APC’S CONSENSUS CONUNDRUM

All Progressives Congress leadership’s preference for a consensus presidential candidate unattainable, writes Bolaji Adebiyi

It is clear from the body language of the All Progressives Congress leadership that it would prefer a consensus presidential candidate for the 2023 general election. There were two indications of this. First, President Muhammadu Buhari, among other reasons, initially refused to assent to the 2010 Electoral Act Amendment Bill until consensus was included as one of the modes of selection of candidates. Second, he insisted on a no-contest during the selection of the party’s national working committee at its extraordinary special national convention in March.

 Although many of his candidates lost out in the intrigues that attended the convention, the president was able to pick the biggest price, the national chairmanship, which went to Abdullahi Adamu, a two-term governor of Nasarawa State and two-term senator of the federal republic. Given the executive nature of the nation’s parties’ national chairmen, that was strategic enough for him to have a hold on the party. As it has turned out, the APC national chairman has shown enough signs that he would do nothing but the bidding of the president.

In fairness to the APC establishment, the consensus is a desirable political option because of its capacity to reduce the rancour, divisiveness and tension that attend the competitive contests for elective positions in this clime. However, for it to achieve its desired purpose there must be a collective agreement among the various interests at play. The moment an interest is perceived to be short-changed, the consensual process will irretrievably collapse like a pack of cards.

This is not a fresh political concept in the nation’s politics though. Except that in the past, party leaders had deployed it to undemocratically muscle out otherwise popular aspirants for their preferred choice who most times were not the choice of the people. Ironically, the outcome became the exact opposite of what they had wished to prevent: rancour, which breeds what they call anti-party activities. Of course, the greatest culprits of this obvious abuse of power are the executives who use their gubernatorial hold on state finances and coercive machinery to elbow the less privileged party members.

It was in protest of this unfair state of affairs that the federal legislators have since 2010 been passing legislations that tend to interfere with the internal management of the parties. This course of action ordinarily should have been unusual but given the growing arbitrariness of the executive arm of government both at the federal and state levels, the legislative response is justifiable.

Buhari demonstrated this executive arbitrariness when he vetoed the amendments to the electoral law severally. In the last instance of the Electoral Act 2022, the president had to be persuaded to give assent based on a compromise that the legislative arm would later renege on. He was opposed to Section 84 (12), which seeks to oust the influence of the executive and its appointees in the party primary process, and Section 84 (9) and Section 84 (10) that though enshrined his preference for consensus but gave it a definition that effectively tied the hands of the party power brokers.

According to Section 84 (9), “A political party that adopts a consensus candidate shall secure the written consent of all cleared aspirants for the position, indicating their voluntary withdrawal from the race and their endorsement of the consensus candidate.” Although the purpose of this section is to preserve the democratic content of the consensual policy, the party power brokers, who are largely found in the executive arm found it objectionable because it circumscribed their erstwhile stranglehold on the party structures.

The APC establishment struggled with this legal definition of consensus during its extraordinary special national convention in March and only wobbled through the imposition of its preferred officials with dissatisfied aspirants barely restraining themselves from taking lawsuits against their marginalisation. However, if the manipulation of the selection process of the party’s leadership went without a legal challenge, it is doubtful whether any manoeuvring of the presidential primary would go without dire consequences.

Apart from the fact that Section 84 (9) is clear that consensus must be consensual and voluntary, Section 84 (10) by stipulating that where no written consent can be obtained, then there should be direct or indirect primaries, leaves the party leaders with no inch room for mischief. Herein lies the dilemma of the APC leadership that wants a consensus presidential candidate but has collected N100million from each of the 28 aspirants, amounting to a whopping N2.8 billion.

Already, many of the heavyweight aspirants have indicated their intention to resist any bullying by refusing to sign the voluntary withdrawal form attached to their N100million nomination forms. “I will not sign any withdrawal form before the contest,” Ken Nnamani, a former president of the Senate, who had complained about the exorbitant nomination fees, told ARISE NEWS Channel earlier in the week.

Addressing some delegates, a couple of weeks ago, Bola Tinubu, national leader of the party, and clearly the man to beat in the intensely conspiratorial race, had a rare aura of confidence when he told them that though he was not invincible, he was sure of victory. “I will go back home if I am beaten but with the amount of work I have done, be rest assured that I will win,” he told his audience which responded with tumultuous applause.

Emeka Nwajiuba, the youthful political son of Buhari, who had to forgo his ministerial career for his presidential ambition, toed the same line. You cannot begin to talk of zoning after collecting N100million from aspirants, he told THISDAY Newspapers in an interview published on Monday.

The aspirants are not necessarily opposed to consensual politics, after all, there is nothing that says they may not be the preferred candidate but the point they are making may well be that the APC leadership is closing the stable door long after the horse has bolted. It appears a little too late to ask people to stand down and take a walk after so many financial and emotional investments in their aspirations. It will certainly take more than an arm and a leg to achieve that.

Adebiyi, the managing editor of THISDAY Newspapers, writes from bolaji.adebiyi@thisdaylive.com

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