Buddy, you were born today a product of the protracted pregnancy of multiple mothers. Happy birthday. I do not come to rob or rock the cradle. I have merely come to greet you, the newborn, bearing not gifts of myrrh, frankincense, and gold but loads of uncomfortable questions, queries, and warnings. Since you are only a few hours old, the politically correct thing to do is to wait at least for your eighth-day outing ceremony before piling on you but you have been born into extraordinary circumstances which require extraordinary measures to save you from the mounds of self-inflicted injuries you shaped from the yolk. It is true that while still a foetus in the collective wombs of your mothers (CPC, ACN, and fragments of APGA), you showed persistent signs of not really getting what the philosophy of opposition is all about – while conveniently using the evil desire of the PDP and INEC to abort the pregnancy as an excuse for your own incipient obtuseness.
Therefore, this memo welcomes you to the cradle with loads of good intentions. If, however, you insist on seeing it as the handiwork of an enemy, you may take consolation in the fact that a newborn begins the business of acquiring enemies in this world the moment it is able to crawl and upturn cups and plates, wasting water and food. If you elect to ignore this memo or treat it as the work of a hostile intellectual, your paternal uncles, Lai Mohammed and Rotimi Fashakin, are welcome to rock you to sleep with this Ebenezer Obey lullaby: “ota omode, bere lati bi irakoro, ka dani l’onje nu…” If they are wise, however, they will keep you awake and alert to the following four memo items rather than claim that you have fallen into the malevolent hands of the world:
Your identity problem started right from your days as a foetus. You just assumed that by adopting “Progressives” as your middle name and tucking it seamlessly between “All” and “Congress”, all other things shall be added, most especially legitimacy in the eyes of a Nigerian people desperate to be rid of nearly two decades of plunder and rape by the useless and visionless PDP. You assumed that battered and betrayed Nigerians would confer automatic oppositional legitimacy on just about anybody or any entity able to scream the loudest about the irredeemable incompetence of Goodluck Jonathan and the overbearing and unending irrationalities of his wife, Jesus Christ (formerly known as Lazarus, all documents remain valid).
So certain were you about your pre-determined and unearned legitimacy as the oppositional alternative to the unbearable rot that are Goodluck Jonathan and his godforsaken PDP that you assumed you had the luxury of throwing away the core meaning of the term, progressive, in the context of democratic discourses and political philosophy. As conception took place and you grew weekly as a foetus, “progressive” in APC-speak became an open sesame for every manner of character, much like the maggot-ridden umbrella of the ruling party. The chaotic and open sesame approach to your emergence ensured that rather than acquire the characteristics associated with progressive and oppositional politics, you became very vulnerable to taking on the complexion of a confederacy of political losers united only by gradations of loss. Loss of an election, loss of a political appointment, loss of membership of the eating club at the centre, loss of political relevance, loss of critical access to the corridors of power became the only identifiable trait of a foundational strange bedfellowship.
However, there are losses and there are losses. The loss of the Nigerian people, for instance, is not personal in the political scheme of things. What we collectively lost to the PDP’s reign of locusts in the last two decades are the vision, dreams, possibilities, and potentials of Nigeria. This is a deep collective loss as opposed to the personal losses of the arrowheads of the APC who are busy trying to equate those personal losses with the fundamental losses of the Nigerian people. Our loss as a people affects our psyche, your loss as a member of the political elite affects your pocket and your belly. It is not the same loss. Therefore, you have no right to expect the people to automatically equate your personal loss with their collective loss just because you are making noise and abusing those responsible for your loss in the circles of political prebends.
You have to work to convince the people that you have purged yourself of the consequences and hangover of your personal loss and you now understand the ramifications of our collective loss. You need to work very hard at showing us just where, when, and how you differ fundamentally from the PDP. I am not talking about issuing platitudinal statements to abuse Goodluck Jonathan and the PDP all the time. That is not how to establish your own identity as a political party. You have to show us the meat, ideologically speaking. And we are not seeing it yet. I have written elsewhere that what I see, for now, is the APC becoming the botanical name of PDP. Think about it.
