President Muhammadu Buhari
Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari

…new wave of defections imminent

With its presidential candidate, President Muhammadu Buhari’s once Spartan image practically eroded, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) knows that if it would defeat the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, and retain power in 2019, it would have to labour hard and deploy every tools at its disposal.

But as tough as the battle ahead seems, the party may not yet have the luxury of peace to map out strategies as it is now locked in seemingly intractable crisis – an aftermath of the party’s bitterly contested primary elections. The party is practically being ripped apart by its internal contradictions and it may very well be the one to defeat itself.

In truth, the APC has never really been a party noted for cohesiveness. It has, right from the onset, been a party of strange bedfellows who came together to confront a common enemy in former president, Goodluck Jonathan. And hardly had they kicked out Jonathan when bickering began.

“APC right from time has been a marriage of strange bedfellows,” noted Barr Okey Okoroji, former governorship aspirant in Lagos. “They are people who ganged up because they found a common enemy in Jonathan.  That party has no ideology and no philosophy. The only philosophy they have is propaganda.”

Trouble for the party started right from the onset after winning power over the choice of National Assembly leadership and subsequently over supremacy in various states. But it appears that the party’s primary could prove to be the final stroke – it could yet be resolved, but nothing seems to suggest so at the moment.

Fortnight ago, Buhari gave the party chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole marching orders to “clear” the party’s mess. But it was an order drenched in irony. If Oshiomhole was to clear the mess, then the very first step would probably be to pack up his bags and baggage and return to his mansion home in Edo State. For, indeed, it would appear that there is no greater mess in the party than the former Edo governor himself.

Attempts by the president, including a meeting with some aggrieved members and Oshiomohle last week, have achieved little. Dr. SK Ogbonnia and Alhaji Mumakai Unagha, both of whom aspired for president in the party said in a joint statement on Friday that it was a facade, a mere window dressing.

A party chairman whose reign was birthed from crisis, he has not known peace and the same crisis which produced him could yet consume him – many argue, however, that it may be unlikely given that Buhari may not approve. He claims to instilling party internal democracy and discipline; and the president agrees.  But the aggrieved governors are not amused.

Governors of Imo, Rochas Okorocha; Ogun, Ibikunle Amosun; Zamfara, Abdulaziz Yari and Ondo, Rotimi Akeredolu whose candidates lost out in the botched primaries, have not relented in their attacks on the party chairman who they hold responsible.

In an interview with Channels last week, Okorocha who has apparently failed to install his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, as the state’s governorship candidate, accused of him “treating court orders like tissue paper,” and causing disharmony in the party. He noted that the chairman was going to cost the party not less than 5million votes.

The coming of Oshiomhole was a victory for the Ahmed Bola Tinubu camp over, well, one could say the young Turks in the South West who were becoming an alternative power bloc in the zone, and even the Abuja forces which compromised and sacrificed the former chairman, Chief John Oyegun in the overall interest of President Buhari’s reelection.

It was a victory made possible by the realisation that Bourdillon must be appeased so he doesn’t rock the boat in the middle of the sea. He wanted to take control of the party in the interest of his 2023 presidential ambition. Oyegun had begun to lean annoyingly towards Abuja and had in spite of him, participated actively in scuttling his plans to have his way in Ondo and Ekiti governorship elections.

Oyegun was Buhari’s, or more precisely, the Aso Rock cabal’s man. But in politics, it is always about interests. It was in the interest of the president’s reelection to sacrifice him to appease Tinubu, at least so they thought. Oshiomhole came in as Tinubu’s own man through whom he could call the shots.

It has so far proved, as long as this interest is concerned, a masterstroke. With Oshiomhole in charge, Tinubu is once again, bossing the South West. But the resultant crisis could yet prove costly for Buhari’s 2019 bid.

Another wave of defection is imminent. Musa Soba, member of the House of Representatives who resigned from the party recently assured that before November 17, 36 of his colleagues will do same. A party source told Business Hallmark to expect “massive” movement away from the party.

In some states, like Bayelsa members are already leaving for the PDP. Last week, Chief Timi Alaibe and his men, returned to the opposition party, alleging injustice in the ruling party.

It’s been fights here and there. In Ogun, Amosun who has not been particularly loyal and had leaned towards Abuja when it seemed as though Bourdillon’s time was up, was denied the chance to anoint his successor. There, the combined interest of Tinubu, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and former governor, Chief Segun Osoba, with Oshiomhole’s stamp, made certain that Chief Dapo Abiodun took the party’s ticket while Amosun’s attempt to install Hon. Kunle Akinlade failed spectacularly.

While swearing in Mosunmola Dipeolu as Chief Judge of the state in Abeokuta on Monday fortnight ago, Amosun pointedly accused Tinubu and Osoba of having a hand in what is going on in the state.

“He (the president) knows that they just went to Lagos, wrote all results, and that what they did is fraud. If the national working committee or the national chairman said there was any election in Ogun state, it was all fraud,” he said.

“The issue of Chief Osoba and Asiwaju and co, what we said was that there was a deafening silence from their end, and silence means consent. We have not heard a word from any of them. Was there any election in Ogun state? Yes, or No? They should come out and speak. They are hiding behind one finger, they cannot come out.”

In Ondo, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu who had not hidden his contempt for the former Lagos governor since he tried to stop him from emerging governorship candidate in 2016 in preference to Segun Abraham also got a bit of payback. The Lagos forces managed to use Oshiomhole to install senatorial and House of Reps candidates in the state, including his rival, Senator Ajayi Borrofice.

Okorocha’s Imo is another war zone for the party. Last week he boasted that the APC cannot hope to win the zone without him. He was reacting to the candidates he nominated for the elections which the party rejected. The party has since recognised Senator Hope Uzodinma as its governorship candidate, much to Okorocha’s chagrin.

Neither Amosun nor Akeredolu is lying low. The Ogun chief executive has vowed to fight on. He had previously threatened to dump the APC for the Accord Party. And now his core aides and loyal commissioners have dumped the ruling party for the Democratic People’s Party (DPP), potentially to prepare ground for his own defection.

Speaking at a town hall meeting on the 2019 budget at the Cultural Centre at Abeokuta on Wednesday fortnight ago, the governor maintained that Hon. Akinlade will succeed him.

Hon Akinlade will succeed me when I finish my tenure in May 2019, because, he is the only one who is capable of continuing from where I stopped in the infrastructural development of the state. We will win in every local government in the state, whether Yewa, Ijebu, Abeokuta South, count them, we are ready for them, anywhere they go, we shall meet them there”, he said.

Akeredolu too has not relented in his attacks on the party chairman. In a statement last week, he derided him as “incompetent” and described the party’s primaries as a “political charade” and a revelation of “a shocking proclivity towards banditry and impunity.”

Both are part of the party’s governors and other chieftains shortchanged in the primaries who are now pushing for the chairman’s removal. It is a battle that could yet get messier. However, the push for a meeting of the NWC, National Working Committee, where they planned to initiate a vote of no confidence on the chairman may have been scuttled as Oshiomhole is believed to have hurriedly left the country.

Primary promise and betrayal

With the expression of interest and nomination forms for various elective posts put at exorbitant prices – ranging from N45million for presidential, N22.5 million for governorship, N7million for senate, N3.8million for House of Reps, to N850,000 for state House of Assembly – party members were encouraged to purchase with the promise that everyone would be given a chance and that the process would be transparent.

A party that proclaims change, many unsuspecting members borrowed money; some sold properties, others used life savings to purchase forms with hopes of making it either to governorship, National Assembly, or State Assembly. But as it turned out, Oshiomhole had other ideas.

Having made a ‘kill’ from the sale of forms, raking in over N6 billion, the party chairman proceeded with ‘business as usual.’ In many states, primaries only reflected predetermined outcomes; the processes were hijacked and only ‘anointed’ aspirants emerged; a development that prompted condemnation from the President’s wife, Aisha Buhari, whose brother was denied Adamawa governorship ticket.

The former Edo governor had his plan well laid out. In almost all the states, he sent his Edo brothers to organise the primaries. But he still called the shots from Abuja.

In Lagos, for instance, where Bourdillon had decided that the incumbent Governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s time was up, his supporters denied the opportunity to vote. And open ballot was adopted to ensure that there was no escape route for the governor.

In the middle of the charade, the Clement Ebri led NWC sent to conduct the election tried to intervene and save the day for the governor, declaring the exercise illegal as according to them, committee was yet to come up with modalities.

But it was right at the den of the Lion. It took little while for Oshiomhole to intervene in the interest of his benefactor and the fate of hapless Ambode was sealed. The committee was forced to reverse itself and announce Mr. Babajide Sanwo-olu as candidate. And with threat of impeachment looming, Ambode recoiled into his shell and accepted his fate with the promise to stay loyal and campaign actively for Sanwo-olu and indeed, all the party’s candidates, including Buhari.

Like Lagos, in Bauchi, Adamawa and  Borno and many other states where the trophy went to the strongest men – the power that be – tension appears to be dying down. Those who lost out appear not to have enough firepower in them to sustain a prolonged fight. But verbal attack on the party chairman has continued nonetheless.

But in states like Imo, Rivers, Ogun, Zamfara and to a lesser degree, Enugu and Delta where the contending factions are more evenly matched, the battle has raged. And the party now risks not having any governorship candidates in Zamfara

In Imo, Okorocha who had before now, proved to be a cat with nine lives appears to have finally been outmatched.

The governor had practically lost hold of the party under Oyegun with the ward, local government and state congresses held in the state and were indeed, contemplating defecting to the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). But a deal with Oshiomhole who was looking to oust Oyegun at the time saved the day for him.

The Imo chief executive, who could speak fluent Hausa, was said to have taken up the task of convincing his Northern colleagues who were uncomfortable with the choice of Oshiomhole as party chairman because of his close ties with Tinubu in the agreement that he will hand the state party structure back to him.

The agreement was allegedly signed at the Jigawa State Governor’s lodge in Abuja on June 17, in the presence of Alhaji Badaru Abubakar, Jigawa governor. Once Oshiomhole became chairman, Okorocha was back in charge, so it seemed initially. But for the governor, things have fallen apart.  Uzodinma has proved the more astute fighter. And the governor is now leading the fight against the chairman.

In Rivers, Senator Magnus Abe, allegedly backed by certain powerful interests in the party has made life difficult for Rotimi Amaechi, and has thus far frustrated his attempt to install billionaire business man, Tonye Cole as governor. On Friday Oshiomhole announced at a press briefing in Abuja that the party will conduct fresh congresses in the state.

He noted that the Supreme Court judgment, which had nullified the state’s congresses conducted by Oyegun, clear because they were conducted in defiance of subsisting court order restraining them from doing so. It effectively means that Amaechi is back to square one.

In Zamfara, Abdulaziz Yari is facing stiff opposition in his attempt to impose his favoured governorship candidate, Alhaji Mukhtar Shehu Idris. The party ended up not doing any primary in the state. And although a governorship candidate has been submitted to INEC, the electoral body has maintained that the state did not meet its deadline.

It had been a rivalry between Oshiomhole and presidency backed camp of the Defence Minister, Dan Ali; Deputy Governor, Ibrahim Wakala; Senator Kabiru Garba Marafa; former governor, Mahmuda Aliyu Shinkafi and so on, against Governor Yari.

Oshiomhole in driver’s seat

The aftermath of the party’s primaries has seen the crystallising of the opposition against Oshiomhole into a force. For days and weeks, some of the party’s aggrieved governors, including Akeredolu, Yari, Amosun met with President Buhari to push for the chairman’s removal. Other governors fingered in the plot include those of Kaduna, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai; Ekiti, Kayode Fayemi and Adamawa, Jibrilla Bindo.

It emerged that the governors and their states party chairmen had begun to collate signatures of top party men with the intention of passing a vote of no confidence on the chairman. It’s a move that had gathered momentum.

At the peak of the plot, the former Edo governor accused some unnamed elements in the party of frustrating his plans to reposition it, alleging a gang-up with the aim of passing a no-confidence vote on him. He later expressed confidence that he had nothing to fear, as according to him, it was only two governors who are against him, while others are for him.

But it’s unlikely. Opposition and anger towards the chairman has continued. The last couple of days have seen protests against him by different groups, including the women aspirants of the party that have alleged betrayal and marginalisation.

The women, who stormed the party’s national secretariat few days ago, accused the national leadership of the party of scamming them during the concluded primaries, threatening to work against the party if concrete steps were not taken to reverse their situation. They regretted that even after being made to cough out millions for the purchase of forms, they were schemed out of participating in the primaries.

“We, women have been marginalised for a very long time, and it has to stop because we still need to be included in the 2019 general elections. We were promised 35% affirmative action for women. In August, the President of Nigeria came for a summit organised by Women in Politics, the president spoke that women were going to be included, his wife the First Lady also spoke that women would be included and even the National Chairman of the APC promised us that this time around, we must get our 35% affirmative. So far, what we have in the APC now is about 0.5% from statistics,” Milicent Duru, an aspirant from Imo State who spoke for the protesters said.

“So, to us, it is a scam, and it is not as if we do not have the capacity or we did not buy nomination forms; we bought the forms, we paid half of the money compared to other parties, which did not charge women for anything. So, we paid good money but to our surprise……we are wondering why we should not be included in the affairs of the country. If this continues, it shows we are going to boycott the 2019 elections. That is exactly why we are protesting today.”

A number of male aspirants also had unkind words for the party chairman. A presidential aspirant, Chief Charles Udeogaranya recently, berated him for “killing” the party and called on INEC to cancel the list of aspirants submitted to it by Oshiomhole.

While many Nigerians are hoping for election contest in 2019, only few reckons that Adams Oshiomhole’s inexperience in handling party affairs had indeed killed the party even before the election year,” he was quoted as saying. However, when it looked that the days of Oshiomhole as APC chairman were numbered, he suddenly bounced last week after a meeting with Buhari.

Coming after a meeting between Tinubu and Buhari ostensibly to save him, Buhari gave him a bill of health and advised his accusers to copy from Governor Ambode of Lagos and be good sportsmen. It was a crushing blow and took the wind out of the sail.

While the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, conducted and managed successfully all their primaries and fielded candidates in all elective positions in the country, Adams Oshiomhole-led APC could not conduct a single successful primary in the 774 LGA, 36 States and FCT in the Nigeria federation. What an empirical mountain of failure.”

Similarly, the Director-General of the Voice of Nigeria, Osita Okechukuwu who also failed to secure the party’s Enugu West Senate ticket lashed out, on Channels Television, against Oshiomhole.

“The little I could read on Comrade Oshiomhole is that he suffers from narcissism what in a local palace is called ‘I too know,” he said. “He doesn’t believe in anybody except himself. He has a fascination with himself and that is costly for the APC. So he should just resign.”

A party source who craved anonymity told BusinessHallmark that the governors are intent on removing the chairman, but have decided to carry on more discreetly. He however, noted that it is unlikely that they will succeed as according to him, “Buhari has demonstrated unwillingness to let go of Oshiomhole.”

Some members of the party are, meanwhile, rallying support for the embattled chairman. Senator Ovie Omo-Agege said fortnight ago that they would protect the chairman from any attempt to oust him.

Among the series of protesters at the party’s secretariat last week, were groups under the aegis of the Federation of Buhari Support Groups who attacked Oshiomhole’s ‘opponents,’ especially Governor Akeredolu who they accused of orchestrating the plot to remove him, and expressed satisfaction with his leadership. Akeredolu has nonetheless, dismissed the allegation.

Similarly, the National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu, in an interview in Abuja, attacked Amosun and Okechukwu, labelling them bad losers. He alleged that Amosun was embittered because his attempt to foist a candidate on the people, using undemocratic means, failed.

“If we speak to the merit of this case, the Ogun State governor, the whole world saw it, the visuals were everywhere where he gathered some aspirants, stakeholders and said clearly, there won’t be primaries and right there he pointed at whom the next governor would be. He pointed to another person, ‘this one, you are the next senator, House of Reps etc and himself the next senatorial candidate and he dished out these positions out there,” the spokesman said.

 

 

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