A close friend and comrade recently asked me if I am Obedient, suggesting that I am supporting Mr. Peter Obi, the Presidential candidate of the Labour Party. To say the least, I was very dismayed that anyone could imagine I will support any candidate other than Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. I may excuse any person if he/she is meeting me for the first time. Having come a long way both as activist and learner of politics since my student days in the 1980s, our commitment to politics and the development of Nigeria was informed by a clear vision to build a society founded on equality and justice. Our politics of support or opposition to leaders normally take bearing from our assessment of commitment of individual leaders to issues of equality and justice, which is more a function of producing accountable leaders who will work to meet the expectations of citizens.
Somehow, our contemporary reality is that political choices are largely informed by sentiments often based on perceptions without any evidential objective indicator of probable commitment to deliver services and meet the expectations of citizens. It is more a case of blind expectations, which can only lead us to more frustrations and anger with our leaders. Partly because scholarship is very poor today in Nigeria, there are many so-called Obidient supporters who promote outright falsehood and politics hate against other candidates and their supporters. This is unfortunately self-defeatist.
As a member of APC, I want to campaign for all our candidates while at the same time respecting our opposition. People are free to make their choices and we should respect that. Once the element of respect is removed from politics of choices of candidates, then democracy risks being downgraded to the level of anarchy. The temptation to indulge in politics of disrespect could be linked to the apparent lack of confidence of winning the election. It is almost a case of if I lose it means the bad people have impose themselves again. Everything is reduced to a contest between the good and the bad. What makes any candidate good or bad, is left to some intuitive presentations by individuals who often reduced political contests to bullying conditions.
With reference to the so-called Obidient, as much as we respect their choice, we also must appeal to them to honestly recognise the shortcomings of Mr. Peter Obi as a politician and Labour Party (LP) as a political party. Recognising these shortcomings will be important in convincing Nigerians that they are engaging the contest also as a strategy to reform both the person of Mr. Peter Obi and the organisation of LP as a political party. In terms of the person of Mr. Peter Obi, so far, his characteristics is that of a typical Nigerian politician who is more of an election merchant presenting himself every four years for election, even if it means changing political party.
Being an election merchant connote obvious lack of commitment and discipline to be loyal to any political party. This partly explains why Mr. Obi moved from All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) to Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and now LP between 2015 and now. What is the guarantee that his candidature of LP also bears a commitment to develop the LP and get it to overcome all its challenges. Noting that it is a public knowledge that LP has been embroiled in leadership crisis, how is Mr. Obi using his campaign to negotiate the resolution of LP crisis. From a distant point of view, Mr. Obi is in fact indifferent to the crisis facing LP.
Beyond being indifferent, Mr. Obi is clearly alien to any ideological standpoint that can bring him close to the working class, which is the primary constituency of LP. Some of us are privileged to have been intellectually and organically connected to that constituency. In fact, I am privileged to have managed the project which conceived and facilitated the initial negotiation between Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and its partners, notably civil society, which produced the LP in 2003. Part of the reality facing LP had to do with the close shop mentality of labour leaders, which blocked the party from being open to other Nigerians outside the mainstream labour movement. This reality blew open in the face of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole for instance when in 2007 after serving his eight years term as President of NLC and wanted to win the 2007 Governorship election in Edo State, he had to syndicate alliance with Action Congress (AC). Interestingly, once he wins the 2007 election, that was the end of the alliance as he moved to AC, while his LP membership became history.
Part of what must be recognised in all these debates is that the fallacious politics of 2023 is more about the disappointments of Nigerians with our leaders and the state of the nation. While it is important to recognise the legitimate disappointment of Nigerians with our leaders and the state of the nation, it will remain a fallacy to imagine that a simple choice of a typical election merchant can resolve Nigeria’s challenges. Not just Peter Obi, any other politician with the characteristics of changing political parties for the purpose of contesting elections, such a person is not what Nigeria need today. Without prejudice to my respect for Alh. Atiku Abubakar and Sen. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, they are both in the same category with Mr. Obi. Alh. Atiku has been either a Presidential candidate or aspirant in every election in different parties since 2007. Sen. Kwankwaso has moved from PDP to APC, back to PDP between 2015 and 2019, before finally forming New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) in 2022 and present himself as the Presidential candidate of the party for 2023 election.
Out of all the leading candidates, the only one that has never left his party to any party is Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. He is the only one that although he has been a national political leader since he left office as Governor of Lagos State in 2007 that is presenting himself for the first time as a Presidential candidate for the 2023 elections. In addition, he is the only contestant who together with other leaders of APC envisioned the political roadmap for the defeat of PDP. Together with President Muhammadu Buhari they provided the inspirational leadership that successfully negotiated the emergence of APC in 2013. The formation of APC was the first successful merger negotiation of opposition parties in Nigeria. It was also the first opposition to defeat a ruling party in 2015.
Without doubt, Nigerians had a lot of expectations. One of the expectations of Nigerians and indeed many of us in APC is that the management of the APC will broaden internal democracy and minimise, if not eliminate politics of imposition of candidates, which is the main characteristics of PDP. Broadening internal democracy is correlated to facilitate the emergence of good accountable leaders. Internal management of political parties and the process of candidates’ selection within a political party are strongly entwined such that once leaders of a political party are weakly accountable to members and interest groups within the party, it will be highly probable that internal process of candidate selection will hardly be representative of the diverse interests of members. Once emergence of candidates is not representative of interests of members of political parties, elected representatives produced by such party are more likely to be unaccountable to electorates.
