APC and its many battles…contending challenges of inclusion

APC leaders

APC leaders

The meetings of various hierarchies in the leadership of All Progressives Congress (APC), last week, including the caucus, Board of Trustees and National Executive Committee (NEC), were expected to reshape the party one year after it snatched victory from the long-reigning Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Though the BoT meeting, where it was expected that a chairman would emerge, was postponed; the NEC and caucus held. It was at the caucus that the politics in the party and the government played out. Most people had anticipated a final quit notice for the national chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun.

But contrary to popular sentiments, instead of being a denouement for the APC national chairman, the last caucus meeting proved his defining moment.

When most chieftains of the party believed that Oyegun was on his final days as the chairman, the old man from Edo found his voice and challenged his traducers.

“If anybody has anything against me, let him bring it to the table. I am not a hungry man; I have been a permanent secretary, a former governor and I have led this party to victory with the support of great party men and women and Nigerians. The account book of the party is open to all. So whoever has allegations against me should come forward”. And there was a pin drop moment of silence.

With that animated boldness, it dawned on the caucus leaders, especially those who were plotting the national chairman’s fall that the gamble has crumbled. Apart from Oyegun’s confidence move, it was also evident that those stoking the embers of disunity were the 2019 group that has been working quietly to position itself for eventual take over from President Muhammadu Buhari.

The party came out with a bold statement, which appeared as a response to those angling for the 2019 presidency, that there would be “no vacancy”. Though the candid expression reinforced what has been making the rounds in APC circles as side talks, that Buhari’s foot-soldiers were engaged in a project of mobilising for his second term in office, it provided a new opening for political calculations.

Problems that the party’s recent caucus meeting did not address are actually threatening the blending of the various tendencies that connived to sack the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), from federal political power. These issues include, Buhari’s second term dream, chairmanship of APC Board of Trustees (BoT) and the subtle alienation of members of the erstwhile nPDP.

The logjam over the appointment of the BoT chairman seems to be remotely connected to the estrangement of nPDP. The opening sentences in President Buhari’s remarks at the National Executive Committee (NEC), exposed this hidden disdain for the nPDP. The president had begun: “We are members of the legacy party (?) plus APGA and DPP. We realised since 2005 that to remove the PDP from power, we must sink our differences, come together and form a party. God willing, that eventually happened and that is why we are where we are today, coming together inspite of our differences, both personal and ideological. We must not forget that. Having identified that as members of the legacy party, we again identified three fundamental things facing us. First, security, second, economy and unemployment and thirdly, corruption. We campaigned throughout the country on these three fundamental issues and nobody successfully challenged us and these issues remain relevant.”

Part of the discreet onslaught against the nPDP wing is the trial of the President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, which also featured as part of the reasons for the failed attempt to remove Oyegun from office as national chairman of APC. While members of Buhari’s inner caucus see Oyegun’s travails as the handiwork of the 2019 group, other interests point to the Southwest caucus as being uncomfortable with the national chairman, especially against the background of allegations that he (Oyegun) pre-informed Saraki that the gates to the National Assembly would be opened to senators-elect on June 9, despite directives to the contrary by some chieftain of the party.

At the party’s caucus, Oyegun was said to have informed the leaders that the events of that fateful June 9, which paved the way for Saraki’s emergence as president of senate, was their collective guilt, stressing that when he pointed out the clash in timing between the meeting at International Conference Centre with Buhari, and the inauguration of the National Assembly, he was told that it does not matter.

But those who directed the locking of gates of the National Assembly began the campaign against the national chairman’s continued stay in office, while the 2019 group refers to ambitious elements in the party, including Governor Nasir Ahmed El Rufa’i and Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso, who joined in the campaign against Oyegun for a different reason.

If Oyegun has survived the plot for his removal and the clarification made about a possible second term for Buhari during the caucus meeting, what remains is how to contain the search for alternatives by those who feel that their political future is headed for the rocks in APC.

On the issue of the BoT chairmanship, fourth republic Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, was said to have informed his loyalists that while he would not reject the offer, he would not contest the position. The decision to keep the inauguration of the party’s BoT in abeyance may amount to merely postponing the evil days. Sources hint that the postponement was a strategic initiative to avoid making the alienation of the nPDP so obvious, since it is believed that failure to hand over the ceremonious title to Atiku would serve as a tacit declaration that they were no longer welcome in APC.

Other sources confided in The Guardian that the fear in the presidency circles that Atiku may contest the presidency in 2019 feeds the apprehension about offering him a visible platform to influence activities in the party.

Most APC stalwarts say that Buhari is looking beyond 2019 in the articulation of his policies and programmes, adding that the attempt by the president to maintain close political working relationship with former Rivers State governor, Rotimi Amaechi and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, is tactical.

“Baba knows he would need these people to shore up support in 2019; but a lot of people are kicking that one man has benefitted too much from the administration, having nominated the tax collector, second in command and others,” the source declared.

The support given to Amaechi, including the appointment of his protégés, Dakuku Peterside and Ibim Seminatari into NIMASA and NDDC, as well as the ‘moral support’ in the recent re-run election in Rivers seem to buttress the assertion of new thinking towards the Lion of ‘Niger Delta’.

The need to provide the lieutenants of the party with commensurate rewards for their contributions to the party’s electoral victory had a flip side. Insiders claim that most chieftains of the party agreed to raise a stone wall against the former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.

“Having made juicy and strategic nominations in the government, most of us believe that Tinubu has got a Lion share of the spoils of the victory. We agreed that neither him nor his nominee, Bisi Akande, should occupy the BoT chair, so that we don’t give the impression that some individuals own the party,” an APC chieftain from Kaduna State confided in The Guardian.

