When the merger teams of four opposition parties recently announced the formation of the All Progressive Congress or APC, Nigerian old timers’ eyes became misty at the thought of the compound analgesic tablet APC. Before the coming of Panadol, Paracetamol, Phensic and Novalgin in the 1980s, APC was the champion analgesic in Nigeria.
In those days, APC was the tablet for all ailments, for all seasons and for all persons in Nigeria. Everyone took the same dose, “Two in the morning, two in the afternoon, two in the evening.” APC tablet was quite large, difficult for a child to swallow. Since it had a slightly bitter taste, one had to manoeuvre and try to swallow it without touching the linings of the mouth.
This APC that our opposition politicians formed; will it prove to be as versatile, as universal, as cure all, as one size fits all as the old APC tablet was? If Nigerian politics were simple arithmetic, PDP has little to fear from the new party. State governors are the most potent electoral force in Nigeria. Having the state governor has the highest correlation with election victory in a Nigerian state. APC now has 11 states under its control while PDP has 23. For now, the governors of Ondo and Anambra states remain outside these two big blocs.
Yet, experience of the 2011 election showed that Nigerian voters have reached a certain level of sophistication where they can shift from one party to another and back in different elections. APC can take comfort in the observation that of the 12 states that General Buhari won in 2011, 9 were PDP controlled while 3 were ANPP controlled. But there is an uncomfortable flip side. Five of the 6 ACN controlled states voted for the PDP candidate in the 2011 presidential election, shunning their own party’s candidate. The allegation then was that the Yoruba states voted for Jonathan at the behest of ACN leaders, but ACN leaders said the vote was in spite of them. If the latter claim is true, then that is very bad news for APC.
A deficit of governors and an uncertain 2011 election history are only some of the pitfalls in APC’s dream of defeating PDP at the national level in 2015. There are many others. For example, the two dominant personalities in the APC alliance are Buhari and ACN leader Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. For APC to hold together on any important issue, the duo must find common ground. As things stand, you cannot hope to find two men who are more different in style, substance, operation and political aims than this two.
General Buhari has now slid away from his tearful pledge not to run again in a Nigerian election. The reason given for this uncharacteristic rethink is pressure from CPC members. There must be some truth to this because any observer can see that without Buhari there is no CPC. Thousands of party members are hoping to ride on his political coat tails to power at various levels in 2015.
Buhari is not having a rethink because of such people. He wants another run because he has calculated that with the CPC/ACN merger that eluded him in 2011, Aso Rock could just be within his grasp. His involvement in Nigerian politics since 2002 has been a single minded determination to capture the presidency. He mostly tried to do so in a vacuum because since 2003 he has paid insufficient attention to installing as many governors and other elected officials as possible as a stepping stone to national power.
Yet, within the current APC conglomeration, Buhari is the only person who is guaranteed to net millions of votes in an election, albeit most of them from the far North. This is both a fundamental strength and a fundamental weakness. Buhari’s electoral weakness in the Middle Belt and South goes beyond inability to win votes. In the context of Nigerian politics, it includes the inability to man polling stations and counting centres in those regions. Even though CPC chieftains strongly believed that the votes generated for Jonathan in the East and Niger Delta were inflated, they could not prove this in court such as UPN did in the 1983 Ondo governorship election case.
As such, Buhari will rely on Tinubu and ACN not only to deliver millions of Yoruba votes but also to prevent rigging in the rest of the South. This ACN can well do, if you remember that back in the 1950s, Chief Obafemi Awolowo sent train loads of election observers all over the North to prevent the inflation of votes even if he did not score any votes himself.
In summary, Buhari is mass appeal without organization. Tinubu is the opposite; he is organization without mass appeal. A man on a Northern street is likely to say that he is a Buhari supporter though he has no organisational connection to him. In contrast, a man on a Western Nigerian street may not see himself as a Tinubu supporter, but Tinubu could still control him through the ACN machinery.
More than Buhari, Tinubu is the glue holding APC together. As he demonstrated during a recent visit to Tinubu, Buhari is not really interested in a merger with ANPP, which he sees as infested with PDP agents. His personal relations with its three most influential leaders Ibrahim Shekarau, Ali Modu Sheriff and Ahmed Sani, Yariman Bakura is poor at best. ANPP leaders do not regard Buhari as highly as ACN leaders tend to do because they are also rooted in the North. Without ACN, ANPP would not be interested in a merger with CPC. Then also, Buhari never wooed APGA.
Tinubu is much more down to earth. He immediately saw that an ACN/CPC combination may not be enough to checkmate PDP, that more allies are needed from the East and even the North. He may have yet another reason: Tinubu would need ANPP and APGA leaders as brokers in the inevitable tug and push that will ensue between Buhari and himself.
There are still other differences in personal aspiration and political objectives that could rock the APC applecart. Tinubu has not shown an inordinate ambition for presidential power. His main political goal is to consolidate his hold on the South West, hence ACN’s desperation to unseat Ondo’s Governor Mimiko in last year’s by-election. Tinubu and the ACN leaders are psychologically affected by Obasanjo’s eight year rule which most Nigerians see as the Yoruba’s turn. Though they have captured the West, ACN leaders must play adroit politics nationally in order to retain their hold on the region.
Many people will be wondering: as 2015 approaches, what single event will make or mar the APC merger? Evidently, if Buhari is not made the candidate for president, millions of expected Northern votes could just melt away. Right now, Buhari has no successor in CPC to whom he can transfer this support, nor has he shown much desire to groom one.
On the other hand, Tinubu and the ACN chiefs must decide for themselves 1] whether they can trust a President Buhari and 2] whether, despite their efficient organization, they can deliver millions of Yoruba votes to him in an election. Tinubu is no Awolowo and he cannot just tell Yoruba voters what to do. I personally suspect that in 2011, ACN chiefs encouraged Yoruba voters to vote for Jonathan because they sensed that that was what they were inclined to do, PDP propaganda having cast the election as a North versus South do-or-die. PDP strategists could actually be hoping for another Jonathan versus Buhari contest in 2015 so they can again cast the election as a far North versus South plus Middle Belt contest.
General Buhari should consider swallowing this APC tablet: has his image changed sufficiently in the Middle Belt and South to prevent Yoruba voters doing to him what they did to Nuhu Ribadu, even with Tinubu’s backing?