The manifestations of internal squabble within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), which ricocheted in a diatribe between the incumbent national chairman Adams Oshiomhole and his predecessor in office, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, following the call by the party’s deputy national chairman (North), Senator Lawal Shuaibu on the national chairman to resign have always been there. It did not start today.
Chief Bisi Akande, Dr. Ogbonnia Onu, Tony Momoh and Dr. Olisaemeka (of blessed memory) were the prominent national chairmen of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Congress for Progressives Change (CPC) and Democratic Peoples Party (DPP), respectively as at the time when the merger of opposition political parties to confront the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2015 was contemplated.
Alongside the members of the various merger committees drawn from the legacy parties, those three national chairmen, particularly Akande, possess what could be called the institutional memory of APC, what it represents and was designed to achieve in the nation’s polity.
Foundational Clash Of Interests
SHORTLY after APC came into being and its first national convention approached, the Southwest caucus led by a former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and Akande, met with General Muhammadu Buhari retd with a wish list.It happened that some politicians had persuaded the former head of state to contest the presidential election once again based on the promise of a merger of opposition parties. Therefore, after the merger the issue was how to ensure that he emerges as the presidential standard bearer of the party.
The Southwest leaders assuaged Buhari’s fears, assuring him that a combination of delegates votes from their zone and the north would surely give him victory at the primary, stressing that with that understanding between ACN and CPC, chief Akande, the then interim national chairman would transit to substantive national chairman of the party to oversee developments and ensure that everything goes according to plan.
Tinubu and Akande were said to have further told the presidential hopeful not to worry about printing posters or financial gifts to delegates from the zone, since according to them, the Southwest has resolved to take care of all that.In return they reiterated their desire to have Chief Akande continue as substantive chairman to properly nurture the party through its weaning period according the foundational ideologies, to which he (Buhari) consented.
Matters changed with the emergence of former Imo State governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, as the chairman of Progressive Governors’ Forum, after their meeting at Imo State Liaison Office, came up with a contrary position, demanding that since the Southwest wanted to produce the presidential running mate, it should yield the position of national chairman to either the South/South or Southeast.
While that development rattled the ACN/CPC alliance, the issue of Tinubu’s ambition began to simmer, which prompted two prominent Yoruba traditional rulers, Oba Rilwan Lukman and Awujale of Ijebuland to close ranks and persuade Tinubu against insisting on Muslim/Muslim presidential ticket.
The former Lagos State governor had informed stakeholders that what matters was for him to join Southwest votes to Buhari’s 12 million votes in the north to win the election.Having settled the issue of running mate in favour of the Southwest’s wish list, in the Southeast the plan to introduce Dr. Onu for chairmanship, which Buhari was said to have okayed, ran into hitch as Okorocha announced his interest in the presidential contest.In the midst of the confusion, the Southwest caucus fell back on the ACN structure and introduced Oyegun.
BETWEEN February 2013 when the provisional registration of APC as a political party was announced and December 2014 when the presidential primary held in Lagos, something big happened midway. Precisely, immediately after PDP held its corrective national convention on August 31, 2014, a splinter group of disgruntled members broke off to form the new PDP at the International Conference Centre Abuja, where they addressed journalists.
The group led by Alhaji Kawu Baraje comprised five state governors, including Rabiu Kwankwaso (Kano), Abdulfatah Ahmed (Kwara), Ibrahim Wammacko (Sokoto) Murtala Nyako (Adamawa), Chibuike Amaechi (Rivers) and former Vice President Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.
Of the five governors, Rotimi Amaechi was attending meetings with the merger committees before the rupture at Eagle Square on August 31, 2014. However, it took a court pronouncement outlawing the use of the name ‘PDP’ for the group to speed up its alliance with the APC after signing a memorandum of understanding.
As it were, the entry of nPDP brought momentum and great mileage to the inchoate APC, due largely to the five state structures and funding they serviced, especially the power of incumbency the outgoing governors enjoyed.In the newfound enthusiasm and camaraderie, particularly the set agenda of ousting the PDP, the promoters of APC glossed over the internal contradictions in the party’s structure even as they courted the members of the nPDP, who were men of great political tricks and deep pockets.
