The People’s Democratic Party, PDP, had vowed or threatened to rule Nigeria for at least 60 consecutive years before it can hand over to any other political party. Given its performance since 1999, this ambition has serious implications for the future of Nigeria. Single political parties have attempted but always failed to dislodge the PDP from power. The only way out of this desperate situation is the formation of a merger or at least a formidable alliance among the leading opposition parties in the country. But given the character of the N igerian politician, can such a merger work?
Quite clearly, Nigerian political parties do not have a remarkable history of mergers or alliances. A most recent demonstration of this problem occurred during the 2011 presidential election when attempts for an alliance between the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN and the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, failed. The usefulness of a merger is self-evident in a nation under siege like Nigeria. Mergers or alliances strengthen political parties and increase their support base. This is evident in the 2006 merger of the Action Congress and the Alliance for Democracy to form the Action Congress of Nigeria. The ACN has since then steadily risen to become a major opposition party in the country. To defeat the PDP, a merger of the leading opposition parties is necessary. This will not come without its challenges though.
The biggest challenge to a merger of the opposition parties is the parties themselves. Opposition parties in Nigeria do not have a common idea of what they want to achieve. Each party appears to have been formed to pursue an agenda contra-lateral to that of the others. This is so because where these parties are not platforms for certain principal “owners” to express their political ambitions and become “stakeholders” in “cutting” the “national cake” without baking it, they are regional parties formed to advance sectional interests against those of the other regions. This causes opposition within the opposition and makes no room for a common ground among the parties. Take the failed ACN-CPC alliance for instance. General Muhammadu Buhari was torn between his personal ambition to acquire the title of president, his desperation to present himself as a Northern candidate in his campaign and the ACN’s need for a more liberal and national figure. It was impossible for Buhari to give up his hold on the presidential ticket because that was essentially why he formed “his own” party, and the sentiment at that time was that it was the “turn” of the North to produce the president. If the alliance had succeeded, it would have upset PDP’s victory given the CPC’s impressive performance of winning 12 states.
A similar trend will likely play out between the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, and any of the other opposition parties. To begin with, APGA is an emerging power in the South East and is majorly regarded as an “Igbo” party which should provide a platform for an “Igbo” president. This sentiment is particularly strong because since the Civil War ended, no one from that region has become president. Typical of Nigerian political mentality, the South East feels “marginalized” and is agitating for its “turn” to produce the president. It will be difficult for the region to accept a merger which does not immediately gratify this desire. Indeed, it would be seen by the region as unfair for any of the other regions to insist on producing the president when they have done so at least once in the past. On the other hand, the Labour Party, LP, which does not seem to have any immediate presidential ambition, may not pose a great challenge, but due to its limited reach, its merger with any of the others alone will not present a significant challenge to the PDP.
It follows from above that the merger of these parties will be difficult not because of any difference in ideology. Instead, it will be because of the non-existence of any ideology in the first place. This is where the opposition parties are no different from the PDP. It is a fundamental problem arising from wrong motives for political participation. What is the essence of political power? Why is it difficult to have a national party that promotes the ideal of a strong and united Nigeria? Why do individuals hungry for power find it expedient to constantly harass the nation with threats of disintegration? It is because the Nigerian politician is a creature of emotions and not ideas.
The people of Nigeria may have to suffer a little longer under the PDP because of this behavior of opposition politicians. A merger is only feasible where parties with similar ideas work together to achieve common goals. It cannot work where one man is occupied with a primordial desire to be president at all costs and another feels his “people” own the presidency and it is his duty to acquire it on their behalf. For instance, shortly before the 2011 presidential election, Orji Uzor Kalu was quoted as saying that he was running for president because an Igbo man does not yet have his picture in Aso Rock. General Buhari on the other hand was poisoned by the sentiment that the presidency belonged to the north, and he and his followers then defined a free and fair election as an election in which Buhari wins! The trouble with Nigerian politics is the inability of the politicians to rise above selfish interests and become sensitive to national interests. Why must a particular individual be president? Can’t these gentlemen sacrifice their personal ambitions for the sake of this nation? Why do we proceed with this chieftaincy-title-president ideology where the presidency is reduced to a title which everyone must bear? Why, as Chinua Achebe queries, do “a couple of [individuals]. . . see the Nigerian presidency as pension and gratuity for the services they think they rendered to the country thirty years ago”?
Before any merger or alliance can work among the opposition parties, they would have to break with their ethnic and selfish sentiments, and project a national vision which every Nigerian can share. The “owners” of these parties must understand that the primary mandate of any political party is to serve Nigeria above everything else. They must liberate themselves from their incurable affinity for titles and positions. Not everybody must be party chairman; not every strong party member must be in political office, and not every financier of the party must be president. Instead, these parties should form for themselves a national vision and find from amongst themselves a Nigerian, irrespective of what language he speaks and where he worships, who has a full grasp of what needs to be done. Until they do that, any merger – if it happens at all – will only last as long as it takes them to realize that there was actually no merger in the first place.