APC, Oshiomhole and the Leadership Question – By Abimbola Jones
The emergence of the All Progressives Congress, APC, on the Nigerian political firmament and its success at the general election in 2015, remain one of the greatest wonders of African politics. It was unthinkable that a party that was quickly coupled by the coming together of about five hitherto disparate political parties could easily dismantle the ruling behemoth, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, after sixteen years in power.
First, it was unbelievable that opposition politicians at the time with their big egos would agree to merge and forge a common front especially against the background of the poor performance mergers in the country’s political history. Second, there was the greater impediment in the name of the ruling party, the PDP, armed with almost limitless resources to fight the election by any means possible; “do or die”, if you like.
Apart from the organizational dexterity and even the Spartan spirit of the leading forces behind APC, there was the strong message of change that it preached. The change message resonated all across the Nigerian political landscape. APC availed citizens of an opportunity to teach the PDP a lesson on popular sovereignty – that power belongs to the people. That APC chose Muhammadu Buhari, a man reputed for his asceticism and integrity, as its presidential candidate, was not just an icing on the cake but also a clincher! It had to be because fighting corruption was a central campaign issue in the 2015 general election.
However, the fight to rescue our country from the destructive grip of the thieving PDP after sixteen years was so paramount that other leadership issues within the progressives’ household were considered secondary. You have to chase the hawk away first before berating the mother-hen is an African wise saying. It was not as if President Muhammadu Buhari and, indeed, other national leaders of the party were oblivious of the leadership gap in the run-up to the general election. They saw the challenges but strategically kept their eyes on the ball and on the bigger picture. The expectation was that once victory had been achieved at the polls, focus would now shift to addressing the leadership question in the APC.
Indeed, the responsibilities of any leadership not only include achieving success but also managing that success. It was all too clear that the pre-election leadership of the APC was bereft of any sound idea of managing electoral victory. The leadership was unfortunately stuck in its past role as an opposition party. It forgot tragically that it has now transmuted into the party in government, which comes with the ennobling responsibility of providing political and policy support for its government, particularly the presidency. What follows immediately was one faux pas after another.
The first was the unforgivable ceding of the Senate leadership and to a large extent, the leadership of the House of Representatives, to the tendencies of a minority party in a presidential system. And given the fact of separation of powers that defines democracy, to all intents and purposes, APC is therefore only partially in control of the government it was elected to run by the Nigerian citizens. Put simply, APC only controls the executive while PDP controls the legislature. This singular error has defined all other contradictions within the government and the ruling party. And it is so because the legislature remains the engine room of any democratic government.
Let it be known that APC was really in bad shape until the election of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, a man gifted and well-equipped in the administration of social organisations, both of political and activist nature. In his short reign, Oshiomhole has brought back the respect that a ruling party deserves. And that is vital as the next election approaches. Before the election of Oshiomhole, APC was virtually non-existent as a ruling party. Its members formed a rather vicious opposition to President Buhari in a manner that even the PDP was incapable of. And this impacted directly on the day-to-day governance by the APC government and hampered its fulfilment of the change agenda it promised.
Sincerely, where was the party leadership when an opposition party appropriated the leadership of the legislature? Where was the party leadership when it took the President months to appoint ministers and form his cabinet? Where was the party leadership when parallel congresses were taking place in virtually all the states of the federation with its attendant fissiparous tendencies? Where was the leadership of APC when Bukola Saraki, working for the opposition even planted a mouthpiece for the party? Where was the party leadership when the seed of defections from the ruling party was obnoxiously planted? It was so bad that you wondered whether there was indeed a party Chairman!
So, those criticising Oshiomhole for being, in their view, too combative, must understand where he was coming from, and the new trajectory he is charting for APC as a progressive party. Yes, someone with clout needs to remind some treacherous politicians and a foolhardy opposition that politics is not necessarily shorn of morality. Oshiomhole is very right in insisting that it is immoral for a minority party to seize the leadership of the Senate in a majoritarian democracy. He is also right in calling for the removal of Senator Bukola Saraki as Senate President by his colleagues who are in the majority. Whether that is achieved or not is a different matter entirely.
Already, it is gratifying to note that Oshiomhole is making a huge impact as chairman of the ruling party. The way and manner he has successfully managed and even staved off what would have been an embarrassing gale of defections from his party is, indeed, admirable. Even those who left, including Senator Saraki, admitted that Oshiomhole tried his best to resolve the issues; only that a lot of damage had been wrought before his emergence. Even more interesting is Oshiomhole’s deft move in striking the opposition where it hurts most, by poaching some of their most influential members like Senator Godswill Akpabio and Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan.
In just a few months in the saddle, Oshiomhole is already showing the type of party leader he is going to be. He has clearly indicated that by no means is he going to be reckoned as a naïve and shy leader like his predecessor. Certainly, he is not one to condone indiscipline in the membership. He is all for party supremacy. The era in which elected officials and government appointees carry on in an aloof manner, independent of the political party that produced them, appears to be over. If in any doubt, Oshiomhole’s directive to the minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr. Chris Ngige, and indeed other ministers recently is confirmation that with the new chairman, the ruling party is now well positioned to assume its role as party in government. And on the flipside, members at all levels can be sure that a man who made his name fighting for the rights of the ordinary man is now at the helm of their party and will not support any form of impunity and high-handedness within the party.
It was really hurtful for the Presidency in the past three years for appearing not to be in sync with the leadership of its party. It could be that President Buhari, a man who does not want his anti-corruption war to be compromised, did not find the past leadership of his party capacitated and passionate enough. Now, he has a man with evident passion as chairman. And guess what, the APC, under Oshiomhole, is on the road to bigger things in 2019 and the signs are there for all to see!
Jones writes from Lagos and can be reached through Abimbolajones2013@yahoo.com