Many Nigerians, and indeed watchers of the nation’s democracy, may have believed that, at its birth nine years ago, the All Progressives Congress (APC), would be a better managed and organised party than the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) it desperately sought to oust from government.
With 14 years in power at the time, the PDP dominated the political space but was hardly meeting the aspirations of Nigeria and its people, at least for most of those years. The then governing party was plagued by internal wrangling, littered with factions, stinking of corruption and mired in leadership crises that led to its split twice in 2006 and 2014.
Thus, upon the arrival of the APC on the political scene, many hoped that it would avoid the pitfalls of the PDP and provide good governance and the much needed democracy dividends.
As its first interim national chairman, Bisi Akande, declared at the time, “Today, we have a truly Pan-Nigerian political party that has now given our long-suffering people hope; hope that this democracy will not continue to elude the people; hope that Nigeria will not become a one-party state; and the hope that our country will soon join the comity of developed and truly democratic nations.”
APC is the product of the merger of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and a section of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).
The merger process began on February 6, 2013 culminating in its registration by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) about five months later on July 31 of that year.
The APC, which holds the record of being the first successful merger of major political parties in the nation’s history, went ahead to win the 2015 presidential election. It also formed the government in most states of the federation where election was conducted, and produced the majority in both chambers of the National Assembly. The party, which claims to have 40 million registered members, retained power at the centre in 2019.
But about nine years after, the expectations of some Nigerians that a better administered party had arrived appear to have sunk. The party, whose government runs a country of about 200 million people, is troubled, leading to allegations that it cannot run itself.
Recent happenings in the ruling party suggest so.
Long road to national convention:
Recently, the APC has been rumbling over its plan to hold a national convention to elect its substantive national officers.
The convention has been on the agenda of the ruling party since 2020 after the controversial and unceremonious exit of the Adams Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee (NWC).
On June 25, 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari, as the leader of the party, appointed a 13-member Caretaker Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC), headed by Governor Mala Buni of Yobe State, not only to oversee the party at the national level but also, as the name connotes, conduct a convention to elect substantive officers for the party within six months. But the committee could not do so more than one year after, despite pressure on it from party faithful.
As a face-saving measure, the party’s governors, under the aegis of Progressive Governors Forum (PGF), intervened last year. At their meeting in November 2021 in Abuja, the governors, apparently side-tracking the caretaker committee, fixed the convention for February and proceeded to inform Mr Buhari of their decision, which the president accepted.
After meeting with the president at the Presidential Villa on November 22, the Chairman of the PGF, Governor Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi State, told journalists that the ruling party would hold the much expected convention in February 2022.
Mr Bagudu, who was in company of Mr Buni and their Jigawa State counterpart, Mohammed Badaru, said in fixing the February date, all relevant organs and members of the party were carried along. According to him, four states, including Anambra and Zamfara, which were yet to hold their congresses, would have completed the process before the national convention.
“Part of the inputs we got was that we still have four states, which are in the process of completing their congresses – Anambra understandably because of the (governorship) election, Zamfara and two others that because of logistic challenges are yet to complete. Christmas is around the corner and then early January will be very busy with Ekiti,” the Kebbi governor said.
“So, the governors, based on all these, suggested the party and the president should graciously consider February and the president is favourably disposed to the suggestion.”
But even after slating the convention for February, for weeks the party could not come up with a concrete plan and the specific date of the event until last Tuesday, when it picked February 26, provoking allegations that the ruling party could not organise an ordinary convention to replace its officers nearly two years after their exit.
In the main, speculations were rife that the convention had been put off till June. But after a meeting of the governors, on the night of January 16, Mr Bagudu insisted the event would hold in February.
Although he said the PGF, at the closed-door meeting, passed a vote of confidence on the CECPC, which has three governors as members, the Kebbi governor did not specify a date in February, saying the caretaker committee was in the best position to do so.
The CECPC, whose powers to fix the convention date appeared usurped by the governors, also issued a statement, urging the general public to “completely disregard fake news of the reported suspension of the national convention till June.”
It was therefore a great relief for members of the ruling party when, at a recent event in Abuja, both Mr Buni and Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State announced February 26 as the date of the convention.
As the former Director-General of PGF, Salihu Lukman, who recently resigned his position summed it up, “Without going into all the details, the inspiration to set up the current Caretaker Committee came from President Buhari based on the expectation of ensuring that the drift in the party is arrested. This is expected to produce a new leadership. Once the Caretaker Committee began to show signs of reluctance to organise the convention, it should be a source of concern to all party members desirous of reform.”
‘Sit tight’ Caretaker Committee
If there was anything the delay in convening the national convention by the CECPC brought to the fore, it was the alleged sit-tight plan of its members.
