By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
After intrigues, controversies,accusations and counter accusations, the Independent National electoral Commission, INEC, on Wednesday, announced the registration of the All Progressive Congress, APC, as one of the political parties in the country.
Before the nation’s electoral body pronounced APC registered, there had been mounting tension following the claim that the powers- that -be were mounting pressure on the INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, to abort the APC registration. Specifically, the Presidency and the ruling People’s Democratic Party, PDP, were accused of perfecting plans to thwart the registration process.
Consequently, those behind the formation of the APC threatened fire and brimstone should INEC refuse to register the party after fulfilling all the requirements. The APC members, in fact, last weekend, promised to mobilize millions of its supporters to occupy the INEC head office as well as the National Assembly if by Thursday INEC did not register the party.
There was the insinuation that the electoral umpire may advise the merger group to adopt a new name as there were pending litigations at the Federal High Court by the rival African People’s Congress, another political association laying claim of the APC acronym. With the tension the registration APC generated, INEC, last week, beefed up its premises with heavily armed security. Then, on Wednesday, it announced that, after going through the documents submitted by the merging political parties and the inspection of its office, APC has been registered as a political party.
The genesis As the PDP, the acclaimed biggest party in Africa, continued to bestride the political landscape like a colossus, there were fears that the country was heading for a one -party state, hence the need to check the slide before the country is plunged into dictatorship. The leadership of some of the opposition political parties, the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, and a faction of All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA, led by the Imo State Governor Owelle Rochas Okorocha, decided to go into merger by floating what they described as a mega party.
The merger talks came to fruition on Wednesday, February 6, 2013 as the four parties, in the spirit of the alliance, proposed to change their names to APC. Briefing journalists at the residence of the ACN leader, Chief Tom Ikimi, in Abuja, the parties said they resolved to uphold the principles of internal democracy, focused on serious issues of concern to the people and also determined to rid the country of corruption.
According to the text read by Ikimi, the chairman of ACN Merger Committee, “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 Progressive 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 resolution was signed by the representatives of the parties: Ikimi, for CAN, representative of APGA, Senator Annie Okonkwo, former governor of Kano State, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, who was the Chairman, Merger Committee of ANPP and Garba Sadi, Chairman, Merger Committee of CPC.
Ikimi explained that each party involved in the merger selected a merger committee at its highest level which was published at the points of their inauguration, noting that it was the agreement of the leaders of the parties that qualified them to be part of the merger.
He said that the decision taken will be immediately communicated to the appropriate authorities which include INEC so that the new mega party will commence political activities as one entity.
He said that all the parties involved in the merger talks agreed on the name All Progressive Congress through consensus and that the party had involved women in all the committees it set up to ensure gender balance.
Shortly after the announcement of the new mega party, the National Chairman of the PDP, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, while speaking to journalists, said APC was not a threat to his party.
Tukur described the coming together of the opposition parties as a good development and that the move would inspire the ruling party, describing the PDP as the Barcelona’s Lionel Messi in the forthcoming elections.
He said, ‘’It is beautiful. The more the merrier. Let me tell you, there is no polling in the whole Nigeria where you do not have one member of the PDP. The PDP is the only party in the country that fields candidates in every polling booth.”
Prayer for merger
The governor of Niger State, Dr. Babangida Aliyu, a PDP member, said he had prayed that merger of the opposition political parties should come to reality, adding that with a strong party on stream, the politics of the country would be rationalized.
Aliyu advised leaders and those in positions of authority to always be loyal to the country and not individuals while bearing in mind that one day they must leave office and give account of their stewardship.
‘Marriage for divorce without a child’
One of the founding members of the PDP from Cross River State, Dr. Dorncklaimz Enamhe, said that the merger was a marriage that will head for divorce soon without any issue.
He said the merger was an official umbrella of all the parties in the country but will not last as a result of the selfish interests of the individual parties that formed the merger, noting that it was a gun powder that will soon explode.
