Why Political Parties in Nigeria should be Reformed

Salihu Moh. Lukman

The Fourth Republic, which began on May 29, 1999 was received by most activists in Nigeria with contempt and outright denial. As a privileged leader of the prodemocracy movement in Nigeria, I recall with utmost regret how we refused to participate in the Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar transition programme that ushered in the Fourth Republic. Being a founding member of the Campaign for Democracy (CD), and a founding member of Democratic Alternative (DA), it is painful to recall how we rationalised our refusal to participate in the transition programme with the argument that ‘it is democracy without democrats’, ‘Abacha politicians have taken over’, etc.

Right from our university days in the 1980s, we committed ourselves to radical transformation of Nigeria. We were oriented to be very critical as well as very receptive to criticisms. We were brutally honest to ourselves, which was responsible for why when some of our leaders in Lagos, including Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Dr. Beko Ransome Kuti and Mr. Femi Falana, in 1993, met with Gen. Oladipo Diya as part of their consultation to overthrow the Interim Government led by Chief Ernest Shonekan to bring in the Gen. Sani Abacha administration, we expressed our disapproval by breaking away from the CD to form the DA led by Mr. Alao Aka Bashorun. Mr. Olisa Agbakoba and Mrs. Ayo Ogbe were part of the breakaway leadership that formed the CD. Both are alive to confirm or refute this. Mr. Falana is also alive.

The period 1993 – 1999 was quite traumatic for all prodemocracy activists. Being arrested and held in SSS facilities across the country was very common. Going for meetings outside the country and travelling through footpaths across Nigerian borders defined that period. Funding our trips personally to meetings in Lagos and other parts of the country, travelling on night buses on popular ‘attachment’ was our reality. I was privileged to be working with Comrade Adams Oshiomhole at the time in National Union of Textiles, Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria (NUTGTWN). Being my boss who was also committed to prodemocracy struggles, he gave me approvals to travel to prodemocracy meetings and in some few occasions supported me financially, including providing air ticket from Kaduna to Lagos to enable me attend meetings, which were most times on Saturdays.

The reality was that we fought for democracy but having won it failed to show up to be part of the political actors in 1999. I recall with very deep regret how our leaders in Lagos, including Mr. Falana reported to us in some of our meetings how our respected Mr. Nelson Mandela, then as President of South Africa sent Mr. Thabo Mbeki to appeal to prodemocracy activists in Nigeria to participate in the transition programme in 1998 but was turned down. Again, Mr. Falana, Mr. Agbakoba and Mrs. Ogbe are all alive to confirm or refute this allegation.

The truth is that, as a person, I have spent the best part of my life campaigning for democracy. I have made sacrifices and am still making sacrifices in the hope that our children and future generation will have a nation that is governed democratically. I became an activist not because I wanted a job. If anything, I came from a family that was privileged to have a Minister at the time. To be fair to him, he made every offer to me to make me abandon my activist orientation, but I declined. I remained committed to my belief and lived a life of orphan, which enabled me to have all the love in the world so long as I accept everyone showing love to me as my parent. It is a very difficult task because it requires being able to stand by the truth, including being opposed to my parents when they go wrong.

This has remained my guide throughout my adult life. But it also imposes an obligation on me to keep my eyes open and always be ready to move on when I have completed any given task. Moving on necessarily challenges one to find new tasks and responsibilities. This was responsible for my exit out of NLC in October 2006. And it is responsible for my exit out of the APC leadership in July 2023. Having left both the NLC and the APC leadership, I remained committed to their values, which is about justice and equitable distribution of resources in society.

In the case of APC, it is a troubling reality. Here we are as a party, just coming out election and very lucky to have President Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the leader of the party who was part of the prodemocracy struggle to bring an end to military rule in the country in 1999. My layperson, or innocent person, expectation was that if under former President Muhammadu Buhari we were confused or unable to achieve the vision of making APC a truly progressive party, under President Asiwaju Tinubu, we should have no difficulty in achieving that. Somehow, it would appear politics has taken over everything and business-as-usual has become the orientation.

We are not and we will never abandon the campaign for democracy in Nigeria. Whatever is responsible for the current orientation can be surmounted and should be conquered. We will not degrade ourselves to becoming antagonists of our party and President Asiwaju Tinubu. We are confident that our party is blessed with leaders who are capable of initiating processes of reform to return our party to its founding vision of becoming a progressive party. We are also confident that President Asiwaju Tinubu is a committed democrat and truly a progressive politician. We were never wrong in our estimation that out of all the 23 leaders who aspired to become our Presidential candidates for the 2023 general elections, he was best qualified.

Therefore, as party members and leaders we must continue to engage him to live up to all the promises we made to Nigerians since 2015. We must work hard and make all the necessary sacrifices to ensure that both President Asiwaju Tinubu and the APC succeed in moving Nigerian democracy forward. Moving Nigerian democracy forward is about promoting political competition in the country. A situation whereby few people have taken over our party, APC, and are doing everything possible to block internal competition within the party is unacceptable and should not be allowed to continue. This was, and still is, the problem of PDP. It was one the fundamental issues APC promised to change in 2015, which won the support of Nigerians.

