From Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
In the year just ended, it would not be out of place to say that successes, intrigues, controversies, crises and all manner of shenanigans characterised the activities of the ruling party, All Progressives Congress (APC). From January to December, even though the party recorded successes in some areas, internal wrangling, disputations, litigations, hi-tech scheming and rancour did not only bedevil the APC but also placed it in the front burner of political discourse in the country.
Starting with the carryover of what then looked as an intractable rift between the then National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and his estranged godson, the governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, the hostilities from the suspended members of the national leadership like Lawal Shuaibu, to the battle royale between the National Working Committee (NWC) and the Progressive Governors Forum (PGF), it was literally a house of commotion in the APC.
Apparently, 2020 was a very turbulent year for the ruling party both at the state and national levels. If the unending fight that constantly put the gladiators at daggers-drawn was not over which power block to wrest the control of the structure of the party, it was the plot to hijack the party’s national headquarters and its statutory organs ahead of the 2023 presidential elections.
Casualties were recorded and egos were bruised in the intrigues that followed. The conspiracy within the party was so palpable that party chieftains broke into camps and factions as they poised for war over the struggle for the 2023 presidential ticket.
While the hitherto fractured governors coasted home with the prized asset, hijacking the national secretariat and installing their own, Yobe State governor, Mallam Mai Mala Buni, as chairman of the Caretaker Committee, the Oshiomhole-led NWC and their allied forces lost out and nursed their wounds.
According to political watchers, part of the spoils of war by the Governors Forum was the victory for their colleagues in the Edo and Ondo states governorship elections as Obaseki and Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, were both re-elected in their respective states.
In fact, as far as APC was concerned, the year 2020 was one of survival of the fittest for the gladiators. It was a case of the good, the bad, the ugly for various power brokers of the ruling party.
On the flip side however, it recorded some electoral victories in some states with staggered governorship elections like Ondo, Imo and indirectly Edo in addition to the landmark reception of a sitting governor that joined it from the opposition party, Dave Umahi.
Despite the combative leadership of Comrade Oshiomhole and the crisis at all levels, the ruling party had started year 2020 with a miraculous win of a governorship seat in Imo state through Supreme Court judgement early January, which sacked PDP’s Emeka Ihedioha, declaring APC’s Hope Uzodinma winner of the Imo State governorship election held in 2019.
It was also a harvest of defectors for the APC as political heavyweights and bigwigs from the opposition party, the PDP crossed over to the ruling party. Apart from the defection of former Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, former PDP national chairman, Senator Barnabas Gemade and Senator Elisha Abbo, representing Adamawa North, the movement of Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi state, made APC look attractive and enhanced its credibility.
But the sacking of the Bayelsa State governor-elect, APC’s David Lyon, by the same Supreme Court barely 24 hours to his inauguration, was one of the events that threatened the very foundation of the ruling party in year 2020.
Some of the events to remember include:
The turbulent storm that consumed Oshiomhole
The conspiracy to oust Oshiomhole, which gathered momentum in the tail end of 2019 with some violent appeals from party chieftains through letters requesting for his impeachment that went viral and issuance of ultimatum through unending protests, was major highlight of 2020.
The year had started on both promissory and sad notes for the ruling party due to the successes and setbacks recorded during the 2019 general elections until March 4 when a Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court sacked Oshiomhole as the national chairman of the party, following the earlier suspension clamped on him from his ward.
The High Court Judge, Danlami Senchi, had in his judgement on the application of interlocutory injunction which prayed for Oshiomhole’s suspension, ruled that having been suspended by his ward as a member of the party in Edo State, he could no longer function as the party’s Chairman pending the determination of a substantive suit.
The application filed by one Oluwale Afolabi on January 16, had contended that Oshiomhole did not challenge his suspension by the party in his ward, insisting that his rights as an APC member was terminated by virtue of his suspension as a member of the party.
His declaration that the APC wrongfully kept Oshiomhole as the national chairman had opened a floodgate of litigations and confusion especially with another Court of coordinate jurisdiction, a Federal High Court in Kano upturning the Abuja High Court’s decision on his suspension with Justice Lewis Allagoa ordering the Department of State Services (DSS) and police to provide adequate security for the embattled chairman.
