By Salihu Moh. Lukman
Salihu Lukman examines what the All Progressives Congress can do to ensure that it has a rancour-free selection of its presidential candidate who can benefit from the electoral advantages associated with President Buhari
Internal Contest and Inconvenient Reality
An inconvenient reality, which every APC leader and member, committed and working to protect the electoral viability of the party, should be worried about is that the strongest opponent of the APC is within the APC. The truth is, other parties, especially the PDP, are shadow opposition whose electoral prospects are largely dependent on the outcome of internal contests in the APC, mainly because of the reckless and undisciplined conducts of some APC leaders.
If anything, the lesson from the 2019 elections, which every APC leader and member should be reminded is that APC was defeated in Rivers, Zamfara, Bauchi, Adamawa, Oyo and many other places by aggrieved APC leaders who worked against candidates or leaders of the party as a result of internal disagreements around candidate selections for Governorship of these states. Such internal disagreement almost cost the party the loss of Imo State until the Supreme Court confirmed the victory of the APC. In Ogun, it was a traumatic victory. Kano State Governorship election certainly had its baggage of painful experiences. Lagos State was a shocking narrow victory, no thanks to avoidable challenges. Rambo political contest led to the loss of Edo State in the 2020 Governorship election.
APC leaders should also be reminded that it was internal rancorous contest that made APC to lose the 2014 Ekiti Governorship election. Similar rancorous contest produced marginal victory for the APC in the 2018 Ekiti and Osun elections. The reality is that if the APC had face any of the challenges of the Governorship elections in Rivers, Zamfara, Bauchi, Adamawa, Oyo, Ogun, Kano, Lagos, Edo, Ekiti and Osun during the 2019 presidential election, winning the election would have been impossible. If anything, absence of any problem during the internal contest for the emergence of President Muhammadu Buhari as the presidential candidate of the party in December 2014 was a major source of electoral strength, which made the party to win elections in virtually all the states it won in 2019, as well as won majority seats in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Sustaining Electoral Advantages in 2023
How was the APC able to avoid any of the problems it had in the states it lost during the 2019 Governorship elections at the level of the presidential election both in 2015 and 2019? The explanation is simple, it is because of the personal profile of President Buhari. People can say anything about President Buhari, but no one can deny the fact that his electoral strength is more associated with his personality, than any other factor. He is the only personality in the political history of the country, who polled a minimum of 12 million votes in all the elections he contested even as opposition candidate. And he contested elections under three parties – All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) in 2003 and 2007, Congress for Progressives Change (CPC) in 2011, and APC in 2015 and 2019. This means that no matter the party, his electoral value is constant.
With such reality, it can be concluded therefore, without any dispute, that the electoral advantage of the APC is more on account of the presence of President Buhari in the party. The question, which every APC leader and member need to answer is, will the APC continue to enjoy such electoral advantage when President Buhari is not the Presidential candidate of the party? Is there another leader in the APC with the towering electoral profile of President Buhari? These are not easy questions to answer, although it can also be easily expected that every APC leader and member would want APC to continue to have all the electoral advantages associated with President Buhari. Whether there is another leader with the electoral profile of President Buhari, is yet to be seen, at least not based on any electoral evidence.
Therefore, what is it that can be done to ensure that the APC continue to have all the electoral advantages associated with President Buhari? Is it even possible for APC to continue to have the electoral advantages associated with President Buhari? Noting that APC was able to manage the internal process of electing President Buhari as the candidate of the party for the 2015 presidential election with very formidable aspirants such as former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, former Governors Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso and Rochas Okorocha, and Mr. Sam Nda Isiah of blessed memory. Also recognising that internal contest for the emergence of President Buhari as the candidate of the APC for the 2015 presidential election did not produce the conventional leadership disagreements associated with political contests.
Accordingly, part of the landmark contributions made by APC to Nigerian politics, apart from the successful political merger of opposition parties in 2013 and the defeat of the ruling PDP in 2015, was that all those who contested the primary election with President Buhari accepted the results and declared support for his candidature in 2015 Presidential election. In fact, the support of all leaders of the party, including those who contested the primary with him, contributed significantly to make the victory of 2015 election possible.
Once APC can manage the process of internal contest for the emergence of candidates of the party for 2023 elections such that all those who contested with the winners can accept the outcomes as well as support the candidates, it is possible for the party to continue to enjoy all the electoral advantages associated with President Buhari. How the party is able to manage the process of internal contest is now the challenge. The biggest problem in politics, which compromises both leaders and members and weaken capacity to provide generic support to candidates irrespective of who emerges is the personal ambitions of leaders for elective and appointive positions. Most times, leaders and members relate with challenges based on estimation of potentials to win support to access elective and appointive positions. Hardly do leaders and members take initiatives to resolve challenges without some associated expectations, which could be linked to opportunities to access elective and appointive positions.