As Nigerian citizens committed to democracy, we must go back to the drawing board and begin the campaign to reform our political parties in Nigeria to guarantee internal political competition. It is only when internal political competition is achieved within political parties that wider national competition can be achieved. Once we fail to guarantee internal competition within parties, the current reality of excessive manipulation, through rigging of elections, vote buying, and other criminality would continue.

Since joining partisan politics in 2010, I committed myself to being different, which is quite challenging. I made up my mind that although access to elective and appointive positions will be quite advantageous, it will not prevent me from remaining in the vanguard for democracy in Nigeria. It is a big challenge. To achieve that I committed myself to use the only resource I have now, which my little knowledge. I will continue to use it to mobilise for the reform of our parties to have democracy in Nigeria.

Since joining partisan politics, it has been my strength, through which I am able to produce five publications so far. In the last few years, application of my little knowledge to engage our leaders has projected me as a controversial personality, which I am not. Often, inability of our leaders to accept to engage issues create the unhealthy impression of being antagonistic. This was the sad reality that created the rift between Comrade Adams and me. Inability to properly manage our disagreements with Comrade Adams and resolve them democratically led to all the challenges we had with the Caretaker Committee under the leadership of His Excellency Mai Mala Buni. The challenges we had with the Comrade Adams leadership of APC became a child play under the leadership of His Excellency Mai Mala. By the time our leadership with Sen. Abdullahi Adamu as Chairman was elected on March 26, 2022, the challenges became a jock. Sadly, this reality continues under the leadership of Dr. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje.

Having left the leadership of the party and being actively involved in all the contestations within the party leading to the emergence of President Asiwaju Tinubu, I decided to document some of the experiences, which is now contained in the publication APC and Transition Politics. Part of the motivation is also to clarify many of the allegations against me that I am against the leadership of President Asiwaju Tinubu. I must say very clearly, I disagreed with President Asiwaju Tinubu’s decision to nominate Dr. Ganduje as the National Chairman of APC but I respect and accept the fact that Dr. Ganduje is today the National Chairman. I also have strong concerns about the direction taken by the Federal Government under the leadership of President Asiwaju. Under the leadership of Asiwaju Tinubu, we have sadly produced an irritating political reality whereby the North-Central region is marginalised. My fear is that at the rate we are going, with all the lowly rating of former President Buhari, if care is not taken, he may turn out to be more progressive.

I wish I can have a better channel of direct communication to the President and leaders within the party. Unfortunately, with organs of the party frozen and leaders, especially President Asiwaju Tinubu becoming more and more inaccessible, one is left with no option but the available public channels. In spite of all that, I am confident that like we succeeded in bringing an end to military rule in the country, we will succeed in ending this madness whereby politicians reduce democracy to a game of manipulation.

Having succeeded in producing the publication, APC and Transition Politics, a public presentation is being scheduled to hold at 9.30 am Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Abuja on December 19, 2023. The Public Presentation is oriented to stimulate both reflections and consideration of what needs to be done to return APC to its founding vision of progressive politics. Both the publication and public presentation is not just about APC but about the future of democracy in Nigeria. The goal is to ensure that elected governments and leaders are accountable and responsive to the needs of citizens.

Given that APC is the ruling party, the obligation of setting the necessary democratic standards is squarely the responsibility of leaders of the party. Again, given that we are blessed with leaders who were responsible for all the success of both the merger of 2013 and the subsequent electoral victory of 2015, the public presentation will be guided by them. Chief Bisi Akande, who was the founding Chairman of the APC will be the Chairman of the public presentation. Chief Akande, without hesitation, wrote the foreword to the publication. The Keynote Address at the public presentation will be delivered by Hon. Olawale Oshun, the leader of Afenere Renewal Group. Sen. Ajibola S. Basiru, National Secretary of the APC will review the book.

Special Guests at the occasion, include Sen. Kashim Shettima GCON, Vice President of the Federal Republic, Dr. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, APC National Chairman, Sen. Godswill Akpabio, Senate President, Rt. Hon. Abbas Tajudeen, Speaker of House of Representatives, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun and Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, former APC National Chairmen, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, former Vice President and APC Presidential Aspirant, Chief Rotimi Amaechi, former Rivers State Governor and APC Presidential Aspirant, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, former Ekiti State Governor and APC Presidential Aspirant, Sen. Ibikunle Amosun, former Ogun State Governor and APC Presidential Aspirant, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, former PGF Chairman and APC Presidential Aspirant, Sen. Abubakar Atiku Bagudu, former PGF Chairman and APC Presidential Aspirant, Mal. Nasir El-Rufai, former Governor of Kaduna State, Mal. Uba Sani, current Governor of Kaduna State and all serving Governors of APC.

The public presentation of the publication APC and Transition Politics will mark the commencement of structured public engagements aimed at ensuring that our parties are reformed to guarantee internal political competition, which is fundamental requirement for democracy. This is being initiated in line with the principle, which require citizens to organise and not agonise. While acknowledging the wide gap that exists between expectations of Nigerians to have a democracy that permit political competition and the reality of having parties that are nothing but tools of manipulation in the hands of few politicians, rather than limiting ourselves to complains, it is important to set the stage for reflections to produce ideas for possible exploration. Just like the campaign for merger of opposition parties started with reflections and exploration, we are confident that the reform of political parties can start with reflections and exploration.

*Salihu Moh. Lukman