Can APC learn from ANC’s loss in South Africa?


OFTEN missing from debates on why a governing party after years or decades in power suddenly failed to win majority seats in parliament or lost outrightly. History of politics offers an array of arguments why this happens in many democracies. It’s about not learning the lessons in power, the hard way. Learning the lessons the hard way begins when that gripping listlessness sets in, when political power begins to slip away from a governing party. The endgame begins the very moment the party leadership feels over-confident, and those who surround the President feel their man has got enough power, and don’t need anybody anymore. The problem starts to deepen when the party chieftains, including the President, refuse to read the writing on the wall. They begin to fail to admit their own missteps and errors of judgement. Soon, reality deserts them. The people no longer matter. Psychologists call that aberrational behaviour ‘ennui’.                                             

With that, you begin to see – by watching what the President does with power he so craved for – and what he wanted to accomplish all along with that power. That’s why historians often remind us that power, indeed, reveals. Haven’t you read the Lord Acton famous quote that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”? The May 29 parliamentary elections in South Africa in which, for the first time in 30 years, the Nelson Mandela party called the African National Congress(ANC) failed to win a majority, and must, for the first time in its history, need to share power in order to continue governing. This is also the first time that coalition politics will happen in South Africa at the national level for over two decades.                                                   

For President Cyril Ramaphosa who took over the party in  December 2017 after the ANC sacked Jacob Zuma who was embroiled in corruption allegations, which he denied, the months and years ahead will be tough. He will require a tough juggling act – the act of restoring confidence that reached its nadir in recent years, and evident in the election outcomes. The results of the election showed that, for the first time, the governing ANC managed to garner 40.2 percent of the total votes cast. This is below the 58 percent it won in 2019 and far below the 50 percent needed to remain in power without any coalition. The main opposition Democratic Alliance(DA) won 21 percent, Jacob Zuma’s new leftist party, the uMkonto weSiwe (MK), a name it adopted from the ANC’s military wing and got registered six months ago, won 15 percent of the votes, while the Economic Freedom Fighters party got 11 percent.         

In fact, ANC supporters were happy after recording its worst performance since White minority rule ended in 1994. And you begin to ask, why? The party was hugely divided, riddled with corruption and a decade of lethargic leadership. In all, the outcome of South Africa’s election holds great lessons for the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) in Nigeria. And for President Bola Tinubu, even many takeaways. The starting point is that no one, to borrow the words of American historian, Robert A. Caro, can lead who does not first acquire power, and no leader can be great who does not know how to use power for great purposes. Often, the problem is that a combination of both skills is rare.                 

I had wished that chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu was in South Africa to learn how to conduct elections. That would have served Nigeria well, but if he has any independence of mind, and if the powers that be would allow him to improve elections in Nigeria. Can INEC reinvent itself in the coming elections and allow the outcomes reflect the wishes of the electorate? Can APC learn  useful lessons from the election in South Africa, and know that power is transient, as long as you toy with the welfare of the citizens?                                                               

As South Africans digest a pivotal moment in their history that climaxed in the May 29 election, they are certainly looking back at what this means for the former liberation movement that ANC once represented. They will also look forward to the future of their country. And looking back, and forward, no student of history will forget April 27, 1994, in South Africa. That was the day Black and White South Africans voted side by side for a new government for the first time in the country’s history. Mandela’s party, the ANC, had resoundingly defeated apartheid and ushered in a new democratic era. That is now history. On close reflection, there’s an interesting similarity with Nigeria’s new democratic dispensation that began in 1999 that ushered in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the “largest political Party in Africa (as it used to be called)” as the government in power after years of military rule. Though the people of South Africa may have given ANC another mandate to lead, it’s not unconditional. How the party will navigate the labyrinth of a messy coalition will be interesting to watch.           

What enduring lessons for Nigeria, and the APC? For 16 unbroken years, recall that PDP was in power winning every election with ease. Carried away with the patina of power, some of its members boasted that the party would govern Nigeria for “60 years.” They forgot Lord Acton’s famous saying already referred to. It all came to an abrupt end in 2015, when one Muhammadu Buhari, APC presidential candidate, surprisingly defeated Goodluck Jonathan of  the governing PDP. Like Ramaphosa who replaced Zuma, Tinubu replaced Buhari, the man he boasted he made President. Like in South Africa, and the challenges facing Ramaphosa, Tinubu has an uphill task restoring confidence in Nigeria’s slippery democracy. Again, a similar situation with how ANC came to this sorry state assails Nigeria under Tinubu’s leadership. Acquiring power and never getting beyond that driving ambition has caused collateral damage to the country.                                                   

Like in South Africa, it’s not unkind that Nigeria under APC is gradually collapsing. That is the simple, grim truth. The last one year has become Nigerians’ worst nightmare. Hunger, poverty, unemployment, corruption, insecurity, naira depreciation, sluggish economic growth, prices of essential commodities, including drugs, have reached unprecedented levels. Inequality remains so wide, with less than 5 percent of the population controlling the wealth of the country. Nigerians are frustrated, disillusioned about the style of this government and its killjoy policies. Hunger is squeezing families to a corner, their disposable income can no longer guarantee them a good meal. While government officials are feeding fat at the expense of public resources, the poor are begging, ‘let us breathe.’ No living wage insight. Both the federal and state governments are in cahoots not to approve a living wage for workers. What a country!                                                         

Like the ANC, APC has put its own survival ahead of the interests of the country and the people. While the poor masses are suffering, APC is already perfecting strategies to remain in power beyond 2027. The party needs a deep, self-reflection to save Nigeria’s democracy. Plummeting voter turnout that reached its lowest level in the last general election in 2023 was the same in the May 29 election in South Africa. It’s a red flag that voters are disenchanted with bad governance, and that the government in power is not working for their interests. The case of South Africa before the election was danger foretold. A former veteran of ANC, Mavuso  Msimang, said he read the writing on the wall last year. He resigned from the party after 66 years, citing endemic corruption.                                         

The outcome of the election last month confirmed his fears. True to his prediction, ANC lost so much ground to opposition parties and its former position of unrivalled power it held since the end of apartheid 30 years ago. The opposition parties in Nigeria, especially the Labour Party (LP) and the PDP, should put their houses in order. We know the government is stoking the fire in these two parties. For LP, it’s not an exaggeration to say that it has the best, most reputable presidential brand in Peter Obi. The former Anambra State governor proved in the last election that he is a resolute prize-fighter despite all the propaganda by APC to knock him down and out. APC is not relenting to do worse things to Obi before the next presidential election. There’s no doubting that Nigeria is in a deep hole under APC’s leadership. It should learn the lessons in power from South Africa’s election and listen to the cries and pains of Nigerians.

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