ZONING FORMULA CASTS DOUBTS ON APC CONVENTION AS INTEREST GROUPS BATTLE FOR POSTS

By Leo Sobechi, Deputy Politics Editor, Abuja

As the February 26 tentative date for the All Progressives Congress’ (APC) national convention draws near, doubts have continued to mount over the feasibility of the date. Not only been the journey to the date been shrouded in controversies, available indices point to the possibility that the date was hastily chosen to pull the rug off the feet of those accusing the Caretaker/extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) and its chairman, Governor Mai Mala Buni of perpetuating itself in office.

History Of Failed Promises
Ever since it held its first national convention in 2014, the APC has been having it quite tough to organise similar meetings. The very first sign that all was not well with the governing party was when it failed to hold its mid-term convention despite promises that the party would be run strictly according to the full tenets of participatory democracy.

As the 2016 date for the anticipated mid-term arrived, various interest groups within the party mushroomed, each trying to supplant others and assume full control. Given that the leader of the party, President Muhammadu Buhari, assured Nigerians that he would not deploy state resources in the running of the party, it was safe and easy for the party under Chief John Odigie-Oyegun to cite lack of funds as basis for the failure of its National Working Committee (NWC) to hold the midterm convention.

Some notable challenges that the anticipated midterm convention was expected to resolve include, ratifying a Board of Trustees (BoT) or establishment of an Elders Council, recommending amendments to the party’s constitution and filling vacant positions on the NWC, which was created by the appointment of some members into the Federal Cabinet.

At the inception of the Buhari Presidency, some members of APC NWC, including Alhaji Lai Mohammed and David Babachir Lawal, were moved to become Minister of Information and Culture, and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) respectively.

As things turned out, the creeping mutual suspicion in the party became noticeable thereby making it impolitic to hold a convention, which is the highest decision making organ of the party.

For instance, while stakeholders from the legacy parties that formed APC viewed their colleagues from the nPDP as infiltrators, the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) were accusing their Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) colleagues of trying to dominate the government and the party structure.

While that shadow boxing and mind games were going on, fourth republic Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and his friend, the former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, contended for the position of Chairman of APC BoT. APC chieftains in support of Tinubu contended that given his contributions to the formation of the party, he should be allowed to chair the BOT.

Tinubu’s allies also argued that since President Buhari is from the north, a person from South was better suited to be BOT chairman in keeping with political power distribution convention in the country.

But, Atiku’s supporters noted that having served the country as Vice President, it would be disrespectful and insulting to sideline him and make a former governor BOT chairman of the governing party.

Based on the germane arguments of the opposing sides, APC leaders started romancing the idea of an Elders’ Council to serve as the last clearing house for issues of discipline and internal party management.

The dingdong continued, such that Oyegun was being blamed for the rudderless state of the party, with most leaders blaming the national chairman of not taking initiatives but rather merely waiting on the body language of the Presidency, which was by then beginning to demonstrate obvious antipathy towards Tinubu.

It was in that state of flux that the Progressive Governors’ Forum (PGF) under the leadership of then Imo State governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, made its first bid to take over the party. However, the PGF’s offer to fund the mini convention could not fall through, because the popular sentiment was that since a national convention was due by 2018, it was better to work towards that.

Nonetheless, the party’s refusal to allow the Deputy National Publicity Secretary, Comrade Timi Frank, to step into the shoes of Lai Mohammed, pending the election of a substantive National Publicity Secretary released the serious alarm bell that APC was insincere in some of its avowals.
Aborted Mandate, Spurious Promise
ON June 25, 2020, the National Executive Committee (NEC) of APC sacked its elected NWC led by Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, who replaced Oyegun at the 2018 national convention.

At the dissolution of the Oshiomhole-led NWC, NEC through President Buhari, set up a Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC). Yobe State governor, Mai Mala Buni, was announced as chairman of the 13-member committee. But, a member of the dissolved Oshiomhole-led NWC, Hillard Etta, went to court to challenge both the convening of the June 25 NEC meeting and the appointment of the CECPC, even as he contended that the body is an illegal alien to the APC constitution.

Yet, the CECPC was sold as an interim body and was mandated to, within six months, reconcile the party and organise a national convention to elect new officers to run the party.

However, contrary to the promises that the caretaker committee would organise a national convention in December 2020, the party cited the membership revalidation exercise and governorship elections in Edo and Ondo States as reasons to grant the CECPC another six months’ grace period.

Midway into year 2021, when the second mandate extension of CECPC would have elapsed, APC further pointed to the ward, local government and state congresses, saying that the caretaker committee should not be stampeded into rushing a national convention, especially when the Buni-led body was winning members to the party and doing a great job in reconciling disgruntled members.

But, after two extensions of the committee’s initial six months, some members of the PGF felt that the CECPC and Buni were onto some pranks aimed at transmuting him (Buni) into a substantive chairman of the party.

While the division within the PGF persisted, the vocal PGF Director General (DG), Dr. Salihu Lukman, pointedly accused CECPC and Buni of taking Nigerians for a ride. Lukman got incensed the more when the Senate Chief Whip, Orji Uzor Kalu, who lost his state structure to Chief Ikechi Emenike, petitioned the President asking that the convention be postponed indefinitely until all pending areas of disagreement were settled. Kalu suggested the merging of the APC national convention with the Presidential Primary.

