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Eyes already on 2019, as APC grapples with National Assembly ‘coup’

By Akpo Esajere
06 July 2015   |   3:03 am
The All Progressive Congress (APC) is not a political party just because it stated itself as one. It is not progressive either owing to self-styling itself as such, or elements within the fold are welfares. A coalition’s claims to being a political party or progressive party doesn’t make it so, for parties are political movements…

Tinubu and BuhariThe All Progressive Congress (APC) is not a political party just because it stated itself as one. It is not progressive either owing to self-styling itself as such, or elements within the fold are welfares.

A coalition’s claims to being a political party or progressive party doesn’t make it so, for parties are political movements built over a period of time based on defined principles, and they must be nurtured to grow and mature.

From the outset, three things were expected to test to the very limits the new kid on the block, the APC. First is the question: will it last – arising from being a mere one-purpose contraption, assembled in the space of only about one year and three months from July 2013, with the sole objective (barring election campaign claims), of stopping the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) uninterrupted 16-year rule as the party in power – and it succeeded!

Second is power sharing among the various political interest groups – and this arises from APC’s dramatic victory. The party has between now and, at the most, mid-2017 to build itself into a viable political platform to face the 2019 general election. If it doesn’t get it right by then, the PDP, now in opposition, would be saying to the electorate, we told you! The games towards 2019 are making the APC first-outing crisis more nasty, bitter and argumentative than good for the future of the party.

And third – inconvenient marriage: Yoruba South West and Hausa/Fulani North – one socialist/welfare-inclined, the other centralist/conservative. Management of partners’ interests, particularly vested interest, was bound to pose severe challenges.

What is today the APC is an amalgam of four major and minor defunct groups: All Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the dominant South West partner, which came in with five states; New-PDP (n-PDP) of former Northern PDP State Governors (also with five states) and President Muhammadu Buhari-led Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) one; All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) three, and All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) one.

The APC would have to wield into one fighting force by factoring into its power sharing activities principles of equity in accommodating the contributions of partners, while also taking into consideration that it is a government for Nigerians; for those who supported it, and those who did not. But, here are likely scenarios playing out, following the take-off crisis of office/position-sharing: Tinubu, South west caucus and what the crisis achieved.

What the crisis has achieved is put Buhari on the spot, and serves the North notice that it could not have its way as in the past. The APC leaders, including the President and all other key leaders have should resolved before hand, all sharing problems before promulgation of the Federal Parliament. The pre-inauguration shadow primary, which chose Ahmad Lawan for Senate President and Femi Gbajabiamila for Speaker of House of Representatives worked towards a pre-determined outcome. Ditto for the APC emergency meeting at the Conference Centre Abuja at the same time the 8th National Assembly already proclaimed by President for Tuesday June 9, 2015 at 10.00am was in session. Whatever action taken thereafter cannot apply.

What was proclaimed was Nigeria’s National Assembly, and not an APC Assembly, in spite of the party’s slim majority in the Senate and working majority in the House of Representatives. Should the President reverse his proclamation after making it or move it forward for APC to first finish an emergency parley? No. No such Precedent. Could anything be done to stop the federal Parliament from going into its inaugural session, with quorum formed? No.

And so, Bukola Saraki was voted by members present at the sitting as Senate President and Yakubu Dogara as Reps Speaker. What resulted in crisis was simply and squarely preventing Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu’s (ACN) almost total control. He would have edged out other stakeholders in the ruling coalition, including Northern governors of n-PDP led by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and others like Governors Rochas Okorocha of Imo and even his protégée Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto.

Tinubu may have made a u-turn to support Lawan in collaboration with Buhari. Tinubu, a smart politician (there are few smart ones around) had initially supported George Akume for Senate President. Despite saying early that he would not interfere and would work with those chosen for the legislature, the President’s preference for Lawan is self-evident.

Lawan had served both at the Reps and in the Senate. He has never been a State Governor. The Buhari administration has to utilize any opportunity to cut governors, whether former, or serving, or in the Senate down to size. They have become too powerful for good of the country.

But Buhari did not push it. Had he done so, and Lawan and Gbajabiamila emerged, it would mean (1) President and Senate President (North); Vice President and Speaker South West). That was fraught! Some would have deemed it as North and South west domination, within even the APC.

