As Tension Between Tinubu and Odigie -Oyegun Bubbles to the Surface

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Onyebuchi Ezigbo writes on the faceoff between the APC national leader and the party’s national chairman

After months of unease in the relationship between the national chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, and the party’s national leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, there was a flare-up of tension between both men last week. Tinubu publicly accused Odigie-Oyegun of bad leadership and asked him to resign.

Lingering Crisis
Before the latest crisis, the party had witnessed a lingering internal feud which tended to polarise it into three factions. Though these factions have not been drawn into open confrontation, they have remained steadfast in their opposition to each other as far events in the party are concerned.

The conflict started with the selection of the leadership of the National Assembly. The emergence of Senate President Bukola Saraki, Deputy Senator Ike Ekwerenmadu and Speaker of the House Representatives Yakubu Dogara had first pitted the party’s leadership against Tinubu, who felt that the Odigie-Oyegun-led National Working Committee did not do enough to assert its authority and ensure that candidates anointed by it emerged victorious at the National Assembly. Later, the party leadership also got knocks from the Presidency, and a group loyal to former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and Saraki distanced itself from the party’s positions. Since then, there has been no love lost between the national chairman and Tinubu, who is believed to have influenced his emergence.

‘Off-gear’
Odigie-Oyegun once admitted that the crisis had caught the party napping. In an interview with journalists at the party’s national secretariat earlier in the year, he said, “The system went out off-gear with the very first election that was made. So the planning of the party was thrown out of sync. So you have to walk back and resolve it as best as possible in the circumstances. In human affairs there is no perfection.”

From then on, things continued to deteriorate, with the APC continually receiving bashing from aggrieved members over alleged inability to resolve the crisis in the National Assembly as well other places where there has been intra-party wrangling. One of the victims of the seeming indiscretion was the deputy national publicity secretary, Mr. Timi Frank, who despite the departure of the immediate past APC national publicity secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who is now information minister, was prevented from acting in that capacity.

Little wonder, Tinubu’s call for Odigie-Oyegun’s resignation got the backing of the estranged deputy national publicity secretary, when he described it as a vindication of his earlier position that the Odigie-Oyegun leadership had fallen short of expectations. Speaking at a press conference in Abuja on Monday, Frank said based on the weighty allegations made by the former Lagos State governor, he was “urging the party leadership to immediately convene an emergency meeting of the National Executive Committee to look into the crisis generated by the conduct of Ondo State governorship primary, among other nagging issues.”

Replacement
With such a turbulent situation, Odigie-Oyegun knew he was only marking time and might be the target any time changes were to be made in the party’s leadership. But somehow, his leadership appears to be surviving against all odds, probably due to the fact that the power brokers could not settle for a suitable replacement.

At a stage, the governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomole, was being canvassed as Odigie-Oyegun’s possible replacement. But even that choice is now coming under great scrutiny, as some of the leaders are said to be uncomfortable with the unpredictable nature of Oshiomhole and are considering other options. Added to this is the fact that the APC-led federal government is witnessing dwindling popularity across the country due to the worsening economic conditions of Nigerians. The party leaders, therefore, see anything that would further create crisis among them as not good at the moment, hence their decision to shelve the proposed emergency convention. All these factors have combined to give Odigie-Oyegun a breather and may further keep him going at least for now until the party is ready to hold its national conference.

While it is in the interest of the ruling party to exercise caution in order not to allow the implosion that happened in the erstwhile ruling party, Peoples Democratic Party, to befall it, some of the leaders have also cautioned the party leadership to take proactive steps to nip the crisis in the bud. The Kastina State governor, Aminu Masari, during a meeting of the APC governors’ forum in Abuja recently, charged the party’s NWC led by Odigie-Oyegun to be more proactive and to do the right thing at the right time in resolving the crisis facing the party.