At the time the interim leadership was floated in June 2020, it was meant to last only six months. It is however still in office nearly 20 months after.
Although the committee has made gains in some areas, notably attracting prominent politicians, including three state governors to the party, the endless extension of the life of the august body had raised questions among party members regarding its capability to fulfill its mandate of organising a convention.
But beyond that was the issue of eligibility of Mr Buni to chair the CECPC. Apart from the initial controversy over the swearing of its members by the Attorney- General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, some claimed the appointment of the Yobe governor violated the provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the APC Constitution (as amended in 2014)
Section 183 of the Constitution says, “The governor shall not during the period when he holds office, hold any other executive office or paid employment in any capacity whatsoever.”
Article 17 (4) of the APC Constitution says, “No officer in any organ of the Party shall hold executive position in government concurrently.”
At some point, the Minister of State for Labour, Festus Keyamo, and two presidential aides, Babafemi Ojudu and Ita Enang, both former senators, questioned the legality and eligibility of Mr Buni to hold the position, but were rebuffed.
Mr Keyamo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, for instance, latched onto the minority ruling of the Supreme Court judgement on the Ondo governorship election case between APC’s Governor Rotimi Akeredolu and Eyitayo Jegede of the PDP, to warn against the continued stay of Mr Buni in office as the CECPC head on the strength of those legal positions.
Although they have always been defended by some party chieftains, including the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, and Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State, to the CECPC members, every such attempt to challenge their stay in office is seen as mischief.
Yet there was the issue of the agenda of some of the CECPC members. The repeated extension of the life of the committee also provoked suspicion among members of the party that Mr Buni and some of the interim leaders were using the job to feather their political nests.
There were speculations that Mr Buni was using his position to negotiate for the vice presidential slot in the 2023 election should the party zone the presidency to the south. There was also an allegation that the CECPC secretary, John Akpanudoedehe, a former senator, was positioning himself to pick the governorship ticket of Akwa Ibom, his home state.
But the committee members have repeatedly debunked these speculations.
“Am I a jobless person who is always trying to extend his tenure? To do what? I have my primary responsibility as a governor, to go back to my state and carry out my primary responsibility. What I am here to do is ad hoc, and, of course, to reposition the party, and that is exactly what we’re able to achieve,” Mr Buni snapped when confronted by journalists on one occasion.
Regardless, angered by the alleged reluctance of the Yobe governor and its team to leave, a group of youth in the party, which styled itself Progressive Youth Movement (PYT), in November last year, announced the sack of the CECPC.
Led by Mustapha Audu, son of a former Kogi State governor, late Abubakar Audu, the group passed a vote of no confidence on the committee before it announced that it had replaced the CECPC for having overstayed its welcome.
But the caretaker cried rebellion and demanded the arrest of the youth.
“However laughable, the criminal attempt of the purported group to usurp the leadership of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led APC now borders on treasonable felony,” Mr Akpanudoedehe, said in a statement.
“Relevant security bodies must now check and address their unscrupulous activities. The attention the purported group seeks will not be given to them by the party. We can only advise that the general public completely disregard them. They are not registered members of the APC and are being used by opposition elements and fifth columnists to cause confusion.”
If anything, that singular act of PYT appeared to have driven fear into the CECPC members who had to hurriedly invite security personnel to cordon off the “Buhari House” national secretariat of the party for days.
As if that was not enough, another round of crisis emerged when another group of party members, Concerned Stakeholders, in November demanded the dissolution of the CECPC.
The group not only alleged that the candidate of the party in the last Anambra governorship election, Andy Uba, emerged through a strange process, it also accused the CECPC of conducting the worst congresses since the party’s birth in 2013.
But Osita Okechukwu, Director General of Voice of Nigeria (VON), said the CECPC is needlessly being harassed, pointing out that it has elevated the party to greater heights.
“Buni and his team have elevated the APC. They have placed the party as a party of choice. Their pluses overwhelm their minuses. They have achieved six out of the seven things they set out to achieve and they will achieve the last and before the convention. I score 70 per cent and the remaining 30 per cent will be achieved before our convention. If you are contesting elections on the APC platform, you are the man to beat. APG is now highly priced. Don’t forget the disaster brought by Oshiomhole,” Mr Okechukwu told PREMIUM TIMES.
Mr Okechukwu’s position notwithstanding, the ward, local government and state congresses organised by the interim leadership appear to have further divided the governing party at the state level.
