By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
The unveiling of the APC as the special purpose vehicle with which the country’s major opposition parties hope to contest the political space with the dominant Peoples Democratic Party, will redefine the political landscape.
One forced himself to power with a battery of armoured tanks on his flanks. The other, with sheer guts has mustered political power in the country’s Southwest in a way that has not been seen since the second republic.
So it was not surprising that the coming together of the two would be depicted in military fashion. The All Progressive Congress, APC with General Muhammadu Buhari and Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu at the helm has the same acronym as the Armoured Personnel Carrier, APC the revolutionary military vehicle that was launched in the later days of the First World War to ferry troops into the heat of battle.
Before the advent of the APC, field commanders using armoured tanks to break through enemy lines were handicapped by their inability to hold grounds pierced by the tanks as the infantry troops were still susceptible to small arms fire and anti-personnel mines. And so was born the APC, the special purpose vehicle to convey troops to the heat of battle.
Buhari, Tinubu and their allies in the ranks of the opposition perhaps had the same frame of mind in the formation of the APC, which they expect to use as the special purpose vehicle to wrest power from the dominant Peoples Democratic Party, PDP at the centre in 2015.
The four parties that have come together to form the APC are the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP and the All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA. The quartet is expected to pack as sufficient armour as a military APC to contest political power with the PDP.
The fusion of the four parties which is yet to be formally endorsed by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC is the first phase of the battle of wits that has been going on between the PDP and the opposition ahead of the 2015 election.
All the parties involved in the merger were united by the admission of one fact – that for all their individual efforts, that they could not overcome the PDP except they came together.
Buhari who has led the fight against the PDP since 2003, even where his mass appeal has remained unshaken, however, saw the ANPP to which he belonged lose states from nine to five before he left the party at the beginning of the decade to form the CPC.
Tinubu’s ACN has had mixed fortunes. From five states initially won by its progenitor, that is the Alliance for Democracy, AD it nosedived to having only one state before coming back forcefully to win six states presently.
Even with the six states in its kitty, the ACN was bound to remain a regional party with influence limited to the west where it controls five of the six states in the region. The only other state in its kitty is Edo State whose governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole remains a doubtable ingredient in the Tinubu game plan.
The other party involved, APGA entered the merger on the wings of an internecine warfare between two major factions of the party.
While the faction aligned to Chief Victor Umeh, the embattled national chairman of the party supported the merger, that aligned to Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State was hostile to the arrangement. It was not surprising that the Obi faction was against the merger given whispers that the governor could decamp to the PDP at the end of his term.
The party’s other governor, Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State has proved supportive of the merger and was present at the meeting of ten governors of the parties involved in the merger last Tuesday in Lagos.
A day after the meeting in Lagos, the APC was formally unveiled at a press briefing in the Abuja residence of Chief Tom Ikimi, who had earlier been designated to lead the merger committee of the ACN.
The unveiling of the identity of the new party was itself reflective of the military strategy of surprise.
Few weeks ago, Buhari had told the nation that the new mega party would emerge by the middle of the year. So it was a surprising development when the announcement was made on Wednesday that the new party was taking shape with plans to formalize the merger with the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
Section 84 of the electoral act which stipulates guidelines for the merger of political parties states thus:
“Any two or more registered political parties may merge on approval by the commission following a formal request presented to the commission by the political parties for that purpose.
“(2) Political Parties intending to merge shall each give to the Commission 90 days notice of their intention to do so before a general election.
“(3) The written request for merger shall be sent to the Chairman of the Commission and shall be signed jointly by the national chairman, secretary and treasurer for the time being of the different political parties proposing the merger and shall be accompanied by:-
(a) a special resolution passed by the national convention of each of the political parties proposing to merge, approving the merger;
(b) the proposed full name and acronym, constitution, manifesto, symbol or logo of the party together with the addresses of the national office of the party resulting from the merger; and
(c) evidence of payment of administrative costs of N100,000 or as may be fixed from time to time by an Act of the National Assembly.
“(4) On receipt of the request for merger of political parties, the commission shall consider the request; and if the parties have fulfilled the requirements of the constitution and this Act, approve the proposed merger and communicate its decision to the parties concerned before the expiration of thirty (30) days from the date of the receipt of the formal request.
“PROVIDED that if the commission fails to communicate its decision within 30 days the merger shall be deemed to be effective.
“(5) Where the request for the proposed merger is approved, the commission shall forthwith withdraw and cancel the certificates of registration of all the political parties opting for the merger and substitute therefore, a single certificate of registration in the name of the party resulting from the merger.
“(6) Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (2) of this section no merger of Political Parties received by the commission less than 90 days before any general election in the country shall be considered by the commission.”
In the prepared statement he read to journalists on Wednesday, Ikimi said: “At no time in our life has radical change become more urgent. And to meet the challenge of that change, we the following progressive political parties namely, ACN, ANPP, APGA and CPC have resolved to merge forthwith and become the All Progressives Congress and offer to our beleaguered people a recipe for peace and prosperity.
“We resolve to form a political party committed to the principles of internal democracy, focused on serious issues of concern to our people, determined to bring corruption and insecurity to an end, determined to grow our economy and create jobs in their millions through education, housing, agriculture, industrial growth etc, and stop the increasing mood of despair and hopelessness among our people.
“The resolution of these issues, the restoration of hope, the enthronement of true democratic values for peace, democracy and justice are those concerns which propel us. We believe that by these measures only shall we restore our dignity and position of pre-eminence in the committee of nations. This is our pledge.”
The communiqué was signed by Ikimi, and the chairmen of the merger committees of CPC, Garba Gadi; ANPP Ibrahim Shekarau; and a representative of APGA, Senator Annie Okonkwo.
It could not be confirmed why the parties to the merger brought forward the unveiling of the new party, but one pointer was to the determination of the movers of the APC to go into battle as soon as possible. And the first point of battle for the APC could be in the forthcoming gubernatorial election in Anambra State which is due in about one year.
By bringing forward the unveiling of the new party, stakeholders may have been guided by the need to satisfy the provision of the electoral act which stipulates that parties involved in a merger should do so at least 90 days before an election.
There have been speculations that the APC drivers may be propping Senator Chris Ngige to contest the Anambra gubernatorial election, hoping to benefit from his popularity as a way of launching the APC into the Southeast.
Pinning their hopes on Ngige would inevitably cause a friction with Senator Annie Okonkwo, who is himself widely believed to be also preparing to contest the election.
The choice between Ngige, Okonkwo and the handful of other aspirants in the APC would indeed be a crucial test to certify the essence of the new party.
How the party makes that choice would indeed be a foretaste of whether it would be business as usual or perhaps, the arrival of genuine internal democracy and good governance that the polity desperately desires.
Welcoming the new party, the PDP national chairman, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur said the PDP would not be rattled as he promised that the PDP would continue to hold the ball in the way Barcelona and Argentina football player, Lionel Messi dazzles his opponents.
The PDP spokesman, Chief Olisa Metuh in a statement some would see as patriotic yesterday, echoed Tukur charging the new party to engage the administration and the PDP on ideals and issues of governance.
Metuh’s goodwill nonetheless, his statement yesterday also betrayed the party’s readiness to throw mud. Metuh in the statement said the PDP “is committed to the stability and development of the country, it will not dwell on the shortcomings of the merger arrangement.”
Whatever shortcomings there are, Metuh was not ready to reveal, perhaps waiting to hit at the APC in the heat of battle.