There is a new wave of optimism in the camp of the All Progressives’ Congress (APC) and its supporters following news of the merger of the Baraje faction of the PDP with the party. The merger with APC was announced in a communiqué read by the national chairman of the New PDP, Alhaji Abubakar Baraje following a four-hour long meeting at the Kano Governor’s Lodge in Abuja. Among those at the meeting were the governors of Rivers, Kano, Kwara, Adamawa and Niger. The Niger State Governor, Babangida Aliyu was said to have left the meeting mid-way, apparently because he rejected the idea of merging with the APC.
The euphoria that greeted news of nPDP’s merger with APC in some quarters reminds one of the run-up to the latter’s registration when it attracted all manner of positive epithets, including as a mega unification of all the credible opposition parties in the country. Since its registration however, the party has not really lived up to its pre-registration media hype. Its candidates have not done exceptionally well in recent elections, including in the last local council elections in the Federal Capital Territory where, fresh from the euphoria of being registered, it missed the opportunity of creating a bandwagon effect that could have come with a very strong performance. Also rather than being pro-active to drive the debates, it has mostly been reactive.
Be that as it may, APC has good grounds for feeling elated by the news of the merger with the Baraje faction of the PDP. Certainly to gain about three (or is it two?) State Governors in one fell swoop brings with it inestimable war-chest, party structures – and let’s face it- rigging machines and manuals. Apart from the President of the country, State governors are pearls of inestimable value in our brand of politics. No sustainable rigging can take place in a State without the knowledge or connivance of the State Governor.
The merger with Baraje’s faction of PDP will also improve the media visibility of the APC. This is not just because of the news of the merger. The truth is that since its formation early in the year, the nPDP has been competing for media opposition space with the APC despite their apparent collaboration. Given the very audacious manner in which the nPDP came into being, and the roulette dance and hide-and-seek game it was playing with the main PDP, its moves created the sort of suspense that enthrals the media. This means that it managed to eclipse APC as the main opposition to the ruling PDP. The merger therefore creates an opportunity for APC to find creative ways of sustaining media interest in what it does – not simply by reacting to moves by the government or the ruling PDP. It was obvious though that the nPDP had to berth at a point because it could play its game of suspense only for so long. It was clear it was beginning to run out of options against a government that was hell bent on clamping down on it especially after the court judgment which ruled that the it was an illegal entity.
Just as there is often post-merger blues when two companies or organisations merge, the APC will face a whole range of problems following the merger with the nPDP. For instance while the new governors in the fold will inevitably increase the party’s war-chest and rigging ability (I honestly believe that all parties rig or attempt to rig and that sitting governors control the main rigging machine in each state), they are also used to controlling the party structures in their states. It will in fact be anomalous to find a state where the governor (who is usually the main financier of the party in the state) is not the leader of his party (i.e. in charge of the party structures). The challenge here is that there are people who had been building or controlling such structures in the states of the ‘new’ Governors and may not take too kindly to being displaced.
There has been a suspected conflict of visions and agendas among the various parties that merged to form the APC. For instance while most of the Northern governors and other influential Northern politicians in the APC may have as their primary agenda the return of power to the North, for the South-west and the rump of APGA in the merger, the agendas may be different. How will this conflict of agendas play out especially with regards to the cohesion of the party? And how will the merger with the nPDP affect the politics over this conflict of agendas which some feel may be APC’s Achilles’ heels?
Apart from the conflict over agendas, there is also a big potential for a challenge of the national leadership of the APC. Right now the assumption is that Buhari is the anointed presidential candidate while Tinubu is the leader of the party. The speculation has been rife that all the Northern Governors doing their second term in office have presidential ambitions. If this is true, and if Buhari is APC’s anointed candidate, then there could be a problem because while Buhari is very popular with the masses in several parts of the North, especially the North-west, it is not clear that he elicits such loyalty from the mainstream Northern elites. This means in essence that it cannot be taken for granted that the Northern Governors that recently joined the APC via the merger with the Baraje faction, will be willing to sacrifice their own ambitions for Buhari. In fact, it can be speculated that some may be joining the APC with the sole aim that it will offer them a platform to run for the presidency. If this speculation is right, then how the APC resolves the inevitable tension and needed adjustments resulting from this merger will determine how far it can go in its journey of being a credible alternative to the ruling PDP.
There is also a real possibility that the merger with the nPDP will end up diminishing the APC. Already some Governors, including those of Niger State, Jigawa states have dissociated themselves from the move to merge with the APC. This has dampened the sense of collective action that had existed for some time around the nPDP. Nothing has also been heard from the former Vice President Alh. Atiku Abubakar, who led the walk-out during the PDP convention that birthed the nPDP. If a number of influential members of nPDP dissociate themselves from the merger, it will create the impression that there is something which the dissenters strongly object in the APC. Such dissentions can conflate with the way the PDP handles the inevitable leadership tussles to create a wave of decampments from the APC either back to the PDP or to another party. If this happens, APC will feel emasculated because its strength lies principally in being seen as a cohesive and viable alternative to the PDP.
The APC also has to face the real possibilities that many of the disaffected PDP politicians who join its fold are there either to enhance their bargaining power with the PDP (which will inevitably go on the offensive to poach back some of its members ‘stolen’ by the APC) or as a vehicle to realize their own individual ambitions. This means essentially that their hearts may not really be in the party. Because the APC is still trying to build membership and trying transform from being an agglomeration of regional parties, decampments will hurt the APC far more than it will hurt the PDP, which despite its faults, remains the only true national political party, whose existence is not based on anyone’s ambition or charisma. This means essentially that the PDP is better placed to recover more quickly from any setback than the APC – at least for now.
Again as the presidency has clearly demonstrated, it is not averse to wielding the big stick – including punching below the belt if it feels pushed to the wall. This means that it remains to be seen how many of the leading members of defecting nPDP will react when the government really comes after them with a combination of inducements, adverse security reports (real or contrived) or the EFCC. As experience from our recent political history has shown, most Nigerian politicians have a price tag and with 2015 around the corner, the government may be willing to meet the various politicians at their points of need.
More importantly the decampments of Northern Governors from the PDP could weaken the North’s influence in the party. This means that if APC fails to play its cards well and atrophies in the process, the quest for power to return to the North may become a tougher proposition.