The Dilemma of APC National Convention

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Expectedly, the ruling All Progressives Congress is in a big dilemma over its national convention, writes Onyebuchi Ezigbo

The All Progressives Congress (APC) may have successfully played down the impact of internal rancor and intriguing power tussle within its fold in the past two years, but time seems to be running out for it to organise a national convention as stipulated in its constitution.  The party has managed to smolder internal agitations and clash of interests between the various tendencies and political gladiators. The national leadership of the party too has been able to survive the heat from these contending forces, and endured the abandonment that came in the wake of the presidency’s distrust.

But what is proving somewhat difficult for it to handle is the issue of its national convention. Already, the party has proposed dates for the processes leading to the convention and twice, it has cancelled these dates.  The party had listed membership of its Board of Trustees (BoT) but till date, the body has not been officially inaugurated. The party also first mulled the idea of holding a major stakeholders’ event to celebrate its one year anniversary of being in power last year but later cancelled it due to the bad mood of the country occasioned by recession.

But as criticism from concerned party members mounted over the need to summon  a meeting of the party, the National Working Committee (NWC) promised it would hold a national convention not later than the first quarter of this year. It scheduled what it termed Mid-Term, non-elective convention for April 29 and fixed the national caucus and National Executive Committee (NEC) meetings for April 24 and 25 respectively. It said the NEC was to take place after a national caucus meeting meant to have held on April 24.

The party also said it would hold state congresses before the convention to nominate delegates and fill vacancies that occurred principally from political appointments, deaths and resignations. But as stakeholders heaved a sigh of relief that they would be having a convention soon, the National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun announced that the April 29 tentative date for the convention has been put on hold subject to confirmation by the NEC meeting.

“Well, the party would hold a caucus meeting on 24, NEC on 25 and it is NEC that would decide the date for the Convention.” But just as stakeholders were about to settle for the national caucus meeting and a meeting of NEC, Oyegun came out to announce another postponement of the two events, this time indefinitely.

One of the first to criticise the leadership was the Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the party, Mr. Timi Frank, who described the indefinite postponement of the mini-national convention as a shameful act. In a statement signed on Tuesday in Abuja, Frank said if the National convention does not hold as planned, it means that the National Working Committee of the party has breached the constitution.

Also there were indications that power brokers in APC, including the President’s inner team, party leaders like former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, former Lagos State governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu and the Senate President, Bukola Saraki along with other National Assembly henchmen had all begun to plot how to position their interests during the convention.

In line with its constitution, APC is supposed to hold a mid-term convention at least once every two years. Going by that constitutional provision, the national leadership of the party is in a tight corner trying to avoid crisis, which may arise as a result of a breach of its constitution. One of the reasons the party has been experiencing difficulty in planning its convention is the paucity of funds.

The party’s leadership recently took a step to implement an initiative on how to raise funds internally from levies and voluntary contributions by party men, but that move has not yielded much. The party is also aware that it currently runs a divided house even though the crisis has not yet blown open and so, it was the desire of the National Executive to try first to reconcile the existing disputes among its members before going into a convention.  In the vein, most of the party stakeholders across the country have complained that they were sidelined in federal appointments so far made by President Muhammadu Buhari and some of them have threatened to take it out on the present national leadership of APC for failing to protect their interest.

These aggrieved stakeholders are waiting for an opportunity of a major national meeting of the party for them to lead a protest. Some are also not happy with the way the affairs of the party were being handled, especially as it affects their interest. So, all these bottled-up anger and frustration are like a time bomb waiting to explode at the national convention.

So, there were genuine fears that should the party ignore the warning signs of disenchantment and goes ahead to hold a convention, things might go bad. Oyegun used opportunity of a meeting with members of the Senate caucus early last month to canvass for their support in funding the operations of the party, especially the convention activities.

The meeting with the senators, which is the first of its kinds since the emergence of the APC-led administration, afforded the party the chance to explain its plans for holding its convention as well as the challenges facing it. With the return of President Buhari to the country from a medical trip in the United Kingdom, the party stepped up its preparations for the national convention.

Although the party has mulled plans to hold NEC and state congresses preparatory to the convention in April, actual implementation of this plan was kept in abeyance pending the return of the president, whose presence at the event was considered crucial. As part of the strategies to get the president’s backing for the convention, members of the APC NWC planned to seek separate meetings with President Buhari at the Presidential Villa.

An earlier attempt by the Oyegun-led NWC to have audience with the convalescing president while still in London was not granted. The health of the president was also said to have affected the fixing of dates for the NEC meeting and the party’s mid-term convention. It was reliably learnt that part of the reasons for the abrupt postponement of the national caucus meeting and NEC meeting earlier scheduled for April 24 and 25, was the last minute decision by President Buhari to cancel the dates.

According to a party chieftain, the president sent in his words through his aides that the dates of the national caucus meeting and NEC meeting were not convenient for him.  An obviously concerned party chieftain, who spoke to THISDAY on the issue expressed disgust at the manner in which the national leadership has been trying to appease the presidency by shifting the NEC meeting and the convention in order to make sure that President Buhari attends.

“The president said it was not convenient for him; the governors also said that it was not convenient for them”.

But as things stand now, the party’s national leadership has realised that it has less time to maneuver and so, it has taken steps to galvanize resources in order to hold the convention. At its last meeting with governors elected on its platform held at the national secretariat in Abuja, it formed a committee made up of nine of governors to work on the modalities for the holding of a NEC and subsequently the mid-term convention.

The governors’ committee would try to see, who will be part of the convention planning committee. It is at the NEC that decision will be reached on the new date for the mid-term convention. From this development, it is safe to assume that there is a sign of renewed interest by the governors in the affairs of the party, following the manner they responded to the meeting with the NWC.

One of the reasons the governor’s renewed interests in the affairs of the party might be because of their alleged side-lining in most of the appointments so far made by President Buhari’s administration. According to one of APC bigwigs, the governors feel that they too were shortchanged by the cabal around the president in the shortlisting for federal appointments hence the need to start working with the party to plot strategies for the 2019 general election.

“There is a renewed level of interest in the party from the governors because they have also realised that everybody has lost out whether the party or the governors. You remember that the state party chairmen have come to complain that they were schemed out of the federal appointments but the governors are also very bitter that appointments are being made over their heads with people being selected from their states without their being consulted. So, everybody is suffering the same fate of irrelevance. The only thing that is left now is to hold on to the party and rebuild the party and use the platform to plan for the future”.

This position was re-enforced by Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai, who assured the people after meeting with the NWC that the APC governors had agreed to meet every month with the NWC to try and foster better relations between the national and state leadership of the party and to work towards strengthening the party.

He said the joint meeting between the NWC and the governors, also resolved that at their next meeting, “we are going to look at arrangements for our mid-term convention and put in place the resources necessary to ensure that we have a convention as required by the constitution

“The 24 APC governors have committed to work assiduously at strengthening and rebuilding the party and enduring reconciliation and unification of the party at all levels. We also resolved to give the national leadership all the support it needs. We will also engage in fund raising from our donors, sympathizers of the APC to ensure that the national headquarters and indeed all organs of the party have the wherewithal to continue the difficult work of rebuilding the party”.

If this works out well and the governors accept to back the convention as well as bankroll it, then the ruling party would have been saved from the embarrassment of flouting its own constitution and perhaps, igniting more crisis within its fold.