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Nigeria’s 2023 elections, daggers drawn by tribal elite. By Chidi Amuta

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Special to USAfricaonline.com and USAfrica magazine (Houston)

Nigeria’s tradition of unruly political behaviour has begun rehearsing for a major roadshow well  ahead of the 2023 open display. Suddenly, the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), has erupted in a crisis long foretold. The daggers are out. The targets are marked. And the lines of the imminent engagement are clear.

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Between 8 am and the close of work last Wednesday, 17th June, the APC had a total of five pretenders to the office of National Chairman. There was Mr, Adams Oshiomole, the rascally trade unionist whose tenure had been the subject of vicious litigations and open political wrestling for quite some time.  He was the  previous day suspended from office by an Abuja High Court. Immediately after the court ruling, lawyers to his legal opponent , my good friend Mr. Victor Giadom, declared Giadom the lawful acting National Chairman. 

In response, the party secretariat quickly declared ex- Oyo State Governor and substantive  Deputy National Chairman (South) Mr. Abiola Ajimobi as acting National Chairman. Since Mr. Abiola Ajimobi is hospitalized for Covid-19, the party secretariat again quickly declared a certain Mr. Shuaibu Lawal, Deputy National Chairman (North) as acting National Chairman, ostensibly to act for Ajimobi. Later on the same day, the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party met and settled for a different acting National Chairman, Prince Hilliard Etta. after firing Mr. Giadom from his substantive position as Deputy National Secretary, a position which he held before heading to court against Mr. Adams Oshiomole.  Mr. Giadom’s lawyers returned to court the following day and got a more definitive affirmation of his stake for the throne.  

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The pretenders to the prime office of party Chairman geared up in earnest and began acting out their scripts and in the process revealing the direction of their plot. Contradictory orders and instructions began flying around, compounding the confusion in the beleaguered party. Mr. Giadom quickly nullified the disqualification of Edo Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, previously effected by Mr. Oshiomole.  With these untidy developments, the only position in the party that seems certain is that of Party Leader which is statutorily vested in the President. Even that position is open to contentious semantics as Mr. Bola Tinubu, chief political entrepreneur of Lagos and the South West  is frequently referred to as ‘ national leader’ of APC! As things stand, the stage may be set for a timed implosion of the ruling party. 

The possibility that party leaders will seek a political solution is hot on the cards if only to save the ruling party from continuing embarrassment. While the legal complications may yet deepen and make a political resolution more burdensome, the possibility that these developments could hasten the unraveling of the party ought to concern its leadership. 

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The pretensions to legal technicality by the contenders  in the present crisis is of tangential consequence. Mr. Oshiomole’s plight as National Chairman is only important to the extent that it either inhibits or promotes the prospect of a predetermined successor to Mr, Buhari. Similarly, the fate of Mr. Godwin Obaseki as a second term governor of Edo State is important only to the extent that it increases or whittles the political significance of Mr. Oshiomole in both the state and at the national level. Otherwise both Mr. Oshiomole and Mr. Obaseki are mere pawns in a larger game of national political supremacy in the post Buhari era. 

What is of utmost importance at this point is control of the party at the national level for the giant ambitions at stake. Conspicuously on display is a dress rehearsal of the post Buhari politics within the APC. The forces in ambush are the hidden hands of the drivers of the factions in the power calculus.  What is at stake is political primacy and pre-eminence in Nigeria AB- (After Buhari). 

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We may, therefore,  be on the threshold of an unraveling foretold. The forces of this unraveling  are inherent in the origins and nature of the APC as a party. The party was never an organic party in the sense of arising out of a bottom up mass movement that acquired form and structure to evolve into a political party. It was instead first and foremost an untidy assemblage of divergent interests with the single focus of wresting federal power from Mr. Jonathan and the then crumbling PDP behemoth. What united and powered the coalition that produced the APC was a greedy opposition to a continuation of the Jonathan presidency.  

