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21 June 2018
If nothing goes wrong at the last minute, the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) will hold its first national convention since the 2015 general elections on Saturday 23rd June 2018. But unlike the 2014 convention held in a condition of hope and enthusiasm, this convention is holding at a period of widespread popular disappointment in the government, bitter factional fighting within the ruling party and feverish re-alignment by competing sections of the capitalist ruling elite amid fears about the party's chances in the forthcoming 2019 general elections.
For most Nigerians, struggling with daily life, the APC convention will seem a different world. Almost inevitably the convention will see many promises being made in an effort to galvanise support, but these will be met by great scepticism after the experience of the Buhari administration. Nevertheless what happens at the convention will impact on the coming months in Nigeria.
The APC which came into being as a merger of different power blocs, the so-called five legacy parties, has predictably succumbed to the centrifugal pull of the conflicting forces within it. The conflicting forces or power blocs include the nPDP (a breakaway faction of the then ruling PDP), the old ACN bloc led by Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the ANPP, Buhari's CPC and a part of APGA represented by Imo State Governor Rochas Okorocha. In the last ward and state congresses of the party, factions appeared in almost every states as groupings and godfathers fought for control! Even in Lagos state and the South West where Bola Tinubu holds sway, factional state congresses were held! It is no more a question of if but of when this internal crisis will become unmanageable leading to mass defection.
For the most part, the first presidential term of the ruling APC which will come to an end on May 29 2019 has been marked by intense internal division and crises. The entire three and a half years stand-off between the National Assembly and the Presidency, the non-confirmation of the EFCC chairman, the delay in passage of budgets, Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) trial of the Senate president, recent arraignment of Senator Dino Melaye for gun running and of course the recent allegation against Senate President Saraki and Kwara State Governor of sponsoring armed robbery are, irrespective of whether the individuals investigated or charged are guilty or not, part of this intense and bitter fight. As far as we are concerned, almost all members of the capitalist ruling elite are corrupt, train and arm thugs and killer gangs to rig elections in their "win or die" campaigns. Therefore only those in the black book of the regime are being exposed!
Typically, each factions have not baulked at utilizing state apparatus under their control to get back at each other. Whilst the presidency has utilized the EFCC, police and CCT, the National Assembly has severally withheld passage of important bills or approval of nominations from the executive. For instance following the Inspector General of Police invitation to the Senate President to appear to defend the allegation of sponsoring armed robbery, secret service details to the Senate President and House Speaker were reportedly reduced.
On their own part, the leadership of the National Assembly has been no less brazen in its use of its constitutional powers to conduct factional struggle. Early in the year, the National Assembly had taken the audacious step to amend the order of elections in a move obviously targeted at President Buhari's second term interest. The fall out of that decision led to some frightful scenario with the Senate chambers temporarily invaded by suspected thugs who carted away the mace.
Of course, the background to this long and bitter conflict was the leadership election of the National Assembly which held in the immediate aftermath of the 2015 general elections. In 2015, Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara (both members of nPDP) had emerged respectively as Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives in alliance with PDP lawmakers thus grossly violating the ruling party's decisions and its approved candidates. This was the "original sin" which set the tone for the acrimonious relationship between the National Assembly and the presidency ever since. Having combatted themselves almost to a standstill using the instrumentality of the state with little or no success, now the competing faction are looking towards the convention to a final settlement of accounts.
Against this backdrop, it is not hard to see why this convention may be a rancorous one. The bitter factional struggle at the ward and state congresses are but preparations for the battle of June 23rd. There is no doubt that for President Buhari and his supporters, the primary agenda for the convention is to secure a greater control over the party hierarchy in order to smoothen the way for Buhari's re-election bid.
But the division goes beyond the National Assembly leadership. Arising from the last party congresses, countless grievances and divisions in several states and local government chapters have emerged.
As we have commented elsewhere, the emergence of the APC in a rare alliance of Nigeria's fractious ruling elite was a panic move to effect change at the top in order to prevent revolution from below. What pressed the panic button of the ruling elite and imperialism was the general strike and mass protest of January 2012. They apparently feared that another four years of Jonathan's government could accelerate a revolution which could, if it developed in a socialist direction, lead to the overthrow of the capitalist system altogether.
Having achieved the main purpose of the alliance, the APC subsequently became a party divided against itself. But the main line of division is not about the policies of the government. As a rule, all factions of the APC and the ruling class as a whole agree to capitalism and accept anti-poor policies of privatization, deregulation, underfunding etc. The very brief hints, especially at the beginning of Buhari's rule, of trying loot less and invest more did not materialise.
