President Buhari and his party
THE view that the All Progressives Congress (APC) – the special purpose vehicle with which President Muhammadu Buhari fought the 2015 elections – is not a party is profoundly consistent with the classical precept considering what a political party should be or look like.
A political party is defined as “a body of men, united for promoting their joint endeavours, the common national interest, upon some particular principles in which they are all agreed.” Parties, going by this classical exemplar in definition, are underscored by discipline and principles as well as properly articulated policy. The ideology or principles of a party are often expressed in popularly held convictions respecting the party’s desired direction of the state or of her processes; while policy, on its part, is the mode or vehicle for the attainment of ideology or principles. It is, however, sad or mournful that the features of cohesiveness, of commonly shared ideology, or of the policy for its attainment are visibly lacking in the character or complexion of the political parties of Nigeria’s Fourth Republic.
The All Progressives Congress stands particularly damnified for reasons of its posturing as a “mega party” and for passing off clear-headedness, decisiveness, product knowledge, moral uppity, etc. as its forte or patent. Recent events concerning the party have revealed so soon after its assumption of power as the nation’s ruling political party that it is no more than a rag-tag army composed of persons with divergent or utterly different interests, with no similar or identical ideological position on any subject matter, lacking in vision but opportunistically united or consumed in their greed for power and its accoutrements. The party was put together with the sole aim of un-seating its “clueless” counterpart. It is no wonder that the same set of people who made the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) victory possible in the previous presidential elections are the same game changers who crowned the efforts of APC with resounding success at the 2015 polls. The APC membership drive at the party’s inception was an all-comers affair – an uncontrolled human traffic of dis-used, frustrated, overly ambitious or power mongering moguls. It shame-facedly included a coterie of unprincipled protesters or itinerant curmedgeons from the PDP who have now turned out to be the APC’s nemesis or Achilles’ heels. Today, the expectation of real or promised change is imperilled as a result of obvious deficit in core principles or values and in reputational capital.
President Buhari does not have a political party upon which he could rely for the promotion by their joint endeavours of the common national interest about which he is patriotically fervent or consumed and for which he has put himself forward as President. His party men are not united upon any particular principles in which they are all agreed. There is a requirement for the President to begin the process of welding the diverse political groups forming the APC into a viable cohesive political platform. This process will require the formulation and establishment of driving principles of core values, and the fashioning of an enduring ideology. An expressed and practical commitment to principles, an unwavering insistence on discipline and a self-wheeling mechanism for the chastisement of cant or punishment of erring members will combine in the short-term to reduce the membership or numerical strength of the party but will redound to the medium to long-term beneficial interest of the party as only those who faithfully subscribe to the party’s ideals will remain.
A serious problem of the party which is deceptively clothed in disinterested or public spirited denouement is the issue of zoning which is variously approached from the mutually conflicting points of view of “party supremacy” and the “independence” of certain institutions of our democratic experiment. Inextricably linked or tied to this conflict but conveniently abused is the logic of merit which ordinarily should take the driver’s seat in our consideration of persons for offices of state. Thankfully, the sentiment of zoning of important offices of state can be accommodated within the principle of merit as no part of the country is bereft of persons with merit or cognate skill. The President should choose the men and women he can work with – men and women with undoubted merit. He should put his foot down and not allow himself to become a hostage of his party or of some powerful primordial interests. There is, at the moment, a visceral contest for the soul of the party and the issues may get messier or to a cracking point. The President should get cracking too by appealing directly to his primary constituency – the people who voted massively for him. One sure way to mark up or rev his reformist ante is to operate his office on the principle of fairness, justice, Spartan discipline and even-handedness. He should choose to defer to party sentiment only on the basis of stark or obvious national interest and unyielding logic even as a complete overhaul of the party and its machinery should be of top priority in all that he does and in his dealings with the party leadership. By the terms of his office, he is less of a politician. He is a statesman in the full amplitude of its connotation and so should not proceed on the basis of partisanship or primordial sentiment or attachment.
More serious than the personal disagreements among the party leadership is the widespread popular belief that the APC has not earned the popular acclamation and well-wishes which attended its success at the polls. Some pundits may disclaim this view but the fact that it is widely or popularly held makes it almost as dangerous as if it were true. Just as the legend respecting the avowed invincibility of the PDP grew wildly in spite of the party’s lack-lustre performance in office, the view that its replacement, the APC, is a pack of cards [a view that is wont to be spurned by rabid APC sympathisers] is spreading frighteningly.
My own advice to the warring APC leaders of either side is not likely to be taken, but it is this: Though coalition may not be desirable, and, in the absence of a parliamentary situation requiring it, may not be feasible, the party needs to broaden its outlook and philosophy. It also requires to establish a clear-cut ideological position. Further, the party needs to bring to its own side some, at least, of the constituencies where it did not do well electorally [or where it performed woefully] through policies and programmes that are all-inclusive. It must not avoid facing choices or compromise or delay between two or more incompatible decisions. There may be courses of action which are acceptable to each set of principles, or dictated by the nature of the issue at hand rather than by ideologies. They should be studiously considered and embraced or embarked upon. Pragmatism and moderation are themselves political principles and in an uncertain or unchanging situation may not be despised or derided as being indicative of weakness or indecision. The banana peels that fell the PDP are yet slimy or slippery and are on APC’s giddy pathway.
• Rotimi-John, a lawyer and commentator on public affairs, contributed this piece from Abuja via firstname.lastname@example.org