Four months later the presidential election held and from results released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the fledgling APC and its presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari defeated PDP and the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, who was seeking reelection.
Although high degree of anti-party activities and sophisticated rigging attended the election, the incumbent uncharacteristically conceded defeat. Overwhelmed by the easy victory, APC leaders ran from pillar to post trying to streamline its governance strategies, especially sharing the booties of its electoral triumph.Barely one week into the life of the APC administration the suppressed infighting and covert schemes broke out anew following the attempt to sideline the members of the nPDP in the sharing of principal offices at the National Assembly.
Bringing their famed political skills to bear on the development, the nPDP faction in the party succeeded in taking control of the federal legislature and sustained the internal disequilibrium in the APC structure for the entire first term of the administration.
Challenges Of Unequal Yoke
WHILE the mind games with nPDP lasted, the APC national chairman Chief Oyegun, either out of ignorance of strategies to adopt or willful lethargy, decided to walk circumspect and in trepidation. As he tried to interpret body language, Oyegun seemed lost as to the real intents and inner workings of the mind of the leader, President Buhari on the uneven distribution of the legacy parties’ influence in the party structure.
The national chairman’s first test came six months later during the Kogi State governorship poll, after the APC standard bearer in the election, Prince Abubakar Audu, died midway into the collation of election results.While most observers believed that Audu’s running mate, Hon. James Faleke, ought to inherit the ballot already cast in favour of his joint ticket with Audu and APC, Oyegun vacillated in apparent attempt to distance himself from his former god father, Tinubu, and ingratiate himself to the new masters, the Presidency cabal, which was becoming wary of the former Lagos governor’s overarching influence in the party.
Within the first one year of the APC administration, it was becoming apparent that its national chairman, Oyegun did not want to use his sense of judgment or possess his own mind. That fact was made public shortly after Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, a member of then nPDP, as chairman of occasion at the presentation of Chidi Onuma’s book, ‘We Are All Biafrans’, remarked that Nigeria was in urgent and dire need of restructuring.
It was not known whether he was compelled to respond or merely doing so to further warm himself into the new power loop of the Presidency, but Oyegun attacked Atiku’s suggestions, stressing that the issue of restructuring was not on the plate of the APC government.
Party faithful insist that it was owing to Oyegun’s failings that APC failed to hold its midterm convention during which it could have filled up vacant positions in the National Working Committee (NWC) caused by the appointment of former occupants into President Buhari’s cabinet.
However, the unstable political stature of APC kept coming to the fore in installments. For instance, in a letter dated February 21, 2018, former Lagos State governor, Bola Tinubu, pointedly accused the national chairman of fraudulent and dictatorial handling of party matters.
The notable APC leader not only expressed disappointment with Oyegun, but also regretted that “instead of being a bulwark of support as promised, you positioned yourself in active opposition to the goal of resuscitating the progressive and democratic nature of APC.”
It could be recalled that Tinubu’s scathing public letter trailed his unilateral appointment by President Buhari to reconcile the party in readiness for the 2019 general election. But watchers of APC’s undulating cohesion noted that Tinubu used the opportunity to vent his pent up feeling about Oyegun’s running of the party, especially given the fact that he (Tinubu) oiled the machinery that made Oyegun national chairman, instead of Chief Tom Ikimi or Timipre Sylva.
In his letter, Tinubu alluded to the national chairman’s handling of political developments in Kogi, Kaduna, Kano and Adamawa, not forgetting the Ondo State governorship primary that his favourite candidate, Olusegun Abraham, lost to the current governor, Rotimi Akeredolu.
“You have taken it as your own personal ambition to thwart my presidential assignment in these key states,” including unilaterally inaugurating Kogi State APC executives “parallel to the officials already heading the state chapter.”
While reminding the national chairman that APC belongs to ‘all’, Tinubu warned the former Edo State governor to desist from taking further “improper unilateral decisions to undermine my mandate by engaging in dilatory tactics,” noting: “When forced to act, you do so in an arbitrary and capricious manner.”
Having forcefully voiced out what was being considered as Oyegun’s failings, it was obvious that the former Lagos State governor would capitalize on his support for President Buhari’s second term, to work for a change in the party leadership.
