As the Independent National Electoral Commission begins the verification of claims by the All Progressives Congress, preparatory
to its registration, Onyebuchi Ezigbo examines the challenges ahead of the nation's opposition parties towards actualising their merger bid
Nigeria's political landscape may never be the same again if the three leading opposition parties, Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), succeed in their request for a merger.
The parties have scaled through several critical hurdles in their chase to secure the recognition of the Independent National Electoral
Commission (INEC) as a united front under the umbrella of the All Progressives Congress (APC). However, there are still outstanding
hurdles that the group must overcome and these include the challenge posed by rival groups laying claim to the APC identity and more importantly, convincing the commission that all its documentation and resolutions backing them have fully complied with the electoral law.
Buoyed by the confidence of having successfully weathered the storm of holding separate conventions to ratify the resolutions on merger plan and appoint an interim leadership, the merging parties had approached INEC for registration. The parties, last Tuesday, played host to the team of INEC investigation officials who came to verify claims and documentation earlier submitted to the commission as part of their quest for registration as a political party.
Against the background of the contentious nature of their party's abbreviation, APC, as well as court actions and threats of further
litigations, everyone is therefore looking the way of INEC to see what will be its response to the application filed by the merging
But it seems as if the commission has stuck to its decision to annul the application by a rival APC group, the African Peoples Congress.
The commission went ahead last week to conduct a physical inspection of claims contained in the application for the registration of the main APC. The INEC officials, led by the Director of Political Party Monitoring and Liaison, Alhaji Shittu Ibrahim, was ushered into the newly acquired two-storey building headquarters of APC by the interim National Chairman, Chief Bisi Akande, in company with other members of the interim leadership of the political association.
One of the key questions raised by INEC's officials, apart from trying to match the leaders’ names with their faces was on all documents relating to the office. Shortly after receiving the joint application for registration tenancy of the APC from the three opposition parties, INEC had raised observations over the inconclusive nature of the interim leadership of the proposed party. Under its adopted
constitution for the merger, the parties agreed on an interim party structure of 35-member national executive and ex-officio members.
But as at the time of making their application, the parties were only able to present Akande, Alhaji Tijani Musa Tunmsa and Sadiya Farouq to act as the National Chairman, Secretary and Treasurer respectively.
But INEC promptly directed the merging parties to make available a full list of the interim national executive committee as provided for
in the constitution of the proposed merger party.
The commission, in a letter addressed jointly to the three opposition parties, ACN, ANPP and CPC, and dated June 12, 2013, asked the merging parties to also ensure that they fill and submit 35 copies of the commission's prescribed form PA and to also submit 35 copies of the proposed constitution, manifesto and affidavit supporting claims made in form PA.
The letter signed by INEC's Secretary, Mr. Abdullahi A. Kaugama, the commission maintained that it will be after the parties had returned the completed form and materials that INEC will proceed to verify the claims contained in form PA. The interaction with INEC verification team lasted barely an hour before they were conducted round the office complex located at No. 6, Bissau Street, Zone 6 in Abuja.
Addressing journalists shortly after the inspection of the APC office by INEC, Akande expressed satisfaction at the tone of exchanges
between the parties and the electoral body, describing it as very good. A confident Akande told journalists that everything went well
and that expectations were that APC would scale through the registration hurdle.
He said: "From the beginning of this merger negotiation, we have gone to various conventions; we have made joint applications and we have been exchanging correspondence with INEC, but they have never visited us before. So today, INEC came to see us in our home and they are happy we have got a home. When the INEC team went through our attendance register, they discovered that we belonged to a party of gentlemen, APC. We have always been confident that no power under the sun will stop us from becoming a political party.”
