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APC’s national convention and fear of fair, open competition

By Leo Sobechi, Deputy Politics Editor, Abuja
29 March 2022   |   4:21 am
What happened last Saturday at the Eagle Square was but a clever ambushing of democracy. Going by how the members of the oncoming National Working Committee (NWC) members were produced, it is no longer hard to find why voter apathy would continue to define Nigeria’s democratic system.

Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu (left); New APC Chairman Senator Abdullahi Adamu; Ogun State Governor, Dapo Abiodun at the All Progressives Congress National Convention in Abuja. PHOTO: PHILIP OJISUA

What happened last Saturday at the Eagle Square was but a clever ambushing of democracy. Going by how the members of the oncoming National Working Committee (NWC) members were produced, it is no longer hard to find why voter apathy would continue to define Nigeria’s democratic system.

Although APC leaders disappointed naysayers by holding a successful and peaceful national convention, it was a victory snatched from the jaw of defeat and facilitated by soft force. The governing party showed in great details its detest for openness and fair competition, thereby sustaining that lack of inclusion that has continued to haunt the amalgam of political parties since 2013.

By the time the new NWC takes over, conducts the Presidential primary and particularly after President Buhari completes his second term in office, APC faithful would be free to tell the truth of what happened. Above all, they would be able to convince Nigerians that consensus, which they adopted during the national convention, has nothing in common with the coercion that hovered in the background.

The faulty steps that preceded the national convention started with the creation of a Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) headed by Governor Mai Mala Buni. Even without being told, the idea of having an incumbent governor to head the party’s interim management body was contrary to the provisions of the APC Constitution.

Despite the pungent observations made by the Supreme Court on the position of Governor Buni, while ruling on the Ondo State governorship election appeal, the governing party has continued to carry on with impunity merely on account of the combined effects of federal might and power of incumbency.

The establishment and composition of the CECPC was not the only acts of constitutional infringements by APC, especially against the background that some members of the dissolved elected NWC led by Comrade Adams Oshiomhole faulted the convocation of the National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting that sacked them.

Former Deputy National Vice Chairman, (South/South) of the party, Chief Hillard Ntufam Ettah, contended that the APC constitution did not contemplate that in the absence of the national chairman or a resolution of two thirds of the members of the NWC that a deputy national secretary could summon the NEC.

Regardless of that ominous red flag, the Buni committee was sustained in office beyond the maximum one year it had to exhaust its mandate and deliver on its terms of reference as an adhoc body.

However, the most glaring abuse of privilege came barely two weeks to the March 26 national convention date. In the process of perfecting what was described as a palace coup within the CECPC, Niger State governor, Abubakar Sani Bello, had written to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) intimating the electoral umpire of its desire to hold its NEC meeting, where the removal of Buni and Senator John James Akpanudoedehe, was to be ratified.

But, in its response dated March 9, 2022, INEC drew the party’s attention to Section 82 (1) of the Electoral Act 2022, which stipulated a mandatory time frame of 21 days notice prior to “any convention, congress, conference, or meeting convened for the purpose of merger,” by any political party.

In the commission’s letter signed by Rose Anthony, (Secretary), the electoral body pointed out to APC “the fact that the notice for the meeting was not signed by the national chairman and national secretary of the CECPC. This is contrary to the provision of the Article 1.1.3 of the commission’s Regulations and Guidelines for Political Party Operations (2018).”

Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu (left); New APC Chairman Senator Abdullahi Adamu; Ogun State Governor, Dapo Abiodun at the All Progressives Congress National Convention in Abuja. PHOTO: PHILIP OJISUA

Although the INEC letter titled, “Re:Invitation to the emergency meeting of the National Executive Committee,” was in response to the invitation to a NEC meeting, the commission’s demand on CECPC to abide by the provision in Section 82(1) of the Electoral Act 2022 was observed in the breach.

This is because after that exchange, there was no record to show that the CECPC sent appropriate 21 days’ notice to the commission before the convention held last Saturday. For emphasis, INEC had while urging the party to note the key issues raised for compliance, demanded: “Please refer to your letter Ref.APC/NHDQ/INEC/019/022/32, dated 8th March 2022.

