped to open a new era in our search for democratic experience.

“I also see the new leadership of the PDP as showing patriotism by admitting that the President as the leader of the country deserves the respect and well-meaning prayers for him, both of which are critical to party harmony we desperately need in this country. This is clearly as against the impression we deduced from what we see and read about comments made by some of their members in the media.”

The Senator however called on Nigerians to show better understanding with APC as no “party can offer as much as we have in the face of the challenges heaped upon us by the previous government.”

The Presidency has however disagreed with the aggrieved political parties saying the meeting was held at the instance of both the APC and PDP.According to the Senior Special Assistant, Garba Shehu, “The leadership of the APC and PDP asked for an audience with the President separately and the President in its wisdom decided to meet them together. You may want to ask the political parties that are complaining if they wrote to meet with the President.”

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