APC’s convention in shadows of rancorous primaries

Oshiomhole (right), Buhari and Osinbjo

Underneath the facade of camaraderie among thousands of members of All Progressives Congress (APC) as they gathered at Eagle Square, Abuja, on Saturday to affirm President Muhammadu Buhari, as their candidate in next year’s presidential election were signs that all is not well with the ruling party.

Although the programme of the event, a special convention to endorse the flag bearer, was laced with intermittent performances by musicians drawn from different cultural backgrounds to entertain the crowd, the atmosphere was thick with suppressed rancour among delegations from the 36 states of the federation and the FCT. Many of those present rejected results of primary elections held or being held in their various states while many party leaders absented themselves from the convention to either protest previous outcomes or stayed behind to tinker with the process.

The convention that was earlier billed to commence at 12 noon was actually rescheduled for the night to enable delegates from states like Imo, Zamfara, Edo, FCT, and Adamawa, where primaries were billed to hold on that day, to participate.

It was gathered at the venue that apart from leaders like Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha who, as the Chairman of APC Governors’ Forum, was billed to present a keynote address at the convention, many party members who were at the receiving end of the short end of the stick in the game of intrigues that the party’s primaries were turned into, also protested with their absence.

At the Imo stand, there was palpable tension as members of the Okorocha group were the only ones present while the governor allegedly stayed behind in Owerri to oversee a process that would produce his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu as the gubernatorial candidate of the party in the state.

An earlier process that was initially supported by many bigwigs, including the party’s National Working Committee (NWC) had produced Hope Nzodinma as the candidate, a development that Okorocha protested vehemently.

Okorocha’s estranged deputy, Eze Madumere, insisted that the result declared by Ahmed Gulak, which indicated that Uzodinma won the primaries should stand. Addressing reporters moments before the convention began, he maintained that the rescheduled primary had already been compromised and that legal action was already being taken against it.

He said, “I can tell you that there is nothing going on in Imo State. The result, as I speak, has already been written and waiting for submission today and we have totally rejected it and have already gone to court and the processes have already been served on the National Chairman and all the relevant critical stakeholders of the party that we have rejected that and we will stand firm on that.”

While speaking in the same vein, Senator Ben Uwajimogu, said, “I am here to say that what is going on in the state is a charade. From the point the panel was appointed, they were taken by the son in-law to the governor in a private jet to lmo State.

“We did not meet any of them until yesterday night when they claimed they were going to have a stakeholders’ meeting and the governor used that opportunity to insult and assault all those that are opposed to his plan to install his in-law.”

Present at the Delta State stand were only those loyal to the group of Chief Great Ogboru, who has been declared winner of the primary contest for the state’s governorship slot as the likes of Professor Pat Utomi and others, who contested with and opposed to Ogboru, stayed away. It was the same scenario at the Rivers State stand that had only supporters of Tonye Cole, who had emerged as the governorship candidate, led by Transportation Minister Rotimi Amaechi, in attendance.

But while Amaechi was seen standing among Rivers delegates, many states’ stands were devoid of party leaders even as many other stands looked desolate. It was not until the programme was well underway that Osun State stand was completely deserted and the state governor, Rauf Aregbesola, came in late, while in Ekiti State, aggrieved prominent personalities like the party’s former deputy chairman, South, Chief Segun Oni, who contested the governorship primary of the state against governor-elect, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, were conspicuously absent.

And Ondo, where the primary contest was vicious, had only a handful of members, who created the impression of a flock without a shepherd; the two camps of the aggrieved and perceived winners not adequately represented.

Although the Senator representing Ondo North, Professor Ajayi Boroffice, had earlier been declared to have won a return ticket of the party to the upper chamber, a late night result being bandied by his opponents showed that a fresh process that produced Dr. Tunji Abayomi had been organised. Alongside Abayomi, who enjoyed the support of the state governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, the unsigned statement that did not also indicate the mode and venue of the primary election, claimed that Senator Tayo Alasoadura and Lucky Ayedatiwa had emerged as candidates for Ondo Central and Southern Districts respectively.

However, except Zamfara State, where the governor, Abdulazeez Yari, has declared a sort of fatwa on the APC national leadership and the committee that organised the exercise that produced his “enemy” as the governorship candidate, as is the case in Ogun State, the northern states’ stands were bubbling with life. Katsina State’s stand, for instance, was in festive mood, as various groups of musicians took turn to entertain the crowd.

