Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
The battle over who controls the machinery of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) among the gladiators seems to have been strategically won and lost with the Presidential pronouncement backing the former Governor of Edo State Adams Oshiomhole for the party’s chairmanship position.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s body language became more assertive after the London meeting with the quartet of the national leader of the party, Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu, Oshiomhole, the governors of Jigawa state, Abubakar Badaru and Imo State, Owelle Rochas Okorocha.
Before the strategic London summit, what looked like a two-horse race between the incumbent National chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, and kinsman Oshiomhole, for the position was in the former’s favour, with several serving governors, especially of northern extraction, standing solidly behind him.
Oyegun was coasting almost to the finish line with the unflinching support from the national and grassroots party officers and chieftains until the President’s pronouncement swung the tide against him.
The Oyegun camp had been on the drivers seat, winning the battle for the resignation waivers and the composition of the national convention committee, comprising majorly persons loyal to the members of the National Working Committee (NWC).
With the greater membership of the convention committee tilted towards its favour and banking on the promise from larger percentage of the state governors to deliver their delegates, the Oyegun-led NWC were courageously cruising home to the victory of retaining their seats.
However, the chicken seems to have come home to roost with the presidential pronouncement in favour of Oshiomhole.
The bold handwriting on the wall, which became more visible after the joint meeting between the Progressives governors and President Buhari as well as with the NWC within the week, could be rightly interpreted as a won and lost battle.
Tempers had flared during the governors and NWC meeting at the party’s national secretariat, unprintable words were allegedly freely hauled back and forth, and some even walked out of the meeting in anger; but such actions and inactions could exert little or no influence on the decision that had been taken.
The gladiators had deployed their arsenic winning formula before the meetings with the zonal alignment and realignment against them and in their favour. An inkling of who will win the battle started with the conflicting endorsement of the battlers by the South-South geopolitical zone party stakeholders.
While many of the states declared loyalty to Oshiomhole, other remaining few settled for Oyegun to avert what would have been a battle royale at the elective national convention initially scheduled for May 14, 2018.
In fact, furious Oyegun in chiding the biased endorsement against him, had warned the stakeholders that the victory will be fought, won and lost at the Abuja convention ground, not at the state government houses. He indirectly accused Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki of playing a script from his political godfather Oshiomhole.
“It is childish, absolutely childish. The voting is done at the convention ground not in state houses, not in government houses. The Edo State chapter of APC have their reasons for what they did and you have to respect their own reasons, however wrong it is,” a distraught Oyegun said.
“The level of opposition against me from Edo State does not bother me because one of those who want my job is from Edo and as the immediate past governor; he was very instrumental in installing the present governor. So, I think it is a case of rub my back, I rub your back that is playing out,” the angry Oyegun noted.
However, in less than 24 hours after Oyegun’s response to the zonal battle against him, the world finally crumbled on his head and on the heads of his NWC members.
They seem to have lost in all fronts. First was the unfavourable presidential pronouncement against Oyegun and the NWC by extension. Secondly, the directive from the governors to the NWC to review the convention timetable/schedule of activities; and lastly the killer punch that the zonal governors will determine the fate of the national officers.
Confirming the review of the convention timetable, the governor of Kano state, Umar Ganduje, had told newsmen after the meeting that “the governors of the APC in the meeting with the NWC discussed some issues partnering the congresses and the national convention.”
“We discussed the timetable and time limit for the congresses and convention and decided that the NWC should review the timetable because, in the previous one, the Ward and Local Government congresses are too close.
“The NWC has been mandated to review the timetable, and since the programme may fall into the Ramadan period, they should make consultations to know if only one congress can be held during Ramadan while the rest and the national convention come after the Ramadan.
“We also agreed that the zoning arrangement will be maintained for the party’s national officers with the clause that they should go and discuss with those governors in charge of their zones on which state to produce the national officers.
“For example, the Chairman of the party will have to come from the South-South, the Secretary from the North-East, and all other positions like that. We have resolved all issues amicably. The NWC will have to get back to us in a week’s time,” Ganduje said.
Potency of President Buhari’s endorsement of Oshiomhole
Regardless of the back and front debate on the effects of President Buhari’s choice of Oshiomhole may have in determining the final outcome of the convention, the strong signal came with the impression that the exercise had been compromised.
It may not be constitutionally binding on the stakeholders; it may be President Buhari’s personal opinion, but such endorsements in the past had swayed the final outcome of the direction the party eventually took.
During the controversy over the legality and constitutionality of the extension of the tenure of the national and state officers, it took Buhari’s position during the March 27, 2018 National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting to resolve the issue threatening to crumble the ruling party.
Joining the debate, party spokesperson Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi had dispelled such pronouncement having any influence on the outcome of the convention. He had told newsmen after the meeting with the governors that: “What we were told at the meeting was that Mr President met with some governors and they asked to know who he wanted to support, and I think he told them his preferences.
“He is a party member, he has the right to have his preferences, but I don’t get the feelings that he told anyone that this is the person you must support. I don’t think Mr President endorsing Oshiomhole will influence the outcome of the convention.
“The consultation with these governors was a private one. So, if those individuals he confided in felt it was important or necessary to make his position public, I don’t think it will be fair to hold the President responsible for this,” he argued.
Similarly, responding to President Buhari’s imposition of Oshiomhole, the Kano State Governor, said: “There is no imposition at all. Everybody is free to contest just as everybody is free to hold an opinion on who should lead the party. I think that there is no case of imposition, because it is not a guideline and not part of the constitution.
