By Chukwudi Nweje
On June 25, 2020, the All Progressives Congress (APC) National Executive Committee (NEC), chaired by President Muhammadu Buhari, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, dissolved the Comrade Adams Oshiomhole- led National working Committee (NWC) because of the near collapse and the continuous dwindling fortunes of the ruling party.
To avoid a vacuum, the NEC constituted a Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee, chaired by Yobe State Governor, Mai Mala Buni.
The committee’s mandate was simple and clear: recover and reposition the party ahead of the 2023 general election.
The Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee was set up after Buni had submitted a timetable for party registration to the NEC.
Briefing reporters at the State House after the meeting, Buni said the approval was in accordance with section 9 (4) of the APC Constitution (October 2014, as amended).
Thereafter, he told newsmen that the had consulted widely with party stakeholders and have keyed into the plan to organise new membership registration.
He added: “The said section 9 (4) provides that ‘a register of members shall be compiled and maintained at the ward level and be transmitted to the secretariat of the party at the local government area, which shall transmit a copy to the state headquarters, national secretariat.”
After a merger of five political parties (Action Congress of Nigeria, Congress for Progressive Change, All Nigeria People’s Party, new Peoples Democratic Party and a faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance led by then governor Rochas Okorocha)), there was only one registration of members in 2014. Six years after (as at December 2020), there wasn’t any updated membership register, despite the party’s Constitution that membership revalidation be done every six months.
A party source told Daily Sun in Abuja, that at the time the revalidation and new membership drive started last year, “the custody of the initial registration register could no longer be traced.”
Thereafter, the Buni committee embarked on a campaign to reconcile genuinely aggrieved party stakeholders, some of whom had left the party before and after the 2019 elections.
Buni committee’s efforts would be appreciated against the backdrop that after the 2019 general election, APC had no elected representative at either the local or national assemblies in Rivers and Zamfara; no thanks to fierce internal party squabbles.
The party’s case in Zamfara was particularly pathetic. APC participated in the 2019 elections in the state, swept the governorship, state and national assemblies’ positions only for the joy to be short-lived when the Supreme Court invalidated the party’s victory at the polls. It was a shocking setback for the party.
In Rivers, there was no chance for the APC to test its strength and popularity at the polls because of the same internal wrangling and litigation.
Elsewhere, where there were no litigation in some states, party hegemony was so fractured that there were reports that party members allegedly either looked the other way or worked for opponents. In Lagos State, a sitting governor was denied the right of first refusal to re-contest.
It should be noted, however, that not every party member was however, enamoured of the exercise and opposition came from the highest quarters and a case in point was from the pioneer chairman of the party and former Osun State governor, Chief Bisi Akande, who described the creation of the Buni-led committee as an “indefensible aberration” and was emphatic that the APC must wake up to the “comprehension and matrix of the modern-day technology.”
On February 3, Akande, who spoke in Ila Orangun, Osun State, insisted that the creation of the caretaker committee was an abnormality.
He stressed that if not controlled or expeditiously managed, the caretaker committee may end up becoming a disgrace.
The party took note of what he said but pressed forward with the exercise, regardless.
Against this backdrop, the Buni committee knew it had an uphill task in reconciling various tendencies in state chapters and also, wooing fresh members to its fold.
To the committee’s credit, the membership drive, which began in December 2020, succeeded in bringing many aggrieved members back to the party when they saw a new hope and confidence in the party under the Caretaker committee.
The biggest fish caught by the Buni committee’s hook was in convincing Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi, to join the APC.
Just last month, the panel also succeeded in bringing to the APC, a former speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole and an icing on the cake for the party was in getting a former governor of Ogun State and former chairman of the Atiku Abubakar Presidential Campaign in 2019, Otunba Gbenga Daniel to join the APC.
Former speaker, Yakubu Dogara, who had left the party before the 2019 elections, was persuaded to return ; to boost APC’s confidence and chances in Bauchi State. Political watchers would remember how he swayed votes for the PDP in his federal constituency in the 2019 governorship election in Bauchi.
