By Salihu Moh. Lukman
Addressing the closing session of the 2023 cabinet retreat for Ministers, Presidential Aides, Permanent Secretaries and top Government functionaries on Wednesday, November 1, 2023, President Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu enjoined members of the cabinet not to “be afraid to make decisions, but don’t be antagonistic of your supervisor. If they are wrong, debate it. I stand before you and I’ve claimed on several occasions and I’m saying today again as the president, I can make mistakes, point it to me I would resolve that conflict, that error, perfection is only that of God Almighty. But you are there to help me succeed. Success I must achieve by all means necessary.”
As loyal members of the APC, and above all, as patriotic Nigerians, we are all here to make the President and Nigerian governments at all levels succeed. Being the father of the nation and the leader of the APC, President Asiwaju Tinubu is the supervisor in chief, and we will not antagonise him. We acknowledge the courage of the President to take all the necessary decisions. But like he enjoined members of his cabinet to debate wrong decisions of their supervisors, it is our hope that he will have the large heart to listen to us when we draw his attention to priority decisions he should be taking, not even mistakes, or perceived mistakes coming from his decisions as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Our objective of drawing his attention to prioritise decisions regarding certain issues is to help him to ‘succeed by all means necessary.”
First, the biggest problem many APC leaders have with President Asiwaju Tinubu’s government is inaccessibility. Perhaps, partly because of the challenge of managing pressure from people seeking political appointments in government, the assumption is that everybody seeking to meet the President or people around him will be lobbying for appointment. Although that could be true in many cases, such reality shouldn’t produce indiscriminate barricade. Recognising that problems of accessibility is common to all leaders, being committed to building a progressive party, which should idly be mass based capable of winning public support require leaders to be accessible.
Ordinarily, being political leaders produced by a party, in our case, APC, the requirement of influencing decisions of governments and leaders could be achieved through meetings of organs of the party. With organs of the APC frozen, party leaders are left with very little options but to seek audience with elected leaders in government, including President Asiwaju Tinubu. Recalling all the internal contestations within the APC since 2019, which borders on expanding the democratic scope within the party, largely due to inability of organs of the party to meet as required by the constitution, many party leaders expected that under the leadership of President Asiwaju Tinubu the problems will be resolved. With party organs still frozen, even after replacing Sen. Abdullahi Adamu with Dr. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje as the National Chairman, and now combined with inaccessible access to the President, possibility of influencing decisions of government will be remote.
Ability to influence decisions of government and elected representatives provides the main attraction for democracy. Part of the assumption is that democracy is founded on the logic that political parties should have manifestos. Prior to 2015, the major political frustration of citizens is that virtually all our parties have manifestos that exist only in the archives of INEC. Processes of merger negotiations of our old legacy parties stimulated strong internal debates and consultations about the manifesto of the APC between 2012 and 2013. The internal debates aggregated public expectations, which made Nigerians to strongly believe that the APC is radically different and therefore potentially and truly going to emerge as a progressive party.
There is no need belaboring the point that having won the 2015 election, the APC manifesto was virtually relegated to the same fate as that of other parties in the country. Throughout the tenure of former President Muhammadu Buhari, the APC manifesto was hardly a guide to decisions of government. In fact, many elected representatives and appointees may have served their tenure between 2015 and 2023 without any knowledge of the provisions of the APC’s manifesto. This legimised most of the criticisms against our party and all the governments it produced in the last eight years.
It is the hope of many party members and leaders that the unfortunate reality whereby the manifesto of APC is made redundant will change and being a government produced by the APC, the vision of the party as contained in the APC manifesto would guide policy initiatives of the government. Noting that the Renewed Hope 2023: Action Plan for a Better Nigeria was the premise for President Asiwaju Tinubu’s 2023 Presidential campaign, and to that extent therefore one of the important guides for policy initiatives, the extent to which all these are harmonised and unified with commitments contained in the APC manifesto is an important determinant of whether the leadership of President Asiwaju would prioritise building the APC as a truly progressive party.
