Mai Mala Buni: The bridge over troubled waters
By June 2020 Nigeria’s ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) was working hard to reconcile some members who had reservations on the outcome of its primaries for the 2019 General Elections.
The issue and the resultant interplay led to the unfortunate loss of four states, namely Zamfara, Bauchi, Oyo and Adamawa in the 2019 governorship elections and eventually climaxed with the dissolution of the National Working Committee (NWC) led by the then Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole.
Such was the level of discontent in the party that the normally taciturn President Muhammadu Buhari waxed voluble in recounting the challenges the party faced on the day of the dissolution of the NWC and appointment of a Caretaker Committee to take its place pending the election of new officers for the party.
President Buhari noted at that meeting: “There are also other associated disputes as to the legitimacy or otherwise of holders of certain national offices of the party. The party is also contending with judicial claims and counter-claims, orders and counter-orders and indeed, judgments and counter-judgments that are predominantly at cross-purposes.
“Confronted with these issues, it is obvious that the fortunes of the party are currently in jeopardy, administration of our party is becoming impossible and there is consequently an urgent need for intervention to immediately arrest further drifts and internal wrangling, which may lead to total disintegration.
“What we see clearly emerging, is that we are beginning to self-destruct. This, my dear party members, is not just regrettable, but utterly gut-wrenching.”
The President’s comments reflected the stark reality and to reunite the party and reposition it to deliver the qualitative governance it had promised Nigerians during the general elections of 2019, an interim management team was needed.
The lot fell on Mai Mala Buni, the Governor of Yobe State to head the rescue team, which included top party leaders including two other state governors.
The choice of Buni was no accident. It was a strategic move aimed at uniting the divided factions of the party.
Interestingly, Buni as National Secretary of the party from its inception in 2014, understood well its strengths, weaknesses and potential. More than that, he was well respected by members of the party across the country with whom he had over the years, forged lasting friendships.
This was evident in his comments after accepting to execute the onerous task thrust upon him.
He noted on that occasion:
“I know the party very well. It’s all about doing justice to every member of the party because without justice there won’t be peace. It is all about team play.
“I am a team player; I have a capable team that can work with me. If you don’t manage the crisis, obviously crisis will manage you. So, I won’t allow any crisis to fester henceforth.”
Indeed, with the passage of time, Buni working adroitly and strategically with other members of the Caretaker Committee has doused the tension within the party, restored loyalty to it, and entrenched justice and Fairplay, which has not only repositioned the APC for the challenges ahead of the 2023 elections but has also endeared the party to Nigerians.
It is a measure of Buni’s effectiveness as the interim head of the party that a lot of the members of the party who felt aggrieved and shortchanged by the outcome of the party’s primaries left the party after the 2019 elections have returned to the party.
That is not all. Under Buni’s stewardship, the APC has multiplied its membership, outstripping the PDP as the largest political party on the African continent. The party’s recent registration exercise where it recorded a 40 million-plus membership underscores this fact.
The effect of the transformation of the APC under Buni is not lost on Nigerians and was instrumental in them joining the party enmasse. And it is not just at the grassroots that there’s a ferment of interest in the party. The nation’s elite usually sceptical about the ability of Nigerian political parties to engineer national development are flocking to the APC.
In the last year, virtually all the political parties in the country have lost their members to the APC following Buni’s purposeful leadership of the party.
The PDP has been the worst hit. At the last count, two of its governors re-elected to office in 2019, have defected to the APC. The first to ditch the party was David Umahi of Ebony State, who joined the APC six months after Buni took over as caretaker chairman. Next to go was Ben Ayade, Governor of Cross River State.
Only recently, Azubuike Ihejirika, a retired general and former Chief of Army Staff, also defected to the APC. Ihejirika’s defection came after two leading PDP members, Senator Iyiola Omisore, a former Deputy Governor of Osun State, and Otunba Gbenga Daniel, a former Governor of Ogun State, joined the APC from the PDP. This development has undoubtedly weakened the PDP while strengthening the APC as it plans to consolidate power via the 2023 general elections.
It seems though that there are individuals working to scuttle this dream. These people are working assiduously to undermine the efforts of Buni and his team at the caretaker committee. A key subterfuge deployed by these faceless characters has been to hide behind the call for the convention of the party to hold at the time of their choosing.
Last year, a group of 100 individuals purportedly APC members and ostensibly acting in the interest of the party, but more clearly acting out the script of the enemies of the party, went to court asking for the dissolution of the Buni led caretaker committee on the ground that it was not validly constituted.
It was clear that the group was nothing but a misguided attempt by enemies of the APC to foment crisis within the party for, at about the same time, the PDP headed to court with a similar prayer only in its own case, it was not asking for the dissolution of the caretaker committee on the grounds of the illegality of its composition, but on what it termed the violation of Section 183 of the Nigerian Constitution by virtue of Buni occupying “dual executive offices”.
Though both cases have deservedly wallowed at the courts, the enemies of Buni and the APC are unrelenting. They have found in the forthcoming convention of the party, an avenue to cause disaffection within the party and succeed in their bid to unseat Buni as caretaker committee head.
That Buni and his team have repeatedly assured everyone including President Buhari that the February 26 date for the convention remains sacrosanct, they have continued to insinuate that the members of the Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC), which he chairs, had a hidden agenda.
A few days ago, Salisu Lukman, Director General of the Progressives Governors Forum resigned from office. It was the culmination of his fruitless efforts to undermine Buni and the caretaker committee. An unrelenting critic of the caretaker committee, his repeated acts of insubordination and disrespect towards Buni and his team, had drawn the ire of the governors and other leading members of the party, who invariably moved against him while at the same time reaffirming their confidence in Buni’s ability to continue to lead the party and organising a convention worthy of the party.
Salihu’s ouster is a welcome development. It will among many things, afford the caretaker committee ample latitude to work assiduously toward organising a proper convention that will usher in new leadership that will guide the party to successful elections in 2023.
In the interim Buni’s perceptive and result-oriented leadership of the party will continue to attract more supporters and goodwill to himself and the party at large.
Ejiofor, a public affairs analyst, is based in Abuja