Salihu Moh. Lukman
Progressive Governors Forum
Unfolding political events in Nigeria are difficult to engage, partly because we have so many experts who are strongly opinionated but perhaps more sycophantically inclined to demonstrate support for leading political actors. Analysis get reduced to imagined winners and losers, which substantially then blemish the real essence of what is at play and end up distracting or pinning politicians to same old issues of personality contests. This way, our politics is always about personalities and every political decision, especially by political parties is reduced to hegemonic analysis of political leaders.
Most of the public debate around the emergency meeting of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the All Progressives Congress (APC) of Thursday, June 25, 2020 was more about who was in control, who emerged victorious and what does that mean in terms of so-called 2023 projections. Whether in terms of interpreting court orders or provisions of the APC constitution, which would have influenced decision to convene the meeting and arrive at some of the resolutions, most Nigerians reduced the issues to strategic positioning of preferred APC leaders. As a result, most analysis are hardly about finding solutions to the leadership problems facing the APC or emerging lessons. When preferred APC leaders are perceived to be disadvantaged, those APC leaders allegedly being responsible for such circumstances get labelled negatively.
In the end, lessons that are emerging, risk being lost. In addition, even when our political leaders appear to be taking very bold steps to ensure the development of Nigerian politics and our democracy, our public analysis gets oriented to drag us to the same old backward politics of intolerance and conflicts. Nevertheless, we keep expecting that our politics can rise above personalities to perhaps issue based. We want so-called godfathers to be decimated, but all our analysis revolves around how these godfathers should be either strengthened or defeated. Our leaders and their decisions are consequently reduced to for or against preferred godfathers. Consequently, both preceding and after the June 25 APC NEC meeting, position of most Nigerians is about how key APC leaders stand. We need to go beyond this.
Partly because of the approach of reducing everything around the NEC to so-called 2023 projection and what its decisions represent, vital lessons that have emerged are hardly the focus. For instance, how President Muhammadu Buhari was able to exercise his responsibility as the moral authority of the party, get reduced to whether his actions and recommendations demonstrate support for some of the leading actors in the APC leadership crisis. If moral authority is about adhering to truth, why should any moral leader take side? If anything, President Buhari would have lost his moral authority if he had taken side. Largely because President Buhari was able to discharge the responsibility of being the moral authority in APC, although members of APC NEC went into the meeting sharply divided, they came out united and resolute to work for the unity of the party. They went with problems and came out with solutions.
Instead of asking the question, how was the President able to achieve that, some analysts, unfortunately, are more interested in interpreting the President’s actions within the boundaries of the problems. This could mean ensuring that APC remains with the problem. All members of the party must resist that. We should be able to respond by acknowledging properly the commendable leadership of the President in this challenging moment. Without attempting to compel or force anyone, he was able to broker peace in the party. Instead of displaying authoritarian methods, he followed conventional democratic processes of presenting recommendations and allowing members of NEC to decide. Rather than being a dictator as he is always accused of, he displayed excellent democratic credentials.
With the way the NEC played out, we should ask the question, why did it take this long to hold the NEC? The simple answer is because we have locked ourselves with leaders who become the problem. The fact is, the President was able to discharge his responsibility as the moral authority of the party because he freed himself from all the leaders who were the problem. It is only because of that he was able to see the true picture and accordingly make recommendations that can solve the problem. These were recommendations that didn’t defeat anyone but favour everyone, which confirms the President’s status as ‘belonging to everybody and belonging to no one’. This is one attribute that can be said to be unique to this President. Somehow, this is one attribute that all APC leaders must seek to imbibe especially those positioning themselves as potential 2023 successors. If the APC leadership crisis is anything to go by, it highlights the danger of the shortage of leaders with this unique attribute. Therefore, part of the challenge before every APC leader is to develop this attribute.
Looking at the proposals the President presented to the emergency NEC, which eventually became the solution, it may provide a guide in terms of how they can develop these attributes. These proposals include discontinue pending litigation(s) involving the Party and its members, ratify Edo State primary election, dissolve National Working Committee, and appoint caretaker/Extra-ordinary Convention Working Committee. These are not proposals that support any of the party’s in the APC leadership crisis. But they are also proposals that accommodated everyone. By far, what may have settled the matter was the composition of the Convention Working Committee, which reflected all sections but more importantly party leaders that are not directly involved in the dispute. How was the President able to achieve this? This should be the question APC leaders should be asking if they are to succeed in developing the unique attributes of the President.
Beyond the recommendations, the ability of the President to keep these recommendations to himself until the meeting is a critical success factor. Were the President to have leaked it to any of the parties in the leadership conflict, the outcome would have been different, which may include lobbies to dominate the Convention Working Committee with loyalists and benefactors to the crisis. This could even lead to another dispute that may block the emergency NEC from holding. The element of surprise experienced by members of the APC NEC when they received these proposals from President Buhari would have been a source of relief and therefore made approvals very easy.
