Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
To many critical observers, there is a cloud of uncertainty over future of the All Progressives Congress (APC) ahead of 2023 presidential election. Even with more than three years to the next general elections, there is already heightened apprehension in the camp of the ruling party over the retaining power beyond 2023 after President Muhammadu Buhari has served out his second term in office.
The anxiety is not unconnected with the perception in many quarters that it is only the Buhari factor that has sustained the party since 2015 when it ousted the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which had dominated the Nigerian electoral politics for 16 uninterrupted years.
In the estimation of many, Buhari has been APC’s greatest asset, having been instrumental to the party’s victories at elections.
To lay credence to the uncertainty in the party, the immediate past governor of Imo State, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, was explicit in his warning recently that the APC will go extinct with the exit of President Buhari in 2023.
Rochas, appraising the future of the party recently, said: “I have never thought of leaving the party. I felt that time will take care of most things. But my only worry is that the party APC may disappear with the exit of President Buhari because, for the moment, Buhari seems to be the strongest pillar now upon which this party is built on the basis of his reputation and for the fact that the north still remains the major decider in Nigerian politics.”
Senator Okorocha was not alone in forseeing doom for the APC, with the immediate past National Chairman of the ruling party, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, having also expressed reservations and concerns.
He had argued that the question of the party retaining power beyond 2023 will certainly arise because President Buhari, who is the figurehead of the party and its agenda, will not be qualified to contest again.
Oyegun was more poignant and pungent in his prediction. According to him: “When the APC was formed, all the predictions were that it will implode in another year or two, but the APC did not implode. The APC will however have issues in 2023 and it has to start now that it has time to put its act together for 2023, because there will be no President Buhari to contest then.”
Both Shehu Sani, a Senator who represented Kaduna Central senatorial district in the 8th Assembly, and the APC Rivers State 2019 governorship candidate, Prince Tonye Princewill, equally expressed concerns over the future of the party beyond the Buhari era.
For Senator Sani, the “APC is not a party founded on ideology; it is a party found on resentment against PDP and a party that is founded under the banner of President Buhari. It is unfortunate that, for all the promises and pledges of cleaning, reforming and reconfiguring this country, the ruling APC had failed.”
Summing up the prevailing mood, Princewill recently noted: “I agree that the APC will need to begin to reflect on life after Buhari. It was Buhari that won that election against all odds. So, if he is not there, it will be different.”
These apprehensions may have obviously prompted President Buhai to challenge the national leadership of the party and the APC state governors on the need to institutionalise the party to guarantee its survival beyond his tenure.
According to the President: “What I will say to the chairman of the party and governors in return for your congratulating me is to make sure you really institutionalise the party so that when we leave, the party will continue to lead.”
All these are certainly strong indicators that the ruling party is not only standing on shaky ground but is also a confirmation that the tornadoes tormenting the party portend danger ahead.
It is stating the obvious that ahead of 2023 elections the APC has become a party divided against itself.
This is evidenced in the array of crises within the party, the endless debate over the party sticking to zoning arrangement, and the inordinate ambitions of individuals and ethnic nationalities in laying claim to the right of producing the next president.
The crises at the national, state and local levels of the party seem to confirm observations that the APC was not founded on an independent ideological basis but as a bulwark in opposition to the PDP.
There is certainly no love lost at the national level, as it has become very difficult for the national leadership to forge a strong and united front. It has been a case of disgruntled members of the Progressives Governors Forum (PGF) calling for the head of a beleaguered National Chairman Adams Oshiomhole, and/or his National Working Committee (NWC) members, and even the Director General of PGF levying one grievous allegations or the other against him.
And although crises have always reared their ugly heads within the party, the Buhari factor, his perceived integrity and transparent posture as the rallying point of the northern agenda, has always provided the succour the APC has leveraged on to emerge victorious at elections.
