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2023: Weighing APC’s clash of ambitions, uncertain future

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Takeaways from two unrelated recent events in the Federal Capital Abuja, painted the uncertain future awaiting the governing All Progressives Congress (APC). The two events were the meeting of APC National Executive Committee (NEC) and National Economic Council (NEC).

At the APC NEC, President Muhammadu Buhari essentially sounded the alarm bell, warning his party stalwarts to do all in their power to avert the impending collapse of the platform in 2023 when his final constitutional term in office runs its full course.

Then at the NEC, the state governors nominated the restless Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai to chair an ad hoc committee put together to review six power generation companies and 11 distribution companies that were created at the privatization of the power sector in 2013.

Taken together, that is President Buhari’s warning and el-Rufai’s emergence as the governors’ candidate on the NEC ad hoc committee, these two developments impinges on the ongoing travails of the governing party, which revolve around competition for dominance and the 2023 presidential ticket.It should be recalled that Governor El Rufai actually stoked the current conversation about what path the APC would toe when it considers what part of the country should produce President Buhari’s successor.

The governor declared that since there was nothing like zoning in the APC constitution, only the President and members of the party should determine who becomes the party’s standard bearer during the party’s presidential primary election for the 2023 poll.

And perhaps, on account of the Kaduna State governor’s interest in the race for the APC presidential ticket, whether for himself or a proxy, the party’s stakeholders, especially state governors who were reluctant to go with him or identify with the other camp, suddenly started romanticizing the idea of tenure extension for the President. At the end of the National Economic Council (NEC) penultimate week, Imo State governor, Emeka Ihedioha, who addressed journalists in Abuja on behalf of his colleagues, disclosed that the ad hoc power review committee was to be headed by El Rufai.

Apart from the Kaduna State governor, Ihedioha said that others to serve on the committee included, the National Council on Privatisation (NCP), Bureau of Public Procurement (BPE) and governors representing the six geo-political zones on the Board of the Niger Delta Power Holding Company (NDPHC).

It should be recalled that on its part, the Senate had also mandated its Committee on Power to investigate activities of the power generating and distribution companies against the background of the increasing unsteady power supply in the country.It was reported that one of the Senators, who spoke in support of the motion during plenary contended that beyond generation and transmission, the Discos “lacked the financial and technical capacities required to function effectively in the power sector.”

Although Mallam El Rufai made his inroad to Nigeria’s public service through the headship of the BPE, the setting up of the ad hoc review committee by NEC for the power sector was seen as part of the governing party’s schemes to tamper with the ownership structure of the Gencos and Discos. Sources explained that by the sheer nature of the financial and sensitive nature of the power sector, the ad hoc committee would wield a lot of influence that could be projected into political capital.

Therefore, based on the foregoing, some gladiators believe that tagging Mallam El Rufai to head the committee on review of Discos could add to his capacity to influence the politics of 2023.

GOVERNOR El Rufai’s push for ascendancy in the struggle for the control of the control levers of APC predated even his inauguration for a second term in office as Kaduna State chief executive.Apart from firing the salvo against zoning, the governor raised dust in Lagos when he spoke of ways of undercutting the pervading influence of political godfathers in Lagos State and by extension southwest.

Recently, Governor El Rufai was back in the Southwest geopolitical zone and blamed Nigerians for allowing politicians mess with the country, even as he beckoned on good men to join politics and eliminate the bad guys. Speaking at the annual Ajasin Foundation Colloquium in recognition of the contributions of the former Ondo State governor, Pa Michael Adekunle Ajasin, El Rufai told the audience: “Those people that say politicians messed up the country are even at fault, because our best never join politics. They are all working with oil companies, MTN, Banks and so on. When bad politicians are messing up the country, they are shouting. You better come and join us to collectively move the country forward.”

While contending that Nigerians should choose their leaders by political and ethical considerations, the Kaduna State governor lamented that of one the leadership challenges in Nigeria is that the elite do not sit together and agree on issues.
He declared: “The elite should make the country work, because if the country works, they will be the greatest beneficiaries. Most Nigerian elite have not realised that if their neighbours are hungry, they will not be able to sleep or to enjoy their wealth. The masses must have access to justice. There must be equality before the law and must be balanced.”He maintained that each candidate for leadership should be judged by his merit and competence, “if we want our country to grow,” stressing that any policy that has not worked for the development of the country since the 70s should be reviewed.

Most of those who listened to the Kaduna State governor deliver the keynote speech in Akure said it had the flavor of an electioneering message “intended to win the acceptability of the progressives of Southwest.”Others said that it was part of El Rufai’s long-term strategy to expand his national appeal by pushing into the Southwest and ostensibly strengthen whatever alliance will gain pre-eminence towards 2023forged with some of the state governors in the zone.

APC chieftains that spoke in confidence to The Guardian after the colloquium said that Governor Rotimi Akeredolu’s decision to send his deputy, Hon. Agbola Ajayi, was a tactical manoeuvre in deference to other tendencies in the Southwest that may be angling for the APC presidential ticket in 2023.

If schemes for APC presidential ticket has reached the stage of ensuing mutual suspicion among state governors elected on the party’s platform, it becomes obvious that President Buhari’s alarm bells were intended to alert the party leaders on the implications of their stiff competition for command and control.

Tenure Elongation Puzzle
ADDRESSING the APC NEC that Friday, President Buhari tasked the leaders to ensure that the party outlives his tenure in 2023, stressing that “history will not be fair to us outright if the APC collapses at the end of this term.”The President also used the opportunity of the APC NEC to speak on the speculations over a planned tenure elongation for him to avert the implosion the clash of ambitions by chieftains to succeed him could trigger.Dismissing the claims that he was covertly working to extend his stay in office beyond 2023, the President swore that he would not do anything that contradicts the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution.

