Monday, April 5, 2021 4:50 pm
By Salihu Moh. Lukman
Given that the term progressive is used loosely in Nigerian politics, it is important that APC leaders and members are able to functionally decide what the party represent beyond just the name. Progressive politics is about dynamism, action and improvement, which is goal-oriented with a clear vision. Political challenges in the country especially in the context of how they are manifesting, makes it important that APC leaders are supported, in every way possible, to transform the party to emerge as a truly progressive party, which should be both representative and responsive to the yearnings of Nigerians. The challenge of adopting a shared understanding of what it will take to build a progressive party require introspection and tolerance. Leaders have to be able to debate, critique and compete freely without being discourteous or criminalising each other. This entails a change of attitude such that leaders don’t interpret criticisms as opposition to their ambition. It also necessitates that leaders are able to use internal debates to strengthen their perspectives and positions on how to resolve problems facing the party. This should be the source of APC’s electoral advantage.
Part of the expectation is that the 13-member Caretaker/Extra-ordinary Convention Working Committee appointed by the emergency National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting of June 25, 2020, led by His Excellency, Mai Mala Buni, will take steps to begin to resolve challenges facing the APC, which was difficult to achieve under the dissolved NWC. With initial tenure of six months, which was extended by another emergency NEC of December 8, 2020 to June 2021, the work of the Caretaker Committee is expected to end with a National Convention where another leadership should emerge to manage affairs of the party for another four years.
All party members and leaders should prioritise ensuring that the Caretaker Committee is able to complete the task of organising a National Convention where new leaders of the party will be elected. The first test therefore is whether the challenges leading to the dissolution of the Comrade Oshiomhole-led NWC are being resolved by the Caretaker Committee. To what extent, are the resolution of challenges facing the party conforming to both democratic principles and progressive ideals?
Conforming to democratic principles require that initiatives being implemented by the Caretaker Committee are based on decisions taken by competent organs as provided in the constitution of the party. Progressive ideals would require painstaking approaches to guarantee wider participation of leaders and members in the process of decision making. Both democratic principles and progressive ideals are not mutually exclusive and could be achieved through guaranteeing that meetings of organs are taking place as provided in the constitution of the party. Absence of meetings of organs partly contributed to most of the disaffections in the party during the tenure of the Comrade Oshiomhole-led NWC.
To what extent has the APC Caretaker Committee distinguished itself from the old characteristics of managing the affairs of the party without meetings of organs as provided in the party’s constitution? This is the fundamental operational question, which, however considered, would have implication in terms of whether APC leaders are taking the necessary steps to rebuild the party based on any considered vision of progressive politics. Somehow, the reality is that in terms of convening meetings of organs of the party, for more than nine months, the Caretaker Committee has not convened any meeting of any organ of the APC apart from the emergency NEC meeting of December 8, 2020. Sadly, even the 13-member Caretaker Committee is hardly meeting.
Part of the indication is that most decisions taken by the Caretaker Committee were done by the Chairman, His Excellency, Mai Mala Buni and the Secretary, Sen. Akpan Udoedehe. The good thing is that the major challenge of ensuring that the party is able to have a verifiable membership register is being resolved. But without organs meeting as provided in the constitution of the party, where progress reports are given, what is the guarantee that the old problem of having inaccessible membership register will not be replicated. Already, given that the party’s membership registration/revalidation exercise was done based on the old analogue method without applying modern virtual technology, what is the guarantee that the process of leadership reformation in the party, from ward congresses up to National Convention, will be done based on the new register? Will all members of the party be able to participate in the process of electing leaders of the party at all levels?
The test of whether the process of candidates’ selection for election will accommodate broader participation of members of the party is the extent to which all members of the party participate in the election of leaders. Once election of leaders of the party is handled by few delegates, it is almost logical that it will be few delegates that will elect standard bearers of the party for elections.
Given all the development in APC, especially against the background that most of the expectations around the Caretaker Committee are yet to be met, it will be important to review challenges facing the party and perhaps appeal to APC leaders to get the Caretaker Committee to urgently conclude the membership registration/verification exercise. The needless extension of the exercise only serves to strengthen suspicions that the Caretaker Committee is reluctant to organise a National Convention where new leadership of the party will be elected. Based on what has been done so far, the minimum requirement should be that records of members of the party are displayed in all wards and copies made available to Local Governments, States and National Secretariat.
