Merger talks: 2024 is not 2015, Okechukwu tells Atiku, Utomi, others

Adebari Oguntoye
Adebari Oguntoye
Osita Okechukwu

A founding member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Osita Okechukwu, has faulted the recent calls for the merger of political parties to oust the governing party.

Okechukwu picked holes in former Vice President Atiku Abubakar’s reference to the victory of the opposition in the just concluded presidential election in Senegal as justification for his call, insisting that his demand was lacking in proper contextual foundation.

Recall that Atiku while congratulating the Senegalese President-elect, Bassirou Faye noted: “Last Saturday’s election in Senegal follows the trend of that in Nigeria in 2015, where the opposition can indeed be victorious in an election conducted by the ruling party.

“And for the opposition parties, the lessons are in agreement with my persistent call for our opposition parties to forge a coalition that is formidable enough to oust the ruling party if the salvaging of Nigeria is to stand any chance.”

Reacting in Abuja on Sunday, Okechukwu, who was a member of the merger committee that midwifed APC into a formidable opposition, said there are many reasons to outrightly dismiss these calls and the erroneous premises on which they were anchored.

“First of all, on the possibility that the persistent call for opposition political parties to forge a formidable coalition to oust the APC like the PDP was defeated in 2015, Okechukwu said circumstances on the ground differ remarkably.

“Secondly, dethroning an incumbent president should not be a political pastime, but rather a practical political consciousness to remove an underperforming administration,” Okechukwu stated.

The former director general of the Voice of Nigeria (VON), noted that the difference in the socio-economic situation of Nigeria between 2015 and 2024 is clear, stressing that while in 2015, Nigeria lost focus, today, despite the socio-economic hardship, both the international and local communities agree that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s administration has courage, vision, and focus.

“Yes, my understanding is that Atiku was referring to the current socio-economic hardship, but the truth is that whether you like it or not, President Tinubu has focus. In 2015, under President Goodluck Jonathan, there was little or no hope.

“Luckily, Mr. President has, with his economic reforms, won the confidence of the international community. All he needs is to domesticate his economic programme to benefit the greatest number of Nigerians.”

On the possibility that the persistent calls for merger hyped by Atiku for opposition political parties to forge a formidable coalition to oust the APC like the PDP were defeated in 2015, Okechukwu said circumstances on the ground make that a hectic tall order.

“As a political scientist, he believes that a formidable opposition coalition is a healthy tonic for Nigeria’s democracy, however, it is incumbent on Atiku, Utomi and co-travellers to convince Nigerians on which economic philosophy the coalition would be anchored.

“Nigerians know that all the leading presidential candidates in 2023 were all neo-liberals. For instance, like Tinubu, Atiku and Obi agreed to remove fuel subsidies and harmonize the foreign exchange rate.   “Since they all belong to the neo-liberal school of thought and are capitalists, they better support Mr. President, because the success of Tinubu’s economic reforms is better for such students than for those of us who subscribe to the belief that government has business in our welfare.”

Okechukwu, however, contended that in the face of the current excruciating economic hardship driving the majority of Nigerians into abject poverty, even Mr President appreciates the suffering but assures that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

He remarked: “Two things are going positively for President Tinubu. One is that the buy-in of the international community is high, which means that foreign direct investment, which propels prosperity, is guaranteed over time.

“Secondly, unlike President Muhammadu Buhari, whose rising tide of expectations was high at inception on issues like anti-graft war and economic empowerment, that of Tinubu is starkly low. This is to say that not much was expected from President Tinubu from the onset. The bottom line is that he will garner local buy-in with time instead of declining expectations.”

The APC Chieftain reminded merger canvassers to study the large-hearted political engineering that enabled opposition to take over in Senegal, recalling how in 2014, Ousmane Sonko invited his friend and fellow tax collector, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, and other emergent political actors to form a political party – African Patriots of Senegal for Work, Ethics and Fraternity (PASTEF).

Okechukwu noted that PASTEF or Patriots of Senegal, which was led by Sonko was dominated by young Senegalese with Faye serving as the Secretary-General while Sonko was the leader.

He stated: “I want to inform the former Vice President that in 2017, although PASTEF only secured one seat out of 165 in the Legislative election, in 2019, Sonko contested as the Presidential candidate, while Faye was his campaign manager.

“Then, three years later, PASTEF garnered 56 out of the 165 seats contested at the National Assembly election. The 2022 election showed that Sonko has emerged as a strong contender for the 2024 Presidential poll.

“Sonko and Faye were jailed and released by President Macky Sall less than 12 days to the election, Sanko endorsed Faye as his presidential candidate and Senegalese people joined to elect him as President.”

Okechukwu said he decided to tell the long story to convince Atiku, Utomi and Co, who were with us during the APC’s merger in 2013 that the formation of a broad-based political coalition is not a hundred metres dash neither can be pulled off by leaders that insist on being on the ballot.

“Finally, unlike Sonko, who yielded space for Faye to take the Presidential ticket, Atiku’s breach of the rotation convention and blatant refusal to back either younger Peter Obi or Nyesom Wike; hence contested against the Southern Presidential aspirants in the 2023 poll showed that he cannot walk the talk of building strong coalition.”

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