There were some genuine attempts at reconciliation between some notable gladiators to create the impression that all was well. Examples of such were when Lagos governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, accompanied by Babajide Sanwo-Olu, his challenger in the hot contest for Lagos, strolled into the state box to greet the national leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, just as the National Chairman of the party, Adams Oshiomhole, exchanged banters with Governor Ahmed Nasir El-Rufai in spite their differences over the re-election bid of Senator Shehu Sani.

Buhari’s sole candidacy at the primaries
BUT despite the atmosphere of suppressed bitterness and suspicion, the convention, which was more like a coronation ceremony for Buhari, affirmed the president’s candidature with 14,842,072 votes from party members, who participated in a direct primary across the country in a collation process conducted by the Ekiti governor-elect.

Fayemi, who incidentally played a similar role in the second convention of the party held at Teslim Balogun Stadium in Lagos on December 2014, said in effect that President Buhari had met the requirement of Section 87 (6) of the Electoral Act as amended to be the party’s presidential flag bearer next year.

Buhari’s vote tally, which genuinely remains a subject of controversy, is slightly lesser than the 15,426,921 votes scored to defeat President Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who polled 12,853,162 during the 2015 poll. The president’s performance at the APC primaries is, however, seen as a deliberate attempt to send shivers down the spines of members of the opposition parties on the likely outcome of the next election.

Chieftains of the party in the mould of Fayemi, the Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawan, were upbeat on Buhari’s prospects to garner more votes by the time non-members of APC in support of his second term ambition cast their votes at the polls.

Lawan, who is yet to come to terms with how he was edged out by Bukola Saraki, as Senate President even boasted that APC would not only end up controlling 75 per cent of seats in the National Assembly, it would have in its kitty not less than 24 states after the conduct of the general elections.

Buhari’s sole candidacy at the primaries, nevertheless, casts doubt on the pledge of APC to depart from the old order of playing politics and commitment of ensuring openness and inclusiveness in the party. Both the former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and former Kano State governor, Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, who gave Buhari a good run for his money in the 2015 presidential primaries, dumped the party for the PDP when it became obvious that their dream to occupy the exalted seat cannot be realised.

Apparently conscious of such criticisms, Oshiomhole maintained that the decision to adopt the direct primaries mode to pick the candidate of the party was aimed at ensuring inclusiveness and participation of members of the party across the country. Oshiomhole, who formerly presented Buhari as the candidate of the party during the convention, argued that APC is living up to its change slogan as the most democratic party in Nigeria. He cited how, in the run up to the 2015 poll, PDP disenfranchised its supporters, when it shut out other aspirants by printing only one expression of interest and nomination form for Jonathan, who was at the helm of affairs of the country at the time.

According to him, “Just four years ago, the other party faced a huge moral burden as it got faceless two million anonymous Nigerians asking President Jonathan to seek a second term in office. In our own case, President Buhari was in New York attending the United Nations General Assembly when Nigerians voted at the primaries to decide Buhari’s fate. We have moved away from the era of hypocrisy to tell Nigerians the truth.”

Oshiomhole, who applauded the sterling leadership qualities of Buhari, expressed APC’s resolve to engage the opposition parties on issues of governance during the campaign.

He said, “To the opposition, we are ready for 2019 campaigns. We believe we have a lot to sell to Nigerians. Our opponents will produce their candidates. We would go to their states; we will tell their people to show what they have done for them.

“If you fail as a state governor, there is no way you can win as a president. We will challenge them on their integrity, their background. We would match figure for figure. The election with be based on issues and personal integrity of those that would contest.”

Oyo State governor, Abiola Ajimobi, who spoke glowingly of Buhari’s performance in the past three years, said that APC had exhibited the capacity to come up with innovations when it introduced the direct primaries mode to pick candidate Buhari for the 2019 poll.

Akeredolu, who spoke on behalf of Okorocha, described Buhari’s victory as historic, adding that it behooved Nigerians to renew his mandate in the 2019 poll to consolidate the gains so far recorded in the anti-graft war, security and revival of the economy.

In his acceptance speech, Buhari thanked other eligible candidates of the party that chose to allow him pick the ticket unchallenged and gave assurance that he would not let APC supporters down for reposing confidence in him to go for a second term of office.

Reeling out his achievements in the areas of security, anti-graft campaign and the revival of the economy, he assured that he would improve on the country’s infrastructure when voted into power again.

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