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Home News APC and Question of Liability.. By Salihu Moh. Lukman

APC and Question of Liability.. By Salihu Moh. Lukman

by Nike
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Recently, the media reported Comrade Adams Oshiomhole to have attributed current hardship Nigerians are experiencing to “reckless policies” of former President Muhammadu Buhari. Before now, in November last year, Prince Dapo Abiodun, Governor of Ogun State and Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, National Security Adviser have made similar comments to the effect that ‘President Bola Tinubu inherited an administration that was almost comatose’ and ‘a bankrupt country’. These are issues, which border on the question of who to blame when elected leaders produced by the APC fail to meet our expectations or deliver on campaign promises. For instance, who should be held responsible for problems created by the last administration of former President Muhammadu Buhari? Beyond the blame game, what should be done to address the problem of failure of an administration produced by same political party such that the mistakes of the past are not repeated by the current administration of President Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.?

Perhaps, in engaging these issues I need to acknowledge the kind advice of Comrade Oshiomhole during the presentation of my book, APC and Transition Politics on December 19, 2023 when he queried why I should give advise publicly when I can give it within the party. According to him, ‘I don’t gain by writing off my own organisation’. He went at length to highlight our experiences in the NLC. My only appeal to him is that as much as possible in engaging these issues publicly, we need to be honestly receptive and not reduce them to egocentric debate around who is right or wrong. The bigger issue is the question of what needs to be done to serve Nigerian citizens. It is quite worrisome when I hear Comrade Oshiomhole talked condescendingly to some of us who practically made every sacrifice, including putting our lives on the line to even get him to emerge as President of the NLC in 1999. We didn’t do all that simply because we hated military government. Our conviction was that the actions of the military governments to impose repressive policies on Nigerians were unjust.

It is to the credit of Comrade Oshiomhole and a whole generation of trade union leaders that they provided the needed leadership to resist repressive government policies. We were able to do that successfully because the structures of the trade union movement were functional. All of us who were in the movement had voices that were respected. Many leaders of the movement, including Comrade Oshiomhole, consulted us almost on hourly basis and through those consultations we were able to influence their decisions. Although, some of the realities of many of them in the political leadership of the movement began to display individualistic dispositions and to that extent scheme to impose their personal preferences on the labour movement as opposed to collective decisions, overall, the organisation respected our voices. A typical example of how labour leaders began to impose individual dispositions was reflected in the way and manner the evolution of the Labour Party was trunked by personal political ambitions.

Without going into all the details, for instance, based on the recommendations of Comrade Oshiomhole, as NLC President, all of us who were full time officials in the NLC secretariat were banned from holding any leadership position in the Labour Party. This was a position Comrade Oshiomhole pushed and was adopted by the National Executive Council (NEC) meeting of NLC in Bauchi in 2002. That was when Comrade S. O. Z. Ejiofor emerged as the National Chairman of the party, with late Comrade A. A. Salam as the National Secretary. Thereafter, every debate around the organisation of the Party was limited to the projection of Comrade Oshiomhole’s political ambition. Even at that, because the party wasn’t allowed to develop the capacity to contest and win elections, after Comrade Oshiomhole’s tenure as NLC President in 2007, he didn’t have the confidence to contest on the platform of the party, he had to syndicate an alliance with the Action Congress (AC). Some of these experiences have already been documented. One of such documentation is ‘The Failure of Nigeria’s Labour Party’ jointly written by late Prof. Bjorn Beckman and myself, which is published as chapter in the book ‘Trade Unions and Party Politics: Labour Movements in Africa Edited by Bjorn Beckman, Sakhela Buhungu and Lloyd Sachikonye.

