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Published On: Mon, Apr 16th, 2018

Tension mounts in APC over congress

…As pro-Oyegun supporters mobilise against Tinubu

By OBINNA EZUGWU

 

President Muhammadu Buhari’s official declaration for second term on Monday dominated the news last week, and for obvious reasons. Although it was no news in the real sense as he was always expected to make the declaration at some point, it provided an opportunity for Nigerians to take yet another look at his not so impressive performance over the last three years and debate whether or not he deserves a second chance.

But beneath the hysteria of that declaration was the boiling crisis in his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). A crisis fast assuming different dimensions and could indeed prove to be the main deciding factor for him ahead of 2019, and it is a crisis stoked by no other person than himself.

Members of the party did well to play down the issues as nearly nonexistent or even a creation of the media.

“I don’t think there is any other issue of concern. The issues have been resolved,” said Hon. Hycenth Ngwu, South East Zonal Publicity Secretary of the party.

But it is in reality, not as simple as Ngwu made out. Indeed, the APC is nearly at war, amazingly, with itself, and on many fronts. Most of its states are presently fractured, and this is apparently taking a toll at the national stage.

In Kaduna, Governor Nasir El-Rufai is struggling to keep hold of the party structure with the state’s three senators: Sen. Suleiman Othman Hunkuyi, Kaduna North; Sen. Shehu Sani, Kaduna Central and Sen. Danjuma La’ah, Kaduna South now against him. In Oyo, Governor Abiola Ajimobi is contending with the Minister of Communication, Adebayo Shittu, who is perhaps, hoping to bring federal might to bear as he seeks to actualise his governorship ambition in spite of the governor who obviously has other ideas.

In Ondo, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu is flexing muscles with the likes of Dr Olusegun Abraham, Senator Ajayi Borrofice and factional chairman of the party in the state, Isaac Kekemeke in what is apparently fallout of the party’s controversial primary that produced Akeredolu as candidate in 2016. The party’s acclaimed national leader, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, it would be recalled, had backed Abraham, but the governor backed on Abuja support to emerge victorious.

Osinbajo, Buhari, Odigie-Oyegun, Dogara, Tinubu at APC Caucus meeting 

In Kogi, Governor Yahaya Bello had only recently formed his own parallel state officials to rival the Mr. Haddy Ametuo led executive, leading to yet more polarisation with the party’s ranks in the state. While in Lagos, the rift between Tinubu and the party’s national legal adviser, Muiz Banire had culminated in the formation of a factional APC known as the Broom United Movement led by Mr. Fouad Oki.

The story is not a lot different in a number of other states. The APC is walking a slippery slope, and things are getting even more complicated with each passing day.

In the middle of the whole drama, or quite simply a battle of supremacy, is the party’s national chairman, Chief John Oyegun and Tinubu, but President Buhari surely has been the unseen hand.

Prior to Buhari’s election in 2015, Tinubu was, of course, the strongest political figure in the APC and had influenced Oyegun’s emergence as the party’s chairman, just as he was instrumental to Buhari’s victory at the polls. But power is jealous and Buhari as president, apparently, became uncomfortable with the former Lagos governor’s degree of influence. What followed therefore, was seemingly deliberate attempt to cut him down to size.

The President soon made it clear, after his inauguration, at a meeting of the party’s stakeholders attended by Tinubu in Abuja, that he didn’t recognise the post of national leader of the party and that the position did not exist as far as he was concerned. The moves that followed lent credence to this attempt.

Under some strange circumstances, Tinubu’s ministerial nominees were rejected, while Babatunde Fashola who had fallen out with him and against whom corruption allegations were raised, was handed three ministerial portfolios. This was followed by the rejection of his preferred candidates for national assembly leadership as well as the clear robbery of the Kogi mandate of his loyalist, Hon. James Faleke.

Later events in Ondo State where the current governor, Rotimi Akeredolu emerged in spite of him would also be understood in this context.

