Significance of Leadership Disagreements to Political Contests – By Salihu Moh. Lukman

February 7, 2021
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This is dedicated to Prince Tony Momoh, one of the founding fathers of the All Progressives Congress (APC) who died on February 1, 2021. May God Almighty bless the sacrifices of all leaders of our legacy parties’, bless their sacrifices by ensuring that political decisions meet public expectations and endow our current leadership with all the wisdom required to develop our democracy and guide it towards national development!

Chief Bisi Akande, the first National Chairman of the All Progressive Congress (APC), on Wednesday, February 3, 2021, while revalidating his membership of the party, was reported to have remarked that ‘a Caretaker Executive Committee for a political party is an abnormality. If not carefully controlled and expeditiously managed, most aberrant authorities end up in contempt and disgrace. For this reason, I want to urge APC Caretaker Executive Committee to resist the temptations of sit-tight syndromes.’ He argued that undertaking the party’s membership registration exercise for the second time in less than a decade is an ‘indefensible aberration’ and the ‘APC leadership might be wasteful and unappreciative of the proper use of money in a kind of scanty economy in which Nigeria finds itself.’

Notwithstanding that after making those strongly worded remarks, Chief Akande revalidated his membership of the APC, most media reports were reduced to some negative conclusions suggesting perhaps that part of the foundation leadership of the party, including Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu are in disagreement with the leadership of the party, especially the Caretaker Committee on the decision to conduct the membership registration/revalidation exercise. This may have accounted for the prominence also given to the statement by Asiwaju Tinubu, while revalidating his membership of the party, on Saturday, February 6, 2021, endorsing the position of Chief Akande.

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Somehow, there have been many media commentaries highlighting a so-called disagreement among APC leaders on the ongoing registration/revalidation exercise. Most of the commentaries seems to be predicting a brewing crisis in APC because leaders are in disagreement. Is it really true that because leaders are in disagreement, crisis will set in? Is it even possible for leaders of any political party not to disagree? Is there any political party worthy of any potential electoral victory whose leaders are in complete agreement with every position the party approve? If all leaders are in agreement, why do we have internal contests in political parties? Why should we even be interested in internal democracy?

Once you eliminate internal disagreements among leaders of political parties, democracy will lose its appeal. Rather than contest, what we will end up having in politics is some notional faith in the sanctity of the party and its leadership. Like all our religious shrines, all that we will be talking of as members of our respective parties is some claims about the purity of our leaders and our party even as we know that our only justification in joining the party is far from any imagined purity. Integral to our decisions to join the party is the expectations we all seem to have in terms of what being members should translate to. This is where most times leaders often distinguish themselves. While to ordinary members, the issue is about political permutations of who is going to emerge as candidate for election, for leaders, it is more about ensuring that the party is able to retain its electoral viability. Call it enlightened self-interest, every leader will be much more concerned about the capacity to win elections as the propelling factor for personal ambitions.

As members of APC, we should be proud of our leaders and their ability to make open their positions about all the issues around the challenges facing the party. We should be inspired by their disciplined commitment to support the decisions of the party irrespective of their personal positions. We should be proud of the illustrious leadership of Chief Akande, Asiwaju Tinubu and all our leaders in APC for demonstrating in very strong unequivocal terms that to remain united is not about denying what your personal preferences are with regard to choices open to the party in addressing challenges. Being united should be about accepting decisions that are not necessarily supportive of our personal preferences. Since the time of the APC merger negotiations between 2012 and 2013, there has never been anytime when all our leaders are in agreement. This is partly why there has always been internal contests within the party. Part of the challenge facing the party today is to ensure that internal contests in the party reflect the freedom of party leaders and members to express themselves within the limits of both the rules of the party and the country.

It must be emphasised therefore, in all the debate leading to the current membership registration/revalidation exercise of the APC, no one has disputed the current membership register of the APC. The emphasis has been that it should be updated to delete names of members who have left the party and register new members. In addition, the register should be domiciled in the National Secretariat of the party and not with individual leaders of the party. Having the membership register in the custody of individual leaders especially when such leaders are being speculated to have ambitions for electoral contests is problematic. Keeping the party’s membership register in the custody of individual leaders simply supports the bad orientation of handing over structures of the party to would-be-aspirants, which has been the bane of Nigerian politics under the PDP between 1999 and 2015. Being a party of change, the most important change APC can introduce in Nigerian politics is a shift in the foundational orientation of our politics to one owned and controlled by Nigerians.