The source noted that when it became obvious that things would not go the way the Lagos State governor planned, it was decided that the inauguration of the BoT be put on hold, for time to play on it.

Perhaps the well-publicized outburst of the APC ‘national leader’ against the Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu, was Tinubu’s way of pouring out his frustrations about the way the party and government were being run. Even at that, APC stalwarts had complained in Owerri during the last labour dispute in Imo, that those who possessed the change ideology have been sidelined in the running of the Federal Government, after the electoral feat.

The party chieftain noted that a small committee of five loyalists of President Buhari, was running the show at the Villa, stressing that the style has isolated the party leaders. As internal recriminations continue in the party, the seal on the presidential ticket has opened up new concerns that some party leaders would find their way out of APC.

Already, there are small talks in Abuja about the inevitability of new political realignments. Sources said that the fall out of the last caucus meeting is that some progressives within APC and PDP, are waiting on the wings to forge a common front.

On the issue of BoT chairmanship, the party is said to be working on tinkering with its constitution to introduce an elders committee that could neutralise the role and relevance of the BoT

Saraki’s CCT Trial: Buhari’s indifference

It is not easy to say whether President Buhari is for or against the travails of the Senate President at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT). But on the sidelines of the APC caucus meeting, the matter dominated conversations.

The Presidency was informed that Saraki has done much to prove wrong those who allege disloyalty on his part. Those who are worried by the implications of Saraki’s trial at the CCT on the administration were said to have pointed to the speedy screening and clearance of the ministers, passage of supplementary appropriation for FCT and the 2016 budget, as evidence that the Senate President does not constitute a cog in his administration.

Yet, the Presidency is seen to be taking some precautions not to court the ire of those fighting Saraki, in the belief that it further serves his public image and declaration that he belongs to all and belongs to none.

Last week, the CCT ruled that it has jurisdiction to try the Senate President, declaring the 13-count charge as meritorious. However, the aspect of the trial that rankle public interest is its implication on national stability and socio-economic progress of the country. There is little doubt that the trial of the President of Senate has some ripple effects on the composure and corporate focus of the National Assembly, which he chairs.

Moreover, the perceived indifference of President Muhammadu Buhari to Saraki’s travails raises concerns about the interest of the ruling party to ensue peace and stability in the polity after the divisive 2015 election.

Saraki had pointed out at the onset of the trial that his prosecution on a 13-count charge bordering on discrepancies in his 2003 asset declaration form while he was governor of Kwara State, was politically motivated. Owing to the 13 years time frame that had elapsed before the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), collaborated to investigate the contents of the asset declaration form, the political coloration becomes real.

It is often said by lawyers that justice delayed amounts to justice denied. For a case of verification of contents of asset declaration form to be delayed for good thirteen years makes nonsense of the intendments of the laws establishing the CCB. Furthermore, one of the stipulated penalties for discrepancies in the asset declaration form is that the official should vacate the office.

Consequently, it becomes obvious that instead of going after Saraki, officials of the CCB should have been the ones being punished for negligence, so as to serve as deterrence. Perhaps, it is this perceived negligence that feeds the popular belief that indeed, the CCT trial of the President of Senate was intended to settle political, instead of preserving the provisions of the nation’s constitution.

Lawyers usually assert that silence means consent. Consequently by maintaining a criminal silence over the asset form filled and submitted to it by Governor Saraki in 2003, the governor must have gone ahead with the impression that his form had no spot or wrinkle.

President Buhari’s indifference to the delayed trial of the President of Senate raises concerns about the president’s interest in maintaining peace and harmony in the polity. The president’s aloofness and silence on the Saraki matter is contributing to the apprehensions about Nigeria’s socio-economic progression.

Granted that the president and the All Progressives Congress (APC), canvassed fight against corruption as one of its cardinal objectives in the course of the electioneering campaigns in 2015, analysts believe that going back in time to 2003 to dust up asset declaration form of one out of the 36 submitted by state governors that year, raises serious issues about the genuineness of the anti-corruption fight.

Most commentators insist that it would be hard to exculpate the Presidency from Saraki’s trial, which they contend, is destabilizing the National Assembly. Those who hold such belief point to the election of principal officers of NASS, in which Senator Saraki emerged against the designs of some APC leaders.

President Buhari had made it clear that he would support whoever the senators elected as their first among equals, but some partisan minded leaders in the APC had their preferences. When attempt to coral the senators, especially those of the ruling party to choose a preferred candidate failed, the president varied his position, saying that he expected the senators to be guided by the dictates of party loyalty.

Many observers of the trial at the CCT hold the view that President Buhari’s perceived ambivalence contributed to the attempt by some notable APC chieftain, who contributed to the president’s electoral victory, to destabilize the NASS and by extension, the polity in the efforts to dislodge the Senate leadership.

However, while the president stands aloof on the grounds of non-interference in the legislature, programmes and policies of the administration are hurting badly from it. For instance, the budget fiasco described as obvious padding and random allocation of funds to certain sectors, remains the first major evidence that all was not well between the two arms.

In contrast, the President had in his well-publicized media chat, indicated that the director of radio Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, committed offences that do not merit admission to bail contrary to the position of the court. It is therefore left to be seen why the president should stand aloof from holding an opinion on the CCT trial of Saraki.

No matter how the CCT trial would ultimately pan out, it would deepen Nigeria’s jurisprudence. When the tribunal rules on the two motions pleaded by the defence, it would definitely excite public opinion further.  Already, legal practitioners do not stand on common ground on the processes and proceedings of the CCT trial. Famous constitutional lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Professor Ben Nwabueze, dissected the intricate web of legal jumbo mumbo in the CCT case.

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