While directing those behind the speculated tenure elongation to read the constitution, the President declared: “I’m not going to make the mistake of attempting a third term. Besides age, I swore by the holy book that I would go by the Constitution, and the Constitution said two terms.”

Although the President has given his word against a third term, APC leaders must have seen the futility of building their party around an individual. But, observers maintain that unless the party visits the crafty litigant from Ebonyi with the severest censure, Nigerians would believe that President Buhari might want to use the democratic institution, the legislature, to ensure that his party does not collapse as he predicted.

Southwest Presidential Push
THE Kaduna State governor’s recent visit to Ondo State, where he delivered a keynote address was his second such visit to the Southwest geopolitical zone after the February 23, 2019 presidential election. Some APC chieftain said El Rufai believes that the greatest challenge for the party’s presidential ticket in 2023 would come from the Southwest and as such he is doing all he can to be competitive in the zone.But others insist that despite covert schemes by the former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who has been at the receiving end of El Rufai’s jabs, nothing seems to give concrete indications that the Southwest was seriously in contention for the 2023 presidential push.

Yet, there are unconfirmed reports that President Buhari dropped the hint that after his second term, the Southwest should get ready to propel APC to another presidential election victory. Whether that hint amounted to an indirect endorsement of a possible Tinubu presidency could not be ascertained, just as Presidency sources maintain that it is not the tradition of President Buhari to raise a finger in support of anybody’s political ambition.

Also apart from interventions from sundry support groups, attempts to get a confirmation from the Tinubu insiders that he is contesting the 2023 presidential election always meet a brick wall. Special Assistant to the former Lagos State governor, Tunde Rahman, could not take calls or respond to inquiries regarding his principal’s leaning, especially given his (Tinubu’s) prodigious efforts in keeping the Southwest political bloc united on the APC platform.

Although the immediate past Ogun State governor and Senator representing Ogun Central in the Senate, Ibikunle Amosun, came out to denounce attempts to associate him with the 2023 presidential agitations, there are other names that continue to make the rounds about a possible presidential aspiration, especially Governor Kayode Fayemi and Tunde Fashola.

However, divorcing morality from politics, the question remains, is Southwest really angling for the 2023 Presidency or merely positioning for another sparing position as runningmates? Those who knew about a recent meeting, last month, with the 1993 presidential runningmate to late M. K. O. Abiola, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, in Abuja, hold the view that Southwest is keeping the cards open, including to deputise a presumptive Northeast candidate.

Zamfara Hangover/Battle For Edo State
TWO APC leadership caucuses, including state governors and forum of state chairmen of the party met separately with President Buhari last week. Even though the governors maintained sealed lips after their meeting with the President, there were indications that it was all part of the ongoing efforts to stave off the implosion within the party.

Concerns are high that developments in the home state of the APC national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, and the unresolved animosities from the Zamfara State debacle are potent weapons that could destabilize the ruling party and actualize President Buhari’s fears that APC might not make it beyond 2023.Oshiomhole has continued to assure party faithful that APC would not lose Edo State governorship based on Governor Godwin Obaseki’s track records of performance in the past three years.

But the Obaseki camp sees the chairman’s public utterances as a clever ploy to hide his original intention to deny the incumbent of a second term ticket. That could explain last week’s decision by the Speaker of Edo State House of Assembly to declare the seats of 14 members loyal to Oshiomhole vacant.

The Progressive Governors’ Forum has been behind the moves to remove the national chairman. It is believed that during their meeting with the President they must have tabled Oshiomhole’s perceived excesses with the caveat that only his (Oshiomhole’s) exit would save the party from its current instability.

Shortly after the governors met President Buhari, it was the turn of state chairmen. Intriguingly, Mr. Anselm Ojezua, the embattled Edo State APC chairman was not allowed to partake in the meeting.And as if Ojezua’s restraint was a sign of presidential support for Oshiomhole, the Zamfara State APC chairman, Ali Bukar, who spoke on behalf of his colleagues, was said to have told the President the APC governors were behind the troubles in the party.

Bukar did not stop there. He pointed out also the ambition of some of the governors in the 2023 presidential ticket as further trigger for the internal skirmishes, arguing that the governors see Oshiomhole as a stumbling block for the political future.There are tell tale signs that the President seems to be siding the national chairman in his perceived efforts at repositioning the party, infusing discipline and upholding party supremacy.

This could be deduced from the fact that apart from shutting out Ojezua, the President does not seem to have shown favourable inclination towards the governors, especially given the way the APC NEC was rounded off at Oshiomhole’s instance.

The Zamfara State chairman, who enjoys Oshiomhole’s confidence pushed the favourable disposition further when he claimed before the President that the governor were plotting for the national chairman’s removal not “because the national chairman is not performing his duties, according to the Constitution, but they are fighting him due to their 2023 presidential ambitions.”

Given the strategic importance of the governors’ position in the party, what happens to Governor Obaseki in the forthcoming Edo State governorship election would give a helicopter view of how far the ongoing squabble would affect the future of APC.
Obaseki’s loyalists have continued to turn on the heat on the national chairman, particularly following the uprooting of state lawmakers-elect loyal to him as well as their resistance to the reconciliation committee set up by the APC National Working Committee (NWC).

The official reception of former PDP governorship candidate, Osagie Ize-Iyamu, into the APC fold last Wednesday could presage more trouble for the party. The confusion that could set in would be to the advantage of the PDP, if that other party refrains from internal squabbles.


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