Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Vanessa Obioha write that many members of the All Progressives Congress are not comfortable with the proposed February 2022 date for the party’s national convention
After a series of back and forth, the ruling party All Progressives Congress (APC) announced last week that its national convention will take place in February 2022. But the decision was not based on consensus. Rather the much anticipated national convention of the APC was reportedly on the approval of one person: President, Muhammadu Buhari. While this is clearly a departure from democratic norms of concensus building with a view to gaining participation of the majority, it has become accepted in Nigeria’s peculiar kind of democracy that the official at the top of the decision making triangle is accorded wooly courtesies, many times in contravention of the statutes.
Chairman of the Progressives Governors’ Forum and Governor of Kebbi State, Atiku Bagudu had last week told newsmen that the governors having considered that four states are yet to have their congresses, made inputs and sought the consent of the President for the agreed time, although venue and specific date are still undisclosed. These have created more doubts, as the selection process for APC officials, right from the ward, to the local government and state chapters have been riddled with deep and intractable crises, I almost every state.
APC CECPC Swims in Controversy
Bagudu’s revelation suggests a modus operandi that does not speak well of the party’s values and tenets. It begs the question of why the convention of the party should be at the behest of the President. Of course, he is the leader of the party and considered a first among equals, but he, like other members of the party, has only one vote. However, it should be pointed out that Buhari is the lone, even if, precarious string that holds the different, sharp and unyielding tendencies in the APC together. It was Buhari’s enigma that resolved the feud that nearly ruined the party last year. After several failed attempts to bring warring groups together, with different persons claiming leadership of the party, the President stepped in with the Yobe State Governor Mai Mala Buni-led Caretaker and Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee. Unknown to the party constitution, it was originally a six-month tenure. Many influential members like its first National Chairman and former Governor of Osun State, Chief Bisi Akande voiced their resentment, mainly because they think the CECPC is an illegality and its actions cannot stand legal scrutiny, partly because Buni, according to them, is forbidden by law from holding two executive positions, in this case, Governor of Yobe State and National Chairman of the APC.
However, supporters of the President’s action led by the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN) hold a different position. They maintain that nothing in the constitution of the party stops it from appointing persons to carry specific assignments on ad-hoc basis.
The makeup of any political party is that the majority carries the vote. Not only does this allow others to make input but it gives room for internal democracy. Leaving the ultimate decision in the hands of one person, and in this case, the President gives a sign that the party, after all, does not practice democracy as it laboriously preaches. Rather, it portends that the party is ruled by one-man which indicates autocracy.
Since the announcement of the agreed time for the convention, underlying issues that were once ignored have come to the fore. One of such pressing matters is the tenure of the Chairman of the party’s National Caretaker Committee, Mai Mala Buni. Buni who is also the governor of Yobe State has held on to this executive role since the former party National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole left the party with his tail between his legs.
In June 2020, the APC, desperate to calm the turbulence rocking the party and save it from implosion, set up an interim committee, the Caretaker and Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) which was saddled with the responsibility of steering the activities of the party for an initial period of six months and also to prepare and conduct the party’s national convention. Buni, who served as the party’s national secretary before he became the Number One citizen of Yobe, was elected chairman of the committee.
By the expiration of the six-month tenure, the interim committee/extraordinary convention committee was extended for another six months on December 8, 2020, during a national executive meeting of the party.
Buni Has No Plan to Leave
Again, June 2021 saw another indefinite extension till the party’s convention.
And by scheduling the convention in February 2022, it will only mean that the Governor has no intention of leaving his position. Perhaps, his staying power can be attributed to the President’s believe that he indeed possesses the charisma and skills to unite aggrieved members of the party, even though the thought can be easily dismissed following the growing number of factions in the party at the state level. If one should take into consideration his ability to win over major politicians in the country from the opposition to the ruling APC including some state governors into consideration, Buni may as well be handed a decorative garland.
But Buni’s leadership has not been without hiccups. Calls for his sack by both the opposition party People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and members of APC were recorded this year. Following the fallout in the APC Congress in Delta State, a high court restrained Buni from carrying out his duty as the Chairman of the NWC.
The PDP likewise urged an Abuja court to dismiss Buni, arguing that combining the governor’s office with another executive position is a constitutional violation.
Despite the argument by various critics, it is unlikely that Buni will vacate his position anytime soon as he is heavily favoured by the President. Buhari is likely to hand over the reins to Buni to choose who his successor will be but if that should happen, it will deepen the cracks in the party.
Increasing Disputes in APC-Controlled States
The President has so far not succeeded in keeping the house in one piece despite Buni’s glowing performance. The party still suffers internal disputes in many states. At least, about 13 states are experiencing one tussle or the other.
In fact, it is reported that aggrieved members from Lagos, Zamfara, Taraba and Kaduna states are beginning to call off the bluff of the party which mandated that no member should take the party to court by filing cases against the party leadership at both state and national levels. Most of the cases challenged the legitimacy of Buni-led NWC and called for their immediate sack. This is somehow expected and will spell more doom for the party since its convention is just a year before the general elections in 2023. No doubt, the president is not in all members’ good books and since he is leaving, it is not inevitable that many will not care whose ox is gored and go ahead with their threats. It is possible then that the party may not be glued together once Buhari leaves office and the prophecies about the party’s implosion may eventually become a reality, that is if it doesn’t happen before the convention. Reports are suggesting that the party’s existence in Taraba is nearing extinction.
Presently, not all party members are comfortable with the February date as Buni’s leadership is still in contention.
With too many factions in states, the party’s Reconciliation Committee is confident that the party’s conflicts would be resolved before the convention, even as many see the February slot as a delay tactic by Buni.
New Challenge for APC National Chairmanship
However, the new timetable for the convention has thrown open the contest for the national chairmanship of the party. From all indications, the post is likely to go to the north as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) may have dictated the direction with its election of Dr. Iyorchia Ayu from Benue State as its National Chairman. Already, interested aspirants who have thrown their hats into the ring are all from the north. They are a curious mix that suggests a tussle between older and younger politicians. With the clamour for youthful leadership in the country, aspirants like Saliu Mustapha, the Turaki of Ilorin, Kwara State, are betting on their youthfulness to appeal to the party to consider him the best candidate for the job. Others who belong to the younger set include Sunny Moniedafe from Adamawa, Muhammed Bello from Taraba, Senator Sani Musa and Muhammed Etsu from Niger.
For the older generation, Senator George Akume, Senator Danjuma Goje, Senator Tanko Al-Makura, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, Senator Kashim Shettima, Senator Abdulaziz Yari and Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, make the list. And who knows, Buni may also join the contest.
Even with the northern zoning, it however does not guarantee that the presidency will be zoned to the south, a goal the Southern Governors Forum has pursued aggressively. Moreover, the groundswell in PDP is pointing to an Atiku ticket for the 2023 presidency. If he eventually gets it from the PDP which is likely to hold its convention before the APC, the latter may be influenced to tow a similar path. The outcome of such decisions will impact negatively on the clamour of the SGF to have the presidency zoned to the south.