Govs fight NASS’s direct primary stipulations
Events of the past days at the National Secretariat of Nigeria’s governing political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) did much to underscore the point that really, uneasy lies the head that bears a crown.
On Sunday November 21, 2021, the Forum of Progressive Governors (PGF), held a closed-door meeting, which agenda were not unconnected to the fire on the APC mountain.
Although the details of the meeting were kept to their chest, it was gathered that the governors were troubled by a lot of life threatening developments in the party, including the new Electoral Act, which tends to pull the rug off their feet in the control of the party’s machinery and the nagging issue of zoning elective positions in the contemplated National Working Committee (NWC) that would emerge from the anticipated national convention.
Sources said the governors resolved to meet with President Muhammadu Buhari to “iron out some pressing issues regarding APC and the polity.”
Before the governors went into the meeting, a chieftain of the party from Kebbi State, Mallam Salihu Nataro had told The Guardian that the governors are making frantic efforts to prevail on President Buhari to withhold assent to the amended Electoral Bill recently passed by the National Assembly.
Nataro explained that the powerful PGF are trying to use the APC national convention to stymie President Buhari’s resolve to sign the Electoral Bill into law, adding that the governors know that further delay in holding the convention will continue to overheat the party.
While advocating that the party’s Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) should devise other means of funding the convention, Nataro stated: “The APC governors are trying to deceive party members to go behind and elect corrupt and incapable people to contest election during the convention.
“Majority APC members accepted consensus, when it comes to presidential candidates, but for governorship it will not be possible, because of likely manipulation by state chief executives.”
It is obvious that APC federal lawmakers and the Progressive Governors are locked in a game of wits over who holds the greater end of the stakes in the party, particularly regarding who determines of the fate of aspirants to elective offices.
Executive versus Legislative row
The National Assembly resolution to include direct primary in the amended Electoral Act came as huge affront on the state governors, who have been calling the shots in the party, a development that led to Adams Oshiomhole’s ouster for advocating direct mode of candidate selection and enforcing party supremacy.
Above all, APC’s trouble with its internal structures, particularly the extenuating circumstances and power play that prompted the dissolution of the elected National Working Committee (NWC), combine to make things a little bit tough for the party.
In a telephone interview with The Guardian last week, former Deputy National Vice Chairman (South/South) of the party, Chief Hillard Ntufam Etta, blamed the nagging internal crisis in the party on the dissolution of the elected national leadership structure of the party.
Etta spoke, shortly after some security personnel-mostly police men-threw a restraining cordon around the major entry points to the No 40 Blantyre Street headquarters of the party. It was the second time such use of coercive government structures to moderate the free expression of misgivings by some furious party faithful over the manner their party was being run, especially the conduct of elections into the state working committees, will happen.
However, though the recent state congresses reignited the internal contradictions in APC, checks by The Guardian show that a number of considerations are behind the new moves to thrown out the Governor Mai Mala Buni-led Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC).
Following the accusations of high handedness and imperial swagger against the former National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, some highly placed stakeholders resolved that a leader that the governing party required at the period after its second general election victory was one that have calm demeanour and lacking in ambition for ‘the greater office.’
Buni, who was the national secretary of the party before he went on to contest and win the Yobe State governorship election in 2019, served on the Oshiomhole-led NWC that was sacked in 2020. It was the feeling of party insiders that the Yobe State governor fits the bill as an unassuming politician and a member of the elite governors’ caucus of the party.
However, close to two years after the establishment of CECPC and enthronement of the former national secretary as chairman, old problems seem to be conspiring with new irritations to compound the challenges before APC.
Some of the new issues revolve around those angling for the positions of substantive national chairman and the 2023 Presidential ticket of the party, as well as fallouts from the recent state congresses in some states.
THERE are strong forces that are propelled by ambition for the chairmanship. Various interest groups have been lining up to agitate for special considerations for the position of next national chairman.
Prominent among the groups is the forum of Progressive Governors, which believes that the tradition has been set that only a former state governor could occupy the position of national chairman. Already, perhaps in keeping with that sentiment, not less than five former governors have been associated with the aspiration for the position of APC chairman.
They include, immediate past governors of Nasarawa and Zamfara, Senator Tanko Al-Makura and Abdullaziz Yari. Others are, former Gombe State governor and Senator representing Gombe Central District in the Senate, Dr. Danjuma Goje, former governor of Bauchi State, Isa Yuguda and their Borno counterpart, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff.
Based on the aspiration of these former governors to lead APC, frictions have developed in their states, which culminated in the ongoing disputations over the recent nationwide state congresses of the party.
Apart from Borno State, where Senator Sheriff hails, there have been political battles between former governors aspiring for APC chairmanship and incumbents, who think that conceding such crucial party position to their predecessors could damage their second term aspiration.