Putting to a check Tinubu-cum-ACN summary accretion of power within the party prompted n-PDP former governors, including Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, now a Senator, Wamakko, Okorocha, Tambuwal to led by Atiku push out in support of one of their own, Saraki, a former two-term governor of Kwara State and Yakubu Dogara, a former PDP stalwart from the Christian Tafawa Balewa local government of Bauchi State.

Recall Kwankwaso’s recent statement clearly intended to challenge and affront Tinubu that, “whatever the South West can bring to the table in voting population, the North can triple it!” Recall also Saraki’s reference to Vice President Professor Yemi Osinbajo, a Tinubu nominee, as “mere Commissioner.”

Aside the present “storm,” there are promises of more stand-offs and face-offs. Much of what may become Asiwaju Tinubu’s power to move and shake things in the APC is likely to depend on his cultivated relationship with Buhari or the President’s readiness and willingness to take him along in the scheme of things. And he President had better ensure he did!

For now, much of Tinubu’s relationship is playing out in Aso Rock where Buhari seems to actively involve Osinbajo in the running of government business. The VP, a is guaranteed to more visibly active unlike his predecessor Nemadi Sambo who, though coming from Kaduna in the powerful North West, did not enjoy the zone’s support, and a virtual passenger in power.

And talking about future elections or specifically 2019 general election, there is no knowing for now Tinubu’s or South West approach. A lot would depend on how Buhari performs in his first term as a democratically-elected President. Younger Northern elements are already positioning and posturing, believing that the President would do only one term, leaving somebody younger from the region to take over.

APC in North’s return to power and implications for 2019
The North is back in power. The APC robust play in 2019 will be sorely tested. Even if Buhari goes for one term, he will be expected to “prepare” a northern successor. While the struggle for control of the party goes on, the President would seek to play fair, especially with Tinubu, his ally who worked hard for him to be elected President. But, it is doubtful if this could lead the President to back Tinubu in insisting on total control or if the President was to one term, carry the North along in supporting power leaving there after only four years!

If that were to happen, the n-PDP would be forced to return to base in the PDP for 2019 or even re-re-align with the South East and South-South along with pro-PDP South West elements, to defeat Tinubu, thus forcing him to return to base with his ACN.

Tinubu, Akande and others were not at the party’s weekend parley of its highest ruling body, National Executive Committee (NEC) attended by Buhari and state governors of some of the states controlled by the APC, along with Saraki, Dogara and others. Tinubu need not stay away and let others make his contribution look insignificant. There is still a lot to be shared!

He, Akande and others of the South West caucus of APC obviously felt deeply let down by the outcome of the June 9 federal parliament election. But, in the end, they would have to soften. Dogara could survive in his appointment better than Saraki. Had Saraki fought the contest with Lawan as Dogara slugged it out with Gbajabiamila, Saraki’s hand, as Senate President would be better in presiding over the legislature.

He would have to lead the red chamber perpetually looking over his shoulders. The APC national chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun’s proposal of Lawan and Gbajabiamila, for Majority Leader in Senate and Reps, evidently to placate the South West and North East has to be negotiated well before Parliamentarians resume sitting on July 21. Legislative leaders tend to appoint or influence the appointment of colleagues they can be comfortable with to work with.

True, the dominant South West political forces of the ACN collaborating for the first time since Nigeria’s Independence in 1960 with the North facilitated Buhari’s ascendance. True, Buhari swung the election more on personal merit because the electorate believed he was the only politician around whom they could trust to fight to ameliorate their worsened poverty and suffering – what he may have had in mind when he made his most-celebrated statement, “I belong to everybody, I belong to nobody.”

What all this brings out for the APC is the need for the coalition groups to play fair and ensure equity and balance in power-sharing. And ACN would be better off playing within than being made to play without.

While they talk about party supremacy, they would also have to be sensitive to the role of outside forces in who makes it into the legislature and wields influence there despite the distinction conferred on them through the doctrine of separation of power, which legislators themselves are often wont to guard jealously against the powers-that-be.

