Saturday, 9th December 2023

Uzodimma, Kalu: Leading plot against APC’s zoning scheme

By Leo Sobechi, Deputy Politics Editor, Abuja
21 May 2022   |   4:08 am
There are three battlefronts within the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the Southern part of the country. They include the fight between Southwest and Southeast, intra-Southwest fight for the Presidency and schemes by pro-Northern Presidency Southern leaders of the party.

Uzodimma and Kalu

• Confronting Southwest’s ‘Divided’ House

There are three battlefronts within the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the Southern part of the country. They include the fight between Southwest and Southeast, intra-Southwest fight for the Presidency and schemes by pro-Northern Presidency Southern leaders of the party.
Checks by The Guardian show that the third battleground arose as a direct fall out of the fight between Southwest and Southeast for the APC Presidential ticket.
It was also gathered that the intra-Southwest fight for the top ticket followed internal contestation about a perceived political understanding about the issue of power rotation during the merger process. On one hand are those who believe that President Muhamadu Buhari promised to handover over to a former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, at the end of his second term.

On the other corner are those who contend that the agreement was with Southwest geopolitical zone and not specifically to a particular individual. And this camp is made up of APC chieftains who said that President Buhari indicated that he is disposed to handing over to a Southern Christian.
Leading the pack of the pro-Southwest jostle is the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, who insists that he was better placed to succeed his principal than any other. Others are outgoing Ekiti State governor and chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), Dr. John Kayode Fayemi, Pastor Tunde Bakare and current Deputy Senate Majority Leader, Prof. Robert Ajayi Borofice.
It was, however, gathered that the immediate past Ogun State governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, joined the race to undercut the delegate vote tally available to the Vice President, ostensibly to accentuate Tinubu’s votes.
While the contenders and spoilers continued to jostle for the APC Presidential ticket after coughing out the N100million cost of Expression of Interest (EOI) and nomination forms, some party leaders from the zone, namely Chief Bisi Akande and Segun Osoba, tried to moderate the combustive struggle for power.
The Guardian was informed by an inside source that the recent Lagos meeting of Presidential aspirants was convened by Akande and Osoba in a bid to trim down the number of aspirants and explore the possibility of throwing up Tinubu as the zone’s consensus candidate.   
Sources said Tinubu’s supporters see Osinbajo’s insistence on contesting as the greatest source of opposition to the national leader’s potential of picking the Presidential ticket. Yet, Osinbajo’s supporters think the former Lagos State governor was merely overreaching himself by defying his age and experience to join the fray with his former underlings.
That could explain why the political action group pressing for the VP’s Presidency, Progressive Lawyers for Osinbajo (PLO) wanted their principal to shun the Lagos meeting.
Sensing that the meeting was orchaestrated to prevail on the Vice President to step down and pave the way for Tinubu’s adoption as the consensus choice, convener of the group, Kayode Ajulo, had held that the confab lacked “the elements of credibility.”
Noting the preponderance of pro-Tinubu elements invited to the meeting as well as the venue-Lagos House, Marina-Ajulo had stated: “The composition of personalities invited for the meeting is a testament to our position that it is a sectional affair of the APC and not in the interest of the Southwest and Nigeria.
“This venue should not play host to such a meeting if it will be adjudged to be credible and fair. The meeting, if it is in the collective good of the people, should be held at a neutral location like Ibadan, Oyo State, or Akure, Ondo State.”

Zoning Versus Micro-zoning
ZONING of the Presidential slot had been at the centre of the political uncertainty within the APC. But, while the body language of the party’s leadership betrays a certain willingness to abide with the power rotation convention between the North and South of the country, the issue of which micro-unit or geopolitical zone in the South should have it remains contentious.
Riding on its famed contributions to the merger of former fringe political parties into APC, members of the Southwest leadership caucus of APC held unto a purported gentleman agreement in 2014 to the effect that President Buhari would hand over to a person from Southwest geopolitical zone after his two terms in office.
However, as the Southwest insisted that there was a strong understanding that was equivalent to an agreement, supporters of the national leader of the party, Tinubu, claimed that the President promised to hand over to him (Tinubu) in 2023.
Meanwhile, as the argument over whether the agreement was to zone the Presidency to Southwest or handover to Tinubu raged in the geopolitical zone, some members of the merger committees denied that there was any such agreement.
The stalemate at the Lagos meeting apart, APC chieftains from Southeast continued to agitate that it would not make sense for Southwest to seek to succeed Buhari after the eight years of Prof. Osinbajo as Vice President.
Yet, other APC leaders contend that the decision to conscript Osinbajo into the Presidential race was ostensibly to pave the way for the possible retention of the Presidency in the North. But, dismissing any such attempt to retain the Presidential office in the North after Buhari, Minister for Works and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola, declared that the understanding for the high office to move to the South was reached before the merger was consummated.
In spite of Southwest’s stalwart claims to succeed Buhari, APC chieftains from Southeast maintained that zoning would lose its essence if a particular section of the country is kept out of the leadership loop. Pointing at President Olusegun Obasanjo’s eight years and Osinbajo’s position as incumbent Vice President, the Southeast leaders declared that it was their turn to throw up the next President.
And, although Southwest leaders dismissed Southeast’s quest for the Presidential ticket in the claim that they should not hope to reap where they did not sow, the Southeast challenge helped to deepen the division among Southwest Presidential gladiators.

