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Secret plots against 2023, zoning amid APC, PDP intrigues

By Leo Sobechi (Assistant Politics Editor)
01 December 2020   |   4:25 am
Five broad issues seem to be fueling upheavals surrounding the buildup to the 2023 election cycle, which is less than two years away.

Buhari. Photo; TWITTER/NIGERIAGOV

Five broad issues seem to be fueling upheavals surrounding the buildup to the 2023 election cycle, which is less than two years away. These issues include President Muhammadu Buhari’s performance and leadership style, arguments for and against zoning of the presidential slot, simmering crisis within the governing All Progressives Congress (APC), mutual suspicion within the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and calls by ethnic nationalities for restructuring the governance organogram of the country.

Despite the general climate of insecurity arising from banditry and kidnapping across various parts of the country, calculations and scheming by politicians have continued to fuel suspense and uncertainty in the country.

Governance would soon take the back seat, especially as state governors engage in round-the-clock politicking and deliberating about who goes where in 2023. The situation has become so tensed that penultimate week, no less than three northern state governors relocated their weekly state executive council meetings to Abuja.

But as the politicians scheme, some citizens express worry that 2023 may not turn out peaceful, particularly given recollections that democracy had not gained much-needed experience and traction in terms of strengthening the institutions.

Furthermore, strident calls for restructuring by ethnic nationalities, especially plans by the Middle Belt or North Central geopolitical zone to align with the South on the issue of restructuring make the horizon cloudy as far as 2023 election is concerned.

It could be against the background of this threat of dissembling by the North Central that immediate past President of Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, declared recently that the geopolitical zone would determine the future of Nigeria.

Although Saraki was alluding to the huge economic potential of the geopolitical zone and its contribution to Nigeria’s development, he contended that the North Central region deserves every consideration that others expect, noting that the zone should also be seen as belonging to Nigeria and not a mere numerical appendage.

Yet some commentators expressed the view that the North Central geopolitical zone does not possess the cohesion and political stamina to determine the future of things in the country. Those who doubt North Central’s ability to serve as the pilot of Nigeria’s future point to the existence of disparate cleavages, including the Middle Belt Forum and the North Central Peoples Forum, as denying the zone of the necessary unity to assert itself decisively.

However, as the North Central, which ordinarily helps the north to exercise dominance, has decided to take its destiny in its hand, it is possible that no single zone would arrogate to itself the power to do and undo things come 2023in Nigerian politics.

Consequently, even if the NCPF panders to the political whims of the North and the MBF tags on with South, the balance of political forces would without doubt force the stakeholders to the discussion table. That, to an extent is a pointer to the possibility of more alliances and mutual assurances.

In the last analysis, every calculation for the 2023 presidential poll points to the reality that partisan inclinations would continue to generate heat as the days go by.

Buhari’s ‘performance’
NOTHING evidences President Buhari’s performance in office than the plethora of aspirants rearing to succeed him and the level of insecurity in the country. When he campaigned to be president, Nigerian electorate believed that as a former military officer, the President would deploy his military expertise to dislodge the Boko Haram insurgents. That was after former opposition politicians rallied round his famed integrity to build a multi-party alliance to gift him with a consensus presidential ticket.

Five years in the saddle as President, despite health challenges that defined his first term, Buhari has not battled Boko Haram and corruption to a standstill, but succeeded in raising the country to the despiteful height as the world’s poverty capital.

Without alluding to his performance, President Buhari had, during a National Executive Committee (NEC) of APC, warned his fellow party faithful to be careful and ensure that the party did not unravel after his tenure in 2023. Ever since he made that observation, state governors elected on the party’s platform began moves to possess the party structure as well as model it in such a way as to make it remain competitive for the 2023 electoral battle.

The governors’ schemes not only led to the dismantling of the party’s National Working Committee (NWC) that was elected in August 2018, but also the coupling of an unconstitutional National Caretaker and Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (NCECPC) led by one of them, the governor of Yobe State, Alhaji Mai Mala Buni.