With membership records displayed, timetable for Congresses and National Convention should be set. Under no circumstances should there be any contemplation of extending the tenure of the Caretaker Committee. In order to ensure that no extension is being considered, Committees for Congresses and National Convention should be established without any further delay. Similarly, the dates for Congresses and National Convention should be decided.
Once that is done, negotiation and campaigns for the emergence of party leadership at all levels can commence. Negotiation and campaigns for leadership of the party has already started in a low scale. Many caucuses have emerged and some of the issues that will dictate the emergence of new party leaders would include the conventional approaches of zoning and relationship with power blocs in the party. Old affiliations such as membership of the merged parties that form the APC will come up. The negotiation will not be easy and if not carefully managed, especially against the background that the Caretaker Committee has not done much to broaden the process of membership participation in decision making within the party, there is a very high possibility that the party will be weakened in terms of conforming with basic democratic principles and progressive ideals.
Perhaps, what APC leaders need to do to be able to develop some enabling environment for the emergence of leaders of the party, especially at national level, leaders that can put the party on a good footing to begin to resolve challenges, is to identify people with good relationship across all the power blocs. APC must avoid situations where political touts are elected to the party’s leadership. APC should elect leaders that can inspire strong belief in members, and by extension Nigerians, that the party is working to resolve its challenges. Once political touts are the new leaders of the party, it simply means weak capacity to resolve challenges facing the party. Instead, the challenges may become worse.
In particular, the National Chairman and National Secretary should be people with excellent relationship across all the power blocs. These power blocs are known and permutations for 2023 elections are already crystalising around them. Under no circumstance, should anyone who has declared opposition to any of the power blocs be considered as either a National Chairman or National Secretary. Similarly, no one with any form of subsidiary ambition to contest for any elective post be considered for any of the national offices. In addition, the National Secretary should have both political and administrative skills to manage the process of negotiating the re-organisation of the National Secretariat of the party.
Moving forward, the party should be able to have a well organised bureaucracy with established conditions and competent personnel to guide the process of decision making and implementation. With the difficult task of maintaining and managing verifiable membership register, which should form the pillar of membership participation in the election of leaders and candidates, ensuring the effectiveness of the party’s National Secretariat is not a matter that should be handled with carefree disposition.
Related to the issue of electing leaders who have good relationship with all power blocs within the party, as well as developing a competent National Secretariat is the issue of strengthening the provisions of the party’s constitution to ensure there are stronger checks on the leadership especially in the area of convening meetings as provided in the party’s constitution. The fact that leaders of the party don’t convene meetings as required by the constitution of the APC means that there is the need to review relevant provisions of the party’s constitution to make meetings of organs more compelling. There is no reason why the party cannot have a calendar of meetings, which must be respected by all leaders, especially the NWC.
A test of whether APC will be able to commence a new beginning based on respect for democratic principles and in line with progressive ideals depends a lot on combinations of factors leading to the emergence of the next leadership of the party. Every committed APC leader and member should recognise that as much as 2023 election is important, whether APC will be able to enjoy the confidence of Nigerians and therefore win the election is really about how broadly democratic the party is and the extent to which the vision of the party aggregates the expectations of Nigerians.
Part of the limitation of politics in Nigeria is that everything revolves around who will emerge as candidate for election, especially the Presidential candidate. The conventional approach is that for anyone to emerge as candidate, such a person must control structures of the party. The extent to which APC is able to manage the process of electing leaders of the party will determine whether the party is working to change Nigerian politics or not. Once the leaders of the party are product of supremacy battle, conferring victory on any of the power blocs, it will simply mean that priority of the new leadership is to confirm one of the leaders as the Presidential candidate of the party for 2023 election. Once that happens, the business of winning election will hardly be about winning the support of Nigerians.
Being a progressive party, APC must take every step to win the support of Nigerians. This is also not going to be an easy task at all. APC leaders must be reminded that the existential challenges facing the nation require sober reflections. These are not the kind of challenges that will just blow away. Any business-as-usual approach will demoralise the confidence of Nigerians and will weaken the support base of the party. From security challenge, to problems of unemployment, poverty and inequality, the challenge is basically about negotiating new frameworks of managing the country.