Although he had, while meeting with the national leadership of the party recently, promised to be more party conscious in taking decisions, it has become more or less an empty pledge considering his refusal to intervene in the rising spate of crises engulfing the party both at state and national levels.
For instance, if the rift between the governor of Edo state, Godwin Obaseki, and the National Chairman, Oshiomhole, on one hand and the State Assembly crisis rocking Edo and Bauchi on the other, are domestic in scope, what has been his level of intervention in the feud between Oshiomhole and some APC governors and some disgruntled members of the national leadership of the party?
Also, why has it become very difficult to secure his consent to organise a National Executive Committee (NEC) party meeting for over seven months now? What has been the level of involvement of the party’s national leadership in monitoring the Federal Government’s ’s compliance to the party policies and programmes?
Beyond the divisions and rifts tearing apart and threatening the party’s very foundation ahead of 2023, the endless debate on the possibility of the party to religiously stick to its zoning arrangement has become a potential time bomb waiting to explode in 2023.
At the peak of the build-up to the campaign for President Buhari’s re-election, the contradictions between Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, former Lagos State governor Babatunde Fasola and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, stood out among the cacophony of voices for and against the zone to produce the president in 2023. The confusion painted a grim pictures of the future awaiting the ruling party.
While Osinbajo and Fasola dangled carrot at the South West, assuring that they would produce the president in 2023, Mustapha promised the South East that their support for Buhari’s second term can give life to their 2023 presidential ambition.
The onerous task before the party now should be how to amicably decide on which zone gets the 2023 presidency between the South West and the South East. The crossroads on the best way to reconcile the doublespeak which the party leaders used to solicit votes for President Buhari currently hangs on the neck of the party, especially in ensuring that it does not degenerate into an unmanageable mess ahead of the 2023 elections.
And so it appears that there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel, judging by the recent report credited to the governor of Kaduna State, Nasir el-Rufai, who remarked that the country needs to choose competence over zoning when electing the next president in 2023.
While adding his voice to the debate and clamour that the presidency needs to return to the South, Governor el-Rufai, who has been mentioned among those eyeing the 2023 presidency, even though he is yet to declare interest, argued that competence and not “zoning” should be the deciding factor.
In the prologue he recently contributed to a book, “Power of Possibilities and Politics of Change in Nigeria”, authored by the Director-General of PGF, Salihu Lukman, el-Rufai insisted that zoning must be abandoned, describing it as “opaque” and arguing that it is a barrier to political equality.
“Even with our success in the elections, there is room for improvement. Barriers to political equality, such as our seemingly entrenched though informal rule for zoning candidacies according to regions of origin, need to be de-emphasised and ultimately abandoned in favour of an emphasis on qualification, competence and character,” el-Rufai wrote.
The far-reaching implication is that the inability of the APC to surmount the hurdle of fielding a candidate in the mould of Buhari may cost the party the 2023 ticket. The dilemma is that should it decide to zone it to the South, wouldn’t the PDP play a smart one by fielding a northern candidate to curry favour and win the sympathy of a northern region bent on retaining the seat?
Should the party, on the other hand, decide to zone the presidential ticket to the North, won’t that lead to a protest vote against the party by southern interests to underscore that no zone has the birth right of producing the Nigerian president?
Mindful of the delicate nature of the situation facing the party ahead of 2023, the National Publicity Secretary, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu, told Daily Sun that putting the issue of zoning on the front burner at this time is a distraction from the party providing the much vaunted dividends of democracy to Nigerians.
The party spokesperson, who also reacted to the debate over zoning, said: “The issue of zoning is an entirely different matter. Governor el-Rufai was right when he opined that any part of the country can produce the next president. The issue of which zone to produce the next president is a party matter.”
So, it appears the die is cast for the APC to sort out the outcome of its fortune and future. The 2023 presidency, in the view of many, will determine the future of the party. With all the ethnic nationalities laying claim and jostling to produce the next president, the last may not have been heard of what becomes of the the party beyond the 2023 general elections. The future lies in the womb of time.