Sunday, 28th May 2023

APC torn between preserving Buhari’s primacy and reinforcing cohesion

By Leo Sobechi, (Assistant Politics Editor), Seye Olumide and Kehinde Olatunji
04 September 2018   |   4:26 am
How far President Muhammadu Buhari grapples with the challenges of containing the contending issues within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), especially...

Ambode, Tinubu and Fashola

• Tinubu’s 2023 project roiling party, Lagos
How far President Muhammadu Buhari grapples with the challenges of containing the contending issues within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), especially the direct primary approach of selecting the party’s candidates, would determine how far the party would fare in next year’s election.

Three broad interest groups have already emerged to challenge the supremacy of the party, as well as, test the Presidents understanding of the warp of woofs in the wrangling for the party’s soul as it marches to the 2019 election.

In the midst of APC governors, there are those who are in dire need of a second term ticket, while others who are serving out their constitutionally approved two terms are anxious to perfect their succession plans by imposing their preferred candidates on the party.

Then, outside states controlled by APC, especially those bedeviled by leadership crisis and parallel executives, the voices for and against direct primary are testing the wisdom of the national leadership of the party.

One thing that runs constant among the contending forces is the support for President Buhari’s second term. And it is the attempt to preserve the primacy of the President that impending confrontation could prove fatal to the internal cohesion of APC as it prepares for the next year’s election. Is it possible to return the President at the expense of the state governors?

What to do with ‘Adam’s apple’
As things stand, the issue of direct primary, which some chieftain of the party now derisively refer to as ‘Adam’s apple’, has come to be seen as the latest temptation for the ruling party.

On mounting the saddle as the national chairman of APC and alluding to demands by a section of party faithful in Osun State, Adams Oshiomhole experimented with the idea of employing direct primary in the selection of the APC gubernatorial candidate for the September 22, 2018 Osun poll.

But, although some aspirants and members of the Osun State chapter of the party faulted the approach, the party went ahead to organize the primary through direct approach. Opponents of the direct primary cited the lack of credible database of members and election management body to oversee the election.

However while opponents of direct primary continued to pick holes on the method, Oshiomhole and APC faithful that lost out during the party’s congresses extolled the initiative as a master stroke to cure the party of the overbearing influence of state governors and political godfathers.

Coming at a time preparations for the 2019 poll were gaining momentum, the direct primary was also seen as the panacea for political corruption and imposition. As such Oshiomhole went to town parroting same as his first achievement in office.

That endorsement by the chairman sort of impelled some party leaders, particularly first term governors to analyze the implications of the direct primary on their political future and fortunes of the party. At that point the innovation of direct primary was attributed a grand design by former Lagos State governor, Bola Tinubu, to emasculate the APC structure for his presidential ambition in 2023.

That line of reasoning has become a sort of battle cry among some governors elected on the APC platform as they plan to align with some senators in the supremacy battle with the Presidency and the party’s National Working Committee (NWC) led by Oshiomhole.

As the state governors plan a combined onslaught against Oshiomhole and Tinubu, the former Lagos State governor devised a plan to deny his protégé of a second term when it became obvious that Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, might side with his colleagues than subject himself to an unpredictable direct primary.

With the scheme of things and against the background of insinuations in the Presidency circles that Tinubu was not supporting Buhari’s second term on full throttle, Buhari’s handlers are selling the idea that Ambode should be brought closer to further shrink Tinubu’s waning influence in Southwest and make it near impossible for him (Tinubu) to do political deal with a rival presidential candidate in 2019.

Already with Ondo, Ekiti and Ogun nearly out of Tinubu’s control, the Presidency could rely on Minister of Works, Power and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola to lead the campaign in Southwest and call Tinubu’s bluff, especially against allegations that funds accruable to Lagos State that was seized by the Federal Government during ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo’s era did not end up in the state’s coffers when it was released.

Direct primary echo in Lagos
This would not the first time the godfather of Lagos State, Tinubu, would be attempting to deny an incumbent protégé a second term ticket.

A similar scenario played out in the state during the build up to the 2011 election. Tinubu’s immediate predecessor, Fashola, was seeking reelection and the news about town was that the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) ticket would not be available for him.

However, interventions by mutual friends and associates including the Oba of Lagos, Rilwanu Akinolu, intervened and harping on Fashola’s achievements, patched up the relationship.

That scenario appears to be at play again between Ambode and APC national leader ahead of the 2019 gubernatorial poll.

Although, parties loyal to both sides have on several occasions denied any squabble between Tinubu and Ambode, there are indications to the fact there is more than meets the eye in the make good relationship between the incumbent governor and his political benefactor.

In 2010, it took the intervention of the leadership of the party to prevail on Tinubu to concede the second term ticket to Fashola.

Sources told The Guardian that an unusual tone of persuasion and command ‘Awo legbe, egbe si ni awo’ (a party is a cult, and a cult is a party), was deployed at the last meeting among the leaders of the party in 2010 before Tinubu finally conceded to support Fashola’s second term.

Ambode is also seeking a second term on the APC platform and like his immediate predecessor; he is having issues bordering on the likelihood of the national leader dropping him for another candidate.

Barely two years in office, there was speculation that some of Ambode’s policies and moves were anti-Tinubu, especially the manner his administration introduced the Visionscape, a novel and foreign waste management outfit he hired to manage waste in the state in spite of the tested and functional Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA), introduced during Tinubu’s tenure and perfected by Fashola’s administration.

In a swing, Ambode threw away not just LAWMA, but also all the Private Sector Partnership (PSP) operators that invested billions in the programme.

