NIGERIA: Let the Battle Begin

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Successfully transforming into the All Progressives Congress at its national convention last Thursday, the Action Congress of Nigeria may have kicked off battle for 2015

“History is upon us. We must respond to its call. If we tarry or fail to act as the situation requires, history will still move forward and write its verdict and that verdict will be unanswerable by us. All the achievements we have recorded in the past will matter little unless we now answer the challenge that is now facing us. We have come to the place where things must change or we shall sink. God forbid, we shall not sink. For the nation to continue as it constitutes less than nothing spells an invitation to doom.”

With a rather electrifying speech, former governor of Lagos State and one of the national leaders of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, illuminated the Onikan venue of the party’s national convention, last week. As a major player in the merger of opposition parties, Tinubu and his party were not oblivious of the challenges ahead as well as the sacrifice required to play constrictive opposition politics.

No doubt, it was a challenge that may have demanded all that the party has recorded in terms of success in the progressive movement. But mindful of the need to take their chance, Tinubu and their progressive allies took a first step in that direction and set the ball rolling for what to expect in the next general election when change as being touted now by his progressive group would take to its first major test.
Thus, amidst scepticism, history was last week recorded as the ACN collapses into APC. Being the first time in the history of the country that a merger and not an alliance, was successfully driven with as much determination for change, that change is on the way is therefore not subject to debate.

The merger, of course, involves the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) and a part of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), but the ACN at its convention has set the ball rolling with attendance of no fewer than 4, 761 members.

Venue of the convention was colourful with politicians and their supporters showing support for the merger in different forms. While some did by donning vests and T-shirts with different inscriptions, others did carrying placards that spoke of their supports as well as those who came in with traditional troupes to give flavour to the event.

Onikan and environs were charged. Interestingly, while there were several other events on the same day in Lagos, the attention received by the ACN and their supporters showed that they were the owners of their territory and they leveraged that to a greater extent. That a big thing was going to happen politically in the state was palpable and the spark lasted for as long as the event took.

An obviously elated Tinubu soon mounted the stage to set the ball rolling. He was not up on stage to merely clear the air of misrepresentation as far as ACN was concerned on the merger; he told the enthusiastic crowd that the convention would be the last of the ACN as an indication that the merger was not a fluke nor one spurred by thirst for power but the urgent need to rescue the country from brink of collapse.

The former Lagos governor waxed philosophical and drew inferences as he held the crowd spellbound for several minutes with his captivating speech. In clear terms, he told the crowd that those of them behind the merger were propelled by the need to improve the quality of lives of the Nigerian people and therefore came down hard on the government of the day. He lampooned the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government and said it has failed on the grounds of corruption and dearth of development.

Although he would have preferred to remain as ACN, Tinubu said what was required was sacrifice and patriotism, “to rescue Nigerians from the plights of mis-governance. The way Nigeria is being governed must change dramatically and the logo of where we are going is 'change'. We have been met by woe from all sides: Boko Haram falls upon our people in the north, militants fall on our people, kidnapping and robbery encircle the nation as if we have become a breeding ground for criminal misconduct.

“Those in command today do nothing for the average Nigerian. Those who could improve the nation for the good of all us do not allow the opportunity; instead, they make it better for themselves and their family. There is no country in the world that will be as big as Nigeria where the budget will have 25% for capital and the rest recurrent. Those in command today do nothing for the average Nigerian,” Tinubu lamented.

He therefore implored the Nigerian people to consider the merger as an attempt by the parties to collaborate with them and bring the needed change because "we must not accept mediocrity.

“I stand to tell you that for the good of Nigeria, this must be the last and final convention of the ACN. As one of the national leaders of this party, I have dedicated myself to our political collaboration. I am attached to it in the strongest way. I am proud of what we have accomplished.

“To rescue Nigeria from the blight of mis-goverance, we must join hands with like-minded progressives in other parties and organisations. We must sacrifice our current partisan identity to create a larger one capable of assuming leadership at the national level. This and only this offers the best chance for Nigeria at this stage.

“Join me today in voting to move our party into merger with the ANPP, CPC, other parties and organisations to form the All Progressives Congress,” adding that the decision to merge was not a sad ending but the beginning of a great beginning because “the merger of the main opposition parties would save Nigeria from collapse.”

Former military head of state, General Muhammadu Buhari, who was present at the event, also said the merger was an important move to rescue the nation from imminent political anarchy, stressing that the journey so far has not been easy. He therefore sought the collaboration of Nigerians to make the process successful in the long run.

"To ACN and CPC, it was not an easy issue; it was a continuation of what we seriously started in 2011. Time was against us and all I can say is, the rest is history. This time around, we started early, to build on the foundation we have laid in 2010. I assure you that all those indifference that are of concern about this party or this system, of merging parties in a democracy and as the only solution to political anarchy is this merger.

“We have to come together- the opposition- to make sure that we mobilise our respective constituencies, so that we make it impossible for the ruling party to continue to rig elections in this country. We are determined to go down from voting units to wards, to local governments, to the states and Abuja, at the same time, our constituencies. Nigerians must be respected as a people.

