APC’s theatre of multiple crises
March 19, 2022
STEPHEN ANGBULU writes about the festering crises bedevilling the ruling All progressives Congress
The simmering leadership crisis rocking the governing All Progressives Congress for several months has assumed a new dimension few days to its scheduled convention on March 26, 2022.
The campaign to oust the Mai Mala Buni-led caretaker committee failed due to the pronouncement made by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), asking members of the ruling party to abide by its constitution. His action was sequel to the response letter transmitted by the Independent National Electoral Commission to the national leadership of the party. While away, Buni’s deputy in the caretaker committee, Governor Abubakar Bello of Niger State, had written two letters to the commission, informing it about the impeding National Executive Committee meeting of the party and also reinforcing the date picked for its national convention. In a surprise response, the commission said it was not aware of leadership change in the party and would therefore not be able to recognise Bello as its acting national chairman and consequently, would also not be at the NEC meeting. By implication, the commission said it would not recognise decisions to be taken at the meetings.
Some of the governors in the party had pitched tent with the two camps. The Governor of Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu, ridiculed some of his fellow governors in the party by referring to them as “yahoo,yahoo” governors. He said it was this set of governors that were behind Muni. Akeredolu had a supporter in his Kaduna State counterpart, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai. The former minister of the Federal Capital Territory described Buni as a former chairman of the party’s caretaker committee, adding that the Yobe State governor, who was in Dubai on medical trip, would not return to his position in the party. El-Rufai added that Buni’s alleged sacking had the backing of President Buhari.
The cacophony of voices coming from the party’s leadership, the governors inclusive and the declaratory statement from INEC made some of its (APC) leaders to head to the United Kingdom, to have a meeting with the President.
In his statement sent to the party’s chairman of governors’ forum, Buhari said Buni should be allowed to conduct the national convention and that the party should learn from the defeat suffered by the former ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party in 2015. He also warned that not allowing Buni lead the convention could deny the APC it the chances of fielding candidates in the 2023 general elections.
Buhari’s position made analysts to say the President does not want to be seen as violating due process and is willing to abide by the ground rules of the party, even if it is at the detriment of supporting some loyal governors.
While the days seem to be counting against the party, political observers have expressed concern that the signs do not indicate a successful convention for the party later this month. The ominous cloud is further darkened as sceptical APC governors who were appointed to midwife committees towards the scheduled convention did not hold any tangible briefing or meeting so far. Although, Buni ceded his powers to Bello in absentia as a temporary measure to allow for the smooth running of party affairs, the plot aimed at sacking Buni brought to the fore a stalled mandate and a dysfunctional operation of the party before the return of the legally-backed party chairman.
A chieftain of the party who spoke on condition of anonymity told Saturday PUNCH, “By now, the governors ought to have started meeting with chairmanship aspirants with a view to getting some of them to step down. But because they are now divided, they cannot agree on anything. There has been no negotiation with any chairmanship aspirant. As things stand, it is doubtful if the March 26 convention will hold.”
To worsen the situation, the 208 court cases against the leadership of the party and the holding of the national convention have not been withdrawn, even when President Buhari directed that the cases be discontinued. The President fears that the rumbling within the ruling party may lead to its failure to retain power at the centre if the members refuse to unite and form a common front ahead of the 2023 polls. The President’s fear was expressed in a recent press statement credited to the Senior Special Assistant, Media and Publicity to the President, Garba Shehu.
The statement read in part, “President Buhari asks the members to look at the once-powerful, ‘main opposition’ Peoples Democratic Party now enfeebled and adrift and learn lessons in disunity, mismanagement and corruption. They failed in 16 years in power and a failure as opposition. Yes, we are entitled to our own share of dissent and intra-party discord. These are common in all parties, left and right all over the world.
“But parties splintered by competing egos destine themselves to the worst possible fate. As the country prepares for the long run-up to the 2023 presidential election, we all expect a robust debate on the issues that matter and what is going in the APC should be a reflection of this, not the infighting we are seeing. There must be no more distractions ahead of the convention to choose new leaders.”