We must concede the political necessity, expediency and legitimacy of the coalition that produced the party. In a diverse polity such as ours with sharp divisions along religious, geo ethnic, and geographical lines, any political organization that would command a national followership must of necessity be a negotiated coalition of diverse interests. The history of opposition coalitions especially in Africa is that they are necessary if democracy is to produce a peaceful transition of power from one party to the other. That in fairness is the greatest achievement of the APC in the history of Nigerian party politics.

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Beyond that, however, this contingent advantage was not in and of itself enough to birth a serious political party. The first flaw of the APC was that it defined itself mostly by default.  Not wanting to be a replica of the PDP did not amount to an identity for a serious political party. Nigerians expected a popular movement founded on solid ideas and programmes as a counterweight to the nationalist right of centre inclinations of the PDP. The leadership of the APC probably understood the hazy ideological message in adopting a loosely defined national progressive democratic identity at least in name. Nigerians possibly desired a more left of centre alternative but the leaders of the APC  gave us a makeshift platform for power grabbing and fault finding. It was not a popular movement nor was it a meeting of political minds. It was an all comers machinery for contesting a presidential election to wrest power from an effete incumbent. 

It had no agenda for ruling Nigeria, no clear policy departure from the incumbent and its leading lights were roughly the same people that ran the PDP aground now  defined only by the fact that they were no longer in the PDP. At the onset, the APC was uncertain of victory and mostly prepared for a long series of legal challenges to an envisaged Jonathan prevalence. Victory came to the APC as a destabilizing surprise and it has never recovered from that dizzying surprise. That is why it spent the first term of four years blaming the government it succeeded while groping almost foolishly for a governance direction of its own. 

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While struggling pitifully with the practical challenges of governance, the APC has never risen to the occasion of transforming into a real party nor of ruling Nigeria as a coherent political alternative. Instead, it started out as a personalized cultic movement built around the receding myth of Mr. Buhari as something of a national ethical messiah whose presumptive personal discipline would translate into national renewal and redemption. His choice of a poor ascetic life style was being juxtaposed to the decadent bourgeois indulgences of the worst of the PDP elite at the height of their infamous rule.

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As a matter of fact, the alliance that gave birth to the APC was cobbled around the famed cultic followership of Mr. Buhari. In a sense, Buhari was adopted more as a collective partisan mascot and symbol for marketing an alternative to Mr. Jonathan. From a purely marketing perspective, Jonathan was clearly no match for the myth and mystique of Mr. Buhari.

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The APC was a cult of Buhari devotees from the onset  but one without a creed, a cult of confused devotees devoid of ideology. As a party, it hardy had principles, discipline, methodology or policy focus. It failed as a mechanism of national mobilization and an instrument of responsible governance. Instead, the lack of party discipline and an organizing principle for the control of federal power has allowed the APC to degenerate quickly into a vehicle for the enthronement of a sectional hegemony and the resuscitation of primordial geo ethnic loyalties. 

The president who was courted by a faction of the political elite as a mascot  for capturing national power has himself re-hijacked national power  to the discomfiture of both party and nation. His overt nativism has emerged in the indecent lopsidedness in the staffing of key federal appointments to power centres in favour of the northern muslim half of the country. In deference to the support of the South West, Mr, Buhari has extended token gestures like the symbolic political canonization of Chief Abiola by renaming the national Democracy Day after June 12. Both the incongruities in the party and the anomalies in the conducts of the Buhari presidency have exposed the weaknesses in the original power template of the APC. 