‘’PDP is battle ready for the merger parties which is a good thing for our democracy. It is now the influence of PDP in all the units and wards will manifest like, in my Atubulum unit and Gakem ward in Bekwarra, all the parties always come together against PDP and we always come out victorious. They are a bunch of strange bed fellows that will soon disintegrate,” he said
There were fears within the ranks of the four parties that formed the APC, that the former Head of State and the CPC presidential candidate in the 2011 elections, General Mohammed Buhari, and the leader of the ACN, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu , may use the party as their personal property.
This belief had fueled the speculation that the merger was not going to work out, but the secretary of the CPC Merger Committee, Chief Okoi Obono-Obla Obono-Obla, while saying the ambitions of General Buhari and Asiwaju Tinubu will not, in any way, affect the new party as the APC was set up to rescue the country from the PDP.
“I can assure you that the two leaders, General Muhammadu Buhari and Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu and all the leaders of the opposition parties agreed that the parties should merge to rescue Nigeria from the pit and no Jupiter will change it”, he said
“Bola Tinubu is a democrat to the core; he was in NADECO; he was a senator; he was governor; he is a democrat; so he cannot impose his will on anybody; likewise General Buhari. He has contested presidential elections, he went to the Supreme Court three times, he has been the most vocal voice for change in Nigeria, so they are not going to impose their wish on anybody.
“You know that Nigeria is on the brink. We are going to change it: railway, petroleum sector, infrastructure, etc. These are the details the merger committees worked out. The comprehensive work plan to ensure that real democracy is entrenched in Nigeria.
“We are also concerned about the independence of the judiciary. This is very important. You can see that the judiciary is not independent, it is dependent and you cannot have a just society without the independence of the judiciary, you cannot have a democratic society without the judiciary; so we worked out ways on what the party will do to strengthen the judiciary and make it truly independent.”
About one month after the merging political parties announced the fusion plan, another political association, African People’s Congress, with the same acronym, APC, applied to INEC to be registered as a political party. On March 14, the rival APC unveiled its logo, constitution, emblem and acronym.
This unveiling of the acronym, constitution and logo by the rival APC led to confusion even within the ranks of the All Progressive Congress. At this point, some critics described the APC as a group of unserious and undiplomatic politicians who only wanted to intimidate the ruling party and the Presidency without following proper channel.
It was as if the merging political parties were oblivious of the Igbo adage that says whoever is eating with the devil must use a long spoon. As it was displaying its intimidating posture and what some described as a ‘road show’, efforts were made to ensure that the registration of the name did not see the light of day as it was evidenced in the application of the rival APC.
Speaking at the unveiling of the logo, constitution and manifesto, the Acting National Chairman of African People’s Congress, Chief Onyinye Ikeagwuonu, lamented what he described as poverty of leadership in the country since 1999, saying that his APC was on rescue mission.
Commenting on the controversy surrounding the acronym, APC, the Legal Adviser, Mr. Kingsley Nnadi, said that it should not be the problem but it should be the name, adding that any other group making claim to the acronym APC had not made any official request to INEC which, he said, his African People’s Congress had made.
He debunked the allegation that the African People’s Congress was hurriedly floated by some members of the PDP to scuttle the registration of All Progressive Congress, stressing that, if the PDP had performed, there would have not been any need to float his APC. “My party has no link with PDP. In fact, our intention is to take over power from the ruling party. If PDP is ruling well, there would have been no need to come up. We are out because PDP has failed to touch the lives of Nigerians”, he said.
“We have just one APC (African People’s Congress). The other one does not exist and INEC is aware of our party. The other APC only did merely negotiation, but we started our party over two years ago with the documents submitted to the INEC; we have met the requirements of the constitution and the Electoral Act.
“I believe that the unveiling of our party today has finally put to rest the contention over APC, which one is authentic or not and we are waiting for INEC’s reply. We have our offices in over 26 states of the federation including our national headquarters and our support is massive.”
Despite the claim by the African People’s Congress to have fulfilled all necessary requirements before INEC, the Commission, on March 25, 2013, rejected its application, saying that the association breached Section 222 (a) of the 1999 Nigeria Constitution as amended.
