By Anthony Fernandez
It is difficult not to be concerned about the topsy-turvy alliance talk between Nigeria’s main opposition party, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), and the Congress for Progressive Change(CPC). This concern stems from the realization that the 2011 election is the opposition’s to lose. But whether the opposition, particularly the ACN, will secure victory will depend on how it approaches the election.
There is a feeling that the ACN is not interested in winning power at the national level. For a party that has made so much inroad in the last six months, you would think that by now, considering the implosion going on in the PDP, that it would have started the process of positioning itself as a national political party and the credible alternative to the PDP.
Now, back to what I have termed the unholy alliance between the ACN and CPC. The Leadership newspaper of Saturday, January 22, 2011, reported on the outcome of the alliance talk between both parties, a phenomenon that a mutual friend once described as DOA – dead on arrival.
According to the paper, the CPC and ACN seem to have parted ways on the much publicized alliance, adding that the leaders of the two parties led by Aminu Bello Masari, CPC, and Chief Bola Ahmed Tinubu, ACN, could not sign the Memorandum of Understanding, MoU as earlier scheduled because CPC leaders wanted its logo used in the presidential elections. It was gathered that the leaders of the CPC insisted that the ACN should submerge into the CPC, while Gen. Muhammadu Buhari will still stand as its flag bearer. The ACN was reported to have maintained that since it controls four state, it will not fuse into the CPC.
It is sad that two months to the election, the opposition (and by this, I mean the ACN because as far as I am concerned, beyond having Gen. Buhari, the CPC has no electoral value) is not telling us what it will do to rescue Nigeria from the over a decade of misrule by the PDP; it is not reaching out to Nigerians to register so that they can vote when the time comes. They are busy looking for shortcuts that at the end of the day will do more harm than good to the party.
Nigerians are looking for an alternative to the PDP, but the ACN has not provided that alternative. The lack of imagination the party has exhibited is indicative of the character of its leadership. But it also goes to the heart of the Nigerian crisis. When you have an opposition that is not interested in organizing to win power, then the nation is doomed. It is instructive to note that the ACN/CPC merger/ alliance talk started about six months ago. Then Buhari had insisted on being the presidential candidate of the new party. He went a step further to say his faction would also provide the chairman. Like a dog, the AC (as it then was) was thrown a bone – the position of vice-president. Buhari’s reading of the scenario was that if he dangled the position of the VP to the Bola Tinubu, the AC will jump at it.
The AC rejected that inglorious proposition and everyone went their separate ways. The news then was that Tinubu was willing to put his ambition in check for the sake of the party and the larger interest of the country. The AC went on to seek partnership with other political parties, the most prominent being the Democratic People’s Party (DPP). Today, Senator Lawal Shuaibu, formerly of the DPP is the national secretary of the ACN.
Isn’t it ironic that six months later, we are still inundated with news of a possible alliance between the ACN and Buhari (yes, Buhari, because the CPC is all about Buhari and his inordinate ambition to finish his presidential tenure that was truncated in a palace coup 25 years ago). If Buhari was serious about his democratic posturing, knowing that he would need the support of other regions to secure the presidency, he should have started an outreach program immediately he “lost” the presidential election in 2007.
But I am less concerned about Buhari. The ACN is doing a great disservice to its members and the millions of Nigeria who see it as an alternative with the unnecessary distraction that the Buhari phenomenon represents. The earlier the ACN abandoned the Buhari shadow and concentrated on working hard to win the elections, the better for it and for its followers. Buhari can’t win a national election. He may have a league of fanatical supporters, but he does not have a national appeal. Any talk of alliance now will only create more confusion, particularly amongst the governorship candidates of both parties, and allow the PDP to bounce back.
Now to the hard realities of the 2011 election:
(1)The 2011 election will be won on sentiments; but then, elections have always been won on sentiments.
(2)If the elections were held today, no party will win an outright majority. (3) President Goodluck Jonathan is not Ibo, (don’t mind the Azikiwe moniker) and he will not be Ibo. What it means is that majority of Ibos will go into the election with an eye that they need to position themselves for the presidency in 2015 or 2019. (4) As Nigeria stands today, President Jonathan and the PDP are not confident they can win one state. Everything is up for grabs. For the first time in the history of this country, we have a sitting president struggling to control even his own state.(5)In 2003 and 2007, PDP controlled not only the federal and state governments, but political party structures all over Nigeria. There was no place you visited four years ago that you did not feel the presence of PDP. Today, the reality is different.(6)The ACN controls the south-west and will win that region come April. Add to it the fact that three of the four ACN governors are not up for re-election.(7)There are four prominent presidential candidates (President Jonathan, Mallam Ribadu, Gen. Buhari, and Gov. Shekerau). Let’s create a hypothetical situation and assume that there will be sentimental votes in the south-south (so President Jonathan will win Bayelsa, Rivers, Cross-River, and Akwa Ibom States. Mallam Ribadu will win the ACN states in the south-west and his home state of Adamawa, and perhaps neighbouring Taraba, Borno, and even Yobe States. Let’s give Gen. Buhari his home state of Kastina. He and Shekarau, current governor of Kano, will split Kano State and possibly neigbouring Jigawa State.(8)During the PDP primaries, President Jonathan lost to former vice-president Atiku in Sokoto, Zamfara, Kano, Kebbi, and Niger States. It is not likely that these states will vote for him come April. Add to this the sentiment by majority of those in the north that they would like to see a northern president.(9) There are a number of toss-up states like Nasarawa, Bauchi, Gombe, Kaduna, Benue and Plateau States. Any party can pick up these states. It therefore means that the south-east will hold the ace in the election. President Jonathan is not a contender as far as the zone is concerned. Gen. Buhari is looking to the south-west for a VP, but it is not certain that will yield much considering the influence of the ACN in that zone. That leaves the coast clear for Mallam Ribadu. If he decides to pick someone in the caliber of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, current managing director of the World Bank, then his stock will rise in that zone. Mrs Okonjo-Iweala is Delta-Ibo (she is from Delta State and her husband is from Anambra State). Apart from garnering the votes of women who will see her as the first woman to attain the position of VP, the Ibos, will see in her a possible president in 2015 or 2019.
Last word: Agreed that the opposition will need to come together in order to defeat the PDP, it will be foolhardy for the ACN to enter into an unholy alliance that will do more harm to the party than good. If Buhari and the CPC are proving difficult, then both parties should test their strength with the electorate. After the election, if there is no clear-cut winner, the parties will naturally align based on their strength during the election. I think that is a more honourable thing for the ACN to do.
Last, last word: the LLW goes to our arm-chair critics and many of those who are disenchanted with the status quo, particularly leaders in the NGO movement and civil society. They agree that the PDP has failed Nigeria, but they are cynical that change is possible. I don’t think history will forgive them if their allow their personal comfort to becloud their sense of judgement!