APC Chairmanship: ‘Legacy’ parties, chieftains in last-ditch battle

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By Chidi Obineche

As the National convention of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC to recompose the National Executive Committee, NEC on March 26, 2022 draws nearer, the party has stealthily slipped into a complex and multi- faceted crises that may make or mar it before the February 25, 2023 presidential election. At the core of the unprecedented crises is who controls the party power machine. The desperation, maneuvers, and machinations have already sent heads rolling and appear set to unclog the levers that brought it to power nearly eight years ago. The build up to the crises which  began more than two years ago leading to the setting up of the  Caretaker/ Extraordinary  Convention  Planning Committee( CECPC) led by Yobe State governor, Mallam  Mai Bala Buni is getting messier as the days roll by. Down the line and despite the goal in sight, the party has struggled ad- infinitum to organise a convention. Party structures have been largely compromised or nonexistent, the Progressive Governors Forum polarized, influential chieftains hijacked and a resort to Machiavellian instincts have taken the upswing as everyone heads to battle. The party reels under heavy onslaughts from all corners for control as the centre can no longer hold.  It is feared that if urgent measures for restraint are not urgently taken to arrest the drift, the party which swept to power on a high may be heading down the precipice.

  The sudden removal of the chairman of the CECPC, Buni and his replacement with Niger State governor, Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello, together with the forced resignation of the secretary, Dr Akpan Udoehehe is the thaw for the meltdown.

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The meltdown

Facing multiple arduous hurdles  towards peace and cohesion, everyone appears poised for a showdown. The president, Muhammadu Buhari is in the mix. The men-at arms are undoing each other fighting to get the nod and acquiescence of Buhari for their choices and preferences. Each hold on the apparatus is as slippery as shifting sands. A former military strategist, Col Tony Nyiam had earlier warned of a possible implosion in the party if the brakes were not applied on the road it was visibly cascading. He said: “the party as you know was a child of circumstance. Many people from different background and political persuasions came together and the single objective was to send President Goodluck Jonathan away and takeover. Having achieved that feat, one would have thought that the paramount thing to do would have been to tread cautiously, mend fences and have a bigger and better picture of the party in sight. The vision was circumvented and that is why the party is rumbling along.” The magic wand of Buhari in holding the party together is apparently waning. Those who lose out in the bid to get him to their side are now openly defying him, a situation that was hitherto unheard of. Buni was accused of planning a pre- determined convention that will cede power to a Chairman amenable to the presidential aspirations of his aspirant of choice. Many hands pointed to former Lagos State governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, while others looked in the direction of Vice president Yemi Osinbajo. And to hook, a possible postponement of the national convention was plotted but was allegedly thwarted by the opposing camp who ambushed the president and got him to boot Buni out without recourse to the constitution and processes of the party. Attempts by some powerful insiders in the presidency to sway the president to follow the path of due process and constitutionalism met a brick wall. The current position which opened a fresh vista of legal hostilities to be exploited is in the offing, Daily Sun learnt at the weekend. There are also looming fears of suspensions and possible expulsions if “the president’s directives are continually defied.  A hurried convening of the NEC( National Executive Committee) of the party  which is the proper body that is constitutionally saddled with the task of making such changes  was snuffed out when INEC insisted it would not be part of it unless  the letter inviting the electoral body as observer was signed by Buni and Udoehehe. In the meantime, all the structures and powerful caucuses of the party are divided between Buhari and Tinubu and to a lesser extent Vice president Yemi Osibanjo. Presidential aspirants from the South east, it was gathered, have little hold on any feasible party structure and are instead mainly clinging to Buhari”s wand and the grace that may be offered by God if the presidency is micro- zoned to the South east.  Former Speaker of the Enugu State House of Assembly, Chief Eugene Odo in an interview recently expressed optimism that the presidency which has already been zoned to the South will eventually be ceded to the South east which is the only zone yet to taste the presidency of the nation. He said:” By the time the party pigeon – holes it to a particular geo- political zone or zones, discussions will ensue from there.” He however ruled out a possible death of the party in the zone if the presidential slot is not zoned to the South east. Despite the current wrangling in the party, there are growing enlightened speculations that the hardliners fronting as decision makers may have effectively sealed the presidential slot to the South west. This position, it is believed is at variance with the unfolding power  changes in the party. The Achilles – heels of the South east lie within the zone as those who should push for it prefer to subordinate the quest to their personal ambitions for top positions within the party and government.