“The plan to undermine Tinubu was put into action long time ago,” said Mr. Taofic Gani, spokesperson for the opposition PDP in Lagos. “Appointing Tinubu as the chairman of whatever reconciliation is just a fluke because the president that appointed him has not even given him the opportunity to work.”

The idea, it would seem, was to raise an alternative power block in the South West with the young Turks as represented by Fashola, Kayode Fayemi and a few others being propped up. Before long things came down to alliances. It was either Tinubu in some ways, or Buhari, and obviously, for Oyegun, aligning with Buhari was an easy choice.

Tinubu, thus lost control of the party and subsequently, supremacy battle that ensued between the duo. But Oyegun, backed by Buhari and indeed a number of the party’s governors, especially in the South West, clearly had the upper hand.

Tinubu became increasingly isolated and resorted to venting his anger through open letters. Nonetheless, with 2019 in view, there seemed to be a realisation by the president that Tinubu still possessed enough political influence to make or break his 2019 ambition. He gradually soft pedalled and in what was obvious move to commit Tinubu, he tasked him with reconciling aggrieved members of the party, a job that for the former governor could mean principally one thing: getting rid of Oyegun and retaking the party structure.

President Buhari and some APC governors (File)

But things have not gone according to plan, the president has shielded the chairman for the most part, and this is the genesis of the new wave of crisis.

‘What is happening with Oyegun is the machination of the president,” noted Mr. Gani. “They have not allowed Tinubu any space. However, I believe Tinubu is a smart politician.  He he would have understood that they just want to ridicule him.

“Some governors who are the real loyalists of Buhari have come out to tell him not to even think of coming to their states. What you are seeing is the hand of Esau and the voice of Jacob.”

Oyegun had built a strong base in the Pro-Buhari camp, which comprise the likes Governors Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun, Akeredolu of Ondo, Yahaya Bello of Kogi and a host of others who had seemingly become uncomfortable with Tinubu’s overbearing influence.

Tinubu went to work nonetheless, and sure, Oyegun’s loyalists rallied. Governor Akeredolu made it clear that he was not welcomed in Ondo as according to him, there was no crisis there. But there is, obviously, and it is heating up.

At the National Executive Council (NEC) meeting of the party held on February 27 they effectively carried out a coup against Tinubu by extending Oyegun’s tenure, due to expire in June, by one year in a acting capacity.

Stunned, Tinubu as Oyegun had predicted, proceeded to court to challenge the decision. The tenure extension had apparently gone contrary to Article 20 (I) of the party’s constitution which says that unless otherwise provided for, “All Party posts prescribed or implied by this Constitution shall be filled by democratically conducted elections at the respective National Convention or Congress subject, where possible, to consensus, Provided that where a Candidate has emerged by consensus for an elective position, a vote of “yes” or “no” by ballot or voice shall be called, to ensure that it was not an  imposition which could breed discontent and crisis.”

Buhari soon came to the realisation that, not only was tenure elongation illegal in this context, but it could also hurt his second term ambition given the strategic importance of Tinubu in that quest. Thus, at the party’s March 27 NEC meeting, the president, in what was largely a betrayal of an old ally for a new one for political exigency, announced that there won’t be any tenure extension for Oyegun as it was “unconstitutional.”

The president’s decision ruffled feathers and divided the governors. Apparently, many interpreted it as a victory for Tinubu and moved to resist it. The governors met on Tuesday fortnight ago, but the meeting ended in a deadlock. It was later on Wednesday that they eventually agreed with the president to shelve the idea of extending Oyegun’s tenure and to hold congresses in readiness for the party’s convention.

However, it hasn’t been as straightforward as that, some of the governors had obviously only accepted Buhari’s position on face value, and indeed, things are getting messier for the party.

In some of the states like Kogi, Ondo, Kaduna and even Oyo, as noted earlier, the governors are facing mounting opposition from strong members of the party, and holding congresses could cause them to lose the party’s structure in their respective states ahead of 2019, or if not, trigger crisis that could spiral out of control.

