The All Progressives Congress (APC) is now frequently called Nigeria’s main opposition party or group. Which designation raises the question: what exactly does the APC stand for? Or—a different question: In what significant ways does the APC represent an alternative vision for Nigerians?
To the first question, my honest answer is, I don’t know. To the second, I’d say the answer is, it’s hard, if not impossible, to say.
True leaders excel in the way they respond to a major adversity. Great leaders separate themselves from the pack of pretenders when they are tested by crises. The APC advertises itself as the antidote to the ruling Peoples Democratic Party’s lethargy, inertia, and incompetence. We’re told that, come 2015, all we need do is replace the PDP with the APC—and, pronto, our headaches would vanish; we’d usher in an era of superb statecraft and surpassing leadership.
If this were so, what’s stopped the APC in its tracks at this moment of grave danger and opportunity? Why has the party failed to rise to the challenge of defining itself as a serious opposition body—and doing so by proposing tough, credible solutions to Nigeria’s festering malaise?
You’d think, wouldn’t you, that Nigeria’s “main opposition political party” would seize this opportunity to articulate a different set of answers to those of the ruling PDP. You’d think that the APC would go beyond mere politicking, beyond the symbolic gesture of hoisting brooms, and instead offer insights into what we must do to extricate ourselves from a lurching doom.
There’s no question: the situation in Nigeria is tailor-made for just such sober, brainy and effective intervention.
In the past fifteen years, I don’t believe that any other Nigerian tragedy (and there have been numerous) has quite commandeered global attention as Boko Haram’s abduction of schoolgirls from Chibok in Borno State. For more than two weeks, the eyes of the world have been on Nigeria. Those eyes have seen, and deplored, the Nigerian government’s inept response to Boko Haram’s outrageous acts, among them the explosion of bombs in Abuja and the abduction of close to 300 schoolgirls. They have seen that, while Nigerians groaned, their president, Goodluck Jonathan, went waltzing at a political campaign in Kano. And that, when he finally came round to leading on the matter of Boko Haram’s latest acts of impunity, Mr. Jonathan’s first instinct was to set up a committee. The recourse to such committees is a familiar routine for Mr. Jonathan. It suggests that the president wants to buy more snooze time whilst leaving the impression of being vicariously engaged with the crisis.
The world now knows that Nigeria’s “leaders” hardly stir when a plague stalks their land. Neither Mr. Jonathan nor Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno—an APC member—responded to the Chibok abductions in a reassuring manner. Both men, once they started speaking on the issue at all, seemed to share the same speechwriter. They assured that “everything was being done” to rescue the Chibok schoolgirls. Part of that “everything” apparently included a strange theatrical performance by First Lady Patience Jonathan, filled with insinuations that the abductions were designed to hurt her husband’s political prospects, and tearful reminders to her faceless nemeses that, “There is a God oh!”
Nigeria’s Minister of Defense, Aliyu Gusau, has maintained a staunch silence. He has scrupulously avoided Nigerian and foreign reporters, as if they were the very plagues themselves. At a time like this, what more urgent business has seized Mr. Gusau’s attention? Or is he, perhaps, embedded with the troops who are supposedly combing the Sambisa forest, searching for the beleaguered schoolgirls?
Cornered last week by a TV reporter from the American Broadcasting Corporation, Nigeria’s Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala offered a bored, weary face. Then she complained that she was tired of speaking on the Chibok abductions. A Nigerian reporter might have taken his cues then, muttered “Thank you, Ma” or “God bless you, Ma,” and gone on his way. But the ABC reporter persisted. What had the government done to advance the rescue of the girls, he asked the minister? “The government is doing everything,” the minister replied in a testy, impatient tone—as if the reporter were guilty of impertinence. She then made a brief move to duck away from the reporter before apparently remembering that she was a busy minder of Africa’s largest economy. “I’m going to a meeting,” she said, brushing past the still question-filled reporter.
The entire performance left me wondering: what could be more important to Nigerian officials than the safety of citizens, especially the most vulnerable? It all points to a confounded, confused leadership. If the authorities in Abuja and Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, are—as Okonjo-Iweala, Governor Shettima and President Jonathan assert—doing “everything,” then Nigerians are more beat, more hopeless than they realize.
What’s even more disturbing is that none of the opposition parties, least of all the APC, comes across as having any clues about how to proceed. Two of the party’s major figures, Bola Tinubu and Muhammadu Buhari, weighed in on the matter. In an interview with reporters, Mr. Tinubu welcomed President Jonathan’s belated acceptance of international help. Mr. Buhari, a retired general and former military dictator, offered a more substantive response. In a statement, he reprimanded the abductors for exploiting the name of Islam in committing horrific crimes. Then he warned: “Now is not the time to play politics. Now is also not the time to trade blames and amplify our ideological differences. The unity of Nigeria is not negotiable and nothing should divide us as a people.”
Yet, the APC’s initial temptation was to make political capital out of the unfolding crisis. One newspaper headline said it all: “APC Blames Presidency Over Abduction of Chibok Girls.” The paper reported: “The Interim National Secretary of All Progressives Congress (APC), Alhaji Tijanni Musa Tumsa said that the Boko Haram insurgency in the Northeast was a product of Federal Government’s incompetence in the fight against insurgency and other terrorists’ activities for over four years.
“Tumsa made the allegation Friday in Maiduguri at the Government House when a delegation of the party paid a ‘sympathy and solidarity’ visit to the Borno State government and its people over Boko Haram insurgency and recent abduction of 276 students of Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok.
“He said: ‘We are here today to sympathize with the government and people of Borno State over Boko Haram insurgency that has claimed many lives and property in the last three or five years in the Northeast sub-region of this country. This condolence will also enable our party, the APC, [to] establish solidarity with Shettima’s administration and its citizens in the immediate and unconditional rescue of the abduction schoolgirls of Chibok by suspected insurgents on Monday, April 14, 2014.’”
“We have come here today (Friday) to also strengthen your fortitude and resilience in handling terrorists’ activities in Borno. APC is 100 per cent behind the policies and leadership styles of your administration.”
The APC’s Mr. Tumsa knows it’s easier to haul platitudes than to think deeply about a difficult, even tragic, situation. He was content to play politics. But here’s what he and his party have not been able to do: demonstrate that there’s a qualitative difference between them and the PDP crowd.
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