From March 8 to 26 has a space of 18 days, which is short of the 21 days envisaged by Section 82 (12). Further, there was nothing to show a responsible performance of its obligations by CECPC after the March 8 letter.

Quiet ambush
AS the APC national convention held last Saturday, observers were appalled that President Buhari, who had all the while played aloof to the nervy goings on in the party, could hardly take charge.

Even the all-powerful state governors, who had been acting as the alpha and omega of APC got frozen in their haste to abide by President Buhari’s designs and dictates. This obvious cowardly behaviour made some analysts to wonder that if Buhari had all the powers to choral the governors to follow one way like zombies with his consensus gambit, how come he allowed crisis to fester in the party for nearly two years after Adams Oshiomhole was removed?

Although some sources claimed that the Progressive Governors’ Forum (PGF) became squeamish owing to their Vice Presidential and Presidential aspirations, the implications of the non-competitive convention would be evident after Buhari leaves office.

It is left to be seen if the forthcoming APC Presidential primary would follow the same pattern, but the lethargy of the Judiciary could be seen from the failed attempt to suspend the provisions of Section 84(12) of the Electoral Act 2022.

Unlike the apex court’s observations on the position of Buni and CECPC, APC decided to err on the path of caution by warning its appointed officials to keep away from voting at the convention despite the controversial ruling of Federal High Court Umuahia.

In the suit (FHC/UM/CS/26/2022), the plaintiffs, obviously working on behalf of the APC-led Federal Government, sought to nullify Section 84 (12) of the Electoral Act.

Honourable Justice Evelyn Anyadike granted the plaintiffs’ reliefs, which motion was joined with an exparte motion praying the Court for abridgment of time within which the defendants can file its counter affidavit.

Despite the expeditious proceedings, the non-joinder of the National Assembly did great violence to the suit and APC knowing the dangers inherent in the pyrrhic victory called its men to order.

Verdict of error
IN his remarks during the convention, CECPC chairman, Buni, enumerated the achievements of his team, including membership registration, defection of some state governors, lawmakers and others political actors from the opposition political parties to APC.

However, unknown to Buni, what he listed as triumphs were but a masked verdict of error that contrasted with the terms of reference of the interim body. For instance, the setting up of the Senator Adamu National Reconciliation Committee was a tacit admission of failure.

But regardless of that obvious verdict, Buni stated: “Upon assumption of office, the committee embarked on a genuine and all-inclusive reconciliation process to give everyone a true sense of belonging, confidence and reassurance in the collective ownership of the party.

“We, first of all, visited some critical stakeholders to engage them in resolving the disputes and other hanging disagreements in the party. While some of these visits were made public, others were done out of the public glare and without media publicity. Similarly, we visited some aggrieved chieftains who sincerely shared their ill feelings with the committee. We spoke to each other frankly, placing party interests above personal interests.

“I am glad to state that those frank discussions built a new hope in the hearts of the aggrieved persons such that, those who earlier left the party returned, while those contemplating to forsake the party, never left.

“However, when we commenced the assignment, we realised that the problems on the ground had far outweighed our estimation of the time required to resolve the huge problems bedevilling the party. This made the initial six months’ dateline grossly inadequate, unrealistic, and not practicable and therefore, the need for extension of more time.

“Mr President, distinguished members, ladies and gentlemen, APC under the Caretaker Committee, made history with an unparalleled record of high-powered defections into the party. Three serving governors of Ebonyi State, His Excellency, Engr. Dave Umahi, Cross River State, His Excellency Dr. Ben Ayade, and Zamfara State, Alhaji Bello Matawalle, defected along with millions of their supporters from PDP into the APC.

“I am glad to add that the fortunes of the party were further enriched with the defection of former Speakers of the House of Representatives, former PDP national chairman, member PDP Board of Trustees, several Distinguished Senators and Honourable members of the House of Representatives and state assemblies, and several other heavyweights cutting across all the geopolitical zones of the country.”

By his admission, Buni said the membership roll of APC increased from 11million to 41million. But, why the party shied away from elections during its primary puts a hallow of doubt that its members could affirm the processes adopted in managing the party.

With some legal challenges still lingering perhaps, it would be too early to reckon with the last APC national convention as a successful event.