Trust them to be a source of one commotion or another wherever they may be. By them, I am referring to members of that generation of Nigerians who came to appreciate Nigeria as radical student union activists and for whom anti-military and anti-SAP combats were the cornerstones of activism between 1980s and mid 1990s. They are no longer as ideologically confident and vociferous as in those days but wherever they happen to be, there is bound to be sparks uniquely theirs. Some of these are simply unforgettable.
Like the one in Comrade John Odah’s flat one night in Lagos in late 1993 involving the late Chima Ubani and Odah’s landlord. Apart from Chima’s, Odah’s house was the other main congregation point then for many, many activists. Odah’s landlord who lived in one of the flats in the compound mistook our culture of endlessly debating among ourselves for irreconcilable differences. He must have concluded that we had no business being friends. That night, he couldn’t take the voltage of the ‘noise’ from upstairs anymore. Since Odah was not immediately around, he confronted us directly, saying he would throw us out if we didn’t leave. Chima Ubani told him he could not do it, waving aside Naseer Kura, NANS President then who didn’t want any commotion. The uncomfortable dialogue went on between the two of them for sometime until the man said something like, incase Chima did not know, he was a combatant in the civil war. Chima asked him if he really fought the Biafran War. Before he could reply, Chima said, no wonder, we lost the war. The man went inside and never surfaced. That was the second time we would depart Odah’s house before 5 am the following day.
Even as much as marginal reality has sort of reconstituted Labaran Maku from the fire-eating PRO of NANS in those days, he still came under establishment hammer recently when his senior brother, David Mark warned him against ‘talking too much’. He couldn’t have been invited and openly chastised if he were just singing lullabies to one naughty baby somewhere.
Now, it is Salihu Lukman, a former president of NANS and a graduate of Kirikiri who is causing an interesting commotion in the ACN/CPC axis by coming out with a compendium informed more by the NANS spirit of stubbornness. Instructively, he has entitled it 2015: Manifesto of Nigerian Opposition Politics. But it reads well although much of it look like what Carlye said about Thomas Malthus’s political economy over two centuries ago. He described it as “advice to the poor for the rich to read” which translates here to advice to the ACN for the PDP to read and take note.
But in substance, it amounts to an internal critic at work which is very healthy for the ACN. The concerns were with what should be done and how it should be done. There are many frank admissions there, from the overwhelming personalization of both the ACN and the CPC; the PDP origin of the opposition parties in Nigeria, (AD which is the precursor of the ACN broke away from the PDP after late Chief Bola Ige had participated in drafting the PDP Charter while it was on Atiku Abubakar, a PDP mandarin’s political machine that ACN actually rested at the point of formation); the localism of these two parties; the reality that, as things are, none of them can make much impact by going it alone. But then, there is his unfounded confidence that they can win as much as 25 out of the 36 states of the federation if they merge and if General Buhari and ‘General’ Tinubu steps out of the race and, instead, throw it open for every Dick, Tom and Harry to find his or her level. The author also contemplated the desirability of building the party in terms of coalitions with other centres of power such as labour and the civil society just in the same way the British Labour Party, the Democrats in the US and the ANC in South Africa have done.
It is not a single issue document but a stringing together of essays, open letters to General Buhari and Tinubu by the author as well as cropping of interventions from social media activists. But they are united by the idea of building the ACN/CPC into a coherent counter to the PDP in 2015. This frame of reference was re-enforced by an experientially qualitative, reflective essay in the Forward by Kayode Fayemi, another graduate of the barricades but now the governor of Ekiti State. Within permissible limits, he raised issues, especially what he sees as the error of activists in not taking part in politics after having fought the military out of power in 1998, thereby leaving the field to the elements of the ancien regime. He made the very important statement that the challenge of reforming the state is structural but that leadership is central to it. He situates the planned merger of ACN/CPC within the context of the imperative for a larger movement that accommodates the place of political institutions and not simply the celebration of astute individuals as the ultimate panacea to our crisis of governance.
The achievement of this document is that it has the potential to precipitate harder headed efforts at intellectualizing the crisis of party building in our context. It is a no mean achievement at a time when the intelligentsia is missing in action in terms of leading the debate on the re-invention of Nigeria. It is a product for which the ACN/CPC would be eternally grateful to its initiator because the document provides a starting point for Tinubu’s battalion of philosophers, theorists and sophists to produce a very fascinating party manifesto eventually because everyone is wondering why there has been nothing like the PRP in the Second Republic to date.
