Renewed Clamour to Sack the Reformer

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Adams Oshiomhole

Ojo Maduekwe writes that the All Progressives Congress National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole’s drive to reform the party and instill internal discipline might have gone overboard

When he was vying for National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Adams Oshiomhole made it clear he was out to reform the APC; take back the party structure from vested interests and return it to the members.

Membership of the APC was saturated by a good number of politicians who defected from the PDP and swelled its ranks ahead of the 2015 general elections. The APC’s singular ideology leading to the 2015 general elections was based on how to dislodge the PDP from the government at the federal level, nothing more.

Before the coming of Oshiomhole and his desire to reform the party, millions of Nigerian voters who casted their votes in favour of the APC during the general election in 2015 were already itching for a reform.

It was with this sense of purpose that Oshiomhole assumed the role of party reformer. His approach would involve using direct primary to elect candidates to represent the party in elections. Although this was bound to have drawbacks – owing to the lack of a credible membership register – it was an approach capable of fostering a sense of ownership by everyone that called the APC home.

Governors in the APC who were normally anti direct primary but beneficiaries of the skewed delegate system, knew what this reform entailed but nonetheless endorsed his candidacy to please President Muhammadu Buhari, backtracking on an earlier tenure elongation for the then APC chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun.

Oshiomhole inherited a party whose change credibility had been battered, and was poised to move the APC away from a system where governors were both lords in their respective states and Abuja; a situation where appointees with access to the president decided what was party policy.

In his drive to reform the party and instill internal discipline, some critics of Oshiomhole say that he might have gone overboard. They allude to his falling out with the Minister of Labour, Dr. Chris Ngige, during which he had openly expressed displeasure with how Buhari was handling the government.

When Ngige refused to inaugurate the board of an agency under his ministry, Oshiomhole, following a closed door meeting with the president’s Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari threatened to suspend Ngige and other party members who disobeyed party directives. According to him, “If the president condones disrespect for his office, I will not condone disrespect for the party.”

In some quarters, this comment portrayed the chairman as courageous and as someone unafraid to take an opposing view different from the president, especially when doing such to preserve the independence of the party.

Fact is the APC was in total disarray, judging from the happenings within offices of the federal government under its control. There were ministers and junior ministers working at cross purposes. The heads of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and the Department of State Security (DSS) were refusing to collaborate in executing the president’s fight against corruption.

During these scuffles Buhari appeared disinterested in restraining his appointees and putting his government in order. This disorderliness or like Oshimhole put it, condoning “disrespect for his office”, rubbed off badly on the party. There was need for the APC to save itself by reinventing its internal party politics.

The governor’s backtracking on their plan to elongate the tenure of Odigie-Oyegun was wrongly viewed by observers as a sign that they were open to reform.

It soon became obvious that members of the APC (especially the governors) were not open to change at the inception of the party primaries to elect candidates for the 2019 elections, when the party and the governors clashed on what mode of primary to be used in electing candidates to represent the APC.

Oshiomhole had canvassed for direct primary so as to give every registered member of the APC a say, but the governors under the party wanted indirect primary. While some governor’s had their way, those that failed to use the primary to install candidates of their choice now want Oshiomhole to resign.

The APC primaries may be history, but the consequence of three of the governor’s decision to back Oshiomhole as chairman continues to plague them. Vehemently opposed to his continuation as chairman, they are calling for his resignation. They claim that his reforms have deformed the APC.

In a bid to force him to resign, the embattled chairman has been a victim of verbal attacks by some APC governors, even down to an interrogation by the DSS, during which it was reported that he was asked to resign. Both the state security and the leadership of the APC have neither denied nor consented to this news.

There have been clamour for Oshiomhole’s resignation but it had never been this strong. The clamour keeps growing and the list of party members that want him gone – ranging from governors to ministers – continue to pile up daily. In a bid to discredit him, there have been allegations of corruption thrown at him. It is alleged that it was upon this premise that he was invited by the DSS.

There’s a subsisting order by a federal high court sitting in Abuja and headed by Justice Anwuli Chikere asking the EFCC to investigate Oshiomhole. The lawsuit was instigated by an anti-corruption crusader, Bishop Osadolor Ochei.

Spokesperson of the main opposition PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan, claims the party has at its disposal information that reveals Oshiomhole allegedly collected billions of Naira in bribe from some ministers and other APC sources in Adamawa, Rivers, Kano and Imo states to manipulate the 2019 electoral process.

One of the aggrieved governor’s, Rochas Okorocha of Imo state, who happens to be chairman of the Progressives Governors Forum (a group of governors elected under the APC), claims that Oshiomhole’s reform will likely cost the APC an unsubstantiated number of five million voters in next year’s elections.