Ondo Primary
Tinubu’s outburst last week followed an alleged mishandling of the disagreements arising from the Ondo State governorship primary by the NWC. It all began when the governor of Jigawa State, Muhammadu Abubakar, submitted the report of the committee for the Ondo primary election to the national leadership of the APC. In the report, Chief Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN, was indicated as having won the governorship primary, defeating among other contestants, Mr. Segun Abraham, the preferred candidate of Tinubu. However, following their disapproval of the outcome of the primary election, three of the governorship aspirants, Abraham, Olusola Oke, and Senator Ajayi Borofice, petitioned the APC appeal panel headed by Mrs. Helen Benaga, alleging irregularities in the delegates list used for the primary.

After a week-long sitting, the appeal committee came out with a verdict to annul the primary election. But the committee’s decision remained a secret until it was submitted to the leadership of the party. The report, said to have been endorsed by two out of the three members of the appeal committee, recommended the cancellation of the primary election and holding of a fresh one. Those who were at the meeting to receive the report of the appeal panel were Odigie-Oyegun and the two deputy national chairmen for South and North, Mr. Segun Oni and Senator Shuiabu Lawal, respectively.

Others were the national secretary, Mai Mala Buni, national auditor, Chief George Moghalu, national treasurer, Mohammed Gwagwarwa, national organising secretary, Senator Osita Izunaso, deputy national secretary, Hon. Oji Ngofa, and all the national vice chairmen of the party.

The recommendation of the appeal committee generated heated a debate among members of the party’s NWC, to the extent that deliberations on the matter dragged on for three days. The NWC became divided, with one group supporting the cancellation while the other argued against it and wanted the report of the appeal committee dropped. The matter became more controversial when the report of the appeal committee leaked to the public and the affected aspirants on learning about it became even more agitated. It was at this stage that Odigie-Oyegun summoned an NWC meeting to take a decisive action on the way forward.

There were contradictory narratives from those who claimed to be privy to the discussions at the meeting. While some said the NWC voted to uphold the appeal panel report others said the majority position was to reject the report. The APC leadership later said it rejected the appeal panel’s report. In a statement issued by the Buni, APC said it took the decision to uphold the election of Akeredolu and to set aside appeal committee’s recommendations due contradictions contained the report and also because the primary election was time barred.

The statement said, “For the records, the party’s National Working Committee decision to reject the 2016 Ondo State APC Governorship Primary Election Appeal Committee Report was taken on Tuesday, September 20, 2016 in executive session after careful and exhaustive deliberation. The minutes and rejection was confirmed by the NWC on Thursday, September 22, 2016.”
The party said the issue of fresh primaries did not arise, as the NWC had already rejected the appeal committee’s report in view of some flaws.

According to the statement, “In any case, the election was time barred. By the timetable released by the Independent National Electoral Commission, all governorship primaries and issues relating to it ended on September 19, 2016. Also, voting on the issue did not arise in view of the NWC’s rejection of the appeal committee’s report. The NWC in its four-point resolution rejected the appeal committee’s recommendation on the grounds that the report was fundamentally and fatally flawed. The NWC observed that the appeal committee contradicted itself when it admitted that the Primary Election Committee substantially complied with the rules guiding the process but still proceeded to recommend the nullification of the primary election.

“The NWC in its four-point resolution faulted the failure of the appeal committee to invite the national secretariat to authenticate or otherwise the source of the disputed delegates list as the custodian. Also, the appeal committee did not invite the chairman or members of the Ondo State Governorship Primary Election Committee to clarify on the allegation of manipulation on the accreditation process. It rather relied on unsubstantiated evidence(s) to recommend the nullification of the primary.

“The NWC equally observed a serious contradiction in the appeal committee’s report in respect of the number of the accredited delegates. Whereas the Primary Election Committee’s report indicated that 2,774 delegates were accredited, the appeal committee’s report erroneously recorded it as those who voted in the election, thereby creating a false impression of over voting in the exercise. The actual total number of votes cast was 2,754, according to Primary Election Committee’s report.”

Tinubu’s Demand
Angered by the perceived NWC conspiracy, Tinubu said on Tuesday that Odigie-Oyegun should quit as national chairman of the ruling party. He alleged that the national chairman conspired with some members of the party “to sabotage justice and democracy in Ondo State,” in a statement by his media office, noting that Odigie-Oyegun “has dealt a heavy blow to the very party he professes to lead.”

