APC’s congress of crises and threats to party cohesion
Proponents of tenure elongation for the National Working Committee (NWC) of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) may have thought ahead of the likely danger the party might encounter in conducting congresses and the challenges of addressing the aftermath, considering the limited time between now and the 2019 general election.
One of the reasons adduced for the proposal during the February 27 National Executive Council (NEC) was that it would save the party the avoidable headache of resolving anticipated disputes after the congresses to change the John Odigie-Oyegun national leadership and its counterparts at the states, council and ward levels.
The proposal was however rejected by those opposed to it among whom was the party’s National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Majority of those sympathetic to Tinubu in the cold war between him and Odigie-Oyegun, believed that tenure elongation was to spite the national leader.
The proposal was subsequently dropped on the ground that it not only contradicted the APC Constitution but also that of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and that the opposition can easily capitalise on it to flaw the ruling party on a legal turf.
This eventually made President Muhammadu Buhari, who was present during the February 27 meeting where the idea was adopted to make a u-turn and advised that congresses should be held in accordance to the party’s guidelines.
But the fallout of the congresses across the states last Saturday, during which two parallel executives were produced in about 10 states with a lot of hitches in others, is already filling the hands of party leaders with so many issues to resolve ahead of the national convention scheduled to hold in less than three months.
The development appears to have justified the fear of advocates of tenure elongation who said the party might be heading for the worst crises springing from the congresses.
Some members of the party expressed fear that the chances of resolving the issues generated by the congresses before the convention are slim considering the claims and counter-claims trailing the exercises across the country.
One factor that would make the crises very difficult to resolve, according to sources within the party, is the fact that the splinter groups are not likely to pull out or defect to other parties. Many of them are spoiling for an internal war since they all have a common goal of supporting President Buhari’s reelection in 2019.
As a party member said, “We would stay in the party and fight the battle to the end instead of opting out. We all have the same stake in the Buhari project.”
In Lagos State, none of the factions has indicated interest to leave the party, as they were both hanging onto legal claims to argue their case.
Even in Kwara State, the faction of the new Peoples Democratic Party (nPDP)-led by Kawu Baraje has insisted it would not defect from the APC despite the outcome of the congress.
In a nutshell, it is almost certain those states where parallel executives emerged on Saturday will send parallel delegates to the national convention to further compound the crisis and as a member of the NEC, Prince Tony Momoh once observed, aggrieved parties in the affected states may also head to the courts for final resolutions.
The states where factions worked at cross-purposes were Lagos, Kwara, Delta, Rivers, Ondo, Enugu, Kogi, Bayelsa, Oyo, and Ebonyi.
A former Commissioner for Home Affairs, Mr. Tunde Balogun, considered as one of Tinubu’s loyalists was elected by consensus in the exercise conducted and witnessed by the APC Congress Committee headed by Senator Uche Ekwunife while Mr. Fouad Oki, the immediate past Director General, Lagos Safety Commission was elected at a parallel congress.
Although, Senator Ekwunife said any exercise outside the one held at the party’s secretariat where Balogun was elected, was null and void, Oki however insisted that the congress held at the Airport Hotel was authentic because it was conducted in accordance with the party’s constitution unlike the one conducted by affirmation where other aspirants were denied participation.
If the issue drags on, each of the faction may head to the courts for proper interpretation of which of the congresses was held in accordance with the party’s guidelines.
Oki at a press conference on Sunday said his executive would be operating from Surulere pending the time it would get a permanent place as secretariat.
The crisis in the Lagos chapter bordered significantly on the fact that Tinubu is being accused of fostering executive officers on the party instead of allowing internal democracy to thrive.
The party returned 34 members of its state executive committee by consensus, with Alhaji Isola Balogun Fulani retaining his chairmanship position. But an opposing group held another congress coordinated by Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, at Arca Event Centre in Ilorin.
That was as Senate President Bukola Saraki called for the practice of politics without acrimony in Nigeria, while insisting that his home state of Kwara would not be left out of the political calculations in Nigeria by 2019.
The congress held under the supervision of Saraki, took place at the Banquet Hall, Ilorin, was witnessed by all members of the House of Representatives from the state, the other two senators from the state, Governor Abdulfattah Ahmed, his deputy, Elder Peter Kisira, and Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Dr. Ali Ahmad. Also in attendance were National Publicity Secretary of the party, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, Alhaji Kawu Baraje, and representatives of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from Abuja and Kwara.
Chairman congress committee of the party, Senator Salihu Hussein, who supervised the exercise, expressed delight at the consensus arrangement, and said it made the committee’s job easy.
Speaking at the congress, Saraki said, “This is the third stage of the journey that started with ward congress, which was adjudged the best in Nigeria. In Kwara we don’t have problems of people fighting themselves and that is why you can see two former governors sitting together to participate in an electoral process with the incumbent.”
At the end of the Lai Mohammed’s other congress, a new 36-member state executive council of the party led by a former governorship aspirant in the state, Alhaji Basiru Bolarinwa, was produced.
A similar thing happened in Delta State, where a group loyal to Senator Ovie Omo-Agege held a congress despite the postponement of the exercise to May 21 by the national leadership of the party. One Olugbenga presided over the exercise.
Omo-Agege represents Delta Central at the Senate, and although he became a senator by winning election on the platform of the Labour Party in 2015, he defected to the APC. The currently embattled senator, who is believed to be in the good books of President Buhari, has been in league with the 2015 governorship candidate of the APC, Chief Great Ogboru, in an attempt to control the state APC leadership. The faction is said to have the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, as its major chieftain.
