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NASS Elections And APC’s Dilemma

Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu walking out of the Senate Chambers in Abuja on Wednesday. (Inset) John Oyegun APC national chairman    Speaker House of Representatives, Hon. Yakobu Dogara taking oath of office after his election on Tuesday.

Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu walking out of the Senate Chambers in Abuja on Wednesday. (Inset) John Oyegun APC national chairman<br />Speaker House of Representatives, Hon. Yakobu Dogara taking oath of office after his election on Tuesday.

APC: In the Beginning
THE All Progressives Congress (APC) is an amalgam of five political parties namely Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP), Congress for Progressives Change (CPC), Action Congress of Nigerian (ACN), and All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) that have tasted political power at the national, state and council levels since 1999.

It was for this obvious reason that some people described the party at its successful merger as an assemblage of strange bedfellows. During the merger process, the new PDP faction led by the duo of Senator Bukola Saraki and former vice-president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar joined the party with five governors. ACN led by its leader and former governor of Lagos State, Senator Bola Tinubu had five governors. ANPP led by its national chairman, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu came with three governors of Yobe, Zamfara and Borno States. CPC led by its leader, Muhammadu Buhari, and faction of APGA led by the Imo State governor, Chief Rochas Okorocha has one state governor.

With its successful merger, the party was not given chance of winning presidential election as many analysts predicted that the party might implode on the process of choosing a presidential candidate for 2015.

But to the amazement of many Nigerians, the party braced the odds and came out of its presidential primary united and more determined. The outcome of the exercise was the party’s choice of Muhammadu Buhari as its presidential candidate. Buhari’s emergence was predicated on his popularity especially among the grassroots people in the North. Tinubu and other party Chieftains worked hard to achieve Buhari’s emergence against other aspirants.

The choice of Buhari’s deputy nearly tore the party apart as many party chieftains opposed the Muslim-Muslim ticket being pushed by one of the party leaders from the Southwest zone. That was how Prof. Yemi Osinbajo was picked as Buhari’s running mate.

Before the election, political offices were zoned to the six geo-political zones of which the Senate Presidency was zoned to the Southeast zone.

2015 Polls
In the elections, APC won the presidential seat and 22 governorship seats, but failed to win any senatorial seat in the Southeast zone, where the senate presidency was initially zoned.

According to a member of the party, that was the beginning of the party’s problem that culminated in what transpired during the recent election of the principal officers of the National Assembly.

APC Post-Election Meeting
Basking in the euphoria of election victory, the APC leadership failed to realise that there were great challenges ahead of it. It was revealed that before the inauguration, a meeting was convened by the party leadership in Abuja where the issue of revisiting the initial zoning formula was discussed, but was not concluded.

According to a member at the meeting, the party leaders after a stormy and lengthy deliberations, drew up a zoning formula and agreed that a National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting should be convene by the party leadership to look at it for final ratification.

It was disclosed that at the meeting, Tinubu was told by former governor of Kano State, Alhaji Rabiu Kwakwanso that APC is no longer a Yoruba or regional party, but a national party that must accommodate all interest. It was on the outcome of the meeting that some APC National Assembly members started declaring interest to occupy positions in the national assembly.

Some party leaders instead of insisting on the convocation of the NEC meeting to discuss the urgent matter of zoning started propping up their preferred candidates for the positions. Some who insisted on the convocation of the meeting were allegedly ignored by the party leadership.

Some party members alleged that instead of attending to urgent issues that confront the party such as the issue of zoning of offices of the National Assembly, the members of National Working Committee (NWC) of the party were busy lobbying for ministerial appointments.

One of party members told The Guardian that the leadership lost focus and was compromised by a particular APC leader from the South at the expense of other members on the choice of national assembly leaders.

Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu taking oath of office, while Senate president Dr Bukola Saraki and others look on.

Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu taking oath of office, while Senate president Dr Bukola Saraki and others look on.

APC Leadership’s Untidy Position On Zoning
It was revealed that immediately the presidency saw how the politics of the national assembly leadership was being played among the party leaders, President Buhari made a public statement that he has no preferred candidate for the positions and that he is ready to work with anyone that emerged.

This development punctured the gimmicks of those who were dropping his name in the campaign for support. Many believe that Buhari’s position did not go down well with the party leadership. The party leadership in a statement said that there was no zoning of national assembly offices.
APC in a statement issued in Abuja by its National Secretary, Hon. Mai Mala Buni, stated that there was no iota of truth that its national working committee (NWC) had zoned the national assembly offices.

The party said it was deeply embarrassed by the story, which was apparently planted in the media to sow the seeds of instability in the party.

