By Salihu Moh. Lukman
Progressive Governors Forum, Abuja
With the emergence of APC in 2013, following a very successful merger negotiations led by the leadership of defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), our democracy was able to record some good measure of progress. Not only that the merger was the first time Nigerian political parties were able to successfully unite and become one party, the leadership of the parties that merged made every sacrifice required to ensure the emergence of APC as a strong united political party.
Part of the components of the contributions of the APC to Nigeria’s democracy include that the problem of imposition of candidates in elections were minimised considerably within the APC, at least in the 2015 elections. Unfortunately, that is where our problems started. Contestants in party primary election failed to develop the needed sportsmanship to accept results. The old habits of aspiring candidates taking over leadership structures of the party and through that therefore predetermining results of the primary elections remained the case.
Consequently, since 2015, conducts of primary elections within the party has been rancourous in virtually all our states. Our National Working Committee (NWC), which is saddled with the leadership responsibility of managing all our internal processes and where there are problems, facilitate resolution of the problems, is unable to do so. Inability to resolve problems associated with management of 2015 elections have been compounded with more problems from 2019 elections. In fact, multiplicity of these problems has made us to lose elections in Adamawa, Bauchi, Oyo, Sokoto and Zamfara.
Perceived weaknesses of the Chief John Odigie-Oyegun-led NWC served as the justification of electing Comrade Adams Oshiomhole as replacement to Chief Oyegun. Sadly, challenges of internal democracy and fair competitive practices during candidates’ selection processes in the party remained a dream. Now, clearly the problems associated with candidates’ selection process has produced what can be regarded as an electoral college. Citizens can vote but our Supreme Court will eventually determine the winner. All as a result of very poor management of candidates’ selection process by our party.
Unfortunately, our party’s NWC is hardly able to come up with any reassuring response. The crisis in the party is clearly getting worse and worse by the day. It has gotten to a stage whereby the competence of members of the Comrade Oshiomhole-led NWC to provide needed leadership to ensure victory in every election has been eroded. We can win election and on account of some inabilities to competently manage legal challenges associated with nomination of candidates, we are compelled to surrender victory to our opponents. This is the narrative of the Supreme Court judgement of February 13, 2020 in respect of November 16, 2019 Bayelsa elections. It was also the case with the May 24, 2019, Supreme Court nullification of the election of all APC candidates in the 2019 elections in Zamfara State.
In other words, our NWC can be described as a very efficient trojan horse that opens the backdoor for electoral victory to our political opponents. It is really unfortunate that we are faced with all the avoidable electoral tragedies that has befell us, all because our NWC has decided to abdicate its responsibility. This is quite disheartening and certainly beyond any expectation. How can all these be happening under the watch of Comrade Oshiohmole as the National Chairman? Comrade Oshiomhole’s leadership credentials cannot be disputed. But given what is going on now in APC under his watch, it is very clear that he is not that same Comrade Oshiomhole that was an inspiring union leader who competently handled all organisational leadership challenges to the admiration of Nigerians.
Part of the problem now is that he is surrounded by sycophants mainly from Edo State. Any attempt to help him through objective advice is condemned as betrayal especially when such advice come from people who were close to him. Many of those who claimed now to be his supporters and loyalists are people who only relate with him based on his position of power and capacity therefore to influence access to political positions. His success as a leader who is able to direct the party towards electoral victory is never their consideration except if they are the candidates.
One cannot blame these sycophantic crowd around our National Chairman. But I will definitely express my disbelief at the way Comrade Oshiomhole has become all of a sudden, a leader who is intolerant to criticisms. His level of intolerance is so high that any disagreement or criticism expressed against any of his decisions or actions is classified as betrayal and therefore requiring disciplinary actions. The procedure for disciplinary actions has become so cheapened such that all the relevant provisions in the party’s constitution are violated. As a result, Comrade Oshiomhole is today the leading accuser, prosecutor and judge in almost all cases where disciplinary actions have been administered in the party. The only probable exception may be the case in his Ward in Edo State where he is also being alleged to have been disciplined.
With this kind of background, it is almost impossible to start any process of engagement to resolve our problems in the party without addressing the issue of intolerance that is today the main characteristic of the Comrade Oshiomhole-led NWC. This is not in any way questioning the capacity or competence of the Chief Bisi Akande-led APC National Reconciliation Committee. No doubt, Chief Bisi Akande is one leader who has all that is required to assist the party and all our leaders to resolve current challenges. In fact, Chief Akande, having led the party, immediately after the merger negotiations that produced the APC in 2013 has everything at stake if the party is allowed to continue to suffer electoral loses simply because our current leaders are intolerant to one another and consequently not able to manage processes of candidate selection within the party.
In addition to Chief Akande, the Committee has very refutable members who have played very important roles during the merger negotiations of our legacy parties in 2013. I am very confident that these refutable team of very selfless leaders should be given all the support required to ensure that they succeed. How can we support the Chief Akande Committee to succeed? I think the starting point has to be an appeal to the Comrade Oshiomhole-led NWC, who facilitated the formation of the Chief Akande Committee to convene a meeting of the appropriate organ of the party – National Executive Council (NEC) or National Caucus where a decision setting aside all the disciplinary actions at all levels of the party, including the NWC can be taken.
