Being excerpts of the text of address by Salihu Moh. Lukman, DG Progressive Governors Forum, Abuja during the media Presentation of the book:APC and Progressive Politics in Nigeria, on October 23, 2020
….I thank you for responding to this impromptu invitation to present the book APC and Progressive Politics in Nigeria. The book present accounts of all the contestations within the APC during the tenure of the Comrade Adams Oshiohmole-led National Working Committee (NWC) between 2018 and June 2020. It represents my perspective, which I try to ensure objectivity based on account of events without attempt to claim any benefit in whatever way. My only important consideration is to support our leaders to transform APC as a party into a truly progressive party, which should be both representative and responsive to the yearnings of Nigerians. This will require that beyond claims of being progressives, we are able to unambiguously define what we mean when we say we are progressives.
The challenge of adopting a shared understanding of the term progressives require introspection and tolerance. Our leaders have to be able to debate, critique and contest freely without criminalising each other. This will require a complete change of attitude such that leaders don’t interpret criticisms as opposition to their ambition. It also requires that our leaders are able to use internal debates to strengthened their perspectives and positions. This should be the source of APC’s electoral advantage and not any other thing.
Having worked with Comrade Oshiomhole for more than sixteen years very closely, I had no difficulty in believing that he was indeed the right leader to facilitate the transformation of our party into a truly progressive party. Having therefore written the book Power of Possibility & Politics of Change in Nigeria, which came out in July 2019 with Foreword by President Muhammadu Buhari, I took steps to share the major findings of the book with all our leaders and went a step further to try and influence Comrade Oshiomhole, which ran into difficulty. I will not want to go into the details of that largely because my objective at this point is to support our leaders in the party to put the past behind them and confront current challenges much more effectively.
Suffice it, however, to say, the debate to ensure that APC is unambiguously progressive based on shared convictions of our leaders, should continue. As a party, we need to create a dynamic that make Nigerians appreciate that in fact the struggle to define APC’s brand of progressive politics is not just a matter for declaration. It also flows from the freedom to debate these issues within the party. If anything, the struggle leading to the dissolution of the Comrade Oshiomhole-led NWC is a proof that the freedom to contribute to debate within the APC is guaranteed. That is the only reason why I am able to contribute to the debate in the way I am doing.
Many have tried to query my role in promoting debates based on my status as an employee of Governors elected on the platform of the party. No doubt, it will be dishonest on my part to claim lack of knowledge that my position risk conflicting with positions of some of our Governors, which may project me as being disloyal. This is a big challenge, which as much as possible must be avoided. Avoiding such a challenge should be managed in a way that strengthened the capacity of our Governors to work individually and as a collective in ensuring that the party is able to transform itself into a progressive party whose electoral viability is guaranteed. This has been my focus. And I must say, I am grateful to all our Governors individually and collectively for giving me this very difficult and challenging opportunity.
The last few months were quite challenging. In fact, the need to document the internal contestation in APC came out of the desire to ensure that it is not left to the mischievous interpretations of people with narrow interests, which may not necessarily accommodate the development of APC into a truly progressive party.
At this point, I must say, APC and Progressive Politics in Nigeria, is an invitation to all our party members and leaders to join the debate to develop a shared understanding of what progressive politics should be. I am not in any way an authority and I will not even insist that people must agree with my position. This is well emphasised by Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, who by references to both academic and experiential knowledge can be adjudged to be an authority. I am grateful to him for the Foreword, given his responsibility as the Chief of Staff to President Buhari, it is such a qualified endorsement that should challenge all of us to continue to engage the debate beyond our narrow interest of accessing elective and appointive positions.
Making APC to emerge as a truly progressive party will require that our leaders at all levels are able to tolerate each other and as well as tolerate members and Nigerians at large. The price of leadership most time include the expensive reality of being able to serve as the refuse dump. Most times, as party members and ordinary citizens, even when we claim to have knowledge, we exude the arrogance that we have the right or even power to dictate to our leaders. The language therefore become hostile and can only repel our leaders from considering proposals or recommendations. The burden before all of us now, especially in APC, is to be able to develop the right communication atmosphere, which should make proposals attractive to our leaders.
My aspiration has always been to serve as a progressive scholar. I can’t claim any success. But I am glad to be in a challenging environment in APC and my approach is simply to justify being in the position I am with reference to my intellectual contributions, no matter how little. Although with the risk of being accused of promoting the political interests of Governors and party leaders, I believe that my sincerity in terms of managing the challenge will continue to save me. Again, being privileged to work with Governors who are broad minded enough to appreciate the need for intellectual engagement in responding to our political challenges, we will continue to overcome all attempt to project any argument of disloyalty based on proposals or recommendations.
