By Ehichioya Ezomon
resident Muhammadu Buhari was explicit, the other day, in his message to Nigerian youths: The All Progressives Congress is for the grassroots, and the youths should join, own the party, and henceforth ensure the emergence of its leaders.
In a virtual meeting with APC youths at the State House, in Abuja, Buhari said the registration, and revalidation of membership would further a shared vision for the party, grassroots ownership and participation, and inclusiveness for the youths.
“I was in Daura (his hometown) to revalidate my membership, and I encourage you all to do same. My belief and firm commitment is that politics is a game of numbers, and political power truly belongs to the people. Parties are built from the ground up,” Buhari said.
“So, I envisage a party that we can have transparent electoral contests, drive policies and programmes that are pro-people, and most importantly, have the members determine who represents them, not some leaders somewhere.”
To effect the needed change in the APC, Buhari urged the youths: “Tell your colleagues to go back to their constituencies and join in party registration, attend party meetings, pay your dues, make contributions and bring your youthful energy and zeal to bear on the development of the party right from the unit and ward level up to the national. If you want to see something different, you have to be willing to do something different.”
It isn’t clear if President Buhari was indirectly responding to criticisms trailing the registration, and revalidation of membership of the APC, but his message is unambiguous.
He wants a bottom-up approach to dealing with issues of internal democracy, transparent electoral processes, pro-people policies and programmes, and appreciation of members’ contribution to the growth of the party.
But some APC chieftains aren’t buying the Buhari preachment. That’s why there’s been public outcry over the membership drive allegedly hijacked in the states by rival factions in the party.
This is unexpected, as politicians are, first and foremost, interested in two things: How to get elected and re-elected. But that demands getting the numbers; hence the scheming to outwit opponents.
In well-developed democracies, the registers of political parties are updated on the go, without specific timeframes for registering or revalidating the membership of the platforms.
For instance, young people of voting age, or voters wanting to switch their parties, can register and cast ballots on Election Day, and the respective party registers would be updated punctually.
But in our clime, which lags in quick updates, and maintenance of data, timeframes are specified for registration. And Nigeria’s non-ideological politics of “stomach infrastructure,” characterised by constant porting of politicians and their followers to “greener pastures,” makes imperative regular updates of party registers.
The constitution of the APC, perhaps realising the unending movements of voters from one party to the other, mandates that the register of members be updated every six months.
Section 9(4) of the constitution states that: “A Register shall be compiled and maintained at the Ward level… provided that the Party shall update its members’ records every six months and remit updated copies to the appropriate Secretariat.”
It’s about six years since the compilation of the first register of members of the APC, and the Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee, ahead of the party’s national convention, and the 2023 general election, deemed it obligated to order a revalidation of membership and registration of new members.
But the membership drive is dogged by intrigues from the get go, as notable party chieftains criticised the exercise as either unconstitutional, unnecessary or a waste of resources.
Criticisms were swift from some founding fathers of the APC: Two past National Chairmen, Chief Bisi Akande and Comrade Adams Oshiomhole; and the National Leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, pouring cold water on the membership drive.
Chief Akande, pioneer interim chair of the APC and former governor of Osun State, described the exercise as a waste of resources, as “voters are not re-registered at every election.”
He noted the “ugly perceptions to put into abeyance the applause” that attended the February 2014 register, which the APC used to claim two national elections in 2015 and 2019, respectively.
“Within this context, I see the present APC… registration, within less than a decade after the original register, as an indefensible aberration leading to certain ugly perceptions,” he said.
Polity watchers were quick to conclude that Chief Akande was holding brief for Asiwaju Tinubu, who actually backed his staunch ally’s position on the membership drive.
“Since we have a foundation and that foundation is on which the structure, up till the present, was built at the time of the registration of this party, I will not fault Baba Akande’s position,” Tinubu said.
“What we are doing now is a matter of addition and subtraction, free entry and free exit. You have joined a particular party; you have decided to leave that party. You have equal opportunity for new members to join and update the existing register of the party.”
Tinubu, a former Lagos State governor, couldn’t rationalise the new register, as the one submitted by the APC to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) “has not been invalidated.”
Comrade Oshiomhole, a former governor of Edo State, said revalidation breaches APC’s constitution, as it would “wipe out the 2014 register and place all members as new entrants into the party.”
He said the APC isn’t governed by man, but its constitution, “which only provides for registration,” adding, “I have only done this (re-register) because I want peace to reign. But in doing this, we have to be careful not to create (a) constitutional breach.”
“If you ask me, as a foundation member, who has never decamped to revalidate my membership, it is double registration because there is nothing like revalidation in our constitution,” he said.
The membership drive has presented ugly scenarios. Amid calls for suspension or cancellation of the registration in several states, thugs have visited mayhem on registrants in some chapters.
As usual, the Rivers State chapter is riven by litigation, such that prevented it from fielding candidates for state and national legislative and governorship positions in the 2019 polls.
The Magnus Abe faction has initiated court action to abort the registration, even as the Rotimi Amaechi camp has received materials from the national headquarters for the process.
Meanwhile, the membership drive is reportedly targeted at some APC chieftains, to provoke them to boycott or participate minimally in the exercise, to whittle their electoral influence and advantage.
But that strategy seems miscalculated, as Akande, Tinubu, Oshiomhole and other aggrieved top shots have revalidated their membership, and energised their followers for mass participation.
That, in a way, would meet President Buhari’s expectation that going forward, the grassroots should genuinely own the APC, and not godfathers who’ve held sway since its birth in 2013.
* Mr. Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.