APC: Party oligarchy Vs governors

What will I do when fraudulent people drove me away from the party they claim belongs to them?” Those were the words of Chief Tom Ikimi, a founding member of APC who played a leading role by working tirelessly to ensure its registration by INEC. He is presently at war with the party over what he described as ‘unresolved fundamental issues’ he had raised before and after APC convention that produced Chief John Odigie-Oyegun as party chairman

We know APC was not a party of angels long before it was joined by all manners of people from the ruling PDP some of whom were haunted by their past and have since retraced their way back. Nuhu Ribadu, a man who should know better as former EFCC boss, told us that much shortly after decamping to PDP last week. Looking for saints among Nigerian politicians will be an arduous task. And of course Tom Ikimi, who as the chairman of Babangida’s decreed NRC, lacked the grace to concede defeat after MKO Abiola of SDP had won ‘round and square’ (apology to Adamu Ciroma) cannot by any accounts  be said to be an angel. Even if we give him the benefit of the doubt by attributing his failure to assert himself to apparent threat from the owner of the party he headed, he lost that sympathy by going ahead to become the foreign minister of Abacha murderous regime. He was junketing around the world, justifying the state murder of Saro Wiwa just as he did of the incarceration of MKO Abiola, the winner of the 1993 election. Twenty years is a long time in a nation where our children are not taught history in schools and where the elders often suffer from collective amnesia. But I think one of the best things to have happened to APC despite its current challenges was that Ikimi did not emerge as the party chairman. That would have brought the past to pain to those who believe today is but an extension of yesterday.

Of course Ikimi knows political parties have to be owned by stakeholders who as guardians of the ideals of the party are often saddled with providing a moral voice and direction. The idea that a political party can be an association of ‘equals without joiners and founders’ was a fraud sold by the fraudulent Babangida military regime and its state house professors of political science that took the country for a ride for eight years of ‘transition without end’ (apology to Professors Larry Diamond and Oye Oyediran), frittering away in the process N40 billion, ostensibly on building of political party headquarters, teaching democracy and breeding a hybrid of ‘new breed’ politicians in a laboratory who would have no relationship with the past. It was this fraud that produced short-lived SDP and NRC. It was a fraud carried over to the Fourth Republic where President Obasanjo, using military tactics, hijacked PDP from its original stakeholders and turned it to a personal instrument for running the country according to his instincts following his public declaration that he was on a messianic mission ordered by God while in prison. He shuffled PDP chairmen as if they were cards. When Audu Ogbe resisted being treated like an errand boy, he effortlessly replaced him with a retired military officer, Ahmadu Ali while Ogbe was honouring an invitation for lunch of pounded yam and bush meat inside Aso rock seat of power. That process was replicated several times over during his presidency.

Building on his godfather’s legacy, Jonathan saw the office of PDP chairmanship as personal tool for his own political survival. This found expression in the unceremonious removal of Ogbulafor over his insistence on adherence to PDP constitution which barred President Jonathan from contesting the 2011 election and the imposition of  Bamanga Tukur as part of the calculation for the 2015 election despite resistance from PDP elected office-holders and party officials many of whom were frustrated to joining the opposition to find expression for their ambition.

In a democracy, political parties are not the properties of individual temporary office-holders be it president or governor but that of the party oligarchy. This is the trend among the long established political parties that have operated as modernisation agents for close to 200 years in America and Europe  And crisis between the party oligarchy often constituted by founders or former office-holders and current office-holders and ambitious younger elements of the party is also a common phenomenon The challenge has always been finding a compromise position between both groups whose interests are not always altruistic as quite often the former is driven by a desire to remain relevant because of their initial sacrifice and services to the party and the later by ambition.

Nearer home, we saw this played out in the First Republic when SLA Akintola resisted control by the AG party oligarchs. But for the interference of outsiders, the owners of the party who were in effective control would have been able to sanction its erring premier. In the Second Republic, the oligarchs in UPN were equally in effective control sometimes sanctioning erring governors. In the run up to the 1983 presidential election, an attempt to revolt by younger and ambitious governors of the party such as Alhaji Jakande and Bola Ige was effectively checked by the towering figure of Awo who had the unalloyed loyalty of the Ajasins, Akinsanyas, Fasorantis and Ayo Adebanjos among many others.

In the Fourth Republic, the Afenifere oligarchs were in effective control of Alliance for Democracy (AD) until they shot themselves in the leg by dining with Obasanjo to whom all is fair in war. With his 2003 re-election threatened by Vice President Atiku supported by the ‘South-south’ governors led by James Ibori of Delta, Obasanjo had sought the help of Afenifere, the owners of AD. He reneged on the terms of agreement leading to the routing of the AD governors in the South-west with the exception of Lagos, which ignored the directives of the oligarchs. The younger elements abandoned Afenifere and AD to form their own AC party and an Afenifere renewal group.

But what goes round comes around. The new oligarchs, who are now in charge of APC in the South-west, are facing their own demons as the governors they helped into office are resisting their control. This probably contributed to the overrunning of Ekiti by PDP, a development ironically blamed on the masses who because of apathy look up to party leadership that on that occasion failed them. The same war of attrition is currently raging between local oligarchs and their governors in Ogun, Oyo and Edo. We have seen this play out in Sokoto, Kano and Borno states.

These party squabbles are normal in competitive liberal democracy. This was why this column suggested to APC shortly after its registration about a year ago that the stakeholders should take the control of the party away from the governors. The idea of presidents and governors taking over the control of political parties that produced them by virtue of access to state funds that could be used for mobilization is a carry-over from an ill-equipped military that destroyed the natural evolution of our party system. A situation where an elected governor claims superiority over the party that fielded him is an aberration. It only undermines party discipline.

The emergence of Odigie-Oyegun whose reputation for integrity, ‘resoluteness and forthrightness’ is widely acknowledged as APC chairman gives the party oligarchs an opportunity for a much-needed moral voice and leadership by example. The tragedy of Ekiti which was the failure of leadership and not so much of those who voted against the governor, should enable the new chairman see the urgent need for compromise and if need be sanctions in the on-going war of attrition between governors in Ogun, Oyo and Edo and those who provided the platform and the support for them to attain their current positions. The oligarchs quite often have greater stakes in their party. Current actors who today lead must also be taught some lesson on how to follow.

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