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Incumbents, ‘Class of 99 governors’ battle threatens APC’s stability

By From Leo Sobechi, Deputy Politics Editor, Abuja
16 January 2022   |   3:03 am
Events of last Monday threw the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) into spasmodic fits and frenzy: While the party was contemplating how to convey to its faithful why the earlier February

Buni. Photo/FACEBOOK

Sheriff, Buni Raises Chairmanship Stakes

Events of last Monday threw the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) into spasmodic fits and frenzy: While the party was contemplating how to convey to its faithful why the earlier February 5 date for the national convention was no longer feasible, the ‘national leader’ visited President Muhammadu Buhari with a peculiar message.

  
Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s announcement of intention to contest for the party’s Presidential ticket did much to revise old calculations, especially given the recalibrations within the party’s structure by the Progressive Governors’ Forum (PGF).
   
Tinubu’s declaration not only exposed the various tendencies fuelling the disquiet within APC but also raised anew the legality question of the Mai Mala Buni-led Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC).
    
That development must have informed the call by Director General of PGF, Dr. Salihu Lukman on Buni to quit immediately. He noted that the CECPC has run out of ideas and excuses on how to continue hanging on to the office as quasi-National Working Committee (NWC) of the party.
  
Lukman’s position did much to also reveal the crack within the PGF, especially against the background of claims by some state governors that Buni wants to cling unto the position of CECPC chairman to oversee the Presidential primary.
   
The Yobe State governor is also said to be working with a few APC governors that are propping Ekiti State governor and his Ebonyi State counterpart, Dr. Kayode Fayemi and Engineer David Umahi for the party’s presidential ticket.
  
It was gathered that attempts to postpone the APC national convention are to evaluate the possibility of ensuring a consensus arrangement that could enable Buni to transit to the substantive national chairman, even as he paves the way for the emergence of Fayemi or Umahi for a joint Presidential ticket with their Kebbi State counterpart, Senator Atiku Bagudu.

It is therefore against the background of plots by the ambitious PGF members to ensure the emergence of a Muslim national chairman and pave the way for a Christian Presidential candidate that the sudden public acknowledgement by Tinubu of his interest in the 2023 race jolted the party hierarchy.
   
Within the Northeast, it was gathered that anti-Tinubu sentiments were behind the ascendancy of Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, who is said to be a strong character that has an axe to grind with the Asiwaju tendencies over the fall out from the merger arrangement. However, the fear within the PGF is that going by his antecedents, Sheriff may not be predictable with power as he is also known to nurse a Presidential ambition.

Zoning Albatross
CHAIRMAN, Senate Committee on Army and representative of Borno South Senatorial District, Senator Ali Ndume, had disclosed that he has two preferred candidates for the position of national chairman. He added that while one hails from Northeast, the other is from North Central, stressing that based on the organogram of the party, the next national chairman should come from either of the two zones.

  
Ndume, who made the disclosure while appearing on a Channels television programme, ‘One on One,’ remarked that the problem of the CECPC chairman, Governor Buni, is that “he wants to satisfy everybody, but ended up satisfying nobody.” He regretted the suspense trailing the planned national convention of the party, noting that the absence of a Board of Trustees (BoT) and national caucus of the party six years after its election into power compounds the situation.
  
Ndume dismissed the intrigues by state governors, stressing that the ideal candidate for the post of national chairman should be a mature candidate capable of serving as a father figure for APC.
   
Lending his voice to the puzzle attending the zoning of the chairmanship, Senator Ndume declared: “President Buhari is from Northwest and that rules out the zone from the contest. That leaves both Northeast and North Central.
 
   
“So, the party has to pronounce on zoning and because the party is supreme. I will go with the party decision. Until then, I feel it is premature to disclose my preferred candidates.”
   
On the issue of the APC presidential ticket, Senator Ndume said he personally believes that the South should produce the next presidential candidate, stressing that APC at formation recognised the zoning convention. He recalled that in 2014, General Buhari, Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Nda-Isaiah and Governor Rochas Okorocha, contested based on zoning to the north, stressing that Okorocha merely participated because he had already bought his governorship nomination form for a second term.
  