Part of what should be the focus of the debate now around the APC membership registration/revalidation exercise should be about what needs to be done to ensure that the current exercise and the new register of members of the party after the exercise is not in any way or form in disagreement with the old register. Such a disagreement is only possible if some members of the party who are captured in the old register refuse to revalidate their membership and based on the old register still claim to be members. With all leaders of the party, including Chief Akande and Asiwaju Tinubu accepting to revalidate their membership, the message is that every party member should revalidate his/her membership. There is no better evidence today that all APC leaders are united other than the ongoing membership registration/revalidation exercise.

Our APC leaders may have all their different political permutations. But they are united in the fact that for their permutation to come with strong electoral prospects, the development of the party, APC, especially in terms of its membership is an important precondition. Above all, the freedom of members to aspire for leadership positions must not be constrained by the undemocratic factors of imposition familiar to our politics in Nigeria. President Muhammadu Buhari was emphatic about this when revalidating his membership of the party on January 30, 2021 in Daura, Katsina State. He used the occasion to serve notice on all leaders and members of the party to the effect that ‘No more crowning from Abuja downward. Let the people know this and appreciate it that they are in charge of their constituencies and they are in charge of the party.’

President Buhari further elaborated on this when he met with a group of young party members led by the Youth Representative in the APC Caretaker Committee, Barr. Ismail Ahmed on Thursday, February 4, 2021. He used the opportunity to call on young Nigerians ‘to go back to their constituencies and join in the party registration, attend party meetings, pay your dues, make contributions and bring your youthful energy and zeal to bear on the development of the party right from the unit and ward level up to the national. If you want to see something different, you have to be willing to do something different.’

What is very clear is that all leaders of the APC are interested in the success of the membership registration/revalidation exercise. The expectation is that it will produce more members and whatever is the problem associated with the old membership register will be resolved. Part of what every progressive democrat in APC will have to address is to ensure democratic control of the APC membership register. To be able to exercise democratic control should mean that the register is retrievable and can be update almost similar to what obtains in INEC in the case of voters register. In this day and age, with all the advancement in technology, it should be possible to have a virtual interface that linked the membership database in the National Secretariat with all our wards, local governments and states such that it can be updated with ease.

This raises the question of what mechanism exist in the party to guarantee that the National Secretariat of the party is democratically controlled. How is it supervised and who is it accountable to? These needs to be determined beyond assumptions. Part of what should be acknowledged is that membership registration/revalidation is a determining condition for the Caretaker Committee to bring the party back to democratic control by members. How can this be guaranteed when for instance the structure that control the membership of the party is weakly controlled by leaders of the party? Part of the ongoing debate around the APC membership registration/revalidation should be how to strengthen the Secretariat of the party and make it accountable to organs of the party and not just individual leaders.

However, the reality of conducting the exercise manually with limited deployment of technology, if any at all, must be a source of concern for every party leader. Given the manual way the exercise is being handled, how is it going to be insulated from being controlled by some individual leaders of the party? Getting leaders and members to have confidence and own the process will require some consideration during statutory meetings of structures of the party. It is not simply about legitimacy of decisions of the National Chairman or even the Caretaker Committee.

Freshly coming out of the unpleasant experiences of a National Chairman usurping the powers of organs of the party especially the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party, Chief Akande, Asiwaju Tinubu should be legitimately worried about any potential trend that can produce unaccountable leaders in the party. For instance, as part of the efforts to correct the problems facing the party, it should be expected that the Caretaker Committee is making efforts to ensure that the constitutional provisions of holding NEC meetings of the party every quarter is respected. In addition, details of activities to implement decisions of the party should be subjected to wider consultations involving all leaders of the party.

