STRUGGLING WITH GAPING CLEAVAGE

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Nseobong Okon-Ekong reports that the recent national convention of the All Progressives Congress, APC, reveals a widening split that the party is under pressure to close.

For most observers, the assertion of the All Progressives Congress, APC, that its recent national convention was a success could well be taken to have different implications: On one hand, it is a proclamation that the event was held on its appointed date, as well as, the fact that no death were recorded. However, in a larger sense, the two definitions nearly overlap. It is true that delegates from all over the country converged at the Eagle Square in Abuja in the presence of the media, local and international observers and the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC; these same who people engaged in a contest for offices that in part deployed the use of brutal physical force.

The widely reported fracas between delegates to the APC national convention loyal to two factions of the party in Delta State at the Eagle Square, venue of the convention may be regarded as the biggest blight on the convention.

The free-for-all fight in which broken tables, chairs and bottled water were used to pelt opponents, started when loyalists of Chief O’tega Emerhor, a former governorship aspirant for Delta State on the ticket of the APC, and Chief Victor Ochei, a former speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly, attempted to dislodge supporters of Senator Ovie Omo-Agege who had already occupied the pavilion allocated to delegates from Delta State.

Many delegates in the Omo-Agege faction sustained injuries as their opponents unleashed a surprise attack that sent them scampering for safety. The Ochei/Emerhor faction took over the Delta pavilion, but it was for a brief spell.

The Ochei/Emerhor delegates had hardly settled down when the Omo-Agege group launched a counter attack that sent supporters in the Ochei/Emerhor faction running.

The melee occurred as President Muhammadu Buhari was addressing the delegates.

Security agents including soldiers, policemen and members of the civil defense corps at the venue quickly moved in to prevent the fight from escalating. Incidentally, the security agents restrained themselves from using their guns

The fight between the contending delegates from Delta state affected the sitting arrangement, as delegates from Cross River and Edo states whose pavilion were positioned close to the Delta pavilion took to their heels to escape flying missiles.

A police team had to cordon off the Delta factional delegates belonging to the Chief Victor Ochei and Olorogun O’tega Emerhor from advancing to fight its opponents again as Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State who was the Chairman of the security sub-committee of the convention moved around trying to calm frayed tempers and return tranquility back to the convention. As Delta was not the only state at war, Bello definitely had a lot of work to do at the convention. In the wee hours of Sunday, the open hostility between the Ifeanyi Ararume/Senator Hope Uzodinma faction and loyalists of Governor Rochas Okorocha degenerated into fighting.

On the surface, the APC national convention could pass for a huge carnival of carousing groups. From the main stage, the headline musician, Fuji music superstar, King Wasiu Ayinde Marshal, better known as, K1 de Ultimate had a good time entertaining the gathering.  There were other comedians and DJs like billionaire businessman, Femi Otedola’s increasingly popular daughter, DJ Cuppy.  The entertainment session was anchored by leading MC, Basorge Tariah Jr. However, one of the most impressive leisure activities at the convention was the impersonation President Buhari by MC Tegwaye. It was a well-executed trick that could have gone wrong. No one could be sure they knew how Mr. President would react to someone making an open jest of his speech mannerisms. But Buhari sat through the session with a stoic expression.

The same veiled discomfort with which Buhari handled the MC Tegwaye episode could be observed with many leading political gladiators who were displaced from their home states and cleverly avoided the sitting pavilion of their home state. Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed was treated like a stranger by the majority of delegates from Kwara State. Having lost in his bid to wrest control of the state APC structure from the Dr. Saraki faction, he kept his distance from the area reserved for Kwara delegates. The only candidate who went ahead to slug it out with Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi for the post of National Publicity Secretary, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu was allegedly sponsored by Mohammed to continue his test of popularity. Issa-Onilu lost the contest to Abdullahi. Both men are from Kwara State and have a rich background in journalism.

Senator Magnus Abe put up a show of bravado as he summoned courage with a handful of his supporters to approach the Rivers State stand where the Minister of Transport, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi had taken his place among the delegates. Abe met a very cold reception. A few people greeted him out of courtesy. Coming face-to-face with Amaechi, he saluted him. The two men shook hands, pretending for a moment that they were friends again and Abe quickly left. He was not seen anywhere in the convention ground after that.

A similar fate of dishonor was dispensed on Senator Ajayi Boroffice by delegates from his Ondo home state. Party faithful from Ondo under the leadership of Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu paid no attention to Boroffice, who respected himself by keeping his distance from the designated space for delegates from Ondo State. The Minister for Communication, Mr. Adebayo Shittu was treated like a persona non grata by delegates from his home state of Oyo. Shittu avoided what would have been a showdown with supporters of Governor Abiola Ajimobi by shunning the official sitting arrangement for Oyo State delegates.  But the biggest embarrassment was suffered by Governor Rochas Okorocha whose supporters were prevented from having access to the sitting area reserved for delegates from Imo State. What would have been an ugly situation between the supporters of Senator Olamilekan Adeola and Governor Ibikunle Amosun was swallowed up by the prevailing technicality of where both men are currently domiciled. Adeola who represents Lagos West in the Senate has made known his intention to run for the office of governor of Ogun State in 2019, a plan that Amosun is not comfortable with.

There were pockets of protest from Cross River State and Edo State from APC factions who complained that they were unjustly shut out of the national convention.

In an emotional laden farewell,  outgoing Chairman of the All Progressives Congress,  APC,  Chief John Odigie-Oyegun acknowledged strongly held divergent views within members of the national executives of the party, which suggest that he did not have a smooth sail during his four-year tenure .