Based on his narrative on historical antecedent, Ndume hinted that the contest for the 2023 APC presidential ticket should be between aspirants from Southeast and South/South geopolitical zones of the country.
   
It was perhaps on account of the intrigues by the state governor to influence the zoning of the chairmanship and presidential tickets that Tinubu braved the odds to announce his aspiration to contest, thereby putting the wind of the sails of those contemplating a possible northern candidate.
  
 
Again, while the incumbent governors are working to ensure the emergence of one of their own, Tinubu and Orji Uzor Kalu altered their calculations through their forceful contention over the need for the party to pronounce on zoning.
 
Although Tinubu’s declaration foreclosed the issue of zoning the ticket to the South, Kalu insisted that the party should go further to micro-zone the presidential ticket, thereby introducing new concerns within the governing party.
  
Buni was said to have accompanied President Buhari on his official trip to Ogun and Lagos states, ostensibly to further intimate the President of the underlying contentious issues hovering menacingly against the February 5 convention date.
   
It would be recalled that the raging battle between the incumbent governors and their class of 1999 counterparts took a new turn, when shortly after Tinubu met President Buhari, Ebonyi State governor, Umahi, followed suit to declare his intention to contest the party’s presidential ticket.  
  
But, knowing the implications of his declaration after Tinubu’s move, Governor Fayemi, against the prompting of some of his colleagues, decided to visit the former Lagos State governor.

Preserving Southwest Bloc
THOSE who expected the outgoing governor of Ekiti State to join in the rush for the declaration were taken aback, when Governor Fayemi sought audience with the strong man of Lagos politics, Tinubu.
 
Contrary to the general perception among power brokers in APC, Tinubu still commands a stronghold on the Southwest structure of the party. Consequently, or perhaps, in recognition of the fact, especially given that he has a succession plan to prosecute in Ekiti State, the chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) chose the path of cooperation rather than a confrontation that forces outside the region recommend.

 
A source within the APC national leadership confided in journalists that contrary to insinuations that Fayemi fell out with Tinubu over his presidential aspiration, the former Lagos State governor was peeved at Fayemi’s support for the ouster of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole-led NWC.
  
The last Wednesday visit by Fayemi was said to have provided the two Southwest leaders with the opportunity to chew over issues in the party and how the zone would retain its bloc vote during the impending APC presidential primary.
  
“Fayemi knows that Tinubu is very popular, but he is confident that when it comes to choosing a Southwest consensus candidate, age and membership of the powerful PGF would tilt to his advantage.
  
“While Tinubu would use his rich fund of political goodwill in Kano and other states without APC governors, the governors are preparing to use the chairmanship to ensure that only a Christian presidential candidate would emerge from the South,” the source hinted.
  
The source disclosed that the sentiment that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s presidency would amount to a third term for the Buhari Presidency led some notable APC leaders from the North to tap on Fayemi. He added that Fayemi believes that working with Tinubu would be a win-win for him, “because in Ekiti, the battle for the governorship ticket may end up in the advantage of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) unless Tinubu prevails on Opeyemi Bamidele and his supporters in SWAGA of a level playfield.”
  
The South West Agenda 2023, which held a parallel congress are said to be lining behind Bamidele, while the outgoing governor seems to be favourably disposed to Biodun Oyebanji.
   
“Governor Fayemi knows that since the governorship ticket for his preferred candidate would brighten his chances for the presidency, he does not want anything that would rob APC of Ekiti State,” the APC chieftain stated.
 
A top member of Osinbajo for President 2023 and governorship aspirant in Kebbi State, Mallam Salihu Nataro told The Guardian that the group is worried that Tinubu versus Osinbajo rivalry may end up pushing APC towards Southeast or South/South.
     
Nataro said everybody knows that Vice President Osinbajo is a product of the Tinubu political family, stressing that without the blessing of Tinubu, it would be a herculean task to deliver the Vice President during the party’s primary.

