*President says party has capacity to resolve challenges
*Declares when I’m away, Osinbajo is in charge
*Sani Bello is new caretaker chair, holds maiden meeting today
*Abdulrazaq-led committee to announce zoning formula
Deji Elumoye and Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja
In what appears a major step to containing the crisis plaguing the leadership of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), President Muhammadu Buhari, has allegedly approved the removal of the Yobe State Governor, Mai Mala Buni, as the Chairman, Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) of the party and in his stead, appointed his Niger State counterpart, Abubakar Sani Bello.
A faction of the APC governors was alleged to have complained bitterly to the president that Buni was not inclined to holding the convention as rescheduled, because there were no preparations on the ground to indicate so.
Apparently miffed by the what he was told, the president was said to have immediately directed that Buni be removed and replaced.
Buni is currently in Dubai for medical reasons and was not around to defend himself. But the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami; the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha and another top Villa player, were said to have intervened on behalf of Buni, when they got wind of the development, and advised the president to exercise caution against such action.
They were said to have reminded Buhari it was only the NEC of the Party that could convene and remove Buni, and after he must have been given seven days notice of removal. They, however, contended that anything outside the laid down processes, could be challenged in court, with the potential of disrupting the rescheduled March 26 Convention date.
It was not certain, however, whether the intervention changed the President’s mind. But some insiders, who spoke to THISDAY on the development this morning, expressed displeasure that some governors went to ambush the president just before he left the country without their knowledge and created a totally false narrative that Buni did not want to hold the convention.
“They are creating unnecessary crisis in the party, because of their selfish interests. How can they claim there are no preparations to hold the convention, when various convention sub-committees have been announced; the zonal committee is announcing the zoning formula on Monday (today).
“Committees will be inaugurated in a few days. These people are not sincere. Some governors have been scheming to take over the functions of CECPC to further their own interests.
The immediate way out of this is; if Buni voluntarily resigns, which he had two weeks ago threatened to during the APC governors meeting in Abuja,” they claimed.
These, nonetheless, the president, yesterday, assured party members before departing the country for his two weeks medical trip, that he would do everything to ensure the convention holds as scheduled on March 26.
He also took time to clear the air of misgivings about the structure of his government, when he said, constitutionally, his deputy, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, was always in charge, whenever he was away.
This is as the APC zoning committee, headed by the Kwara State Governor, Abdulrahaman Abdulrazaq, is expected to announce the zoning formula for the party’ National Working Committee (NWC) today ahead of the national convention.
Also, a former governor of Nasarawa State and frontline aspirant for the All Progressives Congress (APC) national chairmanship, Senator Tanko Al-Makura, has denied working against the president’s choice of consensus candidate, describing a report to that effect as mischievous and unkind.
Speaking to journalists before departing Abuja for London, the president, who told his party members not to forget how a relatively new APC beat the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at the polls in 2015, reiterated that, “everything would be done to ensure that the party holds the national convention as scheduled.”
And in further allaying existential concerns, Buhari stated: “Well, they (APC members) should wait and see. How did we come as a party to take power from the ruling party, who had been there before us for so many years? So, we have the capacity; everything will be alright,” the president said.
Responding to a question on whether or not there would be a vacuum in government with his two-week trip to the United Kingdom, he said he was not the only person working, and that his deputy, Osinbajo, was constitutionally empowered to take charge whenever he was away.
He said: “Well, I cannot claim to be doing the work alone. The government is fully represented; the Vice President is there, constitutionally when I’m away he’s in charge. And the Secretary to the Government and then the Chief of Staff too. So, we have no problem.”
Buhari had since departed Abuja for London, the United Kingdom Kingdom, for routine medical checks that might last two weeks.
The President’s official plane, Nigeria Air Force 1, took off Sunday morning from the Presidential wing of Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.
Buhari was seen off at the airport by his Chief of Staff, Professor Ibrahim Gambari; Minister of State for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Hajiya Ramatu Tijjani Aliyu; and the Director-General of Department of State Security (DSS), Yusuf Magaji Bichi; and the Deputy Inspector-General of Police (DIG), Sanusi Lemu, among other top government officials.
The president, who returned from Nairobi, Kenya, on Friday, after attending a three-day international summit of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), was expected to be away for maximum of two weeks.
His Media Adviser, Femi Adesina, had last week, hinted that the routine medical check-up of the President in London would not exceed two weeks.
However, on the alleged Buni’s removal, a source, who confirmed the development, told THISDAY last night that, the president did not formerly hint at the news, when leaving the country, because as a process person, he wanted the decision to be tidied up without creating any more grievances, hence, the meeting to be held today at the National Secretariat of the party.
Reiterating that Buni was already gone and the decision long taken, the source held that the relieved caretaker chairman knew of the development hence his forced trip on health grounds, adding that the party needed to move on and desperately too.
To this end, Bello has summoned a meeting of the Caretaker Committee for today.
The meeting, THISDAY gathered, would take place at the national secretariat of the party by 10am and would be chaired by him (Bello) with members of the caretaker committee expected to be in attendance.
THISDAY further gathered that some APC governors including Abubakar Badaru of Jigawa, Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi, Simon Lalong of Plateau, Dr. Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti and Bello met at the Niger governor’s lodge yesterday in Asokoro, Abuja.
