By John Bulus
Call it a surprise, you won’t be wrong. Refer to it as grand strategy, you are close to it. But whichever case, the development has left the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), two of the constituents of the four political parties seeking merger under the name All Progressive Congress (APC) bleeding ferociously on the heels of the discovery of the existence of another party, African Peoples Congress (APC), which shares the same acronym with it.
This development is robbing the coalition parties’ registration of their proposed name. Saturday Vanguard’s JOHN BULUS in this special report documents the furies and solutions given by some Nigerians.
Theirs is an association prompted by “extreme” political desire as alleged in some quarters of the society. They are gurus in the political practices. They earnestly yearn for change and can’t wait to make the change happen. In their various enclaves, they are men and women of influence and affluence.
They are progressives who claim to have the panacea for good governance. But in their deep-seated claims of repository of political knowledge, they seemed overwhelmed and failed to start with the basics. Now, to them, what would never have mattered would now matter. But the last thing on their mind is the belief that their problem is self inflicted. In fact, they know the foe which masterminded their hit and never hesitated to point accusing fingers in that direction. Whatever is the case, a controversy of a gargantuan stance might have just erupted and that begins the story.
The formation of APC
But for recourse to the law stipulating processes of political party registration in Nigeria , the country would have by now witnessed the registration of another party by name All Progressive Congress (APC). Since the name debuted weeks ago, it has so gained acceleration that many Nigerians thought it has already become a registered party. But some developments which have ignited a piece of controversy indicate that the name is yet to be recognized by the national electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. In any case, as things stand now, the name may be subject to change.
APC is supposed to be a new name for the major opposition parties seeking a merger. They comprise Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Congress of Progressive Change (CPC) and a faction of All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA). While some Nigerians think that the idea came shortly after INEC deregistered over 30 hitherto existing political parties on the grounds that they have not won any elective position or having visible offices across the country, many think that the leading opposition parties were persuaded to go into merger on the speculation that incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan is mostly likely to be fielded by his party in the 2015 election. So, to dislodge both the President and the PDP, a formidable alliance of opposition parties needed to be formed.
INEC/Alleged denial of Registration
Little did most Nigerians know that APC existed only in the media than it did in the official spheres until INEC let out the yell on Monday. Just when the association had concluded plans to take the party to INEC for registration, the electoral commission said that it is not aware of such development. Essentially, INEC said that a group, prior to now, had approached the commission with a similar name and acronym, African Peoples Congress (APC) for registration and as such would not recognize the merging parties’ APC to avoid confusion. With this, the possibility of registering the APC was stalled.
According to the spokesperson of INEC, Mr. Kayode Idowu: “We don’t have any application from the All Progressives Congress with us, as the body is yet to approach us for registration. What the law requires is that if a group applies and the law has already provided for things to be met, like a checklist, it is not a matter of INEC picking or preferences. There is a checklist and once a group meets that checklist, any group that meets that checklist is registered with that name. We operate on verifiable records and therefore for the record, the APC of the All Progressives Congress is still alien and unknown to INEC as an election management.
“We don’t encourage political parties with similar names, manifestos, logos and acronyms and this is aimed at avoiding confusion between registered political parties with similar names and acronyms”.
Idowu also cited an instance: “When Chekwas Okorie wanted to register a new political party with the name United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA), we objected to it because this was similar to the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and UPGA had to be rejected until he and his colleagues came up with the name United Progressive Party (UPP) and it was registered.”
The refusal by INEC to register the coalition, APC, in no small degree angered the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) which is one of the constituents of the coalition parties.
ACN accused INEC of acting the script of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and described the existence African Peoples Congress (APC) as hoax. In a release made available to Saturday Vanguard, the National Publicity Secretary of ACN, Mr. Lai Mohammed said it is all lies.
“The statement credited to Mr. Idowu is therefore reckless and provocative and clearly betrays INEC as truly having merged with the PDP to frustrate the merger of the progressives under the banner of the
All Progressives’ Congress (APC). One wonders who the spokesman is speaking for and what interest he represents. He should therefore be called to order before he sets the country ablaze.
‘’We are therefore using this medium to assure the millions of our supporters within and outside Nigeria that there is no cause for alarm. The merger process is on course. The All Progressives’ Congress, that is, the legitimate people’s APC will berth safely and deliver Nigerians from the oppressive yoke of the PDP.
‘’We also wish to seize this opportunity to thank the thousands of concerned Nigerians who through text messages and emails have overwhelmed us with their advice and words of encouragement in the last two days. Your support has been invaluable to us and we shall not let you down”, he stated in the release.
National Publicity Secretary of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), another constituent in the coalition, Mr. Rotimi Fashakin said “If INEC goes ahead to ignore the concerns of the APC leaders and allows the registration of the phantom party, African Peoples Congress, then it would have confirmed what our leader, General Muhammadu Buhari, had said about the unholy alliance between the commission and the ruling party.”
But the National Publicity Secretary of PDP, Olisa Metuh, denied the allegations, saying that the party would not stoop so low to front a counter to the All Progressives Congress.
