BY BRIGHT JACOB
As Nigeria approaches the final bend to the February 25, 2023, general elections to elect the President and Vice President, as well as members of the Senate and House of Representatives, talks about possible mergers and alliances between political parties have taken centre stage.
Analysts are asserting that the maneuvers, especially the ones by political parties with the least chances of winning the polls, are pointers to their wanting to be relevant politically, and a gentle reminder that they have the capacity to raise the stakes in their seriousness to salvage the country.
And with the March 11, gubernatorial elections where thirty-one out of the thirty-six Nigerian States will determine who occupies their respective government houses, and the State Houses of Assembly elections taking place across the country two weeks later, time may be running out for the political gladiators in the various parties to work in close collaboration with frenemies, a situation where ideological enemies just ally, to ensure their continuity and also decide the survival of their political future.
However, in a polity where the unwritten creed is winner takes all and judging by the results of past mergers and alliances since Nigeria’s fourth democratic experience in 1999; such human efforts, most of the time, yielded zilch results.
When the People’s Democratic Party held sway in Nigeria between 1999 and 2015, countless mergers and alliances were the order of the day. Most of them, aptly described as marriages of convenience, were accompanied by colourful celebrations and elaborate signing of documents. Yet, they couldn’t take a hammering from the political heat and fizzled out when it mattered most.
Thus, for sixteen long years, the PDP imposed its will on the other parties.
It was the founding of the All Progressives Congress on February 6, 2013, that commandeered power in 2015 and halted, at least to this point, the PDP’s dominance.
It took, albeit, the merger of almost three of the then biggest opposition parties, the Action Congress of Nigeria, Congress for Progressive Change and the All Nigerian Peoples Party, to accomplish the feat and disrupt the plan of the PDP to preside over the affairs of Nigeria, which a former national chairman of the party, Vincent Ogbulafor, said would last for 60 years. It must be added that the Legacy Parties as they were called then, also included a faction of the All Progressive Grand Alliance and the breakaway arm of the PDP, called the nPPDP. The last one was made up of five governors, former vice president Atiku Abubakar, former ministers, senators and House of Representatives members across the country.
That merger and alliance between the three heavyweight parties and the subsequent emergence of Muhammadu Buhari as president in 2015, marked the first time in Nigeria’s chequered political history that an opposition party would unseat the ruling party at the centre, and power changed hands without a skirmish or bloodbath.
Now, the political actors are at it again. The Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Ibrahim Abdullahi, was recently quoted to have said that the party was currently in talks with some political parties about a “working alliance with the PDP”.
According to Abdullahi, the parties, whom he didn’t mention, were the ones who approached the PDP.
A day before Abdullahi’s declaration, the APC-Presidential Campaign Council had also talked about its plan to go into an alliance with smaller political parties, after it noted that a political bloc with or either of the PDP, Labour Party or New Nigeria People’s Party would be likened to the proverbial camel trying to pass through the eye of a needle. And according to sources, that was one of the agenda on the meeting held last week between the party’s presidential flag bearer, Bola Tinubu, and APC governors.
Thus, as at last Friday, the PDP claimed that about eleven political parties were in talks with it, while the APC said it was on the verge of working with 15 other parties.
Expressing his views to The Point, a chieftain of the APC who asked not to be named, said that the party had nothing to fear about the reports of an alliance between the PDP and other smaller parties.
According to him, Obi’s Labour Party is an “offshoot” of the PDP.
That aside, he maintained that the G-5 PDP governors saga would also be a clog in the wheel of the PDP.
Our source, who said that the allegations made about Tinubu’s health status have all been found to be “irrelevant”, submitted that the APC would not go into an alliance from the position of weakness and stressed that even if one was in the offing, it was because the other parties were desirous of joining the APC.
“As things are now, APC hasn’t gotten anything to fear, because the Labour Party is an offshoot of the PDP. In 2019, Obi was Atiku’s vice presidential candidate, and this time around, he left the PDP to join the Labour Party. So, he has decimated the PDP as it were.
“Then, attached to that is the issue of the G-5…the five governors that are said to be unhappy with the way (Iyorchia) Ayu is still being made the chairman of the party without regards to the party’s zoning formula, where if the North produces the presidential candidate, the South would produce the chairman. That one, too, is there and we don’t know when it will end.
