The key item on the agenda however had nothing to do with tertiary education; the focus was the consolidation of the APC as a mega party that was capable of displacing the PDP from power. Following the Sokoto event, a delegation of the APC has been visiting the G7 governors and extending formal invitations for them to dump PDP and team up with the forthcoming mega party. I say forthcoming advisedly because since its registration by INEC, the APC has not tried to institutionalise itself. It had been focused in attracting the high and the mighty to join them in their enterprise of replacing the PDP in power. The question then becomes how different will they be from the PDP if they do succeed in their quest of being the party of the godfathers, the bourgeoisie and the notables.
Historically, the key challenge facing Nigerian parties has been that godfathers and barons rather than party members have run them. Nigerian parties have been arenas that have clientelist networks that are used by the party barons to “deliver” crowds for rallies and party congresses. Indeed, most parties treat their members with disdain and utter disrespect. We all recall the time in 2005 when a party boss once declared that the “People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is full of members who fraudulently obtained their party membership cards” – Nigerian Tribune, 23/11/2005. These were the words of Ahmadu Ali, the then Chairman of the ruling People’s Democratic Party to justify the decision of the party to dismiss all its members in November 2005 and request that they all apply for new membership. For weeks, the PDP enjoyed the distinction of being the only ruling political party in world history without a single member. Following the dismissal of all party members, a thorough process of screening was developed to ensure only the right type of people are re-admitted back into the party. Among those refused registration when they re-applied were the then Vice President of the country and numerous state governors elected under the platform of the ruling party.
The news story over the weekend that the focus of the APC is to get, not only the G7, but also all former governors into the party is an indication that the party is not trying to engage in qualitatively different politics. The APC is trying to constitute itself as a “catch-all party”. In his book on comparative political parties, Professor D. L. Seler defines catch-all parties as organisations that are interested in aggregating notables rather than establishing a large membership base and the notables use their clientelist networks to secure votes for the party. This model was introduced into national politics in Nigeria with the establishment of the National Movement, precursor to the National Party of Nigeria in 1978. We learn from Billy Dudley that Sokoto was the ostensible point of departure when notables from all the then 19 states in the country converged to celebrate the 14th anniversary of Sir Abubakar as the Sultan. The evening menu was the formal launching of the National Movement.
Professor Dubley explains however that the real origins of NPN as a catch-all party was in Gowon’s cabinet where erstwhile political opponents such as Shehu Shagari, Obafemi Awolowo, Aminu Kano, J. S. Tarka and Anthony Enaharo had worked together and started imagining a new type of politics in which all leaders will operate within the same political formation – a one party regime. They wanted above all to avoid the crisis of 1964/65 when the political class divided itself into two factions – Saudauna’s NNA with the NPC, NNDP, MDF and NDC and Zik and Awolowo’s UPGA with NCNC, AG, UMBC and NEPU and fought to create conditions that resulted in rigged elections, the coup and civil war.
Dudley also provides information that the all-powerful super permanent secretaries – Philip Asiodu and Allison Ayida were even dispatched to Egypt, Zaire and Guinea in 1972 to learn how the single party regimes operated in those countries. The underlying idea according to Dr Ibrahim Tahir was to save Nigerian politics by creating a Gaullist party with “the ability to project a psychologically powerful and emotionally appealing image as the party of true Frenchmen” (New Nigerian, 27/10/1978). The NPN was focused on the notables and the idea collapsed when many of the notables in the National Movement such as Waziri Ibrahim, Obafemi Awolowo and Aminu Kano walked out of the scheme when they realised that they had no chance of clinching the presidency within the formation. Ibrahim Tahir’s hope that what he called the “odd companions” in the National Movement could work together was dashed.
This history is important because the same process was followed in establishing the PDP in 1998 as a party of regional notables coming together to share power. The PDP started as a formidable force but always had the problem of keeping all the notables happy. Today, the PDP is deeply frightened about the early success of the APC in trying to steal many of its notables because it knows it has no members and once it loses a majority of its notables, it’s dead. This accounts for the desperation with which the Federal Government is using its powers to frighten and harass its notables to remain within the family.
My concern is that the two catch-all parties we had, the NPN and the PDP, have been anti-democratic parties that placed no value in ordinary party membership but focused all their attention on securing the notables and godfathers. I had expected that the leadership of the APC would have learnt from this history and focused its attention on building a new type of party where members matter. I had expected that immediately after registration, it would go on a massive membership drive to recruit ordinary Nigerians into the party. I had hoped party meetings by the members would be holding at ward and local government levels so that input from the grassroots would inform the direction towards which the party evolves. I have not seen any of this.
What I have seen is a waiting game to recruit governors. From available evidence, what the governors are placing on the table is that they should be assured that they are the “owners” of their parties in their states. No wonder we are beginning to hear loud complaints from some states such as Sokoto, Adamawa and Kano that the parties should to be handed over to the G7 Governors. As the governors as well as the party leaders that merged to form the APC are keen to completely control the party machine, the election of party executives and the subsequent nomination battles could lead to a rapid collapse of the APC as all those who fail to capture positions of control leave and go in the search for greener pastures.
Currently, there is a lot of effervescence in the lives of Nigerian political parties. What I have not seen is a new approach to constructing a party that is focused on membership recruitment and party organisation based on internal party democracy rather than the power of notables and godfathers. Both for the PDP and APC, and other parties as well, there is value in trying to change the character of political parties from catch-all formations to democratic organisations. Their strategic objective should be to get rid of the godfathers and create better bonding and mutual respect between ELECTED party leaders and members.