THERE is little to cheer on the state of the political parties in Nigeria. On paper, there are 30 parties registered with the Electoral Commission for the purpose of jostling for power within the prescribed space called Nigeria. According to the 1999 Constitution, they are all presumed to be national parties, with wide distribution of their national officers and having their national headquarters in Abuja.
In theory, they are all alive. When there is subvention to be distributed or briefing to be held, the national officers turn out in their starched, well embroidered dresses. That is where it stops. Beyond ceremonies, the parties are hardly known either through their activities or their voices. That is the tragedy of a nation in crisis, one in search for an identity.
The power game is nowhere as fierce as it is in the third world. Lives are lost and taken at will to satisfy the inordinate ambition of many a fiendish politician and this has been demonstrated many times in the course of the Nigerian political history. This has even turned more brutal in recent years. Only the strong and cruel could survive in the Nigerian political market place.
In this game under this dispensation, three political parties in the scheme of things. At the head is the Peoples Democratic Party which controls power in all the organs of the Federal Government and more than two thirds of the component states and local governments. In all, it holds the reins of power in 28 of the countries 36 states while the next important party, the All Nigeria Peoples Party is a distant second relevant mainly in seven far Northern states while the Alliance of Democracy has been boxed into a corner in Lagos state only.
The three parties, irrespective of their sizes today, have their parts to play in the scheme of things. The PDP by sheer size could make or mar the country by its action and inaction. If it performs brilliantly, it could deepen the gains of democracy and thus turn Nigeria to a respected member of the club of democratic countries.
The ANPP, if it plays its role well as the major opposition party could so intelligently challenge the party in power that all would see it as the ready alternative. Besides, by keeping the ruling party on its toes, the public could reap bountiful harvest. The AD as the third party was conceived as the conscience of the people, a party for the masses that could demonstrate that the welfare of the peo[ple is the overriding interest in seeking power. After five years. It is clear that none of the parties is playing its rightful role.
The worst disaster in the scenario is the AD which rather than grow and hold out hope has continued to shrink. Adherence to ideology is only at the level of conception. There is nothing in practice, after five years to distinguish it from the others. In all of half a decade, the history of the AD has been illustrated more by crises than the lofty ideals which the founding fathers professed.
The defining moment for the AD was the selection of the party’s presidential flag bearer in 1999. Unlike the other parties which opted for the ostensibly more democratic method of elective conventions which brought together delegates from the 36 states of the federation, AD felt there was wisdom in age and thus brought together 23 largely old men to decide who, between Chief Bola Ige and Chief Olu Falae should be the party’s presidential candidate. Under the leadership of Senator Abraham Adesanya, the men opted for Chief Falae ahead of a more experienced Chief Ige. Ige felt affronted.
He felt betrayed by men with whom he had been in the political struggle for about 40 years. He also resolved to teach them a lesson by demonstrating that he was a more astute politician. Since then, the party has stayed apart. Because the majority of those who decided the fate of Chief Ige were leaders of Afenifere, Chief Ige decided to influence the establishment of another group which was christened Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE).
All attempts to stem the tide of decline has failed. After last year’s election which confirmed the slackening of AD’s hold on the South West territory, the party’s stronghold, it became clear there were only two options open to the leaders. The first was to get the party dissolved into one of the two major parties in the land as confirmed by the declared results of that election. The second was to do a cold appraisal of the situation of things in the party, embark on wide consultations with a view to re-inventing the party and surging forward into the next general elections in 2007.
The second held more attraction but presented its own challenges. In view of the broad division within the ranks which had percolated to the grass roots, it required an impartial arbiter to bring the two sides together. Who was qualified to play the role? All Afenifere leaders have been sucked into the crisis with many showing their hands so early that they could not legitimately expect the respect of the combatants.
Could the men who gathered at D’Rovans Hotel, Ibadan to take the controversial decision that set the late Chief Ige on the war path earn the confidence of Ige’s men? At this point, would a decree from the inner sanctum of Afenifere help when the campaign by the leaders amounted to nought at the polls last year? And, in the absence of this central role by the Afenifere, groups like the Eastern Mandate Union led by Dr. Arthur Nwankwo and the Southern Leaders Forum led by Chief Lulu Briggs were no longer available to fill the gap. Other progressives in the old Mid West had been sent packing by the clannish and clownish arrangement put in place at the height of Afenifere ascendancy in the party.
Road to September 29, 2004
The first step towards the fresh convention held last Wednesday was taken on December 16, 2003. Two parallel conventions were held by two factions, one in Abuja produced the former leader of the AD in the Senate, Chief Mojisoluwa Akinfenwa as national chairman while the other, held in Lagos, produced Chief Bisi Akande, the immediate past governor of Osun State as the new chairman.
A former chairman of the party, Alhaji Ahmed Abdulkadir threw his weight behind Akinfenwa, thus provoking speculation that the fund came from the presidency with an intent to finally destroy the AD thus paving the way for the PDP to consolidate its hold on the South West. Akande’s emergence equally provoked speculation that the governor of Lagos State who provided the logistics support that facilitated the holding of the Lagos factional convention was out to secure a place for himself in the run up to 2007.