Confirming the rejection of the application, the then Director of Public Affairs of the commission, Emmanuel Umenger, said, “The Commission has written to this political association and had stated in very clear terms that they are in breach of section 222 (a) of the constitution with the additional explanations stated in the letter.
“The Commission also observed that the submission made on for PA 1 does not contain the addresses of the national officers of the political association as stipulated it means this association has the responsibility to prove, because these are the things the commission has observed and the law says if you do not meat any of these requirements you will not be registered as a political party
“The Commission has gone ahead to explain in its letter I have on my table. The letter we have sent today duly signed by the Secretary to the Commission Abdulahi Kaugama and it is self- explanatory, the letter is dated 21, 2013 which was signed and collected by one Micheal Ogani of APC.”
According to the letter under reference number INEC/DPPM&L/APC/490/V.1/76, dated 21st March, 2013, and addressed to “The Chairman, Proposed African People’s Congress,” and with the title, Re-Application for Registration as a political party, it stated that African People’s Congress breached Section 222 (a) of the Nigerian Constitution. Reacting to the disqualification, Ikeagwuonu accused the merging parties of being behind the rejection of its application.
Even as the dust raised by the surreptitious manner the rival APC applied for registration was yet to settle, another group rushed to apply to INEC with the name All Progressive Congress on March 5th but the application was immediately rejected by the INEC with the reason that another group had applied with the same acronym, and they decided to change to All Peoples Congress of Nigeria, APCN.
The group however re-applied for registration in March 28 with the name All Progressive Congress of Nigeria, APCN, but INEC again advised its promoters to still change the name to avoid conflict in acronym.
Battle taken to the temple of justice
Still in a spirited attempt to reclaim the acronym and ensure that the association is registered as a political party, African People’s Congress dragged INEC to the Federal High Court, Abuja, seeking an order of the court to compel the Commission to register it as a political party.
In the suit number, FHC/ABJ/CS/224/2013, the association prayed for a declaration that the defendant (INEC) lacked the discretion and/or had no power to refuse to register an association as a political party once the conditions stipulated by the said defendant for such registration were met. Other reliefs sought were a declaration that the plaintiffs being the principal members and promoters of the association known as African People’s Congress had met all conditions of eligibility for the registration of African People’s Congress as a political party. An order commanding/directing the defendant to register the association known as and called the African People’s Congress as a political party forthwith; and an order of prohibition prohibiting the registration of any other association known as and called African People’s Congress or having the acronym ‘APC’ as a political party pending the hearing and determination of the suit.
An order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendant from registering any other association or known as and called African People’s Congress or having the acronym ‘APC’ as a party.
INEC claimed that the association did not supply information on the residential addresses of its national officers although the association said the office addresses of its officials were contained in the form it filled and submitted to the Commission.
New party emerges
Despite the pending matter in court, INEC, on Wednesday registered the All Progressive Congress thereby closing all the allegations that the Presidency had mounted pressure on INEC not to register it which, for now, appears to be the only opposition party to the ruling PDP as the 2015 is fast approaching.
Secretary of INEC, Abdulahi Kaugama, in a letter endorsing APC, said, “The Independent National Electoral Commission has approved the application by three political parties-the Action Congress of Nigeria (CAN), the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP), and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) to merge into one to be known as the All Progressives Congress.
“On considering the application, the Commission found that the applicant-parties have met all statutory requirements for the merger and has accordingly granted their request.
“Consequently, the Commission has approved the withdrawal of the individual certificates of the applicant-parties and the issuance of a single certificate to the All Progressives Congress.”
Reacting to the registration of the All Progressive Congress, National President of African People’s Congress, Ikeagwuonu, said the decision by INEC register the other APC did not take away its legal right over the APC acronym. The group also lampooned the Commission saying the registration of APC despite the pending court matter was a deliberate plan by INEC to plunge the country into anarchy.
Briefing journalists at the association’s headquarters in Abuja, Ikeagwuonu said despite what he described as a setback, his group would continue with the preparations to contest the Anambra governorship election slated for November.