Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
Late in the night on Tuesday last week, key leaders of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) began to arrive at the Presidential Villa, Aso Rock in Abuja. They were in the Villa for a parley with President Muhammadu Buhari on the state of the nation and how to articulate an effective response to pressing national issues.
The President had constituted a Presidential Advisory body made up of 19 top leaders of the ruling party, both in and out of government, christened ‘G-19’ to advise him on a regular basis regarding critical issues affecting governance and politics in the country. That was not the first time leaders of the party would be meeting with the President in the Villa, but it was the first time that the nomenclature of the body would be made public.
Members of the advisory team who attended the meeting include the APC national leadership made up of the national chairman, Chief John Oyegun, the deputy national chairman (North), Senator Lawan Shuaibu , deputy national chairman (South), Mr. Segun Oni, national leaders of the party, Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, and Chief Tony Momoh.
Others are the leadership of the National Assembly, led by Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki, and Speaker of the House of Representstives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir David Lawal.
Former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, fand ormer Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, were conspicoulsy absent from the meeting, but not without apologies. While Atiku attributed his absence to the fact that he was undergoing his medical checkup, Tinubu said he was stuck in an airport in Senegal.
THISDAY gathered from sources that the meeting was summoned chiefly because of violent attacks and wanton killings in parts of the country which have led to outrage both within and outside the country, and the President’s aim was to get the input of his party leaders on how to resolve the issue.
Also on the agenda of the closed-door meeting held that night were issues bordering on the rising wave of murderous attacks by herdsmen, kidnappings and politically motivated assassinations in some parts of the country, conclusion of actions on the 2016 Federal Government budget, the unsettled funding arrangement for the APC as well as deepening intra- party feud that has engulfed the party in Kano State.
A highly reliable source in the Presidential Villa who spoke to THISDAY on the parley explained that the meeting dwelt mainly on articulating solutions and trying to advise on various options to resolve the security challenge.
“Actually, the meeting was between the President and his Presidential Advisory Team made up of top leaders of the APC and presiding officers of the National Assembly meant to discuss the way forward on a number of national issues including recent spate of attacks by Fulani herdsmen on farmers and the reported killings and kidnaping incidents in southern states,” the source said.
The attacks by herdsmen, the source said, were sources of worry for the President particularly because of the dimension the issue was taking, particularly the positions being taken by leaders along ethnic line.
According the source, it was the need to quickly arrest the trend that informed the decision by President Buhari to seek the advice of the leaders of the party to enable him get a balanced view on measures being proposed by government to deal with the matter.
In addition to the issue of the herdsmen attacks, sources said the meeting deliberated on similar security issues like kidnappings and killings in some states especially those that were carried out by suspected political thugs in Rivers and Edo States. Based on several complaints and pressure mounted by APC members during and after the re-run elections conducted in Rivers state, the meeting was said to have deliberated on options before the government to strengthen the security arrangement currently in place.
The issue of the controversy that enveloped the 2016 budget which led to the delay in the president assenting to the budget was also discussed and a resolution was reached by the advisory team that everything possible should be done by all involved to ensure the budget was signed into law. Three days later, President Buhari signed the budget into law.
It was learnt that the meeting also considered the intra party squabbles in Kano state involving supporters of the governor, D Umar Abdullahi Ganduje, and his predecessor, Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso.
At the meeting, President Buhari was said to have been briefed on the peace efforts so far made by the committee headed by the Deputy National Chairman (North) Senator Lawan, to resolve their differences. Shuaibu gave an undertaken to try and bring the two political foes to the dialogue table in order to resolve the problem.
Kano state chapter, considered as very strategic to the APC, had been enmeshed in crisis in recent times on account of a political dispute involving Governor Ganduje and Senator Kwankwaso which snowballed into a wider conflict threatening to divide the party in the state.
However, following the meeting with President Buhari, the national leadership of the party last Thursday invited estranged party leaders to a peace meeting at the national secretariat of the party in Abuja where they agreed in principle to sheathe their swords and work together again.
Another issue that came up at the meeting at the Presidential Villa was how to find sustainable source of funding for the ruling party in order to keep it afloat. The ruling party has been facing difficulties in sourcing funds to run its day-to-day operations due to the anti-corruption stand of the President Buhari- led administration which has discouraged bank-rolling of party expenses by government. The matter was however made worse following the internal conflict that has set key APC leaders apart, thus preventing them from donating funds to the party leadership. The presidency source said that the meeting received report from Chief Oyegun on the state of funding of the party as well as new initiatives being adopted to mobilize funds outside of government patronage.