As simmering tensions within the ruling party bubbled to the surface in the recent congresses, creating a groundswell of discontent, the party’s damage control has kicked in, but how far can it go? Vincent Obia asks
Rancorous but done at last, the leadership of the ruling All Progressives Congress feels a sense of relief after penultimate Saturday’s state congresses, which complete the process of electing officials at the local chapters of the party. The ward, local government, and state congresses, as well as the national convention of APC had been postponed at least twice. But on May 5, APC conducted ward congresses nationwide to elect officers at the lowest electoral divisions. It held local government congresses on May 12 and state congresses on May 19, in a build-up to the national convention now proposed for June 23.
Releasing the timetable for the congresses on April 27, APC National Publicity Secretary Bolaji Abdullahi had said, “The date for the national convention in June will be announced later.”
But the feeling that APC is ready to smash a jinx that has stood since 2014, when the party held its last national convention, is unmistakable.
Lauding the successful conduct of the ward congresses in Lagos on May 5, APC National Leader, Senator Bola Tinubu, said, “I am very happy and proud of our party. We are demonstrating to the people across the country that we are a law-abiding political party; that we believe in the tenets of democracy and that we demonstrate the openness in the congresses across the country, particularly, I can speak emphatically on Lagos.”
However, a defining character of the congresses, which now headlines reports on it, is the issue of parallel voting and factionalisation. This appears to be quelling the fire of excitement around the exercise.
In the first major sign of trouble at the start of the congresses, the National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, shunned the ward congress at his Ward 2, Oredo Local Government Area of Edo State on May 5. Odigie-Oyegun was conspicuously absent during the nationwide exercise that was marred by protest, boycott, and parallel voting.
The local government congresses on May 13 did not do any better, as rising bitterness within APC degenerated to violent incidents, some of which turned bloody. Parallel elections took place in many states, including Enugu, Adamawa, and Edo.
A notorious culmination of the simmering rage in APC came with the state congresses on May 19. Ten states hosted parallel congresses, with members working at cross-purposes to elect parallel state executive committees. The states include Lagos, Kwara, Delta, Rivers, Ondo, Enugu, Kogi, Bayelsa, Oyo, and Ebonyi. There were also boycotts, all of which ended in the exacerbation of internal divisions within state chapters of the party in about 21 of the 36 states.
Tenure Elongation Debate
The basic factor in the parallel congresses, apparently, is a contest between those who want the tenure of Odigie-Oyegun to be extended by one year and those who oppose the idea. The tenure elongation move, which has now been dropped – at least officially – had been pushed as a means of maintaining the delicate balance in APC and avoiding the divisions that usually accompany elections.
A strong lobby within the party had floated the idea of keeping the Odigie-Oyegun-headed National Working Committee, whose tenure officially ends on June 13, 2018, until after the next general elections. The National Executive Committee of the party decided on February 27 to adopt the idea. And President Muhammadu Buhari initially bought into the idea, which was widely seen as part of his strategy for an easy win of the APC presidential ticket ahead of the 2019 general election.
But the tenure elongation idea became contentious, leading to the establishment of a technical committee headed by Plateau State Governor Simon Lalong to look into the issue and make recommendations. The Lalong committee rejected tenure extension, but recommended waivers for Odigie-Oyegun and other members of the NWC to enable them contest their positions again without having to resign first as provided by the APC constitution.
However, the tenure elongation movement has remained a strong force within the party. Despite pronouncements about an elective convention, this force loomed large on the congresses, and its shadow still looms over the party.
The key feature of the congresses was parallel voting, split into factions, and emergence of parallel executive committees at the ward, local government, and state levels. Basically, the whole division boils down to the pro and anti-tenure elongation tendencies.
For instance, in Rivers State, the battle is between the transport minister, Chibuike Amaechi, and Senator Magnus Abe. Amaechi is a supporter of Odigie-Oyegun’s tenure extension and Abe is for the new entrant into the national chairmanship race, former Edo State Governor Adams Oshiomhole. The same thing plays out in Imo, Ekiti, Lagos, Kwara, etc.
In Adamawa State, the governor, Jibrilla Bindow, is on one side supporting Odigie-Oyegun, and the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, is on the other side. Interestingly, the current SGF, Boss Mustafa, who is Lawal’s first cousin, is also in the governor’s group.
APC’s efforts to quell the raging internal dissensions seem to rest in large part on promoting half-hearted measures that demonstrate no real interest in immediate result. The party set up appeal committees to address grievances arising from the various congresses. But the panels seemed doomed from the start.
Abdullahi said after the state congresses, “I have received requests from some of our colleagues on the issue of so-called parallel congresses in a couple of states.
“The party position is that there is no such thing as parallel congress. The only congress recognised by the party is that conducted in accordance with the party constitution, which was organised by the congress committee charged by the party to organise such congress.
“We, therefore, regard any so-called parallel congresses as exercise in futility and attempt to cause confusion in the party.
“We wish to reiterate that any party member who has any genuine grievances regarding the congresses should channel such through the appeals committee in their respective states.”
It is doubtful if this counsel made a lot of sense to aggrieved APC members.
There is also the challenge of nPDP. They are former members of the Peoples Democratic Party currently in APC, who are now feeling marginalised in the ruling party. On May 9, the group listed some grouses, which they gave APC seven days to redress, in a letter whose tone sounded like the last words of a political bloc on its way out of an alliance. The letter addressed to Odigie-Oyegun demanded an urgent meeting with the group, stressing, “Given the constraining factor of available time and in the interest of our great party, it is strongly advised that the said urgent meeting be held not later than seven days from the date of the receipt of this letter.”
The APC leadership acquiesced, and on May 21, the NWC held a closed-door meeting with the nPDP members, led by its former national chairman, Alhaji Abubakar Baraje, and its former secretary, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola. APC Deputy National Chairman, Senator Shuaibu Lawal, led other NWC members to the meeting.
Details of the discussion have not been made public, but it appears to be the beginning of a long negotiation that may last well into the general election.
Odigie-Oyegun is presiding over the efforts to douse the raging fire in APC for now. But many believe the crisis will stay beyond him. He does not have a magic wand to resolve the crisis, neither does anyone else. If he is replaced after the APC national convention, there would definitely be a lot of realignments and shift in the pattern of the disagreements. There are many waiting in the wings to be part of the new alliances.
In Rivers State, for instance, it is difficult to see the APC crisis being resolved before the convention, when a new leadership is expected to emerge, which is why Abe seems to have the upper hand. What he has done is to go to court to stall the congress process. He succeeded to a large extent, as he secured a court injunction stopping the congresses in the state, even though APC in the state went ahead with the elections. Once Odigie-Oyegun is out of the way and Oshiomhole comes in, Abe seems certain to gain control of the party in Rivers State. A similar scenario would play out in many states.
However, contrary to the belief in some quarters that APC may implode from the weight of its present crisis, a party chieftain who prefers anonymity, says, “I think the masses are really asserting themselves in terms of determining who would lead them.
“These are normal things. In a democracy all these quarrels happen. We shouldn’t see it as something extraordinary. It is even good for our democracy that people have the courage to challenge their leaders.
“With what is happening, in time, the days of godfathers will go.”
But the APC crisis looks set to linger till the general elections. It is, certainly, not something Odigie-Oyegun is in a position to resolve. Because of this, some people would leave the party, and others would come in as the country approaches 2019.