With 2019 just months away, Onyebuchi Ezigbo examines the All Progressives Congressâ€™ efforts to resolve its crisis
Last Tuesday, the All Progressives Congress (APC), held its National Executive Committee, which was a continuation of an earlier one that approved a one year extension for all party executives from the national to the ward level across the country. The leadership tenure elongation as many party members has ascribed, raised a lot of dusts with some of the aggrieved members already going to court to stop it.
But at the Tuesday NEC meeting, President Muhammadu Buhari pulled a surprise on the party leaders, when he rejected the proposed tenure extension plan. Addressing the NEC, President Buhari said after an extensive consultation on the legality or otherwise of the tenure extension move, he was convinced that such an action would contravene both the country and the partyâ€™s constitution.
He, therefore, asked the NEC to reverse itself and go ahead to hold a convention to elect new party officials, when the tenure of the current leadership expires in June. He counselled that granting the tenure extension 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.
While the APC constitution in article 17(1) and 13.2 (b) limits the tenure of elected officers to four years, renewable once by another election, the 1999 constitution of Nigeria (as amended) in section 223 also proscribed periodic election for party executives at regular intervals, which must not exceed four years.
Furthermore, President Buhari stated that Article 31 of the partyâ€™s constitution provides that any principal officer wishing to re-contest or contest for another post must resign from his current post at least one month before the election. The president, as a result, observed that, â€œIn this circumstance, what is expected of us is to conduct fresh elections once the tenure of the current executives approaches its end. A caretaker committee cannot remedy this situation and cannot validly act in place of elected officers.â€
President Buhari went further to point out the negative implications of supporting tenure extension that has no solid legal backing. â€œI think if we deviate from the constitution and provisions, we might be endangering the fortunes of our party. If the tenure of our party executive can be legally faulted, then, it means any nomination and primary election they will conduct can also be faulted.
â€œThis is not to talk of defeating that will arise and it is already arising within the party, when some of our members feeling that they are being denied the rights to aspire to executive positions or the internal democracy is not at play within the party. I am therefore of the firm beliefs that it is better to follow strictly the dictates of our party and national constitutions rather than put the APC and its activities at grave risksâ€.
His stance on the issue, however, did not go down well with many members of the NWC and most governors of the party. The president is being seen as yielding to pressures from one of the national leaders of the party and former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu with his latest backtracking.
A member of the party, who was in last Tuesdayâ€™s NEC meeting painted a picture of the hot exchanges that went on between those who were in support and against the tenure extension. He said President Buhariâ€™s move to upturn the 12-month tenure extension granted to the party executives was met with mass and open protest. This source said it took the intervention of the APC National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, who hurriedly ended debates on the presidentâ€™s decision and went ahead to adjourn the meeting sine die, when it became clear that NEC members were moving to overrule the president.
Before the NEC meeting was adjourned, the partyâ€™s National Legal Adviser, Dr. Muiz Banire had faulted and tacitly dismissed constitutional queries raised by the President on the tenure extension approved by NEC for party executives on the grounds that the extension did not confer substantive status on party executives as they would serve in acting capacities for 12 months. He said NEC derived the power to make the decision from Section 13.3 of the Partyâ€™s constitution. Banire also raised a concern that the Presidentâ€™s decision on the tenure extension could be subjudice as the matter was already before the court.
In the same vein, the Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN who adopted Banireâ€™s legal position, the source said went ahead to remind the meeting of the logistical and political exigencies that informed NECâ€™s decision to extend the tenure of party executives by 12 months by a vote of 104 in support and four against.
Moves to Salvage the Situation
As stakeholders weighed the options before them, the national leadership of the APC, on Wednesday moved to douse the tension created by Buhariâ€™s rejection of the tenure extension for its executives.
As a result, Odigie-Oyegun and other members of the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party together with some partyâ€™s leaders have begun consultations on how to empanel the committee that would consider the pros and cons of the issues in contention and advise the party accordingly.
A 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. As it is now, the two options before the APC leadership are either to jettison the tenure extension as advised by President Buhari and work towards having a peaceful transition to new leadership or to proceed with the one year extension plan and be ready to face the legal fireworks.
Already, there are indications that the issue in dispute might be resolved soon, as one of the aggrieved members and a plaintiff in the tenure elongation case against the APC, Dr. Wale Ahmed, has hailed the position of President Buhari on tenure extension, saying he has laid a good example of leadership.
He described the president as a courageous and forthright leader, who will never endorse the violation of the 1999 Constitution and the APC constitution by the party leadership.
Ahmed, a former House of Assembly member and commissioner in the state, said party members were taken aback by the decision to illegally extend the tenure of the NEC members and the National Working Committee (NWC) on February 27.
The aggrieved chieftain said the decision rattled many chieftains, who protested the move to exclude them from the intra-party leadership elections, which the congresses and the national convention can only guarantee in accordance with the laid down extant laws. The hope is that the intervening committee set up by the NEC will be able to rally all the divergent interests in the party towards a common front so as to avoid crisis of leadership succession in the party.
The Executive, Legislature Rift
A week earlier, Oyegun led some members of the partyâ€™s NEC on a fence-mending mission at the National Assembly with the APC Senate caucus. The move was seen as a response to the current Executive-Legislature face-off over the re-ordering of the 2019 election sequence as well as other bills passed by the National Assembly but which were vetoed by President Buhari.
The Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018 was vetoed by the president, leading to lobbying and horse-trading between pro and anti-Buhari senators, who were in support or against the veto. The lawmakers had changed the sequence of elections for the National Assembly elections to be held first, followed by elections into the state Houses of Assembly and governorship on a separate day, while the presidential election would be conducted last to complete the general election cycle.
The amendment is believed to be targeted at whittling down the bandwagon effect of presidential elections on the others. On the surface, the situation might seem like a mere disagreement between the executive and the legislature but a careful study of the unfolding events in the ruling APC will show that it is rather a symptom of a deep-rooted malaise, afflicting the very foundation of the party.
The fact remains that without the oxygen of support provided by the aggrieved legislators from the ruling party, such an amendment that contradicts the party interest would not have seen the light of the day.
Apart from the bad blood generated by the emergence of the National Assembly leadership and the skirmishes of executive-legislative conflict it created, the origin of the current crisis over the move to reorder the sequence of the 2019 general election could be traced to the power tussle between federal legislators from the ruling party and their state governors.
In most of these APC states, where the governors had fallen out with the lawmakers, the chances of these lawmakers getting their seats back have become seriously threatened. For instance, in states like Kaduna, Kano, Bauchi and Kogi, the governors have been on war path with the senators and members of the House of Representatives over the control of the party structure.
In most cases, the governors had taken steps to ensure that the affected lawmakers do not return on the partyâ€™s tickets for 2019 elections. As a result, the affected lawmakers from the APC had to team up with others in the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), to alter the election sequence, which they hoped would hurt these governors and remove the presidential bandwagon effect, which most of them often enjoy during the polls.
On the other side, President Muhammadu Buhari and his men see such a change in election sequence as something that could have adverse effect on his electoral chances since it could expose the weaknesses of the ruling party during the early stages of the ballot and embolden the opposition parties to possibly snatch victory from it in the presidential election.
Ordinarily, the APC as the party with a majority seats at the National Assembly wouldnâ€™t be in this present situation if all had been well within its ranks ab initio. But clearly, it is a contest for survival, with the president, the lawmakers and the governors, seeking a way to gain mileage.
To its credit, the national leadership of the APC had made efforts before now to resolve the dispute in its state chapters, especially where the governors were at loggerheads with lawmakers at the National Assembly but without success.
The NWC had set up various peace committees to resolve the conflict in states like Kano, Kaduna, Kogi and Bauchi but the efforts failed to reconcile the warring parties. Perhaps, last weekâ€™s move by the NWC to interface with the Senate caucus may be part of the last minute ditch efforts to stop the legislators from going ahead to override the presidentâ€™s veto on the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill and the Bill to Establish the Peace Corps.
Oyegun told the lawmakers that the party came to discuss issues relating to the next general election. He admitted that the NWC had not engaged the Senate Caucus as often as it should have.
â€œI donâ€™t think I am here often enough. So, itâ€™s an opportunity to discuss issues in the polity,â€ he said.
But it was, the Senate Leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan, who stated what the subject of discussion was with the party leadership, which was the issue of the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill. He described the bill imbroglio as a symptom of the not-so-friendly relationship between the executive and the legislative arms of government. He was however confident that the issues would be resolved.
He said: â€œIt is only a symptom and the discussion centred on so many things including that threat to override presidentâ€™s veto. We are coming to a situation, where the matter can be resolved. As soon as the committee is constituted, this kind of issue can easily be addressed. This is our government and we should not be fighting dirty in the public. We should be able to deal with it inside our rooms or houses.
â€œNo political party can exist without problems, but what makes the difference is for the political party to be able to manage it. We are on top of the situation. Members remain committed to supporting the change agenda of President Muhammadu Buhari. The party is our main platform, and in my view, the party has done well by comingâ€.
As part of measures to ensure less friction within the ruling party, Lawan said a committee would be constituted as soon as possible to ensure that all groups in the party work together and harmoniously.
â€œPerhaps, when you have everybody on the same page, then you will reduce the level of misunderstanding to the barest minimum. As politicians from time to time, we have disagreements but such disagreements should not be allowed to become a cog in the wheel of progress. The idea of bringing everyone to the table is so that everyone can be on the same page at the party level and at the National Assembly. So that at all times, should there be any issue, whether it is from the executive or the legislature, it will be resolved,â€ Lawan explained.
Beyond the grandstanding and the usual political statements to whittle down the magnitude of the problem at hand, the meeting with the lawmakers may have been used as an avenue to dangle carrots to them and to reassure them of tickets for the next election. Despite the optimism expressed by Senator Lawan on the resolution of the current impasse, the prospects for peace look gloomy.
Based on the intricate nature of the issues involved and the fact that the party had been largely unsuccessful in previous attempt to resolve the crisis, it will be difficult to predict the outcome of the present engagement. Also, the brewing crisis over the tenure extension may be compounded and matter made worse for the APC in the forthcoming elections if nothing is done to amicably resolve the current conflict with the National Assembly.
Above all, it is still unclear if the present move by the NWC would not affect the assignment handed the national leader of the party, Senator Bola Tinubu, to reconcile aggrieved members and resolve all disputes in the party. But this is the time for the party leadership to take hard decisions and try to tackle in-fighting within its fold before it destroys the fragile unity in the APC ahead of the 2019 general election.
The APC obviously has no option than to do something urgently to reconcile aggrieved forces within its fold. Should the party and the presidency fail to reconcile issues with their members in the National Assembly and allow the current dispute to fester, it might go beyond the threat of overriding the presidentâ€™s veto to a deep-rooted animosity, capable of ruining the chances of APCâ€™s return to power in 2019.