‘PROGRESSIVE’: THE NIGERIAN MEANING.
“Increasingly, the APC is asserting itself as the game changer in Nigerian politics. It has shown that it is possible to coalesce a huge opposition movement from disparate and apparently antithetical political parties. It has been able to create a huge rift in the ruling party and swallow many of its leaders and is in the process of turning the ruling party into the minority in the National Assembly” – Jibrin Ibrahim (Introductory paragraph in a December 22, 2013 Premium Times article titled ‘Differentiating APC from the PDP’.
As far as Nigerians are concerned, there are only two popular mandate carriers. First is the People’s Democratic Party. The second is the giant child of a threesome collaboration, the self-styled Progressives. If we are to go by this politically ambitious appellation then, the PDP- the ruling party since 1999, the only menu in the eatery yet tasted- is a non-progressive party. How I arrived at this follows a simple logic. While at the University, a common rule of thumb for aspiring political contenders for student positions was to sugar-coat their campaign in the best way possible. It would appear that the incumbent administration had failed to carry out its duties- which, in some cases, were true. Campaign themes were usually thick, big-grammar stuff from the innermost pages of Merriam Webster. Take for example, “Operation Reconstruction”. Press nights were colourful events, as everyone relied on the sharp, incisive minds called press men. As a press man myself, the onus fell on us to make good sense of the big grammar and see the hidden clues in forgotten crumbs. Face to face with intending ‘reconstructor’, the question that will readily come to mind is “how do you intend to turn things around?’ I would expect you to go lyrical about how the passing-out administration failed. For to design yourself as a Lord paints your predecessor a Devil- better still, a near-devil. God help you if you were an executive under that administration. It’s a word and opposite game after all.
So, let’s get the grammar (Progressive) straight from an English authority- Merriam Webster.
Progressive : Adjective (1) moving forward (2) happening or developing gradually over a period of time (3) using or interested in new or modern ideas especially in politics and education. Synonyms: Advanced, refined, and improved.
In what way(s) is the APC advanced, refined and improved, then?
Femi Falana thinks it’s “realignment politics”. Jide Ojo says it’s “the difference between six and half-a-dozen. Perhaps, the difference lies in nomenclature”. Or grammar. I think it’s the difference between the first edition and unrevised second edition of the same book. Except the unrevised second edition may have come in hard cover.
It would appear that the APC favours a socialist perspective. References are made to figures like Chief Obafemi Awolowo and policies like the free education policy. In reality, we know that this association of sorts is a façade. If the intention is to paint PDP as a capitalist party and themselves as the socialist savior, we miss the point. Chinua Achebe once said that “the essence of the propaganda about progressive politics in the West is nothing but fraud”. If progress has to mean socialist or welfarist before it is progress, I am afraid we are not yet ready for development. In my opinion, there is no fundamental flaw in the idea of wealth creation and value innovation. The problem is not in the idea of entrepreneurship or capitalism, it is in the operation of it. Quite ironically, Tinubu is a very modern capitalist. Majority of the APC members are. It would be interesting to explore what capitalism really means and the cases for and against it in Nigeria.
In methods, character and democratic process, the APC is not in any way different. The way and manner in which the APC congress was carried out and party officials were ‘put’ into office give a hint about a future we can expect. What happened to internal democracy? What happened to electoral competition? Can we not stop sacrificing credibility on the altar of mediocrity? As a student of political institutions, I understand very well the relationship between institutional rules and agency. As it was once put, “at the beginning, individuals shape institutions. Consequently, institutions shape the behavior and conduct of individuals”. This is what Historical Institutionalists refer to as ‘Path Dependency’. The role of agency is so important that discourses on institutional change revolve around the innovation and creativity of individuals in arresting malaise and pushing development. Agency has a sacred responsibility to push an institution towards a ‘critical juncture’. The institutional architecture of the APC is one worth looking into. Do the individuals possess what it takes to usher in growth or progress?
I need not dive into an exposition on the personality of key individuals that make up the APC. We know the truth. We know their antecedents. Some of you know it better than I do. Mention Tinubu, Atiku, Buhari, El-Rufai, Kwankwaso, and just after you declare them as APC, add Nee PDP.
Now the question: Is APC not the new PDP?
I focus on the APC in this piece because it is the most recent alternative that we have. Hence, the need to consider it against the backdrop of the ruling PDP. It is my expectation that analyses of this sort would proliferate in the period running to elections. The cold assumption is that the PDP is bad. I do not think the APC is better. Neither do I think electing the APC would result in any significant policy change. Nevertheless, change is good. We can experiment with different options until we finally hit the right one. I have said in so many quarters that Nigeria will not develop in a day. It may not be in your lifetime. There is nothing wrong with using the ‘trial and error’ approach. It seems experiential learning serves us best. In some states, the APC governors have shown promise. Babatunde Raji Fashola and Kayode Fayemi are good examples. Quite frankly, we may use four years as a test.
The point I am trying to make, which essentially is the reason for this piece, is that the APC is not in any way more preferable in power. If we were even to offer up four years for a test, to which candidate? To Buhari? Or Atiku? We would have preferred a clean slate to write on. Notwithstanding the preference debate, the emergence of the APC means a lot for democratic consolidation in Nigeria. The presence of an alternative direction, an opposition party, would in the long run define political competition and elections. Although, the APC appears not intrinsically different from the PDP right now, the next eight to sixteen years may see a change. The aim of every party is to gain control of power. This would require innovation and the identification of a sweet spot. One thing is certain: Nigerians are growing in their want for change. This pressure would rub with the competition between parties for control. It won’t be long before the more pro-active party realizes that doing the people’s will is the ticket to governance.
****This article first appeared in http://www.thebreakingtimes.com.