Before highlighting our reality in APC, it is interesting how activist with some clear ideological orientation can suggest that a Mr. Obi who within a week of his exit out of PDP and joining LP can inspire any hope of emerging as an accountable President. In the case of Alh. Atiku, the level of intolerance and mismanagement of internal leadership dispute should frighten every patriotic Nigerian about entrusting the leadership of the country to such a person. Sen. Kwankwoso’s politics present him as philosopher king which only revolves around his person and any opposition will not be allowed.
The reality in APC is that party management is weakly accountable to members and interest groups within the party. Party organs are not meeting as provided in the party constitution, which undermine issues of accountability by party leaders. There are internal opposition to this reality, which often contest discretionary decisions by party leaders. For instance, during the last process that produced candidates for the 2023 election within the APC, there were instances of attempts to impose discretionary decisions, which would have led to imposition of Presidential candidate. Thanks to the personal disposition of President Muhammadu Buhari who refused to adopt any discretionary decision to impose a so-called consensus candidate, internal opposition to the attempt by some party leaders to impose a so-called consensus candidate, which led to the emergence of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the Presidential candidate of our party.
The emergence of Asiwaju as the Presidential candidate of APC was the product of open internal contest in APC. Unlike most of the Presidential candidates of the other opposition parties, Asiwaju was not a product of imposition. It can also be argued that Alh. Atiku also won PDP primary. However, the difference between Asiwaju and Alh. Atiku is the ability to successful negotiate and win the support of other party leaders who contested against him. Today, all those who contested against Asiwaju in APC are working for his victory.
One of the crimes of Asiwaju as propagated by the opposition is the so-called failure of APC government at federal level. No doubt, like any other nation, Nigeria is faced with challenges. Do these challenges represent failure? No. Both Asiwaju and the party’s Presidential Campaign Council (PCC) have recognise the progress recorded by APC administration of President Buhari and the challenges facing the country. Both Asiwaju and all leaders of APC are never in denial of all the challenges facing the country. In addition, both Asiwaju and all APC leaders have evaluated our performance in government at federal level.
The disposition of Asiwaju and all our leaders is to develop the needed strategy on what needs to be done to build on all the successes of President Buhari’s administration. As part of that disposition is the question of further deepening accountability both within the party and between elected leaders and Nigerians. This is a fundamental issue and is at the heart of all the challenges facing the country. For Nigeria to be a truly democratic nation, both political parties and elected representatives must be accountable. Unlike all the other candidates, it is only Asiwaju who is a product of internal struggle within the party for accountability. The candidature of Asiwaju therefore represent the hope for the emergence of accountable leaders. To have accountable leaders require the presence of political parties with accountable management as provided in their rules.
There are other subsidiary issues that unfortunately are being used by political opposition to rationalise political choices of individuals. This includes the whole challenge of brain drain, for instance. While it is important to recognise the desire of every human being to access better opportunities, we must, as a nation, avoid generalisations. Nigerians who moved of out of the country in search of greener pastures are in different categories. There are those who legitimately want to excel in their chosen field of endevour international. There are those who just believe that they can only excel outside Nigeria because, for them, Nigeria represents everything that is bad. There is the third category who are simply just adventurous and just want to go into the world and have a feel of the good life that is out there.
Somehow, many so-called Obidients have politicise discussions around the issue of brain drain and they use it buttress issues of failure of government. Brain drain is certainly a challenge and if Nigeria is to develop, we must address any condition that makes us unable as a nation to keep our skilled labour force. At the same time, we must also be able to attract our children back home to contribute to the development of the country after studies abroad. The debate about managing these challenges should be separated from that of managing the challenge of some Nigerians who left the country without the requisite skills to enable them access opportunities outside Nigeria. Therefore, while recognising the legitimate voices of Nigerian diaspora professionals about the desire to produce good leaders in the country, we must also be wary about the desperate voices of some diaspora Nigerians whose anger is not limited to our situation in Nigeria, but more a reflection of personal frustration because of being unable to develop needed skills to access the opportunities that took them out of the country in the first place.
Be that as it may however, as a nation, our political leaders must be prepared to engage this reality. Addressing this reality is more a function of recognising our diversity and how it manifests in our national challenges. This what Asiwaju, in the foreword to Renewed Hope 2023: Action Plan for a Better Nigeria, eloquently highlighted that “Nigeria is a unique nation, impressive in its diverse character and composition, resounding and hopeful in unity and collective fate. Home to over 200 million vibrant people, Nigeria stands as the most populous nation on the African continent and the largest concentration of Black people on earth. It is beyond debate that we owe the duty of national progress to our progeny and to ourselves.”
This is more about our vision to make our leaders accountable and not simple choices of individual candidates. Many of us in APC are supporting Asiwaju as part of our ongoing campaign to continue to build the APC as a progressive party, capable of producing accountable elected representatives at all levels. We do so with full confidence that Asiwaju will build on the legacy of President Buhari, which also include respecting internal debate and contestation within the APC. APC is the only party today in Nigeria that permit internal debate and contestations.
* Dr Salihu Lukman is a member of the National Working Committee of the All Progressives Congress