By CLIFFORD NDUJIHE, DEPUTY POLITICAL EDITOR
FOR the first time since the 1999 presidential elections, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP may be given a good fight at the polls if leaders of the All Progressive Congress, APC did their home work.
Leaders of the APC, an amalgam of four opposition parties – Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN; All Nigerian Peoples Party, ANPP; Congress for Progressive Change, CPC; and a faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, said they have joined forces to rescue Nigeria from the deadly grip of the PDP.
The leaders said they were aware of the formidable challenge the PDP constitutes and would do the needful to surmount the hurdle.
Currently, the ruling party has 22 governors, 71 senators and 211 members of the House of Representatives. If the APC merger sails through and it gets registered as a political party by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, it would have 12 governors, 32 senators and 131 Representatives. The figure would have been higher if other opposition parties like Labour Party, LP; Democratic Peoples Party, DPP; Accord Party, AP; Peoples Party of Nigeria, PPN and the rival faction of APGA were part of the merger.
The LP has a governor, four senators and seven Representatives. DPP has one senator, Accord Party has five Reps; and PPN, one Rep. APGA has two governors, a senator and seven Reps but only one governor and two Reps are currently not part of the merger process.
How it started
Although leaders of ACN, CPC and ANPP have been talking for over a year now, the merger efforts received a big boost on February 5 when 10 of the nation’s 14 opposition governors stormed Lagos and vowed to actualize the merger moves. Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, whose party was not originally in the picture also attended. With representations from the six geo-political zones of the country, the governors vowed to join forces to ‘rescue Nigeria’ from the ‘iron grip’ of the ruling PDP, which has been ruling at the centre since the return of democracy on May 29, 1999.
Since the Lagos meeting, there have been claims and counter-claims between PDP and APC leaders over the viability of the nascent political association. While PDP top shots said there were no losing sleep over the issue, APC leaders said they would thrash PDP at the polls.
A day after the Lagos congregation, the joint merger committees of the parties led by Chief Tom Ikimi announced the formation of the APC, which 12 opposition governors endorsed the following day in Abuja. Governors Peter Obi (APGA) of Anambra State and Segun Mimiko (Labour Party) of Ondo State are the only opposition governors not involved in the merger.
Nigeria’s political history is replete with failed alliances and mergers. In the First Republic, the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA) consisting mainly of the National Council for Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) and the Action Group, AG could not stop the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) because UPGA leaders could not sink their ambitions and differences. In the Second Republic, the Nigerian People’s Party (NPP), Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), People’s Redemption Party (PRP) and the Great Nigerian People’s Party (GNPP) formed the People’s Progressive Alliance (PPA) which also failed to click against the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). In 1999, the Alliance for Democracy (AD), which had swept the South-West in earlier polls aligned with All Peoples Party, APP that dominated elections in the North with the intention of beating PDP at the presidential polls. It gave the PDP a good fight but failed to win the election.
In 2007, about 15 parties came together and formed the Action Congress, AC but the party made little or no impact in the presidential election. A move by ACN and CPC to join forces in the 2011 polls did not yield dividends.
Will merger work this time?
Given past failures, the polity has been awash with debates on whether or not the current move would stand the test of time and achieve results. Proponents of the merger said that they have the political wherewithal and public support to sink the ship of the PDP. They also boasted that they would avoid the pitfalls that derailed similar exercises in the past. For instance, the main drivers of the process such as Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu of ACN and veteran presidential candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari of the CPC, have pledged to sacrifice their ambitions for APC’s collective good. Buhari is known to have always contested the presidential election on the platform of any party he joined since 2003, twice with ANPP and once on CPC banner. Speaking on a Kaduna-based Desmin Independent Television (DITV) last weekend, Buhari said he would willingly offer himself for the next presidential race if the APC members and his supporters gave him the opportunity again, adding that only death would stop him from aspiring.
However, He said APC would follow due process in selecting candidates for elective positions.
His words: “Many people especially from my party are really disturbed. The joyful thing is that I didn’t say I quit politics. I will never quit politics as far as I am live. I only said that I will not present myself to contest but if my party members said they want me to remain in the race. I will.
“Since I am in the new party as a member, if after consultations they included me among their aspirants, I will not reject their offer. This is what I want people to know. I want people to be patient with what we are doing now. They should allow the merger to succeed first. I am sure the new party leaders will know those that are relevant and saleable to Nigerian electorate.”
Hurdles before APC
To realize their objective, APC leaders have to surmount some hurdles. Currently the factional crisis in APGA is affecting the consummation of the merger with the committee battling with the issues of logo, symbol and other paraphernalia. The division in APGA has made it difficult to include APGA’s symbol in APC’s proposed symbols to avoid litigation.
APGA not part of merger – Peter Obi
Governor Peter Obi has distanced his faction of APGA from the merger. Expressing surprise and insisting authentic leaders of APGA were not part of the merger, Obi reportedly said: “As far as APGA faithful are concerned, there is no merger because, ab initio, APGA has not even discussed such a matter not to talk of consummating the process,’ Obi stated.
The governor was speaking for the first time since the announcement of a merger said that he had refrained from making a spontaneous comment as a father and a leader intent on reaching out to the APGA family to know if any consensus was even reached without his knowledge.
