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Published On: Sun, May 27th, 2018

APC Primary fires rage wildly; State chapters engulfed in crisis

 

In nearly all states of the federation, the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) is witnessing intense crisis as internal contradictions and power play take a toll. It is quite bad that even the party’s spokesman, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi admits the party is worried and that actions of some of its members were “regrettable.”

“It is giving us concerns, it is regrettable some of the behaviours of some of our members,” Abdullahi said. “But I think we will get around it. It is the first time we are having congresses, so it’s a learning process.”

For a party formed not by people who share similar ideology, but ‘strange bed-fellows’ whose only uniting force was to take power, it is hardly surprising that these differences are threatening to tear the party apart. It is almost an inevitability. Indeed, nothing exemplifies the APC contradiction more than the very fact that a political party which prides itself as being formed on progressive principles, made a core conservative in President Muhammadu Buhari its’ presidential candidate for 2015 election.

“The APC is a bunch of liars. These are individuals who, apart from being strange bed-fellows, came to power through the instrument of falsehood, and it is working against them now,” said Mr. Taofik Gani, spokesman of Lagos PDP.

“They over marketed themselves, people did not even pay attention. They succeed in painting the PDP government as evil, but now they are embarrassing the nation before the world in unprecedented ways.”

While Buhari had conveniently espoused these progressive ideas on the campaign trail, he inevitably reverted to his conservative cocoon as soon as he took over power on May 29, 2015. He peopled his government exclusively with members of his original party the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and as many of his kinsmen who share same vision with him, leaving the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) progressive elements led by former Lagos governor, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu and legacy All Nigerian Peoples Party, ANPP, gasping for breath.

For the most part, it is the rivalry between these groups that have defined the APC government from inception. And it is the same that played out prominently in the party’s ward, local and state congresses held on May 5, 14 and 19 respectively.

“There is serious acrimony and discord within the party,” Gani said, “It is known in the political circles that the national leader of the party, Ashiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, is not in good terms with Buhari no matter his pretence.”

It is hardly surprising that the state congresses held in many states, including Adamawa, Delta, Ebonyi, Lagos, Enugu, Kogi, Kwara, Akwa Ibom, Kwara, Bayelsa, and Lagos produced parallel executives, and those who managed to avoid such scenario didn’t fare much better in the ensuing crisis.

There are perhaps two key factors at play in the rifts: First is the second term ambition of President Buhari, and second being the 2023 ambition of Tinubu. Indeed the issues of the APC are basically about the duo of Buhari and Tinubu and the interests they represent. But there are also issues of local politics at play as witnessed in some states.

When President Buhari eventually opposed the idea of tenure elongation for the party’s National Chairman, Chief John Oyegun and subtly consented to the plot by Tinubu to have former Edo State governor, Adams Oshiomhole emerge as chairman of the party, it was widely interpreted as a victory for Tinubu.

Tinubu’s idea, sources within the party disclosed, is to take over the party structure in readiness for 2023 presidential race. To this end, he had pushed hard to get rid of Oyegun who had not been particularly loyal to him, having turned an ardent Buhari loyalist, and install Oshiomhole believed to be his man.

He had assisted the immediate past Edo governor in his quest to reclaim his mandate from then PDP’s candidate Oserheimen Osunbor who had been declared the winner of the 2007 governorship election in the state. Oshiomhole was a candidate of the Labour Party. He was to later decamp to CAN, led by Tinubu.

Both men have been close ever since and Tinubu may be expecting that with Oshiomhole as APC chairman, he would have influence in the party. To this end, Oshiomhole’s emergence in the picture as the anointed successor to Oyegun was viewed as an accomplishment for Tinubu. Indeed, many noted that Buhari may also be looking to appease him in order to get his support for his reelection bid.

But if it was in anyway a victory for Tinubu, it was easily a Pyrrhic victory. The post of National Chairman of a party is easily subsumed under the president. And with a man as ambitious as Oshiomhole, it would be unlikely that Tinubu’s influence on him will extend beyond the day he is sworn in as APC chairman.

