APC: The Game Changer? By Zainab Usman

Zainab Usman

“This is a new dawn for our generation. This is unusual. It is gratifying that they are here to see and share with us,” the middle aged man remarked with tears of joy when he saw the nine state governors trekking through the volatile Monday Market in Boko Haram hotspot, Maiduguri, shaking hands with fish mongers, vegetable sellers and taxi drivers. To this middle aged man, to the yam-seller who exclaimed “unbelievable” and to countless other ordinary Nigerians in that market, interacting with the governors up-close was far beyond what they had come to expect from the detached, conceited and unapproachable persona Nigerian politicians have cultivated over the years.

This daring act by the opposition governors brought to life for many, the ongoing merger of five main opposition parties under the banner of the All Progressive Congress (APC). This merger has recently dominated the agenda of political calculations for the 2015 general elections, and is the favoured discussion point for many pundits. Importantly, many justifiably question the APC’s capability of providing a credible alternative to the norm, the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), focusing especially on the APC’s lack of a coherent ideology.

One of the notable commentaries critiquing the proposed APC is the one by former Central Bank Governor, Professor Charles Soludo titled “Where is the Political Party for (the) Nigerian Economy?” In it, he mirrors the sincere concern of many Nigerians – that the APC is an alliance of convenience by disgruntled politicians lacking any progressive ideology save their inordinate ambition to grab power at the centre, that the “soul of the party” is not really different from the much derided PDP, and that it lacks a sophisticated manifesto. As close to the truth as this description probably is, many do not quite appreciate that the dominance of the PDP behemoth and the emergence of its soon-to-be arch nemesis, the APC, are manifestations of the continuous evolution of our democratic process. The APC cannot be that which we are not.

The much cited APC’s lack of a coherent ideology is an interesting paradox. When many including Professor Soludo refer to ideology, they mean either or all of two things. One, they hark back to the left-wing right-wing parties of the 1960s to the 1980s whose class-based identities were critical elements of their mobilisation strategies. Two, they are also referring to the clear articulation of the vision, strategy and proposed programmes of such parties in an ideologically-driven manifesto. As ideal as these normative expectations of a what a party should be seem, they are neither entirely relevant to our present Nigerian reality, nor are they necessary requirements for the APC or any such movement to be agents of the much desired change in the Nigerian polity.

An ideologically-driven movement is not relevant to Nigerians because globally the ideological parties that pundits long for are no longer tenable in our present unipolar (yet increasingly multipolar) world. When those class-based political parties existed decades ago, the bipolar world had two superpowers representing rival systems of political and economic organisation – the American-led capitalist West and the Soviet-led socialist East. Countries and their constituent political parties, academics and civil society organisations strongly defined themselves on the basis of either of such doctrines. In Nigeria, progressive-pro-masses politics were personified, to varying degrees, by Awolowo’s Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), and Aminu Kano’s Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), while conservative and aristocratic politics were the forte of the Northern Peoples’ Congress (NPC) and later, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). Consequently, such parties articulated their manifestos and strategies for policy execution loosely based on the political orientations they subscribed to.

Presently, the exigencies of the global environment and Nigeria’s present realities have rendered such ideological movements – at least in the way many pundits envision – untenable. First, the global dominance of capitalism as the preferred system of economic organisation, means most of the world’s countries have adopted some variant of capitalism – whether its America’s free market capitalism, China’s state-led capitalism or Nigeria’s crony capitalism. Secondly, any movement that employs the rhetoric of a “proletariat revolution”, promising the usurpation of the “bourgeois hegemony” to appeal to the Nigerian masses – of which people under the age of 30 constitute almost 70% – will find itself left in the cold, dry winds of the Harmattan.

The basic needs of ordinary Nigerians which sadly haven’t changed that much, are to be met with pragmatic promises to be achieved via strategically crafted but importantly, easily accessible methods. Nigerians still need the basics: electricity, jobs, access to quality education and efficient healthcare services; Nigerians want to feel secure in this era of kidnappings, suicide bombs and diabolical killings by “unknown gun men”; marginalised swathes of Nigerians want to feel they matter too in the scheme of things beyond being used and dumped during elections and importantly, many are just fed up with the dysfunction and culture of impunity that pervades the polity, which the PDP symbolises.

Since grandiose ideologies and fancy manifestos will obviously not resonate with ordinary Nigerians, what the APC or any movement needs is the ability to tap into the collective yearnings of Nigerians from all walks of life. The enthusiasm and fervent idealism of young Nigerians from the 1960s to the 1990s fuelled by left wing political ideology has been replaced with brittle cynicism. This frustration stems mostly from our exclusionary and testosterone-driven political system especially at the core of decision-making. The archetypal decision-maker being an “Oga at the top” anywhere between 40 and 80 years, typically arrogant, accessible to cronies and colleagues, yet inaccessible to his constituency, gets away with defying many manmade, marital and divine laws with impunity, and retires to be celebrated in his local church or revered in his neighbourhood mosque rather than to the societal opprobrium he so deserves. It’s no wonder that some young Nigerians find an outlet for this frustration through Twitter and Facebook, others at markets and motor-parks perpetually feel like second-class citizens, while many in rural areas who hardly feel the impact of governance at any level just couldn’t be bothered until elections season. This cynicism pervades all segments of society.

