Progressive Politics – Which Way APC? – By Salihu Moh. Lukman

August 7, 2020
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Following the excellent forthright and humble message of Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Governor of Lagos State, in his 2020 Eid-El-Kabir Sallah message to Lagosians, which was inspired by the viral online video of the small charming boy asking his mother to ‘calm down’ and give him ‘last chance’, APC leaders, after surviving a very turbulent time, need to calm down. To paraphrase Governor Sanwo-Olu’s message, our leaders, in commemoration of the sacrifice they all made individually and collectively to save the APC combined with their abiding faith and commitment to promote progressive politics in Nigeria need to demonstrate high sense of self-restraint. Our leaders ‘need to be moderate’, responsible and committed to progressive politics in order to defeat reactionary and conservative politics in Nigeria.

No party in the history of Nigerian politics survived leadership crisis of the magnitude experienced in the APC leading to the dissolution of the Comrade Oshiomhole-led NWC. From the First Republic to the current Fourth Republic all political parties that went through leadership crisis ended up with divisions and breakaways. None survived and remained united. It is to the credit of the APC leadership that after the June 25, 2020 emergency National Executive Council (NEC), the party is united and the leadership of His Excellency, Mai Mala Buni Caretaker/Convention Working Committee is never in contest. All leaders of the party across the country are united behind the Caretaker/Convention Working Committee. Without any hesitation, all party members must pay special tribute to President Muhammadu Buhari for brokering this new era and perhaps our ‘last chance’ as a party to demonstrate our progressive credentials.

The mere fact that we are able to come out of that crisis demonstrate part of our progressive credentials largely because one of the reasons for leadership splits and breakaways as a result of internal leadership crisis in political parties in Nigeria was because of refusal to allow party structures to function. In fact, in our case, the leadership crisis was also further entrenched in the party because structures of the party were undermined, and individual leaders become superior to party structures and attempted to railroad their personal positions on party members. It took less than an hour of a meeting of the relevant party organ, NEC, guided by a leader who ‘belong to everyone but belong to no one’ to resolve a leadership problem that was more than one year old. What that experience should tell our leaders and members is that we should have stronger faith in every structure of the party.

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Perhaps, as a reminder, we should constantly emphasise that progressive politics is about being dynamic, action oriented and ensuring that we are able to bring about improvement in politics, government and the conditions of life of the generality of our people. To achieve all of these, we have to be goal oriented with clear vision of what we want and where we want to take our society and nation. For instance, since everything political must take its bearing from issues of electoral prospects, how should our leaders and members conduct themselves such that we are able to win elections at all times? We need to remind our leaders that the last leadership crisis was triggered by the deep concerns around the diminishing electoral viability of the party. The reality is, resolving the last leadership crisis with the dissolution of the Comrade Oshiomhole-led NWC has not solved the problem of diminishing electoral viability of the party.

Therefore, what is it that needs to be done to address the problem of diminishing electoral viability of the APC? Do our leaders even agree that the APC is faced with the problem of diminishing electoral viability? This may be the problem partly because if our leaders are unable to recognise that the APC is faced with the problem of diminishing electoral viability then there is a big problem. In the present day Nigeria, with tempers very high everywhere and all manner of negatively imposed public perception, which are false and mostly engineered by our political opponents, it is only people who don’t believe in the votes of citizens as determinant of electoral victories that will imagine that APC’s electoral prospects are high.

Perhaps, we need to recall that with the exception of Presidential election of 2019, in virtually all elections between 2018 and today, in almost all cases where APC won, it was marginal. In Ekiti 2018 Governorship election, for instance, APC won with less than 20,000 votes. In Osun State 2018 Governorship election, we had to go for rerun before we could win. This was almost the experience in virtually all cases. We lost states like Bauchi, Adamawa, Oyo, etc. where it would have been guaranteed since we won these states during the Presidential election with wide margins. One of the things that should be humbling for every APC leader and member is that whatever is our current electoral credential as a party is on account of the personal popularity of President Buhari. If that is recognised, then we need to check whether we want to take advantage it, or we want to squander it?