Senate President Dr Bukola Saraki talking with Senator Oluremi Tinubu in the Senate Chambers in Abuja on Wednesday.

Senate President Dr Bukola Saraki talking with Senator Oluremi Tinubu in the Senate Chambers in Abuja on Wednesday.

“The NWC never discussed the issued of zoning at its meeting. Therefore, the report of its decision on zoning is a figment of the imagination of whoever concocted the story,” it said.

The statement came on the heels of a declaration by a group of elected senators on the platform of the party who called for increased efforts towards achieving consensus on the process of picking the Senate President to ensure cohesion and discipline within the party.

A statement issued by the senators ‎who called themselves “the APC Unity Forum” also ruled out any primary election, adding that it was never discussed or contemplated.

Signed by senators Robert Ajayi Boroffice (Southwest), Bukar Abba Ibrahim (Northeast), Barnabas Gemade (North Central) and Abu Ibrahim (Northwest), the statement lamented that the current stiff contest among APC senators for the nation’s number three position was portraying the party as a party of desperate, selfish and undisciplined people.

The statement reads: “Given the conflicting media accounts surrounding the issue of the prospective candidate for the Senate presidency from the APC, we of the Unity Forum are constrained to make this clarification. This response has become necessary because we do not want to portray our party as a collection of desperate, undisciplined and selfish people. Rather, we believe that party preservation and the overall interest of the party should be paramount at this point.

“For the records, there was no time before the retreat, during the retreat or after the retreat where and when the issue of a primary election to pick the Senate President was tabled or agreed upon. Nowhere in the party leadership structure can we find the mandate for the conduct of any election with regard to the emergence of the Senate Presidency candidate. Any contrary information, out there in the social or any kind of media is false, self-serving and intended to mislead the public.”

Before then, a chieftain of APC and immediate past senator representing Rivers South-East in the National Assembly, Senator Magnus Abe has appealed to the leadership of the party not to jettison the zoning of political offices.

Abe in a statement said: “In a fragile democracy like ours, we can’t ignore a fundamental issue like zoning of political offices among component parts of a federal structure where every section expects to have a voice.

“Let us not wish away fairness, balance and national character in the occupation of strategic offices. Incidentally, there are capable hands with solid characters across the length and breadth of this country that can hold their own in every endeavour.”

Nigeria as a nation, the senator said, was yet to overcome ethnic and religious sentiments in political considerations, adding that disregard for geo-political zones and interest groups in the sharing of offices could be costly.

APC, he said, must remember that what destroyed the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP), was not zoning, but non-adherence to the zoning principle as enshrined in the PDP constitution.

“We cannot suddenly claim not to believe in zoning, because it was zoning that gave birth to General Muhammadu Buhari from the North-West, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, South-West, and Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, South-South, as President, Vice President and party Chairman, respectively,” he said, adding that the zoning consideration assisted in facilitating APC’s victory at the presidential poll.

Contrary to Abe’s position, the former interim Chairman of the APC and former governor of Osun State, Chief Bisi Akande said zoning of political offices has never been the position of the party and rejected the notion that the party was standing in the way of any qualified senator in its fold to contest the position of Senate President.

The APC chieftain said it was the Peoples Democratic Party that brought zoning into Nigeria’s polity and that no way would his party adopt the debilitating tradition.

“Zoning is not part of APC,” he said. “It is a PDP arrangement and we will not practise it. What you see with the Senate Presidency is us trying to ensure there is no rancour amongst the senators. Of course, we want the best man to emerge and that is what will happen.

“It is true that sometime after the election, the National Chairman (Chief John Oyegun) wanted to toy with the idea of zoning. But as a united party, we unanimously said, ‘No.’

“We know that zoning could create a room for the opposition to take advantage and snatch these positions. We have been sacrificing and compromising in the interest of our nation and that is what we must continue to do.”
These divergent views of the APC leadership and its major stakeholders on the issue of zoning of national assembly offices were clear signals that all was not well within the party on the matter. If not, why is it that the party leadership and members failed to streamline their position on the matter in time.

Even when it became obvious to the party leadership that pro-Lawan and pro-Saraki groups are growing in tactics and strength ahead of the national assembly inauguration day, not much was done to arrest the degenerating situation.

APC Leadership’s Volte-Face
Suddenly and to the amazement of Nigerians and majority of the APC members, the party leadership that has played the ostrich and discarded zoning of national assembly principal offices made a volte-face at the eleventh hour to call for meeting between pro-Saraki and pro-Lawan group in the Senate and pro-Gbajabiamila group and Dogara group in the House of Representatives.

Political observers saw the party leadership’s stance as double stand, having taking a position earlier that there was no zoning.