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In the process of wielding national power over the past five years, the weaknesses of the APC have emerged.  In addition to the geo political lopsidedness in appointments at the centre, key leaders of the formations in the original coalition have become estranged. The Bukola Saraki wing has been excluded. The Tinubu and South West wing is divided and on life support. The  New PDP wing is badly factionalized as well. The entire APC leadership support base has jettisoned the partisan affiliations that made the alliance possible and is now divided along the lines of personal loyalty to the president.  The impending exist of the president in 2023 is likely to divide the party even further along this fault line. It is expedient for key elements to pledge allegiance to continuing along a possible Buhari legacy and use that as a platform to angle for supremacy in the party. I doubt that this gimmick will impress Mr. Buhari whose sense of mission seems to begin and end with his own incumbency. Even now, Mr. Buhari’s clout in terms of control of the party has been variously and repeatedly wanting. He could not wield his influence to place the APC on the ballot in both Zamfara and Rivers states in the last general elections. 

Now that the Buhari transition has been fast forwarded by three years, the internal contradictions of the party in power have surfaced to haunt the party as a party.  Forget that governance and the common good at the national and most state levels will begin to take a back seat. The present skirmishes are merely rehearsals of the bloody wars that will be fought in the party to succeed Mr. Buhari. The factors and factions in contention counterbalance themselves and may cancel each other out at the expense of the party itself. The single most important feature of the party that will hasten its unraveling is perhaps the fact that its leading elite are persons of near equal age, resources and political gravity. The possibility that they will cancel each other out while entertaining the nation in the law courts remains the most interesting prospect in the political drama of the future of the APC.

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For a non- partisan observer, however, the plight of the APC is above the skirmishes around Mr. Oshiomole’s disappearing relevance and job. The real concern is above the narrow confines of the party. It is a matter of grave national concern, almost rising to the level of a national security threat . Whatever our misgivings about the party and its inner workings, it remains the ruling party and therefore the source of the key custodians of our national sovereignty. The occupants and operatives of the federal government and a majority of the states are products of the ruling party. To that extent, what irks the party ought to be of strategic concern to all Nigerians. 

For a ruling party, the silly drama around the office of APC national chairman is disgraceful and a shameful display of cynical irresponsibility and insensitivity to the plight of the nation over which they preside. The nation is today in dire need of leadership and beset with problems that are urgent and existential. We are in the midst of a dangerous pandemic. Our economic life support machine by way of the oil industry is fatally injured. Our insecurity is worsening just as our inequality indices have become globally acknowledged. Yet the ruling party is not squabbling over the best strategies to dig the nation out of these deep holes or deal with these existential threats. 

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This APC show of shame is not about how best to check the spread of Covid-19. It is not about how to cope with an economy with a debt to revenue ratio of close to 99%. The quarrel is not about how to curb an epidemic of poverty that had 100 million Nigerians submerged before the covid-19 emergency and is likely to climb to 120 million in the post covid-19 months. This APC crisis is not even about how to ameliorate the impending loss of over 40 million jobs as a result of the covid-19  lockdowns and disruptions. The APC leaders are not disagreeing about the virtual collapse of the university system in which our scholars spend more time on strike than in the classrooms, laboratories and libraries. This squabble is not about how to find a lasting solution to the industrial scale  killings in parts of the country or how to end the Boko Haram and other insurgencies in parts of the country. This is all about the personal ambition of a few party elite.

It is of course healthy to have disagreements and differences of views in a political party. It is in fact an imperative of a healthy democracy that there should be differences of views on key national issues among the elite of the ruling party or other parties in contention for national leadership. 

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The expectation that the rival Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) would fare better is unfounded. Sixteen years of institutional existence and power incumbency has not translated into either a superiority of organization or perspective. Even now as an opposition, the PDP has remained frozen at the level of abuse and personal insult. It has hardly risen to the occasion of positing a logical ideological or policy alternative to the ruling party. Its leadership has not grown neither has its internal democracy or party technocracy.  It has remains at the same level of pedestrian and mundane opportunism and indiscriminate brandishing of titles and changing postures. 

Clearly then, our democracy remains endangered more because the party architecture on which it is founded is in the vice grip of a cynical tribal elite that is preoccupied with power for its own sake and not as an instrument of service to the national community.

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