It starts with understanding the APC
It makes little sense to try to explain or analyse the ruling party without taking into consideration its beginnings and constituent parts. The APC is a coalition of at least four political groups: the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), and factions of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and the Peoples Democratic Party (n-PDP). Each of these blocs brought something to the party: the ACN brought southwestern influence, the CPC brought Muhammadu Buhari and his cult following in the north-east and north-west of Nigeria, the ANPP, like the CPC, brought northern clout, the APGA brought a foothold in south-eastern, and the n-PDP added a band of savvy political operators with access to money and/or efficient political machines. The n-PDP bloc also simultaneously had the effect of weakening and demoralising the ruling party.
The story of the APC is therefore one of a never-ending contest among these constituent groups, for important positions within the party, and, by extension, within the government about to be formed.
That’s one way of looking at the APC. Another way of viewing it, which overlaps in some way with the party provenance approach, is to focus on the personalities who call the shots within it; i.e. the party’s loci of power and influence. There are the two national leaders of the party – Muhammadu Buhari (the CPC leader) and Bola Tinubu (ACN). There are also the n-PDP bigwigs like Bukola Saraki, Rabiu Kwakwanso and Abubakar Atiku. You can classify most, if not all, members of the party according to which of these people their allegiances lie with. It’s important to note that there are persons whose originating blocs do not coincide with their personal loyalty choices – for example, there are ACN bloc members who have since shifted their allegiance to, say, Mr. Buhari. There will also inevitably be cases of multiple loyalties: one person belonging to two or more camps.
One needs to keep this complicatedness of structure – the fact that the APC is trapped in a series of permanent contests, between its various groups, for influence – in mind when interpreting the events of June 9 at the National Assembly. Every headline that declares that the ‘APC’ is unhappy with and rejecting the outcome needs to be parsed for meaning. Which of the party’s main blocs is unhappy? All of them? Is the president anywhere near as distraught by the outcome as Mr Tinubu and party chairman David Oyegun (Mr Tinubu’s candidate for chairmanship), who actively pushed the candidacy of the Senator who lost out to Senator Saraki? Is Mr Atiku – also a respected party leader to whom Saraki paid an early visit after being elected as Senate President – to be counted as one of the party leaders unhappy with the turn of events?
Accounting for the Lion of Bourdillon
It would not be out of place to regard Mr Tinubu – nicknamed The Lion (for his political ferocity) of Bourdillon (his Lagos residence is on Bourdillon Road) – as the most talked-about and most fearsome of the party’s leaders. You can classify members of the APC according to where they stand in relation to Tinubu: the loyalists, the oppositionists, and the outliers.
Like all political godfathers, Tinubu prizes loyalty. He also has an instinctive grasp of the art of deal-making, and is very experienced at fighting high-stakes political battles. His political journey has seen him dismantle entrenched godfather systems in southwestern Nigeria to pave the way for his own rise as a godfather. He survived Obasanjo’s onslaught on the South-west in 2003, becoming the only Alliance of Democracy Governor to keep his seat. From that isolated position he went on to almost singlehandedly rebuild the southwestern opposition into the far more formidable ACN, and lead it as a principal partner into the APC. He also seems to have learnt the art of sacrificing a battle in order to win the war. He stepped down his opposition to the second term bid of his hand-picked successor, Tunde Fashola, and waited patiently to consolidate his hold on the state by backing Akinwunmi Ambode against Fashola’s own choice of successor.
But in moving from the domestic politics of Lagos to a national level he’s facing headwinds far greater than anything he’s ever had to deal with. The losing candidates in the National Assembly elections were the ones who bore his stamp of approval, and whose chances now appear to have been hurt by their association with him. The extent of the antagonism that many feel towards him is captured in the comments made yesterday by Olabode George, a member of the PDP, and sworn enemy of Tinubu. (Accusations of dictatorial tendencies have long trailed Tinubu, intensifying in the last twelve months and leading to a backlash that now regularly hurts the electoral chances of all persons believed to be loyal to him.)
Saraki is proving to be perhaps the most formidable opponent Tinubu has had to encounter in his political career. Like Tinubu, he’s a godfather-type who has got to where he is today by being a godfather-eater. In his case, the system he dismantled – perhaps appropriated would be a more apt word – in 2011 belonged to his father, Olusola Saraki, who installed him governor of Kwara State in 2003.
Where’s Mr President in all of this?
Aloof is one of the words used to describe his attitude to the events of Tuesday. President Buhari has, in my opinion, very wisely stayed above the fray. My view is that there’s nothing he gains from being linked to it, while there’s much to be lost. He seems to have taken lessons from the conduct of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who, at every turn, dabbled into the affairs of the Senate and House of Representatives, bent on installing as leaders persons he felt would be loyal to him. The outcome: unending turmoil in the legislative houses. A spate of resignations and impeachments involving the leadership of the Assembly in the early Obasanjo years triggered talk of the existence of a ‘banana peel‘. Buhari has commendably said he would not interfere in the legislative elections, and would be willing to work with whoever the process throws up. He should stand by that assertion, and focus on setting new standards for mutually respectful executive-legislative engagement.
So what’s next?
It will take a while for the tensions in the National Assembly to blow over. The losing side will probably lie in wait for an opportunity to undermine Saraki. The PDP will, on the strength of this resurgence, bid for influential Committee positions and generally seek to assert itself in the affairs of the Assembly. Senate President Saraki will have a difficult but not impossible task on his hands, balancing these demands with those of his party members, as well as managing the anger and frustration of those members of his party opposed to his presidency.
The President should continue to distance himself from his party’s belligerence, and work on building bridges with the leadership of the Assembly. As soon as possible he should meet with the new Senate President and Speaker, to share his broad policy vision and enlist the buy-in of the legislature.
One possibility is that Tinubu will become, for segments of the party, what Goodluck Jonathan was: a unifying factor. It is easy to see disparate elements, from across various blocs and party interests, coming together to seek to resolve the Tinubu question. Tinubu, being, in my opinion, too intelligent to be self-destructive, would do well to assess his politics in the light of these perceptions that he is overbearing, and realise that while he remains a big fish, the pond has grown much bigger.