BREAKING: Niger gov, Sanni-Bello takes over APC leadership
Sanni-Bello

By OBINNA EZUGWU

New uncertainties are hovering around Nigeria’s ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) ahead of its planned March 26 national convention, as both the failure of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to recognize its new leadership and a noticeable crack within its governors threaten not just the scheduled convention, but the party’s chances in 2023.

Matters got to a head in the party on Monday fortnight ago when Abubakar Sani Bello, governor of Niger state, stormed its secretariat in Abuja and confirmed himself as the national chairman of the Caretaker Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC).
Bello’s action, which came after secretary of the CECPC, Senator James Akpan Udohedehe, had issued a statement denying the removal of his principal, Governor of Yobe State, Mai Mala Buni who had chaired the committee from June 2020, confirmed that indeed, the Yobe governor had been kicked out.

Buni’s offence had been that he planned to scuttle the party’s March 26 convention with a view to continuing as chairman going into general elections in 2023.

He had, it was revealed, obtained a court injunction stopping the convention until substantive matters were decided, using a third party, which he kept as a secret weapon to finally scuttle the party’s convention; what would have meant that the ruling party would not meet INEC deadline and therefore be forced to ask them to continue in their roles going into 2023 elections.

The suit, filed by one Salisu Umoru at the high court in the federal capital territory (FCT), had the APC and Buni as respondents.

That the 1st Defendant/Respondent can only conduct its national convention after the hearing and determination of the substantive suit pending before this honourable court, the court order read. That in the interest of justice accelerated hearing of the substantive suit is hereby ordered.

That this matter is hereby adjourned to the 10th day of January 2022 for hearing of the substantive suit at High Court No. 15, Kubwa, FCT-Abuja.

The plot was, however, exposed by Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, Kaduna State governor; Kayode Fayemi, governor of Ekiti; Abubakar Malami, Attorney General of the Federation, among others, who were said to have approached President Muhammadu Buhari with the documents.

Buhari, angered by the development held a meeting with the governors and other relevant stakeholders during which he ordered Buni’s removal and asked Bello to take over. But the Yobe governor, opted to leave the country in anger instead of handing over, prompting Bello’s move on Monday, March 7.

Buni who had been used by the president and his inner circle to take firm control of the party in the aftermath of what was a battle between his camp and that of former Lagos State governor, Bola Tinubu, for the party’s soul ahead of its convention and ultimately the 2023 presidential election, had overstepped his boundary; driven by a desire to perpetuate himself in power as the party’s de facto chairman. It led to his downfall.

But the aftermath of his removal is posing even bigger threat to the party’s future. The governors are divided into pro versus anti Buni groups, while INEC is refusing to recognize Bello as the chairman of the party’s caretaker committee, which could threaten the outcome of its March 26 convention.

Last week, the electoral body rejected a letter from Bello inviting it to an emergency meeting of the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC), insisting that only Buni and Akpan Udohedehe could sign any letter inviting it for a NEC meeting.

INECs response contained in a letter dated March 9, 2022, signed by the Secretary to the Commission, Rose Oriaran Anthony, was titled, Re: Invitation to the emergency meeting of the National Executive Committee, and addressed to the National Chairman, APC CECPC.

The commission drew the attention of the CECPC to the fact that the letter of invitation was not signed by the National Chairman and National Secretary of the CECPC, Buni and Senator John Akpanudoedehe, respectively.
This, it said, was contrary to the provision of Article 1.1.3 of the Commissions Regulations and Guidelines for Political Party Operations (2018).

The electoral body also reminded those who wrote and signed the letter of the provision in Section 82(1) of the Electoral Act 2022, which requires at least 21 days notice of any convention, congress, conference, or meeting convened for the purpose of merger and electing members of its executive committees, other governing bodies or nominating candidates for any elective office.

The commission, therefore, urged APC to note the key issues raised for compliance.
INECs letter read, Please refer to your letter Ref.APC/NHDQ/INEC/019/022/32, dated 8th March 2022.

The Commission draws your attention to the fact that the notice for the meeting was not signed by the National Chairman and National Secretary of the CECPC contrary to the provision of the Article 1.1.3 of the Commissions Regulations and Guidelines for Political Party Operations (2018).

Furthermore, the APC is reminded of the provision in Section 82(1) of the Electoral Act 2022, which requires at least 21 days notice of any convention, congress, conference, or meeting convened for the purpose of merger and electing members of its executive committees, other governing bodies or nominating candidates for any elective office.

While hoping these issues are noted for compliance, please accept the assurance of the Commissions warm regards
The letter is effectively saying that the commission does not recognize a change of guard in the party, which could spell trouble for it going into the convention.

But the party initially vowed to proceed with the convention in defiance of INEC.

Addressing a press conference on Friday, Barr. Ismaila Ahmed spokesman of the partys caretaker committee dismissed the commission’s letter arguing that the party had earlier intimated the commission of its intent to conduct its national convention on February 26 and that what was now required for its new date of March 26 is simply a notice of an adjustment and not a fresh 21-day notice.

However, the party on wise counsel later beat a retreat, stressing that there had not been a leadership change as Governor Buni, who was expected back from his medical tour in Dubai, still remains the chairman. It was a close legal call for the party, which could have marred its 2023 prospects. But division among the governors, majority of whom insists on his removal, is posing a major threat which may be a banana peel that could cost the ruling party dearly.

