Being the text of the paper presented by the National Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Alhaji Lai Mohammed, at the 55th Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), in Abuja on Monday, August 24, 2015
Before going into the main topic of this presentation, let me say a thing or two about political parties, which are at the core of the presentation.
Political parties are very important, because they are the cornerstone of representative democracy, hence they need to be well organized and managed if they are to ensure the success of democratic governance.
In recognition of its important role, the National Democratic Institute in the US describes political parties thus, and I quote: ”Political parties are a central feature of any democracy. They are the vehicles by which citizens come together freely to campaign for public office, express their interests and needs, and define their aspirations for their society. While there are parties without democracy, there can be no democracy without political parties.”
Any democracy needs strong and sustainable political parties with the capacity to represent citizens and provide policy choices that demonstrate their ability to govern for the public good. Therefore, without parties, modern representative democracy is unworkable.
In representative democracies, political parties that win elections participate directly in governing a nation. Even parties that lose still play an important role by keeping the government of the day on its toes, serving as the voice of their members and supporters and for others who might not agree with some of the policies and activities of the elected government.
The realization of the above goaded the founders of the various legacy parties that dissolved into the All Progressives Congress (APC) to come together to form the party.
Because of their deep understanding of the fact that only a strong and well-managed political party can serve as a platform for the realization of their quest to win power at the centre, my party’s founding fathers built a party with a formidable structure which, less than two years after it was formed, achieved the unprecedented feat of becoming the first opposition party to unseat a ruling party in our country, Nigeria.
As you are aware, APC marked only its second anniversary on July 31st, the date in 2013 that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) registered the party, even though it was officially founded on Feb. 6th of the same year.
Today, two years plus a few weeks after the APC came into being, we are here as the ruling party!
Now to the gains of the last general elections.
Arguably the biggest gain of the last election was the generally successful organization of the elections and the fact that the results were largely acceptable to most Nigerians.
Despite the pre-election fears of rigging and violence, and the unprecedentedly-vicious electioneering campaign, the elections were widely adjudged to be free, fair, credible and mostly violence-free. This made it easier not just for politicians but for ordinary Nigerians to accept the outcome.
Many have attributed the success of the polls to the use of technology, especially the card reader and the biometric voter’s card. I concur, even though much work still needs to be done to ensure the smooth functioning of the card readers. The problems encountered in some areas over the use of the card readers are not insurmountable, and I believe INEC has factored this into its preparations for the two governorship elections that are due this year, first in Kogi State on
Saturday, November 21, and then in Bayelsa State on Saturday, December 5th.
Another big gain from the last elections is the actualization of what is called People Power. In other words, that in a representative democracy like the one we are practising here, the ultimate power resides in the people. The last elections provided the opportunity for Nigerians to prove right the saying by French novelist Victor Hugo, that ”When a people are determined for change, no army can stop them.” Now, the Nigerian people have taken possession of their own fortunes and can punish any government with the power of their votes. This will put governments at all level on their toes and eventually become a catalyst for good governance.
The elections have also shown that when a party is well established and organized, it can become a movement that will galvanize the entire nation. In other words, while political parties are platforms for achieving certain goals, including winning elections, the polls themselves are won and lost by the people, both within and outside the parties.
During the last elections, Nigerians simply took charge and took possession of the campaign and even policed the election. Nowhere was this more noticeable than in the New Media, or the Social Media if you like.
Also, the elections have shown to what extent a candidate with a high integrity and credibility quotient can mobilize a whole nation. Without mincing words, only a man like Buhari could have inspired the kind of cult followership that was witnessed during the electioneering campaign for the last elections. The support cut across religion, ethnicity and regional considerations.
As emotive as religion could be, a multi-religious nation like ours becomes united when they see a leader with credibility, irrespective of his religion. The lesson from this is that if more and more people of integrity populate the political space, we will have less and less problems first in our choice of those who lead us and secondly we will get a bounce in the area of good governance. There is no doubt that the effect of this will be felt in future elections.
Equally important is the choice of Prof. Yemi Osinbajo as the running mate to general Buhari. The choice of the running mate to Buhari pushed our party to the limit, because that choice needed to address the religious concerns that were raised before the elections, as well as meet the geo-political considerations that emerged with the choice of Buhari. Impressive as the resume of Prof. Osibajo is, his choice would not have complemented that of Buhari if it had not responded to the religious and regional concerns that were raised at the time.
Of course, it is not just an issue of who was picked as the party’s flag-bearer but also how such a person was picked. Herein lies the importance of internal democracy in the party and the transparency of the choice of the candidates.
The very transparent and open manner in which candidate Buhari emerged as the presidential candidate of our party, the APC, was a major factor in our eventual victory in the March 28th presidential election, as well as the local and international acclaim that greeted the choice. Had the process that led to his emergence not been open and transparent, as it was, there is no way the APC would have enjoyed the kind of widespread support it enjoyed within and outside the party in the run-up to the elections.
Then of course the manifesto of a political party, and the ability of the opposition to correctly dissect the weaknesses of a party in power can go a long way in determining how the electorate will vote.
The manifesto of my party, especially concerning the key areas of the economy, especially the spiralling unemployment, as well as insecurity, the fight against corruption and the welfare of the people, directly address the deficits from the failings of the past governments as well as the immediate problems besetting the populace, hence they appeal to the electorate.
The gain here is that in a multi-religious and multi-ethnic society like ours, political parties will realize, more and more, that they should not appeal to regional, ethnic or religious sentiments. Rather, they should be pan-Nigeria while also designing a platform that will appeal to the citizenry. If these lessons had been learnt much earlier, the PDP as a party would not have been in power for 16 years.
