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APC Convention blues and concerns for 2023 polls

By Leo Sobechi (Deputy Politics Editor) and Tina Abeku, Abuja
02 April 2022   |   3:10 am
There were many things that can be described as oddities in the recent national convention of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), which held at Eagle Square, Abuja.

Nigeriaís president Muhammadu Buhari speaks during Nigeriaís ruling political party, the All Progressive Congress, national convention in Abuja, Nigeria, March 26, 2022

There were many things that can be described as oddities in the recent national convention of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), which was held at the Eagle Square, Abuja.

Chief among the oddities was the invitation of Master G. G as a guest artist to perform the wave-making Jerusalema hit song.

In Master G. G’s place, Nigeria’s inimitable Afrobeat legend, Abamieda, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, would have been a better entertainer, particularly with his array of crowd-moving hits. Fela would have opened the floor with Army arrangement, because there were many Government Chicken Boys, performing the Government Magic.

Fela would not have presented Unknown Soldier or Suffering and Smiling, even though it was obvious that in the situation where 44 persons were programmed to sit, the 99 people that were kept standing grumbled that they were not Beasts of No Nation.

However, it was in the spirit of #EndSARS that the barricade festooned with various APC insignia was pushed down by the throng of angry delegates who were pained by the air of austerity that pervaded the convention ground.

The setting was much like when secondary school students were taking their West African School Certificate Examination (WASCE). People scampered in search of expo on the original or authentic Unity List of selected and anointed members-to-be of the incoming National Working Committee (NWC) of the party.

From the Katsina State Liaison at Asokoro, where the screening of national chairmanship aspirants took place, action dangled between the Presidency and the Nasarawa State Liaison, where the lists were being vetted and endorsed by the governors.

Abuja, Nigeria’s federal capital, was turned into a huge theatre. In spite of the biting fuel scarcity, the city is thronged with much human and vehicular traffic. Hotels increased their room rates by as much as 30 per cent. Food vendors got ready for increased sales as Nigerians from across the 36 states converged on Abuja.

At the convention on Saturday, March 26, hopes were dashed. There was despondency in the air. Worse hit by the difference between expectation and reality were convention delegates, particularly some aspirants to various national and zonal offices of the party.

At Uthako, some delegates from the Southern part of the country were heard grumbling that there was no hotel booking for them, even as they accused an unnamed official of disappearing from the scene immediately they arrived Abuja.

But, while the delegates grappled with the disappointment over the lack of competition among contestants, which would have made it possible for them to make money during last-minute campaigns, some aspirants told their tales of woes.

A former Borno State governor and one time acting National Chairman of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, made a prediction as to how the convention would pan out when he opted out of the race for the chairmanship of the APC.

Sheriff cited the zoning arrangement in the party and his respect for President Muhammadu Buhari as the basis for his decision to bow out. But, despite that leading, the threat by former Minister of Communications during Buhari’s first term, Alhaji Adebayo Shittu, to stonewall the President’s demand for consensus raised hopes among delegates that there could be a call for votes to settle some stalemates.

Shittu’s boast amplified speculations that President Buhari’s former allies in the defunct Congress for Progressives Change (CPC) are insisting on returning the immediate past governor of Nasarawa State, Senator Tanko Al-Makura, as the national chairman of APC.

Unknown to some of these optimists, the contentious Section 84 (12) had dealt a mortal blow to the likes of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister for Justice, Abubakar Malami and other CPC appointees of the President from active participation in the convention.

Raising the ante, Shittu lambasted the Unity List, which had Senator Iyiola Omisore as the nominee for national secretary and declared his intention to fight to the last. He stated: “I will see the issue of consensus as an element of oppression against my person, against my rights, and against the good people of Nigeria.

“The question of stepping down does not arise. People are touting the issue of consensus whenever they want to cheat on others, whenever they want to engage in a dictatorship. Whenever they want to infringe on the rights of others, they import the word consensus.

“Consensus cannot be a compulsory agenda. Look at the crowd here. On what other platform can you get this type of crowd. Why would we then be compromising all the tenets of democracy? Why are we afraid of elections, why are we not living up to the credentials of a progressive party?

“We claim to be a progressive party, why are we not doing things differently from all other parties? Why are we not showing the light for others to follow?”

