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Buni’s fall and his CECPC’s infractions

By Leo Sobechi, (Deputy Politics Editor) and Adamu Abuh, Abuja
08 March 2022   |   2:41 am
Again, the atmosphere of a coup d’état pervaded the national headquarters of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC), yesterday. It was actually the fourth time security personnel

Buhari

Again, the atmosphere of a coup d’état pervaded the national headquarters of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC), yesterday. It was actually the fourth time security personnel had to subject the party’s secretariat to “protective custody.”

As early as 12.15 a. m. yesterday, when news of the purported removal of the Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) chairman, Governor Mai Mala Buni, filtered out, it came as one of the many intricacies of conspiracies trailing APC’s March 26 national convention.

Prior to the unexpected development, Buni was billed to inaugurate chairmen of the state chapters of the party as part of the crucial milestones to the national convention, especially resolution of the dispute over the holding of the zonal congresses separately or concurrently during the national convention.

No official of the party was on hand to explain the unusual massive presence of security personnel at the Blantyre Street headquarters, which threw up a strong security cordon around Buhari House, as the party secretariat is called.

However, what later appeared as an unsigned statement from the CECPC Secretary, Senator John James Akpanudoedehe, dismissing Buni’s ouster as a piece of fake news and stressing, “No Leadership Change in APC CECPC.”

Not minding that Niger State governor, Abubakar Sanni Bello, was announced as new chairman, Akpanudoedehe’s hurriedly packaged statement reads: “Our attention has been drawn to sponsored media reports on an imaginary leadership change in the All Progressives Congress (APC) Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC).

The media report is fake news and should be disregarded. The APC is a progressive political party guided by rules. Leadership changes are not announced by ‘sources’ through name-dropping in the media.

“We urge our teeming supporters, members and indeed the general public to remain calm and support the Governor Mai Mala Buni-led APC CECPC conduct a rancour-free and credible National Convention deserving of our great party.”

Also, on getting wind of the impending change of guards, Yakini Nabena, a former deputy spokesman of the party, tried to make the Buni leadership look good in a statement, in which he scorned Governor Abubakar Sani Bello, as just as a floor member incapable of taking over from Buni.

In the statement made available to journalists on Sunday, the former Deputy Publicity Secretary stated: “I use this medium to call on our leaders across the states to caution Governor Sani Bello of Niger State.

The Presidency should also call him to order to immediately drop the plan to convene a NEC (National Executive Committee) meeting without the knowledge of Governor Mai Mala Buni and the Secretary of CECPC.

“Governor Sani Bello is neither the chairman nor Secretary of the National Caretaker Committee. So, where did he get the power to convene such meeting?”

No cause for worry, President assures

Signs of the impending palace coup in the CECPC came when President Muhammadu Buhari, who was billed to begin his two-week medical leave, told state House Correspondents that despite the misgivings trailing the planned national convention, APC has sufficient capacity to whether the storms and be the progressive party it was meant to be.

Admonishing those who claim that the party would collapse even before the national convention, the President said “they should wait and see,” even as he announced that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo would preside over affairs while he is away to ensure no vacuum exists.

Boasting of the party’s capacity to surmount odds and come out triumphant, the President recalled that how APC came “as a party to take power from the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP), that had been there before us for so many years.

The Guardian gathered that part of the reasons President Buhari abridged his travel plan originally scheduled to continue from Kenya, was the disturbing intelligent reports he received concerning attempts by some notable governors to upturn decision he had already signed off and betray the March 26 national convention.

A source in the Presidency disclosed that although President Buhari was inundated by worrisome developments in APC under Buni, “the obvious attempts to undermine his (President’s) authority and leadership infuriated him (Buhari).

The President was said to have been taken aback by Buni’s decision to set up a zoning committee, when the CECPC ought to be focused on other crucial steps geared towards the March 26 convention, particularly giving the 21 days’ mandatory notification to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and swearing in state chairmen of the party.

Allegations of bias, duplicity
THE first allegation of possible bias against the former CECPC chairman came around May 20121, when the President of Senate, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, reportedly accused Buni of working to transmute into a substantive national chairman or Presidential running mate to a Southern candidate for the 2023 general elections.

However, on May 7, 2021, both Lawan and Buni, who hail from the same Yobe State, issued scathing denials of the report, stressing that they have continued to enjoy brotherly relations.

In a rebuttal through his Media aide, Ola Awoniyi, the Senate President said he read the report with amusement, stressing that the allegation was a product of a reporter “Who has no regard for facts or fidelity to truth.”

On his part, Buni, through his Director-General, Press and Media Affairs, Mamman Mohammed, noted the “satanic plans being orchestrated by some mischievous elements to cause disaffection and distract the Caretaker Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee from the onerous task of rebuilding the party.”