At present, there are deep-seated crises of various forms in about 16 of its states chapters even as the national convention beckons. They include Zamfara, Kano, Abia, Kwara, Osun, Delta, and Cross River State. Others are Ogun, Oyo, Akwa Ibom, Kebbi, Rivers, Lagos, Enugu, Imo and Ekiti States.
In Osun, the faction loyal to Governor Gboyega Oyetola and the one to his predecessor and Interior Minister, Rauf Aregbesola are still beating war drums against each other while in Ogun, the state governor, Dapo Abiodun and his predecessor and central district senator, Ibikunle Amosun, are still battling for the soul of the patty.
In Imo, south-east Nigeria, the squabble between former governor and serving senator Rochas Okorocha and Governor Hope Uzodinma still festers.
In the south-south region, a group of party faithful queuing behind the transportation minister, Rotimi Amaechi, is still embroiled in power tussle with that led by a former senator, Magnus Abe.
Up North, Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State is leading a faction against another led by a former governor of the state and serving senator, Ibrahim Shekarau.
The crisis in Zamfara, perhaps, is the most interesting. There appears to be no end to the prolonged and debilitating crisis which began in the build up to the 2019 elections.
Hitherto, the quarrel was between former Governor Abdulaziz Yari and former senator Kabir Marafa’s camps. Although the crisis cost the APC the governorship seat, the defection of Governor Bello Matawalle from PDP to the party has escalated it. Mr Matawalle was a major beneficiary of the initial crisis. Expectedly, the interim leadership of the party has thrown its weight behind Mr Matawalle, further deepening the crisis.
In Kwara, the faction loyal to the state governor, AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, and the other loyal to the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, are in a supremacy battle.
In September, the party got concerned and appointed a nine-member National Reconciliation Committee (NRC) to reconcile aggrieved members. The committee came on stream just about a year after a 10-member panel headed by Mr Akande was set up by the Oshiomhole-led NWC. That committee had hardly taken off when the former chairman was swept out of office. Earlier in 2018, a reconciliation committee led by former Lagos governor, Bola Tinubu, was appointed by Mr Buhari as the party grappled with internal crises in some states.
Chaired by former Nasarawa governor and incumbent senator, Abdullahi Adamu, the current panel, which was inaugurated in October, has been touring the states to reconcile, integrate and unite feuding members. The committee was also asked to critically examine areas of conflict in the just concluded ward, local government and state congresses and advance solutions to the problems.
In some states, the trouble-shooting panel has met a stonewall. For instance, just about one week after the committee visited Osun, the two feuding groups, the Osun Progressives loyal to Mr Aregbesola and Ileri Oluwa loyal to Mr Oyetola, resumed hostilities with the chairman of the group loyal to the governor describing members of the former as “disgruntled.”
In Kwara, the two factions have remained adamant. The faction loyal to Mr Mohammed and the Minister of State for Transportation, Gbemi Saraki, has since accused Mr Adamu of bias. The situation in Kano is still the same. The report of the committee has been slated as one of the activities ahead of the February 26 national convention.
However, the feud between Governor Inuwa Yahaya of Gombe and a former governor of the state, Danjuma Goje, was recently settled though not by the Adamu Committee. Even so, there is still an uneasy calm in the north eastern state.
With the crises still lingering, it remains to be seen how they could be effectively resolved before the February 26 convention, the Ekiti and Osun off-cycle elections and even the 2023 polls.
But Mr Okechukwu, who said he participated in the committee’s sitting in Enugu, his home state, is optimistic that they will be resolved because the committee “is working with sincerity of purpose.”
A ruling party without Board of Trustees
Some observers hold the view that the failure of the APC to constitute a Board of Trustees is worsening the crisis in the governing party.
Article 11.B.1 of the APC Constitution (October 2014 as amended) lists the BoT as one of the organs of the party.
Article 13.2 lists its functions, with the first saying, “the embodiment of the conscience, the soul and the sanctity of the party and shall be the mirror of the highest standard of morality of the party and shall intervene in all disputes and crises in the party to ensure its stability at all times.”
Curiously, the party has been unable to constitute the organ, about nine years after its birth and after two substantive and interim leaderships.
In 2018, under the leadership of John Odigie-Oyegun, the APC toyed with the idea of creating an alternative body to be known as Council of Elders. As its meeting presided over by Mr Buhari at the Presidential Villa on March 27 that year, the party’s National Caucus reportedly approved the composition of a 50-member council and proposed it to be part of the amendment of its constitution. Yet, the party could not implement the decision till now.
“APC does not have a BoT which should be the conscience of the party six years after clinching power. As a result, crisis within the party festers,” a national chairmanship aspirant of the party, Sylvester Moniedafe, lamented recently, adding, “It is time for the APC to do the right thing. Let us change the narrative.”