APC and the road to Aso Rock
As JF Kennedy once declared, victory has a hundred fathers, but defeat is an orphan. These are the kind of words that may be running through the minds of the key masterminds of the stunning triumph recorded by Nigeria’s governing party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2015. Today makes it one full year since the party made history by becoming the first opposition to break the stranglehold of a ruling party in national politics. Up for grabs as the APC threw its hat in the ring was Nigeria’s imperial Presidency, with all its glory, power and majesty. For nearly 16 years since the advent of the latest democratic dispensation in 1999, the larger than life institution called the Presidency, and all its fine trappings had been the exclusive preserve of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). It was therefore the case that when the APC began nursing its ambitions and working to create the platform to launch an audacious bid for power to change hands, the henchmen of the PDP sneered at the audacity of such ambition.
PDP’s hubris, and what came across as unreserved contempt for any notion that it would lose its vice-like grip on power, had been long narrated in the false prophecies that declared that the party would rule Nigeria for another 60 years. For over one decade therefore, the component of democratic accountability, wherein the electorate possesses the wherewithal to displace a non-performing party, was made to look redundant. Nigeria’s democracy began to take on the character of a system, which observes the ritual of periodic elections, without the necessary renewal. Naturally, ruling party politicians propelled by the apathy of citizens, and the deficiencies of the electoral process, continued to perpetuate themselves in an arrogant manner, making mockery of all known principles of democratic accountability.
By mustering the resolve to burst the bubble and bring the old guard crashing to the floor, the APC scripted and executed what could go down as an electoral coup de grace on its opponent. The odds, against which this victory happened and the desperate need of Nigerians for a breather at the time, are the factors that would make the triumph have an enduring effect on Nigeria’s democracy. However, like all victories, which happened in the face of the odds stacked against those who envisioned the possibilities, there is a tendency to focus on the success itself, without interrogating how it came about. How did the APC election machine, which did not have the advantage of the so-called incumbency factor, get its opponent to bite the dust of defeat? What strategies, stratagems, human resource and organizational capacities were harnessed by the APC to effect change in the polity?
In answering these questions, there is no doubt that an understanding of the lessons learnt from the past are fundamental. In 1999 for example, the then Alliance for Democracy (AD) and the All Peoples Party (APP) attempted an alliance, which led to the joint ticket of Chief Olu Falae and Umaru Shinkafi. That ticket ran against the pro-establishment ticket featuring Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the PDP. That opposition alliance did not resonate with the electorate as the PDP ticket won a comfortable victory. It was a hurried alliance, which was consummated on the eve of the elections. No spade work was done to galvanise and cement all the tendencies and worldviews across the two aligning parties. In the end, it was a perfunctory and pedestrian exercise, which failed to give the Nigerian electorate a viable political alternative.
The moral in that defeat appeared not to have been digested by the opposition, which in 2003 again failed to engage in early preparation with the view to creating an enduring platform. Rather than make a bold and audacious bid for power, the opposition suffered a series of damaging reversals as the PDP trampled its way through a discredited electoral process to claim more states. In the South West for instance, the PDP’s blitz in 2003 led to the loss of five states hitherto controlled by the AD. It was therefore fitting that Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the only man who managed to fend of PDP’s 2003 conquest, worked as a major architect for the stunning triumph of 2015. Subsequently, in 2007 and 2011, the opposition began to see the need to coalesce into a common platform, and invest their collective electoral capacities in order to provide Nigerians with the elusive political alternative. Unfortunately, as they negotiated, they could neither manage their egos, nor rein in their interests. This fractious approach to engaging the political space again allowed the PDP to have the field day.
All those tales of failures, and the enduring lessons they provided fired the resolve of opposition leaders in the build up to the 2015 elections. As early as 2012, when the Goodluck Jonathan Presidency began to show signs that it had started burning the populist bridge on which it got elected, the opposition began to sense an opening. Long contact meetings with painstaking negotiations were called to lay the basis for the opposition parties to start the foundation of a solid political force capable of dislodging the PDP. Gradually, the seeds that had been planted and meticulously watered sprouted. By February 2013, the merger of four opposition parties, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), and a faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) had been achieved. At the time, the merger resolution was signed by Tom Ikimi, who represented the ACN, Senator Annie Okonkwo, former governor of Kano State, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, the Chairman of ANPP’s Merger Committee; and Garba Sadi, the Chairman of CPC’s (Congress for Progressive Change) Merger Committee. This milestone still did not silence critics of the emerging political machine, who repeatedly dismissed it as an unserious coalition of the same old faces that had all along been part of the Nigerian problem. The next hurdle to cross was the registration of the party at INEC. A battle of wits ensued over the ownership of the acronym APC. In March 2013, two other associations – African Peoples Congress and All Patriotic Citizens – also applied for INEC registration, adopting APC as an acronym. Many close watchers interpreted this scramble for the APC acronym as a ploy by the now jittery ruling PDP to abort the emergence of a viable opposition ahead of the 2015 general elections. After much struggles, and protests to INEC headquarters, as well as a full blown propaganda war in the press, the APC was registered by INEC on July 31, 2013.
Cheekily, the PDP congratulated the APC for its registration as a political party, but was quick to note that the APC was no threat to its electoral chances. Once it was registered, the APC began to capitalize on the weaknesses within the PDP to decimate the then ruling party. It wooed and corralled disgruntled members of the PDP to join its fold in the knowledge that a weakened opponent would brighten its chances in 2015. On November 25, 2013, five PDP governors announced their decision to join APC. Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers); Aliyu Wamakko (Sokoto), Rabiu Kwakwanso (Kano); Murtala Nyako (Adamawa); and Abdulfatah Ahmed (Kwara) all jumped ship to tilt the equation in favour of the APC. On December 18, 2013, 37 out of the 208 PDP members in the House of Representatives also defected to the APC. This brought the total number of APC members in the House to a total of 174. On January 29, 2014, 11 senators from the People’s Democratic Party also defected to the APC. Among the senators that defected are Bukola Saraki, Mohammed Ndume, Danjuma Goje and Abdullahi Adamu.
As the PDP haemorrhaged from within, the APC launched attacks upon attacks from another flank. The APC information and propaganda machine manned by the unrelenting Lai Mohammed savaged Jonathan’s record on the economy, security, anti-corruption and generally on the direction of the polity. President Jonathan’s communication team could not come up with an effective counter-offensive to stem the onslaught from the opposition. On the whole, the APC made the debate in the build up to the 2015 election a referendum on the Jonathan administration. On its part, the Jonathan information bureau did not react quickly enough. It could have also made the debate a referendum on what APC promised to do in power, and where it would find the resources to fulfil these many promises. By the time Nigerians went to the polls on March 28, 2015, there was really no doubt about who would win the ultimate prize in Nigerian politics. In the end, the APC did all that was needed to win it. Although history did not favour it to clinch the Presidency, the sheer audacity of its ambitions, and the dedication of its leaders to the cause, propelled the party to the pinnacle of politics and governance in Nigeria. When historians in the future decide to document the story of Nigeria, it will be incomplete without a detailed narrative of the role played by the agents of change. However, questions abound about the efficacy of the change that was achieved in 2015. The governing party would have to ensure that going forward, it matches a good number of its many promises with concrete results.