Interestingly, when one review most assessment of the outcome of the emergency NEC, what is common is the question of which party in the leadership conflict won. Some corrosive presentation of background of members of the Convention Working Committee are being fed to the public. Some go as far as attempting to locate victories of leaders involved in the APC crisis back to their membership of legacy parties that merged to form the APC. This can only lead to renewed agitations by sections of the APC leadership. Leaders of the party need to rise above this divisive analysis and seek to complement the effort of President Buhari in guiding the party towards finding solution to its leadership problem. The best way to do that will be to have renewed faith in one another as leaders. Our leaders can disagree and at the same time remain united. Disagreements must not create enemies out of our leaders and as a result make them to run away from each other to the extent of sabotaging meetings of organs of the party. Party organs rather than hegemonic scheming should be used to find baseline agreement.
As it is, the experience of the APC leadership crisis has once again brought the best out of APC leaders, thanks to President Buhari’s ability to successfully deploy his moral authority. Arguably, this is about the first time in Nigerian politics that a political party is moving towards resolution of very serious leadership conflict democratically using its internal mechanism. Take out President Buhari and the role he played, you are likely to have a reply of the familiar leadership crisis in a typical Nigerian political party – breakaways, splits and decamping. Every APC member and leader should seek to strengthen the capacity of the party to consummate the process of resolving the current conflict.
One of the empirical features of the emerging lessons of the APC crisis is aptly described by Moises Naim, a Venezuelan journalist, in his book The End of Power when he argued “what is changing the world has less to do with the competition between megaplayers than with the rise of micropowers and their ability to challenge the megaplayers.” The current APC leadership crisis is partly triggered by the reality of the changes being experienced in Nigerian politics whereby godfathers are being challenged by local leaders. Who would have ever thought that ward executives could activate a process that consumed the National Chairman and the whole National Working Committee of the ruling party?
In all our democratic experiences, especially under the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), a National Chairman only get removed on account of disagreement with the President or top leadership of the party at national level. This is largely accountable for why our democracy is so concentrated with so much power at national level. National officers are less accountable and operate almost as gods. Somehow, APC appears to have succeeded in altering this. This may mean a big opportunity to broaden the base of our democracy such that accountability mechanisms are strengthened within the party and decentralised to local levels. How can this be achieved? Will APC leaders take steps to achieve that?
While in the case of the current leadership crisis, it is a case of the survival instinct of Governor Godwin Obaseki mobilising the APC executives of Ward 10, Etsako West Local Government Area of Edo State against Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, the former APC National Chairman, it simply means that all officials of the party must ensure that they have good relationship with their ward executives. As argued by Moises Naim, although these ward leaders don’t have ‘coercive power of large and expert organisation but the counterpower that comes from being able to oppose and constrain what those big players can do. Their power is of a new kind; not the massive, overwhelming, and often coercive power…what happens when power is radically scattered, diffused, and decayed? Chaos and anarchy. The war of all against all. A world where players have enough power to block everyone else’s initiatives, but no one has the power to impose its preferred course of action is a world where decisions are not taken, taken too late, or watered down to the point of ineffectiveness.”
War of all against all was exactly what happened in APC. Everybody – members, leaders, sympathisers, supporters, etc. took part in the conflict. No player or actor in the conflict had enough power to block others and no one had enough power to impose preferred positions. Decisions are blocked as our party’s constitution was practically set aside resulting in organs not meeting. When eventually NEC met and the decisions came, it was late, at least not able to save Governor Obaseki even though it adopted the controversial governorship primary election that produced Pastor Ize-Iyamu as the Governorship candidate of the party for the 2020 election. How effective were these decisions?
With the NEC successfully held, have the crisis been resolved? No, but at least it can be said the ugly period is over. To the extent that we have a Convention Working Committee that will manage the party for a period of six months and organise a National Convention to elect a new leadership, it can be said that the crisis will be resolved. Given that a section of the dissolved National Working Committee (NWC) are threatening legal actions against the decision of the NEC, what does this mean? It simply means that a section of the dissolved NWC are working against the party. Perhaps the Convention Working Committee should consider invoking provisions of Article 21: Discipline of Party Members of the APC constitution by taking advantage of the now discovered micropowers of ward leaders. Based on that those members of the dissolved NWC who attempt to institute legal actions against the decisions of NEC should be appropriately sanctioned.
It is the responsibility of the Convention Working Committee to ensure that all the rascally conducts of party leaders that characterised the APC leadership conflict are brought under control. We should on no account tolerate conduct of any leader of the party, which makes them more associated with activities of bandits who don’t respect any rule or any leader.
Finally, it needs to be emphatically stated that APC leaders have put to shame all the bullish media analysis that attempted to divide them. Our APC leaders have resoundingly demonstrated that it is healthy to disagree, but it is not impossible to have a consensus, no matter the disagreement. So-called media analysts can project whatever conclusions based on their fantasies; it doesn’t stop our leaders from having a rational consideration of proposals before them. The critical question will be, are Nigerians ready and willing to support this brand of politics and encourage it to become mainstream politics?
This position does not represent the view of any APC Governor or the Progressive Governors Forum