Following the governorship primary in his state, and the loss of his anointed candidate and son-in-law, Uche Nwosu to Senator Hope Uzodinma, it was alleged that Okorocha was toying with the idea of having Nwosu run on the platform of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) for the state governorship seat.

Ibikunle Amosun, governor of Ogun, who initially supported Oshiomhole, has accused the chairman of trying to hijack the state to give to a “rapacious and expansionist South-west gang,” and so has vowed not to support Dapo Abiodun, the 2019 Ogun state gubernatorial candidate of the APC.

It was alleged that Amsoun was scheming for his anointed candidate, Adekunle Akinlade, to dump the APC for the Democratic People’s Party (DPP).

The governor’s may be right in their accusation of the APC chairman, or as Oshiomhole has depicted them, they could just be sore losers, depending on how one sees it. But the fact is, unlike in 2015 when the APC went to the poll united, the party is going into next year’s election disunited. It gets worse in a state like Zamfara, where the APC won’t be fielding candidates in 2019.

Naturally, following the badly conducted primaries a wave of protest and defection is plaguing the APC and, several aggrieved members who lost out during the primaries have vowed to work against the party come 2019. Even the chances of the APC retaining the presidency have been predicted as being slim.

When looked at dispassionately, the APC has lost most of the appeal that made it acceptable to voters in the buildup to the 2015 elections. APC supporters expected Oshiomhole’s coming as chairman to reposition the party as the country moves into the next election season. But, what should have been a reform to strengthen the APC as an embodiment of progressive ideals, has further polarized it and divided members of the party.

Some members of the APC’s National Working Committee (NWC) have been allegedly approached to suspend the chairman, pending the conclusion of the DSS investigation of the corruption allegation slammed on him.

President Buhari; his deputy, Yemi Osinbajo; Tinubu and other party stakeholders would meet this week to discuss the crisis and decide on the fate of Oshiomhole as APC chairman.

A number of APC members and supporters of Oshiomhole, like Tinubu, still consider his reforms to be in line with the interest of the APC but others consider him to be bad for the party and would prefer he resigns for a new chairman to lead the APC ahead of next year’s upcoming general election.

APC strategists worry that an attempt to remove Oshiomhole may likely deepen the crisis, rather than unite the party. They suggest that it would be better for the APC to weather the storm and correct any conflict immediately after the election. But those canvassing for his resignation believe that with Oshiomhole continuing as party chairman, the APC stand no chance at retaining power.

Believing his reform to be on course, Oshiomhole is insisting that the APC is not in any form of crisis, and that Buhari will defeat Atiku. At a recent press conference in Abuja, he told reporters that, “Now that our opponent is Atiku Abubakar, we will defeat him again the way we have defeated him before.”

How Oshiomhole can remain this optimistic while overseeing a party riddled with crises is what both critics of the APC and the chairman do not understand. This nonchalance is why some have insinuated he’s working for the PDP.

If after the meeting with the president and other party stakeholders Oshiomhole is retained as chairman, observers expect there to be increase in accusations by aggrieved APC members and counter-accusations from the camp of supporters loyal to the chairman. This would definitely deepen the crisis.

What would matter for the APC in the coming weeks is how to extricate itself from the result of Oshiomhole’s experiment with the direct primary. To return as ruling party, the APC would need a strategy on how to forge a united front to face a growing discontent of millions of voters itching to vote out the party.

QUICK FACTS:

*Oshiomhole made it clear he was out to reform the APC; take back the party structure from vested interests and return it to the members

*Before the coming of Oshiomhole, millions of APC supporters were already itching for a reform

*His approach involved using direct primary to elect candidates to represent the party in elections

*This method was bound to have drawbacks – owing to the lack of a credible membership register, but it was an approach capable of fostering a sense of ownership by everyone that called the APC home

*Governors in the APC who were normally anti direct primary but beneficiaries of the skewed delegate system, knew what this reform entailed

* The governor’s backtracking on their plan to elongate the tenure of Odigie-Oyegun was wrongly viewed as a sign that they were open to reform

*Oshiomhole inherited a party whose change credibility had been battered

*The National Chairman of the APC was poised to move the party away from a system where governors were both lords in their respective states and Abuja

*The party and the governors clashed on what mode of primary to be used in electing candidates to represent the APC

*Those that failed to use the primary to install candidates of their choice now want Oshiomhole to resign

*Three of the governors are vehemently opposed to Oshiomhole’s continuation as chairman

*The embattled chairman has been a victim of verbal attacks by some APC governors, even down to an interrogation by the DSS