Bone in the throat: Nigeria’s ruling party in quandary over National Convention .
By Richard Mammah
To the casual observer, Nigeria’s ruling party, the All Progressives Congress, APC continues to largely dominate the country’s political landscape.
Beneath this veneer however are evident faultlines and cracks waiting to be managed.
Though some would even go as far as to suggest that the party has indeed continued to be a complex patchwork of conflicting tendencies since its emergence, things however were to get to a head in 2020, when a strong-willed tendency within the party moved against its then National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, and eased him out of office in a contentious push that was simply allowed to go because it was widely seen as clearly having the support and backing of President Muhammadu Buhari.
However, one year down the line, the ruling party still has a massive piece of bone stuck in its throat as the Governor Buni-led Caretaker Committee that had been given six months to clear the stables and conduct a fresh national convention from where a new statutory National Executive would be elected to run the party’s affairs had since secured an additional six months extension and on Friday secured yet another extension.
Underscoring the entire crisis in the ruling party is the discomforting situation of how the APC is to handle the inevitable Buhari succession. This is because, the same President that has evidently been the single most visible unifying factor for party members, may paradoxically also be its strongest Achilles heel.
In a sense, the APC shot itself in the foot. In building and selling the party, it literally presented the Buhari persona as its chief defining point. Asked, at its emergence, how it would address the security challenges it had complained that the then Jonathan administration was not tackling properly, it pointed to Buhari: the General would do it. Asked how it would address the widespread challenge of corruption, again it pointed to Buhari: the General would do it. Now the party is faced with a challenge that in the eyes of many, the General has clearly not done it as had been so excessively trumpeted. And to compound matters, Buhari has to go at the close of the next 24 months, with so many challenges all over the place.
Other than Buhari, the other single most dominant player in the original APC script is its South West and National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Indeed, for many within the South West caucus of the party, Tinubu has been the successor-in-waiting for years. But there are also those who would not hear that. And they include those who masterminded the Oshiomhole purge on grounds that included his seeming closeness to Tinubu. And that is the crux of the succession crisis that is fuelling other problems including getting an acceptable date for hosting the national convention to elect new internal drivers for the party. Evidence of the fact that there were indeed still other challenges to address before the coast is fully clear is the fact that even when dates have now been chosen for the ward, local government and state congresses component of the process without naming a substantive date for the grand National Convention.
For Oyero Akande, he is not surprised that APC is having the current challenge even as he sees Tinubu’s challenge as some kind of payback for what he describes as ‘his politics of sabotage and selfishness that has now come back to haunt him.’
More substantially however, he notes:
‘A Tinubu Presidency in 2023 is a big gamble.
First, It is hard for the North to relinquish power to the South in 2023 because of their excessive attachment to power within the Nigerian project. We heard this in 2019.
We also heard it recently when Buhari suggested that somebody can’t sit in Lagos and decide who will rule the country in 2023. Though his aides walked back the line, the genie had already left the bottle.
Another angle to the story is that Tinubu as a Southern Muslim, needs a Christian northerner to balance his ticket. However, apart from the likes of Nuhu Ribadu and El Rufai, there is no other valuable running mate for Tinubu in 2023 that will guarantee their absolute loyalty than these people but unfortunately, the options are Muslims.’
Thomas Egbo adds another dimension:
‘All the things happening in APC point to a realisation that without Buhari on the ballot they are not likely to win the Presidency. The cabal also knows that with Tinubu as President they would not control him hence they would prefer someone else. It’s a tough battle. An Oshiomhole would have been helpful to Tinubu’s aspirations but they have since rubbished him. They would rather fight Tinubu then than give him the President’s mantle.’
With the dates for the national convention not settled at the moment, many political players and would-be contenders for office in the unfolding 2023 political process are biding their time. When this correspondent spoke with a governorship contender from the North Central earlier in the week, he said that his permutations had been put on hold on account of the lingering issues in the APC. For a second governorship hopeful from the South East, there was far too much uncertainty in the horizon at the moment for him to be more definitive about his plans and moves.
With the General elections already hinted to hold on Saturday, February 18, 2023, part of the danger the APC is confronted with is that the new executive would have only a few weeks to literally settle in and resolve the anticipated tensions and fall outs from its own convention process before being tasked with the arduous burden of superintending over the process of choosing flagbearers for the party across the country’s states and the FCT and of course a successor candidate to President Muhammadu Buhari.
With the Ward Congresses slated for 24th July, the local government congresses for 14th August and state congresses on 18th September, polity watchers wager that the National Convention may not hold before November or December, 2021.
Other matters arising
Indeed, for the commentator, Eniola Atanbiyi, an even bigger challenge is that given the level of poor governance in the country at the moment and the parlous state of the economy, odds are that there may not even be a 2023 polls.
Almost underscoring this possibility, the Independent National Electoral Commission has been emphasising that the spate of attacks on its facilities in recent times was indeed a threat that needs to be frontally addressed. In fact so bothered have the leaders of the commission been about the challenge that they have taken their case to the presidency to request that the president should offer them better protection.
Not done, INEC Chairman, Yakubu in a media briefing this week, announced that the commission has presently modified its schedule for the Continuous Voters Registration, CVR exercise that precedes polling so as to provide better safeguards for its personnel in the midst of the extenuating security challenge.
What must be must be
At the moment, the process for the holding of the convention is kicking off in July with the ward congresses and then cascading through the activities that are statutorily expected to take place at the local government and state levels before getting to the national convention proper in at the close of the year.
While part of the challenge is said to be connected with the recent membership registration exercise, there are also indications that there may also be even bigger issues connected to ensuring that the process is very seamlessly managed in order that it would produce the kind of outcome that is favoured by the leaders of the party that had forced out the erstwhile national chairman.
The Adams Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee had been dissolved on June 25, 2020 and replaced by the Mala Buni-led Caretaker/Extraordinary National Committee. On December 8, 2020, the tenure of the caretaker committee was further extended ostensibly to permit it to conduct and supervise a fresh membership registration exercise. Now, another extension has been approved to enable the committee time to reconcile aggrieved members, finish with the supervision of the data capturing segment of the membership registration and revalidation exercise and prepare all grounds for the congresses that precede the national convention which it would also be conducting.
Polity watchers say that all things considered, the real evidence of movement may eventually come with the decision on the zoning patterns for the emergence of officers at the convention proper. Given the country’s inherent diversity and plurality, one of the things that major national political parties over time have had to watch very closely is ensuring a sense of balance and accommodation for the different ethnic, geographical and religious blocs in the country. In this wise, feelers are that the geographical and religious bloc from where the National Chairman emerges would help shed light on where the presidential candidate of the party for the 2023 polls would very likely be coming from.
And it is almost evident that one of the most interested watchers of the unfolding drama within the ruling party is the opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, given that it would also have its own day in court, soon.