The incumbent governors cite the recent case between Oshiomhole and Governor Godwin Obaseki, to stand against the possibility of having the next APC national chairman coming from their states.
That could explain the confrontation between Senator Goje and Governor Muhammed Inuwa Wada in Gombe, just as Governor Abdullahi Sule and Senator Al Makura have been managing their perceived political differences quietly. However, sources confided in The Guardian that the appointment of Senator Abdullahi Adamu, himself a former governor of Nasarawa State, as chairman of APC National Reconciliation Committee, was intended to throw obstacles along the path of Senator Al Makura.
While in office as governor, Senator Al Makura was said to have stoked some political challenges for his predecessor, who is also the Senator representing Nasarawa North Senatorial District, including inciting a case at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Nonetheless, the situation in Zamfara State seems to be more obtuse. For instance, it was gathered that the belief in some quarters that the cross over by Governor Bello Matawalle from the national opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to APC was orchestrated by those who did not want the former chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Yari, to come near the post of national chairman.
Ever since Governor Matawalle joined APC, which necessitated the rescheduling of the party’s congress in Zamfara, the governor has been at daggers drawn with former Governor Yari and Senator Kabiru Marafa over the control of the state structure of APC.
Although former Governor Yari has been subdued in his distaste for Governor Matawalle’s take over of Zamfara State APC structure, Senator Marafa has allowed caution to be blown away by the party’s wind of confusion.
Appearing on a Television programme last week, the Senator, who represented Zamfara Central in the seventh and Eighth Senate dismissed the recent ward congress in Gusau, alleging that the CECPC had earlier announced a postponement.
While threatening to challenge the action in court, the Chemical Engineer-turned politician contended that going ahead with the ward congress after communicating its postponement smacks of ambush and intentional political mischief.
Citing a memo signed by the CECPC Secretary, Senator John James Akpanudoedehe, which communicated the suspension of the exercise, Marafa maintained that the ward congress in Zamfara was null and void.
It was gathered that in the memo dated November 5, 2021, the CECPC secretary informed the chairman, Zamfara State Congress Committee, Ibrahim Kabir Masari, that his committee, which was earlier mandated to conduct the exercise, had been suspended to pave way for further consultations to engender a seamless exercise. The memo was titled, “Suspension of the Ward Congress Committee of Zamfara State.”
Senator Marafa argued that since the Electoral Act 2010 as amended, stipulated a 21-day notice to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), there was no way a ward congress that held the next day after informing the electoral body could stand.
He added that the recourse to ambush by the CECPC prompted a parallel congress by his group, stressing, “Since we weren’t given the notice, I opted to hold my own congress and elect my own leaders.”
While the state governors and aspirants for the post of national chairman continue their mind games over the control of APC structure, some law makers, who are believed to be peevish about the governors’ overbearing swagger in the party, insist on a level playground in the search for the next APC national chairman.
The Guardian learnt that some federal lawmakers, who are warming up for a fight with the state governors, were behind the group called Concerned APC Stakeholders, which called for Buni’s immediate resignation as chairman of CECPC. The group accused the Buni interim management committee of causing more troubles for APC than it was brought in to solve.
Leader of the group, Mr Ayo Oyelowo, who addressed a press conference in Abuja, said his group decided to call for the immediate dismantling of the CECPC so as to pave the way for a genuine reconstruction of the party, even as he claimed that the committee has failed woefully to manage the affairs of APC.
Oyelowo stated: “The Caretaker Committee has conducted what is arguably the worst ward, local government and state congresses since the formation of the party in 2013. These congresses, rather than putting the party on strong footings have created further divisions and disenchantment among its members.
“Only days ago, stakeholders of the party from Bauchi State protested at the party’s headquarters as a direct fallout of the congresses. In the same vein, the attempt by the leadership of the party to reconcile stakeholders from Oyo State hit a brick wall right inside the party headquarters.
“Similar circumstances are also being witnessed in Osun and some other states simply because the processes were built on very shaky foundations and the outcome designed to favour certain selected individuals in the party. Another crystal clear evidence of the failure of the Caretaker Committee is the outcome of the Anambra gubernatorial election.
“While it is sad that the APC came a dismal third in an election it had every chance of winning, it would have been a magic if the party had performed better than it did, especially considering that the candidate of the party, Senator Andy Uba emerged through a process that was completely strange to the ideals of the APC.”
CECPC’s Debatable Status
A pertinent issue at the core of APC’s leadership crises is the status of the CECPC. On June 25, 2020, at a meeting of what was sold as APC National Executive Council (NEC) at the Presidential Villa, the Oshiomhole-led NWC was dissolved and in its place the Buni-led CECPC was set up.
In a statement after the meeting, it was explained that the decision to sack the NWC and set up a caretaker committee was sequel to recommendations by the leader of the party, President Muhammadu Buhari.
