Ismail Omipidan and Fred Itua
“DEMOCRACY is hypocrisy without limitation.”
The above quote from the first President of Pakistan, Iskander Mirza, appears apt in describing what transpired at the June 23 national convention of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), where new members of the party’s National Working Committee (NWC), were elected.
Having earlier came hard on the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in December last year for adopting a “Unity List” at its national convention, which guided delegates in deciding who to vote for, many Nigerians had looked forward to APC setting the standard by doing its own differently.
But seeing what transpired at the convention ground where some candidates were literaly compelled and blackmailed to pull out of the race following the emergence of a “Unity List,” like it happened during the PDP’s convention, pundits are of the view that there are probably no difference between the APC and the PDP, especially as it relates to internal democracy within the party.
However, while the PDP appears to be moving away from its mistakes of the past which inevitably cost it the 2015 elections, APC, daily appears to be embracing “those bad habits of PDP of the past.”
A chieftain of the party and a serving senator, Suleiman Hunkuyi, who is likely to dump the party any time soon, lend credence to the above fact in an interview with Daily Sun shortly before the party’s convention.
He said” the party, I agree with you has been apt and in some cases, callous and in some cases again, we are trying to fall into the same ditch that PDP is now trying to jump out from. If PDP will come to say ‘we apologise for doing this or for doing that,’ that means they have learnt from their mistakes. That was the type of step APC must take to avoid the same mistakes because we know that was a pitfall that the PDP just came out from. Can’t the APC that has benefited from that mistake learn from it as well?”
Hunkuyi further said “I have said this before in my last interview with you before this that APC is trying to copy part of the pitfalls of what the PDP imbibed and which led to its defeat at the poll in 2015. Today, the best we can do to win our followers and other Nigerians is to be democratic. But what we have seen over the weeks and months is that some governors, my governor in particular, Nasir El-Rufai, who is the head of the party in the state as it were, and the leadership of the party are trying not to allow Nigerians and party members to exercise their franchise. They don’t want congresses, they don’t want elections. Election is democratic while affirmation is for a few individuals imposing themselves on the general public, on the card-carrying members of our party. It should not be done.”
On the day of the convention however, Hunkuyi and the army of his supporters did not come near the Eagle Square, venue of the party’s national convention. He was not alone. Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso, former Kano State governor also stayed away. He later revealed that if he and his supporters had forced their way there, what happened at the Imo and Delta pavilions respectively, where
factions of the party engaged themselves in fierce physical combat would have been small compared to what would be recorded at the Kano State pavilion. Senator Kabiru Marafa from Zamfara and his supporters who were courageous enough to attend the convention were shut out.
If therefore the convention was meant to heal wounds and unite party members, pundits insist that the objective was far from being achieved, as the delay in catching flights from Dubai to Nigeria by some of the aggrieved members of the party prevented the mass exodus from the party shortly before the convention, it was further gathered.
And even now, investigations further reveal, that there is nothing to suggest that those plotting their exit from the party have dropped the idea.
Regardless, the convention has come and gone. The epic contest for party positions won and lost. However, the story of what happened at the convention will be a subject of discourse for several months to come.
For some people, it was a case of no victor, no vanquish. That notwithstanding, some nerves are yet to be massaged. Candidates, who sustained political bruises, are yet to be appeased and angry losers are yet to get reprieve.
Months before the national convention, APC had been engrossed in series of crises. From the sharp division among the rank and file of the party, over planned tenure elongation by
John Odigie-Oyegun leadership, to the crisis that dogged ward, local and state congresses, the party fought what could pass for the toughest battles since it was registered in 2013, in the build up to the national convention.
While the Odigie-Oyegun -led National Working Committee (NWC) had planned to extend its stay in office, some governors and founding leaders of the party, who had repeatedly resisted the leadership style of the immediate past NWC, insisted that a convention must be held, where new leaders will emerge.
The icing on the cake came from the presidency; a quarter many had thought was favourable disposed to Oyegun retaining his seat. President Muhammadu Buhari, who until he dropped the bombshell by kicking against tenure elongation had rooted for Oyegun’s continuous stay in office, was later to insist that election must be held.
First, he said Oyegun was free to re-contest. With that caveat, APC governors, led by El-Rufai, queued behind Oyegun. But sensing that former Lagos State governor, Bola Tinubu and other stakeholders were not favourably disposed to having Oyegun return as chairman, President Buhari too had to dump Oyegun. And before long, both leaders settled for Oshiomhole. The decision threw some of the governors off the balance, especially those who felt allowing Oshiomhole emerge as party chairman was tantamount to handing the party to Tinubu.
It was however learnt that, because the governors opposed to Oshiomhole were unwilling to against Buhari’s wish, they were said to have grudgingly backed Oshiomhole. In the end, the former Edo State governor emerged unopposed at the convention ground.
Despite the seemingly consensus on Oshiomhole, the crises rocking the party went over the roof. Ward, local government and state congresses, threw up more crises. Different factions emerged from the turbulent congresses. From Imo to Zamfara, Oyo to Rivers States, various factions emerged. The dusts were yet to settle when the party hurriedly held its national convention.
Fisticuffs, protests during convention
The division in the party came to the fore during the convention. President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara are members of the popular new Peoples Democratic Party (nPDP), an aggrieved arm of the APC.
During his remarks, President Buhari left out Saraki and Dogara while acknowledging governors and other stakeholders present at the convention. Except for the out gone chairman, Oyegun, other party leaders who addressed the gathering didn’t recognise Saraki and Dogara either during the opening ceremony.
As expected, the convention was not without hiccups. Drama, protests and intrigues inundated the gathering. Aggrieved members of the party and members of factional state executives protested their exclusion from the convention.