How the party is arrayed

Buhari’s early release of his pre- disposition to possible occupants of  certain party high offices appears to be the most single catalyst for the festering crises. Pundits are of the view that a delayed pointer to where his interest lies could have saved the party much heat for now. Today, out of the 22 governors of the party, about 15 of them are solidly behind former Nassarawa governor, Senator Al- Makura for the party chairmanship. The remaining 7 are queuing behind his predecessor in office, Senator Abdullahi Adamu. While Buhari and many power blocs in the presidency are tilted towards Adamu, the support for Adamu from frontline presidential aspirant, Tinubu may be a clog in the wheel in its materialization. Going by convention, the governors hold the ace in determining where the pendulum swings in indirect primaries unless they are forced to kowtow to the wishes of the president. With the president and most of the governors serving out their term limits in office next year, the governors may dare the president and go for their independent choice. On this, Daily Sun can authoritatively report that the stance of the governors flow from their disdain for Tinubu’s vaulting presidential ambition,  who many  claim has been “extremely overbearing in the last few years and may become even more overbearing if his candidate gets the  nod.” He is also believed to have stepped on the toes of some of them when they were in the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN. The counterpoise is that he has also helped many politicians to attain their heights in politics, either as president, vice president, governors, legislators, party officials etc. He deployed his networks across the nation and his fabled wealth in the attainment of these goals. Observers say his early formal intimation of the president of his ambition to do the presidential race remains the main stabilizer in the pursuit of his dream. The ploy was designed to cage the president and make him refrain from early support for another aspirant. An APC chieftain, Chief Ozor Mgbamalu described it as “hoodwink at its best” and a “smart run of play in politics”. His networks are firmly in the South-west, North central, north –east and North- west. He shares the four zones in the North with former Abia state governor, Dr Orji Uzor Kalu who is also strong in the South –east , his home base. The president is keeping his support for a presidential aspirant close to his chest, but the coincidence of the president’s and Tinubu’s support for Adamu has sent tongues wagging. The president’s obvious non- approval of Tanko Al Makura for the chairmanship seat,  in spite of the fact that he has been his long standing political son and as the only governor of the Congress for 

Political Change, CPC is  believed to be part of the grand design to pave way for a Tinubu presidency. Encouraged by these indices, Tinubu has in the past weeks intensified his campaigns nationwide,  deepening the crises and feigning oblivious of the mood of the party and the causes of the simmering crises.  Most of his co-aspirants in the party are yet to set their campaign machinery in full motion, leaving him as the well positioned character in a box office flick. Pronto, several tendencies have emerged on the scene with varying weights to seek to approximate the gains of the confusion in the absence of a Board of Trustees, BOT, and the National Caucus since the formation of the party. The absence of these two powerful organs has led to a preponderance of crises, ultra- constitutional posturing in heavy matters of party and government as well as ineffectual mediation in the resolution of feuds. Some of these tendencies that are sprawling within the party include class of 99’ governors, integrity group, People against Impunity, Mandate for Change, etc.. Within the APC, the notion that the presidency will be taken to the South west is seen generally by hordes of his foot soldiers and supporters as gravitas and which has also accelerated the push by the “Jagaban” to oil more his presidential machinery.  These foot soldiers  have yet to  situate the  shove that may likely come from Osinbajo”s yet to be lit camp, and the burgeoning  interest from Ekiti state governor, though it was learnt that the later may have sheathed his ambition after a meeting with the ebullient  kingmaker in Lagos sometime last month. In the event of a split in support from the South- west, bookmakers are counting on the support that will be garnered from Borno, Zamfara , Nassarawa and Benue to make-up. His network in these states is said to be awesome. In Lagos, the centerpiece of his legendary king making ,there is an emergent erosion of his grip on power with the formation of “ Lagos For Lagos “  movement led by  Abdul Azzez Adediran , aka” Jandor”who  have mobilized over 6000 party faithful to challenge the political hegemony of the “Jagaban “ in Lagos State. They had made series of moves in vain to sack the caretaker committee of the party in the state led by Chief Tunde Balogun. Unarguably, this is the heaviest punch to Tinubu’s iron- clad hold on Lagos politics. Already the group has sailed into PDP further taking the sails off Tinubu’s strong Lagos machinery as the bend to the party’s national convention comes within sight.

