By Salihu Moh. Lukman
It was late Lee Iacocca, former President and Chief Executive Officer of US giant corporation, Chrysler, who posed the question, “Where Have All the Leaders Gone” as the cover title of his 2008 bestselling leadership book. In the book, one of the many questions he asked in reference to leaders was “who are these guys, anyway?” Perhaps, as presented in the book, the reason for the question is explained by the submission; “Why are we in this mess? How did we end up with this crowd …? Well, we voted for them – or at least some of us did. But I’ll tell you what we didn’t do. We didn’t agree to suspend the constitution. We didn’t agree to stop asking question or demanding answers. Some of us are sick and tired of people who call free speech treason. Where I come from that is dictatorship.”
From the cover title, to all the questions and presentations in the book, deleting United States and replacing it with Nigeria, it could perfectly describe our situation and circumstance. Given all the show of indignity in the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the last few months, the explanation justifying the question “who are these guys”, perfectly describe our party leaders.
We have party leaders who claimed to be democrats but take every decision in breach of our party’s constitution. Instead of allowing us to express ourselves by allowing organs of our party to function, they impose their position by blocking meetings of our organs. These leaders believe that party supremacy should be about blind loyalty to them. To ensure that is the case they stopped calling meetings of almost all our party’s organs. And anyone who dare challenge them, is branded as someone with either Presidential ambition for 2023 or is supporting someone with that ambition.
As a result, we end up messing up something as basic as selection of candidates for election. It is either, we create internal disputes that end up in our courts or we field candidates that our opponents challenge their qualification to emerge as candidates in courts. Often, it is fellow party members that go as far as challenging the elections of fellow party members in courts. In virtually all cases, the ruling of the courts knocked our candidates out of the contests, which on two occasions were sadly after our candidates were returned as winners of elections.
And any attempt to ask question or demand answers get rebuffed and labelled as ambition related, which one of our respected leaders coined as ‘old ambition-virus.’ Party members and leaders are divided into pro and anti-groupings. Those who unfortunately fall in the anti-category are condemned and therefore gets disqualified from any internal party contests.
Now the common saying by the pro-group in the party is that the anti-group will be flushed out of the party. What does this mean to the whole notion of producing leaders through majority votes? If potential leaders prefer to impose themselves through suppressing internal party contests, will they not end up snatching ballot boxes and rigging elections? How can someone who is intolerant to opposition campaign for votes? Any wonder why almost every decision of our party is being challenged in courts?
Today, even something as basic as who is the presiding officer of the APC is in courts to the extent that we lost count of the number of cases involving more litigants, far more than the number of party members that aspired for the position at our last National Convention. To demonstrate the irony of the kind of leaderless situation we found ourselves or we impose on ourselves, we are being told that our constitution disqualifies a Deputy National Chairman from acting as National Chairman with reference to the section of the country he comes from. Yet, we call ourselves progressives. No need to look for anybody who is a reactionary with some of progressive leaders we have in APC. Our leaders have degenerated to pseudo-ethnic champions. Are we heading for a merger with Arewa, Afeniferi, Biafra and all the known ethnic groups?
It is such a mess that almost every passing day, we just keep descending lower and lower. Not only that members get more and more frustrated, but also that Nigerians become more and more disappointed and some of our leaders with mandate to govern the country are daily being distracted. Instead of facing the business of government and strengthening the capacity of APC governments at federal and states levels to deliver on their campaign promises, it is a case of leadership conflicts all over the place. Rather than have party leadership making efforts to resolve these conflicts, they become the major disputants and litigants. If the dispute turns out to be between these party leaders and elected functionaries of government, once the circle of election come, these functionaries should be ready to be thrown out no matter their records in government. Professors and all manner of clownish supporters will be recruited to defend and present actions of these party leaders as decisions of party structures and therefore reflective of the supremacy of the party.
It is so hard to believe that this is the 2020 face of APC when just in 2014/15, we had a promising APC that was different and by far relatively democratic. It was an APC that permitted commensurately free contests. In those formative period, almost everyone that aspired to contest for election was allowed to participate in the party’s primary. There was hardly any litigation and the party also hardly had any court case.
That was how we were able to win the 2015 election without the normal legal challenges. Playing back the conduct of President Muhammadu Buhari then, one of the inspirational leaders of the party, although every Nigerian was aware of his Presidential ambition, it is to his credit that he never related with fellow party leaders and members based on that ambition. When it came to the point when party leaders were to be elected in June 2014, he allowed processes of consultations to throw up candidates and eventually leaders of the party.
President Buhari’s approach to party management has been cited by many political analysts as weakness. Perhaps in expectation of possibly replicating the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) tight-fist handling of party affairs as was the case under former President Obasanjo, those who qualifies President Buhari’s approach as weakness pay lip service to question of commitment to development of political parties as an important pillar of any democracy. Rather than have a party that is independent and seek to direct the affairs of governments produced by the party in line with provisions of the party’s manifesto, we prefer to have a mediocre party leadership whose business hardly go beyond photo opportunities with the President and other elected functionaries. To such an extent, the belief is that the President will always then clean the mess of the party leaders, which then means that the President will run government and then run the party.