After the members of the CECPC were announced and Yobe State governor, Buni, made the chairman, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami SAN, administered the oath of office on them at the Federal Executive Council chambers.
President Buhari, in his remarks at the occasion, pleaded with aggrieved members that took the party to court to withdraw their litigations, stressing the need for strong cohesion in the party, since according to him, gains made by APC could be reversed if conflicts are allowed to override its primary objective of delivering quality governance to Nigerians.
He urged the CECPC to confront the issues propelling strife, pointing out that there was no doubt that “the fortunes of the party are currently in jeopardy; administration of our party is becoming impossible. There is therefore an urgent need for immediate intervention to arrest further drift and internal wrangling that may lead to total disintegration.”
But, a member of the dissolved NWC, Chief Hillard Etta, who went to court to challenge the dismantling of the elected leadership structure, insists that the CECPC is an illegal contraption.
Etta’s claims gained traction immediately the Supreme Court observed that the party would have lost the Ondo State governorship if Governor Buni was joined by PDP in its election petition against Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, based on the APC Constitution, which it stated did not envisage that a state governor should be saddled with another executive function.
The former Deputy National Vice Chairman (South), Hillard Etta, told The Guardian that APC is troubled by its recourse to injustice.
He stated: “I have said this before and I will continue to say it. If you sow the wind, you reap the whirlwind. Injustice begets injustice, it begets violence and all matters that are uninteresting.
“I cannot be approbating and reprobating. But, I have said it over and over again, that until the Supreme Court of the land tells me otherwise, the CECPC is an illegal contraption, unconstitutional and unlawful. That is my position and there is no other way to describe that contraption.”
On the general perception that the CECPC led by Governor Mai Mala Buni of Yobe State was put together as an ad hoc committee instead of a full-fledged NWC, Etta said it was not correct to describe the meeting at the Presidential Villa in June of last year where the APC NWC was sacked as a meeting of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party.
“My own position is that the so-called NEC meeting at the Presidential villa was not the NEC of the party. That is the crux of the matter. It was not an APC NEC. If you go to the constitution of the party, you will see how a proper APC NEC meeting is convened. That meeting at the villa was not convened in accordance with the constitution of the party.
“It was not the intendment of the framers of the APC Constitution that a few friends of the President and hangers on in the Presidency should gather at the Villa and call that the National Executive Committee meeting of the party. The question is, was that the NEC of the party? Certainly, no,” he declared.
It would be recalled that in March 2020, during a NEC meeting at the party’s national secretariat, President Muhammadu Buhari had enjoined APC faithful to do all in their power to ensure that the party does not become history at the end of his tenure in 2023.
Etta stated: “I think the President made a very important statement in his tour of duty as the President of Nigeria. For me the President made very remarkable statement and it must not be taken with a pinch of salt. We must be very careful that the party does not become history after 2023. That statement or prediction becomes very germane now. We need to walk our talk, it is lazy to talk the talk, we need to walk the talk.”
Healing The Rift
WHILE moves against the Buni Committee continue, Chairman of the party’s nine-man reconciliation committee, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, urged party faithful to show restraint in their expression of anger.
Senator Adamu told The Guardian in an exclusive interview that his committee is not leaving any stone unturned in its determination to resolve all areas of misunderstanding within the party so that that its forthcoming national convention would throw up a strong and united APC in readiness for the 2023 general elections.
The former Nasarawa State governor said the Buni-led committee has been able pilot the affairs of the party to ensure stability, just as he appreciated the committee for seeing the members of his committee as “fit and proper persons that will do the job of reconciliation.
“It is their conviction that the nine of us understand the extent of the problem that brought about the need to establish the committee at all. I thank the leadership of our party for the confidence bestowed upon us.”
Senator Adamu remarked that it is a notorious fact that, like any other party in Nigeria, APC has its share of squabbles within the party’s rank and file, adding that “as we head for the 2023 general elections, no party, if it is worth its name, would want to go into an election year with identifiable problems.”
He stated: “The party (APC) is brave and honest with itself and followership to say yes we have some problems here and there, and we want to take deliberate steps openly to see how best we can resolve the problems identifiable thus far. That is what gave birth to this committee on national reconciliation. It’s our hope that God would give us the wisdom necessary and required to help and resolve conflicting interests within our party.”
On the claims that attempts by state governors to commandeer the party structure is fuelling the crisis, Senator Adamu said, “We are just starting. I would rather get first hand information along with my colleagues as to what has happened and what has not happened and who is complaining about what. Until I am able to assess that, I don’t what to comment on whether any governor is overbearing or not.”
Unless APC sits down to tackle the various issues militating against its cohesion and unity of purpose, its national convention might provide it opportunity to learn the hard way that victory comes with its own challenges.