But piqued at the attempt to sell the impression that APC’s future and fortune revolved around one man, some state governors, who were enamoured of Oyegun including, Nasir Ahmad elRufai, Abdulaziz Yari, Mohammed Abubakar, Jibrilla Bindow and Yahaya Bello, weighed in.
However, their attempt to stem the tide against Oyegun’s ouster amounted to so little so late as the party chieftains, led by Tinubu had covered enough mileage in the search for his replacement.Part of the argument against retaining Oyegun as national chairman was that given the fact of the surprise rebound of main opposition PDP, the ruling party needed a strong character to fight off the challenge.
From Benign To Belligerent
THE (s) election of Adams Oshiomhole, another former governor of Edo State had all the trappings of godfather politics that define APC leadership and politics. The first hint that the former president of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) was on his way from Dennis Osadebay House to No 40 Blantyre Street, Abuja; was dropped by President Buhari while commissioning some projects in Benin city at the tail end of Oshiomhole’s tenure as governor.
The come came to become during the party’s convention in 2018 when Oshiomhole was presented to the delegates as anointed of the President. He was unopposed, not because of unanimity or popularity, but because of the powerful levers being deployed in his favour to eliminate such other alternatives as Clement Ebiri, Osarheimen Osunbor, among others.
It was as if those who were incensed at Oyegun’s weakness as a lamb preferred the strong he-goat like presence of Oshiomhole, because the odour of his activist bent came off during the last Osun State governorship primary.Despite the protestations of party faithful and stakeholders in Osun, the national chairman railroaded his direct primary initiative. As such, after Osun was won and lost, it left the impression among some APC members that the former labour leader was Asiwaju’s man Friday.
From Osun through Oyo, Zamfara, Adamawa, Taraba, Imo and Lagos, among other states, the tales of woe from the party’s governorship primaries defined Oshiomhole’s stint as national chairman.Shortly after the 2019 general election, while Oshiomhole disclosed that all the principal offices in the National Assembly, including chairmanship of committees should be the exclusive preserve of APC lawmakers, some members recalled his verbal darts, especially his declaration of war against former ministers that he would not take their sloppy behaviour the way President Buhari does.
Return Of Ancient Demons
BARELY one month to the inauguration of the ninth National Assembly, analysts say it was not surprising that the ancient demons of internal dissent and lack of cohesion had returned, following another public letter denouncing the chairman’s leadership style.
In a letter to Oshiomhole, APC Deputy National Chairman (North), Senator Lawal Shuaibu, urged the national chairman to resign based on his lack of capacity and strategic deficiencies, stressing that as a critical stakeholder, he was ashamed of “being involved in a project that is currently seen as failing.”
Lawal stated: “It is my honest opinion that your ability to ensure (that) this party flourishes is deficient as you lack the necessary composure and you also don’t possess the capabilities and the requisite experience to run a political party.”Picking holes on the chairman’s bellicosity and unguarded utterances, the deputy national chairman reminded Oshiomhole that “the relationship between party and government are cooperation and collaboration to ensure that programmes are implemented in line with party manifesto, not shouting and giving marching instructions to officials.”
Perhaps speaking out of experience, Oshiomhole’s predecessor, Oyegun explained that “Oshiomhole fails because he lacks the temperament required to run a political party,” regretting that “he engages his mouth before engaging his mind, so he offends party members.”
Built To Relapse
WATCHERS of APC politics insist that just as the ruling party used propaganda and blackmail as weapons of electoral competition, the cycle of leadership instability might continue unless it gives room to democratic selection.However, the influence of godfathers, the real owners of the party, could be the greatest danger facing the party, especially the current calculations about 2023 and post-Buhari era in the party.
Although the initial observations were that APC was not founded as a true political party, most political actors blame former President Jonathan’s ‘naivety’ for allowing the ‘contraption’ to get off the drawing table.But as sources in the party point to a possible easing out of Oshiomhole via appointment as minister of Labour and Employment, there seems to be no end to the musical chair, which the national chairmanship has come to be.
With the exit of the nPDP many a chieftain of APC believe that it would nurture itself to a full-fledged political party, but with the shifty stance of President Buhari, expansionist designs of Tinubu and reactionary disposition of elRufai and some state governor, it is as though the party has rented its soul to godfathers, its ancient demons.