By OBINNA EZUGWU
For the country’s ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), it would appear that the long awaited day of reckoning has come. The ongoing wrangling over its re-registration exercise suggests that the chicken is coming home to roost. And perhaps, it’s now a matter of when rather than if, the divergent interests pulling it in different directions, rips it apart.
The re-registration and re-validation exercise, feelers suggest, is the last battle for the ruling party’s soul ahead of the all important 2023 presidential election. Indeed, nothing better explains such wholesale re-registration exercise for a party that is less than 10 years old, and whose constitution has no provision for same.
“APC is governed by a constitution, not by man. The constitution only provides for registration and I registered as a member of the APC in 2014 under the then Interim national chairman Chief Bisi Akande,” argued the party’s immediate past National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole.
“There is nothing in the APC constitution that says a member shall revalidate or renew his or her membership. Once you registered when you joined the party and you have not decamped, you are a member. So, revalidation is strange to our constitution.”
The former APC chairman who spoke on Tuesday, after revalidating his membership at Unit 1, ward 10, Iyamho, Etsako West Local Government Area of Edo State, confessed that he agreed to participate in the exercise because he wanted peace to reign in the party. “But, in doing this, we have to be careful not to create constitutional breach,” he warned.
Oshiomhole has since been rebuked by a number of APC governors, but he was not the first to cry foul about an exercise that has all the trappings of a last push for the party’s control by the opposing, and by far, the more powerful interest in the party. It’s an old playbook. When former vice president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, grew too big in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), such that his then principal, President Olusegun Obasanjo, had to practically kneel down to beg for his second term ticket in 2003, two years later in 2005, the former president used similar re-registration exercise to throw the powerful Atiku under the bus, forcing him to ultimately abandon the party ahead of the 2007 presidential election.
It’s the same old trick at play by many accounts. The battle for the soul of APC started soon after President Muhammadu Buhari took office in 2015, and pitted the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) faction against the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) strand led by former Lagos governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
The two groups had gone into an alliance to birth the APC in 2013, with Tinubu the big spender and easily the most influential figure in the new alliance, widely considered as the national leader of the party.
But soon after the he took power, Buhari made it clear that as far as he was concerned, such position as national leader did not exist. He was right. The president is the national leader of a party. Tinubu’s position had been a ceremonial attribute popularised by the friendly Lagos media. Buhari had fired the first shot and remained focused. The Tinubu camp was, as his wife, Remi put it, “trashed” after the 2015 trophy was won, but apparently lacked the courage to whimper.
“He (Tinubu) was campaigning, I did too. We were running three campaigns in my house, only for him to be trashed like that? But I saw somebody who has love for this country. I hate to speak because when I stand in the front of God, I dont want, because of this man, go to hell,” Remi had said in TV Continental in 2018, while her husband was being courted to help persecute the president’s 2019 second term project.
“Occasionally, I would chip in and I would say, Youre still helping out? Why are you helping out? He would say, This country matters to me more.”
Buhari had, with 2019 election in mind, soft pedaled in 2018, allowing Tinubu some wins in the struggle for the party’s control. The former Lagos governor forced out then national chairman, Chief John Oyegun, who had sided with the Buhari camp and helped to ensure that he lost out in major battles in Ondo and elsewhere, and in came his loyalist, Comrade Oshiomhole as chairman in June same year. And for a season, it appeared that the party structure now belonged to Bourdillon.
But it was inevitably a temporary win. Once Buhari secured second term in 2019, the final onslaught began. And it was soon obvious who was holding the wrong end of the stick. Oshiomhole was forced out as national chairman, despite protestations by Tinubu and his camp. Once that was done, it was party over. Also his key nominee in government, Mr. Tunde Fowler, chairman of FIRS, was forced out.
Yobe State governor, Mai Mala Buni, became chairman of the party’s caretaker committee, effectively the new national chairman, meaning that the North holds both presidency and party chairmanship. He is now presiding over the re-registration exercise, which sources say is only aimed to properly secure the party’s structure ahead of 2023, to the detriment of Tinubu and his ACN camp.
“When you look at what is going on, there is no doubt that the re-validation exercise is targeted at Tinubu,” a party source who craved anonymity said. “They know he still has influence within the party, so they want to use the exercise to finally shove him off.”