This is related to your problems of identity. Here, again, you assume and carry on like your name should make your ideological creed obvious and easily graspable by the people. You assume that everyone should know why and how you are ideologically different from the PDP. Well, one would have to know who you are ideologically before even moving to the question of whether your ideology is markedly different from the PDP’s. I’m afraid I’m at a loss here. Just who and what are you, ideologically?
Have you asked yourself the following questions: why is it that migrants from other political parties are not afflicted by ideological homesickness once they land in APC? What is it in the APC’s ideological mould that would make a PDP chieftain very comfortable once he crosses over? What is it about the APC that made it possible for even the recidivist pedophile of Zamfara, Senator Sani Ahmed Yerima, to appear to speak for it a few weeks ago? Why is Tom Ikimi, a former Chairman of the National Republican Convention who subsequently helped General Sani Abacha to rape the potential of Nigeria, so ideologically comfortable in the APC? The answer to all these questions are simple: there is no ideological difference in contemporary Nigerian party politics. You just have actors roaming from platform to platform to secure or guarantee better access to the national cake. Nothing would take Andy Ubah, Ayo Fayose, or even Olusegun Obasanjo ideologically out of their comfort zone if they joined APC today.
Think of it this way: can you picture any scenario in which Senator John McCain or Lindsey Graham would end up in the Democratic Party after electoral losses? After some years in hibernation, can you think of any imaginable scenario in which Terry McAuliffe would resurrect as a Republican? Can you imagine a scenario in which Paul Begala and James Carville would become strategists for the Republican Party with a permanent home at Fox News? Can you picture Karl Rove migrating to become a Democratic Strategist in a Hillary Clinton White House in 2016? If you cannot imagine any of these things, it is because we are talking about two ideologically opposed views/visions of society and democracy and not just about political appointments and access to bread and butter.
To crossover to Democratic ideology, Senators McCain and Graham, for instance, would have to subscribe to bigger government funding presence in social programs as opposed to believing that making billionaires and Wall Street comfortable would guarantee prosperity by trickling down to the poor and the vulnerable; they would have to suddenly become sympathetic to the cause and issues of minorities: gays, women, the disabled, etc. They would have to embrace an entirely different vision and approach to education, jobs, guns, race, abortion, foreign policy, the military, civil rights, etc. In short, they would have to be tigers learning the rudiments of a vegetarian diet. Applying this scenario to Nigeria, exactly what did Tom Ikimi have to change to blend in so well in the APC? Did he just carry his NPN-derived, Abacha-inflected NRC ideology seamlessly over? What would Atiku Abubakar, Ibrahim Babangida have to change today if they boarded the APC train? The answer is nothing. They would carry their ideology to the same dining table with Kayode Fayemi and Raji Fashola. This scenario is possible because no Nigerian party is presently about any core and fundamental ideology.
Make no mistake about it, there was a time when party politics in Nigeria was driven by ideology. Umaru Dikko or Adisa Akinloye would never have been able to find a comfortable ideological bed in UPN or PRP. Today, they would be able to go back and forth between PDP and APC without any ideological hiccups. Since you legally cannot deny membership of your party to any Nigerian, ideology is what makes it impossible for those who do not share your philosophical approach to and vision of society to join you. You have to start working on a coherent ideology that will not just distinguish you from the rest, especially the PDP, but will also make it difficult for anybody from a different ideological persuasion to feel at home in your domain. It is not enough to welcome and baptize them progressives like Ajimobi recently did in Ibadan while embracing PDP decampees.