In a recent interview on Arise Television, an APC chieftain, Magnus Abe, lamented that the party had begun to lack direction because of the different interests that were jostling for prominence within it. Abe advised that the President and other party leaders should find a meeting point to allay the fears of the electorate. He also noted that the signing of the Electoral Act and the scheduling of the electoral processes by INEC showed that the electoral umpire would be strict with its engagements with political parties, including the ruling party. Abe mentioned three factors that he claimed had continued to frustrate efforts to achieve the scheduled party convention.
“First is that a lot of our leaders do not seem to realise that the APC is the ruling party in this country. If we have a problem, it becomes Nigeria’s problem, and so, the level of indecision or would I say unpreparedness that we are showing for something as simple as a convention which should enable us to begin to prepare ourselves and prepare this country for the future is quite disturbing to a lot of people.
The second thing is that we must realise that ultimately, the APC is a political party and the major usefulness of a political party lies in its ability to win elections. Now, when you talk to a lot of our leaders, their thinking seems to be that President Buhari has 11 million votes and so they don’t seem to understand that the President will not be on the ballot and that even those 11 million or 12 million voters we cannot afford to take them for granted. So, we must prepare ourselves in a manner that would engender confidence in the mind of the electorate so that we can go into the elections united and be able to deliver. A lot of our leaders seem to me do not understand that we actually have to win an election when we contest it.
“The third thing, of course, is what is pretty obvious to anybody; it is that we are dragging ourselves in too many directions; there are too many plots and subplots within the context of our own political party and that common purpose, that unity of action that we need is not being properly forged,” he said.
El-Rufai had also expressed concern about the 208 lawsuits from different aggrieved members in the states of the federation. He said on Channels Television that one of such cases could lead to the disruption of the convention date.
A former Director-General of the Progressive Governors’ Forum, Salihu Lukman, who resigned from his position during the imbroglio among governors over the convention date, among other disputes, advised the party to choose leaders outside the realm of their sentimental dispositions. “We must appeal to all APC leaders, especially governors, to recognise that the weight of political responsibility of producing new leaders for the APC is, in fact, a very strong test of whether the party can continue to justifiably earn the confidence of Nigerians,” he remarked.
Governor of Imo State, Hope Uzodimma, one of Buni’s loyalists, expressed optimism that the party’s convention would hold under the leadership of Buni. Uzodimma noted that the claims by El-Rufai that the President sanctioned the removal of Buni and the elevation of Bello without due process were untrue. Uzodimma said, “All the governors are committed to the APC and we are all loyal to the President who is the leader of the party. All I know is that we have 22 APC governors in Nigeria. We are all committed members of the APC.”
On the current status of Buni, Uzodinma said, “He is the chairman of the party and he is there on the mandate of the National Executive Committee. He travelled for medicals and Bello is acting for him for now. As soon as he comes back, he will resume. It is a decision of NEC and once NEC has taken a decision, not even one man – nobody – can change it unless NEC meets again to take another decision.”
But a pressure group in the party known as the APC Rebirth thinks otherwise. In a statement signed by the group’s coordinator, Aliyu Audu, titled ‘APC Rebirth welcomes fresh commitment to hold National Convention’, the group insisted that El-Rufai had inspired confidence, adding that it was disappointed that the February 26 date for the party’s national convention had to be shifted after cries from members.
Speaking about the meeting between the PGF and President Buhari, Audu said, “Our expectation was that after the meeting of governors with the President, a new committee would be constituted immediately to prepare for the new convention date of March 26, but this was not to be. While we have nothing personal against the CECPC, our concern, as we have always expressed, is to ensure that the handlers of the party at any point in time conduct affairs in ways that will stabilise it and preserve its fortunes for the tasks ahead. We hope that the CECPC will prove to be above board in this regard.”