With all the initiatives of the APC Federal Government to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty, it is important that Nigerians are able to recognise and endorse the plans being implemented by the President Buhari’s government. Beyond endorsement, Nigerians should be able to accept the details of the APC’s anti-poverty agenda. The Presidential Economic Advisory Council (PEAC) led by Prof. Doyin Salami have provided the necessary orientation for the Federal Government to achieve the plan based on the principles that ‘Poverty is not only the lack of cash. It is defined by lack of access to shelter, health, education and jobs which must all be addressed.’ How lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty create jobs and reduce the problems of unemployment in the country should be unambiguously expounded.
Combined issues of citizens’ participation in implementing government initiatives and development of political institutions in the country will be determined by capacity of elected representatives to consider initiatives to strengthen the nation’s federalism. Considering initiatives to strengthen federalism are necessary requirement to ensure that Nigeria’s democracy is both representative and responsive to the needs of Nigerians. Recommendations of the APC Committee on True Federalism contain some important proposals in this respect. APC leaders need to take all the necessary steps to strengthen Nigerian democracy by facilitating national engagement based on the recommendations of the APC Committee on True Federalism.
Part of what is holding the country back is the inability of political leaders to allow negotiation to take place. As a result, APC leaders are indifferent to all the recommendations contained in the report of the APC Committee on True Federalism. There is the need to appeal to APC leaders to move the country forward to a position of active negotiation based on the recommendations in the report of APC Committee on True Federalism.
Other factors also blocking political negotiation in the country include combinations of undemocratic mindset of citizens and political bullying. These are also contributory factors to why democratic engagement in the country is weak. Actions by organised groups such as protests and strikes against debates in the National Assembly on proposals for reform in the country are adversative to democratic culture. Why should any organisation with claimed commitment to democratic values seek to arm-twist elected representatives? On the other hand, politicians and many Nigerians also use measures of blackmail and arm-twisting to subdue perceived opponents. Political leaders, both elected and appointed, impose their positions on citizens. Where possible, citizens also bully political leaders. Bullying has reduced the nation’s democracy to a pretentious vocation, which is not more than that of imposing preferences of leaders.
The test of whether APC will be able to provide the needed political leadership to discourage the use of bullying to win the support of Nigerians depend a lot on the tolerance levels of leaders of the party in terms of winning the support of party members. Once leaders of the party also apply blackmail, arm-twisting or bullying to force their choices on the party, it will only be logical that the same approaches will dictate conducts of elected and appointed representatives produced by the party.
Another test, which will determine electoral viability of the APC considerably include issues of leadership succession. Being a progressive party, APC leaders need to begin to move to a situation whereby leadership succession arrangement at all levels are planned and criteria for leadership recruitment are set. Currently, leadership succession is based on individual decisions of current office occupants and is prone with a lot of challenges. There is the need to appeal to APC leaders to be more broadminded, unobjectionable and accommodating. In 2013/2014 leaders of APC were very much united with all the divergent preferences around leadership choices, both for the party and the country. The unity in the party was informed by the respect leaders have for one another.
Operationalising APC’s brand of progressive politics is a dynamic issue and need to be approached with open mind to be able to contribute in a way that endears the party to Nigerians and gives confidence to every member to promote the party as the embodiment of the political future of the country. This is a big challenge, which unfortunately many party members try to reduce to cheap propaganda of simple expression of support for positions of party leaders and government. Often times, to succeed require very honest engagement and being able to convince leaders about the limitations of their actions or inactions.
Being successful also depends a lot on the disposition of party leaders to consider issues and recommendations made by party members and supporters. The framework for engagement between APC leaders, on the one hand, and party members and supporters, on the other hand, will be a determining factor in terms of how wide or narrow will be the support base of the party. Related to how wide or narrow the support base of the party will be, is the question of whether APC will contract relationship with organised groups? Being a progressive party will require that APC is able to develop relationship with organised groups based on which members of the organised groups commit their votes to candidates of the party.