Accepting, for the first time, in the open that he struggled for consensus within his executive, Odigie-Oyegun said,   “Occasionally, our arguments was almost muscular but at the end of the day, the interest of the party prevailed.  There are divergent views but APC executives believe in the vision and of the progress of the country. ”
Commenting on the deluge of negative mention in the media, he said a wrong  impression was given that the APC was a party heading for implosion. He said, however, the reality today is that of a party that is stronger in its committed resolve to make greater gains for the good of the country.  “This is very colourful.”

Nonetheless, the outgoing chairman said he enjoyed a close working relationship with President Muhammadu Buhari. He also praised the vision of the founding fathers that birthed the APC including Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Chief Bisi Akande, Prince Tony Momoh,  Chief Ogbonnaya Onu and leaders of factions of the All Progressives Grand Alliance and the new Peoples Democratic Party.

Odigie-Oyegun said his exit from the leadership of the party marked the end of an era which was best left to history. “Phase two of the party is about to begin and I wish my successor, a smooth sail and fair weather. ” Odigie -Oyegun lost a bid to get a one-year extension of his excitement.  He was also persuaded to drop his interest in seeking re-election.

Earlier, Governor Mohammed Badaru Abubakar of Jigawa State and Chairman APC National Convention Committee said the gathering was more than a session for casting ballot as it also offered an opportunity to interact with Nigerians from other parts of the country “so we can appreciate the diversities and peculiarities in the country. “

Abubakar said his committee which was set-up eight weeks ago and it’s various sub-committees had worked hard to deliver an incident free convention. He said, however, that agitations such that have been witnessed from various aspirants leading to the convention were to be expected. According to him, “The contest for various offices has been keen.  It is normal and logical in politics. The APC is the party of the moment. She is the beautiful bride with many suitors.”

The convention committee chairman who formally opened the meeting with his address at 3.20pm said where it was not possible to resolve contentious issues, the committee had put in place a credible conflict resolution machinery with the most visible process that will assure contestants that they lost in a free and fair contest.

The Jigawa Governor emphasised that as the ruling party at the centre,  the interest of Nigerians in the affairs of the APC and the presence of international observers placed a onerous task on its leadership to deliver the gains of democracy and use the convention  “to show case the spirit of internal democracy as we move towards the 2019 elections. “

The immediate former Governor of Edo State, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole who emerged the new National Chairman of the APC promised to return the party back to the vision of the founding fathers. He said, “A recurring complaint is that the vision of the founding leaders of the party to build a progressive, all inclusive party has not materialized due to continued cleavages within our party. If I may ask, is it not ridiculous that people are still clinging to legacy parties four years down the road? Today, I stand up to say enough of legacy parties and enough of group interests that are at variance with the overall interest of the APC.  There is one APC. It is the mother of all, and unity is the platform on which we must act. Legacy is about the past and we must leave that behind to build a new body of ideas and shared interest as APC members. We must learn to see the bigger picture and a better and brighter future than focusing on individual and small group interests.”

Oshiomhole stated clearly how he intends to go about his work. “My task is to work with Mr. President, governors, leaders of the party at all levels and other stakeholders to pull our members together to build a strong and united party. We are not detained by the past. Our task is to build a Party with a formidable membership base; that is membership-driven and membership- funded, where every member at the grassroots has a say and sense of ownership. Our irreducible minimum for achieving this is to ensure that we all adhere to the APC constitution, hold regular meetings at all levels and convene an annual summit, not for election purposes, but to debate issues and formulate party planks to set policies for government. Such summits will be designed to give party cadres a sense of participation, involvement and inclusion. The non-elective summits will focus on issues and policy choices affecting Nigeria. They will also serve as opportunities for self-examination, interrogation of the policies of agencies of government to ensure they are in line with Party programmes and priorities.”

It was not clear if the ruling party at the centre has changed its slogan from ‘change’ to ‘progress’. Many publicity materials around the convention venue suggested a change of slogan. People are being asked to respond ‘Progress’ to the shout of ‘APC’

The APC national convention which was conducted under wet conditions, for the most part, as it rained heavily, was characterised by a long voting electoral process which dragged into the night of the following day. Many contestants for offices who earlier indicated interest declined to pursue their aspiration. One after another, they mounted the stage to announce their withdrawal from the race. At the end of the day, 33 posts were contested.

In anticipation of dissatisfied contestants, the Convention Committee set up an Elections Petitions Committee to consider complaints that may arise from its national convention.

Senator Adamu Aliero, secretary of the APC Elections Petitions Committee announced at the convention venue that the committee will sit at Treasure Suites in the Abuja Central Business District between June 25 and 27.

He advised aggrieved members to submit 30 copies of such complaint. However, only one person will be allowed to make a presentation before the committee.

At the onset of proceedings for the convention, it was announced that 18 of the 60 offices available will not be contested. However, the number of candidates returned unopposed kept increasing as many erstwhile contestants mounted the rostrum to announce their withdrawal from the race.  Against the background of these withdrawals, it is arguable if the committee will have any petition to consider.

However, the manifest sharp division, hostility and open divergent opinions point to the possibility of a flood of petitioners coming to the committee with their grievances.

For instance, because they were not able to resolve their differences, delegates from Delta and Imo states were denied the opportunity to vote at the national convention.

Organisers of the convention attempted to combine aesthetics through a lovely and attractive entry point. The last entrance into the main bowl of the venue had a reception area which was decorated with maps of APC-controlled states. It offered a good photo opportunity for those who wanted to capture lasting memories of the convention.

Expectedly, security was very tight. There were three layers of check point. Everyone was frisked for dangerous weapons. Extra care was also taken to ensure the safety of delegates. No one could access the venue except they sanitised their hands. There were clearly marked conveniences and medical booths. However, if there were personnel to keep the convention ground and conveniences clean, they were simply  overwhelmed. At some point, many areas at the Eagle Square became an eye-sore and delegates had to bear an overpowering stench for the duration of the convention.