Before the national chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, assumed office some years ago to superintend over the ruling political party, one thing people knew about him was that he could be controversial. This was a unionist who, as president of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), fought government and companies for the sake of workers. This was a man who had no fear or qualms to dare. This was a man who was seen as a symbol of struggle for not only the welfare of workers but also for a better Nigeria. This was the fighter for the masses.
As NLC chairman, Oshiomhole led protests and picketing of government and companies. He spoke his mind, and in most cases not nicely. He was a man of strong character. In an effort to stand for what he believed, he was adamant most times, which was perceived as being inflexible by some. He was stout in his conviction, method and actions.
Oshiomhole was to become governor of Edo State on the platform of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). As governor, controversy also dogged his path. He once got angry about street trading in Benin City and spoke harshly to a woman trader. He was to host the same woman later in Government House, Benin, where he apologised, had tea with her and offered her a job. He was vehement in campaigning against godfatherism, and boasted of retiring the Edo political godfather, the late Chief Tony Anenih. He was later accused of becoming a godfather owing to the manner Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State emerged as candidate of the APC, against all calculations. Incidentally, Obaseki, on whose case Oshiomhole carried a bad name, has forgotten the past and descended on him. And the controversy about the man Oshiomhole continues.
With a background like that, it was expected that Oshiomhole would have some issues as national chairman of the APC. This expectation was not based on the fact that Oshiomhole would be incapable of managing the political party. Not at all! It was owing to the fact that, in a political setting, where politicians would want to have their way at all costs, an Oshiomhole, with strong will, would certainly step on toes.
The current crisis in the APC was, therefore, expected. Early in his chairmanship, Oshiomhole made it clear that he would ensure the supremacy of the APC. He once told Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, to obey the directives of the political party that gave him an opportunity to serve the nation. That was during the controversy over the constitution of the board of the Nigerian Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF). He said at that time that if past leaders of the APC or the President tolerated disobedience to constituted authority in APC, he would not. As arrogant as that may have sounded, he was only trying to impress it on some members that they were not, individually, above the political party, no matter how influential any of them might be.
Insisting on the supremacy of the political party can never be faulted. The political party, in politics, is the fulcrum on which everything resolves. Without the political party, there will be no candidate for any election. Without election, nobody would hold elective office in a democracy. The Nigerian Constitution recognises the political party and acknowledges its supremacy. The Constitution expressly states that the political party shall nominate a candidate, who would then stand for election. In Section 131(d), the Constitution said: “A person shall be qualified for election to the office of the President if … he is a member of a political party and is sponsored by that political party.” What this means is that non-members of political parties can never aspire or be elected President in Nigeria.
The constitutional provision, therefore, underlines the fact that the political aspiration of politicians rests on political parties. With this, it is not absurd that the political party must be supreme. If, therefore, Oshiomhole wants the APC to be supreme over individual members, he is only doing the obvious. The method may be crude or brash, but the principle is germane. Political parties have rules. These codes of conduct must be obeyed for the political party to be relevant and also to survive. The tendency for a few political party members to bend the rules for their selfish gains is at the root of the APC crisis.
Methinks that Oshiomhole’s problem in APC is not far from his insistence that rules of the party must be obeyed. Those resisting this fundamental truth are fighting the party chairman. Such people want a situation where the power of the political party is relegated to the background, while that of governors and a few others prevails, against the collective. The problem in the APC is really a fight between governors and Oshiomhole for the control of the soul of the political party. The governors are fighting the party chairman not because of their love for the APC. They are trying to entrench governors’ emperorship in the political party.
There has been a bad tradition in political parties in Nigeria. Governors want to pick and insist on their successors. They want to handpick all candidates for elections and just organise party primaries as a formality. They want everything about politics in their states to revolve round them. In Imo State, during the 2019 elections, former Governor Rochas Okorocha wanted his son-in-law as successor. He also had the ambition of going to the Senate himself to represent his senatorial zone, which he eventually actualised. He wanted his choice associates as candidates for various elective posts. Oshiomhole resisted this. He insisted that proper primaries must be held to pick the party’s candidates. That was the only thing that stopped Okorocha from having his way in foisting his son-in-law as governor.
In Ogun State, the same scenario played out. Former Governor Ibikunle Amosun insisted that his choice aspirant must be governorship candidate. Also, he wanted only the people he solely chose to be candidates for other elective positions. Oshiomhole, determined to preserve the powers of the APC as a political party made up of thousands of members, said no to this. When Amosun could not have his way, he sponsored his governorship candidate and others in another political party. Pray, which political party would tolerate this?
The APC should decide what it wants. It should decide whether it wants to be a political party in the true meaning of it or by name, wherein it becomes a puppet in the hands of governors. However, those who love the party should know that it was the overbearing tendencies of the governors that undid the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2015. In the PDP of old, the governors called the shots, one way or another. Apart from deciding what happened in their states, they wanted to also decide what happened at the centre. When they did not have their way at the centre, they rebelled. This saw the emergence of the G7 (seven governors) rising up against the choice of Goodluck Jonathan as presidential candidate of the PDP indirectly, because the governors wanted one of them as the presidential candidate or vice presidential candidate. When they did not succeed in deciding what happened, five of the governors pulled out of the PDP for the APC. Some of those who remained in PDP did not put in their best to work for the party. The PDP lost that crucial election.
The APC is indirectly going through that phase. Governors who want their individual supremacy to override that of the APC are going for Oshiomhole’s jugular. If the bigwigs of the political party are not discernable enough to read between the lines, they might allow the hawks to get Oshiomhole out. When they do, they would definitely realise that Oshiomhole is not the problem, as the governors, who, incidentally, are not even courageous enough to come out openly in the fight, would ask for more.