In the statement, Tinubu said the APC, a party born as a result of the quest for democratic good governance, “is under critical threat by those who managed to be in the party.” To rescue the party, the statement said Odigie-Oyegun “must go. He has shown that he and democratic fair play cannot exist in the same party at the same time. If Tinubu is to choose between Oyegun and progress towards a better Nigeria, the choice has already been made. For those who care about the party, who care about Nigeria and its chance for a better tomorrow, now is the time to stand against this brewing evil before it grows to encompass all we have built and all we hold dear.”

Regarding the Ondo State primary, Tinubu said the delegates’ list was altered by someone in a strategic position to so do. He said names of over 150 valid delegates were excised to make room for an equal number of impostors, insisting that it is not a clerical error.

The statement said, “The alteration was wilfully executed that the primary would be directed toward a chosen end that bore nothing in common with the will of most state party members. A cunning few had tried to deceive the many into believing they were outnumbered. A conspiracy to steal the Ondo primary had been uncovered. Fortunately, the grand deception afoot had been unable to cover its tracks fast enough. Truth began to cry for justice. Several candidates filed petitions contesting the result.”

The statement explained how the party established an investigative board to review the evidence, stating, “In a two to one decision, the panel found the delegate roster had suffered tampering. The panel recommended that a new primary should be held using the valid delegate list. This recommendation was tabled before the National Working Committee. After many hours of deliberations spanning several days, a final vote was held by the NWC. Beforehand, NWC members agreed that the decision of the majority would become the stance of the party.

Such is the way of democracy. The NWC voted six against five to cancel the fraudulent results and hold an honest primary. For a moment, it seemed the party would restore its integrity by giving democracy a chance. However, those who sought to scam an entire state would not let the vote of 11 people spoil their enterprise. After the NWC’s vote, a noticeably agitated Oyegun proposed the NWC engage in prayer before concluding the meeting. Adhering to this chairman’s request, NWC members began to pray. Seeing that the others had taken his bait, Oyegun used the prayerful interlude to secretly excuse himself from the meeting.”

Tinubu who exonerated the chairman of the primary election committee and Jigawa governor, Badaru Abubakar, accused Odigie-Oyegun of contravening the NWC decision and violating all rules of fundamental decency. He further Odigie-Oyegun of trying to safeguard the fraud done in Ondo by perpetrating a greater fraud. Tinubu said the national chairman arrogated to himself the power to submit the name of Akeredolu to INEC as the candidate of the party.

Response
Surprisingly, Odigie-Oyegun chose to remain calm, at least for now. In an interview with newsmen in Benin City, he said he would not be drawn into a war of words with Tinubu.
“Asiwaju is a well-respected leader of the APC and as such I cannot be heard speaking evil against him,” the national chairman said, adding that he would consult properly with other leaders of the party before making any definite statement, and, “you know we have a crucial election here in Edo, which is my priority right now.”

The crisis arising from the Ondo State governorship primary is gradually drawing out other APC leaders from hiding. Those who before now had chosen to keep a distance or remain aloof are speaking out against the shortcomings in the leadership of the party.

Abubakar said it was wrong for the party to have set aside a resolution it had reached to resolve the crisis in the party in Ondo State. According to the former vice president, “It was wrong for the APC to have set aside a resolution it had reached aimed at resolving the crisis in our party in Ondo State. It is a recipe for acrimony and division.”

Atiku noted that pretending a problem did not exist would not make that problem go away, and therefore, advised the leadership of the party to do a soul searching and address the problem. He urged the party leadership to be guided by the respect for the rules, fairness, equity, neutrality and respect for democratic consensus.

The dust raised by the handling of the Ondo State governorship primary may just be the tonic needed for all those agitated in one way or the other about the activities in the party to raise their voices and begin to sort things out. In the days ahead, certainly, it would not be business as usual for the APC.