By Muideen Olaniyi, Yusha’u A. Ibrahim, Jeremiah Oke and Itodo Daniel Sule
Last Tuesday’s National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), no doubt, has thrown up new political permutations in the party when it becomes obvious that the current set of leaders led by Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, might not go beyond June 30. The hustling for the post of the new party chairman has begun with the trio of Adams Oshiomole, Ogbonnaya Onu and Ken Nnamani emerging as the three frontrunners already.
The ruling party’s yoyo dance seems far from over following the pronouncements of President Muhammadu Buhari at the APC National Executive Council Meeting over the tenure elongation of the party leadership.
President Buhari’s comment that the tenure elongation of the Oyegun-led executive violates both the party and the national constitution has thrown open rooms for new permutations in the ruling party as to who is likely to lead the party into the 2019 general elections with Oyegun, whose position seemed certain two weeks ago, now likely to be ousted.
With the party congress likely to come up as a result of those comments, already fingers are pointing at a trio of “favourites” from which one is likely to emerge the party chairman.
The tussle for the stirring wheel of the APC has been raging between party chairman Chief John Odigie-Oyegun and party stalwart Bola Tinubu.
When on February 26, the party’s National Working Committee decided to extend Oyegun’s tenure, originally due to end in June, for another year, it seemed he had wrestled the wheel from Tinubu.
Tinubu’s silence has been ominous and many see Buhari’s pronouncement as an appeasement to him.
A Lagos APC source in a chat with our correspondent said, “President Buhari, by his statement, has been able to water the ground before his visit to Lagos and his decision distancing himself from the controversial tenure elongation has been able to calm frayed nerves in Lagos APC.”
APC stakeholders in Lagos, Tinubu’s home state, had kicked against the tenure elongation endorsed by the state’s party chairman with some Tinubu loyalists querying the Lagos APC chairman, Chief Henry Ajomale for his decision.
The Lagos Central senatorial chairman of the party, Alhaji Tajudeen Olusi, addressed journalists after a stakeholders’ meeting held at the State House, Marina, Lagos, to dissociate the state chapter of the party from the tenure elongation of Oyegun.
“We are against the elongation of tenure. We shall continue to make our decision known to the party and to the president,” Olusi said.
It has emerged that many APC stakeholders in the state are pacified by the decision to hold a congress and are reportedly looking forward to the exit of Oyegun.
President Buhari’s assertion that “what is expected” of the party is “to conduct fresh elections once the tenure of the current executives approaches its end” has paved way for the planning for the congress that would seal Oyegun’s fate.
A source said the party leadership had also seen the handwriting on the wall and begun processes to release the guidelines and timetable for congresses and national convention.
Though the details of the work of a technical committee constituted after President Buhari had overruled the tenure elongation idea is still being expected, a source said necessary information about the congresses and convention should be released by Wednesday this week.
For now, many APC stalwarts believe they are already in the post-Oyegun era, but one of them said there was no way the outgoing chairman could be forgotten, having stood out as the longest serving chairman of a ruling party in the nearly 20 years of the Fourth Republic.
“He survived as party chairman more than any national chairman of the PDP; so this is a feat for him even though the whole period is uneventful if not for the needless rancour in states,” he said.
But with the tide now firmly in Tinubu’s favour, indications are that he would have a huge say in who emerges as the party chairman and many believe that Tinubu and Buhari agree on former Edo governor, Adams Oshiomhole to lead the party into the general elections. But there are others shortlisted, including Ogbonnaya Onu and Ken Nnamani, with some political calculations behind the name of each man.
Race for party chairmanship
There are indications that the APC will still retain the chairmanship position to the South South geo-political zone despite the fact that opportunity will be given to contestants from the South East geo-political zone to participate.
Sources said that the names of former governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, as well as the former Senate President, Senator Ken Nnamani, are being touted as the possible successors to Chief John Odigie-Oyegun.
Oshiomhole has always been mentioned as a likely replacement to Odigie-Oyegun. Sources said Oshiomhole has the support of President Buhari and the APC national leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
It would be recalled that President Buhari had in November 2016 told Oshiomhole that he would give him a national assignment before the political calculation changed.
A statement issued at the time by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Garba Shehu, said Buhari spoke at the Palace of the new Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II, shortly before he embarked on the commissioning of several projects in the state.
The statement quoted the president as saying that the country would be the loser if the APC failed to utilise the people’s governor’s wisdom, skill and energy.
“It will be a pity to waste his energy by him retiring. I hope there will be a higher assignment for him to do more for the nation.
“I congratulate the governor for his hard work; Oshiomhole is a hard working governor. We will need his services in Abuja.
“I hope the APC will look for a place for you because your service for the country is far from over,” the president said.
