Onyebuchi Ezigbo reports on the attempts to resolve the disagreements arising from the Ondo State governorship primary
The All Progressives Congress breathed a sigh of relief last week, when the efforts to resolve the controversy that followed the selection of its governorship candidate for the Ondo State election started to yield fruit. As APC inaugurated the campaign council for the Ondo State election last week, there were signs that the party’s national leadership might have decided to move on without those who lost out in the primary contest.
However, of the APC governors in the campaign council, only one attended the inauguration of the council. Apart from the chairman of the Ondo State National Campaign Council, Plateau State Governor Dalong, another notable figure present was Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives Yusuf Lasun.
Even as APC tried to gloss over the issues that led to the crisis in Ondo State, there were indications that all was not well with the party. Close associates of the APC national leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who were listed as members of the campaign council, were not present during the inauguration ceremony.
Apparently aware of the precarious state the party had found itself ahead of the election in Ondo State, the national chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, told the campaign council that their job was a challenging one. He said this was because of the challenges that followed the selection of the party’s governorship candidate.
“Part of the prime responsibilities of the council is to bring back unity,” Odigie-Oyegun stated, adding that the party’s leadership is already doing a lot to reconcile the aggrieved stakeholders so that together they can approach the Ondo State governorship election.
On his part, the embattled APC governorship candidate, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN, said he was working round the clock to ensure that he reconciled with all aggrieved members so that the party could achieve victory at the November 26 governorship poll.
Tinubu versus Odigie-Oyegun
The disagreements over the Ondo State primary election had assumed a worrisome dimension last week, when the South-south leadership of the party engaged their South-west counterparts in a war of words. It appeared that the chieftains of the party from these zones were seeing the fight as directed at one of their own who should be protected at all costs. The exchanges came after Odigie-Oyegun openly replied Tinubu’s accusations.
In response to the allegations of malfeasance levelled against him by Tinubu, the APC national chairman described the accusation as false and reckless. Odigie-Oyegun regretted that the ripples from the controversy over the Ondo primary election had affected the party’s image. In a statement he issued regarding his role in the Ondo election crisis, Odigie-Oyegun gave a blow by blow account of the primary election processes and how the party’s leadership arrived at the verdict to uphold the candidacy of Akeredolu. He dismissed all the accusation levelled against him by Tinubu that he overruled the National Working Committee on the Ondo State primary election as a “figment of the imagination of those who fabricated them”.
The Odigie-Oyegun and Tinubu altercation elicited further reactions from stakeholders of the party. In fact, the quarrel over the handling of the Ondo primary election pitted the national vice chairman for South-south, Chief Hillard Ettah, against his counterpart from the South-west, Pius Akinyelure. While Ettah accused Akinyelure of lying over the decision taken by the NWC to disregard the report of the appeal committee on the outcome of the primary election, Akinyelure insisted that the decision was to temporarily set aside the appeal committee’s recommendations, not “throw out” the report as Eta claimed.
Speaking to journalists at the national secretariat of the APC in Abuja, against the background of an allegation by Akinyelure that the NWC voted to uphold the cancelation of the primary election result for Ondo State, Ettah said, “It was a very clear cut matter, we had read various newspaper report but I can tell you that no vote was taken. Before we met on the last day for the submission of name to INEC, we had met earlier. In that meeting, there were two reports before the NWC, that of the appeal committee was voted on.”
He accused Akinyelure of lying about the true state of things, adding that the South-west vice chairman was only making a U-turn.
But Akinyelure, in a statement, disagreed with Ettah. He named Odigie-Oyegun, the national secretary, Mai Mala Buni, and the national organising secretary, Senator Osita Izunaso, as the persons behind the act. Akinyelure, who claimed that his position enjoyed the support of six NWC members, accused the trio of over-stepping their bounds and unilaterally taking decisions that their offices did not give them the power to take. Akinyelure alleged that Izunaso single-handedly removed, added or substituted names on the initial list circulated to the party’s 24 aspirants, leading to the emergence of a second list that was altered in favour of Akeredolu.
In his own reaction, the deputy national publicity secretary, Mr. Timi Frank, challenged Odigie-Oyegun to publish the original minutes of the meeting of the NWC where it was agreed to throw away the reports of the Ondo Primary Appeal Panel. The estranged APC spokesman also faulted the statements credited to Odigie-Oyegun against Tinubu, asking the chairman “why it took him two weeks to prepare lies as responses.”