State Governors, for example, nominate stooges. They also influence who gets elected into the Parliament. They nominate ministers and parastatal heads to the federal government. Their influence in the Parliament, in particular, the Senate where a good number of them are now ensconced, cannot be ignored.

In the Presidency and in the administration of the political parties, state Governors have proved to be very powerful. It is obviously why APC Governors were last weekend mandated by the party leaders to visit the legislature to make peace.

At the end of the day, whatever “collateral damage” has been done to the party over the crisis would blow over. No heads will roll and nobody will wield the big stick against anybody. The President’s posture suggests he is against caucuses fighting one another in his party.

But whether Buhari will use appointments to seek to “balance” the competing forces in the party while also keeping a close watch on fulfilling his election promises remains to be seen.

Buhari and Odigie-Oyegun had “hit the ground running” in making peace moves. Their posture had set the stage for the weekend NEC meeting in Abuja. At the meeting, the President stressed party supremacy. The APC leaders can be expected to tow that line in the open, while working behind the scenes to wield competing interests and surrendering to collaboration in the spirit of give and take, or face the music! APC and opposition PDP are in for a fight-to-finish in 2019.

Accommodation of interests was always a problem of the APC coalition. The case of its South West caucus is of considerable weight following the North and the South West coming together to jointly fight the 2015 general election. The use of “sacrifice” to describe particularly the contributions of Tinubu, a key leader, both for the South West caucus and at the national level is, firstly, over his not making it as running mate to Buhari.

A by-product of pre-election calculation, which did not favour a Muslim-Muslim ticket, he had to name a replacement in Osinbajo. The real patch-point of the National Assembly crisis is Tinubu and South West caucus moving to produce both VP and Speaker. Another sticky point is opposition PDP taking the Deputy Senate President slot in Ike Ekweremadu- not because it cannot happen.

The APC opened their flanks: first, by making public their choices, thus giving the PDP opportunity to plan and counter it. At least the PDP senators (49) and Saraki’s supporters in the APC ( at least 9) would still have supported both of them anyway, without APC’s prior concretization of its nominations to the contest. If it were boxing, what APC got was an uppercut!
Lawan was Buhari’s preferred candidate. Along with a number of other politicians who had worked with him, both in the ANPP and CPC in which platforms the President ran three previous elections without success, Lawan from Yobe State in the North East had been active, both as member, and as a staunch Buhari supporter. And Lawan was choice of the caucus.

But the APC can do business with the present zoning formula of the President (North West, number one citizen), Vice-President (South West, number two), Senate President (North Central or Norther Minorities, number three).

Buhari’s posture of non-interference can be said to have satisfied national interest. It must have been one of the reasons he said from the outset that he would work with whomever the Assembly elected as their leaders. What happened at the Assembly represents the current temper among the preponderance number of legislators, and had the 8th Assembly not been allowed to take off on that note, then expect legislative upheavals in that parliament from the very start.

The president cannot reverse his proclamation without creating fresh unnecessary controversies: some would have quickly added it to his perceived failure to make key official appointments nearly three months after APC came into power with him as President. To put as it would have been, there would have been “war!”

Saraki and Dogara have already “swung into action to charge” as they say it in common parlance. They have been quite active holding meetings with members and newly constitute committees, the Assembly bureaucracy and receiving solidarity visits, to promptly establish their authority. The party would have to live with the situation and move on.

Parliamentarians normally protest imposed candidates. APC’s peace moves must not include impeachment for now. If any of the principal officers is to be removed, it is only on the floor of each of the Houses that such an action could be implemented, even in the case of Ekweremadu. It is not for anybody from “outside” to implement. Where they chose to do so, it could for the flimsiest of reasons.

Former President Obasanjo imposed the late Evan Enwerem on the Senate at take-off of the current democratic dispensation, against the will of majority of Senators at that time, which favoured the late Dr. Chuba Okadigbo. After Obasanjo departed for a foreign trip, Enwerem, who incidentally had gone to see him off at the Abuja airport returned to the chamber only to behold that Senators led by Khairat Gwadabe had compiled signatures to have him impeached. Mainly over discrepancy in his first name – whether Evan or Evans, both of which he was found using, they sent him out.