APC congress: Buni seeks new lease amid contentions over upcoming convention
• Party Gasps In Throes Of Narrow Interests, Ambush Politicking
• Chairmanship Aspirants Kick Against Consensus Option
• Group Rejects Ex-govs As Party Chair
Following the conduct of its ward congresses and in the aftermath of the Supreme Court judgment, which voted 4-3 against sacking Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu and APC, stakeholders in the party have remained divided as to which path the party should tread with the ward congresses and how to rectify the leadership defects bedeviling it.
Checks by The Guardian showed that issues surrounding the apex court judgment, the forthcoming national convention of the party and scheming for 2023 election divided among three tendencies, including those seeking the reinstatement of the sacked NWC without the suspended former national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, those who want Buni and other incumbent governors removed from CECPC and those urging for total dissolution of the CECPC to set up a new body.
Chairman, Caretaker and Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC), Governor Mai Mala Buni, who is still smarting from the clean bill of health given by prominent stakeholders of the party on the legality of his stay in office, described the ward congresses as a huge success. He was no doubt relieved by the instant show of solidarity by two of the party’s top legal minds – Mamman Tahir and Adeniyi Akintola, both Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN).
Moreover, the submissions of the lawyers were enough to reassure party faithful not to be dissuaded from participating in the exercise, which will culminate in the conduct of the party’s national convention.
The pervading feeling among a section of party’s hierarchy is that those pushing for Buni’s removal were doing so purely to satisfy their political interests ahead of the 2023 poll. However, as they pushed, some topnotchers within the party began circulating an extract of the Supreme Court Judgment, which upheld the election victory of the Ondo State governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, as part of their efforts to consolidate the Buni committee’s hold on the party structure.
It may not be stage-managed, but members of the Progressive Governors’ Forum (PGF) did not waste time to equally pass a vote of confidence on the CECPC. PGF Chairman, Mr Abubakar Atiku Bagudu, while arguing that the judgment also settled the legality of the committee, thanked the Supreme Court for the landmark judgment.
PGF believes that the judgment, among others, have dealt conclusively with legality of the Buni committee, its composition and all its decisions. That could be why the CECPC Secretary, Senator James Akpanudoedehe, maintained that the conduct of the congresses remains on firm ground.
PART of the extract of the Supreme Court judgment reads inter alia: “That sponsorship of a candidate in an election is that of the party and not the individual Officer of the party forwarding the name of the candidate.
“That the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party is empowered to create, elect and appoint Committees (including the instant CECPC) or any other committee it may deem necessary to act in any capacity.
“On the strength of all the above position of the Supreme Court in the instant case and other earlier decided cases cited in support, it is our opinion that the Caretaker and Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) headed by Governor Mai Mala Buni is on firm ground to proceed with its mandate as given by the National Executive Committee of the APC.”
Flowing from the above, Akintola, who said he guided the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami SAN, on the issue, argued that the tendencies that lost out in the congresses were the ones calling for the removal of Buni.
He stated: “Those saying that the congresses will be nullified, it is their wishful thinking. I don’t have a reply to that. All the grandstanding and hullabaloo does not call for any reaction. This is not the first time we will have such a minority judgment. It is not binding. It is only good for sociologists and academics. The minority judgment may be popular but it doesn’t have any effect.
“Those who have lost out are the ones crying for the removal of Buni and nullification of the congresses. Those who felt short-changed are the ones making the call. It is their constitutional right. You can’t beat a child and expect him not to cry. They are just crying foul. I told Malami to go on with the congresses. Osinbajo did not consult. I am a senior lawyer, but I gave the advice, which was subscribed to by Malami.”
It should be noted that the Buni committee, which was disposed to the adoption of consensus method for the selection of party officials, is now left with the task of scaling up to the local councils, states and zonal congresses before settling for the national convention.