Oshiomhole, a cat with nine lives, had continuously weathered the storm until Wednesday June 24 when an emergency National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party sacked the entire NWC members as part of efforts to rescue an almost disintegrated party and constituted the Caretaker/Extraordinary National Convention Planning Committee (CECPC), led by Governor Buni in its place.
Year of malicious letters
The fracas that raged among members of the national leadership of the party over the suspension of some NWC members had not only polarised the party but equally contributed in deepening the crisis and escalating litigations within the party through vicious letters.
For example, there were letters from Lawal and the Director-General PGF, Salifu Lukman calling for Oshiomhole’s immediate impeachment over sundry infractions and administrative ineptitudes.
However, after the abortion of a NEC meeting in deference to the legal advice from the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, other letters with venomous contents were hauled at one camp or the other especially critical of the actions and inactions of the NWC.
A malignant letter from the party’s national leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, had accused certain forces of scheming to hijack the party and plot the removal of Comrade Oshiomhole as the national chairman due to the scheme for the 2023 presidential ticket.
According to the letter he issued, titled: “2023: A different form of ailment,” Tinubu had accused certain persons of being infected with the pre-2023 virus as masterminds of the gang up against Oshiomhole.
“While Corona has been presently contained in Nigeria, we must be alert to another sickness that seems rampant within a certain segment of society. That sickness is old ambition-virus 2023. This illness afflicts many in the political class along with their allies in the media. Those touched by this malady find that their ability to tell time and discern the difference between the present and the future has been strongly impaired.
“The carriers of this sickness are confused as to the very season our nation now finds itself. They conflate things, which no sensible person would conflate. The primary symptom of their malady is the driving tendency to believe the events of 2023 will be decided before we even exit the year 2020,” he had quipped in the letter.
From that point, the ruling party had become a battleground for forces and gladiators laying claims to the control of the secretariat and party structure resulting in security agents barricading the entrance and occupying the party headquarters to avert the situation degenerating into fisticuffs and bloodshed.
However, the disqualification of the Edo State governor, Obaseki, from contesting under APC ticket was, to many, the height of the downfall of the ruling party. Blindfolded by the rift between him and his godson, the Oshiomhole-led NWC had constituted a seven-member screening committee that tactically disqualified Governor Obaseki from participating in the party’s primaries. To make what many felt was a hatchet job look real, the screening committee had equally disqualified Matthew Aigbuhuenze Iduoriyekemwen and Chris Ogiemwonyi alongside Governor Obaseki.
The Professor Ayuba Jonathan-led panel had hinged its decision on what it described as discrepancies in Obaseki’s credentials, specifically picking holes with his National Youth Service Certificate (NYSC) discharge certificate and the testimonial of the Institute of Continuing Education Benin City he submitted.
Although Oshiomhole succeeded in ensuring the emergence of his anointed candidate, Pastor Ize-Iyamu, as APC standard-bearer, at the peak of the controversy surrounding Obaseki’s disqualification, an Abuja Division of Appeal Court had in its ruling on June 16, upheld Oshiomhole’s suspension.
The dismissal of the appeal and affirming the decision of the Abuja High Court that earlier validated Oshiomhole’s suspension by his ward, had thrown the party into a serious legal tussle and anomie, with at least three persons claiming legality to the headship of the party.
From the Deputy National Secretary, Victor Giadom, Deputy National chairmen South and North, Shuaibu and Abiola Ajimobi to the National Vice Chairman, South-South, Hillard Eta, the struggle to take charge as the rightful acting national chairman in Oshiomhole’s absence heated up endlessly.
Governors hijacked the party
The height of the scheme to oust Oshiomhole and the occupation of the secretariat of the ruling party by opposing forces were the emergency NEC meeting held at the Presidential Villa where the APC NWC was dissolved and the Governor Buni-led Caretaker Committee announced.
It was the culmination of the intrigues and schemes by the Progressive governors to wrest the party from the clutches of the Oshiomhole-led allied forces.
The immediate takeaway of the governors’ victory was the electoral success of their colleagues in Edo and Ondo states. In what many believed was done in the spirit of camaraderie, the governors had allegedly aided Governor Obaseki secretly to win the September 19 Edo State governorship election, defeating Oshiomhole’s anointed candidate, Ize Iyamu.
The governors equally went ahead to assist APC candidate, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State to win a fresh mandate ahead of the PDP candidate, Eyitayo Jegede and his estranged deputy and candidate of the Zenith Labour Party (ZLP), Agboola Ajayi.
