Growing up in Zangon Kataf, Ikara and Saminaka of Kaduna State between 1970 and 1975, it used to be extremely pleasurable to visit Zaria. Zangon Kataf, Ikara and Saminaka were then villages with no electricity, pipe-borne water and except for Saminaka none had tarred road. In all these three settlements, the only symbol of government were the local education authority primary schools, dispensaries, traditional councils, courts, prisons and again Saminaka had the exceptional case of having a Secondary School that was opened in 1974. Visiting Zaria and experiencing city life with the bubbly, busy but considerably organised traffic, seeing everywhere lit up at night, clean water flowing non-stop from taps, etc. was really heaven come true.
As one reflect on those formative years of human hood, it is quite tragic that Zaria (and by extension all our old cities such as Kano, Ibadan, Maiduguri, Enugu, Benin, etc.) have lost those attractions that used to characterise city life. Relatively though, Zangon Kataf, Ikara and Saminaka (also by extension similar villages of the 1970s) could have been argued to have catch up with the Zarias of the old, if we are only to look at the development of physical structures such as roads, schools, hospitals and generally modern institutions of government. If we however go deeper to investigate or assess the output of these institutions, the result might be shocking, if not scandalous.
Physical structures, institutions and human sophistication have considerably developed over the years. Correspondingly, in both the cases of villages and city life, standard of living has crashed. As individuals, especially those of us in our 40s and 50s, we have grown up, first as very confident, enthusiastic and proud kids but now sagged into frustrated and in majority of cases hopeless people. The promise of a better life as a result of education and the conferment of capabilities, which should ordinarily enable us to access opportunities, have proved to be the case of a desert walk and the common sight of mirages.
From a case where we dream and aspire to visit our old cities such as Zaria, many who possess the relative advantage of winning life and acquiring some comfort (although in most cases falsely so) avoid and dread visiting the old cities for the simple reason of having to experience the demise of our society at the ugly sight of decayed, non-functioning structures and disempowered people. All the old attractions have just vanished. Our old cities have regressed with the following main characteristics:
Ø Majority of our children are out of school. Those that managed to go to schools are poorly educated and when they finish they have no jobs. Many, if not majority, are in the streets living miserable lives.
Ø Our schools are real eyesores - dilapidated structures, no chairs, desks, instruction materials, etc. Teachers are degraded, de-motivated and debased. Yet, we expect them to magically train our children, prepare them for the challenges of the future and mould tomorrow's leaders.
Ø Our hospitals are without drugs, facilities for treating many ailment and their workers are compelled to virtually become undertakers of the sickly for even the least of curable disease. About 25 years ago our dispensaries delivered services and attended to more complicated health problems than many of our so-called best equipped hospitals today.
Ø Water is today a precious commodity when the last 25 years witnessed a situation where pipe borne water was never a problem.
Ø Food was never a problem in the real sense of it in our society some 25 years ago. But the hunger of today has made the famine of 1973 child’s play.
Ø Our industries have either closed or are so sick that we can't count on them for any productive activity and therefore we cannot expect them to provide jobs.
It is really sad and inexcusable that our societies have regressed and have continued to regress further and citizens are growing more and more hopeless. The combined effect of all these is falling standard of living. It is certain that incidences of child and maternal mortality are at their highest now, probably more than any period in the history of our society.
Our society came from a history of illustrious leadership at every level, from the family unit, projecting to other levels up to our national life. Most parts of the country have recorded exemplary and outstanding achievements and leaders who have inspired people into action and led processes of societal development. Today, Nigerians grieve that at all level of our society we are in dire need of such leaders. What happened that our society is unable to produce leaders of yesteryears? Is it a case that problems have overwhelmed leaders? Is it a case that citizens have grown to be stronger than leaders? Or that external factor has taken over both the citizens and the leaders? Should the later be the case, have Nigerian societies and citizens been conquered? How did that happened? What is really the problem?
The major reason for all these has been identified to be bad governance and it used to be fashionable to blame the military. Now about fourteen years under civil rule, are we getting back on course to rebound our societies en route to economic development and human progress? With the 2015 general elections approaching, are we about to have new governments and leaders at all levels that would serve as facilitators for development and improved service delivery?
That Nigerians are travelling on a hard political road cannot be contested. Also, that our Nigerian opposition politicians are making claims to progressive politics through the birth of APC is common knowledge. The challenge is whether citizens can expect APC to truly have progressive orientation and begin to revive the values of leadership and with excellent initiatives and foresights return Nigerians to times of dignified life with remarkably good living conditions. The predominant fear is that nothing will change as a result of which APC, like PDP and parties before it manage governance with a regressive lever and not progressive.