Noting that the APC National Chairman, Dr. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje was at the cabinet retreat, it should be assumed that, however defined, sessions of the retreat would have deliberated on some of these issues. In addition, review of APC’s challenges suggests the need to appeal to leaders, especially President Asiwaju Tinubu to take provisions of the APC’s manifesto much more seriously when designing policies. Beyond provisions of Renewed Hope 2023, it is important that the APC manifesto is used as the primary guide for policy design for all governments produced by the APC, including the Federal Government.
As much as party members and Nigerians can hold elected and appointed leaders in government responsible for delivering on campaign promises, party leaders, especially NWC members are ineffective in terms of regulating the conducts of elected representatives. Their ineffectiveness renders provisions of Article 13.4(xi), which required NWC members to ‘examine the activities, policies, programmes and legislation made by governments in the Federation, from time to time, in order to determine their alignment with the manifesto and Constitution of the Party, and when necessary, to make recommendations to the National Executive Committee for its actions’ indolent. The reality is that, just like elected and appointed representatives in government, there are many members of the NWC who are ignorant of the provisions of the APC manifesto. It is even possible that there are many members of the NWC who have never sighted the APC manifesto.
Once members of the NWC who are expected to be the custodians of both the APC Constitution and manifesto are ignorant of provisions of the APC manifesto, elected and appointed representatives in government will be weakly committed to delivering on campaign promises. Many would argue that the initiative of President Asiwaju Tinubu to establish a Result Delivery Unit with a Special Adviser to the President, Mrs. Hadiza Bala Usman, as the coordinator would strengthen capacity of the APC led Federal Government to deliver on its campaign promises. As much as that is true, it may not produce the needed ownership by APC leaders, based on which sustainability by future APC governments can be guaranteed.
The challenge of ensuring that governments produced by the APC use provisions of the party’s manifesto as primary guide for policy initiatives is even more compelling in the case of state governments. Part of the vision of setting up the Progressive Governors Forum (PGF) was informed by the objective of getting state governments produced by the APC to ‘commit themselves to specific policy actions in their states aimed at promoting the social democratic programmes of APC in line with provisions of the party constitution and manifesto’. Being facilitators of the merger negotiations that produced the APC, the founding members of the PGF, in recognition of the ideological orientation that informs provisions of the APC manifesto, which is social democratic, underpin policy orientation of all APC states to be also social democratic based on which the PGF Secretariat was mandated to facilitate development of initiatives that would produce policy synergy across APC controlled states.
Sustainably achieving all these would require corresponding appropriate capacity development within the organs of the APC. A situation whereby, the organs of the party are frozen and elected and appointed representatives in governments at all levels operate in complete isolation from party organs, could produce weak commitment to implementation of party manifesto and when, to the contrary, stronger commitments are produced, may not be sustainable. Absence of strong commitment to the APC manifesto is partly responsible for the unfortunate reality whereby the public perception about similarity between the APC and other parties in the country is getting stronger and almost impossible to contradict.
Beyond issues of strong public perception about similarity between the APC and other parties, there is also the troubling reality whereby it is increasingly becoming more expensive to aspire and win elections in APC, perhaps more expensive than in any other party. For instance, cost of APC Presidential and Gubernatorial nomination forms in 2014, ahead of the 2015 general elections, was respectively, N27.5 million and N5 million. In 2019, it increased to N45 million and N22.5 million for Presidential and Gubernatorial nomination forms respectively. It rose to N100 million and N50 million in 2023 respectively. At this rate, by 2027, the cost of APC nomination form for Presidential election will not be less than N250 million. That of Gubernatorial election may not be less than N125 million.
In the case of the 2015 general elections, it is most likely that many of those who emerged as the Governorship candidates for APC and won the party primary may have succeeded with far less than One Billion Naira (N1 billion). Although many would imagine such a cost as outrageous, this is most likely to be a very conservative estimate. There are states such as Lagos, Rivers, Delta and Akwa Ibom, which may have cost far above Two Billion Naira (N2 billion) to win the Governorship Primary in 2015. Like the case of cost of nomination forms, the cost certainly increased in 2019 and 2023 substantial.