The opening sentence of PRP’s General Manifesto in 1978 was such that even hard headed Awoists like Wole Soyinka jumped ship to embrace the PRP. In fact, all two of Nigeria’s greatest writers at the moment – Soyinka and Achebe, were in the PRP and that is very remarkable. This is not to forget such names as S. G Ikoku and Uche Chukwumerije (all of them products of Nkrumah’s ideological school at Winneba) although NEPU cadres like the late Gambo Sawaba suspected that Ikoku was a plant and for which reason she left the PRP for the GNPP.
It is in this wise that one must point out the author’s mistaken notion that being regional in territorial terms is such a problem for the ACN and the CPC. It would have been great if they have national spread but they are no less because of that. Their greater problem is that they have not been able to define what they stand for. What does ACN stand for? Democracy? Which variant of democracy as to make it an opposition party in the real sense of the concept? What does CPC stand for and which provides the party its fundamental objectives and directive principles outside the Buhari persona?
It is certainly an achievement for Buhari, a former oil minister and then Head of State to have stayed above the temptation to privatize and personalize public resources but then, corruption itself is a manifestation of something deeper. Why can’t Buhari declare a commitment to a discourse of politics that can take corruption head on, structurally and systematically?
This invariably leads us to the question as to the extent to which the ACN/CPC constitutes the opposition to the PDP. What do they stand for and to what are they opposed that the PDP is not?
It was a very embarrassing moment on November 22, 2012 at Abuja when Dr Otive Igbuzor publicly presented his two recent publications. Igbuzor, also a product of the NANS struggle, is closer to the ACN than the PDP. But the book reviewer, the formidable Ibadan political scientist, Professor Eghosa Osaghae said Otive’s chapter on Manifestoes of Nigerian Political Parties was very revealing in its conclusion that the PDP and, to some extent, APGA, are the only political parties that have attempted “some diagnostics to bring about development” in terms of a manifesto with clear objectives, an irreducible minimum and how to get there. This was a shocker for a predominantly ACN audience.
It is on that note that I would devote the rest of this piece to assist the opposition in Nigeria on the fundamental contradiction of ‘our great party’, the PDP. I think the opposition doesn’t know it.
As is well known, the PDP remains the highest stage so far of what scholar-activist, Dr. Jibrin Ibrahim referred to as the transition from primitive accumulation of power to primitive accumulation of capital in ruling class politics. PDP was the response of the petty bourgeois nationalists to the challenge of aggregating all identities, fractions and tendencies under one umbrella and arranging access to power among them in a way that reduces friction and instability. That is the political economy of rotation of power as categorically adopted by the PDP.
But the PDP came under attack on two fronts immediately after it was formed. The most fundamental attack was the smuggling in of the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers, (PRSPs) or its local baptismal name, NEEDS, as the framework for modernizing Nigeria. It was a project for which the Obasanjo regime recruited and deployed cadres with long history of grooming by the IMF/World Bank or of sudden infatuation with carrying out such an assignment in the fashion that colonial District Officers of yore would have envied. In the end, the ruthlessness of the privatisation exercise, the cronyism, cabalism and corruption it embodied so undercut the fabric of the society as to completely alienate the PDP from the majority of Nigerians. Only strangers to the PDP could do this to it. And this can be illustrated.
Adamu Ciroma in whose house the nine original founders met and consummated the PDP idea has consistently warned that Nigerians risked becoming the fools of the market if we implemented market forces the way we were going. Neither Alex Ekwueme nor Solomon Lar can be described as apostles of market forces.
As his Media Assistant in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I needled Sule Lamido endlessly on the puzzle of market forces until one day when he told myself and another aide that the earlier we realized that this was not yet a PRP government, the better for us. In 2006 when Professor Jerry Gana, another of the original nine initiators of PDP, launched his presidential ambition, his ‘manifesto’ was a fascinating booklet to behold, not only because of the color combination but the slogan of “moving beyond reforms to transformation”. This was a clear critique of market forces from within in favour of industrialization. So, you ask: from where did this strange idea that market forces can develop a semi industrial economy like Nigeria emerge in a party whose mandarins do not believe in the idea?
The truth is that we have not had anything to show for democracy because the PDP has been mysteriously infiltrated and wedded to the nonsense that market economy is everything. Subsequently, the contradictions of primitive accumulation under IMF/World Bank inspired market reforms led Obasanjo to the spectacular political disaster of leaving a rentier state like Nigeria without a party with the organizational coherence to deliberately plan the society, discipline accumulation and plot ahead for the 21st Century.
Therefore, any other political parties railing against the PDP without making this contradiction the point of departure has absolutely nothing new to say as far as giving direction to mass disaffection in this goddam country is concerned. I thank Comrade Lukman for sending me an advance copy and I wish him another 50 years. May his road be rough!
Adagbo Onoja is accessible via [email protected]