Nigerians do not owe you the debt of automatic acceptance. They do not owe you conferment of popular legitimacy just because you are claiming to be the embodiment of their collective rejection of the PDP. These are things you have to work very hard for and earn. Therefore, you will have to do something urgent and drastic about your sense of entitlement to immediate validity. So long as you believe that rejection of Goodluck Jonathan and his PDP translates to automatic acceptance of what you say you are offering but have not really explained to us, you will continue to live in a fool’s paradise. My friend, Chido Onumah, was recently a victim of the bullies who see themselves as enforcers of your automatic validity. They abused the heck out of him for requiring that you answer tough questions. And the poor man kept explaining and explaining, forgetting that all the explanations should be coming from his entitled traducers. They have to explain why they believe that the people’s disgruntlement with PDP should translate automatically to an endorsement of a new platform that is asking to be placed above legitimate critical scrutiny from inception. You must be reminded in no uncertain terms, APC, that we are not fighting for a Nigeria in which the loudest abusers of the incumbent acquire automatic validity as the opposition and proceed to entertain illusions of immunity from criticism. No, the Nigeria we envision will necessitate your having to work very hard to sell your vision to the people and be humble if they accept it. We dream of a Nigeria in which rejection of the status quo would not invalidate the necessity of probing and critiquing emerging alternatives. You must be reminded that Nigeria, for some us, is much more than a game of musical chairs between two sets of ego-driven elite, some dancing around the chairs, waiting to expel those sitting and denying them a seat.
APC, once you stop playing musical chairs with the PDP, you’ll be able to look in the mirror and see how much of the PDP’s Siamese twin you currently are in terms of strategies and modes of relating to the people of Nigeria. The PDP has always been a party of yeye chieftains, useless elders, and corrupt stakeholders. Nothing about that party inheres in the people. She has never even needed the people to win elections. She “captures” power and political offices in a process driven by corruption and rigging. Nothing is explained to the people. The singular function of the people is to cheer as spectators as the country is plundered. They are the ones to whom ankara and rice are distributed at victory rallies. When the people wear the ankara to those political rallies, their bodies collectively become artistic display canvasses of the corruption of their conquerors.
When I first heard the idea of APC, I said to myself that the wise thing to do would be to eloquently map a different course from the PDP’s sickening elitism. Do not photocopy the scenario of yeye chieftains, useless party elders, and corrupt stakeholders meeting in choice hotels in Lagos, Abuja, Kaduna, Abeokuta, Owerri, and Enugu to carve out portfolios, offices, and personal fiefs even before going to the people to explain yourselves. Start with townhall meetings all over the country. Take a leaf from the grassroots canvassing of the Obama campaign and what folks are doing quietly at readyforhillary.com. Send foot soldiers to villages all over Nigeria. Let Kabiyesis, Obis, and Emirs, call town centre meetings for you.
You already have a groundswell of national disgruntlement with the PDP to use as a door to mass appeal once you assure the people that this thing is with them and of them. Explain this thing to the people. “We are leaders of CPC, ACN, and APGA o. We are planning to come together under a new political party to confront PDP ni o. We need your input and support ni o.” Go to the trade unions and the labour unions. Go to the market women of Nigeria. Storm University campuses all over Nigeria and let your spokespersons submit themselves to grilling at campus open fora. Let this thing be of the people and from the people as opposed to the impervious elitism of the PDP. This cross-country canvassing would not in any way have been incompatible with the regular scenario of committee formations and party leaders holding endless meetings to strategize and work out finer details of the merger. Both processes would have been complementary.
Rather than do this, we saw a photocopy of haughty PDP elitism. Chief Tom Ikimi would wake up and address a press conference, talking about the formation of elitist committees of elders and distinguished Nigerians, with the ever present hint of the people being told to await further directives. Even the diction wasn’t really different from the PDP’s: sharing formula and all that jazz. If you are going to copy the elitist strategies of the PDP, please APC, I beg you in the name of God, acknowledge your sources and avoid plagiarism.
Start with these four memorandum points and let’s see how it rolls. While you are it, remember that Nigerians don’t owe you anything. You owe them everything. If you do not understand this simple, if you do not base your strategies on working like you owe them everything, Nigerians will give you a look in, see an arrogant replica of the PDP, and sing: “ma gbe keke e lo”. I trust that your paternal uncles, Lai Mohammed and Rotimi Fashakin, will explain this to you. Once again, happy birthday to you.