By Fred Itua, Abuja
Basking in the euphoria of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP’s) successful national convention, which produced him and 20 others as national officers of the main opposition party, former Senate President and national chairman-elect, Senator Iyorchia Ayu, had challenged the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to do the same if they could.
After he was announced as duly elected, the Benue-born former university don, who is renowned for his radical hue, said the PDP was now very much prepared to rescue Nigeria from damage allegedly done by the APC. While also acknowledging PDP’s challenges on the road to the convention, Ayu however described APC as a crisis-ridden house only waiting for the national convention to finally collapse.
“When we started this party 23 years ago, we never in any way imagined that the journey will get us to this stage, a stage where we ruled for 16 years.
“We went into rough times, but for anybody, who bothered to see, PDP is back. PDP is back to rescue Nigeria from the terrible mess we have been in, in the last six years.
“Many people imagined that this convention will lead to the break-up of the PDP. Those people, who are dreaming like that; they were dreaming in wonderland. Their dreaming were misplaced.
“Those who have lost hope should know that Nigeria is not a divided country. A small group of people decided to divide Nigeria. PDP will come back to unite our people, put them together, North and South, East and West. We will move ahead to develop this country. We did it before. We are going to do it again.
“I believe the other party can never hold a convention, because even state congress, they cannot hold. They have produced 92 state chairmen for 36 states, how can they hold a successful convention, which the PDP has done? We are waiting for them. This is a challenge to them. Let them come on pole searches, successful on ledger with what the PDP has done. This is a quit notice. PDP is back and is taking back the country to develop it,” he said.
Whereas some analysts believe that it is not yet Uhuru for the PDP given that Secondus vowed to approach the Supreme Court over the same matter, the party’s members and supporters believe that the convention is done and dusted. They are also quick to point to the fact that about 90 per cent of their newly elected national officers emerged in a consensus arrangement even as rivals in the few contested offices have since embraced the winners.
Meanwhile, like Ayu, many Nigerians, even some members of the APC, have variously likened the party to something akin to the popular television comedy, “Fuji House of Commotion”. Peace appears to have eluded the party since they successfully seized power from the PDP in 2015. Polarised, usually along the fault lines of legacy parties that merged to birth the party, the contentions have seen major party chieftains like former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, former Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, former Kano State Governor, Senator Musa Kwankwaso, Governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal, among a host of others, dumped the party and returned to the PDP. The crises have also cost the APC governorship and National Assembly seats in states like Adamawa, Edo, Oyo, and most prominently, Zamfara State, although Governor Bello Matawalle later defected to the APC with PDP’s mandate.
The crises within have equally turned the position of party chairman to a rocking chair. Apart from its founding and brief tenure of its Interim National Chairman, Bisi Akande, tenures of APC National chairmen always ended untimely and mired in controversies. Currently, the Governor Mai Mala Buni-led Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) following the controversial sack of the Adams Oshiomole-led leadership of the party pilots the party.
The worst headache for the APC today is how to mid-wife a new national leadership without rocking the boat. The 13-member Caretaker Committee, which was inaugurated on June 25, 2020 for six months after dissolution of the Adams Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee (NWC), had its tenure extended for another six months in December 2020 and yet again in June 2021.
But of gravest concern perhaps were the widespread parallel state congresses, which analysts believe, signpost a troubled future for the party going into the fast-approaching 2023 general election.
The Enugu State congress produced two state chairmen, Adolphus Ude and former Commissioner for Works in the state, Ugochukwu Agballah; Cross River State congress produced Alphonsus Eba (aka Okadigbo) as the Chairman of the Governor Ben Ayade-led faction, while the other faction produced Mr. Egbeji John Jallo as Chairman; Governor Gboyega Oyetola and his Ilerioluwa loyalists re-elected Gboyega Famodun as State Chairman, while the Osun Progressives group loyal to Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, elected Alhaji Rasaq Salinsile; factional congresses in Niger State produced Haliru Zakari Jikantoro and Nasiru Yusuf Ubandiya as state chairmen; as many as three factional state chairmen emerged in parallel primaries conducted by factions in Akwa Ibom; led by the Niger Delta Affairs Minister, Senator Godswill Akpabio; three party chairmen emerged in congresses conducted by factions loyal to the Bola Tinubu, Jide Adediran (Lagos4Lagos), and Akinwunmi Ambode Campaign Organisation (AMCO). Two chairmen emerged in each of Abia and Kano states.
Meanwhile, the postponed Zamfara congresses appear not to have yielded the needed results as factions led by Governor Bello Matawalle and another led by former Governor Abdullaziz Yari and Senator Kabiru Marafa held parallel congresses in the 147 wards of the state on November 13. The list goes on.
Against this backdrop, political analysts believe that the APC’s saving grace would be to find an experienced and widely acceptable National Chairman, who could build on the efforts of the Buni-led interim leadership to reposition the party, especially bringing and harmonising the warring factions and diverse interests.
“I think what the APC needs is a leadership that is highly respected and one which doesn’t have an overbearing interest. Politics, by the way, is not about homogeneity of interests; it is about aggregating all diverse interests and bringing them to the roundtable to create a win-win scenario so that everyone is happy,” Dr. Law Mefor, a political analyst said.
Although quite a good number of party chiefs have indicated interest in the position either directly or through their support groups, several names can be confidently identified as not only reoccurring, but also strong contenders.