With that kind of perverted logic of what a ruling party should be, why shouldn’t we amend our federal constitution to have a ministry of the ruling party so that the President can appoint party leaders and functionaries? Why should we expect to have structures of the party with statutory requirement of recruiting members, who in turn are vested with some responsibilities and therefore deserving of some privileges and benefits as provided in the constitution of the party. As part of purpose of guaranteeing those rights and privileges, the party is compelled to have structures that are expected to meet periodically as provided in the constitution. Once a party is unable to meet, its capacity to discharge this basic function of guaranteeing members’ rights and privileges are undermined. This then create the danger of the party losing its appeal and attraction. Why should anyone aspire to join a party which doesn’t assure members of any form of benefit other than affirming the power of so-called leaders to select candidates?
Maybe that is why aspiring contestants desperately want to control the leaders of the party so much that anyone who criticise and challenge these party leaders is because they are nursing ambition to contest elections. We then end up with the lucid presentation of Iacocca, “we pride ourselves on our two-party system. But the way it stands now, each of the two main political parties tries to gain all the power. They each want to create a one-party system, because it’s so much easier to rule when everyone’s on the same side.” Isn’t this what we have today as our political reality in Nigeria? How can anyone who believe in change defend this? How can any progressive struggle to retain the status quo?
It was in recognition of this sad reality that many APC members began the campaign for our leaders to rise up to the occasion to correct this abnormality. Many truly believed that what is going on is not sanctioned by our leaders, those selfless leaders who inspired the formation of the APC through the historic merger of 2013. It was almost the case of the unconscious conspiracy, which was correctly presented by Warren Bennis in his 1989 book, Why Leaders Can’t Lead. ‘As individual autonomy waxed, institutional autonomy waned. External forces infringed and imposed more and more on the perimeter of our institutions; the incessant concatenation of often contrary demands grew. The government had for decades assumed more and more power over corporations and institutions. Now the people were challenging not only the government but the corporations and institutions, too. An incessant, dissonant clamour grew.”
As we win elections, the party leaders amassed more powers. With it, party supremacy waned because individual leaders take all the decisions. Non-party members or so-called analysts and supporters’ trespass into party organs and impose their mindsets based on strategies to rationalise viewpoint of leaders. The unity of members gets broken by narrow interests of our leaders. Members are now questioning everything about the party and the composition of all its structures. There is endless cacophony of agitation against the party and its leaders.
Getting out of the situation become a nightmare. While the party’s constitution continues to gather dust somewhere in the archive of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), our courts and judges continue to entertain themselves with cases requiring all manner of judicial pronouncements. All manner of so-called legal experts emerged on the public scene to interpret both our constitution and court pronouncements. Yet, there are some demented officials called ‘Legal Adviser’ who are operating as senior officers of the party at all levels. Why is no one questioning the qualifications of these officials?
Given their incompetence, which is appearing to endanger our democracy by substituting rule of law with rule of men (and very few women), why should the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) continue to enlist them in the Bar? That is assuming they are lawyers as there are rumours that some elected ‘Legal Advisers’ are not lawyers, just like there are rumours that some ‘Women Leaders’ are men.
Some drastic steps are just required to restore some order and sanity in APC. With all the confusion as to who is our presiding officer, coupled with the fact that the most important structure that is saddled with the responsibility of convening meetings of all organs of the party is fractured and entangled in webs of legal cases, it is either the confusion is allowed to continue and eventual end with the demise of the party, or our leaders find a way to save the party. Given such a situation, one would expect our leaders to be united in saving the situation. Will this be the case? Or are we going to have blacklegs acting as so-called leaders working to ensure the demise of the party through creating all manner of divisions just to ensure that the current ugly situation is retained? Would these blacklegs seek to create or entrench all manner of legal confusion?
These are critical questions now that with the approval of President Buhari, a meeting of National Executive Committee (NEC) has been called. Would these so-called leaders acting as blacklegs seek to undermine the moral authority of the President as the leader of the party? Already, a Newspaper owned by one of the leaders of the party has dismissed a meeting held by the President with the Governors of the party as ‘Anti-Oshiomhole governors submit position to Buhari’. Is this headline a reflection of the position of the leader? Is the message underlining this headline going to serve as the basis of opposition against the initiative by the President the ensure that a NEC meeting hold? With the way the President’s name is presented using just his first name, isn’t that already indicative of some measure of rebellion?
With the NEC meeting scheduled to hold in less than 48 hours, if it is reflective of rebellion, both the Newspaper, the television station owned by the leader and all his support base may be activated to attempt to block the NEC meeting, including boycotting the NEC. How could such a strategy help the leader? Without any debate, this is one leader that certainly enjoy high measure of respect across the party and is perhaps a leading contender to succeed President Buhari. If such a leader, work for or tolerated his media companies and supporters to inadvertently work for the demise of the party, how does that serve him? Could it be that he has decided to work against any possibility of succeeding President Buhari?
Be that as it may, how will leaders or blacklegs relate with the NEC and the decisions it will take? Will they seek to take advantage of the NEC to reset the process of party building back to the point whereby it become possible for meetings of party organs to hold and through those meetings seek to resolve all our internal problems, including reconciling all our leaders and repositioning it for undisputed electoral victories? The days ahead will confirm whether we have party leaders or blacklegs. All committed party members and leaders should rally behind President Buhari in support of the scheduled NEC to hold so that we are able to reset the APC back to its 2013 orientation of inclusive and participatory politics. To achieve that, the public debate should be about proposals to ensure that the NEC succeed rather than attempting to throw up legal blockades!
Salihu Lukman is the director-general of the Progressive Governors Forum
This position does not represent the view of any APC Governor or the Progressive Governors Forum