To the Yobe State governor, the outcome of the ward congresses across the country speaks volumes about the inroads so far recorded in building a strong internal democracy to give the party a strong leadership genuinely elected by the people.
But, cries of marginalisation by aggrieved members, coupled with the conduct of parallel congresses in Kano, Osun, Kwara, Ekiti, Abia, and Akwa Ibom States reinforces the need to intensify the reconciliatory efforts in the party.
The circumvention of APC’s three methods for congresses and convention namely, direct intra-party election, delegate or indirect election and consensus by chieftains of the party bent on playing the cruel politics of exclusion remains a teething challenge to the caretaker committee.
CECPC And Challenges Of Consensus Option
AS leaders of the party keep looking for modalities to resolve the legality question surrounding the Governor Mai Mala Buni-led National CECPC, gladiators jostling for the party’s national chairmanship in the coming national convention have cautioned the party against using consensus option.
Citing the recent ruling by the apex court in the case between Governor Rotimi Akeredolu and Mr. Eyitayo Jegede of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Ondo State, which raised questions as to the legality and functions of the national caretaker committee, some party faithful jostling for national chairmanship positions have expressed discontentment with the possible use of the consensus option. This is against the backdrop of the fact that the CECPC had ignored the Supreme Court position and forged ahead with the recently held ward congresses.
Most of the aspirants have expressed the resolve to use whatever means possible to ensure that the national caretaker committee reneged on the consensus option to elect the national chairman. The option of approaching the court has also not been ruled out, as the aspirants watch unfolding events and how the leadership of the party intends to interpret the apex court ruling on the legality of the CECPC.
Some of those who spoke through their aides vowed not to cooperate with Buni on the consensus option, saying, it would be a ploy to rob Peter to pay Paul.
The aspirants, who are all of northern extraction, said the national caretaker committee, which itself is ‘child of circumstance’ cannot singlehandedly impose a consensus for such a sensitive position like national chairmanship, when all party faithful jostling for the post prefers to test their strength in a normal election. They allege that the Buni-led committee had a predetermined arrangement to foist its choice candidate as national chairman, through the consensus method.
Some of the gladiators, known to have indicated interest in APC’s apex position include a former Nasarawa State Governor, Tanko Almakura, Senator Sani Musa, who hails from Paikoro in Niger State, former Nasarawa State Governor, Abdullahi Adamu, former Governor of Gombe, Danjuma Goje, former Borno State Governor, Modu Sheriff and Mohammed Mustapha, who hails from Gambari District in the Ilorin East local government area of Kwara State. It was gathered that many others are still nursing the ambition but are waiting to see what would become of the Buni committee with time.
One of the reasons the aspirants were said to be kicking against the consensus option bothered on the crises that occurred during the party’s last ward congresses in many states where some groups went ahead to conduct parallel congresses in flagrant disrespect to the directives of the CECPC. The development was said to have heightened the fear that the coming local government congresses is going to be messier if the consensus arrangement is not reviewed.
Although, the Buni-led CECPC had explained why it preferred the consensus option for the election of its officials at all levels, which is to reduce acrimony, most of the chairmanship aspirants raised the alarm of a hidden agenda to hijack the machinery of the party by some forces who believe that the consensus option is a good cover up to achieve their selfish interest.
Particularly, the camps of Al-Makura, Senator Abdullahi Adamu and former governor of Benue State, Senator George Akume were said to be seriously opposed to the consensus option. Sources close to Al-Makura, Adamu and Akume said their disposition to the consensus arrangement was zero.
They added that the camps believe that consensus arrangement is a ploy by those who are afraid of election to impose a national chairman on the party.
“This is democracy. Let us go to the convention and let a popular candidate win. An election is all about winners and losers. You can’t win all the time.
“The winner will always do the needful by commencing reconciliation processes after his victory. But to impose a candidate as a consensus option will be resisted,” one of the aspirants contended.