In a statement issued last Sunday, Frank said the current crisis had gotten to a stage where Odigie-Oyegun must publish the undoctored minutes of the meeting if he did not have any skeleton in his cupboard.
Frank said, “Unknown to the national chairman, the last two NWC meetings were properly recorded and the record shows the contributions of each and every member of the NWC present at the meetings. Chief Oyegun should tell the world why he brushed aside the suggestion of the national youth leader, Hon. Dasuki Jalo, who suggested that the party should submit an interim name to the Independent National Electoral Commission pending the time a political solution will be found to the matter.”
Controversy Over Minutes
In its report submitted on September 14, the APC appeal committee on the governorship primary said in view of the observed irregularities and for the sake of equity and fair play, the result should be cancelled. It recommended that a re-run election should be ordered immediately in order to beat the INEC deadline.
With the claims and counter claims from both sides of the divide, pressure is mounting on the APC national leadership to jettison the secrecy that should normally surround minutes of the meetings on the Ondo governorship election. One account of the NWC meeting in the public domain said the body actually considered the report of the election appeal committee, observed some contradictions in it and rejected it. It reads: “The NWC after careful and exhaustive deliberations of the Appeal Committee’s report, resolved to reject the report as it was considered to be fundamentally flawed.”
The minutes further explained what transpired on the last day of the NWC meeting on the Ondo election crisis where the national chairman informed the meeting that he had had some level of consultations with stakeholders, even though not exhaustive, due to time constraints occasioned by the deadline for the submission of candidates’ names. On that day, the NWC members were said to have become polarised during deliberations on the matter with some supporting the option to submit a temporary candidate to the INEC pending a political resolution while the other group supported the decision to submit the name of the winner of the primary election.
Those in support of submitting a provisional candidate argued that the arrangement should be put in place because credible and transparent accreditation was not done. They said that it will be wrong to state in good conscience that the right aspirant emerged as a winner of the exercise. On the other hand, those on the side of upholding the result of the primary election said since the primary election substantially complied with the rules guiding the process, it would amount to injustice if the name of the winner was not submitted.
From the account of the proceedings as recorded in the minutes of the meeting, those for and against the submission of Akeredolu’s name stood their ground with each side marshalling good reasons why they should have their way. Having reached a deadlock on the matter, the national chairman called for balloting through the open secret ballot. However, an interjection came from the Izunaso, who drew the attention of the meeting to its previous decision in which the report of the primary election was adopted while that of the appeal committee was set aside. He said the NWC had already voted to accept the result of the primary election and to submit the name of the winner unless, saying unless the NWC will have to reverse itself on the matter.
The minutes report quoted Odigie-Oyegun as having taken the decision to submit Akeredolu’s name at a point when it was obvious that the party had no option than to comply with the INEC deadline or risk being shut out from participating in the Ondo governorship election. According to the record of the minutes of the meeting, Odigie-Oyegun assured members of the NWC that there will be consultations with stakeholders before any final decision is taken.
The position of the APC leadership was also strengthened by the legal advice provided by the party’s national legal adviser, Dr. Muiz Banire, who after evaluating the appeal panel’s report opted for its outright rejection. Muiz in his advice said: “I have carefully gone through the report of the appeal committee on the petitions against the just concluded Ondo State governorship primary election. I have also taken into consideration the pieces of evidence relied upon by the committee in arriving at its recommendation that the election result be annulled and fresh election conducted.” He raised several posers, wondering whether there is any credible evidence unequivocally showing that such fake delegates actually participated in the primary election.
He also raised questions as to whether the committee did verify that names of such fake delegates appeared on the register and how they were able to secure accreditation cards. The legal adviser said the rule of the election was that once there was substantial compliance, the election must be upheld.
Another thing that might have also helped to weaken the appeal committee’s report was the minority report put together by the third member of the panel, Ms. Nikky Ejezie, in which she faulted his colleagues’ report. While rejecting the appeal committee’s report, Ejezie alleged that it “emanated from external source.”
Just as the national leadership of the APC is battling with the crisis of confidence, some of its state chapters are also embroiled in tussle for control of party structures in their areas. The party appears to have so much on its hands to deal with. The leadership of the party says it is trying to resolve the disagreements, but some stakeholders are not happy with the pace of the intervention.