The contrast to recognising the power of votes of citizens is to conduct politics based on conquest mentality. In which case then political campaigns will not be about winning the support of citizens. It will be about conquering and imposing ourselves as the preferred choices of Nigerians. That cannot be the face of the Nigerian progressive politics APC want to promote. That is the kind of politics associated with PDP, which Nigerians detest and as a party, APC, we offered ourselves as the alternative with a commitment to mobilise Nigerians to bring about change by way of ensuring that people are first and foremost the determinant of who manage governments in the country.

It is important that immediately following the resolution of APC’s internal leadership crisis with the emergence of His Excellency Mai Mala Buni Caretaker/Convention Working Committee, internal party debate is promoted on issues of strategies to bolster our electoral viability. This should not be taken for granted. The test for all of this is Edo and Ondo Governorship elections. How our leaders are able to work as a united front and the messages of hope and how determined we are as a party to inspire citizens into voting our candidates should be the focus. In other words, our campaigns and our candidates must project the aspirations of the people and the future our party offers.

Without any doubt, the signal coming from Governor Rotimi Akeredolu SAN of Ondo State after emerging as the candidate of the APC is very encouraging and clearly consistent with the kind of progressive politics APC leaders should be promoting. Immediately after the July 21, 2020 APC primary, notwithstanding that Governor Akeredolu won the primary election convincingly with 2,458 votes with his closest rival Mr. Olusola Oke who came second polling 262 votes, Governor Akeredolu has been going round, meeting all those who contested the elections with him and negotiating reconciliation. This demonstrate that Governor Akeredolu is magnanimous in victory, at least within the party. With this, it should be expected that Governor Akeredolu will approach the campaigns for Ondo Governorship election based on a strategy of winning the votes of Ondo people. The message he seems to be conveying is that he respects the rights of the people of Ondo State to make their choice and he is offering himself as a worthy consideration to be the choice of the people.

The reverse seems to be the case in Edo State. As opposed to reconciliation, it is loud drums of war that has taken over the airwaves in Edo State. Comrade Oshiomhole has relocated to Edo State and taken over the APC campaign and the campaign is proceeding in a manner that suggest the Edo State Governorship election is an extension of the personal battle between the Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki and Comrade Oshiomhole. The APC campaign is personalised around Comrade Oshiomhole and the candidate of the party, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu is an onlooker. The soundbite from the Edo APC campaign is so offensive to the point where Comrade Oshiomhole appear to be disowning almost every APC in Edo State between 2016 and now. To that extent, it simply means Comrade Oshiomhole is disowning himself, which may be why he went on his knee begging Edo people for forgiveness.

We need to appeal to Comrade Oshiomhole to ‘calm down’. This campaign is not about his person. More importantly, we need to stress the point that part of the political vision of any progressive is that once elected into government, we commit ourselves to issues of agricultural development, jobs creation, education, health, infrastructural development, poverty eradication and rapid technological development. APC has ruled Edo State since the time of Comrade Oshiomhole as Governor of the state. Up to today, whatever achievement Edo State experienced under Governor Obaseki, between 2016 and now, APC must own it, just like we should be able to accept some of the setbacks. Anything Governor Obaseki is able to achieve must be credited to APC as a party. Our Edo campaign should be able raise the awareness of Edo people that had Governor Obaseki been in PDP, it would have been impossible for him to record any achievement.

