Onyebuchi Ezigbo examines the implications of the ruling party’s coming convention on the next general election
Last month, the All Progressives Congress announced that it would hold its national convention in April. It would be the first convention by the party since it won the 2015 presidential election. The announcement of the convention plan came amid brewing internal wrangling within the party, which led to calls for restructuring of the leadership of the party by some stakeholders. Some decisions of the APC leadership under the national chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, with regard to the candidacy of the party in the last governorship election in Ondo State had caused hot exchanges between the chairman and the national leader of the party, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu.
Although the APC later emerged victorious in the hard-fought election with its governorship candidate, Chief Rotimi Akeredolu, a lot of bad blood was generated when the party chose to uphold his primary election victory. This was despite serious protest from other contestants, one of whom was believed to have been sponsored by Tinubu.
Before the Ondo election disagreements, there was also the crisis generated by the election of the leadership of the National Assembly. The nominees of the APC were rejected by revolting members who saw the party’s action as undue meddlesomeness. The lawmakers who had been chosen by the party for the National Assembly leadership protested the development and expected the party to intervene and possibly mete out sanctions to their recalcitrant colleagues. But that never happened. So with all the crisis of confidence and political intrigues going on, it is being speculated that the party may be in for a turbulent national convention whenever it is convened.
Part of the concerns is that those itching to contest for the party’s presidential ticket in the event of the incumbent, President Muhammadu Buhari, deciding not to run again, would attempt to use the convention as a test ground to plant their own men in the leadership structure of the party. In fact, it got to a stage when there were speculations that some powerful stakeholders, including some of the governors, were pushing to replace members of the National Working Committee from their states during the convention. This created apprehension among the affected NWC members.
The seat of the national chairman of the ruling party was not spared, as there were speculations that the former governor of Edo State, Adama Oshiomhole, was being drafted to take over the chairmanship seat by President Muhammadu Buhari.
However, odigie-Oyegun dismissed the fears about change in the party’s leadership while inaugurating a 10-man constitution review committee headed by the national legal adviser, Muiz Banire. The chairman said what will take place in April was a non-elective convention. Also in a statement issued by the national publicity secretary of APC, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, the party said the processes leading to the national convention will commence with the congress to fill vacancies in the state party structures across the country.
Abdullahi stated, “The vacancies to be filled occurred principally from political appointments, deaths and resignations. The congress to fill the vacancies would be followed closely by another congress to nominate delegates into the mid-term non-elective convention of the party.”
According to the spokesman, the APC constitution provides that the party’s convention must be held once in every two years. By the constitution of the party, a mid-term convention is only used to adopt and ratify decisions taken during the National Executive Committee meeting and issues relating to constitution amendment. It is not meant to elect national officers of the party.
When asked to explain the nature of the non-elective convention being planned by his party, Abdullahi said, “If your thinking is that it would lead to some NWC members leaving their positions, I can tell you that that is not one of the outcomes we are looking at. I believe there is no basis for all the speculations about the convention. This is a normal party process in accordance with our constitution, which states that the convention must be held once in two years. And that’s all, nothing more. However, if anyone has an agenda they want to canvass they can bring it to the NEC meeting.”
Abdulahi said it was the belief of the party that the convention would help to “strengthen us and provide opportunities to resolve all issues before 2019”, rather than the speculations that it would lead to crisis.
There is yet another sign of brewing conflict of interest arising from the move to restructure the APC Board of Trustees by renaming it “Elders Forum” and pruning it down to about half its current size. When the matter was brought up during the meeting of the NWC, it generated a heated debate that dragged on for two days without a definite agreement and decision. It was, thus, dropped further consultation.
According to a top party source at the meeting, lack of consensus by the NWC forced the meeting to defer definite action on most of the issues, pending further consultation with stakeholders of the party.
Just as the move to hold a non-elective mid-term national convention is seen by some observers as a smart way to maintain the status quo in the national leadership, the Odigie-Oyegun NWC is also taking measures to curb the excesses of those regarded as troublesome members of the party. Hence, the Banire-led constitution review committee was mandated to take a look at the current regulations in the party, especially as it affects membership requirements. This is with a view to strengthening the powers of the party to discipline erring members. The national chairman said while listing the terms of reference of the committee, “Events in the last few months have made me read very carefully the provisions that we have and to my mind, they are so weighted in favour of the problem of people within the party that it becomes extremely difficult to institute disciplinary procedures.
I want you to take a very close look at that to make it possible for those who don’t wish the party well but dwell within the party to be speedily neutralised while the details of the cases are being looked into.”
As expected, one of those considered as immediate targets of the disciplinary measures, the estranged deputy national publicity secretary of APC, Comrade Timi Frank, has criticised the move. He warned that the leadership of the party was seeking to assume dictatorial powers.
Frank said the plan by the national chairman and the NWC to review the party’s constitution “is a grand plot to move against the national leader of the party, Bola Tinubu,” himself and other leaders who oppose Odigie-Oyegun’s leadership style.
But Odigie-Oyegun has dismissed the assertion, saying the review exercise is meant to update the constitution of the party and bring it in tune with current realities. According to him, the party has operated for almost three years and there is need to take steps aimed at cementing the processes and institutionalising internal democracy.
Until recently, the APC had pretended that its house was in order, despite signs to the contrary. Presently, there is serious tussle for control of party structures in some state chapters of the APC. At the national level, there are many issues, ranging from poor distribution of political offices, side-lining of interest groups to the furore caused by some defectors presumed to be getting more than their deserved attention. No one in the party could openly accept the fact that political gladiators in the party were beginning to warm up for the 2019 presidential election and that part of the silent intrigues and power tussle raging in the party could be traced to the 2019 ambitions of these party men. But no matter how the APC tries to conceal the ambitions of its key leaders, unfolding events ahead of the April national convention will definitely make the issues clearer.