Atiku

Although Buni had, prior to his election as governor, served as APC National Secretary, his selection as chairman of NCECPC sent shockwaves in the minds of party faithful, with some explaining the choice as part of the long term plan to raise Buhari’s successor from the Northeast geopolitical zone.

By choosing to be aloof and remain behind the scene, Buhari subtly encouraged the frenzy over the 2023 politics that has become a huge source of distraction within his administration.

Peeved by the prevailing scramble for political positions in the governing party, the main opposition PDP blamed Buhari’s poor leadership, saying that APC governors have unwittingly sidelined the President due to his failure to rise to the challenge. While claiming that the President has been reduced to a ‘lame duck’, PDP, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said the APC leaders’ actions “were being driven by the manifest failure of the Buhari administration in all sectors of national life.”

The main opposition party noted that the “frenzy at which the APC has commenced the 2023 election campaign further confirmed that the APC leadership is now looking beyond its current structure and government, apparently having realised that the next three years under Buhari would be a waste.”

PDP stated: “The underground moves by APC leaders to disown the Buhari administration, given its failures, the conversation about possible change of their party’s name as well as the plot to destabilise the PDP are signs of desperation to hold onto power despite APC’s failures and explicit rejection by Nigerians.

“The attitude and character of the APC have manifestly shown that it is mortally afraid to stand election in 2023, given that Nigerians have seen through their antics and are determined not to have anything to do with such a deceitful, beguiling, divisive and incompetent party in future elections.

“APC has shown that it is a party without conscience; the reason it has failed, in the last five years, to bring together a Board of Trustees that ought to serve as the custodian of its supposed ideals and principles.”

Some observers have also noted that President Buhari’s refusal to change the service chiefs in spite of increasing evidence of lack of distinguished exploits is to avert a possible push for regime change. The Presidency’s recent clampdown of #ENDSARS protesters is evident of how jittery the government is.

The Northern Elders Forum (NEF) have been steadfast in its calls on President Buhari to sack the service chiefs and inject fresh blood in the fight against insecurity in the country, especially the Boko Haram insurgency.

NEF has repeatedly expressed the belief that the service chiefs, whose tenure had long elapsed, have run of out of ideas. Shortly after the #EndSARS protests that rocked various parts of the country, NEF urged Buhari to deploy similar energy with which he promptly dissolved SARS to dispense with the service chiefs.

In a statement titled, “Northern Elders Forum on Developments Related to Policing Nigeria,” the group said the security situation in the country has become a source of national embarrassment. According to the statement signed by its Director, Publicity and Advocacy, Dr. Hakeem Baba Ahmed, the forum stated: “NEF demands that the spirit deployed against SARS should be visited on policing and securing the north.

“We further demand a complete overhaul of our policing and security agencies, starting with the removal of Service Chiefs and the involvement of responsible opinion in initiatives that will address the manner the nation is designed to be policed and secured.

“We appeal to fellow Nigerians to show the highest levels of restraint and maturity in the manner we organize the defence of our rights. Under no circumstances should we encourage acts that increase our exposure to crime, lawlessness and insecurity.

“There have been many abuses that ought to have been checked by this and earlier administrations, but were ignored or treated with levity owing to very low levels of respect for accountability.

“It is a sad commentary on the manner this administration approaches sensitive matters such as security of citizens that it had to be forced into taking this decision after serious damage to the integrity and credibility of our policing and security institutions.”

Zoning brouhaha
THE issue of zoning has never been as contentious as in the buildup to the 2023 election cycle. In the period leading to the 2015 poll, the general singsong among politicians from the north was that the unwritten power rotation arrangement demands that the north should take over from former President Goodluck Jonathan.

Currently within the two big political parties – the governing APC and main opposition PDP – the question of which region between the north and south should throw up Buhari’s successor is at the centre of schemes.

For APC, stakeholders from Northeast claim that there was an unwritten agreement between the Presidency and their leaders that in the event of its support for President Buhari’s re-election with massive votes, it would be reciprocated by supporting a candidate from the zone to succeed Buhari in 2023.