Among them is Saliu Mustapha, a former Deputy National Chairman of the defunct CPC, which fused with other legacy parties to birth the APC. He has age on his side and it will not be surprising if the party decides to compensate him for his controversial disqualification from the race for the APC governorship ticket of Kwara State in 2019. His experience in party administration could also count for him.
Senator Sani Musa, also from the North Central as Saliu Mohammed comes from the private sector experience, which he hopes to deploy in repositioning the APC. He sees himself as “a mobiliser, bridge-builder, and strategist that is passionate about the wholesome development of the nation”.
However, he does not match some of the other contenders in terms of experience in the world of politics, which can be quite different from private sector boardroom politics. Some equally believe that his sponsorship of the Social Media Bill could count against him as his chairmanship would naturally pitch the APC against the youth, which not only constitute the highest number of voters, but also the most vociferous.
Senator George Akume, from Benue State, still in the North Central zone, is a serving minister, former governor and former senator; he is also seen as a strong contender. However, he could not ensure victory for the APC in the governorship or presidential election in 2019. He is seen as a Tinubu man. Also, the emergence of Ayu, a fellow Tiv man from Benue State as PDP’s National Chairman may count against him.
However, former governor of Nasarawa State, Senator Tanko Al-Makura, is a serving Senator and also experienced in party administration; he was the Youth Leader of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in the defunct Plateau State in the Second Republic. He was also a Secretary of the National Republican Convention (NRC) in his state during the ill-fated General Ibrahim Babangida’s transition to civil rule programme. He is a renowned party financier.
Analysts further point to his humble and likeable nature, which they see as a plus for appeal to the crowd, for a politician that is toughened and dexterous in political stratagem to get the job done. They are quick to point at the deftness with which he uprooted the PDP administration of then incumbent Governor Aliyu Doma in 2011, in a state where the PDP was seen as the only party anyone could win or amount to anything politically. Denied the PDP ticket, which many thought he deserved, Al-Makura moved with his supporters to clinch the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC’s ticket and went on to win in the main election.
Meanwhile, Al-Makura’s victory in 2011 governorship election later served a salutary purpose for the then presidential aspirant, Muhammadu Buhari, and the CPC, as the party had a state to present during the talks leading up to the founding of the APC.
They as well point at his adroitness in surviving the hellish impeachment moves against him, despite the APC being in serious minority of four lawmakers to 20 of the PDP. He did not only refuse to defect to the then ruling party at the centre, he ensured that by the end of his tenure in 2019, PDP suffered their major loss in a presidential election in Nasarawa State, while the APC also won all the senatorial seats in the state.
Unlike other aspirants, Al-Makura enjoys the rare fortune of the total support of his successor, Governor Abdullahi Sule, who has been campaigning for him among the stakeholders and caucuses of the party, such as the Progressives Governors Forum.
Speaking during APC’s membership registration and revalidation exercise flag-off at his Polling Unit at Gudi Station, Akwanga Local Government Area, Nasarawa State, last February, Governor Sule had pleaded with stakeholders of the party to be kind to the CPC legacy party in their choice of National Chairman, noting that Nasarawa State was the only state used by the CPC as part and parcel of the alliance that formed the APC.
“If Nigeria would be kind to CPC, Nasarawa State is the place to look at. That is my message to Nigeria”, he said.
In testifying to Sule’s support for the former governor’s ambition, the APC Coalition for Credible Leadership also believes that Al-Makura’s emergence as the National Chairman of APC would be the best thing that could happen to the party ahead of the 2023 general election.
“Not only has Governor Sule been very public and unapologetic as Al-Makura’s chief campaigner for the office of the National Chairman of our great party, the popular view among party faithful and key stakeholders is that Al-Makura’s emergence will have a calming effect on the party’s storms, given his peaceful, and humble, cosmopolitan nature.
“It is equally noteworthy that while the recent state congresses of the APC were marred by cracks and parallel congresses in many states, that of Nasarawa State went smoothly and without any issues, given the quality relationship Al-Makura enjoys with Governor Sule.
“Al-Makura has far-reaching goodwill within and outside the party to reconcile all contesting interests and boost the party’s national popularity and fortunes ahead of the 2023 elections”, the group said in a recent statement by its National Coordinator, Comrade Luben Gbenda.
Meanwhile, there are also other otherwise strong contenders such as former governor of Borno State, Ali Modu Sheriff; former Governor of Zamfara State, Senator Abdullaziz Yari, former Governor of Gombe State, Senator Danjuma Goje. However, their fortunes are shaky going into the contest given the frosty relationships with their respective governors. For instance, while Sheriff recently accused Governor Babagana Zulum of sponsoring calumnies against him, Goje’s bitter relationship with Governor Inuwa Yahaha worsened recently following a fracas that ensured when Yahaya’s supporters reportedly Goje from entering Gombe State. By the time the dust cleared, media reports put fatalities at five, while scores were also injured.
“Choosing the next National Chairman of the APC from among the states where the governors are already in an open running battle with the aspirants will be like jumping from frying pan to fire”, Dr. Mefor reasoned.
Meanwhile, if President Buhari signs the newly passed Electoral Act Repeal and Reenactment Bill into law, INEC will be expected to call for nomination in February 2022, while nominations would close in July. It clearly means that APC is expected to conduct a national convention by December. It also means that the search for the right National Chairman will intensify in no distant future.
However, analysts believe that despite the power of incumbency, APC’s fortunes and misfortunes in the 2023 election and beyond will depend on the choice of National Chairman it makes in the coming day. The ball is therefore in the court of the party’s leaders.