“Governor Fashola said last week: ‘You buy a car and it breaks down and you go to a mechanic and he fixes it in the morning, and it breaks down again in the afternoon. You go back in the evening, he fixes it but it doesn’t take you home. You go and call him again; he tosses it up and says you should come back by 6am the next day. Are you going to stay with that mechanic?’ ACN’s list of 22 members and CPC’s list of 18 members are so underwhelming in their true representation of Nigerians that this glaring anomaly almost distracts from the fact that the majority of the members range from the totally-unknown-and-so-not-inspiring to the too-well-known-and-thus-not-inspiring. Go figure.”
The thought of a merger of opposition political parties to provide a credible and strong alternative to the People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP) during the 2015 elections is exciting because the possibilities are infinite. But there is skepticism as well. Our experience since 1999 has fostered the realization that in order to change Nigeria’s variation of democracy defined through the eyes and bellies of the incumbents something different has to be on offer, something extraordinary has to happen and something deemed sacred must be sacrificed.
Once again Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) are discussing a merger and it remains to be seen if the All Nigeria’s Peoples Party (ANPP) will join the discussions meaningfully. The merger discussions are encouraging for if nothing else, the early start to the discussions is indication that the leaders of ACN and CPC learnt at least one lesson from the 2011 experience: don’t leave merger talks until the last minute.
However from other indications, the skepticism about the merger changing the status quo is valid. The first billboard-sized sign is the membership of the merger committees. ACN’s list of 22 members and CPC’s list of 18 members are so underwhelming in their true representation of Nigerians that this glaring anomaly almost distracts from the fact that the majority of the members range from the totally-unknown-and-so-not-inspiring to the too-well-known-and-thus-not-inspiring. 50% of Nigeria’s population is female yet only 8.1% of the combined committees are female. At least 70% of our population is under 35, yet chances are high that not a single person on either of the committees is less than 40 years old. And while we are estimated to have 21M Nigerians living with disabilities, it is safe to wager that not one of them has been deemed worthy of being included in the discussions to shape our political future.
A few days ago, Governor Fashola, a member of the ACN merger committee gave an interesting analogy about the problems with PDP-led administrations using a faulty car and an unskilled mechanic as metaphors for Nigeria and leadership. According to him:
“You buy a car and it breaks down and you go to a mechanic and he fixes it in the morning, and it breaks down again in the afternoon. You go back in the evening, he fixes it but it doesn’t take you home. You go and call him again; he tosses it up and says you should come back by 6am the next day.
Are you going to stay with that mechanic?”
“Nigeria needs a new mechanic. The country’s problems need a new pair of eyes and pure heart that can see, and clearer minds that can articulate the problems better. That is the heart of the matter.”
Nigeria needs fresh people articulating the problems and solutions…what is new about a merger committee for a new party that is dominated by old men? Where is the skill to turn around Nigeria where the largest demographic groups are ignored in favour of the old guard who have in one capacity or another been part of the rot? How can the committees craft a manifesto that captures the aspirations and unrealized destiny of Nigerians when the majority of Nigerians are not represented on the committees?
The second disconcerting sign is the uncertainty about the parties involved in the merger. The distance General Buhari seems to want between the merger discussions and ANPP is probably due to his experience of internal party politics as a former member of the party and the rumours that the chairman of its Board of Trustees Modu Sheriff, former governor of Borno might be moving to PDP. (Sotto voce: perhaps to join the tussle for chairmanship of the PDP BOT). Labour and All Progressives Grand Alliance have not joined the discussions yet and while their non-participation might not affect the conclusion of the merger discussions, it will dilute the symbolism of Nigerians coming together to insist on change in 2015.
And finally, the lack of transparency about what the terms of reference are for the merger will be an obstacle in creating a truly new and formidable opposition to PDP. While keeping the terms of reference out of the public might be for strategic reasons, the benefits of letting Nigerians know what the merger is supposed to yield are more. This is because transparency about the objectives – if indeed these goals are for the benefit of the majority of Nigerians, will make it harder for fifth columnists to derail the process because Nigerians will be watching. Already some PDP members are allegedly interested in joining the merged party – presumably hard to execute if the new party has a different ideology from PDP and has transparent and democratic membership and candidate criteria. Instead, feelers are that the merger committees are not disposed towards dealing with new ideas such as gender and youth affirmative action and party discipline; instead they want to focus on important things like the new name and logo.
Kenyan’s were only able to end KANU’s 39-year rule in 2002 through their National Rainbow Coalition and the promise of change. A merger founded on the true spirit of democracy and a bold fresh vision for Nigeria has immense potential to sweep Nigeria unto the hitherto unknown path to success. However, if ACN and CPC insist on clinging to their standard operating manual then the merger is DOA. Governor Fashola said the electorate would decide if it wants a new mechanic, but those responsible for the merger think Nigerians will accept that the new entity is different even when it still looks like, smells like and sounds like the old mechanic. They can forget it. The majority of Nigerians – the men, women, youth and people living with disabilities who post Occupy Nigeria, can now catalogue the inexcusable realities of current politics and governance will not buy it in 2015.
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