APC Chairmanship Race: Between contenders, pretenders and frontrunners
Come next Saturday, March 26, 2022, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) will hold its long expected national convention, which has been heating up the polity in the last couple of weeks.
Since 2014 when APC was formed through a merger of four political parties: the Congress for Progressives Change (CPC) led by President Muhammadu Buhari, Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) led by Bola Ahmed Tinubu, All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) led by Ogbonnaya Onu, a faction of All Peoples Grand Alliance (APGA) led by former Governor of Imo State, Senator Rochas Okorocha and the then crop of disgruntled members of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which called itself nPDP led by Kawu Baraje, the ruling party has never had an elected national chairman.
Instead, its national chairman, starting from the Interim National Chairman, Chief Bisi Akande, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, Adams Oshiomhole and Governor Mai Mala-Buni of Yobe State, who now holds forth as the chairman Caretaker/Extra-Ordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC), have all emerged through a consensus arrangement.
But ahead of the coming national convention, unfolding intrigues in the party may not favour another consensus arrangement given the fact that many of the national chairmanship contestants have gone ahead to purchase form in readiness for testing their popularity and chances of winning the race.
This development is coming inspite of insinuations that President Buhari has endorsed one of the aspirants, a former governor of Nasarawa State (1999-2007) from North Central, Senator Abdullahi Adamu.
Between 2013 and 2014, Akande, who represented the Southwest block in the party, was endorsed as national chairman in anticipation that a northerner would emerge the party’s presidential candidate. As anticipated, Buhari eventually emerged.
Going into the elections year proper in 2015, when the presidency had been zoned to the North and vice presidency to the South and precisely Southwest, Akande had to step down considering the fact that a particular region cannot produce the vice president and national chairman.
The likes of former Minister of Foreign Affairs under the late General Sani Abacha regime, Chief Tom Ikimi, who was from the South and others, were pushed out of the race allegedly by the National Leader, Bola Tinubu, who then preferred Odigie-Oyegun.
After many intrigues, Tinubu, in agreement with other party faithful, endorsed Odigie-Oyegun to succeed Akande. By 2018, when the first tenure of the former governor of Edo State had expired, Oyegun had fallen apart with Tinubu who was his friend.
Tinubu became first among those who insisted that Odigie-Oyegun must go despite the fact that Buhari, during the party’s first National Executive Council meeting of February 2018 agreed to tenure extension for the Odigie-Oyegun-led NWC.
The President was forced to reverse himself and agreed for a national convention to hold in which Oshiomhole, another man Friday to the national leader, emerged tactically on consensus.
Less than two years after, Oshiomhole could not manage the party’s affairs as expected of him and by 2019, the party lost many states and legislative seats to the major opposition PDP. Before then, some critical stakeholders from the nPDP had returned to PDP in anger.
In 2020, when it was glaring that Oshiomhole’s style of leadership was unsettling the party, the party’s NEC headed by President Buhari sacked the former Edo State governor-led NWC and replaced him with the CECPC-led by Governor Mai Mala Buni.
It is significant to note that over the last two years, the North/South leadership dichotomy became completely altered with the Buni-led CECPC, bringing up a situation whereby the North controls presidency and the national chairmanship.
The initial arrangement was that the Buni-led CECPC would stay for six months, conduct mini national convention and return the seat to the South, but his (Buni) tenure had been extended thrice, generating outcry within the party.
This development has been followed by the debate over rotation of the presidency and the national chairman. Some stakeholders within and outside the party, especially northerners, have insisted there was no agreement that positions, especially the presidency will be zoned just like the national chairmanship position, just as stakeholders from the southern have said there was a gentleman agreement on zoning.
The debate alone heated up the polity until the party subtly addressed it and decided to zone the position. It ended up zoning the national chairman to the North Central against the presidential aspiration of the likes of Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State (North Central).
With zoning settled, the challenge confronting the party bothers on whether the party would revert to consensus or elective national convention to pick its new national chairman unlike in the past.
In spite of insinuations that President Buhari has endorsed Adamu, other aspirants have obtained the N20 million form to contest the race. As of Wednesday, a former Governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari, who is not from North Central, bought the form, just as Adamu and former Governor of Benue State, Senator George Akume have done ahead of the March 26 convention.
Their representatives, who bought the form on their behalf, expressed optimism about the chances of their candidates. For instance, a former Chairman of PDP, Senator Barnabas Gemade, who bought the form for Akume, said he believes Akume was the best for the job and would emerge as party chairman.
Also after purchasing the form on behalf of Yari, Senator Tijani Kaura said despite Yari’s decision to contest, he remained a loyal party man. Kaura said while they were aware of the zoning arrangement, the national chairmanship position was zoned to the north and Zamfara remained part of the north.
