Nigeria News

NIGERIA: Opposition Battle Shifts to INEC

With the convocation of national conventions by the major partners in the proposed opposition political parties’ merger, Onyebuchi Ezigbo writes that the battle has now shifted to the Independent National Electoral Commission for the registration of All the Progressives Congress

The opposition coalition train is gradually but steadily edging its way towards actualising the dream to fuse into one political umbrella. But there is a major stumbling block on its way right now.
The merging parties are pitched in a battle of wits with another rival group, the African People’s Congress (APC), which is equally laying claims to the APC abbreviation, on the grounds that it first applied for registration with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Although, the merging parties are defiant in their resolve to hold on to the abbreviation, observers believed that mere defiance and resort to subtle blackmail and threats would not get the anywhere. They need to convince INEC and the courts on why they should hold patent right to the abbreviation at the expense of the rival group.
No doubt, the three major parties promoting the merger, Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) have shown considerable commitment to the cause of the union. To their credit, the venture has so far recorded major milestones and surmounted obstacles in their push for the merger.

What started as a marriage of convenience between losers in the 2011 presidential election, has now blossomed into a political octopus threatening to upstage the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). As at the last count, these parties have formed committees on merger, which had met and spelt out the rules of its engagement.
Making of APC Constitution and Manifesto
The three major opposition parties defied all odds to come up with a constitution, a manifesto and have also adopted a logo, flag and common slogan all in the effort to convince pessimists that they are indeed a cohesive entity that can actually work together under one platform.

In drawing up their manifesto, the parties tried to give their opponents, particularly the PDP, a scare through its populist-oriented policy thrust which seeks to among other interventions, confront corruption squarely with an unequalled ferocity. In the same vein, the coalition came up with a draft common constitution which provides for a six months transitional party structure, that is, to come into force immediately after the registration of the All Progressives Congress (APC) or ninety days before the day of any election in which APC might field candidates.

In the constitution which was circulated among the parties for their consideration and adoption, sharing of transitional offices at the national level is to be based on a parameter to be worked out later. Similarly, filling of party positions at the state, local and ward levels is to be based on the performance of the parties at the last held elections.
One of the key provisions contained in the merger constitution is the modalities for management and transfer of assets owned by the merging parties and groups. The parties are proposing in the constitution to have all their assets automatically transferred to the new party, APC, right from the date of its registration with the INEC.

Under its draft manifesto which has been adopted by the parties, the coalition expressed a resolve to work for the promotion and protection of an enduring democratic system with credible national political leadership, while promising to ensure among other things, fundamental human rights, freedom of worship and association, freedom of the press, enforcement of rule of law and a new moral code that will engender national re-orientation.
“APC in government shall muster the political will to wage strident war against corruption otherwise our post-oil-era will be disastrous. It is our concerned view that none of our cardinal programmes will succeed if the current level of corruption and looting going on in the land is allowed to continue,” the stakeholders stated.

In terms of development agenda, the merging parties said in the manifesto that they would be paying attention to the implementation of 11 cardinal programmes, including war against corruption, agriculture and food security, power supply, transportation, mineral and steel development. Other areas of focus are education, healthcare, industrialisation, full and gainful employment, infrastructure development and housing.
On the issue of addressing the problematic power sector, the coalition said apart from ensuring proper funding of power generation companies, it would work assiduously to improve the management efficiency of the distribution system, ensure better consumer service while at the same time promote national energy conservation and maintenance culture.

The manifesto provides that as a social democratic government, APC will not hesitate to intervene in any critical sector of the economy when the need arises, especially where the private sector lacks the capability to do so.
With the successful conclusion of national conventions of the three major constituent parties to endorse their merger plan, the three political parties now face one more hurdle in the quest to actualise their dream of fusing into one political platform. Ironically, the challenge is such that is enormous and stiff.

For instance, one of the parties, CPC, still has an in-house squabble to sort out before it can have a safe ride to the new destination. Perhaps, the biggest challenge is the registration by INEC. And given its battle with another political group over the party’s abbreviation, APC, the matter is now subject to adjudication in the court and no one can predict its outcome, even though registration exercise lies with INEC.

