The wheel is come full circle. The All Progressives Congress is now in the spotlight, watched by tens of millions of Nigerians, and an opposition party eager to see how the new ruling party manages its affairs and those of the country.
No doubt, the APC’s biggest challenge will be managing its unprecedented success. Next month, it will celebrate its second anniversary. A quick recall of the circumstances: The decision, sometime late in 2012, by the leading opposition parties on the need to come together to present a formidable challenge to the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, the merger talks, the founding of the party in February 2013, the application for registration, the lengthy controversy regarding the ownership of the acronym, and finally, on the last day of July 2013, the announcement of the registration. So much has happened since then; the party has made history by becoming the first in Nigeria’s admittedly brief democratic history to take power from a ruling party. The whole time, there was a singular goal: To remove Goodluck Jonathan and the PDP from their decade-and-half hold on power. That goal helped the party, in the face of all the mocking and scheming by the PDP, to keep a remarkably uncommon focus.
Now the goal has been accomplished. The uniting enemy gone, it appears to now be time for the mesmerising lines of poetry to break into a chaotic prose.
It is possible that everything by which the PDP was once described – “an opportunistic coalition of interests”, in the words of the Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir el-Rufai – might soon apply to the APC. Then again, there’s always a chance to learn from the errors of Nigeria’s longest-ruling national party, and for the APC to disappoint all who regard it as a “PDP-in-waiting”.
I think the APC National Executive Committee needs an executive in charge of what I call “Memory and Learning” – someone whose duty it will be to constantly remind the party about the pitfalls of its predecessor. The PDP left behind a 16-year-old record worth paying attention to and learning from. It deserves a book, actually, and in another country, there would already be in the works, or even on the shelves, a series of books offering comprehensive histories and accounts of the PDP. Had the PDP itself bothered to learn any lessons from the National Party of Nigeria – of which it seemed to be no more than a 21st century clone – then perhaps it would still be in power today.
One afternoon a few months ago, I gatecrashed a meeting of the PDP governors with media and civil society groups at the Eko Hotel in Lagos. I’ve always found the APC a far more media-savvy party; perhaps, that was its underdog nature compelling it to avoid the sort of arrogance that had become second-nature with the PDP, and made it think that the size of its war-chest obviated the need for honest and open engagement with traditional and social media. On the recommendation of two journalist friends of mine, I was eventually (reluctantly) admitted into the governors’ forum event.
What I found was disconcerting, to say the least. Seated in front of the room were about a dozen of the party’s governors, taking turns to address the audience. Governor Ayo Fayose was the star of the day, continuing his attacks on (then-opposition-candidate) Muhammadu Buhari, to a crowd that laughed and cheered at every opportunity. Even at that time, I could tell that this was a party trapped in a self-inflicted bubble, tragically disconnected from reality. It didn’t help that in the room there was no one who could attempt to show them a glimpse of that reality; anyone who attempted to do so would have been labelled “opposition”. Today, that party is in disarray, and the jury is still out on whether it might even survive in its present form until the next general election in 2019.
There are many people worried about the recent turn of events in the APC: The bitter squabbling over the Senate Presidency and Speakership of the House of Representatives, which led to members staging walkouts at party meetings and taking their anger to the public space. All of these seem to be signs of a party that is nothing more than a PDP-in-waiting. Is this the change we voted for, many Nigerians are asking. But perhaps we shouldn’t be panicking yet. All over the world – even in countries where politics is a lot more grounded in ideology than in our part of the world – political parties tend to exist on the edge of turmoil.
That the APC seems to be working itself into a premature rebellion is for me not much of a problem. With all that is at stake – the immensity of political power in Nigeria – it should be expected; the real surprise would be if there was no jostling. What will and should instead most matter in the days and weeks ahead is how the party handles the anger and frustration of aggrieved members. Will it listen to them and seek to make amends? Will it seek to highlight the lessons from this and create ways of ensuring that mistakes are not repeated? Will it focus on building the qualities expected in our ruling party: justice, fairness, and a strong aversion for sycophancy? Will it remember the words of the then PDP National Chairman, Adamu Mu’azu, from January 2015, regarding his party: “Monkey dey work, baboon dey chop. That must stop. This time round, monkey must work and monkey must eat. A lot of people who left did so because of injustice in our party. The party is full of injustice.”
I’m asking the APC that it should never allow itself to become a party held hostage by politics for the sake of politics; one for which the welfare of the people is subordinated to the frenzied interests of a powerful minority. There’s always the strong temptation that, against the backdrop of the jostling for political office, ordinary people – the ones who should be the raison d’etre of politics – will be rendered invisible by political parties; that the needle of public good will be lost in the haystack of caucus meetings and balloting and press conferences and petitions. The PDP managed to perfect the art of doing that, as did the NPN before it.
In his inauguration speech, President Buhari quoted these words, from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: “There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life, Is bound in shallows and miseries.”
The party is at such a crossroads – or perhaps we should it “cross-tides” – at this time. Whether its golden age is behind it or ahead of it will depend on how it handles the fallout from the ongoing bitter contest for parliamentary leadership, as well as the allocation of cabinet and presidential staff positions in the weeks ahead.
And if there is a message the PDP needs to send to its successor in the seat of power, it ought to be these lines, from another Shakespeare creation, ‘Twelfth Night’ – “I was adored once too.”
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