Leading opposition parties have taken a major step towards concretising their plans for a merger by applying to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the registration of a new party, All Progressives Congress (APC).
The parties — Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), as well as factions of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and Democratic Peoples Party (DPP) — which have been embroiled in inter-party tussle for the formation of the interim leadership of APC, also said they had resolved to ensure that transparency and equity ruled the process.
The disagreement was evident as the party filed the application for registration without constituting a pro tem executive as required by INEC.
An attempt by governors elected on the platform of the constituent parties to broker a deal in the sharing of leadership positions in the budding political party ended in a deadlock, THISDAY learnt Tuesday.
Addressing reporters shortly after their resumed talks Tuesday in Abuja, the Chairman of ACN Merger Committee and spokesman for the joint merger committees, Chief Tom Ikimi, said the coalition formally filed an application with INEC last Friday for the registration of APC.
“The request for the approval of the merging parties have been signed and submitted by the three signatories authorised to sign it,” he said.
According to Ikimi, those who signed the documents accompanying the application were the three chairmen and secretaries of ACN, CPC and ANPP who were statutorily permitted to do so.
“For now, only three parties have done their conventions, ACN, CPC and ANPP, and these are the ones authorised to have those documents signed. There are nine people who have signed those documents and the request was submitted last Friday,” he said.
Ikimi almost confirmed the apprehension over the brewing leadership crisis threatening the merger process, when he said the formation of the APC leadership structure must respect the principle of equity and transparency.
On the apparent disagreement among the constituent parties in the coalition over the APC leadership, Ikimi explained that contrary to the general apprehension that there was a crisis over the merger arrangement, the parties have concluded their meeting under a peaceful atmosphere.
He said one of the decisions reached at the merger talks was that the parties should engage in more consultations on the outstanding issues.
The statement read by Ikimi at the end of the merger meeting stated: “We are aware that millions of Nigerians await the final registration of our new party, the APC, so that they can avail themselves the opportunity to take up its membership. The plan, hope and commitment of the merger committees are that the new party will be broad based, open and truly belong to all its members equally. To this end, we have all subscribed to our new constitution and it defines, quite clearly, the leadership structure of the party. This principle underscores equity and fair play among party members without prejudice.
“We will therefore strive to guarantee transparency and internal party democracy particularly at this stage of registration. We expect all of us involved in the process to also subscribe to and respect these fundamental principles.”
Governors of the opposition parties met until late on Monday night to resolve the disagreements over the sharing of the budding party’s leadership positions without much success.
The meeting, which was held at the Lagos Governor’s Lodge, Abuja, was attended by most of the governors but the lingering issue of who takes what office in the merger arrangement has continued to pose a major challenge to the arrangement.
A source told THISDAY that the meeting ended in a deadlock because the governors would not shift positions to concede the contentious offices of the national chairman and national secretary to other parties besides theirs.
But they agreed that time was of essence and that they should consult more to be able to sort out the logjam. They also mandated the Ikimi committee to work out a more acceptable format to end the disagreement.
Speaking on the controversy trailing the agreement on APC interim leadership structure, ACN National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said there was no time limit under the law compelling the merging parties to name the leadership.
“There is no time for which we are to submit a list of our interim national officers. We do not owe anybody any obligation to do so in one day or three days. We are not going to satisfy the media or the public at the expense of the good health of the party. We must understand that this is the first time this kind of thing is happening. What we ever had before may be alliances or coalition, this is the first time merger is happening and we are determined we would not do it wrongly,” he said.
On the fears over the possibility of not scaling the INEC registration hurdle, especially in view of the controversy over the APC abbreviation, Mohammed said such fears were unfounded, adding that the coalition was confident that having filed its application with the commission, it would lead to the registration of APC within the next 30 days.
The coalition merger has been locked in an identity battle with African Peoples Congress (APC), which shares the APC abbreviation with it.
The rival APC political group is in court to challenge INEC’s refusal to register it and among other reliefs it is seeking, is an order of the Federal High Court, sitting in Abuja, to restrain the commission from registering any other party under the APC abbreviation pending the determination of the case before it.
However, Mohammed allayed the fear that the legal tussle could affect the registration of the opposition coalition, saying as far as the parties were concerned, they had studied the laws well and had complied with the relevant sections of the law for the registration of APC.
“All I can say is that the parties have complied with the relevant electoral laws. The three national chairmen and secretaries of the parties that have held their national conventions approving the merger are those who signed the application letter for APC registration and that is what is provided by the law,” he said.
Another chieftain of APC and a member of the Legal sub-committee of the merger, Mr. Okoi Obono-Obla, told THISDAY in an interview that his committee studied the Electoral Act carefully before adopting the procedure to allow the party chairmen to initiate the registration process.
Meanwhile, INEC Tuesday denied insinuations that it was under pressure to decline the registration of APC, saying the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act are clear on the provisions for the registration of groups seeking to be registered as parties or political parties wishing to merge.
Reacting to a news report that the chairman of the commission, Prof. Attahiru Jega, was under pressure not to register the APC, the Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to the INEC Chairman, Mr. Kayode Idowu, said it was not true that the commission was under any pressure.
He said: “Both the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) prescribe specific conditions that any group seeking registration as a new political party or intending to evolve from a merger process must fulfil. INEC is a regulatory body whose duty is to make sure that applications for registration meet those conditions as applicable.
“Applications to INEC for registration as political parties are a purely routine operational matter, and they are treated as such in the light of guiding statutory provisions.”