Two developments the past two weeks have grave implications for the All Progressives Congress, (APC), which was conceived and born with unbridled euphoria and fanfare. The party made history as the first in our country to be conceived through the consolidation of major existing political parties. Hitherto, the idea of opposition groups coming together to form a mega party that will be strong enough to give the ruling party a run for its money had remained a pipe-dream. The pattern had been that such a dream would get hyped to the high heavens as each presidential election (or federal elections before 1999) neared only to fizzle out when it came to walking the talk. The main promoters of the idea usually bulked at the prospect of being politically diminished or having one of their rivals elevated at their expense. Better, they often reasoned, to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in an ocean. To APC’s credit, it defied all odds, skilfully avoided all the carefully laid banana-peels, shouted itself hoarse that it was being sabotaged and through a combination of resilience, blackmail and intimidation, made it to the finishing line. “A new dawn has been heralded in our political firmament”, appears to be the collective sigh of relief from civil society and pro-democracy groups. For proponents of a two-party dominant system, it was a new dawn in our democracy.
The sigh of relief and its associated triumphalism however appears to have come too early. It just reminds one of George W. Bush’s ‘mission accomplished’ after the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq in 2003. As it turned out, George W Bush clearly mistook the changing of gear in Iraqi resistance to surrender.
When APC was being conceived, the permutation seemed to be that Buhari would bring to the table his cultic followership from some sections of the North; Tinubu would use his organizational skills to deliver the South West while disaffected members of the PDP, especially some of the Governors, would jump into the new ship. In this simplistic math, sentiments alone could be used to build enough elite consensus to topple the PDP, which it must be admitted, has been behaving badly, sometimes irresponsibly, because there is no one to give it a good fight at the national level. With the possible exception of the South-west (which necessarily has to play a catch-up to other parts of the country in this regard if our democracy must mature fully) and the South-south, (which is basking in the euphoria of having one of their own on the ‘top’), sentiments alone will no longer be enough to build elite consensus in any zone. With the society becoming increasingly individualistic, and with an expanding elite base, better education and better exposure, you can only build a temporary coalition of elites (not elite consensus) by appealing to their selfish interests and fears.
This is the ace the party in power at the centre holds. Which of course does not mean it cannot be defeated. Ruling parties have been defeated in a number of African countries in recent time. But it will involve creating such a sense of outrage against the ruling party that other elites will subsume their personal interests and ally themselves to the agenda. Unfortunately, the parties that formed the APC were guilty of nearly all of the sins of PDP, including the lack of internal party democracy, so it will be difficult for APC to fight from the vantage of a high moral ground.
The difficulty of finding a common cause around which elite consensus could be built and the lack of clear moral or ideological dividing line between the APC and the PDP can perhaps explain why the ‘brief case’ political parties are not taking a cue from APC to consolidate. It may also explain the recent unveiling of two new political parties linked to critical elites from the North – People’s Democratic Movement and the Voice of the People reportedly by some disaffected PDP Governors (they have since denied this – not that they would admit it even if it were true). Though INEC had declared that they receive an average of five requests from parties seeking to be registered per week, the PDM and the VOP were linked to politicians with sufficient clout and resources to factionalize the elites the APC so much need to put up a brave fight against the PDP.
With the apparent political anger in the North for being ‘denied’ the presidency in 2011, the new parties, all of which are linked to Northern politicians, clearly show that no political zone in the country is what it used to be or can ever be. Society is dynamic and virtually every part of the country has evolved into a society where individualism and self-interest are beginning to trump community, ethnic or regional agenda – despite the occasional postures by politicians. As the old order crumbles, it becomes more difficult to have personalities who can command the total allegiance of the critical elites in any part of the country (except to a lesser extent the south west). In this sense, those who moan the lack of unity (essentially lack of elite consensus) in their ethnic or regional homeland miss the point and live in a past which can never be reclaimed.
What we often call ethnic or regional unity is merely elite consensus. Various ethnic and regional groups appear ‘united’ when their ‘super’ elites – those who are proximal to the centres of power and critical resources have additionally three crucial Cs – being Conscious (of their political agenda), Cohesive and Conspiratorial. In the past, the likes of Zik, the Sarduana of Sokoto and Awo, and their senior allies met these conditions and therefore served as unifying symbols of their people. It will be difficult to replicate the 1960s when one or two super elites in an area s will serve as the rallying points.
How do all these relate to the APC?
As mentioned earlier, it would seem that part of the thinking of the APC at conception would be that Buhari would bring his cultic followership in some parts of the North to the table. The registration of PDM and the rumoured plans to register VOP allegedly by some Northern governors clearly underline the lack of elite consensus on how to ‘return power to the North’. In the 1960s when the various regional factions of the elites were surrogates of one or two super elites, it was easier for such elites to exhibit the three critical Cs. This means in essence that were this to be the 1960s, the task of returning power to the North would have been a piece of cake. Similarly, despite MASSOB and threats of reincarnating Biafra in the east, it will be difficult to find any leader who can galvanize Igbo support on a sustainable basis for such. The society has moved on, with a relative parity in the power of various geographical and ethnic elites. These days it is easier to build a short term coalition of elites – where people who do not necessarily like one another come together to achieve a particular purpose and move away from that alliance as quickly as possible. But for this to happen you must be able to clearly appeal to their selfish interests or fears.
In essence, while Buhari’s charisma and a certain anger in some parts of the North could be a rallying point in the quest for ‘power to return to the North’ in 2015, whether such could be achieved without finding a way to bring the critical elites in the North into the APC fold or another fold will remain to be seen.
For President Jonathan and the PDP, they will be happy, (if they are not the conspirators) in these moves that may end up removing the quiver from the APC’s arrow. They can count on the support of most, if not all, the Governors in the East, because of the region’s age-old philosophy that the ‘goat should follow the man with the palm frond’ (the Governors from the East supported Yaradua vocally even when he had become terminally ill and quickly wiped their mouths to sing the Alleluia of Jonathan whom they did not want to be made the Acting President) – after Yaradua died.
In essence, if the PDM overcomes its current controversies and manages to become a respectable political party, and if the VOP or any other party which is linked to key political actors comes on-board, the APC will become seriously emasculated and the idea of a two dominant party will become still born. The losers will be the leaders of the parties which essentially fused into the A.C.N. as such leaders will have to struggle to create new political platforms for themselves.
The above scenario means that APC should return to the drawing board – as the premise on which its membership recruitment and mobilization of popular support was based now seems suspect. Of course the PDP is not invincible and ruling parties elsewhere have in recent times been routed. But in all such instances the opposition had a popular outrage and managed to sustain a coalition of critical elites. The APC urgently needs to find out why heavyweight political elites who are disaffected with the PDP are not rushing into its fold and do whatever it can to regain the momentum.