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Power sharing schemes worsen APC’s zoning confusion

By Leo Sobechi, Assistant Politics Editor and Adamu Abuh (Abuja)
18 April 2021   |   4:27 am
The recent confusion over the veracity of the list spelling out zoning format for elective public and party offices preparatory to the 2023 General Elections by the governing All Progressives Congress...

Muhammadu Buhari PHOTO: Twitter

• Fears For Nigeria’s Governing Party

The recent confusion over the veracity of the list spelling out zoning format for elective public and party offices preparatory to the 2023 General Elections by the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) came up as part of the worrisome symptoms of the simmering disquiet threatening the party’s cohesion.

The release of the controversial zoning format, as well as its immediate repudiation by the party’s leadership showed that each passing day, President Muhammadu Buhari’s warning that APC should not be allowed to become history after his exit in 2023, continues to bear credence.

President Buhari’s ominous observation was made known to party stakeholders during their March 2020 National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting held at the National Secretariat of APC in Abuja.
From hindsight, it is evident that that particular NEC meeting was about the only properly convened gathering of the party’s leaders, because at subsequent ones, the very malaise the APC leader complained about had started manifesting acute symptoms.

For instance, in June 2020, when an emergency NEC held at the Presidential Villa, it was to sack the Comrade Adams Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee (NWC) of the party.
But, even summoning the meeting was subject to contentions and divisions over the procedure and constitutional stipulations. Was the then Deputy National Secretary, Chief Victor Giadom, the rightful person to act as chairman in the absence of the national chairman and Deputy National Chairman (South)? Those were the issues that dogged the NEC meeting, which ultimately extinguished the Oshimhole era in APC.
Intriguingly, a former Lagos governor and national leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, used the opportunity of the sacking of Oshiomhole to sound his own warning bell to fellow party faithful, which he accused of threatening the corporate existence of APC with their narrow political ambitions.
In the widely publicised statement titled, “Becoming the Party We Were Intended to Be,” Tinubu lamented that despite the economic challenges confronting the country, some party leaders failed to reflect on its burden on the Buhari administration, but chose to focus on elective offices they want to occupy from 2023.
While commending the sacked NWC, Tinubu noted: “Under their collective stewardship, the party earned great and important victories, not least the vital second mandate handed to President Buhari. President Buhari’s victory, and the overall electoral success of APC speak highly of them.

“Our task as a party is to build upon the progress thus made, so that both nation and party may advance to their better future. Yet, we must acknowledge that something important has gone off track.
“For some months, we have experienced growing disagreement within the leadership of the party. This unfortunate competition had grown so intense as to impair the performance of the NWC, thus undermining the internal cohesion and discipline vital to success.
“Some people have gone so far as to predict the total disintegration of our party. Most (of) such dire predictions were from critics, whose forecasts said more about their ill will than they revealed about our party’s objective condition.”

2023 Schemes
TINUBU had, in his statement, noted: “predictions of APC’s imminent demise are premature and mostly mean-spirited. However, an honest person must admit the party had entered a space where it had no good reason to be.”

The contending issues of where the party’s presidential standard-bearer and members of the NWC would come from constitute the immediate challenges confronting the governing party, which has “entered a space it had no reason to be.”
While some state governors, who are in their second and final constitutional term in office, are scheming to have the presidential slot zoned to the Southern part of the country, others insist on retaining the Presidency in the Northern part.

In the midst of that division within the fold of the Progressives Governors, there is a group of prominent stakeholders that want the party to remain faithful to its founding promise of rotating presidential and legislative positions between the North and South.
Yet, it was discovered that some APC state governors, who want the presidential ticket to be ceded to the South, are doing so in the fervent hope of possibly emerging as presidential running mates. Sources disclosed that even from among the group of governors eyeing the presidential running mate position, some are scheming for the emergence of the next national chairman from the North as to preclude the zone from angling for the 2023 presidency.  
Roiling the party further in the ongoing clash of ambitions is the ongoing efforts to push forward the party’s national convention from June to the last quarter of the year. Those pushing for the delay in organizing the convention, it was gathered, are cleverly scheming for further lifeline to the Governor Mai Mala Buni-led Caretaker and Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) through another elongation.

