Politics of 2019 Heats up Battle for APC Chair

  • Party’s NWC meets to empanel c’ttee on tenure elongation
  • How Banire, Akeredolu faulted objection raised by Buhari

Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja

With the 2019 elections barely a year away, high stakes politicking have taken centre stage at the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), where President Muhammadu Buhari has aligned with the National Leader of the party, Chief Bola Tinubu, against most of the governors and other critical stakeholders of the party who are in support of the tenure extension granted to the elected and appointed executives of the APC at all levels at its February National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting.

At stake is the national chairmanship post of the APC currently occupied by Chief John Odigie-Oyegun. But with Buhari’s sudden rejection of the tenure elongation for Oyegun and other executives, the jostling over who emerges as the next chairman of the party will be critical to the governors, especially those seeking a second term in office.

Buhari had at the NEC meeting of the party on Tuesday raised objections to the one-year tenure extension approved for the executives at the February NEC meeting.
He counselled that doing so would be in breach of the Nigerian Constitution and that of the APC, which could lead to endless litigations in the run up to the 2019 elections.
His stance on the issue, however, did not go down well with many members of the NWC and most governors of the party.

The party, nonetheless, said on Tuesday that it would set up a committee to review the position of the party on the tenure extension, adding that until the committee concludes its work, the party would maintain status quo.

A source, who shed light on the stakes at play, informed THISDAY that whilst there is a consensus on Buhari’s bid and his emergence as the party’s presidential candidate for the 2019 elections, the governors, especially, would have preferred for the status quo to remain with Oyegun steering the affairs of the APC for one extra year.

According to a source, “We had a reason for our decision at our February NEC meeting, the main one being that holding congresses and a convention at the state and national levels could lead to crises and divisions that we can ill-afford with the elections round the corner.
“Besides, the governors, particularly those seeking second terms, were already comfortable with the leadership of the party headed by Oyegun and were more confident of winning their primaries with him in control.

“But with Buhari’s sudden change of heart, everything has been thrown up in the air and that it is why the Tuesday NEC meeting was stormy after he raised his objection to the tenure elongation for Oyegun and others.”
The source also pointed out that Buhari’s insistence on the conduct of congresses and the convention stemmed from his desire to ensure that Tinubu is on his side in 2019 because of the latter’s control over Lagos.

He also pointed to the president’s acceptance to chair the 10th Bola Tinubu Colloquium slated to hold in Lagos Thursday and the two-day visit to the state as pointers on how keen Buhari is at ensuring that Tinubu delivers Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre in 2019.
“The president wants to ensure that the 2015 electoral map does not change in 2019. He is probably sure of winning most of the states in the South-west, but Lagos is the icing on the cake in terms of electoral value because of its population size.

“So, if the president can hold on to Lagos and Kano in 2019, he would be more certain of victory. Whereas he is certain of Abdullahi Ganduje’s loyalty and in delivering Kano, he can only get Lagos in his pocket if he meets Tinubu’s demands,” he said.
The source, however, expressed concern that by kowtowing to Tinubu’s demands, Buhari will be literally handing over the party’s structures to the former Lagos State governor who in turn may influence the person who emerges as the chairman of the APC at the convention.

“It is this uncertainty that the governors do not want because should we backtrack on the tenure elongation for Oyegun and others, Tinubu will be very influential at the convention and may become the deciding factor on who will lead the party.
“Effectively, this will mean that Tinubu may indirectly decide the fate of those who should get a second term ticket and those who should not,” he said.
But even as the party’s stakeholders weighed the options before them, the national leadership of the APC moved Wednesday to douse the tension created by Buhari’s rejection of the tenure extension for its executives.

In this regard, the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party together with some party leaders met Wednesday night to empanel the committee that will consider the pros and cons of the issues in contention and advise the party accordingly.
According to party sources, the meeting was convened to decide on the membership of the committee and the mandate for its members.

THISDAY gathered from a reliable source that the meeting, which took place at an undisclosed location in Abuja, was meant to nominate members for the committee as well as set out its terms of reference.
The source said that the party’s National Legal Adviser, Mr. Muiz Banire, would most likely be on the committee that will consider the pros and cons of the issues in contention and advise the NEC accordingly.
He said other members of the committee would be drawn from outside the NWC to ensure their neutrality.
“We are still consulting, a lot of consultations are still going on, so hopefully we will be able to get it right,” he said.

Another member of the party, who was at the Tuesday NEC meeting, also provided insight into the hot exchanges that took place between those who were in support of and against the tenure extension after Buhari had spoken.
He revealed that Buhari’s move to upturn the tenure extension was met with a mass and open protest.

The source said that it took the intervention of Oyegun who hurriedly ended the heated exchange, and went ahead to adjourn the meeting indefinitely when it became clear that those present were going to overrule the president’s stance on the tenure quagmire.
The source further disclosed that Banire had faulted and tactfully dismissed the constitutional issues raised by the president on the tenure extension approved by NEC on the grounds that the extension did not confer substantive status on the executives, as they will be serving in acting capacities for 12 months.

Banire was said to have argued that NEC derived the power to make the decision from Section 13.3 of the party’s constitution.
The source also quoted Banire as having said that the president’s decision on the tenure extension was sub judice, as the matter was already before the courts.

In the same vein, the source explained that the Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN), who adopted Banire’s legal position, went ahead to remind the meeting of the logistical and political exigencies that informed NEC’s decision to extend the tenure of the party’s executives by 12 months, by a vote of 104 in support and four against.

The source further said that the Chief Whip of the House of Representatives, Alhassan Doguwa, called on the NEC members to stop the debate and adopt the president’s decision in deference to the president but was shouted down.

However, before the hurried adjournment, Oyegun was said to have informed the NEC meeting that a “compact and small committee” will be urgently set up to advise the party on the objection raised by the president.

The source said Oyegun suggested that the committee would meet at an undisclosed venue outside the party’s national secretariat, a decision that was approved by NEC.