Realignments, constitutional review as Edo/Ondo polls lead 2020 politics
• Three political parties rejigging to thrash APC, PDP
The National Assembly’s resolve to review the 1999 Constitution, tinker with the Electoral Act 2010 and pass the age-long Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB) are top among the three major issues that would dominate the polity this year. Also, the second stanza of off-season governorship polls in Edo and Ondo States would throw up some far-reaching indicators about the ability of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) to manage its victory and maintain durable cohesion within its platform.
Then, going by discreet schemes and alignment talks, three political parties are said to be rejigging their structures to make things tough for the ruling APC and the major opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2023. The two major national political platforms have of recent been convulsing after the 2019 general elections, such that concerns about who flies the parties’ flags in the 2023 presidential election have continued to stoke mutual suspicion and allegations of betrayals within their ranks.
Baring any slip or induced disruption of talks among the promoters of the three fledgling platforms, the 2023 presidential election would be a hard fought battle, especially against the backdrop of President Muhammadu Buhari’s vow to deliver credible, free and fair polls as parting gift to Nigerians.
Interestingly, most of the stakeholders in the parties are said to be working on the strength of the promise of a new Electoral Act that would give fillip to full electronic voting, which they believe could make it practically impossible for one political party to clinch the presidency at the first ballot. But while 2023 is still some three years away, President Buhari’s apprehension that the party might unravel before then does not seem to be cutting any ice among some stakeholders, particularly those aspiring to try their luck with the APC presidential ticket.
Sources disclosed that proposed legislations intended to bar former INEC officials and aspirants above 70 years of age from contesting election are covert plans by lawmakers on the ruling APC to avoid a repeat of similar enabling environment that aided the ruling party to displace PDP in 2015.
Frictions in PDP, APC
MOMENTS after Nigeria’s Supreme Court pronounced its verdict on the 2019 presidential election, a leader of APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, called on former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who was the first petitioner in the election, to join APC and help in moving the country forward. No sooner had Tinubu made the call on Atiku than some stakeholders in APC from the north started alluding to his (Tinubu’s) troubled membership of the party and presidential aspiration.
Like Tinubu, not a few second term state governors elected on the platform of the ruling party are angling to become the party’s standard-bearer so as to succeed Buhari in 2023. But the party has remained mute on issues revolving around zoning of the presidential slot, even as well-informed insiders maintain that there is a closely guarded design to ensure that the party’s next presidential candidate emerges from the Northeast geopolitical zone.
The scramble for the 2023 presidential ticket has been identified as the major driving force in the unrelenting plots to remove the party’s national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, from office. Oshiomhole is believed to be Tinubu’s Man Friday and as such other gladiators, especially state governors see him (Oshiomhole) as a stumbling block to a level playing field in the chase for the party’s presidential ticket.
Deputy National Chairman of APC (South/South Zone) Chief Hillard Ntufam Etta, told The Guardian that even though Tinubu has not informed stakeholders like him that he (Tinubu) would run for president, it was obvious that Oshiomhole would not be the one to organise the 2023 presidential primary of the party.Etta enjoined those orchestrating plans to remove Oshiomhole to follow due process, stressing that since the position of national chairman was zoned to South/South, attempts to removal the occupant of the office should be through the zone’s stakeholders.
However, despite such appeals to reason and for sanity to prevail, the ruling party is far from enjoying stability and peace as some second term governors, wary of their political progression, insist that the national chairman must quit for the party to regain cohesion. Consequent upon the jostling for ascendancy by some special interests and entrenched political forces, three disparate groupings have become noticeable within the ranks of APC.
Each of the three tendencies is not leaving anything to chance to ensure that they do not go into political hiatus in 2023 by adopting a possible plan B. The plan B, according to The Guardian’s investigations, entails covert discussions to join forces with existing fledgling political parties to contest the 2023 election if any of the rival factions gained the upper hand at the end of the day.
It was gathered that one of the factions being dominated by those opposed to some second term governors is banking on the feasibility of teaming up with the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), while another made up of some elements from the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) were said to be disposed towards coalescing with the Social Democratic Party (SDP) or the Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN).
Sources within the party disclosed that some ACN elements, which anticipated the current crisis in APC, had made overtures to leaders of SDP and ANN, stressing that while the former SDP national chairman, Chief Olu Falae, resisted moves to have the party as alternate platform, ANN was cleared of some powerful figures like Mr. Gbenga Olawepo Hashim in readiness for an eventual takeover.