The Guardian gathered that it was in the midst of the plots and counterplots within APC that the contentious zoning formula, which gave the Vice Presidential slot to the North, was leaked exclusive of NEC ratification. The list also touched on NWC formations by identifying the North as the zone to produce Oshiomhole’s substantive successor.

A glance at the disputed list showed that the following positions and zones: President (South): Vice President (North); President of Senate (South); Deputy Senate President (North); Speaker, House of Representatives (North) and Deputy Speaker (South).

For NWC positions, the list indicated that the North would produce the national chairman, Financial Secretary, Legal Officer and Auditor, while persons from the South would occupy the following offices -National Secretary, Treasurer, Welfare Officer, National Youth Leader and National Women’s Leader, Publicity Secretary and PWD (People With Disability) Leader.
But, no sooner had the list started making the rounds on the social media than the CECPC, through its Secretary, Senator John Akpanudoedehe, dismissed it as illegitimate and fictitious. Akpanudoedehe denied that the party has endorsed any zonal arrangement ahead of the 2023 presidential election.

The CECPC Secretary stated:  “People interested in running for one office or the other can speculate. As far as I am concerned, at the last Caretaker Committee meeting we had, we did not discuss that.
“That is not what we are concerned with now. What we are concerned with is data collection, is how to collect data without making mistakes. We are not going to be pressurized by sentiments and then we do the wrong thing.
“Let me say that zoning is not for the Caretaker Committee alone. It has to do with the President; it has to do with other major stakeholders. It has to do with a lot of people.
“I want to mute the speculation. The list is not from us (Caretaker Committee). There is no way such a decision will be taken without consulting with the President, consulting with the governors and other major stakeholders.”
It could be perhaps due to his fear that the unfolding scheming for positions could mar the collective vision, unity and progress of the party that Tinubu declared in his statement that “a political party that has lost sight of the reason for its existence becomes but the vehicle of blind and clashing ambitions.”
Stressing that APC was not founded for pursuit of personal vision, Tinubu regretted that while “those most intimately involved in founding the party remain faithful. Sadly, many members have lost their balance. Their personal ambition apparently came to greatly outweigh the obvious national imperatives.”

Balancing Presidency, Chairmanship
The situation in APC holds out curious scenarios. For instance, granted that a greater percent of party faithful, including members of the party’s various caucuses, favour the consensus choice of former Nasarawa State governor, Alhaji Tanko Al Makura (TAL) for the position of national chairman, the party is at odds on how to pacify South/South stakeholders.

Stakeholders from South/South geopolitical zone are engaging in subdued grumbling over the truncation of the tenure of the office that was zoned to them through the premature sacking of Oshiomhole. Sources within the party confided in The Guardian, that the quiet moves to elongate the tenure of the CECPC was informed by concerns over the rumble from South/South. He explained that the popular argument among the Progressives Governors is that the convention should hold in June to avoid possible uprising from the South/South.

“The governors believe that if the convention holds in June, a mid term convention in 2023 would ratify the election of TAL or any other candidate from North Central, because by then the issue of which zone to produce the Presidential flag bearer would have been resolved,” he stated.

But, South/South APC leaders counter that they may not have credible explanation to give to their people for the party’s decision to throwaway Oshiomhole and the bathtub of NWC. They maintain that the argument that leaving the office of national chairman in South/South would not only deny the zone of the presidential ticket, but also confer undue advantages to the chairman’s clique or sponsors.

Yet, supporters of the Presidential aspiration of the Transportation Minister, Chibuike Amaechi, say the idea of zoning the national chairmanship to the North is a strong statement that APC was resolute about zoning the Presidency to the South in 2023.

