The All Progressives Congress (APC) has started with an impressive momentum as a radical opposition party in Nigeria. Relatively, they can be said to have achieved considerable visibility nationwide, especially in the media. They have successfully antagonised the ruling party on many issues and currently boast of fruitfully attracting many prominent politicians including five serving governors and a former Vice President from the ruling People’s Democratic Party recently. They have also succeeded in causing sizeable apprehension in the National Assembly and have in the process harvested many Senators and Members of the House of Representatives into their fold. As a political party that only recently commenced formal membership registration, this is no mean feat. However, they must go beyond all these if they intend to successfully displace the incumbent party and form government in 2015. Here are three steps they must take urgently and two others that they must stop taking.
The first step they must take towards rebranding the party will be to allow the big wigs to retreat to the background. Politicians like Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Gen. Mohamadu Buhari, Chief Tom Ikimi, Mallam Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai, Chief Bisi Akande, Chief Timipre Sylva, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, Rt. Hon Aminu Bello Masari, etc are enormous assets to the party. In fact, they are the party’s backbone and can be said to be the sources for the initial impressive take off velocity that the party has gotten. Though they bring on the table considerable strength and followership, they cannot be the face of change that Nigerians need at this time. And I say this for every politician that falls into their category; they are considered as part and parcel of the problem and so it will be difficult for Nigerians to trust these same people to provide the solutions. Some of them have tainted political past and are currently carrying one baggage or another. The APC must get these men to willingly withdraw to the background and allow new faces to market the party to Nigerians. This does not mean that the powers these men wield in their various constituencies will not be useful at this time, but the fact remains that the alternative party that Nigerians will have confidence in must not be driven overtly by those who are believed to have contributed to the current impoverishment that the people are suffering.
The second step will be to rid the party of anything tribal or religious in their ranks. It may be propaganda but the fact is that many Nigerians feel strongly that the APC or some elements within its fold may be promoters of ethnicity and religious politics. That toga still hangs over the party rightly or wrongly. In Nigeria such issues matter. Other political parties might have started using these two points as frontline reasons for their negative publicity against APC and they will likely convince many people. Considering that no political party can form government at the national level by winning votes from any one region only, APC must remodel itself along the lines of religious neutrality and interethnic inclusivity. More so, there have been several events over the last few years that have made tribal and especially religious issues very sensitive. The deportation of citizens from Eastern Nigeria by the Lagos State Government was interpreted by many as a targeted aggression against a particular ethnic group. It was an avoidable gaffe linked to an APC government. That feeling contributed partly to the poor outing of the APC candidate in the recent gubernatorial elections in Anambra State. Apart from the half-hearted apologies rendered by Governor Fashola, no effort has been made to remedy the public relations deficit created by that incident through any targeted outreach to the families of those affected. On a related note, the seriousness of the party’s condemnation of the insurgency in Northern Nigeria is fairly unclear. As the insurgents continue to target worship centres among others, they inadvertently provide potent opportunities for outreach. To attract widespread support, APC must be seen as a tribally and religiously inclusive platform. As a party that expects to contest elections and win by popular votes from the masses, one would have expected them to rise and condemn every attack by insurgents and even provide relief materials, by so doing come clean of some of the accusations from their political opponents.
The third step they must take is to articulate an alternative program and market such aggressively to the Nigeria people. The promise of a progressive state and the doctrine of social contract anchored on a social democracy, all sound good but they are a bit vague for an ordinary Nigerian to connect to. A greater part of the preamble on their website re-echoed the daily frustrations and lamentations of an ordinary citizen. However, this will not be the basis for the mass mobilization for an opposition party that is preparing to take power. There needs to be very concrete strategies on how the promise of change will be actualized and operationalized. In the manifesto on their website, the party promised seven cardinal programs though they listed eight items below the statement. How could such error escape their radar? One way to sell APC quickly to Nigerians is to showcase the performance of governors currently serving under the so called legacy parties that fused together to form the platform. If they can show convincingly that their elected officials are already delivering change, then it will be easier for Nigerians to believe that they will do more at the federal level. Furthermore, they could start test-running some of their policy proposals in the various states so that they can get concrete feedback for improvement.
But there are a few steps APC must stop taking henceforth. They must stop over antagonising President Jonathan. Their current intense antagonism and resentful criticism may turn out to be counterproductive. It portrays the party as one that is only desperate to displace the President whether or not they can provide an alternative. It is rather raising public sympathy for the ruling party on one side and on the other giving President Jonathan the opportunity of realising his mistakes early enough and making amends. The elections are around the corner. At least the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has released the timetable. Every party should go into the trenches and do some rigorous thinking and planning. If APC feels that the ruling party has failed, they should catalogue their failures, present them before Nigerians, and tell us why their own party will be different. Period. Many pundits are already feeling that the only reason politicians can defect back and forth from the ruling party to the opposition and vice versa is that there are no fundamental ideological differences between the two parties. If this is true, then people will begin to feel that they will be better off staying with ‘the devil’ they know. APC should prove them wrong.
My final point will be to suggest to APC to caution their leaders and members to stop talking too much. It is unhelpful to continue making provocative statements that unnecessarily heats up the polity. Such actions lead to confrontations with security agencies and does not add any electoral value. This is a time to deploy superior political tactics and woo the electorate. To confront a party in power and hope to displace them is not a kettle of fish. The incumbent government may be incompetent in a way that have made many Nigerians angry. However, to harness that anger into a positive electoral outcome will require a lot of work. APC must manage to pull off a less cantankerous convention and free and fair primary elections to galvanise the confidence of Nigerians. Their leaders must embrace the outcome of such elections with unity of purpose and equanimity. That way, they will present Nigerians with a crop of untainted leaders that have the kind of reputation and appeal that cuts across a wider spectrum of citizens beyond ethnic and religious boundaries. We are all anxious to see those that will climb the podium. From now and onwards every action or inaction of APC will count to be supportive or disruptive to their probability of capturing power in 2015. Those in charge must get one thing clear – that change is possible does not mean that it will come easy.
Uche Igwe is a Doctoral Researcher at the Department of Politics, University of Sussex. You can reach him on [email protected]