Some party members are almost certain that the deal is done for the former Edo State governor.
“For now, it is sure for Oshiomhole. He is the candidate of both Buhari and Tinubu. He is unbeatable,” a source said.
In a January visit to the presidential villa, Oshiomole had told newsmen that the visit was to “identify with the president.
“Well, you know it is a new year and I felt since I haven’t been here since 2017, I came in to wish the President a happy new year and appreciate him for his leadership of the country because as an APC activist and loyalist, I’m a party man, to reassure him of my absolute and total support for his government and even for 2019.
“I think that in moments like this nobody should sit on the fence. Our country has challenges and there are huge temptations here and there and it is important he knows that he has men and women who even at this hour have huge confidence in his leadership ability.
“Everything taken to account, I believe that every Nigerian who wants us to sustain some of the renewed vigour to deal with one of the most challenging problems that Nigeria has faced, namely corruption and things like that, you cannot but appreciate the president and all that has been done under his leadership this past two years and some months.”
Despite the brighter chance of Oshiomhole, most party stalwarts are not comfortable with what they see as his “independent-mindedness.”
Dr Ogbonnaya Onu
The incumbent Minister of Science and Technology was the national chairman of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) until its amalgamation with other opposition parties in February 2013 to form the APC.
Dr Onu, the first elected governor of old Abia State, the first chairman, Conference of Nigerian Elected Governors, as well as the first presidential flag bearer of the then All Peoples Party (APP) which later became the ANPP, is being put forward as a potential successor to Oyegun because of his rare political discipline and consistency as he did when he held sway as ANPP helmsman since its inception in 1998 until it merged into the APC in 2013.
His major role in the formation of the APC and the clamour to bring the South East geo-political zone into the fold of the party are major factors being considered for his choice.
Senator Ken Nnamani
The past record of former Senate President Ken Nnamani, his presidential assignment as chairman of the Electoral Reform Committee, and the zone he hails from are key points being considered in favour of his candidacy.
But the minus for his choice is the fact that he recently joined the APC from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Aggrieved governors and convention’s funding
Daily Trust on Sunday gathered that funding would not pose any challenge to the forthcoming congresses and convention since President Buhari and Tinubu are now working together. A source also said that the aggrieved governors would also participate at the convention that would be rancour-free since their interests would also be catered for.
It was gathered that the governors who felt embittered by the recent turn of events include Nasir el-Rufai (Kaduna), Abdullahi Ganduje (Kano), Mohammed Abubakar (Bauchi), and Yahaya Bello (Kogi), among others.
They mostly have issues with other chieftains of the party from their states, in most cases serving ministers or members of the National Assembly.
“They won’t defect,” a source said, “They now know that the president is no longer on their side. They were challenging Tinubu because they believed they were protecting the mandate of the president.”
“So, what the president did on Tuesday is a birthday gift to Tinubu. Tinubu has kicked against it (tenure extension) from the beginning. He and the president are now on the same page,” he said.
Incumbent NWC members may not run again
Daily Trust on Sunday learnt that many of the members of the National Working Committee (NWC) would not contest again because of the role they have played so far in the tenure elongation saga and their understanding of the game Buhari-Tinubu camps would play.
“If they (the NWC members) are smart, they ought not to have debated the issue after the president has spoken at the NEC. He tested their loyalty. The party’s National Legal Adviser, Dr Muiz Banire and Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State put the matter on their head while others remained mute. Already, these NWC members have shown ungratefulness,” another source said.
Uncertainty in states
Though many aggrieved chieftains of the APC heaved a sigh of relief with the reversal of tenure elongation decision, findings in some states reveal that the development had opened another floodgate, which if not properly managed, the crises may affect the fortunes of the party during the general elections.
It was gathered that in most of the APC states where there are protracted crises, the governors there had the listening ears of Oyegun and that was why they worked for his tenure elongation.
On the other hand, their “rivals” who are mostly members of the National Assembly or chieftains of the party holding other political appointments are the ones who want him out of office.
“Before the recent development, most of those who want Oyegun to remain on board are the closest allies of the president; nobody can exactly tell you how the equation would not work,” another source said.
“All the APC states have their peculiar challenges and it is time that will tell; what Buhari did is to ensure that the South West, which has Tinubu as leader, did not defect,” a member of the APC Caucus said.
In Kogi State, Governor Yahaya Bello is no doubt one of the governors in support of tenure elongation for the Chief Odigie Oyegun-led NWC.
Bello is said to have enjoyed some “goodwill” from the Oyegun-led executive since he emerged governor of the state, hence his unflinching supports for the APC national chairman.
Pundits said that given the circumstance under which Bello emerged as governor vis-a-vis his strained relationship with Bola Tinubu, he would not be comfortable with any national convention that could see to the emergence of a NWC that would give Tinubu the upper hand.
