At last, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has approved the merger of three main opposition parties and their allies to form a new one-All Progressives Congress (APC), ahead of the 2015 elections. DONALD OJOGO takes a look at the tough but successful move seen in many quarters as healthy for Nigeria’s democracy.
“The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has approved the application by three political parties – the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) – to merge into one, to be known as the All Progressives Congress.
“On considering the application, the Commission found that the applicant-parties have met all statutory requirements for the merger, and has accordingly granted their request.
“Consequently, the Commission has approved the withdrawal of the individual certificates of the applicant-parties, and the issuance of a single certificate to the All Progressives Congress.” This statement signed and issued by INEC’s secretary, Abdulahi Kaugama was a document of many effects.
For one, just as the statement confirmed earlier pessimisms and brightened opportunities of some, the development has no doubt, opened many windows of varied debates.
The Rough Ride
For the opposition parties, that is, Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) as well the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), the 2015 elections, especially the presidential poll, is the target and the ruling party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), must be the victim of the coalescing efforts.
Although similar merger attempts had surfaced in 2010, in the run up to the 2011 elections, it did appear then that personal interests of movers of such were a clog in the wheel of such efforts.
Expectedly, therefore, political observers were unsparing in their description of the emerging political family as ‘a gathering of strange bed fellows’ even as controversy began to trail the ownership of the acronym, especially as the suspicious emergence of another association, African People’s Congress led by Chief Onyinye Ikeagwuonu dimmed smiling faces in the opposition camp.
“This is not the first time they will be making such an attempt to congregate and say they want to snatch power from the PDP; but we are not worried because we did not snatch power, we were voted into office for the benefit of all Nigerians.
“Right now, they are beginning to have problems because they did not put their house in order and the blame of course you know is already being put on the door step of PDP. We are only waiting for them in 2015, but before then they will scatter because of the selfish personal interests of the prime movers of the idea.”
Above was the position of the former national publicity secretary of the PDP, Olisa Metuh, while reacting to the initial waves created by the controversies over the rightful ownership of the acronym, APC. Metuh’s comments came as accusing fingers were in the direction of the ruling PDP as the brian behind the other APC.
Nonetheless, signs that the merger train was on the verge of reality came when ACN effected the required change of name just as it endorsed the APC as a party. The ceremony took the form of a national convention on the 11th day of April at the Onikan Stadium, Lagos where the motion for the change of name was moved, adopted and ratified by the 4, 761 registered delegates from across 36 states of the country and Abuja.
As a preceding step, ACN, ANPP and CPC had convened ‘mid-term conventions’ to dissolve into the APC.
With the conclusion of the mini-conventions of the major merging parties, it did appear then, that a major hurdle had been crossed, even most unexpectedly.
Regardless, later events regarding the registration of the APC pointed to the fact that there were hurdles to be scaled.
To the consternation political pundits, the Chief Onyiye Ikeagwonu-led African Peoples Congress hurriedly unveiled its logo and national secretariat in Abuja. The intention, without pretence, was to pre-empt the progressives’ political convergence and perhaps, create impossibilities on the way of the opposition parties to fuse together.
This is just as news emerged that another political association with a similar acronym, All Patriotic Citizens, had also applied to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, for registration as a political party.
But swiftly, Chief Tom Ikimi, chairman of the merger committee of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, insisted at a press conference in Abuja that the All Progressives Congress will not let go of the acronym.
This is just as he accused the PDP, of masterminding the formation of the African Peoples Congress and All Patriotic Citizens.
He spoke on behalf of the leaders of the other parties in the merger – Annie Okonkwo of All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA; Ibrahim Shekarau of All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP and; Garba Gadi of the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC.
‘’The emergence of opposition party, the All Progressives Congress, strong as it is, is giving jitters to some people,” Mr. Ikimi said.
“They are trying to muddy the waters by establishing all forms of APCs. Apart from the name of the party, it is the names of individuals that make the party. Nigerians are tired of PDP.
“We have it on good authority that the establishment, gravely troubled by the emergence of a united opposition, has set up a high powered team headed by a very high ranking officer of government and furnished with unlimited resources from public funds with a clear mandate to corrupt the democratic institutions and destabilize the opposition,’’ he added.
But just as the progressives’ war with the other APC raged on, INEC in a surprise move cleared the rubles in a letter forwarded to the African Peoples Congress that it was impossible for it to be registered as a political party.
The letter, with reference number INEC/DPPM&L/APC/490/V.1/76, dated March 21 was signed by Abdullahi Kaugama, INEC Secretary.
It read in part: “Your application for registration as a political party dated February 28, 2013 refers.
