• Presidency, others root for Oshiomhole to lead party
• Lalong heads panel to resolve tenure extension quagmire
Omololu Ogunmade and Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
The attempt by President Muhammadu Buhari and governors elected on the platform of All Progressives Congress (APC) to resolve the lingering quagmire caused by the president’s rejection of the 12 months tenure extension for elected and appointed executives of the party at all levels, ended in a stalemate at the State House Tuesday.
The inability of both sides to agree on the issue has effectively cast an air of uncertainty over the fate of the National Chairman of the APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, even as the presidency is already leaning towards former Edo State governor Adams Oshiomhole to emerge as the chairman of the party at its National Convention, in the event Buhari gets his way.
But this was just as the APC, at the same time, set up a 10-member technical committee headed by the Plateau State Governor Simon Lalong to review the tenure extension granted to the executives of the party. The committee has until the weekend to submit its report.
The meeting between Buhari and the governors, rather than reach a consensus on the lingering crisis, ended up deepening the cracks over the issue, as the governors left the State House, Abuja, more polarised than before the start of the meeting.
According to sources, the president’s rejection of the tenure extension earlier granted to Oyegun and others at last week’s APC National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting, has divided the governors, with some insisting that the executives continue beyond the expected expiration of their tenure in June while others are vehemently opposed to it.
Buhari, at the NEC meeting last week, had told the party to jettison the approval granted by the same NEC in February on the tenure extension on the grounds that it was in violation of the Nigerian Constitution and the APC constitution.
It was on this basis that the APC governors met with the president Tuesday to resolve the issue but still could not reach an agreement on the way to go.
It was learnt that owing to the stalemate, the president adjourned the meeting and asked the governors to decide on another date for the meeting to continue.
THISDAY further learnt that the Chairman of Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) and Zamfara State Governor Abdulaziz Yari rose to suggest April 9 for the next meeting, in accordance with the president’s advice, but was vehemently confronted by the governor of Kaduna State, Malam Nasir el-Rufai, leading to an abrupt end of the meeting without agreeing on the next date for the meeting.
Ahead of the meeting, el-Rufai was at the State House for three hours.
Sources said the governor had opted to come earlier than expected because he was bent on convincing the president to change his stance on the tenure elongation. But it was not certain if he met with Buhari before the meeting.
Of the 24 APC governors, only the governors of Yobe and Katsina States, Ibrahim Geidam and Aminu Masari, were absent at the meeting. Geidam was however represented by his deputy.
Before the commencement of the meeting, however, the governors had met with a view to possibly find a common ground on the matter but to no avail, as the governors who wanted Oyegun and others to continue were vehement on their resolve and vice-versa.
The Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello, according to sources, was said to have described the move to stop Oyegun from continuing as nothing but a coup, arguing that the decision to halt the tenure elongation was only an attempt to please the National Leader of APC, Chief Bola Tinubu, who is believed to be opposed to Oyegun’s stay at the helm of affairs of the APC.
Like Bello, el-Rufai is also said to be a staunch supporter of Oyegun while Yari is an opponent, which was the reason for the clash between both men at the meeting with Buhari, leading to its abrupt end Tuesday.
It was also learnt that el-Rufai had earlier challenged the Chairman of APC Governors’ Forum, Chief Rochas Okorocha, who was believed to have thrown his weight behind the president’s rejection of the tenure elongation.
Some of the governors, during their group meeting, notably the Governor of Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu, were said to have suggested the possibility of constituting a caretaker committee to steer the affairs of the party if resolving the stalemate was becoming unachievable.
But the suggestion by Akeredolu might not see the light of the day, as the idea of constituting a caretaker committee is also alien to the party’s constitution.
It was also learnt that before the meeting with Buhari came to an abrupt end, some of the governors had also proposed the backing of the former governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, as Oyegun’s successor, but even this proposal was turned down by others who wanted Oyegun to continue.
The governors, who were opposed to Oyegun’s exit, were of the view that beyond the concern over constitutional breaches raised by the president, Buhari was intent on pleasing Tinubu, whom he believes is more politically useful to him than Oyegun.
There are also many party loyalists in the presidency who have argued that Oyegun has little or no benefit to offer Buhari, as his opponents had alleged that he could not even deliver his polling unit to APC during the last governorship election in Edo State while Tinubu has the capacity to deliver a whole region to the president.