Partly on account of this reality, almost every position taken by both leaders and members, no matter how objectively presented, is interpreted based on assessment of corresponding interests to access elective and appointive positions. Somehow, leaders also relate with other leaders and members of the party based on assessment of estimation of support or opposition for access to elective and appointive positions. Due to this particular factor, many party leaders and members are reluctant to volunteer suggestions, especially when the suggestions are not likely to be in harmony with preferences of leaders.
Unity of APC Leaders
Against such a background, it is important to stress that the unity of APC leaders is a fundamental precondition in enabling any capacity for the party to continue to enjoy the electoral advantages associated with President Buhari. The first test of the ability of APC leaders to develop strong unity is when the party organs are able to meet and take decisions. What is very clear is that, from experiences, APC leaders have demonstrated high level of personal discipline to support decisions of party organs, even when such decisions are opposed to personal preferences of APC leaders. This was very well demonstrated in the case of the dissolution of the Comrade Adams Oshiomhole led NWC and the membership registration/revalidation exercise. Although some leaders of the party were opposed to the decision to dissolve the NWC and conduct the membership registration/revalidation exercise, once the NEC met and decided on those two issues, all leaders of the party worked together for the successful implementation of those decisions.
This means very high potential that once appropriate organs of the party are meeting and decisions are being taken in line with the provisions of the party’s constitution, processes of electing standard bearers of the party for the 2023 elections would be acceptable. Party leaders would also accept the result of the election and support the winner. This way the presidential candidate of the party can have a very high probability of being supported by all leaders of the party, including those who may have contested the party primary and lost. Part of the reality of the situations in states, especially where APC lost elections as a result of poor management of internal processes, is that the operation of organs of the party require a lot of improvements to guarantee transparent and fair participation of party members. Often, allegations of manipulations by party leaders, especially around internal processes of candidates’ emergence are the common issues.
A shared expectation therefore among both party leaders and members around the dissolution of the Comrade Oshiomhole led NWC and the appointment of the APC Caretaker Committee led by His Excellency Mai Mala Buni, was that the conclusion of the work of the Caretaker Committee will produce a new beginning, which may come with strong capacity for the APC to resolve the challenge of manipulating party organs during election of candidates.
A factor that may be slowing down the process of ensuring that the Caretaker Committee conclude its work and return all organs of the party back to normal operations is the need for strong unity among APC leaders, and by extension members. Unity among party leaders is required to come with all the support needed by the Caretaker Committee to complete its work of returning all organs to normal operations as provided by the constitution of the party.
Noting that the APC Caretaker Committee was never designed to have a tenure longer than six months, the additional six months extension provided by the December 8, 2020 NEC was necessary because of the challenges of producing a credible membership register, which necessitated the membership registration/revalidation exercise. To what extent are leaders of the party cooperating with the Caretaker Committee to ensure that the registration exercise is successful? A source of problem for membership registration exercises of political parties is always the ambition of leaders. Are APC leaders creating problems by way of blocking so-called perceived opponents from registering as members of the APC?
Once the conventional Nigerian politics is allowed to play out, many APC leaders would attempt to control the membership of the party so that they are able to emerge as candidates for elective offices. How is the Caretaker Committee addressing such challenges? Part of the appeal that must be made to both the Caretaker Committee and all APC leaders is that they need to exercise restraint and ensure that every prospective member of the party is allowed to register. The need to allow every prospective member the opportunity to register is a determining factor in terms of whether APC can continue to enjoy the confidence of Nigerians based on which the party is able to win the votes of Nigerians. The Caretaker Committee and APC leaders must take steps to avoid any situation that could weaken the confidence of Nigerians on the party, which can negatively affect the disposition of Nigerians to vote the party in 2023 elections at all levels.
Blind Trusts and Regulating Conduct of APC Leaders
Perhaps it needs to also be stressed that winning the confidence of Nigerians will be more guaranteed once the Caretaker Committee is able to complete its assignment and return the party to normal operation. Recognising that the Caretaker Committee, especially the Chairman, His Excellency, Mai Mala Buni has already achieved a lot by bringing back sanity into the party, a strong foundation has already been laid for APC to win the confidence of Nigerians. Not only that problems of leadership dispute are minimised, but the party is also becoming more attractive for political leaders of other parties.