The real question with regard to whether Buhari is really interested in conceding to Tinubu was answered in the Ekiti State APC governorship primary where the president backed his minister and Tinubu’s adversary, Dr. Kayode Fayemi to emerge candidate against Tinubu’s man, Mr. Segun Oni.

The Ekiti primary was a clear demonstration of Abuja’s unwillingness to allow Tinubu plant his foot soldiers in positions of influence within the party. And it would seem an obvious pointer to the idea that while the Lagos politician may be banking on Buhari’s North to reciprocate his gesture by backing his 2023 presidential bid, such could be a tall order.

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By demonstrating an unwillingness to allow Tinubu establish a hold on the party, Buhari has sent his message. It is this unwillingness as shown by events in Kogi, Ondo, Lagos and elsewhere, that has mainly contributed to the party’s impasse.

On Saturday’s state congress day, two parallel congresses were held in Lagos: One by the Tinubu group which indeed had the key party members, including Governor Akinwumi Ambode and is the only one recognised by the APC national leadership. It produced Alhaji Tunde Balogun as chairman and was overseen by the Senator Uche Ekwunife led APC state Congress Committee and approved by INEC officials.

But the parallel congress described as “illegal” by Ekwunife, which produced Alhaji Fouad Oki as chairman, was said to have received the endorsement Babatunde Fashola, Minister of Power, Works and Housing and Buhari’s right-hand man, as well as the party’s National Legal Adviser, Muiz Banire, SAN. It doesn’t change the fact that it is an illegal congress nonetheless, but it suggests that there is growing opposition to Tinubu in the state.

The presidency could not have undermined Tinubu in the Lagos congress. It would be a dire political mistake. But these parallel congresses could be traps that can be used should he decide to pull out of the ruling party. And in any case, Mr. Banire has come out to dissociate himself with the “illegal” Congress, affirming that Tinubu remained his leader.

“The mischievous write-ups in respect of contest for leadership between myself and Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, is obviously manufactured by some members of the Lagos State cabinet,” Banire said in a statement last week.

“Let me thank them for the continuous publicity given to me. However, it is important to state in the first instance that I am not in the same business with Asiwaju so as to have any form of contest.”

Kogi is another state caught up in the web of presidency/Tinubu political clash. It had started with the denial of Hon. James Faleke who was running mate to the Late Abubakar Audu in the state’s 2015 governorship election the opportunity to take over as governor after the death of Audu on election-day for the party to break into factions.

Faleke was believed in some quarters to be too close to Tinubu and allowing him to become governor in Kogi meant handing over the state to Tinubu. In an overnight coup, Yahaya Bello who came second in the primary election was used to replace Audu. The party consequently broke into what is now known as Audu/Faleke faction and Yahaya Bello faction.

On Saturday, both held parallel state congresses. The Audu/Faleke group held theirs at St. Peter’s Primary School, Felele, Lokoja, and elected Alhaji Hadi Ametuo as chairman. While the Yahaya Bello faction elected Abdullahi Bello as chairman in a congress held at the Confluence Hotel, Lokoja.

The Tinubu/presidency hand is also visible in Ondo. Since the emergence of Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN, as governor on the back of heavy support from Abuja in spite of Tinubu, the state chapter of the party had since broken into factions. And on Saturday, it came into play.

While Governor Akeredolu led faction which was recognised by the national secretariat of the party held its congress at the International Events Centre, Akure and retained the state chairman of the party, Ade Adetimehin as well as other excos unopposed, the BTO Hall, Akure, venue of the opposing faction was invaded by armed thugs who beat up members of the faction, including journalists covering proceedings.

But it is not just about Tinubu. In Kwara, the home state of Senate President, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, there was also parallel congresses on Saturday. One which had Saraki, the state’s other senators and Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed in attendance, returned 34 members of its state executive committee by consensus, with Alhaji Isola Balogun Fulani retaining his chairmanship position.

It also had in attendance, the party”s National Publicity Secretary Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, Alhaji Kawu Baraje, and INEC representatives from Abuja and Kwara.