Based on the personalised way the APC Edo State campaign is being carried out, PDP all of a sudden is coming out very strongly to campaign for votes. If the Edo State APC campaign is to go ahead this way, when APC win the election who will run the affairs of the state as Governor? Is it Comrade Oshiomhole or Pastor Ize-Iyamu? If our party want Edo people to vote for our candidate, Pastor Ize-Iyamu must be very visible and be seen as the face of the campaign. Comrade Oshiomhole should take a backseat and play the facilitatory role our leaders play in all similar circumstances. Lagos state Governorship election since 2007 present a good model. Without any doubt, our leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, may be argued to be very influential in the emergence of candidates, from Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, Mr. Akinwumi Ambode to our current Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu. But once a candidate emerges, the responsibility of executing the campaign largely belong to the candidate on account of which the particular candidate become the face of the campaign.

It is important that Comrade Oshiomhole endorse a situation where the party is able apply the Lagos model to the Edo State Governorship campaign especially because we want the Edo people to be able to have confidence on our candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu and believe that when they elect him, he will be the one that will govern the state. The responsibility for ensuring that this is done rests with the Mai Mala Buni Caretaker/Convention Working Committee. Good enough, they have setup a National Campaign Council under the leadership of His Excellency, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, Governor of Kano State. Governor Ganduje’s National Campaign Council should be able to assume leadership and take the necessary steps to redirect the Edo State APC campaign to have a clear progressive bearing. As part of those steps, it should ensure that APC campaign messages appropriate all development achievements recorded under the APC administration of Governor Obaseki. In addition, we must take steps to also cut the oxygen supply to PDP campaign, which is presenting our party and our candidate as promoters of violence. Our campaign for the Edo election should therefore amplify messages of peace and what we need to do to achieve that.

Having come out of a very difficult crisis, our leaders and all our party members must be vigilant to ensure that our politics is not recklessly managed as to reduce us to the level of just working to win elections by all means. That is far from progressive politics. Our leaders did not make all the sacrifices they made to achieve the merger of 2013 and resolve our last leadership crisis just because we want to win elections by all means, including violent conducts. As progressives, our commitment to winning elections must be about earning the confidence of citizens. If anything, President Buhari should be our model at all times, especially when it borders on conducting political campaigns. It is to his credit that he never associates his political campaigns with violence since 2003, which is partly the reason why he could host his political campaigns with mammoth crowd running into millions without any violent incident.

APC need to live up to its name by regulating the conducts of its leaders, especially during election campaigns. We cannot claim to be progressives and conduct ourselves in an unaccountable manner. PDP cannot hold our politics hostage through the use of violence, and we come as APC, seeking to defeat them through violence. After recording much progress in the country by ensuring higher political competition based on which our people are able to vote and their votes count, only to turn around and begin to accommodate conducts of some of our leaders which promote the behaviour that election is about conquest. Once, as a party we are unable to check that then we lose our progressive orientation. Being progressives come with a commitment to develop our politics and ensure that political development guarantee freedom to elect leaders, which should also promote our socio-economic development.

We need to be wary at the global trend whereby political campaigns only highlight problems based on a strategy of dismissing governments. While recognising that there are legitimate grounds to constantly critique our governments, objectivity would require that we go beyond the convenient boundaries of political sentiments. We need to at all times, as progressives, be able to assess our governments to determine whether we are making progress or not. For instance, based on report by Fareed Zakari GPS CNN programme of December 29, 2019 entitled, “Democracy has taken a detour this century. Can it get back on track?” “Out of 179 countries studied by the Variety of Democracies Institute, 158 showed some form of backsliding between 2008 and 2018. It went further to state that the trend towards autocratisation is growing, when the leaders in those countries were elected through a democratic process.”

What ‘backsliding’ and ‘autocratisation’ simply suggest is that even as democracy, there is the possibility to lose freedom and become dictatorial. As progressives, our leaders and our party must emerge as the catalyst for our national democratic development. It is important that we engage these issues of assessment of our democratic journey based on a clear sense of history. How can we for instance assess any democratic progress or lack of it without having to relate it with our experiences under PDP? Even in the context of experiences under PDP, is it possible to lump everything that could have been our experiences under one categorisation? One can argue that, despite many feats and starts, and even detours there have been a number of significant democratic gains.