APC governors consolidate on party structures
Perhaps motivated by the victory and various reconciliatory efforts by the Governor Buni-led Caretaker Committee, the NEC in another emergency virtual meeting extended the tenure of the Caretaker Committee by another six months, dissolving all state, zonal and national structures of the party.
The NEC meeting equally sealed any chance of the Oshiomhole-led NWC staging a comeback with the expulsion of a former National Vice Chairman (South-South), Hilliard Eta, for instituting a law suit against the party and ignoring the party’s order to members to withdraw all court cases.
Mixed grill of reconciliatory efforts
The inability of the national leadership of the ruling party to manage the fallouts of the electoral successes and failures constituted the biggest threat to the progress of the party. Various reconciliation panels were set up but little or no success were recorded and in the contrary, more and more crises continued to engulf the party.
However, in fairness to the Caretaker Committee, there was substantial resolution of the party’s internal dispute through conscious resolution mechanisms and reconciliation committees for Oyo, Edo, Ondo, Imo, Ogun, Ekiti among other state chapters with cases of disputes.
According to party, the success stories of the reconciliation efforts abound with the reconciliation in the Cross River State chapter where two factions were settled and a State Caretaker Committee led by Sen. Matthew Mbu (Jnr.) as acting state chairman put in place. In Ondo State, the reconciliation contributed in the governor’s electoral victory.
The efforts of the Caretaker Committee equally paid off in Akwa Ibom state, where contending interests were brought under one roof through genuine reconciliation. In Akwa-Ibom, party leaders like Sen. Godswill Akpabio, Obong Nsima Ekere, Umana O. Umana, Sen. Ita Enang, Bassey Dan Abia (Snr) among others are working together in the collective interests of the party.
At the national level, the Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi and Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva hitherto at each other’s jugular have made up to work together and strengthen the party, particularly in the South-South geo-political zone.
Describing the intrigues within the party in 2020, a member of the Oshiomhole-led NWC who spoke in confidence said they were not unexpected situations in a big ruling party with large membership across the country with diverse interests.
Asked his impression about his party in the year 2020, he noted: “I will say that the APC had a rare opportunity in 2020 to restructure and rebuild itself as a political party in the face of the obvious signals that things were not going well.”
“Despite what anybody might claim of the legality and illegality of the NEC meeting that dissolved the Oshiomhole-led NWC, the overriding progress of the party should eclipse whatever misgiving and or individual selfish interest from anybody.
“Largely speaking, it was a second chance that also showed the underlining strength of the party to pull back from danger and refocus itself. It was a year the Caretaker Committee was constituted and they have also done its best by and large and looking at their efforts, one can say that they have not done badly.
“With the way they have performed, there is hope that going forward, the party will be more stable and more focused than previous. We know that you cannot talk of party politics without conflicts. So, as they are resolving one, another is rearing up its ugly head. But once there is an institution that supersedes the push and pull of individual interests and there are signals to suggest that such exists now.
“It is wrong to claim that it was a year the governors finally hijacked the party because they are really the major and critical stakeholders in the party. We should rather commend them in whatever role they are playing for doing their best to put the party in a stead. The good thing now is that the structure of the party is balanced enough that no particular interest can claim total control of the party,” he said.
Impending implosion for National Convention and 2023 calculations
Most political watchers have expressed apprehension over what becomes of the APC with the proposed National Convention this year and the permutations for the 2023 presidential ticket.
Undoubtedly, the calculations over which zone produces what position and ultimately the presidential ticket is to many party members a time bomb waiting to explode. The controversial issue of rotation of presidency between the North and the South is already generating intense tension and endless debate.
Speculated that some governors from the North are plotting a quick return of power to the North, there has been alignment and realignment over the possibility of zoning the ticket to the South and micro-zoning it to the South-East.
Among names that are already in the realm of speculation for the APC presidential ticket include Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, Rochas Okorocha, APC national leader, Bola Tinubu, Ekiti State governor, Kayode Fayemi, Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, the governor of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi. However, whether the North will concede power to the South is the big question still begging for answers.
Many believe that the outcome of the APC National Convention will be the deciding factor of the party’s trajectory for the 2023 presidency. Should the party get it right during the convention, the possible implosion of the party would have been averted. But for now, the crisis rocking the APC seems to be far from over.