The issue of mobilising young Nigerians, for instance, can be more effectively and efficiently achieved with strong relationship between APC and youth groups in the country. This is also the case with reference to mobilising women to support the party. If the party is to emerge as a truly progressive party, the support of the women and youth is paramount. In this age of information highway, the APC must be both representative and responsive to the aspirations of women and youths with good application of modern virtual infrastructure. This is where there must be a complete change in the APC National Secretariat. A situation where a governing party with claimed progressive credentials is not having an official website and official social media handles is simply unacceptable. All the websites and social media handles bearing APC are controlled by individuals, who may not even be members of the party. The party has no direct access to these websites and social media handles. To say the least, this is very scandalous. Why should the only business of the party’s publicity department be reduced to issue press statements?
Once the party is unable to develop virtual infrastructure and deploy it for effective engagement with Nigerians, it will be weak to engage groups in the country. Besides the issue of virtual infrastructure, is the question of whether the APC will handle the mobilisation of Nigerians based on the conventional endorsement of divisive politics? Or will the party and its leadership adopt painstaking strategy of mobilisation through developing the productive capacity of Nigerians? Beyond developing the productive capacity of Nigerians, ensuring access to education, jobs, healthcare delivery, shelter, etc. are fundamental preconditions for effective mobilisation of Nigerians.
What is the APC’s vision for Nigerians? The APC manifesto outlined in clear terms its commitments on a number of challenges facing the country. Part of what APC leaders need to do is to be able to develop the framework for engaging organised groups of Nigerians based on provisions of the APC manifesto. The relationship between APC and organised groups in the country should expanded to the realm of policy engagement in the country. The big task is whether APC leaders can develop the needed confidence to engage groups and win their support in terms of contracting agreements around policy initiatives of governments controlled by the party.
As a progressive party, APC need to be proactive to be able to facilitate engagement on policy demands in the country. Actually, negotiating policy demands is the NEXT LEVEL politics APC should be creating. With active policy negotiations, the challenge of building the nation’s health and education sectors can be addressed. Issues of strikes by unions can be preempted and brought under control based on corresponding national agreements of mobilising resources, both human and financial to achieve a national vision. If there is any lesson Covid-19 pandemic has brought, is that developing the nation’s health sector must be a priority. Developing the nation’s health sector necessarily also requires good investment in the educational sector so that the required health personnel to manage the nation’s health sector can be produced. As a party envisioned to be a social democratic party implies that education and health will be the priority sector. Is APC going be able to actualise its vision of being a social democratic party?
Progressive politics based on the characteristics of both participatory and responsiveness to citizens’ expectation will always be popular. For it to enjoy the trust of Nigerians require high measure of honesty on the part of political leaders. APC leaders and members must take adequate steps to understand the needs of Nigerians and respond with a positive disposition. Whether APC can pass all these tests and protect its electoral viability depend more on whether the Caretaker Committee of the party can demonstrate capacity to finish its work in June 2021 by organising a National Convention where new leaders of the party will emerge. Failure to organise a National Convention in June 2021 will simply mean that the Caretaker Committee is not interested in protecting the electoral viability of the party. There should be no debate about whether the National Convention of APC should hold in June or not. What is debatable is the issues that will emerge in the National Convention, which should include the election of leaders and amendment to provisions of the constitution to make it more compelling for meetings of organs of the party to hold as required.
Whether APC will be able to pass all its litmus tests will depend a lot on whether the Caretaker Committee is committed to finishing its assignment by June 2021. Even if it is able to complete the assignment, processes of internal negotiation to produce leaders of the party, the character and capacity of the new leadership, as well as the scope of membership participation during Congresses and National Convention, will be determining factors of whether the party is conforming to both democratic principles and progressive ideals. Commitment to democratic principles and progressive ideals are strong requirements for both representation and responsiveness. APC must emerge as a dynamic party, action oriented, based on which it is able engender improvements in the lives of Nigerians.
APC is the only party where contestation is taking place and leaders recognise the challenges facing the party. If democracy is about contestation, with all its problems, APC represent the hope for a democratic Nigeria. For that to become reality, APC must pass all its litmus tests. A strong pillar, which is the catalysing element for the party to be able to pass all its litmus tests is the liberal leadership of President Buhari, based on which he doesn’t interfere in the management of the party. The Caretaker Committee must not abuse the President’s confidence by delaying the National Convention of the party. No party in Nigeria has the liberal atmosphere provided in APC.
–Salihu Moh. Lukman Progressive Governors Forum, Abuja. This position does not represent the view of any APC Governor or the Progressive Governors Forum