This certainly has its problems, which include the need to ensure that appropriate conditions exist to regulate the conduct of political leaders especially elected representatives. Given that APC has become the go-to party in Nigerian politics, the need to regulate the conduct of party leaders is paramount. Inability to develop the capacity to regulate the conducts of party leaders will be injurious to the vision of developing the APC as a truly progressive party. As much as it is a welcome development that the party is winning new members, there must be corresponding effort to regulate the conduct of party leaders, based on which efforts are made to provide new orientation to all party leaders, especially the newcomers.
Beyond the need to regulate the conduct of political leaders, there is also the need to appeal to leaders of the party to rise above the narrow attitude of relating with challenges based on estimation of support or opposition for ambitions of party leaders. Once political leaders are able to estimate support for their ambitions, what follows is blind trust for both officials of the party and decisions they take even when such decisions are wrong and contravenes provisions of the party’s constitution. The dynamic around the contestations under the Comrade Oshiomhole led NWC between 2018 and June 2020 was a classic case of how many party leaders overlooked the obstinacies of some actions of the Comrade Oshiomhole led NWC. Had all leaders of the party been able to insist that Comrade Oshiomhole led NWC convene meetings of organs of the party where the required decision to resolve issues could have been taken, perhaps even Comrade Oshiomhole himself would have still remained as the National Chairman of the party.
Unfortunately, factors of blind trust by many party leaders which produced inconsiderate tolerance for wrong actions became the case. The truth is also that Comrade Oshiomhole and many members of the dissolved NWC became emboldened by the awareness of a divided APC leadership. So long as APC leaders are divided, the potential that elected officials who will emerge in the reconstituted NWC will take advantage of such divisions to manipulate internal processes and in some cases, members of the new NWC may also become part of the problem of the party, in the same way that Comrade Oshiomhole led NWC was, if not worse.
Part of the requirement for APC to be able to retain the electoral advantage of President Buhari is that factors of blind trusts in the party must be eliminate. No matter the estimation of support or opposition of members of the new NWC to the ambitions of leaders, APC leaders must have a very high moral credentials such that when the NWC erred, they are not beyond correction. Or at least they should not be allowed to be emboldened by any division in the rank of leadership of the party to block interventions by statutory organs of the party to resolve problems.
Similarly, members of the party must not relate with ambitions of party leaders based on blind trust. Members should be able to speak out and critically engage party leaders. While there is no guarantee that critical positions of party members will not become the source of disqualification for consideration to appointive and elective positions, it is important that it is recognised that no matter what, it is better to be members of a party in power working to develop Nigeria than to be governed by any party whose mission is adversative to Nigeria’s development.
The other related issue is that when all leaders of the party relate with elected representatives based on demands for appointive positions in whatever form, it also weakens the capacity of party leaders to influence the initiatives of elected representatives. Part of it also is that once leaders prioritise issues of securing appointments as the basis of relationship with elected representatives, rather than acting as sources of support for elected leaders, they become sources of distraction. This is a dynamic, which played out in APC in 2015. Moving towards 2023, this needs to be rectified.
Resolving the Challenge of Bad Public Image
All leaders and members of the APC should also recognise that being members of the party in power come with enormous responsibility. The bad political culture in Nigeria is that membership of political parties is primarily about accessing opportunities for elective and appointive positions. Once members of the party are not part of government with reference to access to elective and appointive positions, many become detached and, in most cases, become part of internal opposition, which often become more vicious than the external opposition from other parties.
Part of why the conduct of party leaders must be regulated has to do with the need to ensure respect for minimum standards of internal political contests. Many political leaders especially people who contested primary elections with successful party candidates expect some level of compensation by way of accessing other positions in government especially appointive positions. Part of the reality also is that access to elective and appointive positions become both a source of advantage to serve and also a source of strength for rebellion. The dynamics of such reality is that every leader in politics is suspicious, which makes it extremely difficult if not impossible to differentiate members and leaders of the party making genuine criticisms so that elected representatives of the party are able to resolve challenges.
Once internal dynamics is such that criticism within the party equates to rebellion, it can only amplify the voices of political opposition located in other parties, especially the PDP. As a result, therefore, it become a case of the voice of internal opposition providing all the legitimacy for the damaging campaigns of external opposition. This is the reality facing APC, which requires some urgent response by both the party and governments it controls, especially at federal level. This is a function more about strengthening capacity for public communication, which should prioritise engaging Nigerians and strategically getting citizens to support and own initiatives of governments. This is not just about propaganda but about creating the needed space for government representatives to listen to Nigerians.