As a person, I owe a lot to Comrade Oshiomhole. I will always give him his due respect even as he painfully in recent times presents realities in a way that write some of us off. I will, no matter what, continue to remind him where we are coming from and the sacrifices many of us collectively made to get him and many others to rise to their current positions of national prominence. We may have lost our privileges of being their speech writers but if there is one thing that we must never lose is our voices. The interesting thing is that the same voices that used to be amplified by leaders such as Comrade Oshiomhole and Asiwaju Tinubu are today being despised and queried. Why is that so? Could it be because, we have succeeded to produce leaders such as Comrade Oshiomhole and Asiwaju Tinubu? Should such success then mean that we should accept actions like what previous leaders including military rulers were doing, which include imposing unfair and unjust decisions on citizens? My answer will be that if for any reason Comrade Oshiohmole and President Asiwaju Tinubu, being our leaders today, act the same old ways previous leaders acted, we should give them the same old medicines they used to administer to previous repressive governments.

This was what some of us exactly did when Comrade Oshiomhole was National Chairman of the APC between 2018 and 2020. We tried to engage him internally within the structures of the party. Being very ordinary members of the party, he had no time for us. The same letter he publicly complained of being delivered through a third party (Dr. Otive Igbuzor) was sent directly to him but coming from ordinary mortals, it didn’t merit his attention and perhaps he never cited it. When leaders are inaccessible, what are our options? The strength of any democracy is its capacity to respect freedom of expression. If we are despised by our leaders for expressing ourselves, it begs the question of whether our leaders are democrats. Especially given that during Comrade Oshiomhole’s tenure as National Chairman of the APC, the problem of convening meetings of organs of the party as provided under the APC constitution got worsened, how we exercise our rights to contest actions or inactions of our political leaders tests our commitment to the struggle for democracy.

Compounded by the fact that the challenge of producing candidates for the 2019 elections created more complications such that the dispositions of virtually most leaders of the APC, including Comrade Oshiomhole was to manipulate processes so that either they emerge as candidates, or their preferred choices emerged, the need to engage our leaders and try to influence their conducts was very necessary. My belief at the time was that with Comrade Oshiomhole as National Chairman of the APC, all that was required was to get him to apply his skills as a negotiator to resolve most of our challenges in APC. Having worked with him for more than sixteen years, I could attest to his excellent negotiating skills. Certainly, he is one of the best negotiators this country has produced. Without going into any further details, we were unable to get him to apply himself as a lead negotiator within the party as National Chairman. Instead, he acted as a typical Nigerian politician whose mission in leadership is narrowed to imposing his personal preferences.

If anything, all my public advocacy for reform within the APC during his tenure as National Chairman contested against his disposition to act as a dictator instead of a democrat. I stand by all the positions I took against many of the actions he took as National Chairman. I hold the strong belief that the APC is today faced with the sad reality of having completely lost its bearing and no longer the party with envisioned progressive credentials because we have lost a golden opportunity to get Comrade Oshiomhole during his tenure as National Chairman to provide the needed leadership, like the kind of leadership he provided to the labour movement when he was NLC President. Unlike when he was the NLC President, when he relied on structures of the NLC to take decisions, as National Chairman of APC, he, together with some of his colleagues in the National Working Committee (NWC) arrogated to themselves the powers of other superior organs and proceeded to take arbitrary decisions.

Just imagine the National Administrative Council (NAC) of NLC arrogating to itself the powers of Central Working Committee (CWC) or NEC of NLC. It is certainly inconceivable. Especially also with many of the public allegations of corruption involving large amounts of alleged receipts from aspirants for 2019 elections, it was very troubling for many of us who could attest to Comrade Oshiomhole’s moral standing. We had to summon the courage to engage all those issues publicly so that at the minimum our leaders in the party, including Comrade Oshiomhole could come back to their rational senses.

Between 2019 and 2020, I took every risk to campaign for reconciliation within the APC. Many leaders of the party, including President Asiwaju Tinubu, Comrade Oshiomhole and many Governors at the time labelled me as a paid agent. This much, Comrade Oshiomhole repeated during the launching of APC and Transition Politics. All I can say is that I will remain consistent in the struggle for democracy in Nigeria. I demonstrated that when the Caretaker Committee under the leadership of His Excellency Mai Mala decided to work against organising the APC Convention to produce a new leadership, which was its core mandate. I demonstrated that against the leadership of Sen. Abdullahi Adamu, which I was part of when he wanted to impose Sen. Ahmed Lawal as the APC Presidential candidate.