The Identity Crisis
When the APC first emerged after members of the opposition coalition floated the All Progressives Congress in February 6, many saw it as yet another addition to the political lexicon of the country. But as soon as politicians began to dissect the import of its political meaning, especially as it affects the 2015 general election, the abbreviation became controversial.
Opponents of the merging parties started throwing mud at the proposed new party. Some even made mockery of it and likened it to a medication used many years ago to treat headache and fever but which has since lost its potency and trust and no longer on the shelf.

They also described the brain behind the formation of APC as strange bedfellows who cannot work together under one umbrella let alone agree to share power.
It was the PDP that threw the first salvo, when it said that only those having headache needed to take the opposition coalition’s APC. PDP also went on to say that the combined forces of all the merging parties could not dethrone it. On the other hand, the coalition of ACN, ANPP and CPC fired back and claimed that the PDP had given the country too much headache that it requires an APC to cure the nation of the malaise.
As all these altercations lingered, no one foresaw the looming identity crisis of APC except perhaps those who were behind the drama that led to the sudden emergence of two rival political groups laying claim to the same abbreviation as the new party formed by the opposition coalition.

Despite the volte face by its publicity machinery, the opposition coalition parties and their leaders realised that they were up against a difficult challenge and they might need more than a
Chief Tom Ikimi (right) unveils the name and logo of the merger party at a meeting in Abuja with him are the progressive governors
passing interest in the workings of INEC and in the way the judiciary will handle its case to be able to scale through the all-important hurdle.
At the valedictory national convention of CPC, held last weekend at the Eagle Square in Abuja, most leaders of APC, who spoke at the event harped on the need for Nigerians and INEC to give the merger a chance to survive. Some of them even made spirited attempts to court the goodwill of the egg-heads at the INEC.

In his solidarity message at the convention, National Chairman of ACN, Chief Akande Bisi, told CPC supporters at the Eagle Square, venue of the CPC convention, that the main aim of forming a common opposition platform was to rescue the country from collapse.
“We have embarked on the historic journey, the first of its kind in the country, because we want to be recorded positively on the side of history. We intend to rescue the country from threat of collapse. We have embarked on an irreversible path to wrest power.
“For the PDP years of locust, we are offering Nigerians a new regime of fiscal discipline, total reformation and a period of security. We want our people to realise that good leadership is possible,” Akande said.
It was the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Raji Fashola (SAN), who tried to capture the mood of the coalition leaders during the convention when he urged the INEC not to miss an opportunity to make history by associating with the change that was on the way by registering APC.

“Although I said INEC must act above board; that alone will not be enough. INEC must also be seen to have acted above board. If it is true that our worried opponents have any plans or any hand in scuttling the merger, they must re-think and desist. If they believe that the merger offers no ideology, it is not for them to decide that. That is the decision the people of Nigeria, who own Nigeria’s sovereignty, have to make and live with.  “More importantly, every personnel of INEC, from the chairman to the most junior officer, must see the consummation of this merger as a historic milestone in the political history of Nigeria.”
Governor Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State equally pleaded with INEC to allow the opposition merger to work, saying the parties have passed the political rubicon.

On his part, the Imo State Governor, Chief Rochas Okorocha, said he was not entering the merger under any political platform but as a detribalised citizen who was seeking a means to improve the lives of Nigerians.
In his remarks, CPC National Chairman, Tony Momoh, said the amalgamation of the three major parties into one platform would mark a watershed in the evolution of party politics in Nigeria. He noted that the merger was a product of patriotism, sacrifice and nationalism, saying without the serious steps being taken by the promoters of APC, Nigeria would continue to wallow in poverty and underdevelopment.

At the ANPP national convention in Gusau, Zamfara State, it was the same sing-song as the party’s National Chairman, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, described APC as a revolutionary instrument coming at the right time to rescue the country from imminent collapse and unremitting insecurity.
Onu said politics was essentially a game of numbers, stressing that the decision to merge with ACN and CPC was borne out of the desire to form a formidable platform that ordinary Nigerians could trust to wrest power from the PDP. He said Nigeria was reaping the bad fruit of 14 years of political monopoly by one party that stifled competition and increased decay.