“But I can tell you now that APC will not be looking for more people because APC is now in a position of strength. All the allegations they were making against Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s health have been found to be irrelevant. They said the man is ill, that he is this and that. But the man has been going from one city to the other campaigning.
“And from what we heard, the man will not sleep until around 3am or 4am. Somebody that is sick will not have that kind of schedule. So, the fact remains that the other parties are desirous of joining the APC…but APC will not negotiate with anyone from the position of weakness,” he said.
Continuing, he said mergers and alliances in the past were doomed to fail because playing politics was not a tea party, and one must be a very strategic thinker and have the war chest to execute his plans. Furthermore, he argued that one must have “the people to follow you” as well as pedigree.
Stressing on the APC and Tinubu’s pedigree and accomplishments in Lagos State, he said, “Look at Lagos State, for instance….you know Funke Akindele of the PDP? She wants to be deputy governor behind Jandor. When did they start that? Do you want to fight against a party like APC that has been in government for God knows when?
“We are talking of structure, and that is what is going against the Labour Party, too, because a common councilor, they don’t have. They don’t have House of Assembly members, they don’t even have a single chairman all over the federation. So, if you find out that you’re weak, the first thing for you to do is to look for a stronger platform to save your face. That is what is happening now about all these talks of mergers and alliances.
He insisted that the APC wouldn’t go into mergers just to test its popularity, but that as a political party, it was not meant to stagnate but expand its support base.
“A party is not formed to stagnate. Definitely, you must be expanding your support base. In elections, a single vote can make a difference.
“As things are now, APC hasn’t gotten anything to fear, because the Labour Party is an offshoot of the PDP. In 2019, Obi was Atiku’s vice presidential candidate, and this time around, he left the PDP to join the Labour Party. So, he has decimated the PDP as it were”
So, a serious-minded party should be looking for more members,” he concluded.
The Point also inquired from the National Secretary General of Atiku Support Group, Anthony Okonkwo, whether he believed the PDP could conveniently beat the ruling party without “alliances” or if such was needed before the APC could be beaten.
Okonkwo was of the view that “democracy calls for mass participation and mobilization.”
Okonkwo, who said that the PDP was ready to lead as it did in the past, and would welcome people ready to work with it, noted that alliances were bound to subsist. He also said, as against the earlier eleven first reported, that over twenty political parties were “in touch with the PDP” to support the presidential candidate of the party.
He said, “Democracy calls for mass participation and mobilization. It’s ultimately the majority of voters who elect winning party candidates.
“We are going into the February 25, 2023 elections with many political parties. Alliances are bound to subsist. Truly over 20 registered political parties are in touch with the PDP in order to support and align with the Rescue of Nigeria from the hazardous waste dumped on our country by the Buhari-led APC government.
“Our country is in a comatose state and we need our country back. The PDP will welcome people who are ready to join us to build a unified and safer country, develop our youth and provide a sustainable economy to revamp our failed fortunes.
“The PDP is ready to lead as we did in the past. We kept our country united, made life very affordable for Nigerians and got international investors to partake in our development. We will do it even better today than ever before. The PDP will rout the APC on February 25, 2023. Nigerians are with us,” he said.
On why alliances have failed in the past to achieve the intended results of posting a victory at the polls, Okonkwo said that every state in Nigeria had its own peculiar political machinery and modus operandi that was largely based on the support of the people and that alliances should put into consideration the divergent desires of all involved in order to be effectively utilised.
And if all the talks about working alliances were a superiority or popularity contest between the two leading parties, PDP and APC, or an exercise truly needed to gain the upper hand come February 25, Okonkwo, who is also an integrated development economist and management consultant, disclosed that “this election is basically a binary choice between the failed APC government and the redeemer-PDP.”
Okonkwo also berated the Obi-led Labour Party for being “a distraction”, and declared that the PDP keeps welcoming people of goodwill from other parties who have seen the light.
“This election is basically a binary choice between the failed APC government and the redeemer-PDP with Atiku Abubakar whose profile and capacity in government and private life dwarfs Tinubu’s presence.
“The choice is clear. The Obi-led Labour Party is a distraction and that’s all it will be. The PDP has been welcoming people of goodwill from other parties who have seen the light and need to ensure that Atiku Abubakar wins the election on the first ballot. Atiku is also assembling his team to hit the ground running on May 29, 2023. That’s what leadership of purpose is all about,” he said.