An axe to grind – defections loom

With the spiraling hold on the party by a few individuals and groups, a feeling of disenchantment has crept in. Those who are unhappy with the evolving situation are studying it carefully and waiting for the final grind which is the national convention to strike.  The plan is to defect en -masse to rival political parties and the opposition People Democratic Party, PDP may likely be the destination point. The legacy parties which formed the nucleus of the formation of the APC are in disarray with each pursuing its own agenda.  Buhari’s CPC is no longer cohesive and its support for an aspirant is atomistic. The party has equally shriven with many walking out for other pursuits when they failed to be accommodated after the famous 2015 victory. Those still remaining are contented with toeing the path of and supporting Buhari in all aspirations. Their grouses resonate with the axiom on politics by Harold D. Lasswell  which states that politics is about “ who gets what, when and how”. Flies will always converge where honey is.  A national chairmanship aspirant and senator representing Niger East, Sani Musa has however said that the legacy parties no longer exist and are inconsequential in calculations. “We have had the legacy parties; The All Nigeria Peoples Party(ANPP, CPC  and Action Congress of Nigeria,(ACN) and a fraction of  APGA. The first three parties are defunct parties. What we now have is APC.” While this may be true of CPC, ANPP and APGA, the ACN in principle and practice has remained staunch and preserved for the political future of its founder, Asiwaju Tinubu. It played a prime role in the current zoning of political offices by the party.  In the approximation of executive positions in Buhari’s government, it holds a slight edge over CPC. Ahead of the March 26 National Convention, the CPC and ACN blocs are in a frenetic battle for the soul of the party. It was a wedge in the grand plan to zone the party offices. The ACN managed to bludgeon the CPC out, based on their numerical strength,  power of elocution/persuasion, better cohesion  and convivial politics. Again, the  verbal understanding that the next president on the platform of the party will come from the South west because of their support and alliance with the North to make Buhari president in 2015 came to the fore. Nothing else counts. Not even the vexed issue of equity, justice and alleged marginalization of the South-east came in to alter the understanding.

The  nPDP  which joined the granite coalition before the 2015 election and were given ministerial positions including the senate leadership is no longer strong as most of them have returned to the PDP. With their shrinkage, the ACN has waxed even stronger, getting more entrenched than the CPC. Apart from the Vice- presidency, they have held spells in party chairmanship through Adams Oshiomhole. The new thrust is to produce the president. These challenges have been daunting for the APC, threatening at some levels to destroy the party. On current standing, apart from Buhari, the ACN bloc is the most formidable and stands a clear chance in throwing up a chairman for the party, and perhaps, the presidential standard bearer. But the bloc must have to contend with the intrusion of the highly acclaimed Redeemed Christian Church of God into politics and the melo- drama therefrom. The church, last week set up a committee known as “political and Governance Committee. It is strongly believed that the committee which was set up by the General Overseer, Pastor Enoch Adeboye is  to midwife the presidential ambition of  Osinbajo,  the vice president and a pastor in its fold. This is the first time in Nigeria that a church of its size and reputation will be making a formal entry into partisan politics. It has always been the leader of the church dragging the church into partisan politics when they are involved. The Redeemed Christian Church of God, RCCG is a Pentecostal mega church. It has an average of 100,000 people in Lagos and over five million membership nationwide and about 32000 parishes. The church is also financially solvent and can successfully prosecute its causes without seeking for help. Added to this is that it has its stronghold in the South west which is also Tinubu’s political base. This development is a masterstroke that has the capacity of neutralizing Tinubu’s stranglehold in the South west, and with the seeming spurning of the South east  in his political calculations, the South east fields will be left quite open for harvesting by his rivals and will be a sure decapitation of his strength. The entire four geo- political zones in the North will be left for him and former governor of Abia State and current Chief Whip of the senate, Kalu as open battle field if the  slot is not micro- zoned to the South west, as has been touted. Kalu, like him has impressive networks in the North.

The Redeeming Feature   

With the situation on the ground, leaders of the party are proposing a mutual agreement on one of the chairmanship aspirants which they will communicate to the president for his acquiescence before the convention. In reaching this truce, the understanding is to avoid an election that may throw the party into chaos and ruin their chances of returning to power in the 2023 general elections. If this plan pans out, a delegation comprising a member from each bloc together with representatives of the Progressive Governors Forum,(PGF) and    CEPCPC will proceed to meet the president wherever he may be and persuade him to accept their popular choice to avoid a combustion. The move has been carefully and methodically worked out to save the party from further schisms and advance its 2023 electoral race.