But the conventions merely succeeded in keeping the party torn apart. Neither faction could get the INEC to recognise it as the authentic AD and with that the future of the AD remained bleak. Attempts made by the two groups to canvass why the one was more authentic than the other failed to secure the sympathy of the general public and it was obvious that the only way forward was for both to come together, sink their differences and come up with a single leadership. Meetings held to achieve this failed to yield desired results. The electoral commission came up with an ultimatum of October 31 for reconciliation and unity, otherwise it would have to wade in and use its fiat to dictate the way forward or backward.
The September 29 convention Could it be said that with the convention over, the party has returned to the path of glory? Could it be said that the AD has been put together again and the wall of disunity pulled down? Was the outcome acceptable to both sides?
It is obvious that a lot of efforts were put into reconciling both factions. Meetings were held to ensure that the NCC which was carefully put together before the factional conventions of December 2003 achieved unity to engender the confidence of all that the outcome would be free and fair as well as acceptable to all. To a large extent, this was demonstrated at the convention.
Thirteen out of the 16 members of the NCC were in attendance to show that the rift was over. The chairman, deputy chairman and secretary held hands and charted the manner of elections. Also physically on ground were the state chairmen produced by congresses held before the combatants parted ways. Many of the chairmen and NCC members had participated in the Abuja convention organised by the Akinfenwa faction.
In the South West which remains the soul of the AD, all the officials of the party were in attendance. At the previous Lagos convention, people like the former governor of Oyo state, Alhaji Lam Adesina boycotted the gathering. He stayed away with the delegates from Oyo State. The same was the situation in Ondo State where the state chairman of the party joined former Governor Adebayo Adefarati in staying away. At last Wednesday’s convention, while Adefarati still chose to stay away, the Ondo delegation was fully represented, led by the chairman.
The main blow to the Abuja convention of December 16 last year was the refusal of the then Acting National Chairman of the party, Chief Michael Koleosho to be part of the show. He declined participation on the ground that he could not preside over the dismemberment of a party he and others built.
Moves at reconciliation
However, ten months later and following many moves at reconciliation, Chief Koleosho had being won over to conduct the new convention. Both INEC and Afenifere leaders had refused to deal with the executive from Lagos on the ground that it was held contrary to the provision of the constitution that only the chairman could summon and preside at a national convention. The Afenifere committee on resolving the crisis, meeting at Akure had in July opted to recognise the Akinfenwa faction on the ground of better representation. The same can not be said of the new convention at which more than 4,000 delegates were accredited from all the states of the country.
It would appear to an informed observer that given the colour and spread of the delegates who attended the convention, the reconciliation efforts yielded beautiful results this time. However, conspicuously absent was leader of the other faction, Senator Akinfenwa who continued to hold that there was no need for another election since his was authentic having been called by a former chairman of the party. The decision of Afenifere to meet in the Ijebu Igbo country home of Senator Adesanya on the same day was an indication that the war was still on.
The group passed a resolution that its support for Akinfenwa was irrevocable. This might have thrown spanner in the works as the gathering still carries some weight. In attendance at the Ijebu Igbo meeting were essentially the same people who took the Akure decision. They were heavy weights in their own right. They included Chief Reuben Fasoranti, Chief Olu Falae, Sir Olaniwun Ajayi, Chief Ayo Adebanjo and Chief Adefarati, among others. But the Afenifere front was not that solid. A day before the convention, another faction of the group had met at the secretariat in Jibowu A press statement issued by the Administrative Secretary, Mr Yinka Odumakin indicated that Afenifere had endorsed the convention.
A day later, the Ijebu Igbo meeting disowned the statement and appointed staunch members of the Akure group to sensitive positions of secretary and publicity secretaries respectively. This may be the beginning of the end of Afenifere. The old members are in one group, insisting that things must be done in accordance with their own views while the younger elements, with former governors and elective office holders in the South West in the other camp.
The division in the ranks of Afenifere continues to run deep. The leading and conspicuous position played at the convention by Senator Ayo Fasanmi and other Afenifere leaders who had hitherto held party positions was to press the point that old generation of Yoruba leaders also identified with the new effort at putting the party back on track.
How would the decision of Senator Akinfenwa to reject the convention and its outcome affect party fortunes? Ths would depend largely on the approach of the new leadership. There are however fears that given the inability of Chief Akande to play a good diplomat as leadership does demand sometimes especially in times of crisis, the storm might not have fully blown over.
Which way forward?
The AD has a role to play in the political development of the country. If it fails to put its house in order ahead of the 2007 elections, the AD could be said to be dead. In Nigeria, it is difficult to imagine a party that has no hold on any lever of power surviving. Despite its relevance in prior years, the party would suffer the same fate that parties like the United Nigeria Peoples Party, UNPP, National Democratic Party, NDP, and the All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA.
To get out of the tight corner, AD leaders must immediately come up with programmes that would endear them to the people. Politics is underlined by disagreements and crises. There will hardly be a time when all the elements in the party would be brought together. The only way out is for the new leadership to swing into action to ensure vibrant opposition to the ruling party by coming up with good alternatives.
The AD with its convention has taken a first step forward but a lot remains to be done.