By Ijeoma Nwogwugwu
Whoever thought that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), exactly five years after its formation five years ago primarily to wrest power from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), would find itself in almost similar circumstances as the main opposition party, which at the height of its reign boasted that it would rule Nigeria for 60 years. Today, the APC is facing an existential threat, with its governors as dramatis personae, over the divisions arising from the approval granted by the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the APC to extend the tenure of its elected and appointed officials at all levels.
At heart of the issue threatening to snowball into a full-blown crisis, if not well managed at todayâ€™s NEC meeting, is the chairmanship post currently occupied by Chief John Odigie-Oyegun. Other executives of the party affected by the push for and against the tenure extension are merely collateral damage. The push for Oyegun to stay on or step down at the expiration of his tenure onÂ June 13, has seen the APC split into three groups with the all-influential and powerful governors, who control the partyâ€™s structures at the grassroots, leading the charge.
While one group led by the tag team of Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State and transportation minister, Chibuike Amaechi, remain die-hard loyalists of President Muhammadu Buhari and will break an arm and leg to see him re-contesting and winning the presidential election in 2019, another group ardently loyal to the president is the one now led by Governor Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State. A third group is one also very much in support of the president that is led by the partyâ€™s National Leader, Chief Bola Ahmed Tinubu, but where it deviates from the first two groups is that its loyalty is conditional. Other than the common thread â€“ Muhammadu Buhari â€“ that binds all three groups, they all have different reasons for backing the presidentâ€™s second term bid in 2019, should he decide to run.
The president, a stickler for the rule of law and due process, was convinced by Tinubuâ€™s legal counsel with the support of Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, a professor of law and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), and the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), to jettison the 12 months extension granted to Oyegun and other executive committee members of the APC at the national, state and local government levels. At the March NEC meeting of the party, Buhari who was part and parcel of the approval of the tenure elongation for the executives a month earlier, shocked members by his sudden volte face.
His argument was that the extension was in breach of the Nigerian and APC constitutions, which could be challenged in a court of law and mar the partyâ€™s chances in the 2019 elections. He argued at the March meeting that should any candidate emerge from the APC primaries, his or her position could be challenged because the primaries were superintended by executives of the party without locus standi to conduct the primaries. The prospects were frightening for Buhari, who consequently counselled the party to prepare for its congresses and a National Convention to elect new executives for the party.
Unsurprisingly, Buhariâ€™s position got a loud cheer from Tinubu, who had prepared the Lagos APC to head to the law courts should the party go ahead with the tenure extension for its executives. For Tinubu, he wanted to see the back of Oyegun who, ironically, he had helped to install in 2014 as the APC national chairman. But despite his role in elevating Oyegun, he was incandescent when the APC chair refused to support his preferred candidates in the Kogi and Ondo governorship elections. But Tinubu, an acclaimed political strategist, with the memory of an elephant (not a lion), bid his time.
He didnâ€™t have to wait too long. It was only a matter of months before he knew that Buhariâ€™s loyalists in the presidency would come look for him. For them, they were keen of ensuring that the election map, which catapulted the APC to victory in 2015, remained unchanged in 2019. Tinubu, after all, was a key actor and to some extent instrumental to delivering the South-west in 2015, which Buhari in three previous presidential contests, had never won. Accordingly, the president was more than eager to make Tinubu the head of a one-man riot squad to reconcile factions of the APC nationwide. It is doubtful if the so-called committee has visited any state beyond Lagos and Abuja.
Seizing on his new position, nonetheless, Tinubu within days of the announcement making him the chairman of the APC reconciliation committee went for the jugular, accusing Oyegun of sabotaging his work as head of the committee. Although Oyegun more or less ignored Tinubuâ€™s rant, it was clear to all but the blind that the chairman of the APC was now in the eye of the tiger. Tinubu was bent on ousting Oyegun and installing a new chairman who, according to sources, will be more malleable to the formerâ€™s demands preparatory to a 2023 run for the presidency.
But anyone with an understanding of the dynamics of South-west politics would know that the pedestal Tinubu once stood on in terms of delivering the zone en bloc to a presidential candidate, had become folklore, hence the challenge by Governors Amosun and Rotimi Akeredolu of Ogun and Ondo States, respectively. Both governors make up another group, which was once wholly in support of the tenure elongation for Oyegun and others but are now pro-convention advocates just because the president had a change of mind. Owing to their blind loyalty to Buhari, they have set out to upend Tinubuâ€™s seeming hegemony in the South-west and show the world that they dictate the tune in their respective states in the zone, not the national leader of the APC.
This group, however, is pushing for Oyegun not to re-contest the chairmanship so that they can install a new exco for the APC. Their current preference is for Edo State governor, Adam Oshiomhole but may consider other contenders such as former Senate President, Ken Nnamani and Third Republic Cross River State governor Mr. Clement Ebri. Accordingly, the Amosun group has in the last few days been working been round the clock to checkmate Tinubu.
A third group is that led by Tinubu that cannot be ignored, as even though his ability to deliver other South-west states to the APC can be challenged, his stranglehold over Lagos where PDP recently termed him the â€œGovernor Emeritusâ€ is intact. Lagos, a swing state and under the control of Tinubu, has the capacity to offset whatever the most populated state in the northern Nigeria, Kano, where Buhari is deemed a demigod, can churn up in terms of votes. It is for this reason the president has so far kowtowed to Tinubuâ€™s demands. But the question is for how long.
The third group led by el-Rufai and Amaechi has been quiet lately but remains a formidable force within the APC. For this group, it is tenure elongation all the way even though its members are rabid Buhari loyalists. The main reason this group wants Oyegun to continue for another 12 months is premised on the argument that the approval granted by NEC for the tenure extension was based on Article 13 of the APC constitution which empowers the NEC of the party to perform its functions. This group also likes Oyegun because most of the governors that make up the group are chief executives of states where the APC is factionilised. Oyegun, so far, has supported their functions. The fear by these governors is that if Oyegun is ousted, they will cease to have the support of the centre. Another secondary reason propounded by the el-Rufai-Amaechi group is that the conduct of congresses and a convention in the run up to the elections could throw up more problems for the APC arising from divisions at the state, local council and ward levels, which they have argued should be averted.
Evidently, as the ruling party prepares to hold a make or break NEC meeting today that will steer the ship of the party towards 2019, what will be uppermost among its critical stakeholders and governors is which group will have its day. Although the el-Rufai-Amaechi group combined with the Amosun group to stalemate Buhariâ€™s meeting with the governors last Wednesday, what would be uppermost on the minds of members of the party at todayâ€™s NEC is what concessions would have to be made to maintain a united party front.
A way out, said sources, is for governors such as Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto and Abdulfatah Ahmed of Kwara State as well as other undecided APC members to break the ice and save the day. But should the fence-warmers decide to remain undecided, APCâ€™s march towards 2019 would remain uncertain, a situation which the opposition PDP will be more than eager to capitalise on to its advantage.