Oyegun throwing in the towel
However, the aim the President set to achieve with the endorsement seems to have worked perfectly as the embattled Oyegun finally caved in to the pressure of sacrificing his position, perhaps for peace to reign within the party.
A member of the NWC told Sunday Sun in Abuja that Oyegun’s decision to quit came after the meeting between the NWC and the governors, adding that despite pressures from governors loyal to him, he has refused to yield to what he described as a trap set to diminish his hard earned integrity.
“He had to resist the pressure from his loyal governors to continue with the race when it became obvious that he could not make the unity list based on the presidency’s pronouncement. In fact, the chairman of the convention committee has been given a stern warning and directive not to issue Oyegun a nomination form.
“It is now certain that Oyegun will not even indicate interest to re-contest because of Buhari’s endorsement. Buhari was very unfair to do this to Oyegun. The old man ran the party under precarious financial constraints and other challenging situations. Buhari never cared about the welfare of the party he rode to victory or even carried the party’s national leadership along,” a NWC member lamented.
“A president who wants to be impartial would have even taken the party’s national chairman into confidence, explain to him why it has become imperative to sacrifice him to keep the stakeholders united with a fresh person. But he never did.
“Just as he shocked everybody with his U-turn on the tenure elongation, he failed to take Oyegun into confidence on his position concerning who becomes the national chairman of the party. He casually sacrificed a man who stood by him throughout his challenging health problem last year. Oyegun does not deserve this cruel treatment from the president.
“Two of his loyal governors had pleaded with him to disregard Buhari’s endorsement even after the meeting with the governors, but Oyegun said he has resolved to quit the race even though he has a substantial number of delegates to vote him back. He was not comfortable with the forces deployed against him,” he quipped.
“One thing very clear is that Chief Oyegun can hold his head very high as he bows out. He maintained a credible record in office. If Oyegun had soiled his hands fraudulently in any way, his traducers would have unleashed security forces to crush him. He ran the secretariat without any impress or financial support from the presidency and/or party stakeholders serving in this government,” he added.
NWC members future hanging in the balance
With Oyegun’s future sealed and waiting for delivery, the fortune of the members of the NWC currently hangs in the balance. In fact, a particular governor had, while fighting dirty, told a national officer from his state that he is the reason he is antagonising and fighting Oyegun.
The governor, according to sources present during the last meeting between the governors and the NWC, had told Oyegun plainly that he has nothing personal against him but to break the strong bond with the national officer from his state.
“What looks obvious is that it will take divine intervention for the national treasurer, for example, at crossroads with the governor of Kano State, to return. The same situation confronts the National Organising Secretary, Sen Osita Izunaso, at daggers drawn with the governor of Imo state, Owelle Rochas Okorocha.
“The members of the NWC are genuinely concerned about Oyegun’s future because their future is directly linked to his. His predicament will certainly rub-off on them too.
“The situation is even more precarious to them, considering the clause by the convention committee that most of the elections may end by consensus. The implication is that the same cabal will determine who retains his or her positions.
“This is not a healthy development for a party pontificating internal democracy. The impunity that destroyed the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is rearing its ugly head in the APC now. I just hope that all of us will not be the losers. I just hope it will not turn a pyrrhic victory for the winners,” the source warned.
Total victory for Tinubu
The unhealthy rivalries between Oyegun and Tinubu which started last year seems to have ended in favour of the national leader of the party. With Oshiomhole likely to emerge as the party’s National Chairman, Tinubu has directly and indirectly taken over the machinery and structure of the party.
To stamp his authority, he has fired the first servo to the Lagos State leadership of the party, ordering them not to bother re-contesting the state congress. He has also allegedly drafted the unity list of the future national officers ahead of the national convention.
“There is no doubt that Asiwaju Tinubu has taken over the driving seat. Understandably, it is because the Presidency has seen his indispensability in ensuring APC’s victory in the 2019 General Elections. I heard that he supervised the drafted unity list for the national convention.
“I hope it will not turn a pyrrhic victory. My biggest fear is that Asiwaju’s triumph may erode the confidence of the party chieftains, especially the state chairmen solidly behind Oyegun,” a party chieftain who pleaded anonymity argued.
Modu Sheriff’s political structure to checkmate Tinubu
With the controversial collapse of the political structure of the former PDP factional chairman, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff (SAS), into the APC, tongues have started wagging that the main mission was to whittle down Asiwaju’s perceived overbearing influence on the party structure.
In the calculations of some northern governors and other party chieftains of northern extraction, SAS remains one of the northern politician’s with the clout and influence to match Asiwaju force for force in the effort to check him from bearing an overriding influence on the party.
Already, his team, endorsed by Oyegun, SGF Boss Mustapha and the three governors that received them into the party in Abuja within the week, has been integrated into the party and directed to contest any position.
“You are men of quality and so it is easy to fit into the populace and play your role in the APC. We are going to start the process of congresses and primaries in a couple of weeks and our constitution made it quite clear that the day you join, you become a full member. So, those of you who have ambition and are popular at the grassroots will be able to immediately participate and be able to integrate as quickly as possible,” Oyegun said.
“I want to thank you for taking this bold decision and to assure you that you have come home, and some of you will have cause to play politics together at different levels. I believe that by the virtue of the calibre of person you are, you will add value to the APC,” Mustapha said.