While writing Power of Possibility & Politics of Change in Nigeria, the main challenge was that of reconciling our leaders following all the disagreements and the leadership conflict at all levels of the party during the 2019 General Elections. I was confident that rational consideration and the need to protect the electoral advantages of the party will make our leaders prioritise the business of reconciliation. Somehow, the freezing of meetings of party organs also did not help matters. Almost all attempts to influence our leaders to respect provisions of the party constitution and convene statutory meetings of party organs was ignored. Consequently, the problems of the party got worsened and anyone making proposal that doesn’t suit the interest of section of the leadership is criminalised based on so-called support for some phantom aspirations for 2023. This is really unfortunate and sadly many sections of the public and leading media commentators promoted such claims, false as it is.
Beside criminalising fellow party leaders and ordinary members like myself, we set ourselves on a course for self-destruction. We helplessly witnessed situations where sections of our leaders decided to abandon their original vision of working together, tolerating each other and ensuring that a collective leadership pilot activity of the party. In the circumstance, our leaders stop holding meetings and instead factional activities based on strategies to impose decisions and present it as party supremacy became the dominant approach. It is a big challenge to get our leaders to change that. It took the intervention of President Buhari on June 25, 2020 to facilitate the resolution of a big existential problem confronting the party.
Part of what is need in the circumstance, is to remind our leaders that one of the factors that ensured that our leaders were united, which made the electoral victory of 2015 possible was that they were meeting almost on weekly basis. It wasn’t factional meetings, all our leaders attended almost all these meetings and they respected every decision. I can recall with nostalgic feelings that between 2013 and December 2014, President Buhari, Alh. Atiku Abubakar, Sen. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso and Owelle Rochas Okorocha were in attendance in virtually every meeting. The only person who later emerged as Presidential aspirant under the party but wasn’t at such meetings was Mr. Sam Nda Isiah. This was perhaps because he wasn’t qualified as a political stakeholder to be among those to be invited.
I will continue to remind our leaders that at no time did any of our leader who aspired to emerge as Presidential candidate get criminalised. As a very junior appointee of the party, some of us even took hardline public positions against the aspiration of President Buhari for instance. But at no time did President Buhari or any of the other leaders who aspired to be the party’s Presidential candidate made it an issue. They related with all of us with the full knowledge of our public position. Perhaps, the remarks by our leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu in January 2013 during the public presentation of my first publication 2015 Manifestation of Nigerian Opposition Politics capture this point. Asiwaju clearly expressed his disagreement with positions I canvassed in the publication, which was against both President Buhari or Asiwaju expressing Presidential ambition during the merger negotiation.
The truth is, our leaders were united because they exhibited high level of tolerance, which contribute to making the party attractive. These are progressive credentials which the party and our leaders must return to. In addition, there are other issues that should define the progressive credentials of the party, which are highlighted in Chapter I, Chapter XI and the Epilogue. Between Chapters II to X, other functional issues related to operational challenges and management of political dynamics were the focus. The approach is basically to simulate contestation based on relying on knowledgeable presentations. Most of the issues in the book are already in the public domain. The book only pulls everything together and present them as integrated position with logical conclusions.
Part of the conclusions is that APC need to demonstrate its progressive credentials by putting in place a credible and verifiable membership register. Credible and verifiable membership register should be the foundation for internal democracy within the party. Secondly, our leaders should work to win the votes of party members in order to emerge as candidates. Difficult as it is, we need to begin to develop strategy that move our leaders away from the strategy of controlling party structures through imposing leaders in order to emergence as candidates for elections. This is virtually the source of almost all internal conflicts.
The third and perhaps final issue is that of leadership succession. As a progressive party our leaders need to begin to move to a situation whereby leadership succession arrangement at all levels are planned and criteria for leadership recruitment are set. At this moment, leadership succession is based on individual decisions of current office occupants and is prone with a lot of challenges. We need to appeal to our leaders to kindly give this very close consideration. No specific proposal is made but it is a matter, which if our leaders are able to revive the 2013/2014 framework of regular all-inclusive meetings without the criminalising posture around possible ambitions of leaders, these matters could be debated, and some minimum strategy put in place.