A top notch political actor confided in The Guardian that of all those angling for the APC presidential ticket none fully understands what is at play in the party like a former governor of Lagos State. He stressed that some of the former governor’s allies settled for ANN in anticipation of 2023 not knowing that he had other plans, which included supporting President Buhari’s second term and leveraging on it for his own political future.He said: “Two things are bound to happen as we approach 2023. One is that Tinubu would surely contest the presidency. If anything happens in APC, that is if those plotting to stop him succeed in denying him the ticket, he would work with the Northeast to produce the next president on a different platform.
“So, expect Tinubu’s presidential running mate from the Northeast or a presidential candidate from the zone with a Southwest presidential running mate that would have the support of Tinubu. Right now within APC, no other person enjoys bloc zonal support except Tinubu. He has done very much for Northwest and Northeast, so we in the Northeast fully support him.”
The source, a prominent player in President Buhari’s first term cabinet, noted that the crisis between the state governors and Oshiomhole would get worse in the year, adding that as happened before, the party would be forced to jettison the midterm convention to avert a total breakdown of party structures.
It was also gathered that prominent APC stakeholders from the Northwest would identify with PRP in the event that Kaduna State governor, Ahmad el-Rufai gets the upper hand in the battle for the soul of APC. Although sources indicated that the Kaduna State chief executive was working alongside six other state governors to throw up the former Bauchi State governor, Mohammed Abubakar, as compromise presidential candidate in 2023, the former governor, whose election petition is pending at the Supreme Court, denied any such plan.
Abubakar stated that he had never nursed the ambition to succeed President Buhari, since, according to him if there was any such coalition it would have played out during his hotly contested second term election. He declared that out of the APC state governors from the north, he was the only one that did not lobby or consult anybody to become a possible vice president when President Buhari was attending to his health challenges in the United Kingdom.
As was seen during the recent National Executive Committee (NEC), some governors are still determined to effect a change of leadership within APC, just as governors’ el-Rufai and Dr. Kayode Fayemi are associated with presidential ambitions.A similar raucous situation exists within the fold of the opposition PDP, particularly regarding the issue of zoning of the presidential slot for the 2023 general elections. Board of Trustees (BoT) chairman, Senator Walid Jibrin, caused a stir recently when he proclaimed that the party would soon embark on processes to get a consensus presidential candidate.
Although discreet checks revealed that PDP is disinclined towards holding another presidential primary, the stakeholders are divided on whether to adopt the right of first refusal or settle for another session of zoning of the presidential slot.At the Port Harcourt convention in 2018, Governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal trailed Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who eventually contested the 2019 presidential election as PDP’s standard-bearer. While some party chieftains argue that a younger person should fly the party’s flag in 2023, there are those who think that none of those who left the party in 2015 should be allowed to contest.
But the predominant sentiment among PDP chieftains is that winning the 2023 presidential poll should ultimately determine which candidate to fly the party’s flag, even as most insist that restructuring the polity remains the major issue.While it is obvious that most party stalwarts believe that the PDP’s presidential candidate in 2019 remains the best option to win the election, especially given the ruling APC’s covert plan to field a presidential candidate from the Northeast geopolitical zone, some stakeholders are mooting the idea of altering the ticket.
The plot to have the 2019 presidential running mate, Mr. Peter Obi, which is coming from some of those that initially opposed his nomination on the grounds that he was not an original member of the party, is also said to be instigating calls for a change in the zoning of the office of the national chairman.
But as supporters of former Deputy President of Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, are making quiet claims that the party would have performed better if the Enugu State born Senate was chosen, others argue that the new reality on ground is that if Obi should be dropped, the chairman of Southeast caucus of the party in the National Assembly, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, is about the best bet.Those who favour Abaribe contend that having been a long term member of both the party and the National Assembly, the fact that he is popular and has served as a deputy governor place him in good stead to add more value and votes to the presidential ticket.
Constitution review, NASS’s headaches
Yet, Senator Abaribe insists that until the National Assembly concludes action on the constitution review and amendment of the Electoral Act 2010, any talk about the 2023 presidential election should be seen as idle talk.In a telephone conversation with The Guardian, Senator Abaribe disclosed that amending the constitution would engage the Senators’ attention immediately they resume from the Christmas and New Year recess, adding that the process would throw up a lot of issues that would impact on the country’s progress.