Indeed, Tinubu’s core loyalist and pioneer national chairman of the party, Chief Akande, was the first to kick against the move, perhaps being aware of what it is all about. Speaking after he underwent the re-validation process at his Ila Oragun constituency in Osun State, Akande described the exercise as unnecessary and therefore, an aberration.
“The major perception is that APC leadership might be wasteful and unappreciative of the proper use of money in a kind of scanty economy in which Nigeria now finds itself,” he said.
“These seeming ugly perceptions put into abeyance the applause of the two national election successes that the original APC register enjoyed since its completion on 15th February, 2014 and the over N1 billion of 2014s value that the original register cost when APC had no money of its own.
“While thanking you All my APC leaders and its delegation that now come to honour me today, I want to emphasize and warn that the next national election that would elect a successor to President Muhammadu Buhari is going to be the most important test of the ongoing APC membership registrations and whatever structure being envisaged to be imposed on it.
“It is my advice and prayer therefore, that every sense of responsibility should be selflessly employed to make these efforts ultimately result in success for our APC.”
Subsequently, on Saturday, after his own re-validation, Tinubu aligned with the position of Akande, expressing implicit helplessness.
“Since we have a foundation and that foundation is on which the structure up till the present was built at the time of the registration of this party, I will not fault Baba Akande position; I will not but endorse it,” he said.
“What we are doing now is a matter of addition and subtraction, free entry and free exit. You have joined a particular party; you have decided to leave that party. You have equal opportunity for new members to join and update the existing register of the party.”
Buni, however, insisted that the exercise was constitutional and strategic. In a statement on Thursday fortnight ago by his Director-General, Press and Media Affairs, Mamman Mohammed, he argued that the exercise would assist the party to generate valid, accurate and up-to-date data of its members to enhance and support its planning process.
The exercise has since pitted Buhari loyalists against Tinubu loyalists, with the likes of Ekiti State governor, Kayode Fayemi, backing the process, what observers say is also partly aimed at getting the youth population to join the party.
“I have heard (Ahmad) Lawan and a few others like Yahaya Bello say that the registration exercise is to get the youth to fill the party and realise their ambition there,” another source said. “Is it part of the counter to EndSARS, youth disillusionment with the regime?”
Kogi governor, Yahaya Bello is himself a presidential hopeful. He has continued to run subtle campaign, including mobilising online influencers to promote his candidacy, a quest that would further divide and cause wrangling.
The emerging realities were, however, predictable from day one. When in February 2013, days of negotiations between the leading political interests in the North and the Southwest led to the cobbling together of what would become the APC the immediate driving force was the ouster of the then PDP government of Goodluck Jonathan. And it was easy to tell that eventually the divergent interests within the aligning groups would constitute huge obstacle to its cohesion.
The party was, in many ways, a marriage of convenience between two radically different groups: the core Northern conservative strand as represented by the Buhari led CPC, and the more progressive ACN led by Tinubu. The marriage was an ideological abnormality sold to the unwary populace as a “progressive platform”, and sustained by the one unifying factor of getting Jonathan out.
But beneath this overall objective, each group had their own reasons. For Buhari’s North, it was the furious quest for power return to the region. This quest had indeed started as early as 2000 when it became obvious that then president, Obasanjo who was made president by the Northern dominated military establishment to placate the Yoruba who had become uncontrollably restive over the fate of MKO Abiola, was not going to do one term as agreed.
The anger stoked in the region by Obasanjo’s apparent refusal to vacate power after four years, led to the Sharia crisis of year 2000. It was the very first bold attempt to force Baba Iyabo out of power. But he cleverly navigated the trap by letting the Sharia proponents have their way.
Buhari would eventually emerge as the arrow head of this quest for power shift back to the North. Having first failed to defeat Obasanjo in 2003, he gradually, through speeches and sundry actions appealing to the Northern streets built massive following in the region, such that he could easily beat any opponent in the core Northern states.
And while this Buhari radical support base was somewhat watered down in 2007 with emergence of Umaru Ya’Adua as president, it returned more forcefully when Jonathan replaced him upon his death two years afterwards, so that Jonathan’s victory in 2011 presidential polls sparked attacks that led to the death of hundreds in the North.
By 2013, the North had had enough of being out of power and wanted same by all means. The region pulled ranks, both those in the then ruling PDP and the opposition shared this common objective and worked actively for its realisation. And who was better to lead the quest than Buhari who was already assured of 12 million votes.
