By Jideofor Adibe
Much has been written about the current crisis rocking the All Progressives Congress, APC, with some people expressing concerns about a possible disintegration of the party. The crisis, as serious as it may appear, is normal and expected – even if the party had lost the presidential election.
The truth is that the APC was never a political party in a classical sense of the word. It was and remains a fragile coalition of disparate groups and groupings united by a common ambition to defeat President Jonathan and the former ruling party, the PDP. It was to that extent merely a multipurpose vehicle for capturing power. With that objective achieved, it is normal that the secondary contradictions that were papered over during the ‘struggle’ would come to the fore.
As the APC re-engineers to become a true political party rather than a coalition of disparate interests, it will not be abnormal for many of the founders to leave the party or be pushed out. This is what is meant by the dictum that every revolution, like Saturn, devours its children. History bears this out: the Cultural Revolution in China, the Night of Long Knives in Nazi Germany, Stalin’s purge in Russia or the case of Imre Nagy, the highly respected former Hungarian head of state, who was the symbol of the country’s uprising against Soviet rule in 1956 but who ended up being hanged for treachery by his country’s communist leaders. Though the APC was more of a mass movement, parallels can be drawn between it and revolutionary movements that often aggregate different tendencies to win power first before dealing with the contradictions within the movement. The PDP itself is unlikely to remain the same. I expect the party to be captured by new forces who will re-engineer it according to their image.
Amid its crisis, I was surprised that the APC failed to realize that the 2015 presidential election was fought on the shadows of the PDP’s zoning controversy of 2010/2011 which it benefitted immensely from. Consequently, one had expected the party to take the issue of zoning very seriously by, for instance, zoning its offices shortly after the election rather than dithering on the issue and allowing powerful interests to coalesce and go after their own interests. Odigie Oyegun
No matter how romantic we want to be, ‘federal character principle’, ‘zoning’ and ‘power rotation’ arrangements have become key organizing principles of our political economy and important periscopes for assessing any regime. Romantics or opponents of these organizing principles often fail to realize that what they call ‘merit’ and ‘competence’, in a polarized society like ours, are socially constructed and do not exist outside the framework of the markers through which people filter realities. This is another way of saying that these are subjectively determined in a polarized society like ours and will always depend on where one stands in the fault lines and the active controversies of the day.
There is a very important lesson to be drawn from the APC’s electoral victory at the national level and the crisis that followed the party’s victory:
Largely because the party was the first opposition political party in the country to defeat a ruling party at the national level, its template for that success will for some time be a reference manual. The general perception is that APC was an alliance between the dominant elites in the South West and a charismatic leader capable of galvanizing huge support in the North West and North East (what some people call the ‘core north’). It is expected therefore that in future, parties aiming for electoral success at the national level will now have to look for broad alliances among other geopolitical zones. This may seriously dilute the notion of any region having a permanent ally and even the tyranny of the majority ethnic groups such as through a successful coalition of different ethnic minority groups. If the APC’s victory leads to the pattern of inter-ethnic and inter-regional alliances among the elites becoming more dynamic than hitherto, it will not only advance the cause of nation-building but will also infuse integrity into the political process because groups without history of treachery will be highly courted.
BUT HOW DOES THE APC RESOLVE ITS FESTERING CRISIS?
The President reportedly called on the feuding politicians to “sheath their ambitions.” With all due respect, I am not sure this will be an effective way of resolving the dispute because it assumes, not correctly in my opinion, that politicians are primarily driven by a sense of altruism and patriotism. In my opinion, any serious analysis of the political behaviour of Nigerian politicians must start from their enlightened self-interest. Politicians do not “sheath their ambitions”. They retreat if the structural constraints do not permit the realization of such ambitions or the cost of pursuing that ambition has become unbearable. This is what the 19th century Prussian General Von Clausewitz would call the ‘rational calculus of war’ (matching the means against the objectives of war). For politicians, politics, just like war, is an instrument for achieving an objective. Since politicians are not in politics for the heck of it, you cannot sermonize to them to forget their ambitions (especially when you have achieved yours and you are not offering any compensation to those who “sheath” their own ambitions) and expect them to obey you.
It is true that Buhari’s charisma among the northern voters drove the process of the APC becoming a mass movement (despite making more money available to candidate Buhari and providing a more national platform, the new party added a mere three million votes to what Buhari had consistently achieved on his own since 2003). Despite this, other groupings and tendencies in the party – the Tinubu group, the ‘New PDP’ Governors that defected to the party and energized its base etc- could also claim that without their contributions, the party would perhaps not have succeeded and are therefore entitled to the ‘sinecures of war’.
A battle cry in the current crisis in the APC is the doctrine of ‘party supremacy’. But what does this really mean? Does party supremacy for instance mean that the APC should select ministers and advisers and foist them on President Buhari?
There are two main perspectives when Nigerians brandish the phrase ‘party supremacy’: There are those who believe that before an election, the supremacy of the party over its candidates for offices should be unquestionable but that once the candidates win elections, they should be allowed to be guided by the national interest – meaning that such people should be allowed to follow their conscience. There are however others who believe that the decision of a political party must be abided by its members before and after elections because the party provided the platform on which its elected members ascended to power.
Both perspectives represent only partial views of reality. For instance, in parliamentary system where the notion of the supremacy of the party is strongest, there is what is called ‘conscience’ or ‘free’ vote where parliamentarians are allowed to follow their conscience in voting. In the run-up to the Iraq war in 2003 for instance, several Tory and Labour MPs in the UK defied their parties and voted against the war.
For those who believe that the party should be supreme at all times, this is often based on an erroneous assumption that in our type of societies parties are structured and institutionalized around core beliefs or that they are neutral arbiters in the intra-elite competitions for power, glory and lucre. Thus while many people know what the Labour and Conservative parties stand for in the UK or what the Republicans and the Democrats stand for in the USA, the same cannot be said of our parties. Like the general society where the absence of strong institutions means that organizations are often controlled by the ‘strong man’ or a cabal, Nigerian parties are also controlled by strong individuals and oligarchs. In essence what people call ‘party supremacy’ is merely the projection of the interests of the ‘Big man’ oligarchic group that controls the party structures at any point in time. Let me give an example:
Shortly after Jonathan became the President following the death of Umaru Yaradua, Vincent Ogbulafor, who was then Chairman of the ruling PDP was shoved aside after declaring that going by the party’s zoning and power rotation arrangements, it would be the turn of the north to produce the president in 2011. Not long after Jonathan entrenched himself in power, the entire leadership of the PDP favoured his running for President in 2011- despite the reported earlier party arrangement which ceded to the north the right to produce the president in 2011. So which of these two contradictory stands of the PDP could be taken as the party’s doctrine on which its supremacy should be enforced?
The point in the above is that it is wrong to have a romantic notion of any Nigerian political party as an impartial arbiter in the intra elite struggles and feuds over power and lucre. The truth is that ‘party supremacy’ is a projection of the wishes of the Big Man or oligarchic group that funds and controls the party. This is largely why powerful individuals and groups who have the confidence and resources often ‘rebel’ against the use of such veneer by their rivals to gain advantage.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @JideoforAdibe
By Jideofor Adibe