By John Ainofenokhai
The All Progressives Congress (APC) has just concluded its over-sensationalised membership drive. The opposition party embarked on nationwide registration of members, which just ended on Wednesday, February 12, 2014. In the over-ambitious membership drive, APC was reported to have targeted about 29 million Nigerians to be registered as its members in the one-week registration programme.
During this period, legislative activities in the National Assembly, especially the consideration of the 2014 budget, were shut down to allow all APC senators and members in the House of Representatives to participate in the process. What is not clear is the tonality of the critical press statement that Uncle Lai Mohammed would have issued had the PDP legislators abandoned an important national assignment as the consideration of the budget to attend narrow partisan interest.
Well, that does not matter now for APC. As long as the party is concerned the only thing that matters at the moment is its desperate quest to wrest power from the PDP – even if the nation is destroyed in the process. This perhaps explains the exuberance of the APC leadership when it ordered its members in the National Assembly to shoot down the budget in its illusory perception of control of the majority in the House of Representatives.
It was quite obvious that APC had run into troubled waters with its unrealistic target of registering the whole of Nigeria. When it became clear to the leadership that many Nigerians were really unenthusiastic about the party contrary to the choreographed impression of popular acceptance made for the media, the party had to take additional three days to offload its membership cards to uninterested members of the public. It was also expedient to adopt other under-the-table strategies some of which included coercion, subtle blackmail, deceit and alleged outright illegality.
There have been stories coming from the states currently controlled by APC, particularly in the South-West, of how apolitical and uninterested citizens have been blackmailed into registering as APC members against their conscience and political beliefs. These helpless citizens had been allegedly threatened with dire consequences if they refused to register with the APC. In Lagos State for instance, there had been widespread allegations of traders especially from the South-east and South-south being threatened with eviction from their shops in Alaba, Idumota and Tejuosho markets unless they produced their APC membership cards. If this allegation is true, then APC has crossed the line of democratic sanity in violating the rights of these Nigerian citizens to identify with any party or association of their choices.
Beyond that, membership of a political party in a democracy is a voluntary choice to make. It is never compulsory. It is this voluntary nature and lack of compulsion that distinguish liberal democratic systems from totalitarian systems like the Communist China and the defunct USSR. In these totalitarian systems, membership of the communist or state party is compulsory for all citizens – whether they like it or not. Or is APC now a communist party?
Apart from blackmailing unsuspecting residents into registering with the APC via threats of withdrawal of rights and privileges, the party has also been accused of illegally registering school children and minors in its mad quest to swell its ranks. The Constitution is quite clear on the age that qualifies citizens for participation in the political process but school children are certainly not qualified for partisan identification. Even more damaging is the allegation that some innocent parents without their faintest knowledge now have their names in the registers of the APC – in absentia, that is. The story is told of how innocent school children are told to produce the personal information on their parents, which is now transferred into the APC register! How much desperate can APC get?
There is no doubt that the recent APC registration exercise with all the allegations of manipulations and illegality trailing it has turned out a big farce, away from the success story that the leaders of the party are painting. Yet the fact, which the APC leadership are struggling hard to suppress is that APC is still not a popular party with Nigerians. For the most part, it seems Nigerians are viewing the party from the prism of a regional association quickly put together by desperate politicians who care less about principles, rules and integrity of the system. The way the party has introduced itself to Nigerians – without any ideology, without policy preferences or options, without integrity and without anything new or different – appears to have alienated most Nigerians, including those dissatisfied with the ruling PDP.
It is perhaps instructive that the PDP has reacted to the farcical membership registration exercise recently embarked upon by APC by claiming a grand design by the opposition to use a fictitious register to protest PDP’s electoral victory in 2015. Those who think that the ruling party’s allegation is another political gimmick perhaps do not understand that in political theory, partisan identification remains the most important factor in determining voting behaviour. Although there are other factors like issues, personality and ethnicity, the identification with a political party more than any other factor influences the choice at the ballot. So when you add the desperation for power, which the leadership of APC has manifested in the past months to all the allegations of manipulation and other arm-twisting tactics adopted by the party in its membership registration, who can doubt the PDP?
Of course this is not the first time that the opposition prepares excuses for its impending failure at the polls. In the run-up to the 2003 general elections, the former Chairman of PDP, Innocent Audu Ogbeh, now a chieftain of APC, had warned of how the opposition was not campaigning while the PDP was covering every inch of the ground across the nation talking to voters. According to Ogbeh, the plan of the opposition was to allege rigging when PDP wins although they were not interested in the election. Is APC therefore truly using its registration exercise as an alibi for its defeat in 2015?
*Ainofenokhai sent this piece from Benin City, Edo State Capital.
By John Ainofenokhai