By Ochereome Nnanna
THE Nigerian polity is gradually wearing off its military roots. By the time President Goodluck Jonathan successfully carries out his promised constitutional reform, even the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, which has also undergone a lot of subtle changes, would have completed a necessary break with its military past.
If we cast our minds back to 1998/1999 we will remember how serving and retired military officers of Northern origin with their civilian co-travellers hijacked the newly-formed PDP, zoned the presidency to the South West, selected General Olusegun Obasanjo from prison and lavishly supported and funded his campaigns to win the presidency.
Today, all those who played god in 1999 – General Abdulsalami Abubakar, General Ibrahim Babangida, General Olusegun Obasanjo, General Aliyu Gusau, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Lt General Theophilus Danjuma and what have you – have faded into the background of the party’s power axis. Obasanjo’s eight years of military piracy, topped by his odious “do-or-die” elections of 2007 bowed to a 2010/2011 transition generally adjudged way above-board in spite of some warts.
Other political parties that were registered along with the PDP in December 1998 – the Alliance for Democracy, AD, and the All Peoples Party, APP – fared far worse. From its total of 10 states in 1999 the party now known as the All Nigerian Peoples Party, ANPP, has only three – Zamfara, Borno and Yobe. The AD has since dropped out of sight.
It did not win a single seat during the 2011 polls. The same reasons were responsible for the fates of these two political parties. Number one was that, just as it applied to all three parties registered by the military, they lacked clear vision, mission and blueprint for development.
The second factor was that AD and APP failed to live up to their billings as opposition political parties. They chose to participate in the PDP Federal Government and thus choked on the PDP largesse.
However, elements of the two political parties left and formed what today is known as the ACN, an offshoot of the AD and the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, a trickle-down from the ANPP. Meanwhile, from the South East geopolitical zone another political party, the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, made its unassuming entry into the arena in 2003. Today, it has expanded to two states.
The ACN, CPC and APGA were no military creations. They were formed from the people under the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Of this threesome, only the ACN appears able to stand as a possible alternative to the PDP in future. APGA seems ready to make the same mistakes that ANPP and AD did, which led to their virtual extinction.
The APGA does not have any special vision or mission different from the rest. Secondly, it is taking a convenient ride on the back of the PDP, and experience has shown that those who ride the tiger often end up in its belly. APGA is freeloading on the PDP federal booty and feeling on top of the world. These things have a price tag and I hope the party realises that.
The CPC is a different kettle of fish. When I think of the pains this party has brought on the country in its short life span I shudder and am overcome by goose pimples. Irresponsible utterances by its leaders triggered a well-choreographed orgy of killings, looting and burnings in the North, where we lost 10 members of the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, in Bauchi State alone.
I wonder how the party will be able to sell itself in Southern parts of Nigeria and win elections in future after these xenophobic killings. We only know about the CPC leader, Major General Muhammadu Buhari, but we hardly know what the party has in store for Nigerians except blood. This extreme demonstration of political bitterness hardly puts out the CPC as a political platform to look up to.
The ACN has shown that it has learnt its lesson from its dark and gluttonous AD past where it dined with the devil and barely escaped with its life. Its leader, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, saw through the ruse of ethnic solidarity which Obasanjo was dangling.
He pulled out of the party and started on his way to where he is today, as the leader of his former co-AD governors of the South West. This lesson led it to reject the “government of national unity” offer being extended to it by the President Goodluck Jonathan regime.
However, the party has two major assignments before it could climb into its seat fully as a credible alternative to PDP. Number one is that it must also resist the temptation of the old Action Group, AG, politics or tribal and regional fundamentalism, which Chief Obafemi Awolowo employed as a stepping stone to his own emergence as a political leader.
The fact that the ACN is starting off from the South West should not be synonymous with myopic tribalism as a basic political reflex. The party can only grow if it is seen as a national party just like the PDP. The party seemed to be making the right moves when it threw its weight behind Ibrahim Tambuwal for the seat of Speaker, House of Reps, rather than forge an unholy ethnic vanguard with PDP’s Mulikat Adeola-Akande or Muraina Ajibola. The decision was according to party, rather than ethnic interests.
The other task before the party is to clearly define its vision, especially where its programme of true federalism would take Nigeria. It should publish its charter on this and canvass it as the impending constitutional reforms come up. It should be at the forefront of drumming support for a civilian constitution that restores a true federation and crashes the centralised federal structure the military left behind.