The challenge of ensuring that our democracy serves as a facilitator of national development is the huge task before all of our leaders and our party, APC, being the Nigerian brand of progressive politics. To achieve that require that we remain focused and continue to initiate political reforms in the country with a strong conviction that in the end democratic governance is all about political negotiations. It is not an end in itself but a means to an end. There is nothing sacrosanct about political reform initiatives. The important thing is that as progressives, we must be always vigilant to ensure that political initiatives are producing the expected results of guaranteeing freedoms and where we noticed any observed gap, we should be able to review and where necessary come up with new initiatives. At all times we must be able to learn the right lessons.

Democratic governance will remain fragile and unsustainable where the objective conditions are those of extreme poverty, hunger, unstable economies, wars, massive unemployment, and other serious socio-economic privations. While it has been recognised that democracy may have its own intrinsic attributes, which are worthy for human development, it is nevertheless, an instrumental attribute (the so-called “democratic dividend”) as an enabler to development which could be more compelling in determining the level of buy-in amongst various stakeholders and hence make it sustainable in the long run.

As a nation, our experiences, although very challenging, some specific development tangibles have been achieved, which should encourage us to acknowledge that we are making progress as a democracy. It is true that we have witnessed slow pace of socio-economic developments both in terms of initiatives and execution. In some cases, projects get abandoned by elected governments even after expending almost 100% of project costs. That was the narratives, for instance, of the 2nd Niger Bridge, the East – West highway, etc.

This is now changing. Just take the January 1, 2020 New Year message of President Muhammadu Buhari, in which the President informed Nigerians that the Federal Government will by the end of 2020/21 achieve the following:

Complete 47 road projects across the country;

Complete the 2nd Niger Bridge;

Complete 13 housing estates under the National Housing Project Plan;

Commission Lagos – Ibadan and Itakpe – Warri rail lines;

Commission Lagos, Kano, Maiduguri and Enugu international airports;

Commence Ibadan – Abuja and Kano – Kaduna rail lines; and

Commence construction of Mambila power project.

Already, the Abuja – Kaduna train was commissioned by President Muhammadu Buhari since July 2016. And in July 2018, the Abuja Light Rail was similarly commissioned by President Buhari. There are other initiatives of the Federal Government such as the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP) now transformed into Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management, which is saddled with the responsibility of citizens empowerment through Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT), Home Grown School Feeding and Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP).

With all these initiatives, one can project that by 2023, it should be possible to travel to most parts of the country by train and road transportation will be much easier. Our major airports will meet international standards. Through the NSIP, many Nigerians who are less privileged could be empowered. This however does not mean we will not be faced with other development challenges. Issues of industrial development and expanding the productive sectors of our national economy will continue to confront us. The capacity of our governments to attract foreign direct investments will continue to be a source of challenge. This is because foreign direct investment is largely a function of the capacity of our governments to make our domestic environment attractive for business through regulation. Some of the associated dynamics related to issues of regulation have to do with management of other social interests.

The challenges to democratic consolidation and progress are multidimensional in nature. Most times, we over concentrate attention on the Federal Government, which may mislead us into some implied conclusions that initiatives at national level or lack of it is the problem of our democracy. While it is true that the influences of federal government initiatives or lack of it have strong impacts on sub-national governments, we need to also appreciate that our democratic context is also enriched by circumstances whereby some state governments become compelled by political factors to ensure they are self-sufficient without having to depend on federal resources. A good testimony to that is Lagos State. Today, Lagos State budget of over one trillion Naira present a good example of the abundant opportunities our progressive politics represents. We can indulge ourselves with some comparative analysis of whether without democracy and the challenges of being in a political opposition to the government at the federal level, Lagos State could have become what it is as the richest state in the country without being an oil producing state.

