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APC’s membership manoeuver revives 2023 presidential intrigues

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Baring any unforeseen development it is becoming obvious that the candidate to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari on the platform of All Progressives Congress (APC) must have served as state governor for two terms. That is if the dictates of the forum of state governors elected on the platform of the party are anything to go by.

There is no gainsaying the fact that the governors, otherwise known as Progressive Governors’ Forum, has effectively taken over control of the APC structure, especially given last week’s endorsement by President Buhari of the membership reregistration proposed by the Governor Mai Mala Buni’s Caretaker cum Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC).

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Also, going by the covert schemes of the governors, the APC presidential candidate for the 2023 election would be a person not above 65 years of age in addition to having served his state of origin for not less than two terms, consecutive or otherwise.

Not that alone, according to a source privy to the planned rejigging of APC, at the party’s forthcoming national convention, a former governor would also contest and win the election into the office of national chairman.

Also contrary to speculations that the unresolved issue of zoning of some crucial national offices, particularly the presidency and national chairmanship, would unravel the governing party, stakeholders have applied commonsense and equity to zone the positions in the interest of national unity and continued cohesion of the party.

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Although silent voices of dissent continue to murmur against the plan, the growing perception within the governing party is that the next President should not only come from the southern part of the country but also a Christian.

Lifting the zoning albatross
A prominent APC chieftain told some journalists in Lagos a fortnight ago that the general impression among members is that if the presidential slot rotates to the South, it should be available to a Christian to maintain the religious balance.

He recalled how in 2011 President Buhari noted that the religious sensibility in the country would not accommodate a Muslim/Muslim ticket, stressing that equally, the President feels that it would not be proper to have another Muslim take over from him on the party.

“A lot of discussions have been going on regarding how the party would handle the issue of power rotation to ensure that we do not scatter. President Muhammadu Buhari is a patriotic leader and he believes so much in fairness.

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“He is of the view that the ticket should rotate to the South and that it would be equitable to have a person from another religious persuasion to clinch it if it is in line with majority decision from the South. I am qualified to contest, but having known the mind of the leader, I think it would not be proper for me to join the bandwagon of aspirants,” the source, a former governor, stated.

It would be recalled also that three months ago, Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, remarked that APC would respect the gentleman agreement is recommended regarding rotating the presidential position for the sake of national harmony and stability.

While contending that the agreement on rotation was endorsed during the presidential convention in Lagos on December 4, 2014, Ngige noted that that understanding facilitated President Buhari’s emergence.

Ngige had stated: “Although it is not contained in our Constitution, it will make for stability and fairness if it rotates back to the South. I was one of the wise men that drafted the APC Constitution with Chief Segun Osoba as the head. That’s what we agreed on; that we don’t have to insert it, but these are things that could be done by gentleman agreement.”

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The Labour minister maintained that Governor Rochas Okorocha, who participated in the presidential convention, was overlooked on account of the gentleman agreement to cede the ticket to the North.

But, despite that understanding, certain APC stakeholders from Northeast argue that the gentleman arrangement should not be enforced as if it has the force of a constitutional provision.

Those who pander to that line of reasoning insist that any member of the party from Northeast could exercise his/her constitutional and fundamental rights by standing for election during the presidential primary in much the same way that Okorocha tried his luck in 2014.

It was in the bid to tame the zoning albatross that some party stalwarts were said to have come up with the notion that Northeast and Southeast geo-political zones stand out as the most marginalized in the scheme of presidential representation.

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The Buni committee was said to have expedited actions to bring the Southeast zone into the APC circle by piling pressures on the chairman of Southeast Governors’ Forum and Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi, to join the party before the national convention and pave the way for other governors.

Dangling the rotational carrot, Umahi was said to have jumped at the proposition that the APC presidential ticket would be available to persons who served two terms as governor and that have not attained 65 years of age by 2023.

Slide of presidential possibles
IN view of the new thinking among the governors, a picture of presidential possibles has begun to emerge, such that if things go according to their plan, the following would be queuing up for the APC presidential docket: Governors John Kayode Fayemi and Umahi, Senator Rochas Okorocha, Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi and Sullivan Chime.

It was gathered that while Umahi hurried to APC based on the fact that his kinsman and current Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnia Onu, would be cut off for not having served two terms as governor, Chime was conscripted in place of current Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, who, apart from not serving as governor, would be above 65 years.

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Membership regularization
WHILE it appears most likely that the national leadership of APC might have found the shortcut across the contentious issue of zoning, what remains is the challenge of ratifying the planned membership registration of the Buni committee. Although some chieftains of the party argue that the membership review was but a ploy to elongate the lifespan of the caretaker committee, others allege that the exercise is intended to show the party’s strengths across geopolitical zones to enhance the distribution of influence and recognition.

“The caretaker committee is working towards an already known answer. They want to make former governor Abdullaziz Yari the next national chairman of the party. Just watch what I am telling you. It is this plot that would play out divisions during the ratification,” a source from Northwest confided in The Guardian.

He stressed that the move to make Yari national chairman is intended to stop a particular governor from possible emergence as the presidential running mate of the party.

In what could be interpreted as an emerging division within the fold of the governors, the Director-General of the Progressive Governors’ Forum (PGF), Dr. Salihu Lukman, recently called for immediate convocation of a National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting of the party to consider the proposed membership registration exercise.

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According to Lukman, the NEC meeting would help to nip in the bud the brewing crisis among the various caucuses of the party on the issue of registering members anew.