The meeting, it was learnt, was a continuation of the one held on Saturday in Abuja by the governors.
A source, who pleaded anonymity, told THISDAY that it appeared that the Secretary of the committee, Senator John Akpanudoedehe, had gotten wind of the plan and was already planning to shutdown the secretariat tomorrow, however, against the instruction of the president.
“The resolution is that the members of the CECPC will meet at the party secretariat on Monday by 10a.m. The meeting will be chaired by the Niger State governor, because Buni is out of town. But the secretary is planning to shut down the secretariat tomorrow,” the source said.
The party source also informed THISDAY that though Bello had called a meeting of Caretaker committee members, he however foresee confusion.
“There will be confusion tomorrow. They may not have access to the venue of the meeting. They may be locked out, because there is a problem on ground.
“The Niger governor had called a meeting, but he has also been double crossed, because he won’t have access to the venue of the meeting. So, it is likely that the meeting will not,” he said.
But a former Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Yekini Nabena, has warned Bello to stay away from a venture he clearly lacked the powers to undertake.
Nabena insisted that Bello lacked the power to call a National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting without the authorisation of the Caretaker Committee Chairman and Governor of Yobe State, Mai Mala Buni.
Nabena, in a statement last night, said Bello was just an ordinary member of the Caretaker Committee and not the Chairman or Secretary.
His words: “I am using this medium to call on our leaders across the states to caution Governor Sani Bello of Niger State. The presidency should also call him to order to immediately drop the plan to convey a NEC meeting without the knowledge of Governor Mai Mala Buni and the Secretary of the CECPC.
“The likes of Governor Bello are the political vultures working against our party and to cause anarchy in the ruling APC,” stressing that the plot by Bello to destabilise the ruling party, has been on for a while because of his vice presidential ambition in 2023, hence his plan to convey a NEC meeting.
“Governor Sani Bello is neither the Chairman nor Secretary of the National Caretaker Committee. So, where did he get the power to convey such meeting? Governor Bello should not destroy the ruling APC, because of his personal political ambition of becoming Vice President or whatever in 2023,” he added.
Abdulrazaq-led Committee to Announce Zoning Formula Today
A member of the APC zoning committee, who pleaded to remain anonymous, has said all was set for the committee, headed by the Kwara State Governor, Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq, to announce the outcome of its meeting today.
The source told THISDAY that the committee concluded its work at the weekend, even as he denied knowledge of zoning the presidency to the South-west as reported in a national newspaper.
Providing an insight into the work that was done by the committee, the source revealed that they agreed to zone the National Chairman to the north-central; the Deputy National Chairman (north) to the north-east; the Secretary to the south-west and Deputy National Chairman (south) to the south-east.
“Our report is ready and would be announced tomorrow (Monday). Our scope of work was for party offices and the result would be announced tomorrow. All the various committees would be inaugurated Monday and they need the announcement by the zoning committee to kick off the process,” the source added.
Specifically responding to a question on a report that the committee had zoned the presidency ahead of the 2023 elections to the South-west, the source said, “there is nothing like that. What we are dealing with here are party offices.”
A statement by APC Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC), John James Akpanudoedehe, had revealed that the CECPC Chairman and Governor of Yobe State, Mai Mala Buni, had approved the composition of the zoning committee.
Other members of the committee included Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege, who served as deputy chairman; Etim Nyong, M. B. Shehu, Mustapha Salihu, Teslim Folarin, Sadeeq Sule-Iko Sami as members while Deputy Governor of Anambra State, Nkem Okeke, served as the committee secretary.
Buhari, last week, met with governors of the ruling APC at State House, Abuja, where he had expressed his preference for former governor of Nasarawa State, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, as consensus candidate for the office of APC national chairman.
Al-Makura Denies Opposing President over Chairmanship
In another development, Senator Tanko Al-Makura, in a statement yesterday by the Director-General of Al-Makura Campaign Organisation (ACO), Mr. Dominic Alancha, insisted that he could not have been opposed to a purported consensus chairmanship choice of Buhari, when neither the president nor the party leadership had made any public statement on the matter.
The APC chieftain, therefore, bemoaned the sensational headlines and reports by some national dailies, which claimed he was bent on opposing Buhari.
“Senator Al-Makura, as a bona fide aspirant for the position of the National Chairman of the APC was in Ondo to consult with Governor Rotimi Akeredolu in continuation of consultations with APC governors, party leaders and stakeholders, which he commenced many months back.
“It is, therefore, mischievous and unkind for anybody to claim that he was working against President Muhammadu Buhari’s choice of a consensus candidate for the position of the National Chairman of our great party,” he stated.
Al-Makura said the media report was a deliberate, albeit failed attempt, to paint him in bad light.
According to him, “This is even more so when neither the president, whom Senator Al-Makura holds in very high esteem, nor the party leadership, has made any statement to the effect of any endorsed consensus candidate.
“These prophets of doom have continued to render false prophecies and tales on the forthcoming APC national convention. They are, therefore, looking for media houses they could latch on to ignite fire, hate, and confusion in the party.”
Al-Makura, however, expressed confidence in the president and the leadership of the party to pilot the party through a turbulence-free convention to the disappointment of the enemies of the APC, troublemakers, and naysayers.