At the level of APC, it is important that leaders of the party are able to also listen to party members. A situation whereby party leaders only relate with members remotely through rallies during electoral campaigns, is inadequate and must be expanded to cover sessions where leaders are able to interact with party members to review challenges facing the party and initiatives being taken to address these challenges. An important precondition for this to happen is the confidence of leaders. The reality is that many leaders could be uncomfortable with having to sit in sessions where they are criticised and sometimes abused. Leaders should be able to develop both the capacity to control public sessions and ensure that they produce outcomes as well as also develop the needed thick skin to deal with criticism positively.
It is only when leaders are able to develop the needed thick skin that they could be able to make better use of public criticisms. Otherwise, it will be a case of dismissing every criticism. Once the attitude of leaders is about dismissing criticisms, an important leadership quality would have been lost, which is being able to recognise that actions of leaders are always contentious and hardly popular. And given Nigerian political reality whereby everybody relates with political leaders based on one form of expectation or the other, no matter what, no leader can meet all the expectations of citizens. Inability to meet expectations strengthens probability of resentment. The requirement therefore of responding to expectations based on assessment of what is needed and capacity of individuals to competently support the execution of tasks to achieve the set outcomes should be the consideration of leaders.
Being a party with a vision of progressive politics, there is the need to appeal to APC leaders to depart from the conventional approaches of determining who merit appointment in government based largely on factors of loyalty, which can be attributed to blind trust. In many cases, this has created a situation whereby many political appointees especially at federal level, instead of being drivers of government initiatives based on which they are competently facilitating public engagements and winning the support of citizens, they have become passengers.
There is no reason why APC and its controlled federal government under President Buhari should be having bad public image given all the infrastructural developments, social investment programmes and agricultural initiatives being implemented. Combinations of internal disagreements within the APC, very weak public engagement by appointees of federal government and also weak membership engagement by the APC leadership are contributing to the sad reality whereby false allegations against APC federal government are made to appear legitimate.
Designated federal government appointees need to produce assessments of comparative scorecards of accomplishments made under six years of APC controlled federal government as compared to sixteen years of PDP administration. Under no circumstances should APC leaders allow a situation whereby the campaigns for 2023 is not based on empirical evidence of work done. For instance, how many kilometers of road was constructed under six years of APC administration as compared to sixteen years of PDP? What was the status of execution of rail development throughout sixteen years of PDP? What is the status of rail development in the country after six years of APC? If the anchor borrower initiatives of the APC controlled federal government has produced rice pyramids in Kebbi and Gombe States, what is the corresponding scorecard of the sixteen years of PDP in the agricultural sector?
Every ministry and agency of government should produce similar scorecard and both the government, and the party must take the appropriate steps to popularise the scorecard as part of the strategy to resolve the current bad public image associated with the APC and its governments. Any Minister or head of agency who is not able to produce a comparative scorecard ahead of the commencement of the 2023 campaigns, or use the scorecard to effectively engage Nigerians, such a person should be blacklisted by the party based on which he or she is disqualified from any consideration for accessing any elective or appointive position.
It is conventional to all democracies that parties in power always have the higher advantage of winning elections. To that extent, APC has all the advantage of winning the 2023 elections. The big challenge is whether APC leaders will take the necessary steps to retain all the towering electoral advantages of President Buhari, which will require first and foremost that the Caretaker Committee is able to complete its tasks of returning party organs to normal operations in line with provisions of the APC Constitution. This should be followed by allowing organs of the party to take decisions, which should be the basis for the unity of all leaders of the party.
There is also the need to depart from the political convention in Nigeria whereby leaders relate with everyone based on estimation of support or opposition of ambitions to access appointive and elective positions. This create the problem of blind trusts, which in turn can lead to a situation whereby appointed officials of governments controlled by the party are more or less passengers. Once appointed official become passengers, the capacity of the party and governments it controls to engage Nigerians and win public support will be weak. This can produce the unacceptable reality whereby both the party and governments it controls face challenges of bad public image.
Taking every step to ensure that conducts of party leaders are regulated to conform to minimum standards is therefore necessary to ensure that all appointive officials of APC controlled government are able to develop comparative scorecards ahead of the 2023 elections. APC must take all the necessary steps to ensure that campaigns for 2023 are based on assessment of empirical evidence of performance and not perception.
*Salihu works for Progressive Governors Forum.
*The article represents his personal view and not of any APC Governor or the PGF.