By: IfeanyiChukwu Afuba
Thank God that Professor Chukwuma Soludo has taken off with a run. There is no issue now whether the pace is of a trot, jog or canter. It’s a long distance race about adding value to people and society, a sensitive task that should have no room for entertaining galloping. What is reassuring is that the march for a prosperous and liveable homeland has commenced. Early pointers include the cost – saving approach to government activities; the initiative against separatist – induced insecurity, and the bid for reclamation of Okpoko. But socio – economic development also has a political side to it. And the political agenda is already on the file table with the 2023 general election drawing closer by the day.
APGA, the political party that produced Soludo is in dire need of a push. Nobody but Soludo, APGA’s only Governor, is better placed to reposition the party. And no time, no setting, but the unfolding 2023 election process, could be more auspicious for strengthening the party and expanding it’s reach.
Against the background of it’s twenty years of existence and the bold vision behind it’s formation, APGA has not fared well. It’s stunted growth can be located in three main factors, namely, the nature of Nigeria’s electoral contest; management of internal party democracy; and national presence, appeal and engagement. Except for the ruling party on the issue of election, the first two items which are less weighty in this discourse applies to all political parties. It will be seen, however, that the third item, by far, of greater significance, poses a ‘unique’ challenge to APGA.
Every opposition party has to contend with the consequences of our electoral environment. From the drafting of electoral laws through the conduct of polls in the field, to prosecution of election petitions, the odds are stacked against opposition parties and their candidates. In these circumstances of uneven playing field, APGA had it’s governorship victories in Enugu State in 2003, Imo State in 2007 and Abia State in 2015 reversed. The high cost of election litigation aside, the prevalence of technicality – influenced judgments, compounds the crisis of our electoral process. The way forward in the quest for free and fair polls is significantly promised in the key recommendation of the Justice Mohammed Uwais Panel on Electoral Reform. APGA should seek the joint action of other parties toward divesting the Presidency the power of appointing the INEC leadership as well as financial control of the electoral body.
Internal party democracy is a problem for all political parties. The rash of leadership litigations, rival factions and defection from one party to another is traceable to the investment conception of politics. The popular perception of government and politics as a gold mine creates a competition for influence and control. The conflict is helped by weak frameworks for self regulation and renewal in the parties. APGA had it’s share of this derailment in 2019 with scandalous primaries, the worst in the history of the party. The widespread allegations of financial extortion and imposition of candidates contributed to the party’s poor outing in the national assembly elections. She has not fully healed from the wounds with recommendations of the peace and reconciliation committee yet to be implemented. The lesson here is to always strive for capable leadership that will recognise the long term benefit of providing a level playing field. On the other hand, the grave error of allowing an ad hoc group interfere in the statutory function of party leadership, and most regrettably, to the extent of assuming veto power on the primaries, should never be contemplated again.
However, the issue of national presence, appeal and engagement is fundamental to the realisation of APGA’s potential. At the risk of repetition, it is of greatest consequence and urgent. There are two parts to it.
The first is the localisation of the party in the southeast in general and Anambra State, in particular. A situation where the national chairman of the party, chairman, board of trustees and potential presidential candidate are all from the southeast, nay, Anambra State is unhealthy. There is need to open up the party to other parts of the country. This requires at the very least, taking the chairmanship of the party to another geo – political zone at expiration of the current tenure. Other measures to create a sense of belonging outside the southeast should be developed.
On the other side, APGA’s abandonment of the presidential polls since 2011 has been the single, greatest tragedy of the party. This misguided decision has robbed the party of national presence, denied it a critical voice and identity. It was a costly miscalculation not participating in the most consequential political programme. Why would anyone be desirous to join a political party that does not offer an alternative leadership road; that does not take part in presidential debates; that does not provide a rallying point for political mission? The 2011, 2015 and 2019 polls were lost opportunities for membership and followership gains.
Adoption of presidential candidates of other parties has consistently led to APGA’s loss of Senate and House of Representatives polls. Given that presidential and national assembly elections are held on the same day, bandwagon effect of adoption takes it’s toll on APGA candidates. Even APGA members get carried away by the adoption engagement and gradually lose focus. So potent was this factor that the sentiment of Igbo vice presidential prospect in 2019 ruined APGA’s national assembly chances. And this concession has never been reciprocated. No election has been “yielded” to APGA by these benefitting parties.
The effective way of containing this threat is for APGA to have a good presidential candidate and stand by him all the way. There should be no distraction from a total APGA run in the 2003 elections. A good performance in the presidential contest will bring APGA into reckoning.