There was a free for all in the Imo and Delta State pavilions as political gladiators from the two states engaged themselves in physical combat.
Similarly, security personnel stopped members of a faction of the Zamfara State APC loyal to Senator Kabiru Marafa from gaining access into the Eagle Square.
Spokesman of the group, Muhammad Bello Bakyasuwa told journalists on the sideline that although they are the authentic delegates from the state, they were denied access by the security personnel.
According to him,”Our faction fulfilled all the requirements for contesting
party positions. While the (Governor) Abdullaziz Yari faction didn’t fulfill the requirements. The Governor Yari faction didn’t pay for the forms for contesting elections to party positions but our
own faction fulfilled all the conditions including the payment for all the nomination forms.
“As you can see we are the majority but the security operatives stopped us from entering the venue of the convention. Right now we don’t know where our chairman is. We will take appropriate action to seek redress. We are dully and legitimate elected executives of APC in Zamfara State. They stopped us because some of our supporters were wearing T-shirts with the photograph of our leader, Senator Kabir Garba Marafa.”
He said the group would explore legal means to ensure that it is recognised as the as the authentic leadership in the Zamfara APC.
New leaders and 2019 elections
The emergence of a former governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole as the new chairman of the party has changed some permutations ahead of the 2019 general elections. Oshiomhole’s emergence may have also halted the planned mass defection of the nPDP members, including Saraki and Dogara.
Unlike Oyegun, who despite several attempts failed to reconcile the warring gladiators of the party, Oshiomhole has vowed to pursue it to a logical conclusion.
Speaking after he was sworn in at the Eagles Square, Oshiomhole promised to accommodate various views and work with different organs of the party to reposition it ahead of the 2019 general elections.
Oshiomhole said unlike the 16 years of the PDP which he claimed, emptied the nation’s treasury, the APC-led government has remained faithful to Nigeria and Nigerians.
“There were winners and losers. But we have congratulated ourselves. We must all work for the good of the party.”
He promised to address the grievances of members of nPDP and other embittered stalwarts of the party. Unlike Buhari, who bluntly refused to acknowledge the leadership of the National Assembly, Oshiomhole recalled the role Saraki and other members of nPDP played during the formative days of APC.
“Saraki and Tambuwal led other members of PDP to join our party. That move was what gave us victory in 2015. We are not unforgetful of that.
“I am aware that there are challenges here and there. The new leaders elected will be able to surmount those challenges. We will find a way to look for a way to resolve these issues. In states where there are crises, we will find a win- win solution.
“I am used to solving challenges. We will organise summits where we will discuss on the way forward. We have the grace and the will to fix our problems. APC will not only be a platform to elect people. We will make it like the ANC of South Africa.
“We are ready to accommodate all the complaints of every member of the party. We can only pay back by ensuring that we rebuild our party as we march towards the 2019 general elections,” a jubilant Oshiomhole, stated.
Signaling what to expect in 2019, Buhari charged the new leaders of the party, to hit the ground running. He said the new chairman and his team will lead the party to victory in 2019.
“At the end of all proceedings, I believe we have put in place an executive that we all can be proud of, one that would lead our party from victory to victory, from progress to progress, and one that Nigerians can be proud of.
“Together, we will all build a cohesive party that will do our country a world of good. In our country, not only the labour of our heroes past shall not be in vain, the labour of the current generation shall also be rewarded. APC will serve Nigeria to the best of our God given abilities, and move our country to its right position in the comity of nations.”
Saraki charges Oshiomhole President of the Senate, Dr Bukola Saraki, seized the occasion to charge
Oshiomhole and his National Working Committee (NWC) to work towards restoring unity to the party.
In a remark at the closing of the party’s convention, Saraki said that as the party looks into the future, the NWC should look back to 2015 and recall how it won against the then ruling PDP.
He noted that some important members of the party were absent at
the convention and that there was the need to bring everybody back on board, adding that the party could replicate the successes of 2015, if party members work together as a team.
The convention did not end without the bashing of former president Olusegun Obasanjo. He was hammered by a leader of the party, Boka Ahmed Tinubu. He described him as “busybody and election rigger.”
Tinubu also recalled how several attempts were made by the last administration to stop the registration of APC. He said 12 cases were instituted against the party to stop its registration.
Tinubu thundered: “Oshiomhole is a true reflection of leadership. The pigs and their fortune tellers predicted that there will be crisis today and that our party will fall apart. I almost changed my name to Thomas because I doubted if we could hold this convention.
“To our party members, remember five years ago. We came together to form a party and we sacked a party that had been in power for 16 years and made our people poorer out of power.
“Then, some people said they didn’t want a General to be president. But we insisted that until we defeat Boko Haram, we must have a General, I remember we had 12 cases in court then, all in a way to stop the APC from coming into fruition. The judiciary stood by us.
“I remembered one General who I call an election rigger. He had the guts to write a letter. He went to the post office to deliver the letter, but was told that we were now using email. We didn’t accept his letter.
“The same General who is a former president is now a ‘busy body’. Who is this former General to tell Buhari not to run? Is he a member of our party? This former General is not a democrat. This same General who removed leaders of the National Assembly through the backdoor is telling our president not to run.
“He used 38 members to remove leaders of the National Assembly. Buhari has not tried to remove the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives. Ask Audu Ogbe how he was removed as PDP chairman at gunpoint.
“Thank God we have been able to stop the 16 years of looting and broken promises of the PDP. We are ready to work with the new leaders of our party. We will work with them or fight them when necessary.”
In all, it was a good outing for the APC. With barely seven months to the 2019 general elections, the campaigns have started. Its candidate is known. But Nigerians are patiently waiting for the PDP and other political parties to unveil their presidential candidates. Will APC make it the second time?