Onyebuchi Ezigbo examines the intricacies of the planned appointment of a new national publicity secretary for APC following Lai Mohammed’s selection as minister

When the fiery Kwara-born lawyer and politician, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, was appointed into the federal cabinet as Minister of Information and Culture, it was hailed as a good reward for hard work and a step in the right direction. Many believed the appointment would help to give the new All Progressives Congress administration the badly needed good publicity. But Mohammed’s exit as national publicity secretary of APC has since become a source of worry for the ruling party.

The party has reached a political crossroads; it is struggling to overcome the vacuum created by Mohammed’s absence. National Chairman of APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, had on three different occasions bemoaned the party’s predicament with regard to finding a suitable replacement for Mohammed. Odigie-Oyegun recently told journalists at the party’s national secretariat in Abuja, that the party was experiencing a challenge in getting the right replacement for its former spokesman.

“I think arrangements have been completed to hold the necessary congresses to nominate the spokesperson,” he said. “I think that should be done very shortly. In fact, the issue of getting somebody that can be as close as possible to the outstanding performance of the present Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, has been a major challenge.”

Odigie-Oyegun stressed, “I think that has been the issue. As a matter of fact, if it means making adjustments, somebody who is good is priority number one and afterwards you can make adjustments in zoning subsequently.”

Apparently, one of the difficulties the party may be encountering is the fact that the position is zoned to the North-central and as such expectations are that a replacement should come from that area. According to Odigie-Oyegun, the search for a qualitative replacement has been on, but no good material has been forthcoming from the zone.
From all indications, the party may have to ignore the existing zoning arrangement so as to appoint a good hand for the job of national publicity secretary.

Besides capability, there is also the issue of loyalty to various camps within the party. For instance, there is a suspicion that the reluctance of the leadership to entrust the job of national publicity secretary to the deputy national publicity secretary, Timi Frank, may be due to the fear that he may have a leaning towards a chieftain of the party. The concern by some members of the NWC is that Frank may act against the interest and positions of the present leadership of the party. But added to this is the issue of constitutionality, which appears to be the major point behind the face-off with Frank.

Frank had accused the APC leadership of undermining the party’s constitution by allowing the national secretary, Mai-Mala Buni, to usurp his functions as the next person to step into the shoes of the former spokesman as a temporary measure till a replacement is made. While reacting to the Odigie-Oyegun’s statement, Frank said the party chairman’s position could not be justified, adding that the search for a replacement shouldn’t have arisen when there was a deputy who should step into the shoes of Mohammed.

In fact, Frank described the statement credited to Odigie-Oyegun as malicious, saying it is meant to discredit him and the party. He stressed that there were many party men and women who could fill the vacant positions in the party. In a statement, he said, “I disagree with Chief Odigie-Oyegun on his comment with regard to the replacement of Minister Lai Mohammed. The statement made by him is reckless, baseless and unwarranted. I am the deputy national publicity secretary of the party and as such can act in the absence of the national publicity secretary. I am also qualified to act as a substantive publicity secretary of the party.

“The statement is malicious, insulting and meant to discredit my person as well as the party by saying it is difficult to fill the office from the present calibre of party men and women we have. As a good party man, Chief Oyegun ought to have informed the public about the next convention date to fill all vacancies but not to use the medium to discredit my person and the party.”

Performance Problem
According to the 2014APC constitution, as amended, the role of the deputy national publicity secretary is to assist and deputise for the publicity secretary in his absence.

But Odigie-Oyegun said he had obtained the approval of the National Working Committee to enable him and the national secretary to continue to speak on behalf of the party, pending the time a new Spokesman is appointed. This, however, does not solve the problem.

There have been complaints from journalists and other concerned parties that those who have been assigned the temporary role of the publicity secretary of APC have been unable to adequately discharge such functions. For some time now, it has been difficult to get feedback from the party on various issues in the polity.

At the same time, APC has found it difficult to respond timely to attacks from the opposition parties and the party has seemed to lack a coordinated procedure for engaging the media on the marketing of its activities.

Many have voiced concerns about the continued estrangement of the deputy national publicity secretary, saying it amounts to impunity, which the APC had severally accused the Peoples Democratic Party of perpetrating. Their argument is that if the man was found to be qualified to occupy the position of deputy, he should not be denied his statutory duty of acting in the absence of the national publicity secretary.

Ahead of the crucial meetings of all key organs of the party, the National Caucus, Board of Trustees, and the National Executive Committee, an epic is already raging. It is difficult to say how things would play out. But many think APC needs to put its house in order to avoid a degeneration of the divergences in the party in the struggle for power.