Rather the main line of division and crisis are the interests of the competing groups for a bigger share of the national cake. According to Baraje the leader of nPDP, the main grievance of the bloc was "that President Muhammadu Buhari had not acknowledged its efforts, (despite) clear evidence that the total votes scored by APC in states where leaders and members of the bloc held sway, made the difference." (Guardian, 3 June 2018). What this means is that the nPDP having played what they see as a major role in Buhari's election expect to be properly compensated through juicy appointments and contracts. But instead of this, they allege, a greater proportion of the appointments appear to have gone only to the CPC and ACN blocs in the party.
Given the narrow self-seeking interest that is the real motivation for the nPDP's grievance then it should not be surprising if after the convention they start singing a new song. For instance, if they are promised a greater role in the second term of Buhari, then rather than the defection from the APC which appears imminent, we could see a crack open up in the nPDP itself with some pitching their tents with the ruling party and only a few whose political future cannot be assured within the ruling party actually defecting.
Against this darkening cloud of crisis, former Labour leader, Adams Oshiomhole's bid for APC national chairmanship opens up a new twist into the general political situation and in particular the future of the APC. Already given the consensus already building around him, it seems guaranteed that he will emerge. Not only does he have the backing of President Buhari, almost all the key power blocs, outside of the nPDP, have endorsed him. That various sections of the ruling elite are rooting for a former labour leader of Oshiomhole's stature to lead their party must elicit more than a passing concern from socialists and working class activists.
What would be the character of an APC led by Adams Oshiomhole? Certainly, the ruling party would remain a capitalist party implementing anti-worker and anti-poor policies. Of that we have no doubt! But there is the danger that given his background as a labour leader and his influence in the labour movement, Oshiomhole's role in the coming period could be to help put a 'social democratic' and pro-labour colour to the ruling party. Already, we have seen immediate past NLC president, Abdulwaheed Omar and current NLC president Ayuba Wabba on his campaign train. What this means is that an Oshiomhole chairmanship could mean the grafting of the labour leadership to the coat-tails of the ruling party and the undermining of the NLC's so far puny efforts to reclaim the Labour Party (LP). We could see more labour leaders, like the Plateau State NLC Chair, Jibrin Bancir, seeking APC election tickets or, depending on what happens in its own internal conflict, a faction of the LP allying itself with the APC.
This could have a serious implication for the mass struggles that would inevitably break out in the aftermath of the 2019 general elections. Already we have seen how the pro-capitalist labour leaders held back the 2012 general strike, then did little apart from issuing press statements before calling an ill-prepared general strike in 2016 against a fuel price hike which was, unfortunately, a failure. We could have a repeat of such lackluster mobilization and undermining of struggles in the coming period. Faced with this kind of possibility, initiatives for struggle could develop from below, as initially happened in 2012. This would have to be linked with labour activists campaigning for the democratization of the trade unions with greater accountability and control of the rank and file workers over the leadership and involvement in deciding whether to call or suspend strikes.
Ultimately what the labour movement urgently needs, especially in the very complicated period opening up, is a clear-sighted Marxist leadership conscious that only the working class can salvage Nigeria and ready to put itself at the head of every struggle of the working and oppressed people. Such a leadership would accelerate the process of either reclaiming the LP or forming a new mass workers' political alternative with a mission to take political power and begin to run society on the basis of socialist programme.
Whatever happens eventually on 23rd June, the question of course is whether we would see a mini or mass defection from the ruling party. That there won't be any is unthinkable considering the level of the factional crisis. Given the political weight of some of the elements who may find themselves outside of the APC after the convention, we also have to consider whether this could have any effect on the party's chances in the 2019 general elections. Yes, as Kaduna State Governor, El-Rufai boasted, Buhari has been winning since 2003 in all core Northern states where the key leaders of the nPDP hail from. But against the backdrop of Buhari's perceived mishandling of the herdsmen versus farmers clashes in the North central coupled with the widespread disappointment in the government cutting across the country, such a defection could upset political calculations.
To be clear, this may not mean a defeat for Buhari. If President Buhari gets a second-term ticket then his victory at the next election would be assured since in the absence of a credible alternative he would face no real challenge. But the other side of the coin is that the internal crisis and loss of key allies could reduce his quantum of votes in a number of states which can pose the possibility of a run-off, albeit very remote. Article 134 (2) of the Nigerian Constitution stipulates that a presidential candidate will be duly elected after attaining both the highest number of votes cast, and having received at least a quarter of the votes at each of at least two-thirds of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). "If no candidate satisfies the requirement, a second election will be held between the two leading candidates within seven days from the pronouncement of the result". However, unless the legal provisions are amended, such a development could provoke its own crisis as it is highly unlikely that INEC could quickly organise, in a matter of days, another election.
Tragically, notwithstanding what happens either on June 23rd or at the 2019 general elections, the working class is currently directionless and too unorganized to take advantage of the widening fissure within the corrupt ruling elite to send them packing. This has to be changed. The priority for every working class and youth activists, as it is for those working to build the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) as a mass party, is the campaigning at the same time for the labour movement to form a mass workers political alternative to the capitalists and looters who offer nothing to working people.