But, the most consistent accuser of Buni’s sluggish leadership of the CECPC was the former Director-General of Progressive Governors’ Forum (DG, PGF), Dr. Salihu Mohammed Lukman, who was later to exit the office amid the intrigues in the governing party.

In a statement on February 21, Lukman pointedly accused Governor Buni of working to stall the holding of a national convention so that he (Buni) could preside over the Presidential primary, and ostensibly work for his emergence as Presidential running mate.

The former DG disclosed that three other state governors, including Yahaya Bello, Hope Uzodimma and Prince Dapo Abiodun, were working in cahoots with Bunion on the hidden agenda of postponing the convention till it holds alongside the Presidential primary.

While noting that as a result of the machinations of the four governors, Lukman said, “other members of CECPC had been reduced to observers because as meetings hardly take place, and even when meetings hold, decisions are hardly implemented.”

He said Buni was guilty of “flagrant disregard to every known procedure of managing affairs of the party, (as he) relates only with Governors Yahaya Bello, Hope Uzodinma and Dapo Abiodun based on the plot to retain Buni as Chairman of the Party up to the time of conducting the primary that will produce candidates for 2023 elections.

“The other person who is also active in this political ponzi scheme is the CECPC Secretary, Sen. John James Akpanudoedehe, who is also aspiring to emerge as the Akwa Ibom governorship candidate of the APC for 2023 elections. Interestingly, perhaps except for Governor Abiodun, three of them – Buni, Bello and Uzodinma, are all aspiring to become either Presidential or Vice-Presidential candidate.”

There were also allegations of pecuniary considerations in the dispensing of party assignments, including the cases of Anambra State governorship primary and the instance of Enugu State congress, where money was said to have changed hands to undermine party positions.

Based on the weighty allegations of Dr. Salihu Lukman, President Buhari was said to have commissioned a discrete investigation into the affairs of the CECPC, particularly the chairman.

It was gathered that when the five operatives detailed to look into the entire schemes within the CECPC turned in their report; President Buhari was shocked that some of his trusted aides were working covertly to undermine his administration for their personal interest and to the detriment of his succession plan.

In an interview with The Guardian, former Deputy National Vice Chairman (South/South) of the party, Chief Hillard Ettah, said all actions taken by APC right from June 25, 2020, when the National Working Committee (NWC) was sacked as the sowing of the wind.

Concerning the zoning brouhaha and change of guard in the CECPC, Ettah stated: “Well, as I told you the last time, it is just a continuation of illegality and constitutionality. I have nothing to say apart from the fact that for a party that held so much hope for Nigeria, it is really sad for the path the party has come to.

“We are very hopeful, some of us who sacrificed for the creation and building of the party, that God in His infinite mercy will bring wisdom and common sense so that all of these things will be resolved amicably. I do not believe that an illegal contraption can do what is legal, because you cannot build something on anything. You cannot build legal structures on an illegal contraption. So we watch and we pray.

“It is an unfolding Nigerian political drama. The members of the fourth estate of the realm should chronicle these events for future reference and future examination. We are just political actors, in most times acting out our deep-seated animosity and hatred for the rule of law and even when we pay lip service, even when we paint our love for the rule of law, our actions are in complete defiance to that lip service. So it is sad, it is extremely sad.”

Meanwhile, the last may not have been heard about the unfolding crisis of confidence within the governing APC, which led to the removal of Buni as chairman, CECPC.

In what sounded like a game of thrones, The Guardian gathered worries over the legal implication of naming Bello as Buni’s replacement led to Bello’s announcement that he was merely serving in acting capacity due to Buni’s absence.

Sources within the APC headquarters confided in The Guardian that shortly before Governor Bello held a meeting with members of the CECPC, debates were still going about how Bello’s position as chairman would be interpreted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

He said it was obvious that those who wanted to use President Buhari to carry out the palace coup failed to reflect on the wider implications on the party, stressing that the move to remove Buni in his absence failed.

“Prior to Monday’s meeting at Buhari House, Bello was actually prevailed on to when the group supporting his takeover was confronted with the legal implication of the President supplanting APC National Executive Committee (NEC) to sack Buni and choose his replacement,” he stated.

Although CECPC Secretary, Senator Akpanudoedehe, joined Governor Bello to perform the party’s functions in absence of Buni, it was gathered that the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, SAN, who swore in the CECPC in June 2020, expressed reservations on the method adopted to remove the Yobe State governor.

The AGF’s legal advice was that only the NEC could remove Buni, even as it could not be ascertained whether President Bunari withdrew his initial endorsement of Buni’s replacement, thus sustaining the new twist in the saga. However, whatever happens in the days to come, especially given President Buhari’s two weeks’ absence, it is obvious that APC must have bitten more than it can chew, especially in the light of the INEC timetable for party primaries which is merely weeks away.