THE PGF DG spoke against the backdrop of recent threats by some APC stalwarts to take legal actions to block the Caretaker Committee from undertaking the exercise, arguing that the only mandate given to the Caretaker Committee was to organise an elective national convention in December 2020.

Echoing the sentiments of naysayers to the Buni committee’s plan, Lukman said the initiative “is a smokescreen aimed at imposing surrogate leadership on the party.” He added that the best route to addressing the leadership challenges in the party at all levels lies in the production of a credible and verifiable membership register as enshrined in Article 9.4 of the APC Constitution

Listing the benefits inherent in the exercise, the DG said: “This is so fundamental and is in fact what should distinguish our party from all the other parties in the country. Any leader who is not comfortable means that such a leader doesn’t have respect for members and is unwilling to subordinate himself or herself to members.

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“If a leader is unwilling to subordinate himself or herself to party members, why should anyone risk investing any superior elective political power to such a person?

“Therefore, one will expect any leader of the party with any claim of being a progressive or even democratic politician to welcome the need to have membership registration/verification ahead of the APC National Convention. In fact, even after membership registration/verification, before we can certify that there are legal delegates for any National Convention, APC would require Ward, Local Government, and State Congresses.”

He expressed the belief that “these congresses need to hold ahead of the National Convention to affirm that the delegates to the National Convention have the authority of party members.” “With such reality, the debate should be about how to conduct both the membership registration and congresses in ways that assist in resolving the lingering leadership crisis in the party.

“Sadly, however, it would appear that it is the old challenge of ensuring that the party remained with crisis-prone approaches based on some tight-fisted control of party structures by some leaders. This means, the design is not about laying a strong foundation for the party based on which the rules of the party are the reference point, but instead ensuring that the party is controlled by some designated leaders, whose only objective is to manipulate the process of candidate selection for elections,” he declared.

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Lukman maintained that “these so-called leaders advocating for APC National Convention holding without going through the process of membership registration/verification simply want to plant their surrogates as the new leaders of the party.”

He stated further: “To achieve that, false arguments are being presented that the National Convention of the party doesn’t require membership registration. There is no need to worry about any litigation on this matter. All committed APC members should be ready for this stage of the struggle.

“Nobody should be allowed to use any bullying tactics to force us back to the old undemocratic ways of manipulating critical processes of leadership selection in our party by undermining or corrupting our membership records. Without credible and verifiable membership, there is practically no party organ, there can only be illegitimate leaders and therefore illegal delegates to any National Convention.

“As party members, we should be able to summon the confidence to prove this in any court of law. While it is important to appreciate the need to ensure that the provisions of our party’s Constitution are respected by everyone, especially the Caretaker Committee, which has the difficult responsibility of resolving our leadership challenges, it is important that the right thing is done to lay the solid democratic foundation for our party.”

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Although the PGF DG spoke in his personal capacity, it is believed that his ideas were intended to strengthen the position of the state governors holding the levers of the PGF, especially regarding the issue of legitimacy.

It would be recalled that one of the major pitfalls of the direct primary option, which was foisted on Osun State during the governorship primary, was the obvious lack of a comprehensive membership register. But determined to do the bidding of entrenched political forces in the party, the former national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, railroaded the process while sidelining some critical stakeholders.

The PGF DG, therefore, queried: “How can any organ of the party claim any legitimacy when the membership of the party is suspect? If the membership of the party is suspect, the legitimacy of delegates who will attend the National Convention will be also suspect.

“This is because, for instance, Article 9.4 of the APC constitution specifically provides that a register of members shall be compiled and maintained at the Ward level and be transmitted to the Secretariat of the party at Local Government Area, which shall transmit a copy to the National Secretariat. Provided that the party shall update its membership records every six months and remit updated copies to appropriate Secretariats. Thereafter, it shall be the responsibility of a member to ensure that his or her name is duly entered in the Ward Register.

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“When was the last time anybody was registered as an APC member in any part of the country? When was the last time any Ward in the country transmitted to any Local Government Secretariat and/or Local Government transmitted any copy to National Secretariat?”

In spite of that continued breach, Lukman noted that for anybody to claim APC’s membership or emerge as a leader, his/her legal standing must be beyond suspicion.

Averting foretold implosion
PRESIDENT Buhari had at an NEC meeting earlier in March this year pleaded with APC members to manage their personal political aspirations in such a way to ensure that the party does not become history after his tenure expires in 2023.

Also in a lengthy letter, he wrote at the peak of Oshiomhole-Must-Go agitations, a former Lagos State governor and notable leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, noted that scheming for the 2023 presidential ticket constituted a dangerous virus akin to the deadly coronavirus in APC.

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According to Tinubu, “Those engaged in these manoeuvres, see themselves as clever or cunning. They do so because they only understand the mean craft of political intrigue. They have yet to understand the value and long-term utility of democratic governance.

“Thus, they embark on the strangest of the quest. They would rather dismantle and weaken the institutional core of their party just to gain control of that weakened edifice in order to pilfer the party nomination, which they crave…”

Against the background of the foregoing warnings, it could be that the membership regularization would emerge as the much-needed elixir to cure the governing party of its internal convulsions.

Moreover, if the Buni committee pulls through with the exercise and gifts APC with a foolproof register of members, the journey towards internal party democracy could be said to have begun and the committee would be credited with the singular laurel of founding a new APC.

Whether, therefore, the forthcoming national convention would make or mar the party, depends on the credibility and fidelity of the envisaged membership registration exercise. That would also determine the success or failure of the APC CECPC.

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