Of all the intrigues of the week, none compares to the sudden takeover of the chairmanship of the CECPC from Buni, who has been in charge of the party’s affairs since June 2020. His Niger State counterparty, Bello, was at the centre of the intrigue.
Nonetheless the secretary to the caretaker committee, Senator John Akpanudoedehes has maintained that the media report on Buni’s ouster should be disregarded. He said, “The APC is a progressive political party guided by rules. Leadership changes are not announced by ‘sources’ through name-dropping in the media. We urge our teeming supporters, members and indeed the general public to remain calm and support the Governor Mai Mala Buni-led APC CECPC to conduct a rancour-free and credible National Convention deserving of our great party.”
However, Bello, who later spoke to journalists, revealed that he was working in an acting capacity as chairman of the CECPC. Asked about his current function in the committee, he maintained, “Acting chairman. I have been acting for a while since the chairman travelled. The state chairmen took their oath of office today and we discussed the progress made so far on the convention and what needed to be done so that we would achieve the March 26 date for the convention.”
Despite the functions he performed that day, Bello was reticent when asked to confirm reports that he was Buni’s new replacement. “You said news (reports). No comment,” he said. On whether he has the blessing of President Buhari, he said, “Of course.”
When quizzed about Buni’s fate, Bello added, “Well, every time there is a major event, we beef up security. Today, we had a major event and all the chairmen came. The police are here to maintain law and order.”
The drama of the past one week were as unprecedented as took many party stakeholders unawares. But when considered in the light of previous postponements of the national convention, many believe it makes total sense. With the convention postponed thrice already, it will not be out of place to say the postponements were not circumstantial but a carefully orchestrated plan by those seen to be fifth columnists within the party.
Speaking with Saturday PUNCH, an APC national chairmanship aspirant, Sunny Monidafe, said, “I don’t know them (fifth columnists). But who are those that got that court injunction? Who are those that kept on giving us fake news? Who are those that changed the national convention (date) from February 26 and changed it to zonal congresses and then changed it again? Those are the fifth columnists.”
Lending his voice to the matter, a founding member of the APC and Director-General of Voice of Nigeria, Osita Okechukwu, said while he was not aware of such elements in the party, what was important was that they were not allowed to have their way in stopping the planned convention.
Okechukwu argued, “It is also a fact that nobody is in politics without a peculiar interest. Whether there are varied interests, I will agree with Mallam El-Rufai that there are varied interests. I do not know these fifth columnists and I am not in a position to doubt his assertion. But I know, as political theorists say, time will tell.”
Fear of replay of Zamfara, Rivers 2019 scenario
With INEC statement on the party’s clear move to illegally change its leadership, the issues that played out against the party in Zamfara and Rivers states—where it lost important seats due to poor internal processes—may happen at the national level in 2023.
The main opposition, the PDP, may be right when it warned that aspirants vying for offices on the APC platform were doing so at their own risk. The National Publicity Secretary of the party, Debo Ologunagba, said, “Any governorship, state Assembly, National Assembly as well as presidential primary election conducted by any leadership produced by the illegal CECPC can only produce invalid candidates just like in the case of Zamfara and Rivers states in the 2019 general elections where the APC had invalid candidates due to defective primaries. Our party, therefore, urges aspirants intending to contest in the 2023 general elections under the APC as well as their supporters to read the handwriting on the wall and not waste their resources, time and energy in the APC.”
With the challenges facing the groups, political observers are of the view that the APC is facing multiple crises and must continue to make concerted efforts towards resolving them ahead of the 2023 general elections.
One of them, Jackson Omenazu, who is a political scientist, said, “I can tell you that the APC has not lived up to the expectations of Nigerians in terms of managing their victory. Part of the reasons is because it is a party of a group of people who claim to be progressives. But today, I can you that 65 per cent of those in the party are conservatives and not progressives. That is their problem. The way forward is that they should remove from their midst the conservatives whose ideology and character content are not in line with a progressive party like the APC.”
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