On how soon the coalition expects APC to be registered, Akande said: “The law is clear about it," adding that the party is already
“INEC has never faulted what we did. When we wrote the first joint application, we have completed the merger phase of the exercise. INEC now needs administrative investigation to show that what we have done was according to its own laid down procedures and because of that, they kept writing to us and we were replying them. Today, they came for verification as to whether we exist, and where do we exist. We have proved to them that we exist like gentlemen and in a befitting accommodation."
Tunmsa who conducted INEC officials round the offices, also spoke in a similar tone, noting that everything about the new party is in good shape. "My impression of the commission’s visit is a good one. First of all, it confirmed the confidence that I had in the formation of APC. The commission came expecting to see some things which we were able to deliver today and I think everything is in good shape. Our documentation is okay and near perfect; we are expecting INEC's notification, telling us that we have been registered."
From the sentiments expressed by the leaders of the opposition party coalition, it would look as if the battle has been won already and
that it is only a matter of time for INEC to register APC. However, no one imagined that a new wave of controversy was lurking around the corner with the release of the names of the interim national executive for APC.
The interim body is made of 35 national officers nominated by the three major parties of ACN, CPC, ANPP and other splinter groups from DPP and APGA. The bone of contention was the composition of the interim leadership which was alleged to be dominantly Muslims. First to raise the issue was the ACN's National Treasurer, Chief Kenneth Kubani, who said he was resigning his position because of the ethnic and religious slant given to the APC leadership.
Kubani also resigned his position in the APC as an ex-officio member representing the South-south zone in protest over what he described as the non-observance of the "secularity and geo-political realities of the very complex Nigeria State".
For the records, the list of names of the interim committee is reproduced in order of parties.
The ACN: The National Chairman (South-west), Chief Bisi Akande (Osun); National Legal Adviser (South-west), Dr Muiz Banire (Lagos); National Vice Chairman ( South-west ), Chief Niyi Adebayo (Ekiti); National Vice Chairman (South-south), Chief Tom Ikimi (Edo); National Publicity Secretary (North Central), Alhaji Lai Mohammed (Kwara); Deputy National Organising Secretary (North-west), Senator Lawal Shuaibu (Zamfara); Deputy National Youth Leader (South-east), Mr. Uzo Igbonwa (Anambra); National Ex-Officio (South-south), Chief Kenneth Kubani (Rivers) and National Ex-Officio (North-east), Mr. Antibass El-Nathan (Taraba).
The ANPP: National Secretary (North-east), Tijjani Musa Tumsah (Yobe); National Financial Secretary (North-west), Shuaibu Musa (Zamfara); Deputy National Treasurer (North-west), Usman Danmadami (Sokoto); National Welfare Secretary (South-east), Emma Eneukwu (Enugu); Deputy National Publicity Secretary (North-east), Mr. Isa Madu Chul (Borno); National Vice Chairman (North-east), Alhaji Umaru Duhu (Adamawa); National Vice Chairman (North-west), Mr. Sanusi (Ogun) and Ex-Officio (North-central), Nelson Alapa (Benue).
The CPC: Deputy National Chairman (North-west), Hon Aminu Masari (Katsina); National Treasurer (North-west), Sadiya Umar Faruk
(Zamfara); Deputy National Legal Adviser (North-central), James Ocholi (Kaduna); Chairman (North-central), General Ahmed Abdullahi Aboki (Nassarawa); Deputy National Auditor (North-east), Captain Bala Jibrin (Bauchi); National Woman Leader (South-east), Sharon Ikeazor (Anambra); National Youth Leader (North-central), Abubakar Lado (Niger) and National Ex-Officio (North East), Mr. B.D Lawal (Adamawa).
The APGA: Deputy National Chairman (South-east), Senator Annie Okonkwo (Anambra); National Organising Secretary (South-east), Senator Osita Izunaso (Imo); Deputy National Financial Secretary (South-east) Sunday Chukwu (Ebonyi); Ex-Officio (North-central) Dr Jok Alamba (Plateau); Deputy National Woman Leader (North-east) Amina Abdullahim and National Vice Chairman (South-east), Dr Anyim Nyerere (Abia).
