The All Progressives Congress has started with a momentum as a radical opposition party in Nigeria. Relatively, it seems to have achieved some visibility nationwide, especially in the media. It has also succeeded in antagonising the ruling Peoples Democratic Party on many issues and has attracted many prominent politicians from the ruling party including five governors and a former Vice-President recently. The party has also caused sizeable apprehension in the National Assembly and in the process “harvested” many senators and members of the House of Representatives into its fold. As a political party that had only recently commenced formal membership registration, this is no mean feat.
However, it must go beyond all these if it intends to successfully displace the PDP and form government at the centre in 2015. Here are three steps it must take urgently and two others that it must stop taking if its desperation to upstage the PDP will be realised.
The first step it 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. Muhamadu Buhari, Chief Tom Ikimi, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, Chief Bisi Akande, Chief Timipre Sylva, Dr.Ogbonnaya Onu, Aminu Bello Masari, among others 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 got. Though they bring on the table considerable strength and following, 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 country’s problem and so it will be difficult for Nigerians to trust these same people to provide the solutions to the problems. 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 pure propaganda but the fact remains 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 the 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, the APC must remodel itself along the lines of religious neutrality and inter-ethnic 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 some “destitute” South-Easterners 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 run state government. That feeling contributed partly to the poor outing of the APC candidate in the recent governorship elections in Anambra State. Apart from the half-hearted apology rendered by Governor Babatunde Fashola, no effort has been made to remedy the public relations deficit created by that singular incident through any targeted outreach to the families of those affected.
On a related note, the seriousness of the party’s condemnation of the Boko Haram insurgency in parts of 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, the 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 it to rise and condemn every attack by insurgents and even provide relief materials, by so doing come clean of some of the accusations from its political opponents.
The third step the APC must take is to articulate an alternative programme and market such aggressively to the Nigerian people beyond its resort to criticising the PDP at will. The promise of a progressive state and the doctrine of a 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 its website re-echoed the daily frustrations and lamentations of an ordinary citizen. However, this will not be the basis for the mass mobilisation for an opposition party that is preparing to take over power. There needs to be very concrete strategies on how the promise of change it promises will be actualised and operationalised. In the “manifesto” on its website, the party promised seven cardinal programmes though it listed eight items below the statement. How could such error escape its vigilance?
The best way to sell the APC quickly is to show the performance of governors currently serving under the party’s platform. If it can show convincingly that its elected officials are already delivering “change”, then it will be easier for Nigerians to believe that it will do more at the federal level. Furthermore, it could start test-running some of its policy proposals in the various states so that it can get concrete feedback for improvement.
Nonetheless, there are a few steps the APC must stop taking henceforth. It must stop over-antagonising President Goodluck Jonathan. Its current intense antagonism and resentful criticisms may turn out to be counterproductive. It portrays the party as one that is only desperate to displace the President whether or not it can provide an alternative. It is rather raising public sympathy for the ruling party on the one side and on the other giving 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 has released the timetable. Every party should go to the drawing board and do some rigorous thinking and planning. If the APC feels that the ruling party has failed, it should catalogue its failures, present them before Nigerians, and tell us why its own party will be different. Period! Many political observers and analysts alike are already feeling that the only reason politicians can defect back and forth from the ruling party to the opposition is because 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. The APC should prove them wrong.
My final point will be to suggest to the APC to caution its leaders and members to discontinue making provocative statements that unnecessarily heat up the polity. Such actions lead to confrontations with security agencies and do not add any electoral value.
This is a time to deploy superior political tactics to woo the electorate. To confront a party in power and hope to displace it is not a kettle of fish. The incumbent government may appear incompetent in a way that has made many Nigerians angry. However, to harness that anger into a positive electoral outcome will require a lot of work. The APC must manage to pull off a less cantankerous convention and free and fair primary elections to gain the confidence of Nigerians. Its leaders must embrace the outcome of such elections with unity of purpose and equanimity. That way, it will present Nigerians with a crop of untainted leaders on the APC platform whose reputation and appeal will cut across a wider spectrum of citizens beyond ethnic and religious boundaries. We are all anxious to see them climb the podium.
Henceforth, every action or inaction of the APC will count to support or disrupt its probability of capturing power in 2015. The party should get one thing clear – that it is possible does not mean that it will be an easy one.