Ayo Olukotun: Can APC reform the unreformable?

Apart from Nigeria’s much-savoured and applauded victory at the Africa Cup of Nations competition held in South Africa, easily one of the most important developments of the past week, is the announced merger of four opposition parties into the All Progressive Congress.

The stated intention of the mega party in gestation is to save Nigeria from what it describes as the years of the locusts foisted on the country by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party. Contextually, the evolving merger is coming at a time of fading hopes for peacefully reforming Nigeria and for minimising the ravages of the most outrageous kind of predatory rule and outright theft of public funds on a mega scale. Indeed, as this columnist noted last week, it ought to be jolting and sobering that numerous senior politicians are voicing in frustration that only a shock treatment of a Rawlings-type purge can return common sense to the gang-looting cabal that are making away in a never ending bazaar with our collective wealth.

The question that is raised in the national conversation therefore is: Can the APC, if its components stick together, and if elected to power, arrest or at least roll back the politics of the belly gone viral, thereby freeing resources to jumpstart national development? Before sketching out a tentative answer, it must first be noted that announcing a merger of four parties is not the same as forming a mega party. Parties are not constituted on the pages of newspapers but in the crucible of hard, backroom bargaining, trade-offs, political overtures, and difficult compromises. Our quarrelsome political class, famous for costly ego fights and seminal turf battles, scores low on the kind of statesmanship required to cobble together disparate tendencies.

It remains to be seen, therefore, whether and to what extent the APC will succeed in surmounting the early tests of self-definition and aggregation that surfaced as soon as news of the merger made the rounds. Hence, if the PDP’s so-called national  umbrella no longer shelters from the torrents of internal wrangling and of mounting governance deficits, the APC will have to somehow come up with the mediatory magic that will tide it over the inevitable tremors of centrifugal quakes.  This warning sign takes  nothing away, however, from the entirely healthy and edifying character of the current quest for improved governance and viable two party dominant system in contrast to the prevailing, troubling hegemony of the PDP which had consistently held power at the centre since 1999, with very little to show for its protracted rule.

For the APC to make any headway with its advertised objective of redeeming the nation’s wasted years, however, it must urgently address itself to the question: Unity for what? Its projected opponent, the PDP flaunts a national unity banner of power without purpose, thereby substituting an aggregative genius and binding ethos for the kind of developmental achievements and acumen that transport nations to greatness. In this sense, and if a political party to qualify as one must be united by a shared vision of national destiny, the PDP is not a party but an assemblage of scheming power technocrats craftily straddling the nation’s geopolitical divisions as a spoils sharing enterprise.

The APC has for now the attraction of an opposition coalition in a context of mediocrity some might say woeful performance by the ruling party to which it opposes itself. But it must go beyond that to define and present itself not as a political force eager to possess the coveted national goldmine, but as one imbued with a sense of mission to cleanse the Aegean Stable, reverse our moral drift and shepherd us to rediscover our manifest destiny.

That is another way of expressing the truth that a logo, insignia, even an anthem do not a party make. A reformist party, such as the APC proposes to be, must insert itself somewhere in the ideological matrix not dogmatically but at least indicatively. So far, it has not done that, limiting itself to generalities without hinting at the party’s intellectual and philosophic departures from the status quo. If its vagueness is a clever marketing strategy so that politicians of any and every stripe can come on the bandwagon, the APC may find that it has gained an electoral strategy but lost an inspiring platform and visionary auspices to drive the project of reforming and reordering Nigeria.

In other words, the APC must do more to convince sceptics that it is little more than an opportunistic coalition to give a new life to Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari’s traumatised presidential ambition or his proxies or alternatively provide a national window for the founders and godfathers of the Action Congress of Nigeria.

The APC’s prospects of electoral victory and of reforming Nigeria will be prefigured in the perception of ordinary Nigerians by estimates of their governance record in the states that they currently control. An earlier generation of politicians and technocrats was more conscious of the need for agenda-setting through superior performance in delivering welfare benefits. For example, in the wake of the loss of the 1979 federal election by the Unity Party of Nigeria, one of the party’s strategists and leading theoreticians, Prof. Sam Aluko, admonished that rather than bemoaning its loss of power at the centre, the party should concentrate its energies on raising the standard of governance in the states where it had won elections and make them models of accountability and accelerated development. According to Aluko, the outstanding record of governance in the UPN-controlled states will be the unique electoral selling proposition of the party in the federal election of 1983.    Although Aluko’s scenario building did not materialise as envisaged, it points up that political elite’s insight into edifying governance record as a vehicle of building legacies as well as of winning elections.

To put a contemporary gloss on that point, come 2015, the voters will be interrogating the APC not just on its advertised goal of rescuing Nigeria but on the success or lack of it of its constituent parties in the states where they have had the opportunity to govern. Although the jury is still out in this respect, it is doubtful if outside a few honourable exceptions in states controlled by the opposition coalition, the governance record is as edifying as it could have been.

That apart, the APC to be convincing will have to institute more efficient internal democratic structures than the current cry of imposition of candidates by godfathers in its constituent parties suggests.  Furthermore, the APC will have to deal with the ambivalent perception of Buhari as a disciplinary reformer who can rein in predatory political tendencies careering out of control but blemished by a poor human rights record and religious partisanship.

In sum, it is salutary that Nigerian voters should have an alternative political structure to which they can turn in a season of national despair and travails arising from a violated social contract such as we are currently in especially if the APC can create a  new momentum and reduce the deficits in trust by projecting new faces and clear governance ideas.


Ayo Olukotun (

Read original piece via Punch

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