Somehow, such a meeting can also serve as perhaps an icebreaking platform where some good pronouncements can emerge, which can encourage all aggrieved leaders and party members to express their disagreement and dissatisfaction at the way our party is being managed since 2015. Steps must be taken at such meeting to ensure that criticising or disagreeing with our leaders does not constitute an offence.
If the Chief Akande Committee is to succeed in this very crucial assignment, it must be positioned to set in motion the process of rebuilding the party. The hard truth is that as it stands today, APC is not a functional political party. None of its organs at any level is meeting as provided in the party’s constitution. It is even debatable if our membership register exists. At best, it will be the same old 2015 membership register.
With such reality, any effort towards resolving our problems may have to commence with verifying the issue of who our party members are. Somehow, this is also an issue that will test our tolerance limits. For instance, to what extent can we accept members such as Sen. Kabir Marafa in Zamfara who instituted the court case that led to surrendering the victory of our party in the 2019 election to the PDP? Or to what extent can we regard members in Ogun and Imo who contested the 2019 elections under different parties?
However it is considered, it is a simple case of responding to all these challenges based on capacity to forgive. The only most important requirement is that each party must be able to accept that mistakes have been made. This is where the Chief Akande Committee will have to demonstrate its capacity and competence. It is a familiar calling to Chief Akande. I am confident they can be able to discharge this function by being able to listen to all actors without apportioning blame to any of the actors. Just as they listen to each of the actors, they should be able to first give some minimum conditions which each of the parties must meet.
There is also the issue of strengthening the confidence of party leaders at all levels based on provision of good working conditions. As it is today, our party leaders at all levels don’t have any verifiable working condition. This is partly the case because, the party’s sources of income are still vaguely defined. Issues of membership subscription are yet to be concluded. These need to be addressed. We can resolve all existing disputes within the party, if these are left as they are today, the same old problem will continue to rear their heads every election season.
The task of reconciliation in APC has to have a life of its own. It is about commencing the process of rebuilding the party. All our leaders should demonstrate very strong commitment. As part of such commitment, initiative must be instituted to block all openings that further exposes our leaders to more conflicts. One of such issues is the question of refilling vacant positions in the NWC. Somehow, there appears to be decisions by the Comrade Oshiomhole-led NWC to endorse successors from states different from what was agreed at the last convention. If this is to go ahead, there will be more disputes within the party. If this is the preferred option, then it is safer to go for another convention where everything about leadership of the party can be renegotiated, and new agreements reached.
We may need to remind all leaders about the appeal of President Muhammadu Buhari to the APC National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and Governors on Friday, September 13, 2019, while receiving Progressive Governors on a solidarity visit to congratulate him following the Presidential Election Tribunal Ruling affirming the victory of APC in the February 23, 2019 elections. In the words of the President “what I will say to the chairman of the party and governors in return for your congratulating me is to make sure you really institutionalise the party so that when we leave, the party will continue to lead.’’
Our leaders at all levels need to show respect to the President and begin to work to help him achieve his dream. We can not be undermining ourselves to the extent of becoming our own trojan horses, conceding hard won electoral victories to our opposition and imagine that we are working to institutionalise the party. Where is the party institution, when meetings are not taking place as provided in the party’s constitution? How can we even imagine that our party can survive when our membership records are in doubt and all that preoccupied our leaders is how to position themselves to emerge as the so-called candidates for elections?
This need to change if the vision of the President is to be achieved. The task of the Chief Akande Reconciliation Committee is to bring back sanity in the conduct of our leaders at all levels such that it is possible to begin to work to ensure that the party, APC, is rebuilt, with credible membership records, organs of the party at all levels are meeting as provided by the provisions of the party’s constitution, processes and procedures for candidates’ selections are clearly and unambiguously defined and steps taken to ensure that all aspirants accept results of primary elections conducted by the party, etc.
Most of the steps needed to ensure reconciliation on a permanent basis, will most likely come with more challenges. For instance, how can we ensure that aspirants accept results of primary when the party structures that will produce the voters is controlled by a particular aspirant? These are practical questions that will require some closer engagement with the Chief Akande Committee. Suffice it however to say that challenges of institutionalisation require longer term initiatives driven by patient and tolerant leaders.
This is where the Comrade Oshiomhole-led NWC need to make a choice as to whether it will align itself with the vision of President Buhari of institutionalising the party or it want to undermine it. To work for institutionalising the APC means that the NWC will have to demonstrate high measure of tolerance. Perhaps, the tenure of the Chief Akande Committee should serve as a transition period for the emergence of perhaps a highly tolerant NWC.
The reconciliation-disposed NWC, even if led by Comrade Oshiomhole must refrain from making inflammatory public commentaries. As much as possible, all statements coming from the party should be made to reflect decisions of organs of the party, and the NWC in particular must respect its jurisdictional limits as provided in the constitution of the party when it comes to matters of issuing public statements. There are issues that clearly require the decisions of superior organs such as NEC or National Caucus for them to be credited to the party. Statements must not be reduced to opinions of party leaders, important as that may be.
Any action contrary to this would undermine the work of the Chief Akande Reconciliation Committee and will be against institutionalising the APC as a party that can survive beyond the tenure of President Muhammadu Buhari as a ruling party. May God help all leaders unite under the common vision of rebuilding the APC as an institutionalised party capable of winning elections for all times!