“The Commission has observed that your Association is in breach of Section 222(a) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) which stipulates as follows:
“No Association by whatever name called shall function as a Political Party unless: (a) The names and addresses of its national officers are registered with the Independent National Electoral Commission.
“A close observation of your submitted Form PA 1 established that it does not contain the addresses of your national officers as stipulated in the provision above.
“Consequently, the Commission shall not register the proposed African Peoples Congress as a political party.”
But Ikeagwuonu would not let go even hours before INEC forwarded the letter to his political association. He insisted that INEC’s letter was induced by the ‘Lagos Mafia’, vowing to fight on.
Making good its vow to fight on, the African Peoples Congress immediately dragged INEC before a Federal High Court in Abuja challenging the commission’s refusal to register it.
The plaintiffs numbering about 30, who sued on behalf of themselves and the party, sought a declaration that INEC lacked the legal power to refuse the registration of an association as a political party once the conditions stipulated by the said association for registration are met.
In an application filed by their counsel, Ededem Ani of Awa Kalu’s chambers, the plaintiffs asked the court to declare that they have met all conditions of eligibility for the registration of African Peoples Congress as a political party.
The Suspense And Fears
But as the stipulated 30 days required by the law approached, there were again, speculations that the progressives were unlikely to get fused by INEC, citing legal encumbrances.
INEC however, allayed such fears, saying the commission would only make a pronouncement at the end of the stipulated 30 days just as it argued that any speculation before then was pre-mature.
The chief press secretary to the INEC chairman Prof Attahiru Jega, Mr Kayode Idowu, said that there was no basis for the parties to exercise any fear as the Electoral Act was clear on merging processes.
He also noted that there is no court injunction compelling INEC to stop the merger even as he said the electoral body will decide on the APC’s request tomorrow (Thursday).
“The stipulated 30 days after application for registration has not lapsed; so the commission has not broken any law,” Idowu said.
Senior Advocates of Nigeria Intervene
Amidst the suspense however, three renowned constitutional lawyers, Prof Itse Sagay (SAN), Mallam Yusuf Ali (SAN) and Mallam Abubakar Malami (SAN) warned that it was unlawful for INEC to deny approval for the progressives to become APC, averring that the opposition parties have crossed the constitutional hurdles.
Regarding the issue of approving merging parties to form a political party, Section 84 (4) of the Electoral Act 2010 says: “On receipt of the request for merger of political parties, the Commission shall consider the request and, if the parties have fulfilled the requirements of the Constitution and this Act, approve the proposed merger and communicate its decision to the parties concerned before the expiration of 30 days from the date of the receipt of the formal request-
“Provided that if the Commission fails to communicate its decision within 30 days the merger shall be deemed to be effective.”
Prof Sagay warned that anything contrary to the registration of the APC meant a breach of the law.
He said: “The laws are clear and very unambiguous for all to see and discern; as far as the Electoral Law is concerned, the APC as an aspiring party has crossed all necessary hurdles to be registered as a political party.
Ali also advised INEC not to create anxiety, saying; “If the party has met the statutory requirements following the rules, it should be assumed that INEC has sufficient grounds to register the party; the onus is on INEC to register the party rather creating anxiety.”
According to Malami, “the position of the law is clear on this; INEC is expected to make pronouncement on party party’s request for registration within 30 days.
“If the electoral body refuses to make a pronouncement at the end of 30 days, such a party is deemed to have been registered because the operative word is this regard is within 30 days and not otherwise”
Interestingly, INEC’s approval for merger of the opposition parties came barely twenty four hours after the LEADERSHIP Newspaper exclusively reported the counsel of the legal icons.
Stakeholders, Other Nigerians React
Unlike previous times when INEC was made to contend with criticisms the commission’s approval of the APC was greeted with optimism and eulogies.
From the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties, CNPP, to the APC, and thence the CPC, it was commendations.
CNPP, in a statement by its spokesperson, Osita Okechukwu, shortly after the electoral body announced the registration of the APC in Abuja, congratulated INEC for its forthrightness, steadfast and obedience to the rule of law.
Mr. Okechukwu also stated that “it is heart-warming that INEC captured the intendment of the 1999 constitution not to register phony groups or mischief makers as political parties”.
“Nigerians now have a golden opportunity to make choice between two dominant political parties; one anchored on social democracy, pro-people and one anchored on conservative and anti-people programs as is the case in all liberal democracies,” Mr. Okechukwu said in the statement.
On its part, the APC also congratulated INEC “for doing the right thing and for not succumbing to pressures from phantom political associations that sought to force it to circumvent the law”.
The party congratulated Nigerians on the emergence of the new party, saying with the birth of APC, Nigerians now have an alternative to a ruling party “that has taken the people for a bad ride in the past 14 years”.