Sources within APC disclosed that immediately President Buhari was inaugurated for a second term in office, APC stalwarts from Northeast began making moves to ensure that the zone produces the party’s presidential standard-bearer come 2023.

The dissolution of the party’s National Working Committee (NWC), led by Adams Oshiomhole and the creation of a National Caretaker and Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (NCECPC), headed by the Yobe State governor, Buni, were said to be the first step towards actualizing the promise made to the Northeast prior to the 2019 poll.

As if acting on the intelligence, some critical stakeholders in PDP argue that since the power rotation arrangement within the party produced a southern President in the person of Jonathan, the north should still retain the right to produce the next presidential candidate in 2023.

Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, had in the build up to the Edo State governorship election stated that PDP was mindful of winning election, arguing that zoning comes when you are in power. Similarly, some PDP chieftains from Southeast geopolitical zone believe that since restructuring remains central to a better Nigeria, the Atiku/Obi joint ticket should be retained in 2023.

Sources within the opposition party confided in The Guardian that it was based on this knowledge that PDP has resolved to retain the Atiku/Obi ticket that prompted Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi, to jump ship and settled for APC.

Yet, troubled by PDP’s resolve to represent the Atiku/Obi presidential ticket, chieftains of the governing APC continue to adopt shifting positions on the issue of zoning. Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, came out recently to admonish his fellow APC leaders to cease from further underhand schemes to breach the zoning arrangement agreed by the party in the course of its merger talks.

Fashola

Noting that the agreement was a gentleman’s gesture, Fashola, who was Lagos State governor, asserted that although Nigeria’s Constitution does not provide for a zoning formula, “it is a matter of honour for parties who had entered into such agreements to stay true to their words.”

Fashola maintained that the constitution that sets up the requirements of political party formation does not prescribe zoning, stressing: “If people made an agreement, as a matter of honour, they should keep to the terms of their agreement, whether it is written or verbal. The truth is that what makes an agreement efficacious is the honour with which it is made, not whether it is written or verbal.”

It was gathered from sources within the Presidency that Fashola must have spoken against the background of claims by some northern political actors that since Northwest and Southwest have been holding sway from 2015, fairness demands that Northeast and Southeast be allowed to succeed President Buhari.

Some APC bigwigs contend that the entire argument about zoning the 2023 presidential slot was predicated on the avowed determination of some northern leaders to ensure that former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, was not allowed to succeed Buhari. It was gathered that during the merger talks among the legacy former opposition parties, northern delegates cleverly insisted that the idea of zoning was not included in the party’s constitution, describing it as “unconstitutional and contentious.”

Despite the fact that APC campaigned for power shift to the north in 2015, after Buhari mounted the saddle, politicians from the zone began to harp on merit as opposed to zoning of political offices as basis of leadership selection. First to drop the clangor was President Buhari’s nephew, Mamman Daura, who dismissed the clamour for zoning.

Also, Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai contended that everybody who is qualified should be given equal opportunity to contest political positions. As if alluding to the experience of the past five years, el-Rufai argued that zoning would lead to inefficiency.

The Kaduna State governor told the audience at the Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG) in Abuja: “There is no country in the world that has made progress in the last 50 years that rotates its leaders. I think if we move away from this fixation about distribution to selecting or picking the best person to get the job done… when the job is done, everybody benefits. Right now, we are distributing this and we are not making any progress because the focus is on distribution.”

APC recurring troubles
ON surface value, the makeup of APC consisted of All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Action of Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Democratic Peoples Party (DPP) and a splinter of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), but leaders of ACN and CPC carry on as if they are the only owners of the platform.

Then outside political party circles, President Buhari and Tinubu believe that they are the prime movers of APC, even as Tinubu goes away with the inner confidence that he welded the merger that produced APC. On the basis of the contradicting postures and expectations, APC has continued to search for a staying idea outside the persons of Buhari and Tinubu.

While Tinubu and the Southwest caucus of APC believe that they powered the party and Buhari to defeat PDP in 2015, Buhari and his inner circle believe that Tinubu’s claim of being the alter ego of the party, including adopting the title of national leader is a direct negation of the fact that APC has a President.