Can Nigerians expect a positive response from Nigerian opposition politicians through APC and on the strength of which expect that it can throw up strategies to bring about new leaders at all levels capable and competent to bring about programme of change in governance of the country. What will really be new in APC? How can we as a nation end our current unfortunate reality of misery? Will APC bear its name as a progressive party? These are fundamental questions given the context that all our parties are just election platforms without any policy orientation.
Engendering progressive politics is required to respond positively to Nigeria's numerous and intractable political challenges. For APC to serve as the catalyst for engendering progressive politics here are some checklists. They are not exhaustive but combinations of assessments with reference to the checklists would confirm or negate any claim to being progressive by APC:
1. Rule Driven: Is APC being organized based on respect for rules by politicians who are members and functionaries of the party such that leaders relate to party members and Nigerian citizens with humility and based on the question, what do you want, as basis for their actions or is the party more governed by unconventional, unwritten, uncivil, authoritarian and illegal order based on the discretion of leaders? Being progressive require high measure of compliance to conventional, written, civil, consensual and legal order and less of leadership discretions.
2. Membership/Leadership Recruitment through Relations with Organized Groups: What is the relationship between APC and Nigerians represented by interest groups? Is there any? If yes, is the fact of such relationship formal or informal? Are there activities oriented to produce some governance/political engagement arising from such a relationship? What is the prospect of such activities on issues of membership mobilization and perhaps influencing the prospect for leadership recruitment and candidate’s selections for election? Being progressive suggest strong relationship with organized groups backed with regular activities.
3. Partnership to support the Development of Non Governmental Groups: Is there a strong recognition in APC for the need to cultivate collaborative partnership between APC on the one hand and especially women, youth, trade unions, informal sector groups, persons with disability, Diaspora organizations, etc. on the other? Is such a recognition oriented to, apart from governance, policy and legislative engagement, among others, include organizational development of nongovernmental groups? Does such recognition also come with some commitment to support the nurturing of development of non-governmental organizations in the country? Being a progressive party will require strong correlation with non-governmental organizations.
4. Promoting the Development of Nationally Organized Youth Structure: In particular, given the strength and effectiveness of youth voting population in the country with over 60 million voters, is APC coming with a strategy of ensuring that Nigerian youths are organized on a national scale? Will such a strategy cover the critical issue of challenging Nigerian youths to develop a national political mobilization strategy based on a charter of demands that would inform partnership between both the party and governments produced by the party, on the one hand, and partner youths organizations, on the other? The mark of APC's progressiveness will be its link with a national youth structure that is driven based on a national campaign for socio-economic and political development of the country with a clearly articulated charter of demands.
5. Party Structures Stronger than Individual Leaders: Is APC structures stronger than individual party leaders or there are some party leaders that are stronger than the party on account of which these individuals can veto or nullify decisions by formal organs and members of the party? Being progressive require that the party structures are stronger than all members and no individual within the party should have the power to veto or nullify formal organs and members’ decisions.
6. Balanced and Representative Leadership: Is the leadership of the party balanced with respect to the merging parties, reflect the diversities of Nigerians and accommodate wide range of interests or is it a simple reflection of existing power configuration? Is the leadership of APC male dominated and comprised of almost exclusively older people (people above 40s)? Being balanced and representative of diversities of interests, gender and age will connote stronger progressive character.
7. Strong, Democratic Party with Competent Leaders: Are the structures of the party at all levels strong and democratic with competent leaders? Or is it that only the national structures are strong and lower level structures at states, local governments and wards are weak? Are there budgets and disbursement mechanism to cover the activities of structures at all levels or there are only budgets for national structures? Are there democratized funding sources or funding sources are only known to leaders? Strong, democratic and democratized funding sources are necessary requirement for a progressive party.
8. New Governance Reality through Mass Mobilization: Should Nigerians start expecting new governance reality from APC on the strength of a new approach to mass mobilization based on which it should be expected that APC will produce new crop of politicians? An indicator of APC’s progressive credential in this respect will be a strong campaign for membership mobilization. Weak campaign or operating dominantly based on inherited membership from ACN, ANPP, CPC and Okorocha-led APGA will simply mean that the party is contented with current crop of politicians and to that extent may be weak in bringing about new governance reality.
9. United Party: Is APC able to successfully unite leaders and members of ACN, ANPP, CPC and Okorocha-led APGA or the merger has generated sharp leadership contests with the threats of producing factions? Is APC coming with strong solutions to internal crisis of the merged parties? Related to this, is APC coming with strong and effective dispute resolution mechanism? Being progressive should suggest that as the party is announcing processes of constituting leadership, it is also rolling out an acceptable structure for dispute resolution.
