By Idowu Akinlotan
ASSAILED on every side by punishing economic and political crises, the All Progressives Congress (APC) may view 2023 as an ordeal it has no choice but to endure while its leaders move laboriously towards an appointment with destiny. Will the party win the presidency a third time and keep the throne, thereby feeling invincible and even immortal? Or will it be shoved out of office, humiliated and despised, and because its core is as brittle as lead, face the ultimate fate of death? The party faces two agonizing dilemmas as it trundles along to 2023: firstly, their president, Muhammadu Buhari, is doubtless anxious to complete his second term and leave office, mission accomplished, but overwhelmed by the national crises confronting his presidency; and secondly, the party itself will be wondering just how much of the president’s legacy will be a liability to its standard-bearers as they campaign to keep offices they cannot convince themselves they’ve done justice to.
Getting to 2023 at all, not to say in one piece, is, to the APC, a traumatising ordeal they must confront. They have fought one another bitterly, schemed to outdo internal competitors, outpaced and outmaneuvered their friends and enemies in equal measure, and nervously and ineffectively managed the economy, the polity and the society. For a party so preoccupied with nonessentials, its leaders so narcissistic, and its members a motley assembly of uncommitted foot soldiers chronically unable and unwilling to take a bullet for their party, the next few tumultuous months will test their feeble resolve to the limit. APC leaders and followers have watched with dismay over the years as the economy tanked and became more and more unresponsive to all the esoteric pills they noisily conjured.
Crude oil continues to be stolen with vengeance, by some estimates, as high as more than a trillion and half naira annually; inflation spirals out of control; the refineries gobble billions without so much as budging a little, not to talk of even twitching for almost eight years; and while some roads, bridges and railways have been constructed, a plus for the ruling party, the society has become less secure, with Nigerians unsafe in their homes as they are on the highways.
The APC truly faces an unending and monumental ordeal. The party will need to begin campaigning in the months ahead; but each day, they get worse news on the performance of the economy, miscarriage of social policies, and party leaders are too paralysed to reengineer the country’s ossified political structure. They will desire a respite, any temporary relief or even reprieve that could buoy their expectations as leaders and give hope to the angry voters they know are mocking them behind their backs, voters they would face the ordeal of persuading a third time to give the party a chance at delivering their hypothetical change.
But if the party is gobsmacked, the president is probably much more bewildered. If his private reflections can be assumed, President Buhari probably feels and appears even more nervous. He knows that the buck, all the bucks without exception, stops at his desk. He may be accustomed to deflecting criticism and blaming his detractors or predecessors for the rot he met and every other policy mishap that has laid the country waste, but it is unlikely he has convinced himself or anyone else that he is not to blame for the disaster. The country is unnervingly complex, and it requires a complex but methodical and deep mind to decipher and rearrange. His countrymen have their opinion of him, but it is unclear what he thinks of his capacity, whether he believes he has what the country requires for a lasting fix.
The ordeal the party faces is exemplified by the somber fact that it has not quite made a success of governance, contrary to its giddy expectation when it took office in 2015. Indeed, its long seven years story is characterised at best by ad hocism, and at worst by outright failure. It was in the midst of this chaos that it planned its convention, subordinated it to all kinds of machinations induced by its caretaker chairman, Mai Mala Buni, and had had to retrieve the party from him after many counterplots, including a coup that ended disastrously. Rather than allow healthy competition in electing its officers, the party again plotted a contentious consensus list. Party leaders were afraid, like the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) before them, that an open contest for the various national offices would damage the party, if not fracture it. By yesterday, few things were certain in and about the party.
One of the few things certain was that no one knew how the consensus list would fare. If the list carried the day, the party, like the PDP did last October, would have passed up the chance to inspire Nigeria into a new democratic era. If the list comes to grief either wholly or partially, the party would have successfully reiterated how inexpertly and controversially the ruling party is led. Here the president cannot be absolved of responsibility.
If the APC made heavy weather of organising its convention, not to say badly running the economy and emasculating it in a debt trap, what would they make of its presidential and governorship primaries? Charismatic former party chairman Adams Oshiomhole came to grief on the governorship Golgotha before the 2019 polls, where he made countless and implacable enemies during party primaries. But partly because a new presidential standard-bearer did not have to emerge in 2019, despite the uninspiring governance offered by the incumbent, the demons that excoriated his chairmanship were few.
The scheming Mr Buni, on the other hand, will not superintend the presidential primary; but whoever does, whether a consensus or duly elected chairman, will have nightmares. The APC mismanaged the country, but in selecting their next standard-bearer, getting a hard-working and knowledgeable man to fly their flag is the least of their concerns. They want a weakling who can be manipulated; or if strong, a candidate who, like the current occupant of the highest office, finds governance beyond his ken.
The ruling party will probably have a passable convention. Disaffection will be managed and smothered, and the radicals in the party put in their place or officially given a wide berth. Like the caretaker officers and past elected officers, all the new officers, perhaps bar a few, will be thoroughly beholden to President Buhari. After all, even the radicals who plotted the daring and unprecedented coup against the Buni-led caretakers but failed were inspired by the president’s frustrations with Mr Buni’s pussyfooting.
What is more, once the president denounced the coup, you could hear a pin drop in the party. It is characteristic of the party’s top leaders, governors and lawmakers to defer to the president. After the convention, and regardless of the outcome, the president will keep on dictating to the party, as he dictates to the country. Everyone, party members and outsiders alike has become enthralled by the president’s body language and lip signals. It will not matter whether he is sometimes right or often wrong; what is important is that they will listen to him with rapt attention, and take his dictations with gravity and sobriety.
But 2023 can’t come soon enough for the party. Every month, they live in dread of what other policy mishap would come from Aso Villa, and what security outrage the country would be forced to groan under. Their candidates in the next elections, whether at the state or national level, will have to campaign as APC standard-bearers and identify with their mothballed party platform. To distance themselves from the programmes and so-called achievements of their president and governors would be an admission of failure. And yet, with cabalistic officials like Abubakar Malami dedicated to subverting the rule of law and the principles of natural justice, identifying with the party could be counterproductive. Caught between and betwixt, the party’s candidates will look for extraordinarily ingenious ways of walking a tightrope.
The problem is that the tightrope is strung way too high up a precipitous mountain. This is of course a figure of speech. However, missing a step would not just be dangerous, it could in fact be cataclysmic. It is always a tough act performing after a virtuoso had brought the house down. Well, it is even far tougher to take the stage after a leader who has pitched brothers against brothers.