Is Oshiomhole Tinubu’s secret weapon in APC’s battles?
Evaluating the mixed milieu of a troubled ruling party
Recent developments within All Progressives Congress (APC) give the impression that there are more questions than answers from the ruling political grouping. On the surface, the leadership of the party insists that a redefinition and reinvigoration are going on to situate the platform as a revolutionary one geared towards sanitizing partisan politics in the country.
But, realising that the reworking is coming barely four months to a general election, are the mechanisms and approaches well intended or programmed to achieve the parochial goals of some potentates?
The current situation in APC, after the exit of a sizeable number of the playmakers that helped power the party unto historic electoral victory in 2015, reveals a lot about the organizational structure of the party. In the emerging power structure, three distinct leaders stand out: President Muhammadu Buhari, who is by virtue of his position, the leader of the party; Adams Oshiomhole, the national chairman of the party and Ahmed Bola Tinubu, who is, by strategic position and political essence, a forceful leader of the party.
In relation to the current happenings in the party, what does the situation reveal about these leaders? The president: Is he a conniving desperado or candid opportunist or even a peevish pretender? Oshiomhole, is he a reprobate reformer or hired hand doing the bidding of a party leader to guarantee future political interest?
Then, of Tinubu, is he irked by the initial disdain by the president and his inner men to wreak vengeance through the man he foisted on the party as national chairman and covertly chart his way to ultimate domination of the platform for his 2023 presidential ambition?
Although answers to the above posers lie in the immediate future, clues to the prevailing misgivings in the ruling party could be found in the various positions taken by the leaders during the controversies leading to APC national convention earlier this year.
Echoes of APC convention
Many commentators expressed the view that the successful comeback by the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which it defeated in the 2015 general election animated APC from its slumber. There is no doubt therefore that PDP’s successful elective convention in December 2017 roused APC from its vacillation towards not only its delayed mid-term convention, but also from its experimentation with the idea of tenure elongation for the party’s National Working Committee (NWC).
Regarding the issue of whether to extend the tenure of the Chief John Odigie-Oyegun-led NWC, Buhari had manifested some tardy leadership style when after allowing the Nation Executive Committee (NEC) of the party to vote and endorse the proposed tenure elongation, he returned with a plea for elective convention.
To some extent that vacillation, which describes an afterthought, seems to be a huge contributory factor in the prevailing upheavals in the ruling party. Seven state governors, led by Nasir El-Rufai, had sided with the pro-tenure extension, arguing that carrying out a regime change in the party close to an election year could throw up some worries.
But the president spoke, albeit belatedly, and the convention had to hold with the election of new NWC members. Yet instead of a full-length election it was a guided selection with subtle presidential interference, defined by Buhari’s insistence on the sole candidacy of Oshiomhole, based on the representations of Tinubu.And, emerging as the second national chairman of the ruling party, the immediate past Governor of Edo State was expected to, like Hercules, bear the many intricate structural burdens of APC on his diminutive shoulders.
In the process of raising the strong man, the Presidency also scored a bull’s eye by returning as the national secretary of the party, the quiet Mai Malla Bunu from Yobe State. As a contrast to the rambunctious Oshiomhole, Bunu presents an easy-going mien that resonates with the qualities needed for the performance of the functions of party scribe.
However, of the three very crucial ancillary positions in the national headquarters of APC, after the chairmanship and national secretary, it was the post of national organizing secretary that exposed the underbelly of mischief, mistrust and intrigues that have continued to define the party’s struggles on the way to 2019 election.
Most party members believed that how the new national chairman wades through the labyrinth of clashing ambitions would determine whether he is the messiah APC needs or just a mere puppet of an overzealous godfather. It was also anticipated that with the backing of Tinubu and Buhari, Oshiomhole would escape the web of intrigues and untangled brooms of interests that defined, dismantled and demolished Oyegun’s mandate.
Not many APC members, who saw the way Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha and Tinubu collaborated in shooting down the tenure elongation plot, are surprised at the current wrangling involving Okorocha, Oshiomhole and Imo State chapter of the party. Although most party stalwarts saw Okorocha’s move against Senator Osita Izunaso’s retention of the position of national organizing secretary as the product of personal political misunderstanding between him and his state governor, who happened also to be the chairman of Progressive Governors’ Forum, but it was more than that. Izunaso became the pawn in the underhand political plots by some ambitious elements in South-East APC, on one hand, and the calculations by outside interests determined to deconstruct the zone due to Okorocha’s vote against tenure elongation for the Oyegun-led NWC.