In addition to the debate over Oyegun’s electoral value or lack thereof, there has been no love lost between Oyegun and Tinubu, despite the fact that the latter helped the former to emerge as the party’s national chairman ahead of the 2015 elections.
Things turned sour between both men after Oyegun was alleged to have worked effectively against Tinubu’s preferred candidates in both the Kogi and Ondo governorship elections.
In Kogi, for instance, Oyegun had supported the incumbent governor, Bello, following the death of the then APC governorship candidate, Abubakar Audu, as against his running mate, Hon. James Faleke, who was Tinubu’s choice.
It is for this reason Bello is perceived to be an ardent supporter of Oyegun, believing that it was payback time for the man who once stood by him in a critical moment and resulting in his eventual emergence as Kogi State governor without contesting the election.
Similarly, Oyegun backed Akeredolu as the candidate of the APC in the Ondo governorship election against Tinubu’s preferred choice for the post.
Last February, Tinubu had also raised the alarm that Oyegun was sabotaging his reconciliatory efforts in the party. The allegation forced Buhari to summon Oyegun to the State House.
To underscore the level of indignation between Tinubu and Oyegun, the latter was conspicuously absent at the 66th birthday colloquium of the former Lagos State governor, which was attended by all notable stakeholders of the APC including the president.
But even as the governors failed to agree on the tenure extension for the party’s executives, the APC Tuesday set up a 10-member technical committee headed by the Plateau State governor to review the tenure extension agreed to at the NEC meeting last February. The committee has until the weekend to submit its report.
Other members of the 10-member committee are the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) Boss Mustapha, Oyo State Governor Abiola Ajimobi, el-Rufai, Akeredolu, Senator Ben Uwajumogu, Hon. Kabiru Ajana, Mr. Elisha Kurah (SAN), Mr. C.J.N. Dakas (SAN), and the APC National Legal Adviser, Dr. Muiz Banire (SAN), who will serve as a member/secretary.
The committee, which has less than one week to conclude its assignment, was mandated to undertake a thorough study of the whole issue including its legal implications and then recommend the best position that will enhance the party’s goal of winning the 2019 presidential election.
The party had agreed at its NEC meeting last week to reconsider the one-year tenure extension granted to its executives after Buhari had opposed it.
Addressing the committee members Tuesday, Oyegun said the party would do everything possible to ensure that any decision taken was advantageous to the APC and does not go against the constitution.
“We must observe the law and at the same time emphasise that we are trying to do things that will be advantageous to the party.
“We will furnish you with all the documents like the resolutions of NEC, the party’s constitution and the Nigerian Constitution to help you do a good job.
“You are also at liberty to request for additional material like the statement of Mr. President during last NEC meeting and every other thing to guide you achieve the task you are about to undertake.
“I am praying and hoping that this is the kind of thing you can accomplish in about three to four days.
“Getting answers from you is crucially time sensitive and depending on which way you advise, we may have to put in motion very serious activities in the party virtually within a week of getting the report and taking decisions.
“The chairman, Governor Lalong, has successfully done a lot of very sensitive assignments in the past and each time you have always come out in flying colours and I am sure this will be yet another one.
“We, on behalf of NEC, decided on a team that mixes the top brains in the legal sector with some of the major stakeholders of the party.
“Some of the issues that have been remitted to you for resolution are strongly legal and at the same time have been impacted dramatically by political considerations.
“Therefore, your job is to bring these two together and advise us on the way we can implement our activities in the next few weeks and months in a way that is politically advantageous to our party, the APC, and at the same time can face due deference to the niceties of the law.
“I thank you for accepting this onerous assignment and wish you the very best of luck,” he said.
While accepting the assignment on behalf of other members of the committee, Lalong assured Oyegun that with the calibre of those appointed on the committee, he was confident that the job will be done properly.
Lalong acknowledged that the work of the committee was enormous and very critical to the survival of APC, but said with prayers they would succeed in resolving the matter.
He said the committee will try to look into the tenure extension proposal and advise the NEC on the way forward on the quagmire.
He further dismissed speculations that the composition of the committee favoured the NWC and was targeted at checkmating Tinubu, stressing: “I think the discussion about elongation was not against Tinubu. We are concerned about the way forward for the party and the position of the president on the issue.
“The issue of whether it is satisfying somebody should not be there. He is a member of the party and at the end of the day, our decision is not final but subject to the ratification of NEC.”