| Mike Akpan |
LIKE the family of a woman in labor, anxiety pervaded the camp of the All Progressives Congress, APC, throughout the month of July this year. The anxiety was understandable. There was a crisis over the ownership of APC as an acronym as two other political associations namely All Progressive Congress of Nigeria, APCN, and the African Peoples Congress, APC, also laid claim to it. In fact, the African Peoples Congress, went a step further by approaching the court to restrain the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, from registering the All Progressives Congress with the acronym. The ball was then thrown into INEC’s court after the All Progressives Congress insisted that it was not going to adopt any other acronym outside APC and submitted its application for registration as a political party to INEC on June 8, 2013. According to the 2010 Electoral Law as amended, INEC had to take a decision on the application within 30 working days. As the month of July was on its home stretch, anxiety in the camp of the progressives reached fever pitch and prompted several rhetorical questions among the members. Will the baby have a safe delivery or will it be still born? Will INEC succumb to outside pressures not to register the party? If the party is not registered by INEC, what should be the next step forward? As their imagination was running wild, the leadership of the party came up with an idea to picket INEC and other public offices in Abuja from Thursday, August 1, if by Wednesday, July 31, the Commission did not make its position known on the registration request. One can then understand the reason behind the nationwide frenzy which greeted the announcement by the INEC on Wednesday, July 31, that it had approved the registration of the All Progressives Congress as a political party and also the withdrawal of the certificates of registration of the Action Congress of Nigeria, the All Nigeria Peoples Party and the Congress for Progressive Change, the three political parties that merged to form the APC.
There were wild celebrations all over the country as many members felt the registration of their mega party meant a sudden death for the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. In their imagination, 2015 was just a matter of time for the progressives to trounce the PDP at the polls and take over the governance of Nigeria from a party which had run the country aground in the last 14 years. If it were within their power, leaders of the APC would have fast-tracked Nigeria to 2015 so that they could assume power. In the euphoria of their celebrations, some APC chieftains started making unguarded statements and pronouncements that have now started to haunt them. One of such chieftains was Bisi Akande, interim national chairman of the APC. In an apparent fixated frenzy, Akande extended an invitation to President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan of the ruling PDP to join the APC if he considers the crisis in his party too hot for him to handle. He was also reported to have said that the target of the APC in 2015 was not the presidency. Akande had unconsciously shot himself in the foot.
What the APC interim national chairman thought was a joke became too costly for him. Expectedly, his political opponents in the PDP twisted the statement out of context. Their reasoning was that the APC had no electable candidate to put forward in the 2015 presidential election and that was why Akande begged Jonathan, a sitting president, to cross over so that the party can give him the ticket to fly its flag because he is electable. It was at this stage that Akande suddenly realized that he had given his opponents the rope to hang the APC. In order to take away the hangman’s rope from his PDP opponents, the leadership of the APC decided to embark on an aggressive damage control to denigrate the person of President Jonathan and belittle his presidency. The first salvo came from Akande who, at one of the APC rallies in the South-West states on Saturday, August 10, described Jonathan as an unserious-minded person running a kindergarten government. Also speaking through Lani Boderinwa, his media officer, at another occasion, Akande said Jonathan lacks solutions to national problems, among them insecurity, unemployment, infrastructural decay, despair and poverty. Nasir el- Rufai, former minister of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, now interim national deputy secretary of the APC, took off from where Akande stopped .He labeled Jonathan as an ethnic and religious jingoist saying he was playing ethnic and religious politics in order to divert the attention of Nigerians from his bad governance.
Piqued by a deliberate descent into base politics, Reuben Abati, special adviser on media and publicity to the president, took a swipe at the two APC leaders in a strongly-worded statement saying that Akande was certainly rude, ill-mannered, uncharitable and hypocritical in describing Jonathan on Saturday, August 10, in such an uncharitable manner. In the statement entitled: “President Jonathan to Akande: Respect the truth, your age and Nigeria,” Abati said Akande did no justice to his age and status when he resorted to propagating falsehood, willfully insulting the president of his country, impugning his integrity and desecrating the office which his party wishes to take over in 2015 by fair or foul means. “The interim national chairman of the APC, Chief Akande, sank to a new low in this regard when he rudely described President Jonathan as a kindergarten leader who treats national issues with levity. Ambition has blinded Akande and his co-travelers to the visible accomplishments of President Jonathan,” the statement said.
In response to el- Rufai’s attack on Jonathan, Abati described him as a serial liar who once described General Muhammadu Buhari, former military head of state and now a chieftain of the APC, as unelectable when he was minister of the FCT. It is the same unelectable Buhari he is now serving and projecting him to be elected president in 2015. Abati said unlike President Jonathan, el-Rufai, was a Muslim fundamentalist and drew his attention to the uncomplimentary remark he made against Jesus Christ in his write-up. The special adviser said el-Rufai had a personal grudge against President Jonathan because he refused to give him a political appointment in his cabinet.