What one can decipher from Chief Akande’s remarks is the desire to broaden internal consultations within the party based on which all the statutory requirements for meetings are respected. Chief Akande might be having this at the back of his mind when he said, ‘If not carefully controlled and expeditiously managed, most aberrant authorities end up in contempt and disgrace.’ The best way to carefully control and expeditiously manage the Caretaker Committee is to ensure that more meetings of leaders are taking place and the Caretaker Committee is supported by ensuring all meetings of organs of the party are taking place.

Once meetings of structures of the party are taking place, it is easy to dispel any suspicion, which tend to exaggerate disagreements among APC leaders to mean endorsement or rejection of the political ambitions of some leaders. Where and how the new party register will be maintained will not be a source of speculation. Perhaps, it is important to state that even the fact that the old APC register is in the custody of one of the leaders is a product of democratic decisions within the party in 2014 based on trust. That today, as a party, we are confronted with challenges of access such that membership registration/revalidation is regarded as the solution to the problem, means that there should be more debate and consultations on how to avoid reproducing the problem in different forms.

The insinuation is that some party leaders opposed to the ambition of the leader currently in custody of the old membership register want to take over the party’s membership register at the end of the registration/revalidation exercise. The need to build confidence and belief among APC leaders and members that this is never the plan can only be achieved through meetings of party organs and consultative ad hoc structures based on honest debates around presentation of problems faced by the party and proposals of what needs to be done to resolve the issues.

No doubt, the Caretaker Committee would have been making consultations with leaders of the party at all levels. But when trust has broken down, extra effort is required to minimise suspicions. At a time when there appears to be attempts to promote wildcat unsubstantiated political allegations against leaders in the country, often very false, the APC Caretaker Committee must work hard to ensure that many of the false narrative about our national politics do not find expressions in our internal contests. At a time, when some Nigerians believe that the best way to gain recognition is to associate APC with failure, our leaders need to be united to protect the party and the achievements of APC governments at all levels.

With all the problems of ethnic hatred in the country, as a party, APC leaders and members should celebrate their capacity to be united across all parts of the country. Part of what the Caretaker Committee should proactively ensure is to sustain the unity of our leaders beyond the membership registration/revalidation exercise. The understanding is that process of leadership reformation at all levels will follow through Congresses and National Convention. If this is the case, what is the schedule for all the Congresses and Convention? How is it going to be conducted? How are leaders of the party involved in all these processes? To what extent can leaders at all levels have confidence in the process? Will there be a meeting of NEC of the party to debate and approve proposals around all these processes?

How the Caretaker Committee is able to respond to all of these would help assuage all the frayed nerves in the party and put to shame most of the doomsday analysis around the party. Beyond the issue of leadership reformation following the party’s membership registration/revalidation exercise, how can we ensure that in the end the problems of unaccountable leadership associated with the last NWC is eliminated in the party. We need to in particular broaden that beyond the party to the realm of representation in government.

As a party, we must aspire to have a situation whereby whoever emerge as the standard bearer of the party for 2023 Presidential election should be able to build on the achievements of President Buhari. This requires that, as a party, we collectively avoid what Malcolm Gladwell in the book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference referred to as ‘Broken Windows theory’, which is presented based on the analogy of when ‘a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge. Soon, more windows will be broken, and the sense of anarchy will spread from the building to the street on which it faces, sending a signal that anything goes.’

The inspiration behind APC is that every broken window will be fixed in our polity because every leader and member of the party cares. Once a broken window is identified, no leader or member of the party should be in denial. It is all about the courage to recognise the problem and the determination to fix it. The need to avoid the ‘Broken Window theory’ should be a clarion call to all APC leaders all leaders to be united in fixing all the problems facing the party and the nation. No one leader can succeed without the other. All leaders of the party need each other in the same way President Buhari would need all leaders of the party, especially those that will succeed him to protect his legacy. The blunt truth is that the current attempt to project some APC leaders as sectional leaders is politically as damaging in the way some Nigerians are demonstrating their anger against President Buhari and APC controlled Federal Government by alleging ethnic credentials. How successful is any leader going to be when his/her support base is sectional?

This position does not represent the view of any APC Governor or the Progressive Governors Forum

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