Although, Tinubu remained silent over the development, it was not until the state was reeking of refuse and waste dotting every space that the national leader spoke out. By then, the PSP operators took their protest at his residence on Bourdillon Street, where he called on the governor to reverse his policy on Visionscape if it has proved ineffective.

Addressing the PSP operators during the April 27 protest on Ambode’s new waste management policy, Tinubu did not only deny ownership of Visionscape, the foreign firm managing refuse disposal in the state, he also urged Governor Ambode not to be ashamed to reverse himself if the experimentation has failed.

Addressing over 350 members of the Association of Waste Managers of Nigeria who embarked on a peaceful protest on the embarrassing state of refuse in the state and the threat to their business at his Ikoyi residence in Lagos yesterday, the national leader said he has no interests in the investment.

He said there have been unfounded allegations that he owns the business, which is false.

Although, he promised to discus the predicament of the waste managers with the governor, few weeks later, the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Mudashiru Obasa flayed the state government on the issue, saying, “Visionscape was unknown to the Assembly.”

One of the stakeholders in the party confided in The Guardian that Tinubu in collaboration with the state’s lawmakers, have commenced the process to either make the second term ticket extremely difficult for Ambode or at worse dump him.

Another recent matter, which was interpreted as a strategy aimed at bringing the governor to his knees for a second term was the introduction of direct primary for the selection of candidates in the ruling party. The agenda became popular and enforceable under the Oshiomhole-led NWC.

The confusion over Tinubu’s acceptance of direct primary was allegedly targeted at stubborn incumbent governors to teach them some political lessons.

With direct primary, all members of the party across the state would participate in the election of their preferred candidates, unlike when few delegates determine the party’s standard-bearer.

Ever since the governor came on board in 2015, his policies were said to have hurt many of party leaders in the state. So, Tinubu being aware of all that saw the direct primary approach as opportunity to teach Ambode some lessons. Again, majority of party members in Lagos are said to be viewing Ambode as being too full of himself or behaving larger than life.

But, in another quarter, the argument was that direct primary would not only be favourable to Ambode, but would also ensure his free ride to a second term, just as Tinubu urged party faithful to support him (Ambode), during the last stakeholders meeting at the party’s secretariat in Acme Road Ogba.

It was also gathered that among the APC governors, majority of who were apprehensive of direct primary, Ambode and one other governor are the only two that have spoken in favour of the policy. “To now conclude that Tinubu wanted to use direct primary to stop Ambode reelection is not only biased, but untrue and dismissible,” said one of the party stalwarts.

Just recently, there was another rumour that Tinubu was compelling Ambode to pay him (Tinubu) N40billion upfront before conceding the second term ticket. A member of the party who craved anonymity dismissed the allegation as arrant nonsense, but quickly added that there were some elements of truth in the misunderstanding between Tinubu and Ambode.

Sources in other quarters said the N40billion was intended to prosecute the September 22 Osun State gubernatorial polls, which Ambode must provide to enable Tinubu’s choice candidate win. Another version is that the money was the accumulated remission the governor ought to have given to Tinubu, which he withheld following their soured relationship.

Although claims about the N40 billion saga could be false, some party leaders agreed that Tinubu being a smart politician would always look for a way to bring his protégées on their knees before conceding power to them. As such he could have devised series of strategies to force the incumbent governor to be more loyal and committed. If so then, the insinuation of attempting to deny the governor return ticket fails to hold water.

Last week, it was reported that Ambode intended to defect from APC over alleged conclusion by Tinubu to replace him with another candidate in the 2019 election.

But some said the governor was contemplating moving to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or Action Democratic Congress (ADC). Sources also claimed that Ambode was to be replaced by the former Lagos Speaker, Adeyemi Ikuforiji. Ikuforiji however denied the claim, saying the report was the handiwork of detractors and mischief-makers within the party.

Another reason adduced for Ambode planned defection was because Tinubu may have withdrawn his support from re-election bid.

However, President Buhari’s aide on new media, Bashir Ahmad and erstwhile Minister of Works and Chieftain of the PDP, Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe, described statement as rumour, adding that there is no friction in the ruling party.

“It is not correct at all. There is no friction among them at all. This is a guess work,” Ogunlewe stated.

Ambode’s sins
On the flipside, the governor is said to harbour much misbehaviours that seems to be working against his reelection, particularly at the party level

Top among the alleged sins of the incumbent is that of running a vindictive and vengeful administration, oblivious of the scriptural saying that one should never take revenge, but rather leave vengeance to God.

Who knows, the governor might be unwittingly reaping the fruits of nemesis, including his vindictive bent on some party members that fell out with Tinubu. He is also accused of abandoning those that worked for his victory in 2015, just as he sacked from his government even for very flimsy reasons or on suspicion of being Fashola’s allies.

A clear example is Fouad Oki, who was Ambode’s Campaign Director General. He was allegedly axed for being Fashola’s ally.

The governor is also being accused of doing everything to demystify the successes of his immediate predecessor and by so doing created unintended enemies for himself and his reelection plans.

For instance while his immediate predecessor did everything to avoid politicking and leaving that for Tinubu, Ambode felt larger than life by discarding politicians without realising the fact there will always be a time politics and governance will coalesce for results.

An aspect of such tactical policy errors is the recent Land Use Charge in an election time. Some APC stakeholders in the state were also uncomfortable over what they described as perceived executive arrogance the governor displayed, especially on his achievements.

They claim that Ambode forgot that he didn’t bring anything new in terms of achievement, but merely building on the achievements of his predecessors.

In whatever circumstances, Ambode has raised the bar of achievements in governance in the last three years, particularly at the state level to a stage any reasonable political mentor should only intervene to save the situation instead of crucifying him on the altar of political brinkmasnship.