“I consulted widely on the matter. I called the party leadership and they said they heard it on the media. I called notable foundation members one after the other. When I got the Nigerian Ambassador to Spain, Bianca Ojukwu who is the wife of our late leader and hero, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu and who from the onset was part of the entire process; she expressed outrage at the development.
I called the only Board of Trustees member of APGA (BOT), Dr. Tim Menakaya, who said he was not aware. I called the Nigerian Ambassador to Burundi, Odi Nwosu, who was the closest person to Dim Odumegwu-Ojukwu who also expressed shock. I called other notable foundation members of APGA and they expressed the same sentiments.
“I also decided to call our recent notable members, namely, Sen. Chris Anyanwu; Former Minister of Information and Communications, Prof. Dora Akunyili; former Ambassador and Minister of Culture and Tourism, Frank Ogbuewu; some other National Assembly members, namely, Hons. Uche Ekwunife, Eddie Mbadiwe, Chris Azubogu, Emeka Nwogbo, Victor Ogene, Cyril Egwuatu. I also called Chief Reagan Ufomba, a former governorship candidate in Abia State; Chief Chuma Nzeribe, a former House of Representatives member as well as Senatorial candidate, among other members and they all said they were not aware of the development that led to the so called merger.”
The INEC hurdle
To be able field candidates for elections, APC has to pass the INEC test by meeting the conditions stipulated in the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act 2010 before they can be registered as a new party. It has to pass through the rigours of being registered as a new party.
Speaking on the issue recently, Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman, Mr. Kayode Idowu, said any party that planned to contest an election must have been on INEC’s record long before the commission issues a notice on the election. “If a political party is to participate in an election, the party has to be on INEC’s register before INEC issues such notice. If a party is not on INEC’s register by the time the commission issues a notice, such political party cannot contest in that same election.”
Section 25 of the Electoral Act says INEC should issue a notice of election 90 days before an election
Idowu said that under Sections 222 to 225 of the 1999 Constitution, political parties cannot approach the commission for re-registration or registration as another party.
“If political parties want to form a merger and they coalesce into an association, they would come to INEC with the identity of that association they have coalesced into not with their individual identities. The constitution stipulates the conditions that associations must meet before they can be registered as political parties. Once they meet the conditions, they are eligible for registration.”
Section 222 of the 1999 Constitution states that, “No association by whatever name called shall function as a party, unless the names and addresses of its national officers are registered with the Independent National Electoral Commission. The membership of the association is open to every citizen of Nigeria irrespective of his place of origin, circumstance of birth, sex, religion or ethnic grouping.
“A copy of its constitution is registered in the principal office of the INEC in such form as may be prescribed by the INEC; any alteration in its registered constitution is also registered in the principal office of the Independent National Electoral Commission within 30 days of the making of such alteration
“The name of the association, its symbol or logo does not contain any ethnic or religious connotation or give the appearance that the activities of the association are confined to a part only of the geographical area of Nigeria; and the headquarters of the association is situated in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.”
However, APC leaders said they would iron out grey areas in the merger talks, approach INEC for registration within two weeks.
However, the APC governors are upbeat and have raised a six-man committee to coordinate the sensitisation of Nigerians on the new merger arrangement. They also formed zonal contact committees after a meeting in Abuja, penultimate week.
The zonal contact committees have six state governors drawn from the six geopolitical zones as coordinators.
The zonal heads of the mobilisation committee include, Governor Ibrahim Geidam of Yobe State (North-east), Nassarawa Governor Tanko Al-Makura (North-central), Governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari (North-west).
Others are the Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha (South-east), Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, (South-south) and Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi (South-west).
The meeting which was hosted by the Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, at the Lagos Lodge in Abuja, had 10 opposition party governors in attendance, including those of Ekiti, Oyo, Borno, Edo, Lagos, Osun, Imo, Ogun and Nasarawa.
Addressing journalists at the end of the over three-hour meeting, the Nasarawa State Governor, Tanko Al-Makura, said the governors had expressed their support for the choice of APC as the name of the merger party.
He said the new party captured the spirit and vision of the opposition coalition’s intention to redress the decay in the country.
According to the communiqué, the party would focus on radical social, economic and political reformation of the country, overseeing agricultural development and providing free education, jobs, affordable health care services, power supply and poverty eradication.
It said: “Given the desire of Nigerians for change, our party will undertake to facilitate radical social, economic and political reformation of the country.
Our programme priorities shall be agricultural development, job creation, free education, affordable health care, infrastructural development, adequate power supply, eradication of poverty and corruption and rapid technological development and industrialisation. “We shall pride ourselves as social democrats that are committed to organise our society based on the values of justice for all and individual freedom where everyone’s basic needs are fulfilled.”
Speaking on the task before the committee, Al-Makura said they would mobilise support for APC across political, social, religious, ethnic and professional interest groups in the country.
The Imo State Governor, Chief Rochas Okorocha, who despite his party’s objection to the merger attended the meeting, said he represented the real APGA in the merger arrangement. “Let me say emphatically that APGA is in the merger talks and we have our little challenges and we are just trying to sort out about who are the APGA-APGA and APGA PDP.” Also speaking against the background of his absence from the previous meeting of the governors, Oshiomhole dispelled fears that he was not fully behind the merger, insisting that he had always advocated the need for a credible opposition.