Even with its self-description as the biggest political party in Africa, an opposition party that transcends region, religion and ethnicity and one that parades a purposeful manifesto could have won power at the centre much earlier.
There is also the gain that will result from the realization that in a multi-party democracy, It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog, according to American author and humorist Mark Twain
With the humongous resources available to the PDP, and the enormous power of patronage and coercion at the disposal of the PDP-led Federal Government, it would have been easy to give the last elections to the PDP.
During the electioneering campaign, the PDP outgunned the APC on many flanks: The then ruling party outspent the opposition in the area of advertisements, whether in the print or electronic media.
According to a report credited to Compliance and Content Monitoring Limited, out of the 3.23 billion Naira that was spent on political campaign advertisement during the last electioneering campaign, the PDP spent 2.5 billion Naira or 77 per cent of the total, compared to 728 million or 23 per cent by the APC.
The PDP also hired the best of columnists and talking heads that popped up ubiquitously at many radio and television stations, in addition to floating all sorts of organizations that campaigned for it, even before the official takeoff of the campaign. Despite being outgunned on all flanks, however, the opposition remained focused and kept strictly to its script, refusing to allow the PDP to set agenda for it.
The lesson here is that no amount of money or sweet-mouthed salesmen can sell a bad product. A government in power swims or sinks with its performance. This will have a salutary effect on the electioneering campaigns for future elections.
Then of course, the last elections showed that campaigns should be about issues. Smear campaigns can and do backfire, especially when it is so crass and targeted at an innocent and upright personality.
Despite the ugliness of the last electioneering campaign, as far as mudslinging is concerned, there is a big gain from what happened during the last campaign, especially because of the eventual outcome: In future, political parties will stick more to issues than dwell on smear campaigns. Political Parties will spend more time selling themselves to the electorate than worrying about why the other party should not be voted for.
Yet another major gain from the last election is that the power of the media, of the youth and of the various Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) would be harnessed more by political parties in future electioneering campaigns. From the experience of my party, these groups are indispensable to the success of any election. Youths simply hijacked and owned our campaign on the Social Media, and the effect was devastating on the then ruling party.
Also, the CSOs, especially those that are working to ensure free, fair and credible elections, came together under the Election Situation Room to monitor developments before, during and after the elections. They became very effective in keeping INEC and even the political parties in check.
Finally, the international community proved that it was a key ally in the holding of successful polls. But for the role played by the United States and other Western countries during the last general elections, the outcome might have been different. The role played especially by the US Secretary of State John Kerry and the British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs remains fresh in the minds of Nigerians.
As President Buhari said during his recent visit to the US, ”Nigeria will remain ever grateful to President Obama and the United States for making Nigeria to consolidate its gains on a democratic system. The visit of the Secretary of State, when he visited Nigeria to see the
President and the whole government of Nigeria, see the Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission for Nigeria, and saw the operation was very clear and a positive trend that saw us through for this credible election we had.”
Sustaining The Gains
The task of sustaining the gains of the last general elections have been made easy by the realization that Nigerians have taken their destiny in their own hands, and that absolute power resides in the people. In the aftermath of the elections, therefore, parties must ensure that there is no disconnect between them and the people. There must also be constant interaction between the government and the people.
That is why my party, the APC, organized an induction course for its members in the National Assembly, so they – as representatives of the people – can have symbiotic relations between their party, that is between the party and the legislature; between the legislature and the executive, and between the party and the executive.
Constant rapport between lawmakers and their party will ensure that they key into the party’s agenda. We have given every one of our members in the national assembly a copy of our manifesto, so they will see what laws need to be passed to ensure the implementation of the manifesto. We encourage regular meetings between our members in the legislature and the executive, and between the party and the executive
Also, despite the doctrine of the separation of power, the relationship between the legislature and the executive should not be adversarial but complementary. After all, both have the party as their
father, so to say.
Then there is the National Conference for the party as well as its members in the legislature and in the executive to deliberate on how far the party is meeting its electoral promises.
It is also important that, through the instrumentality of the party, the government continues to engage the critical sectors – Youths, NGOs, Women, people living with disability, the organized private sector, organized labour and other groups.
The party must ensure that the government meets regularly with these critical sectors, and that there is a two-way communication between the government and these sectors.
My party has also set up a mechanism for assessing, continuously, government’s performance and tracking whether or not the government is meeting its electoral promises. An Advisory team to the Chairman of the party, made up of technocrats, will track how the government is faring and also make suggestions to the chairman in this regard.
The party must also not lose sight and forget those critical elements that brought it to power (Social Media, Youths, Women and other sectors) and must continue to engage them as it did during the election time.
The party must continue to keep the people informed on what the government is doing. It won’t be a bad idea for the party to issue regular bulletins in this regard.
There must be synergy between the party on one hand, as well as the executive and the legislature on the other hand. This is because once the elections are over, it is up to the executive and the legislature to actualize the party’s manifesto. This is why my party can’t afford to be indifferent to what is happening in the executive and the legislature.
The party should help the executive to ensure that only competent people serve in government, so that the essence of governance – the welfare and security of the citizens – can be achieved.
Finally, but not less important, is the issue of internal democracy in the party and the transparency of the choice of its candidates. Having realized the kind of bounce we received from the transparent primaries that were conducted in Lagos to pick our presidential candidate, it is incumbent on us to sustain this very key issue of internal democracy within the party, and the transparency in the selection of candidates for the various elective posts.
If these outlined steps are implemented to the letter, the gains of the 2015 general elections will no doubt be sustained.
And now, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for listening.