Also speaking after obtaining the form on behalf of Adamu, Mr. Lawrence Onuchukwu said if the rumour that Adamu was the anointed candidate of President Buhari was true, it was good for his ambition.
A group, by the name – the North Central Progressive Movement, has also bought the form for Senator Mohammed Sani Musa, who it says is the right person to redeem the party’s image, reposition it for good and lead it to victory in the 2023 general elections.
Another aspirant, Mallam Saliu Mustapha from Kwara State, has picked up his nomination form for the contest.
However, as Saturday draws near, close observers of unfolding events in the party have suggested that the contest may be among three outstanding aspirants, Adamu, Musa and Senator Umaru Al Makura of Nasarawa State, should the party eventually decide to use election rather than consensus. Senator Musa Sani represents Niger East at the Senate while Al Makura is a former governor of Nasarawa. Adamu is also a former governor of Nasarawa State (1999-2007) and a serving senator.
Although the controversial removal and reinstatement of Mala Buni appears to have changed the equation in the party, various interest groups are bent on ensuring their preferred candidate takes the position.
President Buhari is allegedly looking up to Adamu, a former Nasarawa State governor, whom he believes has what it takes in terms of maturity and experience to lead the party.
Sources within the party said Buhari’s preference for Adamu is allegedly aimed at stopping certain presidential aspirants, whom a set of cabal does not want to succeed the incumbent president.
Since the insinuation that the President prefers Adamu started gaining traction, some forces within the party, especially governors, are said to have expressed reservations on the premise that the erstwhile Nasarawa Stage governor will not represent or protect their interests.
Contrary to the insinuation that Adamu is Buhari’s preference, a party source revealed that the idea of Adamu’s consensus candidacy was sold to the president, which he innocently agreed to on the condition that his (Adamu) leadership would bring peace and harmony to the party. The source added that Buhari had been compelled to have a rethink when he realised the enormity of opposition against the arrangement.
The Guardian learnt that those pushing for Adamu are still bent on having him as the next national chairman of the party. Their position is hinged on the premise that with Adamu in charge, he would not be susceptible to manipulation.
But the governors are not at home with that argument, fuelling the controversies already surrounding Adamu’s aspiration and preference within and outside the party, mostly revolving round sentiments that the President wants him as party chairman to further his alleged Fulanisation agenda.
For Al Makura, a source in the party said the former Nasarawa State governor being one of the recent erstwhile governors (2011 -2019) had close affinity with majority of serving governors unlike Adamu, who left governorship since 2007.
While Al Makura is more like a colleague to the governors on the platform of the party, there is the perception that Adamu may be unable to relate easily with the governors based on his age and experience. With the prevailing assumption being that Al Makura will be easily approachable, there is fear that Adamu may not be easily amenable to the governors, a kind of attitude that allegedly worked against former National Chairman of the party, Adams Oshiomhole.
For Musa, his nature and humble character is said to stand him out and present him as a great choice to the presidency, governors, lawmakers and most of the presidential aspirants. First, the Niger State Senator has no major opposition or ulterior party interest surrounding his aspiration other than the fact that many party faithful believe he will be neutral, straightforward and decisive if made the national chairman.
He is also going to enjoy support from certain governors especially now that his home state governor, Bello, has become a key factor in the CECPC. Recently, Governor Bello jettisoned the disposition of his governor colleagues to endorse Musa as the best person to direct the party’s affairs. It is said that Bello has not changed his mindset and conviction on Musa’s capacity till date.
Even among the senators in the upper chamber jostling for the national chairmanship position, Musa is said to command more support, respect and goodwill than other aspirants. On this basis, sources in the party say a good number of delegates are likely going to choose the Niger East senatorial.
Musa’s ambition, it was gathered, resonates well with some of the presidential aspirants in the party. This, it is believed, came to fore during a number of interactions he has had with some of those jostling to succeed President Buhari. For instance, Musa’s meeting with the National Leader of APC, Bola Ahmed Tinubu was said to have been remarkable. Afterwards, he has paid courtesy calls to Governor Rotimi Akeredolu in Ondo, Governor Nasir El Rufai in Kaduna and Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State just as his consultations with other gladiators in the party have been well accepted. His messages during the visits and consultations ahead of the convention have centred on his plans for the party and promises of re-engineering the internal structures and workings of the party if elected.
While reiterating his belief in the leadership of President Buhari, Musa stressed the need for the party to have a total leadership reorientation to actualise its institutional potentials. He assured that he would be adaptive to a participatory work style that will usher in visionary and pacesetting leadership for a new direction and philosophy for APC.