The APC Primary for the Ondo State Governorship and Its Implication for NigeriaBy Benjamin Adeniran Aluko // Thursday, December 22, 2016
Though the governorship election in Nigeria’s Ondo State has been held and the winner, Rotimi Akeredolu of the All Progressives Congress (APC), has been certified as the governor-elect of the “Sunshine State,” it is worth analyzing the election and the crisis related to Akeredolu’s nomination, and what it means for the nation’s democratic process. The character of a nation’s political parties, especially the ruling party, frames the form and content of the national democratic project. A political scientist commenting on party systems in the third wave of democratization aptly put it: “political parties created modern democracy and modern democracy is unthinkable save in terms of the parties.”1
The All Progressive’s Congress
The APC arose out of a coalition of several political parties, namely, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), a faction of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) led by Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, and some aggrieved chieftains of the then-governing party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in 2013. From the timing of its formation, the primary objective of the new coalition was clearly to defeat President Goodluck Jonathan in the 2015 presidential election and wrestle power from the then dominant PDP. The APC was successful in the 2015 elections, winning the presidency (with President Muhammadu Buhari) and governorships in 23 out of the 36 states. Developments since the APC’s win have revealed clearly that the coalition was all about power, position, and privileges.
With the brouhaha that followed the APC primary for the governorship of Ondo State, it has become very obvious that the ruling party lacks the basic ingredients to advance the course of democratic governance. The fight broke out between what is now referred to as the “Abuja Mafia,” which include Buhari’s ministers and is led by the national chairman of the APC, Chief Odigie Oyegun, and the camp led by the national leader of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the former governor of Lagos State. The primary election was held, and Rotimi Akeredolu, the preferred candidate of the “Abuja Mafia,” won over Olusegun Abraham, the preferred candidate of Tinubu’s camp. This kicked off a crisis that reflected the deep-seated mistrust and division among the top echelon of the party. Tinubu and his group called for the cancellation of the result and openly called for the resignation of the national chairman of the party. The Asiwaju group alleged that the list of delegates that made it possible for Rotimi Akeredolu to win the party’s primary was an invention of the Oyegun group and not the authentic list of delegates known to the leadership of the party in Ondo State. Caution was thrown into the wind as the matter degenerated to name calling and demonization of one another. Consequently, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and his allies, which include the governors of Lagos, Oyo, and Osun States, declined to participate in campaigns to canvass votes for Akeredolu, the APC candidate, in the general election. Though there have been denials from Tinubu’s camp of working against the party, the fact that the outcome of the primary deepened the crisis in the ruling party cannot be wished away.
The Ondo State Primary Crisis: What It Means
A few implications of this episode include:
First, the various groups that came together to form the party have hardly shed their group identity and loyalty. Factions within the APC sometimes seem to have more loyalty to their faction than the party as a whole, which is necessary for a truly strong and cohesive national party. Similarly, the Ondo State primary crisis has also shown the lack of party discipline. This has exacerbated the growth of factions among party members and deepened instability in the nation’s body polity. The strength and cohesiveness of a party matters to its ability to govern effectively and democratically. Where there is party discipline and loyalty, individual interests and preferences are easily subsumed for the larger interest of the majority. This characteristically facilitate consensus building which is critical to the formulation of policies and enacting of legislations required for effective governance.
A party that is grossly deficient in terms of discipline and loyalty will have difficulty governing effectively. Thus, the APC lacks the values required to promote the culture of inclusive democracy needed to bridge social capital and encourage peace and stability in a multi-ethnic society like Nigeria. And, without mincing words, more than any other time in the history of the Nigerian nation, the enthronement of generalized variant of social capital is imperative in light of the cacophony of voices on the viability or otherwise of the Nigerian project.
Second, the APC, now the governing party, lacks internal party democracy which is the key to representative democracy in general. Internal party democracy creates a level playing field for stakeholders to actively participate in the decision-making and management of the party’s affairs. The APC leadership has demonstrated that the party does not attach importance to internal party democracy, evidenced by the handling of the APC primary for the Ondo State governorship. When a panel was set up to investigate and recommend solutions following the allegation of manipulation in favor of Akeredolu, Oyegun, the chairman of the party,, rejected the recommendation of the panel calling for a fresh primary election. Thus, the fact that the primary election so clearly turned into a battle for supremacy between two factions of elites, rather than letting the rank and file of the party pick who they want to run as their candidate is an indication that the APC lacks the grassroots appeal that is critical to the institutionalization of democratic governance in the country. In fact, both the nature and character of the party’s Ondo State governorship primary and the consequent altercation between the factions depict the fact that mass popular participation in the party’s affairs is very marginal.
Third, the fact that the altercation between Oyegun, the chairman of the party, and Tinubu, the national leader of the party, played out in public, on the front pages of newspapers, indicates that the party lacks clearly established and accepted mechanisms for conflict management and resolution. It’s true that conflict is a permanent feature of every human society and that it can actually be constructive in coming to a better understanding and integration of opposing ideas or parties. In this case, however, this deficiency in conflict resolution mechanisms in the APC presents two concerns. First, Nigeria is a multi-ethnic society that requires a leadership that is schooled in collaborative conflict management and resolution to deal with the many conflicts and problems such a large, diverse nation encounters. Lacking this within their own party suggests the APC may encounter difficulties in managing this within Nigeria at large. Second, it was this same inability to manage party conflicts that resulted in some PDP chieftains, including several governors, leaving their party to join the APC. By every indication the wheel is reinventing itself again, as there are strong indications that some aggrieved members of the APC are seeking to forge an alliance with a faction of the now-fragmented PDP. This cycle diminishes the chances of the emergence of a stable party system, which is essential to consolidating the democratic process in Nigeria.
We should end this piece by stating very clearly the imperativeness of institutionalizing the Nigeria’s party system. Until that is conscientiously done, the prospects for consolidating the nation’s democratic process is precarious.
Benjamin Adeniran Aluko, Ph.D, is a Southern Voices Network for Peacebuilding Scholar at the Wilson Center from October to December 2016. He is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Peace and Strategic Studies, University of Ibadan, Nigeria, and an affiliate of the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP), a member organization of the Southern Voices Network for Peacebuilding.
1: Scott P. Mainwaring, Rethinking Party Systems in the Third Wave of Democratization: The Case of Brazil, California: Stanford University Press, 1999: 21.
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