Governors Divided Over Buni

Besides the impending legal issues between INEC and the APC over the decision to replace Buni with Bello, governors of the party are also openly divided over the development, with some backing the move and others opposing it.

This is even as various party groups have continued to issue statements for and against the move. For instance, such governors as Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State, Yahaya Bello of Kogi State, Hope Uzodinma of Imo State and Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State are said to be backing Buni, while others are against him.
On Wednesday, Umahi, while addressing his supporters in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State capital, insisted that Buni is still the party’s caretaker committee chairman and that Bello was only holding brief for the Yobe governor, who is currently abroad on medical grounds.

APC members, I want to thank them, and let me tell you that there is no division in APC,” he had said. The National Chairman went on medical leave and we were there when he asked the governor of Niger state to act for him. If there will be any change, you will be notified, but for now, there is none and there is no crack in the party.”

However, when El-Rufai, governor of Kaduna, featured on a television programme hours later, said Buni would never return as APC chairman, as according him, President Buhari ordered his removal. El-Rufai said Buni employed lawyers who colluded with a petitioner to destroy the national convention of the party.

According to him, a court order stopping the convention was a hidden nuclear weapon that would have hampered the party’s chances in the 2023 general election.

This court order was obtained in November. A member of the party went to court to say that there must be no convention until his case against the party is disposed of, which can take months or years.

The lawyer of the party and the lawyers of Mai Mala Buni went to court and agreed with the petitioner and got this order. Nobody knew about this order.

It was never brought to the caretaker committee. It was sort of hidden as a hidden nuclear weapon to destroy the convention, which further made us believe that there are fifth columnists in the party that want to bring this party down, because if we dont have an elected executive committee of the party and we go ahead to have primaries, we are likely to have our candidates lose all their seats as we saw in Zamfara State.

When we reported to the president and said no action (referring to the convention planning) had been taken, he said governor Abubakar Sani Bello must take over on Monday and we should use whatever legal means necessary to make sure that this convention is delivered.
It was the presidents order to us as governors. He (referring to Niger governor) has the presidents full backing and the backing of at least 19 of the APC governors.

There are some governors who are not fully on board. They are the ones planting fake stories that this one has resigned and that one has not resigned. You get all kinds of stories on social media.

Similarly, Rotimi Akeredolu, Ondo State governor, in a statement on Thursday, threw his weight behind Bello, while describing Buni and governors backing him as “Yahoo Yahoo Governors.” Akeredolu who also highlighted the decision of Buni to procure a secret court injunction stropping the APC convention with the intention to continue to lead to party, commended President Buhari for kicking him out.

Akeredolu in the statement titled, Buni, Pocket-filling Black Legs In Corridors Of Power Tried To Supplant Presidents Will-Akeredolu, noted that except a few Yahoo, Yahoo Govs apologies to Former PGF DG, most of us are resolute behind Bello to salvage the party.

In a apparent reference to Bunis court injunction, the Ondo governor remarked, no black market judicial procurement can stop convention.

The statement further said, With nostalgia, one can recall the moments of our struggle as compatriots from all walks of life enunciated and berthed Nigerias most ingeniously successful political network. Without being immodest, APCs birth was a novel instance. The partys philosophical beacon woven around its ideological leaning was alluring.

Undoubtedly, the firm leadership, candour and honesty exemplified by Mr. President who heads the administration that is the product of the APC deserve no less of support and complimentary responsibilities from all stakeholders.

The installation of the Caretaker and Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) of the APC was beyond a call to service. It was a child of necessity moulded into one, instill discipline in leadership and engender coherence among stakeholders and more importantly, to deepen the Rule of Law in our party.

However, the insidious and appalling happenings within our party in the last few months, especially under the immediate-past leadership clearly posit a huge embarrassment. Without necessarily dwelling on details that are known to critical stakeholders, the path taken lately by Governor Mai Mala Buni, the immediate past head of the CECPC and an indivisible few, is a unenviable trajectory undeserving of our dear party. It is a disdainful narrative.

Nevertheless, the courage and determination as well as shrewd sincerity of purpose demonstrated by most of the APC governors remain a delight. Significantly, the swift response and prompt action taken by Mr. President have, in no small means, salvaged our great party from internal scavengers. We indeed, survived a Civilian Coup largely inspired by mischief and incurable lust for power through artificial barricades.

Succinctly, aside feeling very delighted as a major stakeholder in the latest successful Rescue Mission, I express my confidence in the ability and capacity of Governor Sanni Bello(ABU LOLO) to take APC through. We, the Governors are for the party except for the few Yahoo, Yahoo Governors (apologies to Salihu, former DG of the Progressive Governors Forum) who were hand in glove with Buni to circumvent the Will of majority of our Party (APC) members. Progressive Governors in the true name, mostly all of us, are determined to see our Party through these patchy parts at all cost.

None of the scanty number has the guts to carry out their imaginary threats as reported in sponsored stories. We dare them to leave the party. Their short-lived antics in armtwisting Governor Buni and probably, some pocketfilling elements within the corridors of power to supplant the Presidents will through fake letters, endorsements as well as Black Market injunction (procured since November, 2021) are despicable.

Now that the clear motive aimed at frustrating our national convention as been botched, our dear party is on the track to greatness. Gov. Sanni Bello, ABU LOLO, carry on; you have the backing of the majority of us. You shall see our FULL backing come Thursday, 17th March, 2022 at the National Executive Committee meeting.”

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