Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
The coast seems to have become very clear for the Governor Mai Mala Buni-led All Progressives Congress (APC) Caretaker/Extra Ordinary National Convention Planning Committee (CEONCPC), shortly after the initial resistance that trailed its composition.
The storm which surged dangerously in the form of legal threats from members of the dissolved Comrade Adams Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee (NWC) and some pockets of party chieftains against the committee to rejuvenate the party appears to have naturally died down.
The ruling party, under the headship of Oshiomhole, was hitherto enmeshed in series of protracted crisis, rancour, mistrust, bitterness, allegations of gross abuse of office, dictatorial tendencies and hi-tech horse-trading, which threatened to wreck it to the very foundation at both the grassroots and national levels.
From the fierce internal wrangling among members of the NWC, the national leadership and the faceoff with some members of the Progressive Governors Forum (PGF) to the resentment among certain chieftains of the party, the APC asphyxiated precariously.
The crises that later culminated in the suspension and eventual sack of the national chairman and the endless struggle over who rightly and legally should be his replacement, had compelled President Muhammadu Buhari through the party’s highest decision-making organ, the National Executive Committee (NEC), to wield the big stick.
At a virtual meeting controversially held at the State House in Abuja, NEC had dissolved the national leadership and constituted the caretaker committee with a clear mandate to restructure the party and put up the process to ensure the emergence of a new leadership through a national convention within a six-month period.
What appeared like an insignificant opposition had hinged their discomfort of the committee on the legality and possibility of the chairman to conveniently combine the strenuous responsibility of piloting the affairs of the party, and also overseeing the hectic governance activities back home in Yobe State.
Although distracted with the doubts over the legal standing of the caretaker committee to endorse correspondences, especially with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), on the pre-election activities for both Edo and Ondo states’ governorship polls, the Buni-led committee made a bold statement by not only authenticating the candidature of Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu as party’s standard bearer, but also successfully concluded the processes of the Ondo State party primary with less rancour, acrimony and litigation.
And springing from that, things had started turning around for the hitherto fractured ruling party. The high traffic of visitors to the party’s national secretariat for various purposes and perhaps the smiles on the faces of the secretariat staff confirmed a return of relative to the party.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic that truncated party activities for few months, current bubbling activities at the secretariat were enough confirmation that the party has bounced back and eclipsed the hitherto posture of a house of commotion that bled under one form of leadership crisis or the other.
APC has actually enjoyed some level of relative peace since the resumption of the caretaker committee.
To confirm that the caretaker committee is on the right trajectory, various reconciliation efforts appeared to be yielding positive results especially in handling the fallout of the Ondo State post party primary crisis by the Governor Mohammed Bello-led reconciliation sub-committee.
To further douse the tension and correct the erroneous speculation that the dissolved national leadership was targeted at whittling down the overwhelming influences and powers of certain party chieftains, the caretaker committee had visited perhaps certain foreseen aggrieved members, beginning with national leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.
Even as there may be some persisting skirmishes among the gladiators, little or nothing has been heard of certain embittered members dumping the party. Interestingly, the relative peace and united house seems to have yielded positive results judging by the return of certain members and chieftains that grudgingly left the ruling party.
Leading the high-profile returnees are the immediate past Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, Benue State political giant, Banabas Gemade, former national officer, Senator Osita Izunaso, Senator Ifeanyi Ararume, among many others.
Linked to his goodwill and network as an incumbent governor, hardly had a day passed without one aggrieved person forgiving the party and reconsidering rejoining it, willingly and persuasively as could be seen in the interface between Governor Buni and his Benue state counterpart, Samuel Ortom.
In fact, it has been such bountiful harvests of returning members that speculations became rife that high profile political leaders like former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, the immediate past Senate President, Bukola Saraki and even party’s former spokesperson, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, are considering staging a comeback to the party simply due to the change in the party leadership.
However, the returnees and intending returnees may not be the most outstanding achievements recorded by the Buni-led caretaker team, considering the efforts that went into rebranding the party’s candidate for the Edo State governorship election, Izy-Iyamu.
Confronted with the earlier speculation that the APC governors would back Godwin Obaseki in solidarity against Izy-Iyamu, considering the vindictive treatment meted to him by Comrade Oshiomhole, Governor Buni and his ‘gang’ had deployed every persuasive tactics to mobilise other colleagues to support the APC candidate and even secure President Buhari’s endorsement of him amidst controversy that his corruption trial discredited him.