For the Southwest on the other hand, it was perhaps more than anything else, a desire by Tinubu who had emerged the conquering champion of the region to play at the national level. His initial idea was to become vice president, and possibly eventually president. Apparently, he had over-committed when it dawned on him that Buhari was not keen on having him as running mate.
The anti Jonathan sentiment had become prevalent in the Southwest, with the former president accused of neglecting the region in strategic appointments. With Buhari only offering to have him nominate his running mate, he had to make due, therefore, with nominating Yemi Osinbajo in his stead. And with the two zones, motivated by different factors, but all the same, united by the determination to take power, Jonathan’s days were numbered.
But it was perhaps evident from day one that the Tinubu camp had leaped before looking. Whilst the North apparently wanted power for keeps, the prevalent belief in the Southwest was that the region will succeed the North after eight years, in what would be reciprocal support of the North in 2023. Instructively, the key basis for this expectation was and remains the anticipated goodwill of the North.
Although some political figures in the Southwest have continued to insist that there was a gentleman agreement for power shift to the South (read Southwest) in 2023, sources privy to the merger have confirmed that there was no such agreement.
“It was Pastor Tunde Bakare, Jimi Lawal and Nasir El-Rufai who formed the core of the Buhari’s negotiating base. They led the initial effort to get the buy-in of the Southwest,” a strategic party source who doesn’t want his name in print, said.
“Initially, it was a bit difficult to bring Tinubu and the rest on board. The Awujale of Ijebuland helped in this regard. Eventually, it came down to the negotiations. Tinubu wanted to be vice president, but Buhari said no. At some point, they invited him to Bourdillon. At the meeting were Tinubu, Rauf Aregbesola and Adams Oshiomhole.
Tinubu told Buhari that the Southwest had decided that the only condition to back the ticket was to have him as his running mate. But Buhari flatly refused and only asked him to nominate two people for him to choose one.
“The expectation was that Tinubu would nominate Fayemi and Osibanjo, so that Fayemi would be chosen. But he nominated only Osibanjo and Buhari decided not to object any further.
“As far as I know, that was what happened. The Southwest was to get vice president as its own stake in the alliance.”
Writing in his column last week, Afenifere spokesperson, Yinka Odumakin, hinted at the same point.
“The Yoruba nation must be eternally grateful to the likes of Dr. Amos Akingba who through persistence did not allow the controlling leadership of ACN to totally lead the Yoruba through the dark alley in 2014 by consistently asking what was the negotiating bargain with their Fulani husband when the APC wedlock was on?” he wrote.
“Eventually they were handed over to one of their master dissemblers, Alhaji Lai Mohammed who tossed them up and down until he handed them a document that contained nothing.
“After their complaint, another document was brought as a draft manifesto which contained the catch-phrase: To restructure Nigeria into a true federation. The Oluwole document was ostensibly a Taqqiya one meant to hoodwink the unwary as the owners of the game said they didnt know the meaning of restructuring after they took power.”
The reality has thus dawned on all. The North is apparently determined to hold power. The Tinubu Southwest may well stage up a fight. The Southeast is also angling for the ruling party’s ticket. Ebonyi State governor, David Umahi who joined the party late last year, ostensibly to pursue Southeast presidency, appears to be getting restive. Last week, he demanded that party takes a position on zoning.
The governor who spoke during an interview with newsmen after visiting the Chairman of the APC Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee at the party’s National Secretariat in Abuja on Wednesday, argued that, Zoning is a party affair. Party discipline requires that you sit down and discuss issues. You advance your reasons and another person will also advance his. And then the party as a family will take a position.”
He is likely to be disappointed. Similarly, former Imo State governor, Senator Rochas Okorocha, who led a faction of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) into the APC alliance, arguing consistently that it would be the turn of the Southeast after Buhari, must have read the writing on the wall. He is now talking about a new political alliance.
APC was a hurried arrangement, it was hurriedly formed to take power when the then government was drifting,” Okorocha said. “APC would have been better until people who were not members of the party; people who came for congratulatory message hijacked the party and became Lords.”
In the meantime, perhaps aware that it would be difficult to push for a Northern candidate immediately after President Buhari, the North is said to be plotting for a joint ticket between Goodluck Jonathan and Kaduna State governor, Nasir El-Rufai. The idea being to pave the way for seamless return of power to region after four years.
There are also suggestions that more governors of the PDP are itching to join the ruling party, a development that could yet complicate things for the ruling party going into 2023.