Speaking in the same vein, a campaign manager for Adamu said that the idea of a consensus would defeat the idea of freedom of choice that defines democracy. He stressed that the consensus option advocated was nothing but a smokescreen to impose unpopular persons as members of the ruling party, insisting that, “if you are popular, please come out and contest as we are ready to oppose this idea of a consensus.”
Also, an official of Akume’s camp said the Minister of Special Duties would only accept proper election. He said: “To do otherwise is to invite crisis for anyone so appointed as a consensus national chairman.”
According to him, “the PDP in all its troubles conducted an elective national convention that eventually produced Prince Uche Secondus.”
MEANWHILE, a group, APC Stakeholders, has objected to the idea of having a former governor as the national chairman of the party, explaining that former governors are not good managers of men.
It said, “Former governors approached party administrations with arrogance and impunity that affected the smooth running of the administration of political parties.”
It cautioned the party against allowing any of the former governors to emerge as the national chairman of the party. In a communiqué issued at the end of their meeting, which was signed by Musa Musawa and Adamu Kaguru and Wahab Omolori, the APC Stakeholders cautioned against allowing a former governor to emerge as national chairman. The group argued that ex-governors tend to behave as if they still have executive powers.
But former National Vice Chairman of APC Southwest, Pastor Bankole Oluwajana and a former National Secretary, Labour Party (LP), Kayode Ajulo, differed on the controversies around the legality of the CECPC. In a telephone discussion, Oluwajana said he does not see any issue about the legality of the Buni committee or the ongoing congresses under the supervision of the caretaker committee congresses. He said if the end has come to the Caretaker committee’s time, all that the party needs to do is to recall the dissolved NWC without necessarily recalling its erstwhile national chairman if he is the bone of contention. “I don’t want to worry too much about lawyers’ interpretation of the apex court’s position because if you put different lawyers together, they will give different interpretations.”
But Ajulo insisted that with Buni, APC is technically dead and it was just a matter of time. According to him, “The dangers ahead for the ruling party, APC are daunting. Of course, it is not a secret that many leaders of the Party are already consulting on Option B. That is, if the Party refuses to dispense with Gov. Mala Buni of Yobe State.
“With the recent experience of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN) of Ondo State, who narrowly escaped being thrown out by the Apex court, he would be in a better position to advise the party to quickly do the needful. Those with ears, let them hear.”
A factional chairman of Lagos APC, Fouad Oki, however, hinted that people were focusing on the apex court judgment, forgetting that the case against the legality of the Buni-led committee in Zamfara APC is even more dangerous.
According to him, “If the court should rule that the dissolution of the Zamfara State APC executive by the National Caretaker committee was null and void, it would amount to the fact that everything the committee has been doing is an illegality.”
Climate For Crisis
THERE are instances of opposition. For instance, the case of Osun State chapter, where those opposed to the outcome of the ward congresses alleged that they were denied the opportunity to procure over 18,000 forms given to the party officials from APC national headquarters in Abuja.
Spokesperson of the group, Sunday Oriolowo said he has evidence to back up the claim, adding: “We have it on good authority that over 18,000 forms given to the party officials from Abuja were paid for in bulk on a single teller and collected from the officials by an official loyal to the governor as against our party’s Ward Congress Guidelines.
“This information is verifiable and evidence exist to back this up when the time comes. It therefore smirks of dishonesty and utmost irresponsibility for agents of government to attempt to muzzle the media and threaten responsible journalist who are diligently finding out the truth and publishing for the entire world to see what transpired in Osun.
“Officials of the national Secretariat of our party had informed us that three officials of the party led by one Abdullahi had been dispatched to the state on Sunday 25th July, 2021 to carry out necessary preparations for the coming congress. Their term of reference includes the sale of forms to interested contestants amongst others.
“Consequently, majority of the party members in the state proceeded to the bank to pay for the forms as directed by the party guidelines. However, we were surprised when on Wednesday, 28th July 2021 – the day the payment for the forms was supposed to close- we still hadn’t seen the officials who were sent to Osun for the assignment.