Although the two leaders – Buhari and Tinubu – applied maturity in managing their differences, their acolytes have continued to wage underground battles of wits, leading to misunderstanding and structural imbalance in the party. The mis-steps at the election of principal officers of the 8th National Assembly were the direct fallout of the internal contradictions in APC. On top of that, the party could not have a board of trustees or council of elders as suggested until the pioneer national chairman, Chief John Odigie Oyegun, who came from the ANPP flank, was denied a second term in office.

While the ACN flank exulted in producing the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo and the second national chairman of APC in Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, the CPC flank consoled itself with the Presidency and bided for time. That time came when Oshiomhole got entangled in a supremacy battle with his erstwhile state governor, Godwin Obaseki. The powers that-be wasted no time in appropriating the APC structure to the dismay of the Southwest and ACN flank.

The visit of the interim national chairman, Bisi Akande, Segun Osoba and other Southwest leaders on President Buhari penultimate week was ostensibly to register Southwest’s displeasure at the unfolding drama of obvious attempts to sideline them and incorporate former opponents from the Southeast.

Southeast decoy
IN the seeming loss of amity between the Presidency and Southwest caucus of APC, some party leaders from the north have been looking in the direction of Southeast as the new bride. In perfecting the decoy, Southeast is being made to appreciate possible presidential support for the 2023 Presidency, so that at the eleventh hour the anointed northern candidate from the Northeast would emerge.

A source in APC told The Guardian in confidence that at a meeting between Tinubu and Ambassador Babagana Kingibe last December in Abuja, the former Lagos State governor told Kingibe that the plans to use superior delegate numbers to rob the south of the presidency would lead to a waterloo for APC unless it was done through consensus.

The source explained that instead of jolting the presidency, the information about the meeting excited strategic conversations, which according to him threw up the plan to “engage the Southeast and exploit their political naivety.”

It would be recalled that former Chief of Staff to the President, Mallam Abba Kyari, was at the forefront of campaigns for Southeast to be considered for the 2023 presidency. The Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, had prior to the 2019 poll at a rally in Owerri, enjoined Nd’Igbo to vote for President Buhari, stressing that doing so was their shortest way to the presidency in 2023.

Currently, APC leaders in Southeast are upbeat, bubbling with optimism that the zone would be supported for the presidency. Imo State governor, Senator Hope Uzodimma, perhaps out of enthusiasm as the APC leader in the zone, told State House correspondents recently, “Everybody that is not in APC now in the Southeast is a target. It is not only governors. It includes the entire political class.”

If the fishing expedition, according to Uzodimma, “is to have all politicians in the zone in APC,” it could not be ascertained whether promises or concessions being made to them are written in black and white, or it is another gentleman’s agreement in the making as was given to the Southwest in 2014.

Southwest fight back
BUT, not to be outplayed in the game of wits, the Southwest flank of APC, after noticing the scheme to limit their relevance towards the 2023 calculations, decided to wake sleeping dogs through litigation. Members of the Oshiomhole faction of APC NWC that are said to be loyal to Tinubu approached an Abuja Federal High Court, praying for the reinstatement of the dissolved working committee, which members were duly elected at the party’s convention.

Buni

The group, led by Mr. Hilliard Etagboeta, contended that the Buni-led NCECPC is an interloper, stressing that its existence does not receive the blessing of the party’s constitution. Joined in the suit are members of NCECPC, specifically Governor Buni, Sen. John Akpan Udoedehe, the National Secretary, Isiaka Oyetola, Sani Bello, Stella Oketete and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

A look at the originating summons shows that unless wise counsel prevails, the litigation would mar the progress of APC, especially its plans to undertake membership registration and hold its national convention. When the court sits on the matter, it would examine among other claims, “whether having regard to Section 183 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) and Article 17 (iv) of the Constitution of All Progressives Congress (APC) it is an illegality and a void act for a person to hold an executive office in government simultaneously with an office in any organ of the All Progressives Congress (APC) at any level, in whatever capacity.”