Bringing the progressive governors under one united umbrella to support the party’s candidate, the Buni-led caretaker committee assembled heavyweights to make a bold statement during the flag off of the campaign rally for the APC candidate last weekend.
The committee following it with the crack squad constituted as National Campaign Council for both Edo and Ondo states governorship elections was enough validation that genuine peace has indeed returned to the APC fold.
“Under Oshiomhole, it would have been almost practically difficult or impossible to manage the quantum of crises and bitterness that erupted after the conduct of the Ondo State governorship primary. But the gladiators have almost all sheathed their sword and even indicated readiness to support and work with the governor after the intervention of the Buni-led caretaker committee,” a member of the dissolved Oshiomhole-led NWC told Daily Sun in confidence.
Continuing his appraisal, he further noted: “There is no more trust deficit in the party. There is no comparison between the volumes of visitors coming to the secretariat on daily basis now with the rancorous atmosphere witnessed under Oshiomhole’s leadership. With the lively and convivial atmosphere at the secretariat, you don’t need to ask if sanity and peace has returned to the party. Governor Buni is actually on the trajectory to reposition the party.”
Although he dismissed his touted return to the party, former spokesman, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, could not but admit that APC would not have gone for a better person than Governor Buni to reposition the sinking ruling party.
“Well, what I know about Buni is that he is a very focused person. And he is very honest. In fact, I don’t think they would have gotten a better person to manage the situation at the APC this time like him. The truth is that he knows and understands the party very well having worked at the secretariat”, Bolaji Abdullahi quipped in a chat with Daily Sun.
Similarly responding to the inquiry on whether Buni is on the right track to return APC to its progressive ideological tendencies, former national chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun described Buni in a chat with Daily Sun as the best choice for the job.
“My objective view is so far, so good. There is definitely no doubt that the Buni-led caretaker committee is on course. With his experiences in politics, he cannot but succeed. He is a very experienced man and it will count for him. He was one of the closest people to me while I served as the national chairman. I remember always complimenting him that he is wise beyond his age. It was just to show the confidence I have in him”, Oyegun appealed.
Corroborating the views of others, the Director General, Voice of Nigeria (VON), Chief Osita Okechukwu, argued that though it will be difficult to quantify the horrendous losses the party incurred under Oshiomhole, Governor Buni had shown that he knows “all the tendencies, underlining factors and material conditions of why the cleavages widened when Oshiomhole assumed office”.
“There is no doubt that the Buni-led caretaker committee has all it takes to reposition the party. Let me say that we are lucky that Governor Buni is a foundation member of the party from the scratch. He was part of the ADP in 1999 to APC in 2013 and luckily occupied foundation office of the Secretary of the party for almost two tenures”
“Most importantly, he has Mr President’s ears. For anyone to advance, they must have the trust of Mr President and major stakeholders. As a humble person, he can easily relate with the ordinary members of the party. So far, he has done well. And if not for the two elections coming up, he would have accelerated faster especially in updating membership register to modern standard.”
Although there have been less protest and grudges among secretariat staff apart from the complaint that trailed the sharing of ram largesse during the recent Sallah festival, the responsibilities before the Buni-led committee is still very humongous considering the limited duration of time at its disposal.
While setting agenda for the committee, the Director General, APC Progressive Governors Forum (PGF), Salihu Moh Lukman, catalogued such issues as membership registration, code of conduct for elected and appointed party leaders to mitigate rising cases of criminal conduct and constitutional review.
According to him; “Given that the most important mandate of the Buni-led committee is to organise a National Convention for election of new leadership, the best way to check whether new leaders are nominees of potential presidential candidates could be perhaps whether they emerge from electoral contests. How fair was the contest and to what extent could the issue of credible and verifiable membership register support the process of electing the new leadership of APC at the coming national convention? ” he noted.
The Edo governorship election may clearly be the litmus test to the resolve of members’ loyalty to the party. However, judging by the committee’s efforts so far, APC seems to be a reprogrammed party ready to refocus its progressive tenets in less rancorous and acrimonious circumstances.
Whether Governor Buni’s Midas touch can usher in quality, dependable national leadership capable of taking the party whose fortune and future seem to be tied to the apron strings of President Buhari beyond a successful 2023 general elections, lies in the womb of time.