All these are now history. President Asiwaju Tinubu is today our President and leader of APC. Whether anyone wants to acknowledge it or not, my public advocacy contributed enormously to the emergence of President Asiwaju as the Presidential candidate of the APC. Having won the election, emerged as President and leader of the APC, on account of disagreeing with his decision to nominate Dr. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje as National Chairman, I have lost virtually every privilege in the APC. The only thing I have today is my small voice. I may be wrong, but my expectation is that at the minimum President Asiwaju Tinubu will be more democratic than former President Muhammadu Buhari. It is quite unsatisfactory that expressing disagreement to leaders who claimed to be democrats, and progressives will elicit the kind of anger being displayed by both Comrade Oshiomhole and President Asiwaju Tinubu against some of us.

At personal level, with due respect to former President Buhari, I never expected much from him. Immediately after the merger, with the emergence of APC, I campaigned internally among our party leaders from the North not to allow former President Buhari to emerge as the Presidential candidate of the party. My position, at the time, around 2014, was that given all the challenges facing the country, especially insecurity in the North, we needed a President from the North who will be very active in uniting our people and giving clear leadership guidance. My honest view was that former President Buhari will not provide such leadership.

The reality was that former President Buhari was never a team player. All the allegations against him why his military colleagues led by General Ibrahim Babangida overthrew him in August 1985 are there in the public domain. Unfortunately, somehow, based purely on the strong public support he had largely coming from ordinary people in Northern parts of the country, former President Buhari could not be dismissed by anyone desirous of defeating the PDP. As a result, therefore, the whole merger negotiations leading to the emergence of APC was largely driven based on the strategic calculations of taking advantage of his popularity in the North to defeat the PDP. This was successfully achieved in 2015 such that former President Goodluck Jonathan conceded defeat even before the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared the results of the elections.

Having won the 2015 elections, with former President Buhari emerging as the leader of the APC, the question of whether the APC will provide the needed leadership to change Nigeria, which was our main campaign promise was taken for granted. What was even the change expected was more limited to expression of anger against the PDP. Although, the APC Manifesto provided some broad guidelines, in terms of how all those translated into policy initiatives of the former President Buhari-led APC government was not given much priority. Acknowledged that ahead of the inauguration of the government, there was a policy conference organised by the party early in May 2015. Around the same time, there was also a Transition Committee led by late Alh. Ahmed Joda.

Some of the danger signals highlighting how the APC became weakened in influencing initiatives of the government of former President Buhari began to emerge at that time of organising the transition for the APC government of former President Buhari. One of such signals was when the National Chairman of the party, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun was made ordinary member of the Alh. Joda-led Transition Committee setup by President Buhari. With such actions, the APC National Chairman became an appointee of former President Buhari. And subsequently, after the inauguration of the government, there were speculations in the media that Chief Oyegun was lobbying to become the Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF). If those speculations were true, those realities would have been responsible for weakening the capacity of the party to relate with the government of former President Buhari based on strong moral recognition and therefore being able to influence its decisions.

Beyond the speculated ambition of the National Chairman, there were rumors that almost all members of the APC NWC lobbied for Ministerial appointments. As it turned out, Mr. B. D. Lawal who was the party’s National Vice Chairman (North-East) was appointed the SGF. The reality of reducing party leaders to the status of being appointees of the President defined relationship between the party and the President. Once that is the case, commitment to change Nigerian politics was compromised. Part of the changes that were expected has to do with changing the practice whereby political practice and culture in political parties is about recruiting loyalists to become members. Based that aspiring candidates for elections with strong financial capability are allowed to control structures of party. Such a person would then proceed to appoint loyalists to serve as party officials.