The APC or any such movement ought to become a rallying point for Nigerians to coalesce around, at the barest minimum to set the tone for a more inclusive type of governance where ordinary Nigerians will be regarded as people who matter in the scheme of things. Such a movement could learn a thing or two from Zambia’s Patriotic Front (PF), the platform on which the current president, Michael Sata sailed to victory in 2011, thereby upstaging incumbent Rupiah Banda and his ruling party, the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD)’s 20 year hegemony. Observers such as Cambridge academic Alastair Fraser, attribute the PF’s victory to its ability to mobilise ordinary Zambians across ethnically diverse communities, especially the critical youth demographic, through a grassroots approach to politics. The PF focused not on socialist slogans, but on the unmet needs of individual communities especially employment and infrastructure, employed a fiery anti-Chinese rhetoric and the famous “Don’t Kubeba” (accept bribes from parties but vote for your choice at the polls) slogan.

Barring slight differences in context and dynamics, parallels can clearly be drawn between Zambia and Nigeria. Apparently, the key for any movement that seeks to mobilise ordinary citizens is its ability to reach out to and connect with marginalised segments of society, communicate through the language of their lived realities and basic needs, and importantly, make them feel relevant in deciding their own destinies. The brazen visit by APC governors to Maiduguri a few weeks ago, prompted President Jonathan to visit Maiduguri days later, his first visit since his election in 2011 despite the daily carnage there. This is healthy competition on both sides to score political points with the masses, and this competition is the stuff responsive democracies are made of.

Ultimately, Nigerians need a credible alternative, not just to replace the PDP in power, but an alternative way of doing things, an alternative to the dysfunctional and malevolent “do-or-die” politics that has characterised our polity throughout the past 13 years of democratic rule. In this quest, it matters little whether the APC is an alliance of convenience by “desperate” power mongers, as they have been variously described, all that matters is their ability to provide an inclusive platform and a reliable alternative that Nigerians can choose to either support or ignore. The quality of our politics needs to be lifted from the grubby bottom through healthy competition engendered by a worthy rival to the PDP. Whether the APC is capable of this arduous task, only time and the strategies it adopts will determine.

Zainab Usman blogs here. You can also follow her on twitter: @msszeeusman


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  • Lanre

    Zainab, I do not share in your idealism. Except we are not talking of the Nigeria of Ibrahim Babangida. Soludo is right to the extent that the APC is just out to grab power, the question being is it a viable alternative? I am not convinced. There are too many strange bed fellows. What we need is a political party that will be bold to state the need to restructure Nigeria’s political administration away from the centralized model where there is too much power in Abuja; to the creation of regional power centers in the model of the 1963 Constitution with the addition of two more regions (to make six) i.e the Middle Belt and South-South Regions.

    In addition, revenue will accrue to the regions based on derivation. All these drama we are seeing about mergers, has happened before, when there were more committed people. In 1983,(PPA,PPP alliance from the UPN, GNPP, NPP, Factions of the PRP) in 1993 the grand SDP alliance and more recently the attempt by Atiku to run on the platform of the Action Congress in the 2007 elections. The PDP cannot win elections in a free and fair atmosphere irrespective of the opposition.

    • Mpitikwelu_na_Ugwu_Awusa

      I agree with you apart from the last sentence. I completely agree with the international observers that PDP won fair and square in 2011 election. That said, anybody expecting political progress in Nigeria without some fiscal and political restructuring is day dreaming. The middle beltans, for example will majorly vote for any party they think guarantee its security. The SS and SE will keep their son, most likely. Yoruba votes will be slightly divided based on some tribal sentiments towards Tinubu’s party. You do the math.
      This country needs more of your frank type.

      • David

        Great Mathematics mpitikweulu. You are so deluded you lose your senses.
        So Nigerian citizens will vote for a criminal loving President-Jonathan-that
        grants criminal and immoral pardon to a criminal like Alamieyeseigha? A
        criminal loving President-Jonathan-that grants pardon to a homesexual
        rapist? if you vote for that kind of character, then you are voting on
        the basis of ethnic loyalty. And indecent and morally decrepti characters like you are very
        few in Nigeria. I maintain this position because your posts duly support pardon for a criminal like Alamieyeseigha and you do not see how such indecent and criminal pardon promote the activities of the fraudulent 419 and yahoo yahoo boys . The indecent pardon to the thief Alamieyeseigha is a 419 yahoo yahoo pardon and you sign and support it. So few of you will vote for your chief pardoner-Jonathan-the rest Nigerian citizens will seek for a moral president who will lead us in a modern, civilised , and inclusive way in the 21st century.