Tinubu in handshake with Osinbajo

Deputy Senate Majority Leader, Prof. Borofice, was about the only one Southwest Presidential aspirant absent from the Lagos meeting. And that in itself sparked off speculations that a compromise candidate has been planned to douse the division and bitter fight among the Muslim and Christian aspirants.
However, in an interview with some journalists in Abuja, the three-term Senator representing Ondo North Senatorial District explained that he could not make it to the meeting due to time constraint. He disclosed that by the time the Minister of Trade and Industries, Otunba Niyi Adebayo, sent the invitation across to him “only a person with a private jet could have made it from Abuja.”

However, while the Southwest was fighting within themselves in the quiet confidence that the APC Presidential standard bearer would emerge from their midst, their counterparts from the other two geopolitical zones, especially Southeast continued to lay claims to their demand for fairness and understanding.
While the immediate past Minister for Transportation, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, continued to run as the only legacy member from South/South in the race for the party’s Presidential ticket, he was later to be joined by his Niger Delta counterpart, Obong Godswill Obot Akpabio. Former APC national chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, who joined the race ostensibly to shore up Tinubu’s chances was to withdraw later and concentrate on his weight category, the race for Edo North Senatorial seat.
Faced with the mounting odds, Southeast aspirants devised a way to propel consideration of their zone in the calculations about which zone picks the Presidential ticket.
For instance, while Governor David Nweze Umahi of Ebonyi State continued in the race as the only Southeast governor in the race, the Senate Chief Whip, Orji Uzor Kalu, continued to insist that unless the ticket was micro-zoned to Southeast, he would not bother purchasing the forms.  
Nonetheless, the claim that Southeast does not have enough qualified party faithful in the race was botched when two Ministers-Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu and Emeka Nwajiuba- threw the hats in the ring.
It would be recalled that when Tinubu paid a visit to Kalu’s Asokoro residence, hopes were raised that a possible Southwest and Southeast political understanding was afoot. Coming at a time when a member of the merger committee that birthed APC, Mr. Osita Okechukwu, pleaded with Tinubu to remain a kingmaker, there were speculations that the two geopolitical zones would raise a common front.
Okechukwu, who is the Director General of Voice of Nigeria (DG, VON), had reasoned that the Southern caucus of APC could forge a united front if Tinubu looks for a younger Presidential aspirant from Southeast to support instead of continuing with his aspiration.

Orji’s letters versus Uzodimma’s schemes
BUT, signs that no such alliance or political collaboration was in the making emerged as the party planned its national convention to elect a new National Working Committee (NWC).
The Senate Chief Whip in a letter to President Buhari and chairman of the then Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC), Governor Mai Mala Buni, prayed the party to delay the convention to such a time that it would coincide with the Presidential primary.

Those who kicked against the suggestion, including the former Director General (DG) of Progressive Governors’ Forum (PGF), Dr. Saliu Lukman, accused Kalu of flying a kite for a hidden agenda. It was also alleged that Kalu was working in cahoots with some Northeast chieftains of the party on the possibility of fielding a Northeast Presidential candidate and Southeast Presidential running mate.   
At the time, words started making the rounds that Kalu was rooting for the Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, in a clever political stratagem that could throw him (Kalu) up as a potential Vice Presidential candidate.
Yet, while the Senate Chief Whip was at his game, Imo State governor, Senator Hope Uzodimma, was busy scheming for the emergence of Senator Ali Modu Sheriff as the APC national chairman. Sources close to Sheriff confided in The Guardian that Uzodimma’s game plan was that based on President Buhari’s determination to handover to a Southerner in 2023, Sheriff’s emergence would place him (Uzodimma) in a pole position to become the party’s Presidential standard bearer.   
With the collapse of Sheriff’s plan to become APC national chairman and the dogged fight by Southwest Presidential aspirants to net the party’s ticket, Uzodimma joined Kalu in the Lawan for President campaign in the hope that one of them would be running mate as well as taking the wind out of the sails of Southwest aspirants.
As these political forces cross their strategic swords, it would be seen in the coming week whether Amaechi, Umahi, Borofice or Lawan would be the ultimate beneficiaries as compromise candidate at the make or mar APC national convention.