Nigeria’s opposition APC is giving the ruling PDP a run for its money in this month’s elections. Nicholas Ibekwe profiles the party, explaining where it has come from and, perhaps, where it is going.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) is just two years old. In 2013, Nigeria’s three largest opposition parties: Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Congress of Progressive Change (CPC), and the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP): and a faction of a fourth, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), merged to better take on the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
The party professes to be social democratic, centre-left; it has consultative status to the Socialist International, the biggest grouping of centre-left parties in the world. This political outlook is based on bringing together the various progressive political traditions from around the country. However, the party is, in effect, a very big tent, whose initial aim was to create an alternative national party to the PDP. As such, the party struggles with strong ideological coherence, although it can be seen as to the PDP’s left.
The APC’s initial impact was bringing regionally based parties: ACN from the Southwest, CPC from the North, ANPP from the far north, and APGA from Igboland, together. As part of a united party, these diverse political parties could organise alongside each other in the National Assembly and present a united front against the PDP.
In the first months after the merger, the APC consolidated itself as a national party but was clearly the second party to the PDP. It was fissures within the PDP which transformed the APC into the strong force it is today, challenging to take the PDP’s mantle as the dominant party.
By late 2012, the PDP was already a house divided. Many in the party had not reconciled themselves to Goodluck Jonathan’s victory in the party’s primaries for the 2011 presidential election and discontent with Jonathan’s perceived failures in government was high. The president failed to read the mood in his party, pushing ahead with plans to stack the party hierarchy with loyalists. Several of these figures, especially party chairman Bamanga Tukur, greatly antagonised powerful and well-established people in the party. Things took a further turn for the worse for party harmony when Jonathan tried to block his rival Rotimi Amaechi, then PDP governor of Rivers State, from taking the powerful role of Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF). Jonathan created a counter-forum just for PDP governors, which Akwa Ibom governor Godswill Akpabio headed, and tried to have his ally, Jonah Jang, governor of Plateau State, elected as head of NGF.
This was too much to bear for several senior PDP figures who formed a faction known as the New PDP (nPDP), which included seven sitting governors – Amaechi of Rivers, Rabiu Kwankwaso of Kano, Babangida Aliyu of Niger, Sule Lamido of Jigawa, Abdulfatah Ahmed of Kwara, Murtala Nyako of Adamawa, and Aliyu Wamakko of Sokoto – former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and several prominent legislators. The nPDP called for Jonathan’s internal party changes to be reversed, Bamanga Tukur to be replaced as party chairman and, implicitly, for Jonathan to not be the PDP’s flag-bearer for 2015, with a northerner taking that role.
After significant courting by the APC, most of the nPDP crossed the floor to join the APC. Although Aliyu and Lamido stuck with the PDP, many legislators joined Atiku and the five governors in their new political home. This development gave the APC nearly half of all governors, senators and representatives in the country.
Perhaps the biggest symbolic victory of the APC over the PDP in the defection battle involved the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal. By virtue of his office, Tambuwal is the number four citizen of the country. The attempt by the PDP to remove him and other defecting principal officers of the Assembly fell through as APC parliamentarians scaled a barricade set up by the police to prevent them from gaining access to the floor of the assembly. Though the police withdrew his security detail, he remained the Speaker of the Assembly.
The rise of the APC was not entirely smooth. With so many big names in the party, conflict was inevitable. Some high-profile APC members were coaxed to cross over to the PDP. Former foreign minister Tom Ikimi, who had previously had aspirations to be APC Chairman, joined PDP. As did ANPP’s 2011 presidential candidate, former Kano State governor Ibrahim Shekarau, who was granted a cabinet position by Jonathan. Nuhu Ribadu, the ACN candidate for the presidency in 2011, also defected to the PDP, running under the party’s banner for the governorship of Adamawa State. The president was even able to convert one of his most ardent and outspoken critics, Femi Fani-Kayode, to his cause. Fani-Kayode, who served as minister of aviation under President Olusegun Obasanjo, is now the outspoken media director of Jonathan’s presidential campaign.
Several commentators expected the internal contradictions within the APC tent, the skill of Jonathan’s team at effecting counter- defections, and the quantity of large egos with well-defined power bases in the party, to fracture it during flag bearer primaries. Contrary to these predictions, internal party elections to be the party’s presidential candidate, organised by Kayode Fayemi, were smooth and well-run. Muhammadu Buhari, the CPC’s 2011 candidate, won out over Atiku, who had been the primary challenger to Jonathan in PDP’s 2011 primaries, and Kwankwaso.
There is a strong desire for change in Nigeria. The APC cast themselves as that change. There are signs, such as the positive manner in which the party primaries were conducted, that APC is a change to Nigeria’s political culture. However, with a presidential candidate running in his fourth consecutive election – and a former military ruler to boot – and a large number of familiar names at the top of the party, which is padded out with all manner of defectors from the PDP, the party still has much to prove.
Whatever happens this month, APC’s biggest challenge lies ahead. Will it become another political franchise machine, operating along lines of political patronage, or could it emerge as a genuinely national, genuinely programmatic party? If it becomes the latter, that could be more significant than whether or not it narrowly pips the PDP to the post this time.