Many party faithful expressed the belief that the same Tinubu antipathy that propelled the dissolution of the Oshiomhole-led NWC was spurring controversies over the national convention, even as some PGF members view Buni and three other governors with suspicion over their negative stance.

Perhaps, based on his intimate understanding of the duplicity within the PGF over the national convention, the PGF DG, Lukman, constituted himself into the conscience of the party. Lukman not only took on the CECPC and Buni over their vaccilation to organise the national convention, but also alleged that some of the governors were making undemocratic moves to populate the anticipate NWC with their lackeys.

Piqued at the antics of the PGF DG, some state governors and powerful forces around the Presidency started making demands on Lukman to divorce himself from all appearances of insubordination and disloyalty.

In a bid to safeguard his fundamental rights and assert his democratic privileges, Lukman threw in the towel, just as his sudden resignation put new pressures on the CECPC and Buni to dispel public apprehensions by going ahead with the convention.

The former DG caused further stir after his resignation by throwing further light on the mix between the 2023 Presidential ticket and manipulations by the PGF as basis for pre-convention crisis.

After the news of his resignation as Director-General of PGF on Monday, January 17, 2022, many concerned APC stalwarts reached out to him, stressing that one of those that contacted him was the national leader and Presidential aspirant, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.

In a statement confirming his resignation from PGF as DG, titled, ‘Campaign to Return APC to its Founding Vision,’ Lukman said: “My decision to resign from my position is to enable me continue with the campaign to return APC to its founding vision, which is to build a party that is not only democratic but oriented based on social democratic principles.”

The former PGF DG reaffirmed that the crisis in APC became more defined from the build-up to the 2019 elections, adding, “Internal contests in the APC began to degenerate; some leaders became intolerant and conducted themselves almost as tyrants.”

Lukman explained that hostility towards him was exacerbated by his campaign “to get the party’s leadership to commence the internal reform process.” He noted that those who were at the frontline of opposition to reforms he suggested were some party leaders, who became hostile in the bid to emerge as candidates of the party for offices.”

His words: “Following the news of my resignation, many party leaders and members called to express these worries. One of the party leaders who honoured me with an invitation to meet him was Bola Tinubu. He commended me for championing the campaigns to reform the party and expressed shock that some members of the Forum were intolerant to criticism.

“He argued that any party leader who will not accommodate critical opinion on a fundamental issue such as respecting decisions and especially a matter as sensitive as organising the National Convention, which is the highest organ of the party, such a person is not a democrat and shouldn’t be associated with a party envisioned to be progressive such as the APC.”

Lukman, who disclosed that inspiration to set up the CECPC came from President Buhari, regretted that the caretaker committee’s reluctance to organise the convention became a source of concern to all APC faithful desirous of reform.

He therefore urged party members to be vigilant to ensure the party’s new leadership expected from the February 26, 2022, National Convention will be tolerant to criticism, democratic and more importantly share the commitments of the founding leaders to build a truly progressive party.
Feasibility Of February 26
GOING by the timetable released by the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) towards the 2023 political activities, political parties are expected to get guidelines for the conduct of primaries in March 2022.

By April 2022, campaign for presidential and gubernatorial elections will kick off, which means that by May 2022, party congresses will hold nationwide.

It should be noted that Ekiti and Osun gubernatorial polls would hold within the period of the national convention. INEC has not confirmed that a bye election is also billed for February 26, 2022 the latest tentative date for the APC national convention.

Some stakeholders of the party are worried that if the CECPC could postpone the convention in 2020 due to similar off season polls in Edo and Ondo, they could also cite the Ekiti and Osun polls as reason to further push forward the national convention.

Moreover, others contend that since the APC governorship primary for Ekiti has been penciled for February 25, 2022, the announcement of February 26 as national convention date appears unrealistic.

Sources disclosed that Dr. Salihu Lukman was forced to resign from office as PGF DG by the state governors for piling pressure on the CECPC to organise the national convention. Also, given that Kalu had earlier hinted at a possible shift of the national convention to coincide with the APC Presidential primary, could it be that the February 26 date was hurriedly announced to divert attention of the alleged elongation plot by Buni and his CECPC?

Meanwhile, concerns are rising with the observation by some APC bigwigs that the Buni-led CECPC has become illegal given that their term expired by December 2021. Those making the allegation say that NEC was yet to meet to extend the committee’s term after the expiry of the last six months, which expired last month.

To compound matters, some party faithful are beginning to cite to Section 183 of the 1999 Constitution, to strengthen the argument that Buni ought not to occupy the office of interim chairman of APC.

Section 183 stipulates that an incumbent state governor “shall not, during the period when he holds office, hold any other executive office or paid employment in any capacity whatsoever.”

The Guardian learned that Etta is set to approach the Federal High Court for an expedited hearing into his suit so as to prevent the matter being rendered hopeless as an academic exercise if the national convention holds.

Will the February 26 date hold or go the same way as the APC midterm convention that was aborted? The days ahead would provide clues.