From all indications, the leadership of the APC is living behind times. Nigeria has gone past the age when politics of blackmail, name-calling and blatant falsehood won elections for political parties. Such campaign strategy cannot win elections today because Nigerians are more enlightened and sophisticated than what they were more than 20 years ago. They know what they want from a political party that canvasses for their votes. It seems the leadership of the APC does not reckon on the fact that it is an uphill task for an opposition political party to unseat a ruling political party especially if its government has something to show the people in terms of performance. While the political party in opposition will rely on promises to persuade the people to trust and vote it into power, the task of the political party in power is very simple. It will refer the voters to the physical projects it has started, completed or about to complete which the people can verify during electioneering campaigns. In that way, it has an advantage over its rivals. The sooner the APC realizes this fact and settles down to serious work, the better for it.
Contrary to what the opposition political parties would want Nigerians to believe, President Jonathan is a great strategist. Unlike his predecessors in office, he is the first Nigerian head of state to document his performance in what he calls a mid-term score card, that is, the performance of his administration in the first two years of a 4-year term. Most of the items listed in that document are physical projects that Nigerians can verify and also feel their impact. Take for instance, the remodeling of airports, the resuscitation of railways which previous governments had abandoned for years, construction of major highways, signing of the contract for the construction of the second Niger bridge at Onitsha, building of 143 model schools for almajiris out of which 120 will take off in September this year, reactivation of the Kaduna Textile Mills and ground breaking for the construction of the Zungeru hydro- electric power project estimated to cost N162.9 billion, a project that was conceived by a previous administration in 1982. On completion, the Zungeru hydro- electric power project will generate 700 megawatts of electricity for the country. If Jonathan succeeds with his power sector reform project, which aims to generate more than 10,000 megawatts of electricity after his administration’s privatization might have gone full circle before 2015,that will be a big boost for his presidential campaign, that is, if Nigerians begin to enjoy stable electricity supply before that date.
The administration also claims that its revolution in agriculture in the first two years of its tenure has paid off handsomely by putting more money into the pockets of farmers and also making the country food secure. If that is so, it will be very difficult for the APC to persuade the farmers to dump the Jonathan administration and the PDP for a political party whose agricultural program and policies are not very clear to them. As the saying goes: The devil you know is better than the angel you do not know. By the time the Jonathan administration comes out with its score-card for his first four- year term in 2015, it will be an uphill task for Akande and the leadership of the APC to write off Jonathan as an “ unserious-minded person running a kindergarten government.” A president who tries to do in four years what northerners who were in power for more than 40 years were unable to do, cannot be said to be “ unserious, clueless, a kindergarten, who treats national issues with levity.” No matter the number of adjectives APC leaders employ to run down Jonathan and his government as a failure, nobody will be swayed by such campaign.
Besides, the Jonathan camp can effectively counter such negative campaign if it adopts the strategy which Godswill Obot Akpabio, governor of Akwa Ibom State, used to campaign for his second-term mandate in 2011. His campaign organization produced a separate brochure for each local government campaign. In each local government brochure, the campaign organization listed all the projects the Akpabio administration had started, completed or was about to complete in its first term in office. These were projects the people could verify and which had impacted positively on their lives. Akpabio’s campaign message was simple and clear: If I was able to do all these projects within four years, I can do more in another four years if you give me another mandate. It was a practical, down –to-earth campaign which won him overwhelming votes.
If the APC is serious about taking over power from the PDP in 2015, it must work hard to convince Nigerians that it has a better program and policies that can turn the economy around, fight corruption, poverty and unemployment, improve national security, enhance food security and more aggressively tackle infrastructural decay. These cannot be achieved by running down the government in power through blackmail, name-calling or outright falsehood. The task demands serious research and vision. Regardless of whatever its leaders claim, many Nigerians still perceive the APC as an amalgamation of disparate groups which will soon go their separate ways because of the inordinate presidential ambitions of some of its leaders. Already, there are media reports that the presidential ambitions of Aminu Tambuwal, speaker of the House of Representatives, and Buhari, are threatening to tear the party apart. There are also reports of a raging controversy within the party as to whether its presidential candidate in 2015 should be a Christian or a Muslim. Perhaps, the way Buhari is pushing ahead with his presidential ambition within the APC might have prompted Akande to say that Buhari is not yet a democrat. Such a remark from the interim national chairman of the party is, by no means, complimentary. What is the business of a non-democrat in a democracy?
— Sep. 2, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT