By Leo Sobechi/ngrguardiannews.com
POLITICALLY speaking, the All Progressives Congress (APC), is currently at a very delicate corner on its windy road to the future. Recently, President Muhammadu Buhari had to state in exasperation that the judiciary was his major headache in the fight against corruption.
The president knows that the main thrust of public acceptance of APC in the 2015 presidential was the consideration for its promise to fight corruption to a standstill. Next to the issue of corruption is revitalizing cum diversifying the country’s economy after conquering all security challenges. The other leg of the tripodal electioneering promises, which has to do with job creation, could be said to be ancillary to the first two projections.
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With the foregoing, it becomes obvious that governance and politics are not the only areas the ruling party is finding things tough in delivering on its change mandate. But the challenge of being the change in its politics is proving to be more definitive.
All is not well inside the APC. From the June 9, mischance of foisting its preferred candidates on the National Assembly, through the lengthy time it took the government to come fully on stream with cabinet ministers to the riotous governorship primaries in Kogi and Bayelsa States, APC does not seem to be getting things done as a political party.
Much remains in the realm of conjecture over who summoned the botched meeting of members to the 8th National Assembly and the president for the morning hours of June 9. Did Mr. President consent to the meeting only to chicken out at the eleventh hour, to serve a political purpose of undermining the towering influence of “the leader of the Southwest caucus” of the party? Did some chieftains of APC misunderstood President Buhari’s assertions that he was for everybody and not for anybody and claim that he would not interfere in the election of principal officers of the National Assembly?
Answers to the above posers are being canvassed in hushed tones by influential members of the party as it prepares to confront its greatest challenges. Why was the process of electing the chairman of the party’s Board of Trustees, botched? Could it be that the party failed to locate a candidate with similar integrity quotient as Buhari to fill the vacant position? To what extent is the president’s perceived holier-than-you posture about corruption hurting cohesion in APC?
The fault lines have become very discernible that new thinking about the platform has emerged. Sources within the party disclosed how cleavages have formed, threatening the continued corporate existence of the party. “The first sign emerged shortly after what you called the failed attempt at selecting leaders for NASS,” the source stated. Detailing how plots and counterplots have continued to remove internal cohesion in the party, the source added: “After the inauguration, it became obvious that Mr. President was reluctant to play as a team with other leaders of the party. In fact the leaders of Southwest caucus at one point reminded the president that since victory came through the synergy of all groups, that it was necessary to approach governance with a united front; but after that meeting, the same unilateral approach to national issues continued. Worse of all, the president continued to make utterances that left party chieftain wondering.”
But while the complaints about the presidency’s perceived coldness continued, it was gathered that some notable political actors from the North started hinting at the possibility of reviving a political platform, which major source of control and influence should be outside Southwest. The schemes were to become apparent at the point where the Kogi State governorship election turned a tragic bend. Political actors from the North, who were weaving the possibility of nurturing a structure capable of launching the president to a second term with or without the Southwest, were said to have intervened to ensure that the running mate of Prince Abubakar Audu, Mr. James Faleke, was not retained on the ticket.
“You would recall that Audu was taken to Abuja in the afternoon of November 21, 2015. By the time efforts were being made to stabilize him and or fly him overseas, result of the election was being collated. Despite whatever anybody would tell you, the decision to stop the announcement of the result and shift further action to the next day was for a position to be adopted in the light of the death of Audu in that evening of Saturday November 21, 2015,” a source narrated.
He claimed that the only reason for introducing some sort of confusion into the election was to deny Faleke the seat on account of the fact that the former Lagos State governor Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, actually played a role in his emergence as Audu’s running mate. The source explained that in order not to elevate Faleke to the position of governor-elect or governorship candidate the leadership of the party, working in cahoots with the foot soldiers from the presidency, suggested that Faleke should be retained as running mate to their preferred candidate, Alhaji Yahaya Bello while the elder son of Audu, Mohammed should be appointed Secretary to the State Government.
The source disclosed that it was based on the strong suspicion that Tinubu was backing Faleke in his rejection of deputy governorship position and the legal battle to retrieve his mandate, that President Buhari decided not to openly congratulate Bello on his ‘victory’ at the polls. He added however that the president does not seem comfortable with the fact that he could not arrange the party the way he wants, stressing that the suspicion is high that some chieftains of the party were corrupt.
Kogi situation also throws up the analogous trial of the president of senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, at the Code of Conduct Tribunal. While some APC chieftain believe that the trial was engineered by those who wanted to call the shots in the federal legislature and thereby “check Buhari’s excesses”, others felt that the trial was a first step to weeding out members of the new PDP joined the party after merger. “So we saw through these plots, knowing that the bulk of decampees from PDP came more for their support for Buhari than the Southwest progressive politics,” a source hinted, stressing that the trial has become a source of destabilization of the government.
But while President Buhari’s political associates were fine-tuning their strategies to broaden his support base as a countercheck to the Southwest caucus, the political actors from Southwest decided to strengthen the unity of their region. “To show their superior political thinking, the leaders started toying with the idea of falling back on the reloaded SDP (Social Democratic Party),” the source, a politician from Osun State told The Guardian. He could not say whether the visit by Ekiti Governor, Ayodele Fayose on his Osun counterpart, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, was part of the political re-engineering in the Southwest. However, the source disclosed that when it became apparent that some APC leaders from the North were becoming more amenable to former president Olusegun Obasanjo than those who brokered the merger that produced the party, “the need to re-strategize became very acute.”
But another APC chieftain from Kano State told The Guardian that the Southwest leadership caucus was not happy with overtures being made to attract some notable Southeast politicians into the party. “I don’t want to be quoted, but the truth is that we have taken a look at the configuration of APC and it does not look good that a particular segment of the national population is not represented. As a government, we deemed it appropriate that the section of the country that was not well represented should be encouraged to join the party. But some people are saying; let them suffer because of their choice. That is the problem,” the source explained.
Without doubt, the challenge of being the change they promised Nigerians is biting hard on APC. Filing the vacant positions left by those appointed into the federal cabinet, selecting the chairman of Board of Trustees as well as appointment of ambassadors and members of boards of federal government agencies and parastatals are still outstanding. There is the possibility that filing these positions would throw up fresh animosities.
If political leaders from the North feel they can exclude the leaders of Southwest caucus of the party and hope to drive the change agenda, they must be mistaken. The friction would be too much for the government to bear. Even at that, drafting Southeast politicians into APC with the hope of using them to “call the bluff of Southwest” would also bring about its own challenges. Although Southeast politicians may not be as politically ambitious as their colleagues from Southwest, the contribution of Southwest politicians to the making of APC as a progressive party cannot be easily defrayed if the party hopes to see tomorrow.
Could it be that the recent short vacation embarked upon by President Buhari was an attempt to assure the Southwest of the great stake it holds in the present dispensation? Or was Buhari merely providing a blank cheque to Professor Yemi Osinbajo, to see how his mind works about the possibility of being in charge? There are too many speculative arrangements in APC that leave the actors no alternative than to second guess! For instance, given how entrenched the Southeast is in PDP, could the zone be humoured with a possible chairmanship of APC BoT, without the Southwest and other original members not shouting foul? What if Senator Ken Nnamani had been in constant conversation with APC leaders prior to the 2015 presidential election, would that be enough to make him a new champion of the party?
When confronted with all the challenging possibilities before APC, the acting national publicity secretary, Comrade Timi Frank, said the issue of selecting replacements for those who left the NWC (National Working Committee), of the party has been left in abeyance due mainly to the fact that those vacancies can only filled through “a convention and not by appointment.”
On the perceived confusion generated by the National Chairman’s position that only he (Chief John Odigie-Oyegun) and the party’s national secretary should make statements on behalf of the party, Frank said he must have spoken in his personal capacity. “The party did not say so. That was not the decision of the NWC or the leadership of the party. National chairman has no right to appoint anybody to speak for the party. The constitution of the party is very clear on that whereby any substantive member is not there, automatically the deputy takes over. So if the national chairman said such things that must be his own personal opinion, not the opinion of the party or the NWC,” he declared.
Sources had hinted that the national chairman actually took that position based on his understanding of the body language of some powers that be in the party that no element from Niger Delta, especially Bayelsa should have prominent or crucial roles to play in the national leadership of APC. But Frank maintains that “nobody has the power either from Bayelsa or anywhere to deprive me from performing my constitutional duties.” He added: “If anybody does not like me or does not want me to speak, then what they should do is to call for an immediate convention to replace me with a substantive head. But so far as that has not been done I remain the acting national publicity secretary. I have the authority and power to speak at all times or issue official statements on behalf of the party. It is my responsibility to speak. If the chairman wants to speak, well he might be speaking in his capacity as the chairman, but not as the publicity secretary of the party or acting publicity secretary of the party.”
The acting national publicity secretary contended that unless Odigie-Oyegun does not know his rights, he is supposed to be the boss of the party, adding that the issue of responding to any body language does not arise. “The chairman should not have anybody as his boss, he should be the boss of the party. Except he does not know his rights as the chairman, as far as the party is concerned, the national chairman is the highest organ of the party. I don’t think there is anybody the chairman should take directives from,” he declared.
He denied that there was deep-seated schism and power play in the party saying, “As far as I am concerned there is no power play anywhere. If there is any power play, it is only between certain individuals for their selfish ends.” Frank explained that the delay in getting a BoT chairman for the party, was perhaps, because the party needs to come up with a strong BoT chairman. His words: “APC cannot elect BoT chair that cannot pull the party together. There are so many things that are going wrong with the party as you can see. So we want to take our time to get a credible, respected, somebody with capacity and integrity to become chairman of BoT that can control, hold and pull the party together.”
On the flurry of defections from PDP to APC in the Southeast, Frank said he was not aware of any concerted plan to lure the defectors, pointing out that “APC is not begging anybody.” “Maybe on their own, they have seen the good works of Mr. President, or they are positioning themselves for future elections and 2019.”
As politicians congregate in APC, it would be seen in the next two months, what could be the real colour or ideological stamp the party presents. 2019 may be very far, but as the federal government approaches one year in office, APC would show how hard it is for it to live the change it promised. If the party fails to hold together and demonstrate to Nigerians that it is serious about ushering change in the nation’s polity, then its aim of sacking PDP may have been a none event!