According to him, “Problems of the nation can only be solved efficiently if there is competition in the political arena. Imposing one party rule on the people brought disaster in many African countries. The Arab Spring revolt in the Arab world is because of lack of strong opposition. We cannot afford such consequences in our country.  “It is true that those who play opposition politics are seen by those in power as political enemies instead of competitors. Everything is done to weaken opposition and in the process, people suffer and the country is worse for it.”

Addressing the convention, the Zamfara State Governor, Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari, said the large gathering of party supporters at the convention was an indication and a clear message that nobody could scuttle the merger, stressing that it is the desire of Nigerians.
For the chairman, ANPP Board of Trustees, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, APC has come to   stay, even as he prayed that God would make the merger a success

‘Missing’ CPC Certificate
Beyond this, CPC remains in a fix. Apart from the internal squabble, the party’s further participation in the opposition coalition merger process may be threatened because its certificate of registration is being withheld by a dissident group led by the expelled former chairman of the party, Senator Rufai Hanga.
Buhari said Hanga and his group had no basis to lay further claim to the leadership of the party. It first began as mutiny when some group of pioneer protem national officers of the party protested their removal through what they described as illegal convention held in January 2011.

The group led by Hanga, had sued the Momoh-led National leadership of CPC, disputing its legitimacy. Although their case at the Federal Capital Territory High Court was struck out on technical grounds, the group later re-approached the court seeking remedy to its claim as the rightful leadership of CPC.

Last Thursday when speculation became rife that the aggrieved group may have secured an injunction to stop the party’s national convention, the CPC National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Rotimi Fashakin, described it as false and unfounded and insisted that no court had given an order stopping its national convention.   In a statement issued at the end of the party’s Board of Trustees meeting last Thursday, Fashakin said the convention would go on as planned. “Our attention at the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) was drawn to an outright falsehood that tended to insinuate that the CPC convention scheduled to hold on Saturday, 11th May, 2013 had been called off as a result of a court injunction.

“First, we hereby use this medium that there was no such court injunction. Second, this piece of mendacious impudence was the handiwork of unscrupulous individuals who lost their case against the party and have resorted to other extra-legal means”
However, dismissing the rumour of court injunction may have served the purpose of ensuring that the party’s convention was held but it did not resolve the problem of who has the right to the custody of the party’s registration certificate nor the pending litigation.

In an attempt to recover the INEC certificate, CPC wrote to the police alleging theft of its registration certificate. The National Secretary of party, Buba Galadima, signed the petition addressed to the Utako Police Station in the Federal Capital (FCT).
The party defended the move, saying it was forced to report Hanga so that the police would it help recover the certificate from him.
“Yes, the party has reported to the police over its missing certificate of registration which the former chairman, Senator Hanga has been keeping illegally since being eased out of office.”

It was learnt that Galadima had requested the police to give the party covering notes that would enable it apply for a certified true copy from INEC. But contrary to the position of Galadima, the aggrieved faction said the original registration certificate was never missing and has always been in their possession. The spokesman of the group, Chief Dennis Aghanya, explained that his group was in rightful custody of the certificate since there was a pending court action challenging the authenticity of the national executive of CPC.
In the same vein, Hanga has written to INEC, to inform the commission that his group is in custody of the certificate.
For the first time the national leader of CPC and former Head State, General Muhammadu Buhari, acknowledged that the party was having a problem with the splinter group.

Speaking on the matter at the end of the party’s BoT meeting in Abuja, Buhari said Hanga was withholding the party’s certificate illegally. He said Hanga could not continue to hang on to the position of national chairman of CPC, which he had relinquished in 2010 when he sought to contest the Kano State governorship ticket.

However, Buhari, who is committed to the actualisation of the merger bid, has given assurance that the party would overcome the crisis. “I think what the party will do is to go to court and swear an affidavit and get Hanga jailed. I want to assure you that we are going to go with APC to INEC and whatever the commission requires, I am sure we can comply with it.”

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