10. Led by the Best among Members: Is APC being led by its leading light and best? Or is APC reserving its best for electoral contest? Being a progressive party will require that APC is led by its best and in fact the quality of leadership at all levels is as good as the quality of government functionaries it is preparing to install.
11. High Leadership Integrity: What is the integrity rating of APC leadership? Are they the same old politicians with cases unanswered? Were they in public office before? If so, what was their performance? To what extent can they be regarded as persons who demonstrated respect for citizens’ welfare needs? Should Nigerians on account of this assessment expect good respect by APC sponsored public functionaries? Being progressive should translate to relatively high integrity, no cases of unanswered charges, with recommendable records of services, etc.
12. Reduced Money Politics: Is money the main driver and stimulator of all APC initiatives or APC is coming with a strategic approach of reducing the role of money in political mobilization? How is APC approaching this challenge? Is it taking it as given? Being progressive will require some departure from the domineering role of money.
13. Constitution and Manifesto Aggregate Public Expectation: To what extent have the constitution and manifesto of APC met public expectation? Are there clear commitments with respect to education, health, agriculture, industry, housing, urban renewal, human welfare, etc.? How different are these commitments from what obtains today as provided by PDP and all the other parties? Do such commitments come with obligations imposed on elected representatives sponsored by the party? Are there monitoring and control structures within the party to guarantee delivery? In addition to affirming all of these, being a progressive party may come with strong milestones and sanctions on failing public officials.
14. Winning Public Support: Is APC designing and developing activities aimed at winning public support and based on that prepare to rollout electoral campaign programmes? How different will APC electoral campaign programme be? To what extent will it responding to issues of ballot box snatching, writing results of elections, voter intimidations, etc.? For our contemporary Nigerian reality, an excellent progressive electoral campaign programme will be one that is able to deal with all these problems and guarantee that all votes will count.
15. Enforcing Accountability in Governance: Is APC a project for enforcing accountability in governance or simply one of defeating PDP? Being a project for enforcing accountability in governance, APC should model the way through examples. A good example will be for APC to cost all its activities, organize a transparent funding mobilization and maintain good accounts of all its activities, compel leaders to respect such a tradition and popularize it among members.
16. Good Communication Framework: Is there good communication framework in the party? Are decisions taken at the right time and are there mechanisms for communicating party decisions to lower organs and members? A progressive party will have good communication framework which will guarantee that decisions are taken at the right time and communicated effectively to all lower organs and members.
17. Mass Based and De-Emphasize Ethnic and Religious Politics: Is APC just another election platform with politicians assembled under its banner to continue with divisive ethnic and religious politics? To what extent is APC leadership responding to the challenge of ensuring that the party is a mass based political organization and at the same time coming with a strategy to control and reduce the problem of ethnic and religious politics? Being a progressive party committed to national unity and non discrimination should be evident in the way the party conducts its activities including processes of candidates’ selections and electoral campaigns.
18. Regulating and Directing Governments and Elected Officials based on Policies: Will APC government and elected officials dictate to the party or will the party be able to regulate and direct the conducts of its officials and governments at all levels? Our today’s situation mean that a progressive party must be able to regulate and direct the conducts of all officials and governments, especially federal government.
19. Commitment to Performance Benchmarks: How is the party preparing to select candidates for elections? Are there efforts to set performance qualification benchmarks that are perhaps value driven? Are such processes being popularized among party members? And should Nigerians expect that APC will develop a culture of ensuring that the search for candidates is primarily among party members? The degree to which APC produces positive response will estimate the strength of its progressiveness.
20. Committed to Reduced Inequality, Poverty and Unemployment: How is APC responding to high and rising levels of inequality, poverty and unemployment in the country? How is APC outlining strategies for stimulating production in the country? How is APC mobilizing and organizing levels of governments around the need to achieve these governance benchmarks? To what extent is APC setting governance benchmarks for states and local governments on these issues? To be progressive mean the presence of well articulated strategies as well as clear governance benchmarks for states and local governments.
Issues raised here are primarily to focus attention of Nigerians on elements that highlight possible conditions to make APC emerge as a progressive party. The key message to the Nigerian opposition politicians is – the time to act and organise is now! The journey to addressing the socio-economic and political challenges facing our societies is a difficult one. It calls for stronger and unswerving commitment on the part of all those who genuinely seek and desire progressive change in Nigeria. It calls for strong commitment, consistency of action over a long period, selflessness and belief in Nigeria. It is no doubt A HARD ROAD TO TRAVEL!