He said: “PDP is totally unaware of the status of the APC registration. We are unconcerned and completely unperturbed. In the words of our Board of Trustees chairman ‘we wish them well’.
“PDP cannot be held liable for any negligence and/or incompetence on the part of our grossly inferior opponents”, he said.
Mazi Afam Osigwe, Immediate past Chairman, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Abuja Branch, reacts:
My reaction on the APC thing is that if there has not been formal notification by the parties seeking to launch into APC, if there has been no official communication to INEC about using that name, INEC cannot rely to what is available in the media to know they are going to use that name. If the other people have officially notified INEC amounting to the process of adopting that name, it will be mere appealing to emotion to try to say that INEC is colluding to frustrate them from using that name. It is a different thing if the parties that are seeking to merge in APC had formally notified INEC and said, look we hereby give you notify that parties ABC wish to merge to form an entity known as All Progressive Congress (APC). But if the only claim APC has to the choice of name is their publication on that in the print and electronic media, they cannot blackmail INEC or allege collusion with a group of other persons who may in good or bad faith be seeking to have the same acronym. Now, INEC is a government agency which deals with official communications.
If the other people had gone through the proper channel to notify INEC that they are using this name, I think I will be applying emotion to stop INEC from recognizing their right to use that name.
So, for the fact that merge is a more complicated process than formation of a fresh political party, and to avoid the kind of situation we have, it calls for diligence on the party of merging political parties to quickly notify INEC so that INEC will not accept application to register another party that may have the same acronym.
It is all about diligence and then reference to INEC records to know what kind of communication they have from any of these contending parties so that they will know.
Alhaji Shettima Yerima Social affairs analyst and National President, Arewa Youth Consultative Forum
The truth of the matter is that I will not want to be in a hurry to conclude that INEC is playing to frustrate the effort of the merging parties and at the same, I will not also stand to say that merging parties were not right. But there is nothing wrong in the party re-strategizing again and coming up with another name. That is my feeling about the whole issue. If they say the party has already been established, then they cannot go on. But if they are sure that INEC cannot convince them, then they have the right to continue even if it takes them going to court. INEC has no right to deprive them of registration.
Chief Chekwas OkorieNational Chairman, United Progressive Party (UPP)
My immediate reaction is that the promoters of APC ought not to lay blame on anybody but on themselves. If they knew anything at all about party registration, what they ought to have done at the initial conceptualization of their plan to merge will be to write an application to INEC in the name they want to use or at the time they arrived at that name and upon writing the application, they would simply have to pay one hundred thousand naira administrative fee and then INEC will issue to them Form EF01 and CS02 and open a file for them in that name. In that way, they can now take their time to settle issues about conventions and officers of the new party, logo and all that.
That is the way to go if you are pragmatic and if you are indeed progressive. But they are not. They have proved that they are reactionary and they are people who gathered to give themselves a nickname of progressives because that is what this has shown. The law provides that first come, first serve. They were busy doing what is generally called “Eko for show”, gathering governors for some big public show only to arrive at a name. You gathered governors again for another public show to arrive at a flag and logo. When you were rig- maroling and displaying what was not necessary, another group went ahead to file the name that has the same acronym. So you cannot blame INEC for admitting application. You cannot trace it to PDP even if we suspect them. Mere suspicion is not enough to nail PDP on this one.
This is a clear case of gross incompetence, negligence and lack of progressive action that has made APC to mislead people into believing that there is a party. In fact, ordinary people think that APC is already a party. When some of us said that no merger has taken place, it was as if we were criticizing for nothing. And INEC had earlier announced that APC had not applied. It was published. INEC said there was no application with them in the name of APC yet that did not send them any signal.
Dr. Garba Mohhamed Bajoga, retired Gombe Permanent Secretary and opposition politician
To me if somebody thinks the ruling party will allow you to just go ahead and get it so easy, I think they aren’t got nothing yet. They aren’t seen nothing yet. This is not going to be an easy battle.
They will use all the power, all the foul and fair means to stop that APC from getting on. So, if APC thinks they will get it so easy, they better not go ahead. I am sure there will be a lot more antics to make sure APC doesn’t see the light of the day. So if the people really want to on, they must be prepared for a real ‘war’. There will a lot of gymnastics to make sure APC doesn’t see the light of the day.
You know what is called de facto and de jure. INEC by law is independent but is it in reality? We all know. We are all Nigerians. We know who appoints the Chairman and all the rest. We know the reality. INEC is not really independent and they cannot be independent for now unless they are given elements of independents, may be later in the day but for today INEC is not independent. He who pays the piper dictates the tune.
African Peoples Congress (APC) unveils logo, etc
Meanwhile, the African Peoples Congress (APC) on Thursday unveiled their logo, constitution and emblem in Abuja . The development has now put paid to the insinuation that the party was a ruse. With that as well, the coalition APC has definitely lost its name and acronym. The outcome of this would be to go for another name.
But even as the debate rages, the ACN has warned that should APC be denied registration, the protest in Tahrir Square in Egypt recently would be child’s play in comparison to what they would organize at the Eagle Square, Abuja. Meanwhile, it is left to be seen what the face-off would bring.