Onyebuchi Ezigbo, in Abuja, examines the matters arising from the last meeting of the National Executive Committee meeting of the ruling All Progressives Congress

On Thursday, March 24, the All Progressives Congress held its second National Executive Committee meeting amid several contentious issues. However, whereas the build-up to the all-important meeting of the ruling party suggested an explosive encounter, what officially emanated from the leadership meeting was less controversial than generally expected.

Innovation
Some decisions reached at the meeting may have far-reaching impact on the party. For instance, the party resolved to revisit the composition of the Board of Trustees and to cut down its membership. Though, the BoT was constituted several months ago with membership numbering over 100, its formal inauguration has remained in abeyance, fuelling suspicion that all may not be well with the important organ of the APC.

Part of the problem was the fear about the fierce battle for control of the board, which many believed the inauguration was going to generate. The idea was to avoid anything that could compound the existing internal squabbles. Another reason for the delayed inauguration and which, perhaps, might be the main idea behind the proposal to prune down the BoT, was that it could be turned into a battle ground for 2019 political ambitions.

The idea of pruning the BoT membership was first muted at the APC National Caucus meeting at the Presidential Villa. The party was worried about the huge membership of the BoT, which had given room for persons with various ulterior motives. The next line of action will be for the party to set up a committee to reorganise the BoT and also recommend relevant amendments to the party’s constitution.

National Chairman of the APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, who spoke on the approval given by party’s NEC for the reconstitution of the BoT, however, did not give the number of members the party wanted in the BoT.

He said, “NEC has decided to downsize our Board of Trustees in line with all other constitutional amendments. We don’t have any particular number, but it is going to be seriously downsized. The committee will be headed by the national legal adviser. We will put our heads together on that in the next day or two and there may be need to hold on a little bit.”

Another high point of the NEC meeting was the decision to approve budget limits for the operations of the party. The implications of the move by the NEC is that the leadership of the party and the National Working Committee are now to restrict themselves to approved annual budgets, against the practice of spending monies as they accrue. For some time now the party has been under considerable financial pressure with no steady means of generating income. Some APC leaders believed the party had generated huge sums of money from sale of nomination forms during the last general elections. With the approval of budgetary limits, the finances of the party will now be under greater scrutiny.

Keeping Hope Alive
The NEC meeting provided an opportunity for President Muhammadu Buhari to interface with the APC top leadership on the progress and challenges of his administration. It proved a good platform for Buhari to open-up to his party men on a number of governance issues and seek support from the party’s leaders in the effort to explain government policies and programmes.

There has been growing worries about the state of the nation, especially with the resurgent crisis in the country’s energy sector. The NEC of the ruling party is beginning to help in appealing to the people to bear with the government and promise that things would be better.

At the NEC meeting, Buhari told the party leaders to help in spreading the message to Nigerians that the change APC was working hard to enthrone might not come easy. The president restated the key promises made by the party to Nigerian electorate to the effect that it would deal with issues of security, economy, unemployment, and corruption.
Buhari said, “We campaigned throughout the country on these three fundamental issues and nobody successfully challenged us and these issues remained relevant. Again, I have to repeat myself here for you to appreciate what I am going through because you are closer to the people than myself.”

The president spoke on the state of the economy and the anti-corruption fight.
On the economy, he has said the fall in oil prices after Nigeria had made itself a mono economy was a disaster. “I wonder why people could not believe that in Nigeria about 27 out of 36 states have difficulty in paying basic salaries of their workers. If from 1999 to at least 2003, oil was above $100 per barrel and an export of about two million barrels per day, how come Nigeria failed to make some arrangement to cushion the effect of a probably volatile oil market?” Buhari lamented.

Buhari said despite the failure of the last administration to properly manage the economy, the APC- government was ready to pick up the pieces, adding that there is no need to continue complaining. “We realised that agriculture and solid minerals are two areas that can quickly come to help us to recover economically, at least in terms of employment and feeding ourselves and more importantly, saving the hard currency to make sure that what is left of our industries remain open, employing Nigerians and producing goods and services which is very important,” he said.