Meanwhile, the leader of APC in the state, Olorogun O’tega Emerhor, said there was no cause for alarm, as things would eventually ease after the congress
Members loyal to Senator Magnus Abe shunned the rescheduled congress, citing a court injunction. Odigie-Oyegun, had in a statement issued in Abuja on Friday, announced the cancellation of the two previously held congresses and announced new dates as May 19 for ward congress, May 20 for local government congress, and May 21 for state congress.
The ward congresses held across the state as directed by the national leadership of the party and the exercise, though poorly attended, was very peaceful.
But addressing journalists in Port Harcourt chieftains loyal to Abe said there was a subsisting interlocutory injunction from the court restraining the party from going ahead with the congresses. Immediate past Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Worgu Boms, who read the resolution of the group, faulted the letter from the national leadership for the rescheduled congresses.
Boms said the document was not dated, the national chairman’s name was altered with a red ink, and the party’s national legal adviser did not sign the letter.
Chief Sylvester Nwambe emerged as state chairman amid allegations that policemen barred delegates from a faction of the party loyal to the former governorship candidate, Senator Julius Ucha, from gaining entrance to the venue of the exercise. Ucha’s group, however, relocated to the APC party secretariat to hold its own congress where Nwambe emerged.
It was gathered that factional delegates loyal to the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, were allowed inside the venue before the arrival of other delegates.
While the Ucha group is said to be working for the emergence of former Edo State governor, Adams Oshiomhole as national chairman, Onu’s group is believed to be working for the re-election of Odigie-Oyegun.
There was fracas during the state congress, which ended in the election of two parallel executive committees. Notable chieftains of the party in the state, including former Senate President Ken Nnamani, former Governor Sullivan Chime, National Vice Chairman, Emma Eneukwu, Director-General of Voice of Nigeria (VON), Osita Okechukwu, and former Gombe State military administrator, Joe Orji, escaped mob attack at the congress. Some party members invaded the venue and overpowered security agents.
After the commotion, Chief Okey Ogbodo emerged as chairman, Comrade Alphonsue Ude as deputy chairman, Prince Ikechukwu Oloto as secretary, and Mrs. Queen Nwankwo as women leader, among other officers, using the option A4 method.
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Onyeama Ugochukwu said he was outraged that the party leadership decided to disenfranchise majority of members and delegates, who, according to him, were prepared to participate in the democratic process by electing officers of their choice. He noted that such was at variance with the stance of Buhari who he said had firm belief in allowing the people to freely choose their leaders.
When contacted on phone, Okechukwu, said the party would make an official statement on the fracas that broke out at the congress venue.
The congress was largely peaceful, though, a faction of the party held a separate congress where it elected its own executive.
The congress by the mainstream members under the leader of the party in the state, former Governor Timipre Sylva, held in a fully packed venue at the state APC secretariat in Yenagoa. It was supervised by chairman of the state congress committee Col. Ahmed Usman, a former military administrator of Ondo and Oyo states, and witnessed by officials of INEC.
At the end of the exercise, Jothan Amos, who was unopposed, emerged chairman. Ogeibiri Orubebe was elected vice chairman, and Martin Alabo emerged secretary. Journalist, political activist, and media aide to Sylva, Mr. Doifie Buokoribo, was voted as state publicity secretary, in what members said was an attempt to reposition APC in Bayelsa State.
The other gathering took place at the Azikoro Primary School, Azikoro Village, in Yenagoa, and was sponsored by an ex-acting governor of the state, Nestor Binabo, and supervised by secretary of the state congress committee, Ambassador Soni Abang. The group elected Joseph Fafi as chairman.
There was factional voting amid fighting. While Mr Ade Adetimehin and Alaye Adesina emerged as the chairman and secretary, respectively, of a faction, Mr. Idowu Otetubi emerged the chairman of another faction while Mr. Gani Mohammed emerged as his secretary.
Groups loyal to the state government were alleged to have attacked and injured factional members that gathered at BTO Hall along Ilesha-Akure Road. During the attack, some politicians, including a member of the House of Representatives, Hon Bamidele Baderinwa, were injured while some journalists, were beaten.
The state also witnessed two congresses, which elected parallel executive committees at the main bowl of the Lekan Salami Stadium and Obafemi Awolowo stadium, both in Ibadan.
While loyalists of the state governor, including former Governor Adebayo Alao-Akala and the former Senate leader, Teslim Folarin, held theirs at Adamasingba, the breakaway group under the banner of Oyo APC Unity Forum, comprising Minister for Communications, Adebayo Shittu, Senator Monsurat Sunmonu, nine House of Representatives members, and two gubernatorial aspirants, Prof Adeolu Akande and Dr. Yunus Akintunde, converged on Liberty Stadium.
Curiously both congresses were attended by INEC officials and delegations from Abuja and both retained majority of the members of the outgoing executive, as the former chairman, Chief Akin Oke, was retained by Ajimobi’s group as chairman while the unity group adopted his deputy, Alhaji Isiaka Alimi, as their own chairman.
In Kogi the Alhaji Hadi Ametuo faction held its congress at St Peter’s Primary School, Felele, Lokoja, and was observed by officials of INEC, while the faction loyal to Governor Yahaya Bello held its congress at the Confluence Stadium, in Lokoja. While Ametuo emerged as chairman from his group, the faction of the governor elected Abdullahi Bello as state chairman.
The congress at St. Peter’s Primary School Felele had aggrieved members of the state APC who are supporters of the Audu/Faleke political group.