While Shittu was braying like a wounded donkey, stakeholders of the Northeast geopolitical zone of APC led by Governor Babagana Umara Zulum designed a clever scheme to edge out the immediate past Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara.

With Senator Abdullahi Adamu’s nomination as consensus national chairman settled, the feeling in the Northeast, to which the position of Deputy National Chairman (North) was zoned, was that Dogara, being a Christian and a former lawmaker, was the ideal candidate. But, while Dogara and his supporters looked forward to making it to the APC National Working Committee (NWC), those rooting for Senator Abubakar Kyari and a former governor from the zone dug up Dogara’s past harsh comments about APC’s performance as well as claims that he was connected to the former Lagos State governor, Bola Tinubu, to botch his nomination.

Without leaving room for a sordid backlash, the stakeholders decided to zone the position to Borno State. Dogara was alleged to have, in 2018, accused APC of failing to keep to promises it made to Nigerians, expressing regret that the party’s agenda of bringing positive change to Nigeria was thwarted by a “wayward sense of entitlement of some people.”

Apparently taking his fate with equanimity, Dogara wrote a letter that was made public late Saturday evening. In it, he stated: “I wish to communicate my decision to withdraw from the race for the position of National Deputy Chairman (North) of our great party.

“It was thought that my emergence would no doubt strengthen our party’s position, especially in Bauchi State, the North East where the party couldn’t hold on to two states after just four years and indeed across all the states because of the extensive network and reach to serving and former members of the National Assembly.”

He lamented the impact of the belated zoning on his electoral fortune, stressing: “It turned out that our respected party leaders have better ideas. Consequently, the micro zoned the position to Borno State whose, stakeholders, under the leadership of our amiable revolutionary leader, His Excellency B Zullum and Senator Kassim Shetima have endorsed a brother and a long-standing supporter/ally, Senator Abubakar Kyari for the position.

“In the light of President Muhammadu Buhari’s directives to adopt consensus in filling party positions at this convention and as one of those who are comfortably disposed to Mr. President’s political philosophy, I unequivocally express my unalloyed support for consensus and also my endorsement of Kyari for the position of Deputy Chairman (North).”

The former speaker called for a cessation of bickering over party positions, which, he said, was unhelpful to the health and unity of the APC family.

His words: “If APC must attract more members, it must be united as no one would board a boat of bickering sailors.

It remains for me to thank my friends from the North West who bought the forms for me. These are the true disciples of the late sage, Sardauna, who believe in one North and are committed to walking the talk. They were in such a hurry that they actually paid twice for one form. May God reward you a thousand-fold and may he restore the peace that we once took for granted in the North and across the nation”.

Like Dogara, another former National Assembly leader, whose political antecedents robbed him of the opportunity of accessing APC’s highest leadership caucus, was Senator Ken Nnamani. The former President of the Senate was associated with the crisis of confidence in the Enugu State chapter of the party.

Despite claims that he fell out with Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi over the failure to return his candidate for the federal constituency during the 2019 poll, Nnamani’s traducers insisted that he is more PDP in Enugu than APC.

With all the behind the scene dramas at the convention ground, it was obvious that all was not as it appeared to be. Despite the general notion that there was no imposition of candidates of any sort, observers said the APC convention was nothing short of a sham.

They maintained that all the candidates were practically and literally pre-selected and imposed, contending that the development would have serious consequences for the party, including defections, internal squabbles and further cracks before the Presidential and other primaries.

The case of the Anambra delegation to the convention was intriguing. State chairman of the party, Basil Ejidike, for reasons he did not disclose, waited till the last minute before inaugurating the State Working Committee of the party, which was expected to produce the bulk of delegates. Not until the APC leader in the state, Senator Andy Uba, got across to the chairman, did Ejidike hurriedly inaugurate the other members of the state working committee.

Despite Ejidike’s schemes, Uba’s longstanding ally, Nze Chidi Duru, who represented Aguata federal constituency in the House of Representatives, made it to the Unity List as the consensus nominee for the position of Deputy National Organizing Secretary.

Although Anambra APC stalwarts loyal to Senator Chris Ngige expressed reservations about the choice of Duru, their complaint was not enough to stop the emergence of the former federal lawmaker.

