The beginning of a credible opposition

In a bid to wrest power from the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) in Nigeria, four major opposition political parties (ACN, CPC, APGA and ANPP) are currently in the final stage of their merger talks. The political parties plan to merge into one super political party to be called the All Progressives Congress (APC). A cursory look at the four political parties reveals the following:

ACTION CONGRESS OF NIGERIA (ACN): This party controls five states in the South-West and one state in the South-South Geo-political zones of Nigeria. It has also made inroads into the North-Central, South-Eastern and Niger-Delta regions as a strong opposition party. The ACN is well organized and the national leader of the party is the former governor of Lagos state, Ahmed Tinubu.

ALL NIGERIAN PEOPLE’S PARTY (ANPP): This party being the second largest opposition party in the country controls the states of Borno, Yobe and Zamfara in the far north of the country. The national chairman of the ANPP is Mr. Ogbonnaya Onuh from the South-Eastern part of Nigeria. The party‘s fortunes have declined over the years – it lost more than half of the States it dominated. The party’s presidential candidate, former governor of Kano, Alhaji Ibrahim Shekarau, took fourth position in the 2011 presidential election.

CONGRESS FOR PROGRESSIVE CHANGE (CPC): This party which won only Nassarawa state in the 2011 general elections is also part of the merger plan. The party is seen as an underperformer despite all the publicity it enjoys in the media. Nevertheless, its presidential candidate in the 2011 general election, former Head of State, General Muhammad Buhari, who is very popular among northern Muslims, is its selling point. Buhari is planning to contest for president in 2015 under the auspices of the proposed APC and might end up becoming its albatross.

ALL PROGRESSIVES GRAND ALLIANCE (APGA): The party is quite popular in the South-Eastern part of Nigeria and controls two states in that part of the country. A faction of the party led by Rochas Okorocha, the incumbent governor of Imo State, is involved in the current APC merger talks, and this has torned the party apart.

The proposed mega party, if registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission, would have about 12 serving governors, 32 members of the Senate and 131 members in the House of the Representatives. Moreover, the former Zamfara State, Ahmad Yerima publicly declared that around 9 governors from the ruling party have shown interest in joining the APC. Recent information shows that the former governor is not joking when he says this.

Same old song?

Nigeria’s political landscape is fraught with alliances and mergers aimed at toppling the ruling party, but with limited successes. Before the 1964 general elections, two major alliances were formed. The four major opposition parties, namely the National Convention for Nigerian Citizens (NCNC), the United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC), Northern Element Progressive Union (NEPU) and the Action Group(AG) came together to form the United Grand Progressives Alliance (UPGA) to challenge the governing Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) which also went into alliance with other parties. The bottom-line was that at the end of the contest, the United Progressive Grand Alliance failed to unseat the ruling coalition. The same political move was reenacted in 1983 when the opposition parties ganged up against the ruling NPN but failed woefully in their bid. In 2007 and 2011, there were also gang ups against the ruling PDP to no avail. Thus the relevant question now is can the APC make history by becoming the first merger party to unseat a ruling party in Nigeria?

Favourable odds

In theory, the proposed All Progressives Congress (APC) looks set to wrest power from the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), but the odds are in favor of the mega party. The regions where the yet to be registered party controls had the highest number of registered voters in the last elections. According to the Independent National Electoral Commission, Kaduna, Sokoto, Zamfara, Katsina, Kebbi, Jigawa and Kano States have a total number of 18,900,543 voters. This Geo-political zone is General Buhari’s stronghold. Besides the Buhari factor, the South-Western region which ACN controls has about 14,298,356 registered voters. These regions combined have over 55% of the whole votes in Nigeria. If the APC can harness the votes, it will be coasting to victory in 2015.

The infighting within the PDP is a political handout to the emerging party, it is very obvious that some PDP governors and legislators may defect en mass to the APC and this may be the undoing of the ruling party. Furthermore, the political fortune of President Goodluck seem to be on the downward spiral as he is perceived as being soft on corruption and unable to quell the Boko Haram insurgency.

Mega Party, Mega Palaver

In practice, the prospect of a mega party capturing power from the ruling party is seen as a grueling task and fraught with many political landmines. It is likely that the party will be torn apart when the question of who should be the party’s presidential candidate in 2015 to challenge the PDP’s Goodluck Jonathan. As a matter of fact, many northerners are tagging along with the party in order to enthrone their candidate General Muhammadu Buhari; and any thing short of his selection may result in voter apathy or outright rejection of any other person as the party’s candidate. Moreover, Bola Tinubu is as interested in becoming the party’s presidential candidate as Buhari or Rochas.

The presence of General Buhari in any party has a way of eliciting mixed and oft negative reactions from voters. It would be quite interesting to see how Christians in the North would react to the presence of General Buhari in the APC. In fact, there has been no love lost between the General and the Christians in the north because he is perceived to be an Islamic extremist and a tribal chauvinist. The Christians in the North have always voted against Buhari since his days as the ANPP presidential candidate to the CPC. Interestingly, Evangelist Mathew Owojaiye who is the chairman of the powerful Northern Christian Elders Forum has indicated that Christians in the North will not vote for a northern Muslim presidential candidate. Even in the South, Buhari’s presidential ambition will ruin the party’s chances of winning votes.

There is the perception among many Nigerians that the emerging party is comprised of the same old and corrupt politicians who were once power brokers in the PDP; therefore making them no better than the corrupt members of the ruling party. The presence of people like El-rufai, Bernard Bamfa, Ahmed Yerima, et’al lends credence to that political viewpoint. Thus, convincing Nigerians to exchange one set of corrupt politicians for another may not be too easy a task.

Perhaps the greatest challenge that would beset the mega party is to match the ruling party, which is better organized, funded and has the state machinery at its disposal. These, coupled with the fact that the incumbent President still enjoys a great deal of popularity than Buhari, Tinubu and Rochas put together. Nevertheless, the emergence of APC would mean the beginning of formidable opposition in Nigerian politics.

By Mike Odeh James


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