Eventually, this became the practice in APC. APC Governors at state levels took over control of the structures of the party. Ability of the APC at all levels to regulate the conducts of elected officials it produces was compromised. Issues of membership participation in political activities, including holding party positions and appointments into governments controlled by the party, are restricted to close associates and supporters, while professional management of the party and disciplinary conduct of members are conveniently ignored. A lot of the internal contests in APC is about whether the party should abandon its founding vision and collapse into the conventional way of organising political contests in the country. Somehow, APC, as it is today, is just like PDP and all the other parties. Aspiring politicians and by extension godfathers continue to impose their preferences, with the direct consequences of undermining initiatives within the party to develop new organisational frameworks that can allow for broader participation of members. This confirms Antonio Gramsci’s thesis that ‘the old is dying and the new cannot be born.’

Most of the public debates about internal democracy within Nigerian political parties hardly address the fundamental issues of membership management, party funding and administrations, and regulating the conducts of elected leaders. Sadly, here we are in APC, with leaders who have in the past given Nigerians the needed leadership, including Asiwaju Tinubu and Comrade Oshiomhole, to resist bad policies, also unfortunately implementing policies that have impoverished citizens. And instead of ruling with humility, and review policies when there is public outcry, they are grandstanding and giving excuses. They engage in the familiar blame games, attributing the consequences of government policies to the administration of former President Buhari. This is very uncharitable and dishonest, with due respect to our leaders.

Certainly, the government of former President Buhari did not measure up to the expectations of party members and Nigerians in general. But we must take responsibility that the truth is that the success or failure of former President Buhari’s government represent the collective success or failure of APC as a party. All of us in the leadership of APC, including President Asiwaju Tinubu were complicit in one or the other to all the circumstances that contributed to producing factors that made the administration of former President Buhari to have failed. Unfortunately, as things are, we are also strengthening the hands of President Asiwaju Tinubu to continue the path of failure. Just like we deluded former President Buhari into believing that every decision he took is right, our leaders are today misleading President Asiwaju Tinubu to believe that all his decisions are right.

Painfully, here we are, under President Asiwaju Tinubu, with a government whose initiatives are weak in addressing what is clearing emerging as existential crisis for citizens. During the short life span of the administration, value of incomes has been eroded and the downward slide is continuing almost in geometric scale. Our leaders, including Comrade Oshiomhole want us to believe that the problem is created by the administration of former President Buhari. If that is the case, why were they unable as party leaders to regulate the conduct of former President Buhari and prevent him from failing? Now that President Asiwaju Tinubu is in charge, what is being done to address this challenge and ensure that he does not suffer the fate of his predecessor?

Perhaps, it is important to remind Comrade Oshiomhole of some of the positions he eloquently presented on our behalf when he was NLC President regarding the issue of removal of subsidy, which is one of the decisions that is accounting for today’s hardship. It is on record, Comrade Oshiomhole provided the leadership to oppose withdrawal of subsidy on petroleum products based on the demand that before it is done government must guarantee local production of refined petroleum products. We made recommendation that cover short, medium, and long term, which were contained in submissions we made to the Federal Government when Comrade Oshiomhole was NLC President. For instance, as a short-term recommendation, we proposed strategic innovative arrangements with neighboring countries such as Cote d’Ivoire so that storage facilities in those countries with refining capacities could be hired and NNPC supply crude and pay all the refining charges and collect the products for use in our domestic market.

As medium-term recommendations, issues of refiring and restreaming all Nigerian refineries were proposed. In the long run, allowing private investors to setup refineries were proposed. All these were as far back as 2000. At the time President Asiwaju Tinubu took over in May 2023, we were told local refineries will resume local production in December 2023. Good enough, the Dangote refinery had already been commissioned and was being projected to commence supply of refined products to Nigerians in 2024. There is clear national consensus that government should remove subsidy. The big challenge is aligning the removal of subsidy to correspond to clear timelines when local production of refined products can be guaranteed. Once this is not done, the problems of arbitrarily increases in the prices of refined petroleum products based on cost of importation will be the reality.