Today, Lagos State Government and not Federal Government is initiating a fourth mainland bridge. Remember, the third mainland bridge is till today a project of the Federal Government. The case of Lagos is cited to highlight the point that in many of our states, our democracy is facilitating developments. Many of our states are executing infrastructural projects. Challenges of road development and maintainance, rural electrification, human development through corresponding investments in education and health and the whole gamut of urban renewal are being initiated by many states. Apart from the case of Lagos, visit Abeokuta in Ogun State, Benin City in Edo State, which in every respect has been a progressive state, Kaduna and Kano States, Jos in Plateau State, Lafia in Nasarawa and see the massive infrastructural work going on, one cannot but appreciate the fact that these are tangibles of democratic dividends, which we all yearn for. No doubt much more could be done. To achieve that we need to expand the space for political competition in the country.

Most times we engage the discussions of progressive politics based on some superfluous assumptions that takes for granted challenges around building one of the primary vehicle that drive all democratic process, which is the party. We tend to imagine a political party only as a Special Purpose Vehicle, simply geared towards winning the next elections. Issues of operating conditions for a political party to serve as a facilitator for progressive politics and democratic development are hardly given primary consideration. For instance, how a party mobilises its funding and issues of membership management are mostly overlooked. Without addressing these issues, the capacity of APC to be internally democratic and serve as a vehicle for democratic development will be weak.

Part of the important challenges confronting APC today, include the need for inbuilt structures that can facilitate internal reconciliation and dispute resolutions. Given that electoral contests will always come with strong disagreements by contestants and aspirants, the strength of our democracy will be contingent on the capacities of our party, APC, being the ruling party to first undertake internal party reconciliation initiatives. This is where all leaders and members of the party will be required to support the Mai Mala Buni Caretaker/Convention Working Committee to deliver on its mandate of producing a new leadership for the party that should reflect a new atmosphere of leadership unity and harmony.

The other important issue is also the extent to which elected representatives are committed to provisions of the party’s manifesto. This is an area that test the capacity of our parties to regulate the conducts of its members including elected representatives. Related to that is the level of understanding of provisions of our party’s manifesto by our candidates. Is our party’s candidate able to translate provisions of our party’s manifesto into policy proposals and recommendations for governments? This is not exclusively the responsibility of the candidate. It should be part of the responsibility of the campaign council. Both in the cases of Ondo and Edo States, our campaign councils should be in a position to put all these in place.

Beyond elections, is APC discharging the fundamental functions of interest articulation and aggregation? Are there structures in our party that engage non-governmental organisations such as organised private sector, civil society organisations, labour, youths, women, people living with disabilities, etc.? Discharging the functions of interest articulation and aggregation is the substantive credential that should confirm our progressive credentials. For instance, in both Ondo and Edo States, we should be able to have leaders and representatives of interest groups campaigning for our candidates in the coming elections based on the belief that once we win the elections, these interest groups will be accommodated based on possible negotiated agreements.

The fact that democracy provide political choices in varying forms is the most important democratic opportunity which needs to be expanded beyond just elections. While periodic election of leaders is very important, in the end what distinguishes our politics as progressive is the commitment to specific policy choices that protect the livelihood of majority of our people. While progress in this direction may be slow, we can be able to confidently argue that so far, the priorities of the current Federal Government under President Buhari around infrastructural development and the fight against corruption, is endearing the government to a broad sections of organised private sector and some non-governmental organisations. This is however is yet to graduate to the level of political negotiations and agreements based on which the corresponding interests could regard themselves as being organically associated with the APC as a party.

All these are not easy to achieve. To even commence the process of developing the APC and our politics to conform with the requirement of progressive politics, we need to strongly appeal to all our leaders to ‘calm down’ and give us our ‘last chance’ as a progressive party to meet the expectations of our people to be able to earn the credentials of being a progressive party!

This position does not represent the view of any APC Governor or the Progressive Governors Forum

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