The DPP: National Auditor (South-south), Emeka-Olisa Akamukalli (Delta) and Deputy National Welfare Secretary (South-east), Sir
Romanus Egbunike (Imo).
However, the allegation of religious and ethnic bigotry made by Kubani did not go unchallenged as both ACN’s Muhammed and his CPC counterpart, Fashakin, fired back.
Muhammed said it was an attempt by political opponents to paint the new party in bad light, through an orchestrated campaign of calumny using ethnic and religious sentiments. In a statement, the ACN spokesman maintained that the attempt to use ethno-religious sentiments to destroy the budding party has fallen flat on the faces of the purveyors of falsehood.
''These purveyors of falsehood do not want good governance. That's why they are peddling the lies that the interim leadership of the APC is controlled by Muslims and that it did not reflect the country's plural values. The truth is that while ethno-religious sentiments did not form the criteria used in selecting the interim leadership, we were conscious that Nigeria is a country of plural values.
"That is why we have 17 Christians and 18 Muslims (the best balance possible in the odd number of 35 posts that were shared). That is why the 35 occupiers of the positions are from 29 different states, four more than the 25 stipulated by INEC. It was equal opportunity across all zones," he said.
Muhammed who doubles as spokesman for ACN and the yet-to-be registered APC, challenged anyone who doubts the authenticity of the facts and figures quoted above to verify them at INEC, instead of taking to the social media with rumour. According to him, the accusation of religious bias is one of the latest attempts to abort the APC baby as the last-ditch effort by those who have mounted similar campaigns against the party in the past, to no avail.
''First, they ambushed us by duplicating our acronym, sponsored of course by those who are well known to Nigerians and, when that failed to slow down our momentum, they said the sharing of posts will divide us and ultimately sound our death knell. With these moves having failed woefully, they have now played what they considered their most potent joker: the ethno-religious card. Thankfully, this too has failed. Nigerians are so desirous of good governance that they will not allow any play on sentiments shake their resolve."
If the ACN scribe's approach appeared combative, the CPC spokesman, Fashakin, sought to explain the politics behind the emergence of the APC interim executive. He said the present leadership was a temporary one nominated by different parties involved in the merger and as such, the allegation of bias did not arise.
“This new executive is an interim one; it is an appointive executive, and not an elected leadership. Second, the APC merging parties were allotted party position to be filled by them. So the interim leadership that emerged out of this arrangement was made up of persons chosen by the parties to represent them and who they believe can represent their interest adequately.
“The truth of the matter is that the consideration for nominating the candidates was mainly based on individual merit and not by religion or any other bias. The different parties had strategies on how to bring on board those that will represent their interests. The strategy was not based on religious perspective,” he added.
Fashakin pointed out that it is only when the new party holds convention to elect new executives that issues such as religion and
ethnic balance can come into play.
"I feel those who are throwing up these issues are being unnecessarily overbearing and they are unfair to the merging parties. They are just crying wolves where there are none. The people are using it to make a case for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)."
A former Minister of Aviation and an ex-chieftain of the PDP, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, also rose in defence of the new leadership formed by the merging parties.
"Those that are publishing and spreading the all-Muslim list in the media and the social websites and networks should be advised to go and publish the full list of all the national officers of the APC and not just the list of the Muslim ones. This is merely a PDP ploy to sell a lie to the public and attempt to clothe it as truth and it shall not stand. The truth is that there are many more religious and ethnic
bigots in the PDP and much more ignorance than there is in any other party in Nigeria," he said.
For now, it seems the controversy over the formation of the interim leadership of the APC is gradually calming down. Most of the internal crises generated by the exercise appeared to have been buried, even if temporarily, until the time to elect substantive officers of the new party. As the parties await the outcome of the ongoing registration process at INEC, political pundits believe that the battle may not yet be over for the merging parties.