It was learnt that the governor and other aggrieved counterparts are exploring options that would see to it that the decision taken by NEC on tenure elongation stands.
On whether Bello would throw his weight behind Oyegun should he seek a re-election eventually if the APC goes ahead with its national convention, his spokesman, Mr Kingsley Fanwo, said, “The governor doesn’t work in isolation. He will always abide by the resolution of his colleagues and the supremacy of the party.
“A lot of talks are ongoing to ensure that the APC does what is right and what will strengthen the party to continue to serve the people of this great nation beyond 2019.When those resolutions are reached, the public will be duly informed,” he said.
In Oyo State, the recent selection of candidates for the forthcoming local government election through consensus may affect congresses to elect new executives at ward, council and the state at large.
One of the party executives in Akinyele Local Government Area of the state, who pleaded not to be named, told Daily Trust on Sunday that aggrieved members of the party were ready for war with Governor Abiola Ajimobi for the alleged imposition and the situation would worsen if he attempts to repeat it during congresses are made.
He also said the state might go for the congresses and convention with a divided house, considering the influence of the Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, who is not on the same page with the governor and other powerful leaders of the party in the state.
He noted that the governor had successfully crippled the party structure after he won his second term election by cutting significant funding for the party.
The governor had allegedly relocated the party secretariat to his personal property in Oke-Ado area of Ibadan when the party could not afford to pay for rent in their former office.
When contacted, the party spokesperson, Olawale Sadare said the leadership of the party in Oyo State were silent on the issue that affects party executive at the ward, local government, state and national levels, saying their position would be made known at the right time.
In Kano State, the pending issue that might affect the upcoming APC national convention is the lingering political tussle between the state governor, Dr. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje who is having good relationship with Oyegun and his predecessor, Senator Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso.
It was observed the recent intervention by the APC national headquarters that led to the appointment of an acting chairman in the state, Engineer Bashir Yahaya Karaye, has stabilised the party, thus, conducting congresses in the state may not be a problem to the party.
Speaking to Daily Trust on Sunday, the APC deputy chairman in Kano, Honourable Shehu Maigari, said the party was operating as a single entity and that everybody was being carried along by the party leadership.
Maigari added that APC would come out stronger after its national convention, noting that, “Nigerians should remember that the current leadership of the party was formed by a combination of three defunct political parties, Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) that have come together to form the APC.
“The three defunct political parties presented their representatives to form the current leadership of the APC. At that time, we have no option than to accept whoever the parties presented; but now, we can elect our leaders based on their credibility and those elected will perform to the expectations of the party and Nigerians because failure to do so may cost them their positions in the next congresses.
“Take for instance, Kano, Bauchi, Kaduna and Kogi states, we are having serious problem in these states, but the present NWC of the party is virtually doing nothing to address it. So, by the time we elect credible leaders, I am sure they will make efforts to address the situation in order to bring unity among the party members which in turn will make the party stronger.”
On whether the party will be able to finance its convention or not, Maigari said members of the party especially those holding political office at the National and States Assembly would be willing to contribute financially to ensure that the convention holds successfully.
In Bauchi, the political animosity between Governor Mohammed Abdullahi Abubakar and some federal lawmakers from the state since 2015 has affected the needed cohesion among members of the party in the state.
Recent attempts by some local government chairmen to remove the state chairman of the party exposed the deep crack existing in the party.
There are some local government chairmen of the party in some parts of the state who were rejected as members pledged their loyalties to certain individuals that are not in good terms with the state party leadership which is loyal to the governor.
In some places, local government party chairmen and other officials have been suspended or are not being invited to meetings because of their loyalties to some people that are not on good terms with the state party leadership or Governor Mohammed Abdullahi Abubakar.
A state official of the party who pleaded anonymity said; “We have real serious issues that need to be resolved before congresses should be conducted from the wards upwards. The party needs to work extra hard to tackle the problems.”
Bauchi, Bogoro, Dass and Tafawa Balewa local government areas are almost at the centre of political dissent in the state.
In Bogoro, Dass and Tafawa Balewa, the Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara calls the shots; his primary constituency, where he enjoys almost absolute political loyalty.
With this in view, the people who might emerge as new leaders may likely be loyal to the speaker.
However, other political actors who are loyal to Governor Abubakar may try to bring their loyalists too.
Another APC stalwart, Alhaji Sani Malam, however, stated that holding congress from the wards upwards was inevitable to the party if it wanted to be democratic.
He said President Buhari’s comment at National Executive Council (NEC) meeting, was the correct position.
“The tenure of the party executives, both at national and state levels will soon expire. So, the party structure at all levels from the wards, local governments and states must be renewed through a transparent congress as required, “he said.