APC’s Interim National Publicity Secretary, Lai Mohammed, issued a statement to commend INEC.
“We will also be unveiling our plans to turn today’s hopelessness into a time of great opportunities, to reverse the downward slide in our socio-economic development, and to ensure that every Nigerian benefits from the commonwealth, instead of the present situation in which a few fat cats are milking the system dry at the expense of the citizenry,” the APC said.
Speaking to LEADERSHIP Sunday spokesman, of the now defunct CPC, Rotimi Fashakin, said; “This is good news for Nigerians; for the first time we have a situation where three parties will come together to talk of merger to help Nigeria and democracy. It is a big challenge to the continued dominance of PDP.”
“When the history of this nation is written, INEC will occupy a good position for doing an onerous duty to the nation,” he said.
The ruling PDP was not left out as it also congratulated the leadership of the APC on the successful registration of the new party, describing it as healthy development for the nation’s democracy.
The party in a statement signed by its Acting National Publicity Secretary, Tony Caesar Okeke however said the registration of the new party posed no threat to the PDP. The statement said the ruling party still maintains its pre-eminent position and enjoys the widest popularity and acceptance among Nigerians across the country.
The PDP said with the registration of the APC, Nigerians now expect the leaders of the opposition party to eschew all forms of bitterness and desperation and desist from politics of propaganda which characterized their former parties.
Insisting that the APC poses no threat to it, the PDP said it “will continue to maintain its preeminent position in the polity adding that it remained the party with the widest acceptance and popularity among Nigerians across board”.
The approval by INEC that APC is now a political party however means different things to different persons in the House of Representatives.
Although those who spoke on the development applauded INEC for the approval, opinions are divided whether or not the new was a possible challenge to the ruling PDP.
Minority Leader of the House, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, said the registration was “long overdue”, praising INEC for standing its grounds against forces he alleged were against the APC.
“The chances of ACN, CPC or any of the other parties alone were even brighter than that of PDP, not to talk of APC as a merger party. It is just that they were not guaranteed a free and fair election.
“That was the reason for the emergence of the APC in the first place; the absence of a free and fair process necessitated the coming of the APC.
“Will the party stay? I know that the prayer and the hope of the PDP is that it will not stay, but they are mistaken.
“It means that they are not in tune with the rest of the country that wants change. PDP will be history with fair and free elections.
“Go and ask Nigerians how they have fared in the last four years and they will tell you that their lives have not improved in any way. The only way to have that change is to guarantee free and fair elections and to have a party like the APC,” Gbajabiamila said.
But even though Deputy House Majority Leader, Mr. Leo Ogor, welcomed the APC, he dismissed his colleagues optimism on the grounds that there were already cracks within the APC; the APC is like a storm in a tea cup; there is nothing special there to give the PDP any cause for concern.
Getting It Right Before 2015
Dr Igiebor Ikpowonsa, a political scientist told LEADERSHIP Sunday that the APC has the greatest challenge than even the PDP as the nation marches ahead of the 2015 elections.
“In all honesty, the new party is a welcome development because the political space will now be more robust and Nigerians will be availed the opportunity of choices.
“I have always advocated that whatever political culture or system should be the initiative of the people like in this case, unlike when the government imposes a particular pattern.
“Without mincing words, the PDP has to brace up to remain in power because Nigerians now have an alternative; but conversely the new party has the greatest challenge to upstage the PDP because they have to let Nigerians know that their doors are open without any form of discrimination against anyone and that their nomination processes will henceforth be more transparent than before; that is the only way they can uproot the PDP,” the scholar said.
On his part, Deputy House Minority Leader, Mr. Suleiman Kawu, stated that the days of the PDP were numbered with the registration of APC.
Perhaps, Ikpowonsa has an ally in a member of the House of Representatives, Sulaiman Kawu who is the deputy minority leader of the Lower Chamber.
“With the coming of the APC, the days of the ruling PDP are numbered; however, I will like the leadership of our new born party to ensure that the culture of impunity and disregard for laid down procedures which characterises the PDP is not replicated in the APC.
“Also, the leadership should instill internal democracy in the party by conducting free, fair and transparent primary elections ahead of the 2015 general elections; as this is the sure way of avoiding the mistakes of the PDP,” the lawmaker told a national newspaper immediately after the approval given by INEC.
The canvassed positions notwithstanding, the ruling PDP now has a great task ahead, especially in view of the myriad of internal problems that the party is currently facing. Even though it has remained in the realm of mere rumours, speculations that some governors elected on the platform of the PDP were already planning to join forces with the APC upon its approval has remained a potent threat.