Meanwhile, another faction of the party led by Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, held its own congress at Arca Event Centre in Ilorin.

Saraki’s loyalty to President Buhari is in doubt and it would seem obvious that the parallel congress led by the minister is aimed at putting him in check; such that should he decide not to back the President’s ambition he could simply be shoved aside by recognising the other faction.

Indeed, it is instructive that members of Buhari’s cabinet have hands in most of the parallel congresses. It would, thus, seem obvious that the bulk of the drama playing out in the party strictly have to do with the President’s second term bid and could die a natural death if the targeted party stalwarts stay in line.

Apart from these peculiar states the issues in Imo, Enugu, Delta, Ebonyi, Bayelsa, Adamawa and so on, may have more to do with local politics.

In Imo, it is largely a case of prominent APC politicians coming together to stop Governor Rochas Okorocha’s bid to impose his son-in-law as governor.

In Delta, it is battle for control between Senator Ovie Omo-Agege who joined the APC from Labour Party and the party’s leader in the state, Olorogun O’tega Emerhor. The latter is having an upper hand as the congress organised by his faction on Monday was recognised by the party. But considering that Omo-Agege is an ardent supporter of Buhari, nothing is certain.

In Ebonyi, factions of the party led by Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu and Senator Julius Ucha respectively held different congresses. It appears that the major cause of the split is the national championship ambitions of Oshiomhole and Oyegun.

The Ucha group is said to be working for the emergence of Oshiomhole as national chairman, while Onu’s group is believed to be working to retain Oyegun.

In Bayelsa, it is yet another battle for supremacy between former governor of the state, Timipre Sylva and for one time Acting Governor, Nestor Binabo. But Sylva is firmly in control. His faction whose congress was supervised by the chairman of the state congress committee Col. Ahmed Usman, returned Mr. Jothan Amos as chairman, unopposed.

Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State

Oyo where Governor Abiola Ajimobi is having a run-in with Communication Minister, Adebayo Shittu presents an interesting scenario. The Ajimobi group brought together old ANPP allies under the governor and one of his predecessors, Adebayo Alao-Akala of PDP against the CPC clique led by Shittu which came together under the umbrella of Oyo APC Unity Forum.

It is yet the most complex of all the parallel congresses. Both were attended by INEC officials and representatives of the party’s NWC and both had in attendance political heavyweights in the state.

However, the Ajimobi group clearly has an upper hand. Its congress held at the Lekan Salami Sports Complex, Adamasingba, Ibadan and saw Chief Akin Oke returned as state chairman; was conducted by a five-man APC State Congress Committee headed by Alhaji Abdullahi Gwarzo and monitored by INEC officials.

Gwarzo, while addressing delegates, noted that the committee was not aware of any parallel congress, insisting that the only valid congress was the one conducted by the committee and witnessed by INEC officials.

“We did our best. We were able to elect the leadership of Oyo State APC without any rancour. You can see that everybody is happy, including the governor.

“The congress was well-organised and we are not aware of any other congress or faction. APC is one united party.”

But the Congress of the Shittu led group which had Senator Monsurat Sunmonu, nine House of Representatives members, and two gubernatorial aspirants: Prof Adeolu Akande and Dr. Yunus Akintunde in attendance at the Liberty Stadium, was also witnessed by INEC officials and delegations from Abuja. The group adopted Alhaji Isiaka Alimi who had served as Chief Oke’s deputy as its own chairman.

Shittu whose governorship bid is staunchly opposed by Ajimobi is said to have the backing of groups within the presidency. It is power play that might get even more interesting as the 2019 general election draws closer.

And indeed with such divergent interests within the party, many continue to express concerns about the possibility of 2019 polls precipitating a deeper conflict.

“Given the increasing level of political disagreement even within the APC itself, you might just find out that the security situation may become worse, and that portends more danger for the country,” noted former permanent secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Amb. Joe Keshi.

But the party’s spokesman, Abdullahi is confident that the issues will be easily resolved, noting that, “The states where we have crisis is probably less than a quarter.”

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