Following questions among the public about the value the policy of Single Treasury Account had added to the economy, Buhari broke his silence on the matter and confirmed that over N3 trillion had been moped up in the CBN vaults. According to him, “When we insist that we have to know what comes in and what goes out, for us to make a comprehensive amendment to the economy. If you go and see the Central Bank Governor, he will tell you that in the TSA we have more than N3 trillion. Where would this money have been if TSA was not in vogue? I was made to understand that vouchers would have quickly been raised towards the end of the financial year and cheques made. Whether they are going into projects or private pockets, nobody can prove it to you.”

Anticorruption Crusade
Buhari further explained government’s efforts to reform the operations of the Nigerian National Petroleum and track down oil thieves.
On the fight against corruption, the president expressed his frustration in trying to work within the law to prosecute suspected corrupt individuals, while at the same time acknowledging some achievements.

He stated, “I was telling a British team that came to supervise the training team they sent that when I was in uniform, you took the perceived corrupt ones and put them in safe custody and quietly told them they were guilty until they can prove themselves innocent. But now under multi-party democratic system, I see some of them ride Rolls Royce, some of them have built estates here, but they are innocent until we can prove them guilty.

“This situation is true and you don’t need to stress your imagination to find out. If you can find out, you discover that a Level 8 officer has five houses, while you, as a permanent secretary or commissioner is still living in a rented house. We have to get credible evidence to carry out successful prosecution and get judgement from the judiciary. But effort is being made to give a list of recoveries in whatever currencies so far so that Nigerians will know that it is not all about long stories.”

Security
On security, the president said his administration was making progress in the fight against the Boko Haram insurgents. He said it was a courageous decision that the party took, which was executed by the executive, to remove most of the military hierarchy and appoint those to take over from them, acquire some new hard and soft ware and raise the morale of the military in order to secure the country. “I have said it often that as far as I know and the service chiefs who are on ground, they are not holding any local government. But they still have some capability, especially on soft targets by using technology,” Buhari said regarding the fight against the insurgents.

Another issue that the president brought before the party’s leaders was the damage to economy by vandals. He said the leaders, especially those from the Niger Delta area, where the activities mainly occur, should be part of the efforts to curb the increasing incidence of vandalism of oil and electricity facilities. A visibly worried Buhari said the militants were sending some conflicting messages to investors by their continued sabotage of pipeline facilities.

On Election
Very importantly, Buhari used the occasion to admonish two institutions which play critical roles in the conduct of elections in the country, the Independent National Electoral Commission and security agencies, to help ensure that a legacy of free, fair and credible elections was bequeathed to the country. The president accepted some failings of his administration in the effort to organise violence-free elections.

He stated, “I appeal to the leadership of the military, security agents and INEC that what I want Nigerians to remember me for, even if I have to leave the Presidency tomorrow, is that I respect them. I want all Nigerians to believe and hold their PVC as personal entitlement as Nigerians and use it the way they like, and vote for whoever they like at which ever election.”

Sacrifice
Buhari urged the leadership of APC to continue to make sacrifices and help in propagating the policies of government and the message of change, which brought them to office. In what looked like a call to also embrace transparency in the handling of its affairs, the president re-echoed an observation made by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar that the leadership of the party should always keep records of decisions taken at meetings.

The president said, “I know you are being harassed since the election that they haven’t seen anything on the ground. Well, if you have any explanation that could be accepted, it is that you have three more years to go. When we came in after 16 years of PDP, each government had 42 ministries.

We reduced them to 24, removed 21 permanent secretaries. We sat down and reflected seriously. We were all in the process of taking over at a time of national budget. So, imagine the volume of work and with what happened in the National Assembly, the padding; it would appear that below the permanent secretaries, there are still a lot of bureaucracies that are still with them. So, you have to appreciate the position we are in.”

Challenge
What with internal dissensions and trying to restore public confidence in its change agenda, APC has been having a tough time of it lately. The party is being challenged to prove its worth in governance in the light of current difficulties confronting ordinary people. The president’s presentation at the NEC meeting was a mixture of a score card and appeal for support. Time will tell how the issues arising from the meeting would impact on the activities of the party and the government.