Across the River Niger, the Caretaker committee also succeeded in pulling into its fold a former chairman of the PDP, who was also a former senator, Barnabas Gemade.
Not done yet, the committee pulled another big fish in the South East, a former Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Azubuike Ihejirika into the APC.
There is ongoing speculation that the committee’s gaze is firmly set on getting the biggest fish in Nigeria’s contemporary political history, former President Goodluck Jonathan, into the APC.
The Caretaker committee has settled what was seen as irreconcilable differences between stakeholders in Zamfara, Bayelsa and Cross River states. The panel has also, succeeded, in large part, in settling political differences in Rivers State.
This is necessary to ensure everyone is captured and empowered to actively contest and elect leaders of the party.
With the ongoing registration and revalidation of members, APC may yet break the jinx of failed party membership registration and revalidation exercise.
But, it is pertinent to question why the APC is embarking on an aggressive membership drive at this time.
In its wisdom and efforts to reposition the party, the Caretaker committee, in line with article 9(4) of the party, constitution said it embarked on membership registration and revalidation exercise to take stock and establish the numerical strength of the party; to expunge names of those who left APC or had died as well as to register youths who have attained 18 years and above and joined APC.
The exercise is also expected to provide members with opportunity to revalidate their membership, give new entrants opportunity to register to be officially recognised as members, give members ownership of the party and assist the APC in planning processes, especially during congresses, conventions and general elections.
This membership drive by the APC, two years before the next general election is a good chess move which the main opposition party, the PDP has yet to capitalise on.
While some political parties are lackadaisical about growing their membership for the next elections, it is clear that, with this exercise, APC’s strategy is to to garner more votes in 2023.
If APC won the 2019 presidential election with over 15 million votes, it is now clear that the party wants more votes, across board in the next general election; with the revalidation of old members and canvassing for new members, ahead of 2023.
When the exercise is concluded, most political parties can, at best, do catch-up when the final figures are collated.
Daily Sun recalls that registration of new members and revalidation of the old ones started in February this year and was scheduled to last three weeks but, the the party told Nigerians that the sheer number of citizens interested in joining the party made it impossible to complete the registration and revalidation in three weeks; which necessitated an extension.
The second extension of the registration was reportedly occasioned by unforseen problems deliberately created by some people to shut out some new comers considered as rival groups and threat to older members, and to give more members the opportunity to be registered; a senior party official said.
The Buni committee decided to approach the ward, local government and state congresses and the national convention with a clean, authentic and up-to date register as well as ensure collective participation with everyone carried along.
Many believe that what needs to be done, should be done well and
the Caretaker committee needs the support of every party member to complete the registration exercise successfully for APC to remain strong, united and Africa’s largest political party.
Buni’s Director-General, Press and Media Affairs to the Governor, Mamman Mohammed put the exercise in perspective when he told newsmen, at the onset of the exercise, that the party has, through the caretaker committee succeeded in building new confidence among its members and reassuring them of new hope in the party.
“Our focus is to strengthen the party through a bottom-up approach and to carry everyone on board, while those aggrieved have happily rejoined APC just as new ones have joined the party.
“The Caretaker committee has reconciled many aggrieved members and factions across the country including the Zamfara State factions among others and bringing in prominent politicians into APC including Mr. David Umahi, the serving governor of Ebonyi State with more coming,” he added.
If the speculations surrounding the anticipated defections of Jonathan and the governor of Zamfara State, Alhaji Bello Mutawali are anything to go by, they may also be registered before the end of the extension of the exercise.
For now, the Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee under Buni has seemingly rescued the party from an imminent collapse and destruction although no date has yet been set for the party’s convention.
Perhaps, the Buni committee needs time to conclusively reorganise the party before the convention because if it fails to do so, electing new national officers to take charge of the affairs of the party would come to nought if it doesn’t ensure a united, cohesive party before then.