In fact, the most disturbing reality was more reflected in the case APC Presidential primary. While in 2015, we had one of the excellent models of producing a Presidential candidate in the person of former President Muhammadu Buhari who wasn’t a moneybag, and therefore had to rely on the generosity of fellow party leaders and well-wishers to finance the campaign for his primary election in both 2015 and 2019, in 2023 the reverse completely happened as all those who aspired and contested for the APC Presidential primary, including President Asiwaju Tinubu shouldered all the financial burden for their primary campaign. To that extent, it is possible that President Asiwaju Tinubu may have incurred not less than Fifty Billion Naira (N50 billion) to win the APC Presidential primary and emerged as the party’s presidential candidate.
After incurring such huge personal expenditure with almost zero contributions from other party leaders, President Asiwaju Tinubu had to also shoulder almost all the cost of the 2023 Presidential election with very negligible contributions from the APC and other leaders, if at all. Certainly, inclusive of the cost of winning the Presidential primary, winning the 2023 Presidential elections may have cost President Asiwaju Tinubu upward of One Hundred Billion Naira (N100 Billion). By every standard, this is very outrageous and alarming. Cascading it down to Governors, it would have cost each of the APC Governorship candidates for 2023 elections not less than Ten Billion (N10 Billion) to win the elections.
How a party envisioned to be progressive would be degraded to money politics is quite worrisome. Partly because money politics took over internal party contest during the 2023 elections, contest for the leadership of the 10th National Assembly became driven by money politics too. It may have cost both Sen. Godswill Akpabio and Rt. Hon. Abbas Tajudeen nothing less than Fifty Billion Naira (N50 Billion) each to win the contest for Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives. What this simply means is that for any person to contemplate aspiring for President of the Federal Republic or Governor of any state, the person must have impossible amount of money running into hundreds of billions. How many Nigerians can afford this from legitimate earning?
How is APC going to address this disturbing reality? Or will APC simply turn a blind eye to such a troubling reality? Is this a problem, which President Asiwaju Tinubu want to address during the tenure of his leadership? Or is he going to ignore it since he can afford it? One can deduce that with such high cost of winning elections, it is enough to weaken the bond between elected leaders and other party leaders, which may have created the present problems of accessibility. So long as elected leaders, especially President Asiwaju Tinubu, are inaccessible to other party leaders, the prospect of returning APC to its founding vision of emerging as a progressive party will continue to diminish. And problems of money politics within the APC will be further entrenched.
As things are, we must be honest, Nigerian politics cannot continue the way it is today. Many Nigerians, especially APC members, expected that doing away with money politics is one of the changes APC will bring about. Unfortunately, things have progressively got worse. Sadly too, because structures of the party are not functioning, there is no avenue to deliberate all these and make proposals. APC is progressively losing even the little democratic credentials, which in 2015 encouraged Nigerians to expect the possibility of a progressive party emerging out of it. Many Nigerians, including APC members may be tempted to rationalise this unfortunate reality based on the liberal disposition of former President Buhari who was unable to ensure that APC matured into the envisioned progressive party in the last eight years. Consequently, APC virtually was taken over by whatever was PDP, and all its negative values include money politics.
How is the leadership of President Asiwaju Tinubu going to be different? Like during the tenure of former President Buhari, will APC structures remain frozen under the leadership of President Asiwaju Tinubu? If APC structures remained frozen, how can APC become a progressive party? What does being a progressive party means to APC leaders and President Asiwaju Tinubu? Will being a progressive party minimise money politics? How can that be achieved? Minimising money politics will require putting in place comprehensive funding strategy for all activities of the party, including electoral contest. So long as aspirants and candidates are required to bear all the financial burden of winning elections, the extent of being successful may not include transforming APC into a progressive party, which is the primary source of APC’s electoral advantage.
It is the hope of many APC leaders and members that President Asiwaju Tinubu will prioritise decisions to return the party to its founding vision of becoming a progressive party. We are confident, he has everything it requires to take every necessary decision. It is in his enlightened electoral interest to so and in the national interest too. Nigerians are desirous of a party that can make access possible to elected leaders, including the President, for other fellow party leaders. Nigerian democracy must resolve the challenge of astronomical cost of winning elections by aspirants and candidates. Will President Asiwaju Tinubu prioritise all these as part of what he wants to achieve during his tenure as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria? May the success of President Asiwaju Tinubu’s leadership also produce a truly progressive APC! Amin!
*Salihu Moh. Lukman, Kaduna