Then, forming the third leg of forces arrayed against Imo State governor is APC leader, Jagaban Borgu, who has his eyes fixed on the long term political reckoning for the 2023 presidential poll.
Prior to APC national executive committee meeting, the former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, struck a partnership with Okorocha on the need to have a change of leadership in the party against the whims of most state governors elected on the party.
It was perhaps based on that understanding that Okorocha moved the motion against tenure elongation that was defeated at the NEC meeting. But Okorocha had an unexpected rebound when President Buhari capitulated and urged the holding of an elective national convention, even as he made a half-hearted plea for waiver to be granted members of Oyegun’s NWC that might wish to seek re-election.
Against the background of that addendum to the president’s motion, Oyegun and the group of governors behind him started nursing the ambition to seek re-election despite tell-tale signs that his kinsman, Oshiomhole was getting presidential endorsement. It took a meeting with Buhari at the Presidential Villa for Oyegun to rethink his ambition.
But before giving up and in a clever bid to ensure that the elective process favoured his ambition, Oyegun, with the help of Izunaso, skewed the distribution of congress materials and membership of committees for the ward, local government and state congresses.
At the end of the congresses, it was obvious that there were ulterior schemes afoot as several states held parallel congresses, while members of new Peoples Democratic Party (nPDP) complained of marginalization, stressing that they had been targeted for emasculation and political strangulation.
It took a meeting between the outgoing national chairman and Buhari for the former to perish the ambition for a second term in office, but the harm had already been done in the poodle presented by the parallel congresses.
The move against Okorocha began with the convocation of South-East leadership caucus meeting at Sheraton Hotel, Abuja, where all the three national officers allotted to the zone were, including Senator Izunaso, Chief George Muoghalu and Emmanuel Eneukwu, endorsed for automatic second term.
When he learnt of the meeting, which he described as a backstab and illegal, Governor Okorocha dismissed the endorsement, pointing out that it was unheard of that a zonal meeting should be held outside the zone and without the only governor in the zone in attendance.
That discord was to gain traction when Imo State governor mobilized his colleagues, particularly the NGF chairman, Yari, to ensure the elimination of Senator Ben Emeka Uwajumogu as the secretary of the convention planning committee. Nonetheless, the major battle ensued at the convention venue.
Sources at Eagle Square narrated how Kaduna State governor, Rufai, Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi and former Abia State governor, Orji Uzor Kalu, moved round the various states’ pavilions canvassing support for Izunaso.
To strengthen the move to outwit Okorocha and return Izunaso, Amaechi ensured that Rivers State delegates voted despite that a court injunction obtained by Senator Magnus Abe group barred them from so doing. While that was happening, Tinubu was said to have aligned with the camp loyal to Ogbonnaya Onu to ensure that Okorocha’s preferred candidate for the position of National Organising Secretary, Dr. Emmanuel Ebeniro, did not win.
The subtexts of intrigues that played out at the APC convention include designs by some southern politicians to gain dominance in the party structure for their 2023 presidential calculations and attempts to ensure favourable standing during the forthcoming nominations and party primary elections to produce candidates for the 2019 poll.
That Bunu was returned as national secretary despite his gubernatorial ambition was said to be sequel to representations made to the president not to carry all his political eggs in one basket as Inua, who was being penciled, was said to be too close an ally of Tinubu.
Some members of Buhari’s inner click hold Tinubu in suspicion and as such tried to curtail his expansionist schemes aimed at ventilating his 2023 presidential ambition. It was in furtherance of that ambition that was believed to have propelled Asiwaju to work against Okorocha, who is also believed to positioning himself for another attempt at clinching the APC presidential ticket after Buhari’s second term.
Defection aftermath on party structure
The exit of powerful politicians such as former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso and later, Senate President Bukola Saraki and Sokoto State governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, all of who served as effective counterbalancing forces, left yawning gaps in APC.
Emboldened by the exit of those eminent actors and enthronement of Oshiomhole as national chairman, as well as rapprochement with Buhari, Tinubu decided on a process of appropriating the party structure, knowing that Buhari’s desire for a second term would dispose him (the president) to his (Tinubu’s) whims.