In the final analysis, the greatest challenge confronting APC leaders seems to be how to draw a balance between which region produces the 2023 Presidential standard-bearer and national chairman respectively.

Although the APC constitution did not contemplate the unfolding puzzles, it is debatable that the South has been dealt the short end of the stick in the distribution of party offices as some stakeholders allege.

The party’s failure to consummate its Board of Trustees or Elders Committee has been cited as part of the North’s calculated desire to maintain a Lion share control of governance and party administration, in the bid to ensure that President Buhari remains the absolute leader.

But, APC stakeholders from the North recall that contention between former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and Tinubu’s supporters on who was more qualified to be chairman of Board of Trustees led to the kite of Elders’ Committee.

Northern APC leaders also told The Guardian that the creation of CECPC, which Tinubu and other Southern Stakeholders upheld, was a child of circumstance, remarking that every member of the party saw that certain things were not sitting well for the party after its hurried amalgamation.

As things stand currently, the quiet power struggle among the Progressives Governors on one hand and members of the two legacy parties, Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and Congress for Progressives Congress (CPC) is at the root of the troubled decision-making in the governing party.

Fear Of Defeat
DESPITE the bold face presented by APC leaders, most of the stakeholders harbour some apprehension over the party’s ability to retain its hold on the levers of federal political power.

Director General of Progressives Governors’ Forum (PGF), Dr. Salihu Lukman, was the first stakeholder to express fears about APC’s prospects of retaining power after President Buhari’s tenure expires in 2023.

To demonstrate the level of his concern over the perceived dwindling zeal for victory in APC, Dr. Lukman denounced publicly the attempt to ratify another extension of CECPC’s tenure, stressing that failure to conduct the national convention in June would spell doom for the party.

The DG, apart from slamming the Governor Buni-led caretaker committee over the extension of APC membership registration and revalidation exercise, said plans to extend the committee’s tenure “has strengthened the suspicion that the CECPC will not organise the national convention for new party leadership to be elected before the end of the year.

It would be recalled that the registration exercise scheduled to end on March 31, 2021 was last week extended by three more weeks by the caretaker committee, despite that its tenure in office expires in June this year.

The PGF boss also frowned at the 13 member Buni committee’s refusal to convene statutory meetings of the party, apart from the December 8, 2020 Emergency NEC meeting at the presidential villa, where its tenure was extended to June 2021. 
In a statement titled “APC’s Litmus Tests” Dr. Lukman said the development is indicative that the party is being denied wider participation of leaders and members in the decision-making process of the party as was the case before the NWC dissolution by NEC in June last year.

While warning against further tenure extension for the CECPC, the DG called for the immediate setting up of Congress committees for the conduct of national convention. He declared that the conduct of the APC national convention in June this year is in line with the mandate of the caretaker committee.

Contemporaneously, the PGF boss said his fears were based on the realisation that APC’s electoral advantage in the 2015 and 2019 polls was more on account of President Buhari’s presence in the party. 
In a subsequent statement entitled “Determining Factors for 2023 Contests in APC,” Lukman insisted that as things stand presently, “there is yet to be another chieftain of the party with the electoral profile of President Buhari.”

The PGF DG, who contested the Kaduna State governorship primary in 2015, said part of the landmark contributions by APC to Nigerian politics, apart from the successful political merger of opposition parties in 2013 and the defeat of the ruling PDP in 2015, was that all those who contested the primary election with President Buhari accepted the results and declared support for his candidature.

“How the party is able to manage the process of internal contest is now the challenge. The biggest problem in politics, which compromises both leaders and members and weakens capacity to provide generic support to candidates irrespective of who emerges is the personal ambitions of leaders for elective and appointive positions,” he surmised.

The question, which only APC leaders could answer is, with the current posturing of ambitious governors and some powerful godfathers that harbour some sense of entitlement, would it be possible to forge similar consensus in 2023?