At the meeting which was boycotted by pro-Saraki and pro-Dogara group, the party leadership organised a mock election where Ahmed Lawan emerged as the party’s consensus candidate for Senate President seat, and Femi Gbajabiamila was chosen for the Speaker’s position in the House of Representatives.

It was alleged that the party leadership was compromised by one of the leaders of the party from Southwest zone that was behind Lawan and Gbajabiamila’s candidature.

Many political watchers have been worried of the silence of some major APC stakeholders like Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the five PDP governors that defected to APC, the APC governors and others on the Lawan and Gbajabiamila candidature.

It was obvious that Lawan and Gbajabiamila tickets were being championed by one of the APC leaders, Senator Bola Tinubu and his allies in collaboration with the party leadership. A move that did not go down well with major party leaders who equally contributed immensely to the victory of the party in the poll, but are being sidelined by the party leadership in the scheme of things.

It was on that premise that these aggrieved members of the party connived with the PDP senators to throw up Saraki as the Senate President to the disappointment of the party leadership. It would be recalled that before his emergence as the Senate President, Senator Saraki had said that
the party did not in any way adopt the zoning system as it was not approved by National Executive Committee of the party.

“For the party to adopt it, it must go to the NEC for approval,“ he said. He explained said that what the party did was an informal discussion within the party between the various groups.

With Saraki and Dogara’s emergence as Senate President and Speaker respectively, APC leadership has been defied and embarrassed. But findings reveal that many party stakeholders are very happy with the turn of events in the party, having accused the party leadership of compromise and ineptitude. Making the matter difficult for the party leadership was President Buhari’s tactical endorsement of the newly elected National Assembly leaders.

APC Leadership’s Threat Of Sanction
Shocked by the outcome of NASS election, the leadership of All Progressives Congress (APC) said the emergence of Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara as Senate President and Speaker of House of Representatives respectively, was totally unacceptable and treacherous.

This position is contained in a statement issued by the National Publicity Secretary of APC, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, in Abuja on Tuesday.

It said “consequently, the APC leadership is meeting in a bid to re-establish discipline in the party and mete out the necessary sanctions on all those involved in what is nothing but a monumental act of indiscipline.’’

The statement added that the election that saw the emergence of both men was the highest level of indiscipline. It said both men were not the party’s choice as they did not win the mock elections organised by APC to choose consensus candidates to lead the 8th Assembly.

“The party duly met and conducted a straw poll and candidates clearly emerged for the posts of Senate President, Deputy Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives, supported by a majority of all lawmakers-elect.

“All National Assembly members-elect who emerged on the platform of the party are bound by that decision. The party is supreme and its interest is superior to that of its individual members.

“It is an act of betrayal aimed to subject the party to ridicule and create obstacles for the new administration. It is an inordinate ambition and lack of discipline and loyalty.”

The party frowned at “entering into an unholy alliance with the very same people whom it, and indeed the entire country, worked hard to replace.’’

The statement described the action of such members as selling out the hard won victory of the party.

Many have wondered how the party leadership will sanction Saraki and Dogara, considering that their emergence was facilitated by major party stakeholders in collaboration with the PDP members.

A senior leader of the party told The Guardian that the party leadership lacks the constitutional powers to sanction Saraki and Dogara.

“Saraki and Dogara have not flouted the provisions of the party constitution to deserve sanction. The party leadership deserves sanction for failing in its responsibility when it matters most. Members of the NWC should bury their heads in shame for failing the party. If they did not thread with caution, the party members will soon pass vote of no confidence on them. Many of us saw this development coming, and we tried to call the party leadership to order, but they failed to listen.

“I challenge the party leadership to tell Nigerians the provision of the party constitution that empowers them to sanction Senate President and Speaker for contesting national assembly seat against their wish. The party leadership is grandstanding and engaging in face-saving measure. Those senators who threatened to go court and challenge Saraki’s emergence are free to try their luck. It is part of democracy,” the member said.

A member of the NWC who pleaded anonymity disclosed that his colleagues are in fix on how to handle Saraki and Dogara considering that they have the backing of the many party leaders.

Likely Implications On APC Future
As it is now, it is becoming clear that ahead of 2019, there will several infightings in the APC that will make or mar the party. The party will not have a caucus in the Senate which many believe is a dangerous trend in party politics which is all about party interest.

Those who lost in the national assembly election and their supporters will not easily give up unless there is urgent genuine reconciliation that is all-inclusive. It is also likely that the party may be balkanised like the PDP before 2019. The development has given the PDP a big boost to play viable opposition.

Many believe that with what has happened, the ground for lingering crisis in the party has been laid which may likely distract the government from performing.

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