Part of the takeover scheme was to weaken possible obstacles to the 2023 ambition. It is in the process of achieving that mandate that Okorocha, Senator Ibikunle Amosun and Abdullaziz Yari were made the three bland governors.
While Okorocha is associated with a possible presidential ambition, his Ogun State counterpart decided from early in the life of APC administration to check Tinubu’s political supremacy in South-West.
It would be recalled that Amosun effectively blocked Tinubu from nominating the Minister of Finance. Not that alone he exploited his closeness to Buhari to nurture other political actors, including Babatunde Fashola, Dr. Kayode Fayemi and Romtimi Akeredolu, to work for their political progression independent of the man on Bourdillon Street.
But while the three governors wielded powers, including chairmanship of the Progressive Governors’ Forum (Okorocha) and Nigeria Governors’ Forum (Yari) and closeness to Buhari (Amosun), their ambition for senatorial seats and desire to plant successors made them vulnerable.
In the grand plan to dominate and appropriate APC structure, Tinubu found Oshiomhole instrumental. As such starting from Lagos State, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, had to be sacrificed to give the veneer of democratic populism, while similar double standards were applied to diminish the three bland governors that are in their last terms.
It is therefore inscrutable that in all the grandstanding by APC national chairman, no other first term governor, particularly Governor Jibrilla Bindow, received a raw deal.
Oshiomhole versus the three bland governors
That the current APC crisis revolves around Oshiomhole and three state governors, whose ambition to midwife the election of their preferred successors points to 2023 as the remote cause.
Judging by the way the first term Lagos State governor, Ambode, was denied a second term ticket, especially APC chairman’s double speak, Oshiomhole, and by extension, Buhari, did not leave anybody in doubt that placed on a balance, it was easy to dispense with Ambode to please Tinubu.
By tackling Amosun, Yari and Okorocha, the former Edo governor must by now have seen that balancing Tinubu’s goodwill gestures for his elevation to the office with his (Tinubu’s) designs for the short (2019) and long (2023) term, would be part of the challenges awaiting reconciliation of all interests and tendencies that crept up before and during the convention.
On his part Tinubu must have chosen to hide behind Oshiomhole to undertake the internal cleansing of APC to ensure that potential threats to his absolute control are yanked out or downgraded.
As things stand in APC, Tinubu appears to be the only one who has nothing to lose and that makes his position precarious on the grounds that even Buhari would have no option than to continue humouring him until the February 16 presidential election holds.
With a pliable political godson secure with APC gubernatorial ticket in Lagos, it seems Oshiomhole and Buhari would only relate with Tinubu according to his own terms so as the avert a disastrous outing even when the former Lagos governor believes that a loss by Buhari positions him (Tinubu) effectively to be the ultimate dispenser of power and privilege in APC.
Going to electoral mart with three ‘damaged’ products
Recently, Tinubu admitted to journalists that although Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, is his friend, there was no way he would prefer him to Buhari.
What Asiwaju has not as yet volunteered his opinion on is whether APC, enmeshed in the current imbroglio as it is, has the potential to wage electoral battle successfully. Which engages his energy and political dexterity, electoral victory of Buhari or gubernatorial triumph of Babajide Sanwo-Olu in next year’s election? That is the crucial question for Tinubu.
His visit to the Presidential Villa, the second in a space of two weeks, must have been to examine not only the state of the party, but also to share perspectives on the election environment, particularly how APC could go into a major election with three damaged products.
The leader of the party, Buhari, has been the butt of curious jokes over his secondary school certificates, including the attestation and affidavit varieties. In Kano, Governor Abdullahi Ganduje is facing his detractors over the veracity of multiple videos showing a similar character hiding dollar bills in his flowing gown.
Then in Tinubu’s Lagos, his preferred gubernatorial candidate is bearing the burden of allegations of mental affliction and criminal records. Divided, as the ruling party is, how far can it go to defend its 2015 victory against PDP next year?
Both Amosun and Okorocha have made allegations of working at across-purposes against Tinubu. Despite Oshiomhole’s attempt to fight back, the question of cohesion within APC is one that requires collective response, especially against the background of moves by some governors and state chairmen to remove the national chairman.
Without doubt, Oshiomhole’s election as Oyegun’s successor was said to have been informed by his belligerent credentials as a former labour leader, but his strategies for reconciling all the contending interest groups in APC would show what manner of strongman he is. Would his reign be defined by moral strength or authoritarian flavour? Time will tell.