Compounded by the policy of floating exchange rate of the Naira, it is only natural given our dependence on importation, the value of our currency will be on the decline, which will add to the inflationary pressure on the economy. As things are, these are realities that are producing unbearable circumstances for citizens. As a party member, my expectation is that we can work collectively to strengthen the capacity of President Asiwaju Tinubu to initiate measures to arrest the current crash in the economy. It borders on whether we want to take responsibility and decisively initiate sustainable strategy to resolve the challenges permanently.

Although, the government is taking some measures, which include the directive to immediately release 42,000 metric tons of assorted grains from the strategic reserves to Nigerians and the decision to setup commodity boards to regulate prices of food items in the country, in the long run, the bigger challenge is the issue of guaranteeing local production. A number of these issues takes us back to the whole debate around restructuring, which is about adopting a wholistic, not piecemeal, approach to reforming the Nigerian economy. Both President Asiwaju and Comrade Oshiomhole were in the forefront of the campaign for restructuring the Nigerian economy. Part of the problem created today, is that instead of coming up with a comprehensive strategy with clear timelines, we are having isolated knee jerk initiatives.

We must appeal to our leaders, especially President Asiwaju Tinubu to stop behaving in the mode of repressive leaders. Being leaders elected on the platform of the APC, as true democrats, they should allow structures of the APC to function based on which members and leaders of the APC can have a say in the policy directions of the government. Inability of members to influence actions of the former President Buhari’s government is responsible for whatever could be adjudged as the failure of that government. So long as the government of President Asiwaju Tinubu adopts the old framework of dictating to the party, it has made itself vulnerable to repeat all the mistakes and failings of former President Buhari.

Given this reality, it is painful to admit that both the APC as a party and the government of President Asiwaju Tinubu are becoming increasingly unpopular with Nigerians. No one should be deceived that given the way we are becoming more and more unpopular; we are faced with the risk of rebellion by ordinary Nigerians. The truth is that given the fact that political opposition to APC is weak, and organisations of civil society in the country are also weak, the capacity to provide the needed leadership to the opposition against APC and President Asiwaju Tinubu may be nebulous and desperate, which could become a threat to democracy. To avert such danger, it is important that our leaders return to their old mode of acting as visionary politicians and initiate deeply more substantive political reforms in the country to reposition the APC and return it to its founding vision of becoming a progressive political.

At the same time, we need a different President Asiwaju Tinubu to show up who is a democrat and above all a progressive politician who should have high tolerance level when party members and citizens express disagreements to his decisions. We want a President Asiwaju Tinubu who will be open to engagement by party members and Nigerians. Once the disposition of President Asiwaju Tinubu is limited to accommodating only views that agree to his decisions, it simply means that all hopes are dashed. Leaders of APC must therefore refrain from acts that can only strengthen the hands of President Asiwaju Tinubu to dash the hopes of Nigerians. The least that should happen is that if leaders of the APC have retreated their commitments to making APC a progressive party, they should openly make that declaration. It is my prayer that this is not the case.

However, as it is often said, the test of the pudding is in the eating. Will President Asiwaju Tinubu take the needed steps to review the policy directions of his government such that comprehensive policy framework is put in place, which should include the issue of removal of subsidy and exchange rate and not piecemeal strategy? Will the government accept to subordinate itself to the party based on which it accepts to work with decisions of the party, or will it continue to relate with party leaders as its appointees? These are issues that will define the kind of legacy President Asiwaju Tinubu want to bequeath to Nigerians. Once the commitment to reform the APC is weak and make it function as a progressive party under the leadership of President Asiwaju Tinubu, the probability of reproducing the mistakes of past leadership will be high. And like past leaders, President Asiwaju Tinubu will end up only adding to the list of disappointingly bad leaders Nigeria has produced. No amount to blaming past leaders will save that from happening except honest political reform to return APC to its founding vision.

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