It was against this background that the leadership of Aguata Local Government chapter of APC led by Godson Anyadike and Obi Ogonna, Chairman and Secretary, paid him a solidarity visit in his office at the APC national secretariat.

While congratulating Duru for his emergence, the leaders said his capacity to deliver on the new assignment was not in doubt. They expressed confidence that Duru, as a former member of the House of Representatives, would prove his mettle.

Anyadike said: “Many delegates from Anambra were very optimistic of his emergence. Duru has always been a loyal party man, diligent in whatever is entrusted in his care and, above all, a patriotic indigene of Anambra State.

“The APC has in him an extraordinary philanthropist who believes in justice and equity and is ready to give his all in the service of APC and Nigeria at large. As a resilient lawyer, lawmaker and entrepreneur in the hospitality and tourism industry, there is no doubt that his new role as a member of the APC NWC and Deputy National Organising Secretary paints an eloquent picture of a round peg in a round hole.”

PRESIDENT Buhari had asked the new NWC leaders, in his speech before leaving the convention ground, to guard against the imposition of candidates ahead of the 2023 polls.

But signs of impending trouble became glaring shortly after his departure when elections for the remaining offices were being held. A party stalwart, who spoke with The Guardian at convention ground, said it was not surprising that many of the members were unhappy with the way they were forced to step down for those that were pre-selected without a proper consensus or agreement.

According to the chieftain, who identified himself simply as Nakowa, it is usually the way of political parties to adopt a consensus candidate because everyone cannot be party chairman or vice chairman at the same time but such is done with proper consultation and understanding among the candidates.

Nakowa said the situation that played out on the night of the APC national convention was due to a lack of adequate consultations and buy-in of the other candidates shortly after Buhari left the convention ground after the emergence of the ‘imposition’ of the party’s national chairman, Abdullahi Adamu, and other key officials.

His words: “What happened at the election is a clear sign that proper consensus did not take place and when you just force people to say that they have stepped down for others without first of all talking to them, they will not agree. This is bad for our party because those people that are aggrieved or not happy can decide to leave the party and join hands with the opposition to realise their ambitions.

“For instance, you can see that many of the women are not happy because they were not consulted, just as even many of the men. Even if they will refund their money, there is still a need for adequate consultation, consensus and alignments.”

Nakowa explained that Mr. President had himself set the pace for the imposition of candidates by his support for Abdullahi Adamu, whom he said was neither a popular candidate nor tolerant leader, hence the outcome of the election of other party positions, in which candidates were imposed, without true consensus as falsely portrayed.

That notion was relieved on the night of the convention when Barrister Mary Ekpere-Eta vehemently refused to step down for Betta Edu for the position of National Woman Leader.

Her resistance sparked uproar from delegates, especially among those rooting for the two candidates.

After what appeared to be intense ‘persuasion’ from party stalwarts and delegates, Ekpere-Eta grudgingly conceded and announced that she was stepping down.

There was yet another drama that last Saturday night. Many other candidates were forced onto the stage to announce their withdrawal from the contest, thereby providing the opportunity for a lot of them to clearly state that they were told to do so by persons they held in high esteem.

The events that unfolded at the convention and election ground not only exposed some areas of weakness in the APC, but also questions President Buhari’s claim that the party would not impose candidates.

This is where some bigwigs of the party express deep fears about what could play out during the presidential and governorship primaries, especially given the tight time frame set by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the 2023 general elections.

It would be recalled that just a day before the party’s national convention, Senior Special Assistant, Media and Publicity to the President, Mallam Shehu Garba, stated during a political programme on Arise Television that no party member would be forced, but rather, a consensus would be reached on who will eventually emerge as chairman of the party.

“There is no force or compulsion in the choice of our national party chairman and by extension, the choice of the party’s national leaders,” Garba had stated. But that was not what eventually played out as many observers rightly pointed out.

Many party members have expressed concern that comes 2023, the imposition of candidates as was done in the composition of the new NWC might be replicated.

How the APC has decided to go about this is what remains to be seen, looking at the tone and stage that have already been set. Sources say the swap arrangement that Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir El Rufai, spoke about will come into great play in the days to come as the party makes pronouncements on the micro-zoning of its presidential ticket to the South/South and South/East. Only then would it be seen how far the events of March 26 made or marred APC’s progress.