        • Mpitikwelu_na_Ugwu_Awusa

          Your abuses say more about you than me. If I am deluded, how come PDP cleared the Abuja council polls last Saturday? May be you are the one that needs reality check after all.
          Just to educate you more. Alamieyeseigha has been punished and disgraced. He was sentenced to two years in prison and he spent it in the prison. His assets worth millions of dollars has been confiscated by the federal government. I therefore don’t see how his pardon encourages crime. I don’t see any criminal that wants to go to jail and lose everything. Please think. It is not that difficult.

          • David

            You mpitikwelu/afam/deri /akpos! and other apologists of President Jonathan are on record to do and to have said the following.
            a. campaign for a phantom republic of SS and SE -which says a lot.
            b. a campaign of SS and SE while campaigning for your sponsor_President Jonathan.
            c. The implication is that your sponsor_President Jonathan sees himself as representing a section of the country and NOT the whole country. And you see him as such.

            d. You also see him as representing a section of Nigeria and not the whole of Nigeria. We Nigerians watch this and record.
            e. You are on record to question the moral rejection of a pardon for a criminal called Alamieyeseigha by Nigerians. President Jonathan went on record to say he has no apologies to us Nigerians, and you support that thru your comments. He told us that the reason we oppose this criminal pardon is because he and the criminal _Alamieyesegha are from bayelsa state. We also note that.

            f. If a criminal like Alamieyeseigha is pardoned then all criminals should be pardoned. And if all criminals are pardoned what does that tell you?
            g. Finally, you may hide, use all kinds of names, but the record is PUBLIC that you have openly campaigned for a break of Nigeria-and we note that. Now if you campaign for a break up of Nigeria-Republic of SS and SE on behalf of President Jonathan your sponsor, you must be kidding not to see a contradiction between that and the corporate entity -Nigeria. And you think Nigerian citizens will forget as we move to 2015? You must be kidding.

            h. You are on record to have used your mouth to abuse and curse fellow Nigerians and Nigerian leaders who are not from the section you defend. You do this on behalf of your sponsor in Aso Rock-President Jonathan . We note that.
            i. You do not need to agree. But when a Governor-Alamieyeseigha – dressed like a woman in order for him to jump bail, it has ONE NAME. He is a criminal. He is still a wanted criminal Internationally. He CANNOT step out of Nigeria. Whoever supports such a criminal is morally decrepit. I take this position because of the evil the pardon has done to us Nigerians at home and abroad. Anywhere you go as Nigerian everyone looks at you as a criminal. And you must be kidding for me to accept that when some Nigerian youths now believe that fraudulent 419 and yahoo yahoo crimes pay as a result of this criminal pardon.

            j. Finally do not delude yourself. For you and your sponsor-President Jonathan iIt is the Republic of SS and SE. And we take note of this as we all move on towards 2015

    • Omo Odua

      The problem is not wining free and fair election, but, what to do with the power after been declaired winner of the election. The main problem was that, the foundation was non existence in the first place. We Nigerian and African in general we disregard History. Just look at how pdp was created ( it was created based on sentiment that the Military must go), at that time the pdp does not know what to do with the political power, thus all what we are in today. The samething with APC. Asked all APC chieftancies what is their programm in regards to Agriculture, water, power generation, education etc when they eventually dislodge pdp, they have nothing to offer more than the pdp. We need to be extremely careful on how we vote in the next general election, if not, we are going repeat the same mistake at that of 1999, the military gone pdp came in, to the extent people are saying Abacha regime is better than all pdp years put together, then you know something is teribly bady. May Almighty save us from this politicians

  • Anonymous Somebody

    Why did you put your picture at the beginning of the post? :s

    • Mpitikwelu_na_Ugwu_Awusa

      you are probably a religious extremist. Probably your wife is locked up somewhere and only you have the key.

  • John Byarowanga

    @msszeeusman. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article. However, I disagree with the view that ideology is relevant to Nigeria’s present circumstances. First, that communism is dead is no proof that capitalism has finally triumphed. Far from heralding the end of history, capitalism has, due to its numerous internal contradictions, left the door open to alternatives. What those alternatives are would not be known if we start with the assumption that they do not exist. Second, why should political contestation in Nigeria be determined by the outcome of the global conflict between capitalism and Marxism? That a classless society is now an impossible dream does not shield Nigeria’s current social order from criticism. Take substantive issues (like corruption, controversial transfer of public assets to private hands, widening inequality) out of the debate in Nigeria, and what are you left with? You are left with ethnic name calling, religious acrimony, and attacks on personalities! You are right so long as you advise the APC to proceed with caution and to refrain from alienating potential supporters. However, you are wrong if you are asking it to do is mimic the PDP.