These governors, and the hard-line opponents of Tinubu within the party’s ranks, are allegedly plotting to achieve tenure elongation through the back door so as to avoid any unforeseen circumstances.

In the aftermath of Wednesday’s agreement between the President and the governors, Governor Akeredolu had argued, for instance, that during the February 27 meeting, nobody used to term tenure elongation and that what the party decided was that when the tenure of the current Oyegun led executive expires in June, they would be reappointed to act for another one year, which according to him, is legal.

Oyegun himself had following Buhari’s rejection of tenure extension on February 27, set up a technical committee led by Plateau State governor, Simon Lalong to examine whether or not those who proposed same actually went contrary to the party’s constitution.

At the party’s NEC meeting on Monday last week – the meeting where Buhari officially declared his intention to seek reelection – recommendation of the Lalong committee, which principally found that the tenure extension was not illegal and recommended that in pursuance of Article 31(1) of the party’s constitution, which states that, “Subject to the approval of the National Executive Committee, the National Working Committee may in special circumstances grant a waiver to a person not otherwise qualified under if, in its opinion, such a waiver is in the best interest of the party,” was approved.

The committee also recommended that in the event that there is a problem and the congress and convention becomes inconclusive, the party will ask the current leadership to remain in office, but in an acting capacity.

Oyegun and members of his exco would also be eligible to recontest during the party’s convention without having to vacate their positions 30 days prior as provided in the constitution on account of the waver.

The decision had followed a memo by Oyegun upon Buhari’s request for “a statement granting the waiver” to be “issued by the party immediately.”

The memo says in part: “If for reasons of inability to fulfill constitutional and or legal conditions requisite for the conduct of a valid elective congress or convention, then the party may as a last resort leverage on the NEC resolution of February 27, 2018, which in our view is lawful in the circumstances.”

The implication of the above is that if the party’s congresses prove problematic, as it is likely to do given the divisions, Oyegun and his exco would continue in office in an acting capacity. It is a move that has apparently rattled the Tinubu camp who have vowed to resist any attempt to elongate the chairman’s tenure through the back.

Indeed, some have argued that the recommendations could set off a new wave of crisis. And for Buhari, it is one that could indeed prove costly in his quest for second term.

“You cannot give a waiver for the NWC to organise and the same time, contest an election,” a member of the party said on the condition of anonymity.

“How can you allow someone to be both the referee and a contestant in competition? Obviously, they are courting trouble and it won’t be funny.”

“The APC is in terminal crisis,” declared Mr. Gani. “The acrimony will continue to the extent that they won’t be able to coordinate themselves and be formidable to win in 2019.”

Ngwu however, plays the issues down. He explained that the party is only following its constitution and that Tinubu’s push could only be understood in the context of political interest.

“It is interest. In all political parties, in all climes, there are issues; there are interests. That is why even within the party, people are challenging Buhari. They are indicating their interests to run and will challenge him in the primary. If Oyegun wants to run, certainly, some people will support him, and definitely, some will support other candidates who they believe will be better than him.

“These are political issues that are very normal. If Tinubu has a candidate, he has a right to support that candidate. At the convention, people will come and exercise their franchise, if Oyegun’s group wins, he will remain as chairman. But I haven’t heard him say he is contesting,” he said.

“The party’s constitution provides that any officer who wishes to contest could be given a waiver. What that means is that the person can contest without having to resign… because the constitution says that for you to contest as an officer, you must resign 30 days before the date of the nomination.

But given the scenario we have now, even Mr President advised NEC that those who wish to contest should be given waiver, even new comers. If you come into the party today, you are covered by the waiver to contest. I don’t see it as an attempt to elongate their tenure. It is a constitutional thing; It is legal.”

He insisted that the crisis would have no negative impact on the party’s quest to retain power in 2019.

“Political parties do better when there are activities. The activities will help in energising and reenergising members of the party. The congresses will help them to know how best to win an election. It is like a team preparing for a match, you keep on exercising.”

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