The alliance of 39 political parties to oust the ruling party in 2019 might not be as healthy as it appears.
While speaking as part of a panel of the BBC's “Global Questions” in Lagos on July 4, 2018, Sokoto State governor, Aminu Tambuwal, was forced into a rare moment of honesty, for a Nigerian politician, after working his way into a bind.
During the panel discussion, the governor explained how he first defected from the People's Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Nigeria People's Party (ANPP) in 2003 after he lost the PDP's primary ticket to run for a legislative seat as representative of the Kebbe/Tambuwal federal constituency.
When asked why party loyalty did not stop him from making such a move to another party, he said something that Nigerians have always acknowledged with disgust for a long time.
“The problem is that none of these political parties are ideologically-based. Political parties in Nigeria are mere vehicles, conveyor belts that convey people to various elective offices,” he said.
As a member of the audience where the governor, a serial party hopper, made his remark, I remember chuckling derisively at how enormously sad yet chillingly casual his acknowledgement was.
Five days after Tambuwal's self-admission, the PDP formed a coalition with 38 other political parties in Abuja, signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to oust the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2019 presidential election.
According to the terms of the MoU, the alliance, named Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP), has resolved to back a single presidential candidate to oust Buhari. The coalition promised a unity government with a joint manifesto that will usher in great governance never before seen in the country. You know, the usual platitudes.
Tom Ikimi, a member of the PDP and a former Foreign Affairs Minister, said, “CUPP is determined to replace the present day APC federal government with a new and acceptable national unity government in 2019.
“The parties shall promote the emergence of a government that will usher in abundant peace, happiness, prosperity and ensure safety of lives and property inside the true and well-structured Nigerian federation. The parties shall work together to ensure the emergence of a joint presidential candidate.”
Some of the renowned parties involved in the coalition are the PDP, Social Democratic Party (SDP), Labour Party (LP), KOWA Party, and dozens more. Most notably, the Reformed APC, a new faction of the ruling party, was the poster-boy of the coalition as its chairman, Buba Galadima, verbally beat his chest to declare Buhari's ouster next year.
Now, admittedly, there's still a lot of confusion surrounding this partnership that many of the participants will make you believe is the biggest turning point in Nigeria's political history. While many have speculated that the parties involved in the coalition will merge into one single party and adopt CUPP as its new name, the PDP's National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, has said that is not the case.
“It is a coalition not a merger. All parties involved maintain their identities,” he disclosed in an exchange on his official Twitter account (@officialKolaO) on Tuesday, July 10.
The national chairman of the Labour Party, Abdulkadir Abdulsalam, said pretty much the same thing when he stated the objective of the coalition.
He said, “Our intention is one – the presidency; the CUPP was formed with the sole aim of rescuing Nigeria from its present state. Nigerians should be assured that the people of goodwill are coming together now to salvage the situation from the way it is. The important thing now for us is to ensure that the center is no longer what it is now.”
With this in mind, it is important to probe what exactly the CUPP stands to represent as the country tips ever so closer to the 2019 general elections.
A flash of history
In 2013, then-Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), the All Nigeria People's Party (ANPP), a section of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and a faction of the PDP (called New PDP), merged to form the APC as a last ditch effort to break the PDP's 16-year stranglehold on the country.
That alliance produced Buhari, who had already lost three presidential elections, who defeated then-president, Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP in the 2015 presidential election, ushering in a shift in Nigeria's politics as it was the first time an incumbent president had been defeated by the opposition.
Three years after his momentous victory, Buhari and the APC appear to have lost much of the goodwill that fueled their victories and Nigerians cannot wait to usher them back out the door.
While it's almost irresistible to take another swing at the president's administration for the thousandth time, it's more relevant here to focus on the APC's unraveling since the 2013 merger.
It did not take long for chinks to start appearing in the party's armour as divisions started to occur in the party and ambitions started to clash. Who knew a party housing a varying band of politicians with different ideologies and ambitions would not stay copacetic for too long?