Convention Timeline
WITH the flurry of declarations by presidential aspirants, pressure is mounting on the Buni CECPC to organise the national convention and give way to a substantive NWC.

  
The presidential declarations and 2023 General Elections Timetable released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has combined to draw attention to the risk of allowing the CECPC organise the APC primary, which could endanger candidates of the party.
  
Although the Federal High Court is yet to rule on the case filed by a former member of the dissolved Oshiomhole-led NWC challenging the legality of the CECPC and Buni’s appointment, party leaders believe that after nearly two years in office, the CECPC no longer stands as an ad hoc committee.
    
Consequently, those opposed to Buni and CECPC cite the apex court observations on the status of the Buni committee as red flag for their continued stay in office.
  
For instance, Director General of Progressive Governors’ Forum (DG PGF), Lukman expressed frustrations over the CECPC’s delay to set a date for the national convention.
  
In a statement last Thursday, Lukman said the Buni committee should give way over their inability to set up credible processes leading to the national convention. “There is no need to give consultations as an excuse for the delay in disclosing processes for the convention and likely venue since the Governors had since given a date to the national leader of the party, President Muhammadu Buhari,” the DG stated.
    
Lukman was responding to a statement by the CECPC Secretary, Senator John James Akpanudoedehe, to the effect that the committee was yet to conclude consultations over a generally accepted convention date.
 
 
Akpanudoedehe assured me that the convention would go ahead as earlier scheduled. But, the PGF DG accused the CECPC of insincerity, pointing out that there was nothing concrete to support CECPC Secretary’s assurances.
  
Lukman stated: “In the afternoon of Tuesday, January 12, 2022, there were media reports attributed to sources close to the CECPC, claiming that the APC National Convention is postponed from February to June 2022.
   
“Shortly, following the news of the alleged postponement, the Secretary, Sen. John James Akpanudoedehe issued a rebuttal, calling on the general public to ‘completely disregard fake news on the reported suspension of the planned National Convention’.
  
“This is a slap on the face of Nigerians and an insult on party members. How can a statement from ‘a focus-driven, process-oriented political party’, make such a scandalous statement allegedly assuring that a Convention is scheduled to hold in February without indicating date and venue for the Convention?
   
“If subcommittees, whether for budget or anything are to be set up, to perhaps mobilise funds for the Convention, why are they not set up with just about two weeks to the end of January?
 
“Somehow, it is difficult not to conclude that the CECPC is intentionally promoting speculations around the APC National Convention by claiming to embark on ‘consultations with party stakeholders to prepare the ground for a rancour-free National Convention.’”
  
It could be recalled that shortly after Asiwaju Bola Tinubu paid him a visit at his Asokoro residence, the Senate Chief Whip, Orji Uzor Kalu, wrote to President Buhari pleading that the convention is put forward to ensure that all outstanding contending issues, including states where congress did not hold and zoning, are thrashed before a new NWC is elected.
  
The Senate Chief Whip suggested that the convention should shift to such a time that it could merge with the APC presidential primary so as to kill two birds with one stone.

But, no sooner was the letter made public than some incumbent state smelled a rat, saying that there was a plot to destroy APC and hand over easy victory to the opposition PDP.
   
The PGF DG, in a statement, condemned Kalu’s suggestion, contending that it paves the way for the confusion that could dispose APC to a similar experience in Zamfara, Bayelsa and Rivers States.
    
While Kalu’s proposition is said to be a possible avenue for a give and take with the incumbent governors, the leadership of PGF is said to be wary of the subtle plot by the class 99 governors to wrest control of the APC structure from them (incumbent state governors).

  
The Guardian learned that Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, who is currently outside the country and the CECPC chairman, Buni, represent the two tendencies driving the internal combustion of APC.  
  
Would the incumbent governors succeed in achieving a winner takes all, by producing the national chairman and Presidential candidate of the party or settling for a parity, where class 99 produces the chairman and foregoes the Presidential ticket?
  
How the matter is ultimately resolved would depend on which comes first, the chicken or the egg? February 25, the new tentative convention date would throw up the answer.