On the agitations by some PDP stakeholders that he should be chosen as Obi’s replacement on the presidential ticket, Abaribe dismissed the insinuations as the antics of those who are surprised at the near unanimity among democrats for the restructuring of the country.
He said: “Who are those pressuring PDP with agitations? These are attempts to divert attention from the growing consensus among Nigerians on the issue of restructuring the country. Most of us at the National Assembly from various parts of the country have come to the realization that we need to revisit the structure of the country.
“It is not only about the 1963 constitution; the National Assembly plans to look at the various issues that dog the progress of the country. There are those who seek constitutional backing for the six geopolitical zones, while some others want eight zones. We would touch on all those issues.
“Those who believe that Nigeria’s unity is not open to debate should be surprised at the near unanimity of opinions on the issue of restructuring. And until we conclude action on the constitution, all these people saying they want to be this or that do not know what kind of country they want to govern.”Abaribe said if the country is restructured to make it functional, such that each zone does things at its own pace and according to the social preferences of its peoples, the question as to where the president comes from would be of little consequence.
Also, the Deputy President of Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege, believes that amending the Electoral Act would put the power of the ballot back into the hands of the people, stressing that a credible election would guarantee the wishes of the electorate.The deputy President of Senate told The Guardian in an interview that the 9th Senate was determined to remedy the defects on the Electoral Amendment bill that was shut down at the 8th Senate plenary, stressing that but for what he called the poisoned electoral sequence provision that scuttled the exercise, the amendments would ensure credibility of the nation’s electoral system.He expressed optimism that the successful review of the Electoral Act would go a long way to introduce sanity in the country’s democracy, strengthen the institutions and assist the cause of good governance.
But despite the optimism of a seamless review processes in the National Assembly, there seems to be no guarantees that groups’ concerns and external inputs from entrenched political interests would not torpedo the Constitutional and Electoral Act amendments in the 9th plenary. President Buhari has declared his intention to ensure a credible electoral process devoid of adventurous advantages, particularly advancing incumbency powers, illegal use of security apparati and government’s funds by any of the gladiators.
But given that most of the federal lawmakers benefited from the faulty electoral system and were privy to how the 2019 general elections were won and lost, there are concerns that they might call the president’s bluff by charting a path that guarantees their political future.
Is there any likelihood of majority APC lawmakers stonewalling against the chairman of the National Assembly, Senator Ahmad Lawan, whose body language is strongly pro-Buhari, having stated clearly that whatever comes from the presidency is good for the country?
Despite its desire for credible post-Buhari general elections in 2023, the presidency has not hidden its aversion to any attempts to restructure the country. As one of the crucial issues that would be on the table during the constitutional review, Nigerians might witness some tense moments in the National Assembly when the processes begin.
Battles in Edo, Ondo States
THERE is no doubt that the governing APC would want to retain its control of the contiguous states of Ondo and Edo as the two states hold governorship polls this year. The supremacy battle between incumbent governor Godwin Obaseki and the APC national chairman, Oshiomhole, has shown no signs of early resolution.While the battle in Edo intensifies in the days and weeks to come, what happens in the state would continue to make headlines. From the party’s governorship primary, whether it happens through direct or indirect mode, through the submission of successful candidates to the substitution window, Edo State would retain key political interest in the country.
And then knowing what transpired four years ago leading to the disputed emergence of the incumbent, Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredolu, it would be seen in the days ahead whether those that rooted for Segun Abraham would line up behind the current Deputy Governor, Ajayi Alfred Agboola, to wrestle the party’s ticket from the governor. It is also expected that the rising profile of Senator Ajayi Borofice, who is also associated with a possible presidential opening, might inspire him to try his luck at the governorship poll.
But what is clear as crystal is that the presidential ambitions of some Southwest political actors would add to the uncertainties expected to trail the Ondo 2020 gubernatorial chase. As such, unless wise counsel reigns and Akeredolu is allowed to ‘carry go’, politicians in the ‘Sunshine’ state, believe that while APC’s bigwigs play their mind-games, the opposition PDP, which lost the governorship seat four years ago through internal bickering between former governor Olusegun Mimiko and billionaire business man, Jimoh Ibrahim, would be waiting for a sweet revenge.Barring any unforeseen development in the polity, the above scenarios would determine the pulse and momentous politics in the country this year, just as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) continues to come under serious appraisal from Nigerians in its onerous role as election umpire.