"In the 1999 constitution, one of the important duties of INEC is to register political association, even political parties. And whoever wants to become anything politically, from a councilor in the local government to the presidency, must join a duly registered political party- with a constitution and manifesto and with constituency. If you don't, then you are not serious. We hope that other institutions that will stabilise this system- in a democracy, like the law enforcement agencies, the judiciary, INEC, will sympathise with Nigerians so that 2015 will be a hitch-free poll to transfer power from PDP to APC.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I congratulate you for this patience to be here, 10, this morning up till now. We are here- we, I say we, the CPC and other colleagues of ACN in this merger, to give you the moral support that is absolutely necessary to assure you that there is no alternative to this merger. The alternative is unthinkable. I thank you very much on behalf of my party, the Congress for Progress Change," Buhari said.

Beyond the sacrifice however, the permutations are also commonplace. With the coming together of these parties, there is the prospect to widen their scope in a united front, become more formidable, win more states and possibly wrest power from the PDP in the national election.

National Chairman of the ACN, Chief Bisi Akande, on his part expressed optimism that since previous not-too-successful attempts at merger yielded positive results, the current effort would bring greater gains to the merging parties.

“Our experience of a miniature merger of the truncated Alliance for Democracy with the splinter of the PDP called ACD in 2006 which resulted in the AC and later ACN promoted our control from one state, Lagos, in 2007 to six states; Lagos, Edo, Ekiti, Osun, Oyo and Ogun in 2011; and increased our representation in the National Assembly from 32 in the House of Representatives  and 6 in the Senate in 2007 to 69 in the House of Representatives to 19  in the Senate) in 2011. It is our hope, therefore, that a merger of big parties like ACN, CPC and ANPP with DPP and a major portion of APGA, would yield a much bumper harvest.

“We must not entertain any weariness or surrender to sentiments or blackmail in this enterprise, mindful that merger is strange, new and unique in Nigeria and that the law did not envisage the ambush presently being placed on our ways. But we shall overcome. This merger has come to stay! We are wiser, smarter and more prepared to make the sacrifices that this process requires for the sake of our country," he added.
Others like the National Chairman of ANPP, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, former Information Minister, Tony Momoh who is the CPC National Chairman; former Foreign Affairs Minister, Tom Ikimi; ex-Peoples Democratic Party National Chairman, Chief Audu Ogbeh; Imo State Governor  Rochas Okorocha of the APGA with other ACN governors  like Babatunde Fashola (Lagos), Rauf Aregbesola (Osun), Ibikunle Amosun (Ogun), Adams Oshiomhole (Edo), the party's  presidential candidate in 2011, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu  and  former Kano State Governor, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau were all resolute on the need to go it all and build a virile opposition.

Shekarau, for instance, said the parties were determined more than ever before to move the train of the progressives to succeed in 2015 while Ribadu, former Chairman, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) noted that the merger would lead to victory for the progressives in 2015. “We are on the journey to bring new Nigeria, bring back security and creation of jobs.”

Also speaking, Momoh reiterated that the merger was not just to take over power from the PDP but to bring change and accountability to Nigerians, even as Onu maintained that “Nigeria has a lot of problems and there must be an alternative which is the APC. APC will bring calm to our nation. An APC government will be people-centred.”

Ironically, the merger was somewhat threatened when some CPC members agitating for protem national officers of the party said the proposed midterm national convention of the party, by Momoh "is a fraud".
The group in a statement signed by its spokesman, Chief Dennis Aghanya, said the convention was meant to deceive and mislead ignorant and innocent members and supporters of the party.

According to him, the group had re-filed the case challenging the authenticity of the current leadership of the party, which was earlier struck out on some frivolous grounds. He therefore noted that the hearing on the case has been fixed for the end of the month.
“Until the legality of the purported national convention that brought in their purported leadership is determined by the court, every step taken to determine the faith of our party is illegal. The only legal and authentic national leadership of the CPC is the leadership of Senator Rufai Hanga, who does not only have the possession of the original registration certificate of the party, but also the followership of the true membership of the party.

“We are still in court. The case was earlier struck out on some frivolous grounds and was directed to be re-filed which we have done. Hearing has been fixed within the month. We are not against the proposed merger but we are not part of the arrangement. For a convention to be organised by an illegal leadership of a party to affirm the involvement of our party in their proposed merger is funny and does not have any legal backing. INEC should be careful before it compounds the problems of our party, and by extension, the proposed All Progressives Congress (APC).

"Except INEC is part of the game, we are waiting to see if the rules of merger guiding the intending political parties would be bent for the Tony Momoh-led CPC to fuse into the proposed APC without submitting the original certificate of our party back to INEC.

“We are therefore alerting those that are genuinely expectant of the proposed APC not to hold us responsible for the legal flaws that would arise after the emergence of their proposed new party as a result of the unfinished legal issues on who are the actual national leadership of the CPC. However one may try to paint falsehood, injustice under any guise cannot stand the test of time,” he said.
The fact that a faction of APGA is still resisting the merger, as well as some members of the CPC are strong indications that more intrigues are likely on the road to a successful merger. But more instructively is the fact ACN’s seamless switch to APC to may have kicked off the battle for 2015 and it does not appear a child’s play.

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