All Progressives Congress (APC) National Chairman Chief John Odigie-Oyegun did the unthinkable during the week in respect of the disputed gubernatorial primary election of the party in Ondo State. There is a need to give a run-down of events in order to underscore how reprehensible the move singlehandedly taken by Oyegun is. A plethora of petitions had trailed the intra-party election conducted on Saturday September 3, purportedly won by former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Chief Rotimi Akeredolu aka Aketi. Six petitions were said to have been filed by three of the aspirants who took part in the exercise and another three by some party leaders privy to what transpired in that electoral fiasco. The Appeal Panel earlier set up by the party to entertain petitions arising from the primaries had examined the petitions filed against Akeredolu’s emergence. The three-man Appeal Committee headed by Mrs. Helen Bendega, in its wisdom, recommended that the September 3 primary election be cancelled and a fresh one conducted.
The committee found out that the delegates list used for the conduct of that election was badly ‘corrupted’. The panel observed that the list was manipulated as there was evidence that non-delegates were recruited to participate in the exercise. Specifically, the party’s National Organising Secretary, Senator Osita Izunaso, was accused of colluding to manipulate the list. He was also accused of providing extra tags to non-delegates to vote. Both the Chairman and Secretary of the committee signed in support of the cancellation while the other member of the 3-man panel disagreed with the cancellation.
When the report was submitted to the APC National Working Committee, the committee met for three days over it. At the end of its deliberations, the 12-member NWC decided to put the issue to vote. The contentious issue was said to have been reduced to two motions. One, adopt the recommendation of the Appeal’s Panel to cancel the primaries that allegedly produced Akeredolu and conduct a fresh one. And two, resolve the matter in-house, but in order to beat the submission deadline, submit the name of the Vice Chairman of the party in the South-west zone, Chief Pius Akinyelure, to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) pending the resolution of the logjam. These were the motions presented for the vote. At the end of it all, six members voted to uphold the report of the Appeal Committee, which is to cancel the September 3 primary election and organise a fresh one. Five others voted to retain the last primary election and uphold Akeredolu’s emergence.
Now, under normal procedure usually adopted by the party, the National Chairman can only cast his vote only when there is a tie. In this instance, there was no tie. A majority of the NWC members had taken their decision to cancel the September 3 primary election and conduct a fresh one. But Chairman Oyegun voted to create a deadlock. He overruled the majority decision. He vetoed the majority decision and imposed his own opinion on the party. He then secretly ordered that Akeredolu’s name be submitted to INEC as the party’s gubernatorial candidate for the November 26 election.
One flustered NWC member was reported by a national newspaper to have responded this way: “A majority of the NWC members had taken a decision with their votes. What the Chairman did was to veto the majority and forced his opinion on the majority. It is sad”. The party, in a statement by its National Secretary, Mai Bala Buni, denied that any such voting took place, saying it had abinitio rejected the report of the Appeal Panel, claiming it was “fundamentally and fatally flawed”. But the aggrieved aspirants, Segun Abraham, Olusola Oke and Boroffice Ajayi, who knew what transpired, are taking the party’s response with a pinch of salt. They continue to attack the perceived injustice.
The point is Oyegun’s action seems all premeditated. There had been some initial attempts by some within the party to bury the Appeal Panel’s report. A statement credited to the party’s National Legal Adviser, Dr. Muiz Banire, was put out purportedly given the party the legal advice that the Appeal Panel’s report should be discountenanced and Akeredolu’s candidacy upheld. But lo and behold, Banire, who was at the time and is still in the United States, had washed his hands clean of the move. He said he should be left out of the APC crisis in the state. Oyegun’s action, as condemnable as it is, has compounded the situation in Ondo APC, which many analysts see as the party to beat in the November 26 election.
How can such an action engender peace within the party? Is it not a recipe for disaster if major aspirants like Chief Segun Abraham and Chief Olusola Oke and some party leaders complained with credible evidence that the delegates list, with which Akeredolu procured his victory, was doctored and their petition upheld by the Appeal Panel, only for the party chairman to impose his decision on them? Will those aggrieved contestants now fall in line and work as a team to procure victory for the party in the election? Rather than hit the ground running, launching into campaigns for the election, the bulk of the time would now be devoted to wielding the disparate forces in the party together to achieve the peace that seems to have been further injured. In the process, a lot of time would have been lost. Has n’t APC shot itself on the foot? Will Ondo APC secure defeat from the jaws of apparent victory?
• Rahman, former Editor, Thisday on Sunday, is Managing Editor of Western Post. Follow him on Twitter @tunderahmanu