By Azu Ishiekwene
As members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) gather for the party’s elective convention in Abuja this weekend, the APC can hardly look in the mirror and recognise itself as the vibrant coalition that swept the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from office three years ago. I still remember Lai Mohammed shelling PDP. The party was a band of thieves, a criminal enterprise with an incompetent captain at the helm, determined to drag the country down. Impunity and violence were the PDP’s official languages, while the smell of money and the desire to share it were the only things that kept the PDP’s heart beating.
Mohammed wasn’t too far out. The public was fed up with excuses and the PDP had become not only a danger to itself but also a much greater danger to the country.
Change was inevitable. But is this the change the APC promised?
Change like PDP?
As the APC gathers in Abuja for its first convention in three years, not a few, even inside the party, might agree that parts of Mohammed’s harsh words may well be describing the APC today. The party is in chaos.
APC is not PDP, of course. But it’s looking like PDPlite, a modified version of the excesses that destroyed the former ruling party long before its dream to rule Nigeria for 60 years crashed.
It’s proving easier to get former President Goodluck Jonathan out of power than it is for APC to manage its affairs, never mind governing the country. And in these three years, the biggest obstacle to APC transiting from a campaigning party to a governing party has been the APC itself.
President Muhammadu Buhari abandoned the party immediately after his inauguration on May 29, 2015, barricaded himself inside Aso Rock and left everyone to themselves. Frustration set in and before Buhari could reach the stable as leader of the party, the horses had bolted, and demons filled the vacuum.
The bad habits from the legacy parties which were overlooked or underestimated in the effort to remove Jonathan from office infected the APC, making it, to a large extent, indistinguishable from the original parties.
When the public expressed outrage at the killings and violence during APC’s recent congresses, for example, former Abia governor and former PDP/PPA chieftain, Orji Kalu, reminded us that killings were a routine part of PDP’s operations.
In other words, since both political parties are equal opportunity transgressors, the APC should never really be ashamed of its awful congresses. We have to accept them for what they are.
The more things change
The parallel congresses, the lip-service to internal democracy, the rebellion and chaos in the party hierarchy, not to mention the shambolic state of the party organs, have left the party looking more and more like the PDP.
Of course, that’s not what you would hear at the convention. You would also not hear anything about bribe-sharing among delegates, an embedded form of corruption, which APC’s Senator Shehu Sani said everyone, including his own party, knows about but no one talks about.
With those who had thought Buhari would die during his illness now forced to line up behind his re-election ticket, the convention would be a coronation party.
Speaker after speaker will tell us how lucky we are to have been saved from the hands of the PDP. All those who have opposed Buhari’s re-election will take a serious beating, the heaviest beating coming from those who still whisper that they frankly don’t know what to expect from Buhari’s second term – or worse, if he would finish his course.
The APC would remind us that all our misfortunes in the last three years, including last week’s loss by the Super Eagles to the Croatian national team, were caused by the last administration, which not only stole everything from the treasury, but also ensured we didn’t have enough competent players left to send to Russia.
They will not reflect on the legislative-executive infighting that has drained governance of energy, clarity and focus, even though both branches of government are controlled by the ruling party.
They will not talk about how and why the country is still plagued by insecurity and the deadly attacks by herdsmen and bandits when the party pledged security as priority.
They will not talk about the deepening poverty, the rising wave of migration or the resurgent nepotism, religious and ethnic politics, that have left the country more divided than at any time in its recent history. Or why, for example, it is that virtually all those who contested against Buhari for the party’s ticket in December 2014, particularly Rabiu Kwankwaso and Atiku Abubakar, have been hung out to dry. Even the incorrigible Rochas Okorocha, has become something of an eternally disgruntled politician, while Sam Nda-Isaiah has the unenviable position of watching in anguished silence transgressions he won’t have spared under Jonathan.
But that is at least better than the mass of internally displaced politicians (IDPs) under the flag of the nPDP. With one foot out of the door already, it would be interesting to see if the APC might need the help of the United Nations’ refugee department to manage the IDPs.
If they decide to leave because they’ve been left out of the spoils these past three years, they may potentially face another four years of “spoil-less” living, something our politicians are not used to.
The nPDP will hardly be any serious concern for the convention. The threat of defection would be brushed aside and the APC will remind us of the gains in the fight against insurgency; the N1.5 trillion highest earmark ever for capital projects; the efforts to create more jobs (in spite of the unemployment figure rising by an average of nearly two million yearly in the last three years); efforts to recover stolen funds; and the leakages that have been blocked.
They will warn us that if we let our guard down for a moment, the PDP thieves, in company with hordes of internally displaced politicians, will return with a more destructive appetite than anything we have ever seen.
Creating a truly democratic culture
That may be true, but the real threat lies within. As it was with the PDP, the APC is its own worst enemy. The brazen manipulation and concoction of results and the bloody trail from the congresses, have fomented over 20 court cases across the country with a few more post-convention court cases that could potentially undermine the outcome of this weekend’s event and pave the way for more chaos and defections.
Our politicians have become quite good at wresting power, but they still have miles to go in creating a truly democratic culture; a culture that encourages accountability and transparency, and which also derives its legitimacy from its members.
Parties should be interest groups that create a real sense of purpose, shared values and community, not private assets in the hands of tin gods who treat the rank-and-file like serfs.
The convention will come and go. It’s the day after that could prove even more interesting.
Azu Ishiekwene is the Managing Director/Editor-In-Chief of The Interview and member of the board of the Global Editors Network.