“Findings revealed that the national party officials who were sent to the state had actually arrived Osun, but were held incommunicado by officials loyal to the governor. Many members of the party were then forced to pick up their form from our national headquarters in Abuja.
“Of course, it is true that the Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) National Committee for Osun State Ward Congress, Hon. Gbenga Elegbeleye arrived the state less than 12 hours to the congress and held a meeting with selected individuals inside the governor’s house, however, we would like to know if he asked about the whereabouts of the officials sent ahead from Abuja to sell forms to majority of the party members.”
Congress Blues, Redress Mechanism
FOR Buni, who is conscious of such grievances, the best bet for those who felt cheated during the ward congresses, the assurance for a fair deal remains intact. He disclosed that the Caretaker Committee will review the just concluded congress with a view to improving on the forthcoming local and state government congresses.
While urging aggrieved parties to seek redress through constituted party channels, Buni stressed that the congresses will give ownership of the party to the members through the bottom-up approach.
It would be noted that the chairman remained unperturbed over calls for his resignation, given the way he insisted that the conduct of the ward congresses was successful and peaceful across the country.
Also, a national chairmanship aspirant, Senator Sani Musa, described the exercise in Niger state as a success, adding it behooves party faithful to rally round the Buni committee to ensure a smooth conduct of the national convention of the party.
Akintola, who participated in the exercise in Oyo State, did not paint a different picture. He stated: ”In Oyo State, to the best of my knowledge, there was no parallel congress. There is this misinformation. Our party recognizes consensus but not in all cases that people embrace consensus. Our party lays more emphasis on the democratically elected executives. Another option is consensus.
“Where consensus fails we resort to the election. There are many tendencies in Oyo APC. The congresses are to harmonize all the tendencies. It is one of the reconciliatory moves. Our party is waxing stronger every day. The fears are unfounded. Oyo State is different. It is not a cash-and-carry State. I don’t know of any faction in Osun State as a party leader in the Southwest. As stated in our constitution, the governor is the leader in the station.”
DESPITE Buni’s conciliatory stance, Akpanudoedehe’s insistence that the party would not recognize any list of party officials that emerged from parallel congresses across the country shows that the stakeholders are not on the same page.
Prior to the ward congresses, Akpanudoedehe had in a notice drawn the attention of all party members and stakeholders to the National Executive Committee’s (NEC) resolution of 8th December, 2020 about the punitive measures that await them if they embark on any anti-party activities in their domains.
The APC scribe disclosed that the resolution still subsists and extends to the conduct of party members during the congresses. The notice provided as follows: “All pending litigations instituted by members against the party should be withdrawn forthwith, and going forward, no member should institute matters against the party, without exhausting the internal mechanism for conflict resolution, as enshrined in the party’s constitution.”
The talking points in party circles now revolves around ensuring that the Buni-led committee which is depleting the ranks of the opposition peoples democratic party (PDP) on daily basis be allowed to live up to its mandate to reposition the party ahead.of the 2023 poll.
Party officials still relish the defections of governors Dave Umahi (Ebonyi), Ben Ayade (Cross River) and Bello Matawalle (Zamfara) states alongside dozens of states and national assembly members from the PDP to the APC.
The Buni-led Committee is yet to conclude its nationwide membership registration and revalidation exercise aimed at consolidating the support base of the party nationwide, even as the party now boasts of no fewer than 40 million members from the exercise, which kick-started on February 9 this year.
Some APC stakeholders stressed the need to conclude work on the review of party’s constitution chaired by Prof Tahir Mamman, who was touted as a potential replacement of Buni if the party had yielded to his traducers.
The panel has, however, received memoranda on enshrining party discipline, deepening internal democracy, greater inclusion of marginalized groups – women, youths and People with Disabilities (PWDs), among others. APC has in the past few days shown that it is still a work in progress.
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