Like I mentioned at the beginning, operationalising APC’s brand of progressive politics is a dynamic issues and we need to approach it with the needed open mind to be able to contribute in a way that endears the party to Nigerians and gives confidence to every member to promote the party as the embodiment of political future of the country. This is a big challenge, which unfortunately many party members try to reduce to cheap propaganda of simple expression of support for positions of party leaders and our government. Beyond expression of support, I want our leaders and our party to succeed in resolving all our political challenges. Often times, to succeed will require that we are very honest and able to convince our leaders about the limitations of their actions or inactions.
To do that successfully, will also require we are courageous enough to analyse the challenges, how they are presented as public demands and the strategy being used. This is what is required in order for those of us making contributions to support our leaders with respect to the ongoing protest by young Nigerians around #EndSARS. I will not want to go into the details, but there are two issues worthy of consideration bordering on our assessment of the protest and the response of government. The first is that we all as Nigerians need to do everything possible to persuade our young Nigerians to understand that the strength of any organisation managing a protest lies in its capacity to appropriately direct and control the protest to achieve its demand. Most times, the longer the duration of the protest, the higher the potential that it will go out of control.
It is sad that we have all failed as Nigerians in persuading our legitimate young people that started the protest to consider a flexible strategy that will ensure that the protest remain within their control. I can say, since the mid 1980s, I have been part of protests in Nigeria at leadership level and I am clear that it is always a challenge to sustain protests for long periods. It is also equally a challenge to demobilise even when demands are met. Part of the frustrations we always had at the end of every protest was having to live with the reality that protests ended without any engagement and leaders of protests become target of government repression. It was easy to rationalise that lack of engagement happened because protest took place under military rule. This is not correct. While in NLC between 2000 and 2006, I was privilege to be part of the organisation of many of the protests and strikes against fuel price increases under the leadership of Comrade Oshiomhole. It was very difficult to reconcile that the same problem of lack of or weak engagement happened under democracy.
Poor engagement of policy demands by groups in the country presented to elected governments through protests is a major problem. This require that as a party privileged to be elected into government, we need to make effort to change this reality. What differentiate democracy from any dictatorship is the capacity to engage citizens and based on such engagement shape public policy. Being a progressive party with a progressive government this should be seamless. Actually, it is the NEXT LEVEL we should be working to take Nigerian politics to.
I have no reason to doubt the competence of our leaders to achieve that. My worry is that inability of our leaders at all levels to work as a united front is slowing down the process. This has in many ways contributed to the frustration exhibited by Nigerian youths around the #EndSARS protest. Part of the bigger worry is also that appointees of government with the mandate to facilitate seamless engage somehow are not producing the needed democratic responses. Again, these are appointees who are no doubt very competent. In the circumstances, the inaction of appointees of government is exposing the President to unfair criticism. We need to also send strong appeals to all appointees of government to rise up to our contemporary democratic challenges by developing correspondingly strong engagement of stakeholders in their sectors in the management of initiatives around their mandate.
We need to emphatically appeal to our leaders to appreciate that the hunger for progressive politics by Nigerians was what endears our party to Nigerians and produce the electoral victory of 2015 and 2019. Our leaders and all of us in the party must take adequate steps to understand the needs of Nigerians and respond with a positive disposition of meeting those needs. This should be the most important credential any progressive party or politician must possess. Failure will mean that we are actually bidding goodbye to any potential electoral victory. There is no debate about the commitment of our party leaders to progressive politics. What is debatable is our capacity to produce shared understanding within the party towards contributing to its attainment.
Finally, we must also recognise and appreciate that every party leader and member possess some resource value. We need to volunteer and dedicate our resources to support the effort to make APC truly progressive, difficult as it would appear to be. The liberal leadership of President Buhari which made it possible for many low-ranking members of the party to participate in the debate is what confirms APC’s democratic credential. No party in Nigeria has that liberal atmosphere. I am deeply grateful to President Buhari. His leadership and liberal disposition provided many of us with a protected environment to contribute to the debate within the party. This is the main reason why the book is dedicated to President Muhammadu Buhari. Sadly, within the intervening period when issues in the book are unfolding, we lost Mallam Abba Kyari, Sen. Abiola Ajimobi and Barr. Inuwa Abdulkadir as a result of Covid-19. The book is also dedicated to them in the hope that APC’s brand of progressive politics will strengthen the capacity of our governments to transform public health delivery in the country.
The book has already been widely circulated internally within the party….