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How not to grow parties

Published by The Nation on Tue, 23 Feb 2021

By Olakunle Abimbola The February 11 passage of Alhaji Lateef Jakande, 2nd Republic governor of Lagos (1 October 197931 December 1983), was the end of an eraon the personal plane. Of all the five Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) governors back then, he was the last to depart.But that epochal end, and start of another, may yet transcend Jakande as a person.It may symbolize a shiftnot necessarily for the betterin the evolution of political parties: from the Jakande era, with its organic flow, on the progressives front,from the 1stRepublic Action Group (AG), to 2nd Republic UPN; to the post-Jakande periods inorganic and much more diffused methods.Now, a bit of backgroundingthen and now.Then, the UPN, with its four cardinal programmes of free education, free health, full employment and integrated rural development, was the 2nd Republic leading progressive voice. But it was in opposition to the ruling but conservative National Party of Nigeria (NPN); just as the progressive AG was in opposition to the conservative Northern Peoples Congress (NPC: NPN forebears), and its ruling allies, in the 1st Republic (1 October 196015 January 1966).Now, the All Progressives Congress (APC) is the ruling party, officially sworn to social democracy. But its nativity, after the merger of legacy parties, was a fusion of varied tendencies.These were South West traditional progressives of the Awolowo hue, in the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN); northern conservative progressives, in the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC); wilted conservatives, in the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP); South East liberals, in a faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA); and, of course, latter-day joiners, and rebels against the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in New PDP (nPDP) elements.Just as well Alhaji Jakande died in the midst of APC revalidating its membership, amidst reports of the party exploring the raiding of cross-party lines to grow its ranks!That makes the former Lagos governor an exciting historical landmark: at his death, the loading of APC with ideological all-comers, but christening them progressives, appears coming of age.On the surface, that passes as a post-Jakande development. But really, Jakande was in the thick of it all (though as a victim), when it all started, in 1989.Gen. Ibrahim Babangida had, take-it-or-leave it, charmed the brow-beaten political class, with his divisive new breed versus old breed theory.The regnant fib: to make way for saner politics. But the real reason: to power Babangidas own ploy, as Army general, to dominate Nigerian electoral politics, after the style of Argentinas Gen. Juan Domingo Peron (1895-1974); with feeble opposition from the broken and disinherited politicians.That new breed experiment effectively cut the umbilical cord, of political tendencies, progressive or conservative, from their 1st and 2nd Republic ideological ancestors.It would also presage the terrible partisan cross-breeding of today, which suggests every party is only a convenient vehicle to grab power; and not ideological vehicles to clinically think out and distil public service solutions.Sure, the IBB gambit collapsed under theJune 12rubblethat avoidable nation-wrecking crisis, over a rash military annulment of the presidential election of 1993, that Moshood Abiola won fair and square. Still, the new breed vs old breed dummy has remained to blunt the ideological clarity of subsequent political parties.But back to Jakande, as prime victim of it all. As at that time, the Awo old guard still boasted three UPN-era governors: Ondos Pa Adekunle Ajasin, with unimpeachable moral authority; Oyos Chief Bola Ige, with unrivalled street charisma, particularly among the younger South West progressive elements, and Jakande himself.At least in his native Lagos,Baba Kerkereappeared well positioned, as Awo-incarnate, to lead the third generation of Nigerian tested and trusted social democrats, after AG and UPN. But the IBB abracadabra put paid to all that.The new breed experiment attracted young, upwardly mobile professionals, gathered behind Dapo Sarumi, determined to battle, for political space, the Jakande-led Lagos old guard.That new phalanx crystallized behind the late Shehu Musa YarAdua, retired major-general and Obasanjo juntas chief of staff, Supreme Headquarters; and post-Army days, conservative progressive from Katsina State, with creditable presidential ambitions.Either side won some and lost some. But that sustained clash would knock Jakande off, as the Lagos progressives undisputed leader. But beyond that personal loss, the Lagos Awoists would get diluted with more conservative elements than hitherto. Again, that set the stage for todays ideologically flexibleindeed, neuterpolitical parties.But again, theJune 12crucible would further purify the Lagos progressive front. Sarumi backed the YarAdua blocs trade-off of the MKO mandate, for the earnestly hated Ernest Shonekan Interim National Government (ING). He got consumed in all of its vortex, and promptly lost his leadership.From that ruin, a new order sprouted, boasting a new breed-old breed alliance, that somewhat restored the primacy of Awo-like social democracy in Lagos, thus trumping the putative ascendancy of the YarAdua conservative-progressive strain.This new Lagos order would morph into the Alliance for Democracy (AD), in 1999. The new face of this alliance is Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who led successor governors to re-plant Awos progressive ideas, as firm cornerstone of Lagos state policy.Also Asiwaju Tinubu, more than any, takes credit for the progressives 2015 win at the centre, though only after his own faction of the old, fissured AD had morphed into Action Congress (AC), Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and APC, the winning platform, after the 2014 merger.But why this brief historical tie-back'Well, the regnant wisdom, among the present APC party leadership, appears cross-party sorties to grow the partyno crime!not withstanding any ideological dissonance that brings in its trail.Still, let them remember that its such brazen cross-party raids, so long as it translated into immediate power grabs, that eventually unhorsed the PDP, which had bragged to rule for 60 yearsin the first instance.Let the passage of Jakande, therefore, rekindle the message among true progressives in the party: long-term cohesion is a function of like minds, not a staccato of all-comers, in for ultra-immediate gains.But that message is true of progressives as it is true of conservatives, and even of centrists. Its the only logical way to grow sustainable political parties.
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