2015: Will mergers really work?

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AS a build-up to the general elections, merger talks among key opposition political parties in Nigeria appear to have reached an advanced stage, going by the recent moves and comments emanating from concerned stakeholders involved in the plan to oust the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.

The PDP, which pride itself as the biggest political party in Africa, had vowed to rule the nation for at least 60 consecutive years before it can hand over to any other political party.

Since 1999, when the current democratic era began, other political parties had made several attempts but failed to dislodge the PDP from power – for its alleged bad governance and absence of democratic dividends – and their last resort is the proposed merger and formation of a formidable alliance.

So far, parties that have shown commitment to the merger plans include the Action Congress of Nigeria of Nigeria, ACN, the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC and the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, while other parties being courted to join the proposed merger train are the Labour Party, LP and All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA.

Already, the parties have constituted committees to ensure hitch-free merger talks, aimed at forming a new and formidable party by aggressively galvanizing their supporters to work together at various levels ahead of the general elections.

But how far can they go? In the past, there had been series of talks among the interested parties – mostly in Lagos and Abuja, most especially, throughout last year but it appears that not much could be achieved for a number of reasons.

Point one: Critiques believe that mergers are merely borne out of selfish interests and not by commonality of ideology, strong philosophical or aspiration in that there is no remarkable distinction between the parties; that is, the biggest threat to the merger is the parties themselves.

Recall the failed attempt in the 2011 presidential election for an alliance between the ACN and the CPC, as well as the botched 2006 merger efforts of the Action Congress and the Alliance for Democracy, to form the ACN.

Historically, it appears that opposition parties in Nigeria do not always have a common idea of what they want to achieve collectively in the sense that the parties seem to have been formed to pursue an agenda that are at variance with that of the others, as they are mostly regional parties that are formed to advance sectional interests.

For example, the APGA, an emerging power in the South East is mostly regarded as an ‘Igbo’ party, which is tailored to providing a platform for the a president of ‘Igbo’ extraction.

Pundits in this school of thought and sympathisers to the sentiment maintain that since the aftermath of the Nigerian Civil War, no Igbo has become president and are hence “marginalized”. It is then natural for the region to reject a merger which does not immediately gratify this desire. This apply to other ethnic groupings in the nation.

Another factor in contention is the element of political suspicion. For instance, it is believed that those involved in the merger plans are mere PDP agents who were sent to ensure that the CPC candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari, fails in his political aspiration.

Buhari is believed to be a major obstacle to the bid of the ruling party to hang on to power should the merger arrangement sail through.

Similarly, the ANPP merger plan is said to have pitched the ANPP party chairman, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu and the Trustee chair, former governor Ali Modu Sherrif, against each other, with the party negotiator, Ibrahim Shekarau placed at the heart of the cold war.

While Onu is said to be in support of the merger, Sherrif, on the other hand is opposed to the plan in addition to the choice of former KanoState governor, Ibrahim Shekarau as the chairman of the ANPP negotiating committee.

The former Borno State governor had attempted to stop Shekarau’s emergence on the ground that he could use the position to re-launch his purported presidential ambition amid the rumoured possibility of a political pay-off for the former governor of Zamfara State, Senator Sani Yerima, being tipped for a PDP appointment, a move perceived to be a ploy to keep the ANPP within the PDP’s area of influence.

On this permutation, the possibility of the ANPP making it to the merger appears rough because the forces against the alliance tend to be growing by the day.

Another major challenge is that of corporate identity in the sense that the three major opposition political parties are having difficulties agreeing on a name, symbol and other identities as they are insisting that any new party resulting from the merger must show their respective dominance.

As the parties are busy with their plans, the Independent National Electoral Commission has said merger propositions must meet the conditions stipulated in the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act before they can be legally registered as a new party.

Also, the new party must have been on INEC’s record, long before the commission issues a notice on the election, although the law did not stipulate how long the party must have been registered before the commission issues the notice.

Section 25 of the Electoral Act, however, provides that INEC should issue a notice of election 90 days before an election, while Sections 222 to 225 of the 1999 Constitution, however, stipulates that political parties cannot approach the commission for re-registration or registration as another party.

It is expected that the proposed name of the emerging party, its symbol or logo should ordinarily not contain any ethnic or religious connotation or give the appearance that the activities of the association are confined only to a part of the geographical area of Nigeria; and the headquarters of the association is situated in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. This provision may not be easily met by the merging parties.

It is important to know that before any merger or alliance can work or make any difference among the opposition parties, they would have to break away from their ethnic, parochial and selfish sentiments, and project an enduring and national vision which every Nigerian can share.

Mr.  ADEWALE KUPOLUYI, wrote from Federal Varsity of Agric., Abeokuta, Ogun State.

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