You needed to feel my joy, last Wednesday, when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced the registration of the All Progressives Congress (APC). For me, it was a dream come true. No, I’m not a member of the APC. In fact, I am not a member of any political party. I am one Nigerian with no party affiliation – and I know there are millions of us in this category. At election times, I evaluate candidates and decide who to support. Sure, I have sympathy for small parties, but I am not one to believe that one party is better than the other. Nigerian politicians are essentially the same. Swap the name of one party for the other and you get the same characters. That is why politicians easily defect from party to party without battling with any ideological contradictions.
Why was I so happy then? The birth of the APC, in my opinion, is another giant step in the democratisation project. Democracy is nothing without genuine competition, and one of the undue advantages the People Democratic Party (PDP) has been enjoying since 1999 is a weak opposition. We need a virile and viable opposition to make this democracy more exciting. The PDP goes into every general election knowing that it would win the majority of seats in the National Assembly and control most states, in addition to the small matter of producing the president. There is a popular view that the PDP has been winning through rigging, but even without rigging, can we sincerely say the opposition has ever been primed to dislodge the party?
Now that the APC has been registered, the real journey is just about to begin. Getting registered is the smallest part of the deal; strategising to take over power is the most difficult aspect. For those who are very enthusiastic that the APC is about to take over power, I would like to temper their expectations a bit: the party is still not big enough. With the fusion of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), the emergent APC is still less than half of PDP. As things stand today, PDP has 23 governors, compared to APC’s 11. In the Senate, PDP has 75, more than twice APC’s 30. In the House of Representatives, there are 204 PDP members, compared to APC’s 135. In fact, the PDP is stronger now than it was in 1999 when it won only 21 states.
The good news, though, is that things can only get better. The first signal from the emergence of the APC is that the PDP now knows the opposition is no longer as fragmented as it used to be. The APC, which enjoys an amazing media advantage, has the whole world at its feet now. It can take the PDP to the cleaners with a superior manifesto. The PDP has the disadvantage of being the party in power, and therefore the party that has to answer all the questions about Nigeria’s underdevelopment. Nigerians need jobs, constant power supply, good transportation system, and a flourishing economy, among other things. The popular notion is that under the PDP since 1999, Nigeria has not journeyed very far into development. But the new party still has to market itself to Nigerians beyond the mantra of “anyone but PDP”.
For the APC, there are still internal issues to settle. The ACN stands for certain things that the ANPP and CPC are not known to stand for. The ACN preaches fiscal federalism and restructuring of Nigeria along the lines of “true federalism”. It is believed, rightly or wrongly, that the North stands to lose more if the so-called true federalism becomes a reality. Do the ANPP and CPC governors, who are now in the APC, believe in ACN’s concept of “true federalism” and “state police”? Is Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (who, in my opinion, is still the best opposition presidential material despite all his shortcomings) comfortable with “fiscal federalism”? These are ideological issues. The APC also have to deftly tackle the divisive issue of internal democracy in picking candidates for elections. They should go a step ahead of the PDP, else it would be a charade. In fact, they shouldn’t assume the PDP is dead and buried yet – they have to really mobilise support and aggressively build up membership.
Then there are questions about manifesto. How does the APC hope to generate the electricity we badly need? Will the APC privatise power or allocate more resources to the sector? Will tariffs go up or down? The downstream sector has stunted, perhaps because of issues surrounding deregulation, most notably the delicate matter of subsidy. Will the APC retain or remove subsidy? If it won’t remove subsidy, how does it hope to encourage investment in the downstream sector and unleash millions of jobs currently in bondage? As an enlightened young man, I won’t vote for any party because of bags of rice. I want ideas to battle against ideas so that I can make up my mind. There are millions of Nigerians like me. We may not be in the majority but we exist, nonetheless.
Meanwhile, I would like to warn the APC to beware of the group I call the Five Flying PDP Governors. They may have promised to defect to the APC ahead of the 2015 elections, but I don’t trust them. Their agenda may be different from APC’s. Of the Five Flying PDP Governors, only one delivered his state (Adamawa) to Jonathan in the 2011 presidential election. Buhari easily won in Sokoto, Kano, Jigawa and Niger States. This means, essentially, that these governors need Buhari more than Buhari needs them. I am not in a position to advise the APC on how to manage its politics (what do I know about politics, anyway?) but I don’t want to gloat and say “I told you so” when these PDP guys show their true colour in 2015. Nevertheless, neutrals like me are eagerly waiting for the real game to commence…