Other issues formulated for determination by the plaintiffs include, “Whether having regard to Section 183 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Articles 20()a), 170) and (iv) of the Constitution of the All Progressives Congress (APC), only persons who are not disqualified from holding office by virtue of the Constitution may run the affairs of the party including the holding of National Conventions and Congresses of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

“Whether an act perpetuated in violation of Section 183 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), Article 17(iii) and (iv) and 20) of the Constitution of the APC is void ab initio, conferring or extinguishing no legal rights whatsoever.”

If the court resolves the claims in favour of the plaintiffs, it would grant the prayers of the plaintiffs by setting aside and nullifying the appointment and constitution of the 1st to 5th defendants into a caretaker/extraordinary convention planning committee of the all progressives congress (APC).

Furthermore, the 6th respondent, INEC, would be restrained by a perpetual injunction from recognising and or continuing to recognise the 1st to 5th defendants as National Chairman, National Secretary or members respectively of the NCECPC of APC.

David Umahi

PDP pretentions
THE fact that most of the state governors elected on the platform of PDP are serving out the last constitutional terms of their mandate is behind the quiet agitation for a review of the zoning arrangement, especially concerning elective party positions.

The defection of Governor Umahi of Ebonyi State raised concerns as to whether some of his colleagues were also planning to change platform to pursue their political future. Of the four PDP governors from the north, only the Sokoto and Taraba chief executives, Alhaji Aminu Waziri Tambuwal and Architect Darius Ishaku, are on their final term.

While Tambuwal contested the presidential ticket in 2018, there are indications that he might contest again or go to the Senate where he is most likely to emerge President of Senate if PDP sustains the Atiku/Obi joint presidential ticket.

But, given the covert moves by Rivers State governor, Wike, to insist on a Tambuwal presidential run, the forthcoming national convention of the party could prove ominous for the main opposition PDP, particularly against the background of attempts to zone the national chairmanship position to Southwest.

Some PDP chieftains from the north are said to be tinkering with the idea of getting fresh hands to run the party so as to create the impression that the party does not belong to a cult or dynasty. It was gathered that PDP might witness another cycle of defections if the governors do not have their way.

Amid apprehension raised by Umahi’s defection, Bauchi State governor, Bala Mohammed and his Benue counterpart, Dr. Samuel Ortom, denied any plans to join the governing party, just as Ortom disclosed that APC had been making overtures to him, which he said he declined pointedly.

But all eyes remain on the Zamfara State chief executive, Bello Matawalle, especially after he congratulated Umahi for “his bold decision to defect from PDP to APC.” In a statement through his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Zailani Baffa, Matawalle noted that bad blood in PDP pushed Umahi to defect.

He warned: “If this trend of generating bad blood amongst us continues unabated, our great party will increasingly be on the receiving end as we move towards the year 2023. I am having a very bad experience of late from some of my PDP governor colleagues, which I still find very puzzling.”

Restructuring calls
ONE issue that constantly occupies the centre of socio-political discourses in Nigeria is restructuring. President Buhari and the APC administration have been giving cold shoulders to the cries for the nation’s political and economic fabric to be restructured along the lines of true federalism.

There is no doubt that restructuring would define the ultimate outcome of 2023 presidential poll. In their Ibadan declaration, Southwest leaders have since pointed out that the 2023 election might not hold after all unless the country returns to the 1963 structure, when the constitution recognised internal regional autonomy.

Again, during their meeting with a delegation from the presidency, led by the Chief of Staff to the President, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, Yoruba leaders demanded equal treatment of all parts of the nation, urging President Buhari to ensure that Nigeria reverts to true federalism so as to avert a crisis similar to the #ENDSARS protests.

Also adding their voices, traditional rulers from the Southwest tasked the Federal Government to devolve more powers to the states, especially in areas of security and economy, stressing that unless that was done, the country could witness another mayhem worse than what happened during the protests.

How far would the ongoing attempts to push the Southwest back to opposition help the cause of the northern APC leaders or raise a third force? Would the anticipated dribbling of the Southeast into playing a second fiddle strengthen the governing party or provide leeway for PDP’s eventual triumph? 2023 could turn out as another tough election year!