The most extreme display of division came to the fore during the party's 2018 ward, local government and state congresses which produced many factions that elected different executives that wrestled for control. That crisis eventually led to the emergence of the Galadima-led R-APC who accused the APC government of failing to deliver good governance to the people of Nigeria as promised.
A coalition of strange bedfellows
It's a stretch to say there's anything of surprise that can emerge from Nigeria's political arena because we've seen it all already, but the CUPP alliance still comes as a little bit of a surprise, most notably due to the actors who are involved.
Nigeria's chaotic multiparty system has become a breeding ground for dozens of inconsequential political establishments masquerading as parties, which is how the country has ended up with 68 of them, with dozens more expected to be registered before next year's election.
The crowded roster of parties means that most of those that are part of the CUPP are parties with very little to offer on their own. However, there are a couple of curious cases in the coalition that have raised eyebrows.
Former Osun State governor, Olagunsoye Oyinlola, was a representative of the African Democratic Congress (ADC) at the coalition. The ADC, registered in 2006, is the same political party that was recently adopted by the Coalition for Nigeria Movement (CNM), a brainchild of former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, who launched the movement to serve as an alternative to the APC and the PDP.
The former president had written a scathing statement in January 2018 to scorch Buhari's administration and declare that the APC and PDP, under whose umbrella he served as president between 1999 and 2007, are incapable of providing Nigeria with the initiative it needs to progress.
He launched the CNM to free Nigeria of the dominance of both parties and later adopted the ADC as the political platform to install a new political class in the 2019 general elections. Even though the former president, in sticking with his non-partisan shtick, is not an active member of the ADC, Oyinlola is widely-believed to be his proxy and he was at the signing of the MoU for CUPP.
While the ADC's involvement is the most notable, there are other parties who reportedly signed the MoU that puts their long-held values into question.
What makes the CUPP alliance problematic is that from all the posturings that have followed, it appears to be nothing more an extension scheme of the PDP. While this is expected because it is the biggest party in the coalition, it is also what makes it alarming based on the PDP's history in Nigeria's political halls.
Many have noted, with dismay, that one of the biggest failures of President Buhari's administration might be how he has inadvertently allowed the PDP the room to have a false sense of legitimacy with his own brand of failure. The party has been on a remarkable image laundering campaign and gained ground steadily with every Buhari stumble, and now, just months to the general elections, it is the best placed opposition party in the country.
However, despite the party's best attempt to cover up the stench of its 16 years of mediocrity with an aggressive opportunistic campaign, many Nigerians see the party for what it still is. It's the same collective of self-serving actors who are not particularly the best on offer to move the country forward. Party hoppers, money-grubbing opportunists, morally-bankrupt schemers and corruption vanguards. The whole nine yards.
With this ugly history and present and immediate danger in mind, it is worrying that the PDP is the face of this alliance, and, if truth be told, will be the soul of it. This is what makes the involvement of parties like ADC, or KOWA Party, in the alliance something difficult to reconcile with as an association with the PDP flies in the face of the ideals they profess to hold dear.
Entering into an alliance with the PDP to present a single presidential candidate to take down Buhari sounds pretty much like they all agreed to line up behind someone that'll no doubt be a product of the PDP (*cough* Atiku *cough*), because it's truly hard to see any other way this will work.
To perform the charade of competition, will these parties hold separate primary elections and have winners square off in a final primary primary election? Will a name be randomly picked out of a box like in a lottery? Will aspirants draw straws? Or will the rebel alliance use a sorting hat for anyone that expresses interest? It's all so confusing to process at the moment.
It remains to be seen how things will shake out but there's not a lot of genuine excitement on the part of the electorate about this coalition. The only people raving about its significance are the main actors that have assumed the role of messiah ready to save Nigeria from itself with a vehicle that is doomed to break down sooner or later, just like the APC.
Preliminary assessment of the CUPP alliance indicates that it is a lot of smoke without fire, and it's left for Nigerians to decide whether the coalition is a cup half-full or a cup half-empty situation.
However, if Nigerian history is any indication, the CUPP is probably completely empty. Heck, the CUPP most probably does not even exist!