APC’s high-profile membership recruitment and issues for 2023, By Salihu Moh. Lukman



Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode’s Red-Carpet Reception

Late on Thursday, September 16, 2021, reports emerged that Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode had joined the All Progressives Congress (APC) and he was received by President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, in the company of His Excellency, Mai Mala Buni, Chairman of the APC Caretaker and Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee and the Governor of Zamfara State, His Excellency, Bello Matawalle. With the emergence of the report, public attention in the country has been dominated by negative commentaries, mostly from APC members, about why Mr. Fani-Kayode should have been accorded such a high-profile reception. One of the first people to express disappointment was Sen. Babafemi Ojudu, Special Adviser to President on Political Matters, who lamented that the reception given to Mr. Fani-Kayode makes the day ‘the saddest day of his political career.’ Mr. Joe Igbokwe, Special Adviser to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu on Drainage and Water Resources and former APC Chairman of Lagos State cried that ‘Fani-Kayode is coming to destroy APC’ and expressed ‘sadness that he (Fani-Kayode) who was not coming to add value to the party was given a red-carpet treatment while his (Igbokwe’s) efforts go unappreciated.’

The issue of Mr. Fani-Kayode joining the APC, first emerged on Monday, February 8, 2021, when his pictures together with HE Mai Mala Buni, Chairman of the APC Caretaker Committee and Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State appeared in many social media platforms. Many believed that the emergence of the pictures signaled that negotiation is going on, if not concluded, to bring Mr. Fani-Kayode into the APC. This made many party members to protest that leaders of the party are about to admit Mr. Fani-Kayode into the APC. Partly, on account of the protest, Mr. Fani-Kayode himself denied that he is joining the APC and boasted that he will never do so. The protest against Mr. Fani-Kayode joining the APC has to do with his venomous nature. He abuses, insults, and disparages everybody, almost indiscriminately. As a result, his capacity to build and sustain relationships is short, not just politically, but it also the case almost in every aspect of his life.

Almost every member of APC is angry that our leaders have brought someone like Mr. Fani-Kayode into our party. This is made worse by the red-carpet reception given to him, which he doesn’t deserve. But since it has happened, there is no need to cry over spilled milk. What is very clear is that our leaders, especially President Buhari have forgiven Mr. Fani-Kayode and embrace him as one of us. As members of APC, our anger with Mr. Fani-Kayode is that he has abused both the APC, President Buhari and virtually every leader of the party. For instance, he claimed that the ‘emergence of Buhari in 2015 annihilated Nigeria and plunged her into darkness, death and destruction. He came to steal, kill and destroy and for the last disastrous 5 years that is all he has done.’ More than this, he has said unprintable things against the APC and all its leaders.

At this point therefore, if with all these, our leaders can accept Mr. Fani-Kayode into the party, APC members should not be more than the Pope. Why should APC members be sad that our leaders are magnanimous? Perhaps, because of the red-carpet reception, which many committed APC members cannot even dream of, it should be legitimate to feel unappreciated like Mr. Igbokwe had cried out. But as APC members, especially those that have been in the party since its formation in 2013 and have endured all the challenges of being loyal members, we must always be reminded that our commitment is to contribute in whatever way and manner possible to change Nigeria for the better. If therefore, someone like Mr. Fani-Kayode, who is considered unreliable and therefore not qualified to be a member, would seek for forgiveness from our leaders, based on which they extended their to him, members of the APC should also show understanding.

No doubt, since 2015, there are many opportunistic political leaders in the country who joined our party, got all the welcome reception, like the one given to Mr. Fani-Kayode, but end up betraying and in some instances outrightly undermining our party and our leaders. Understandably therefore, part of the frustration of many APC members is that most times, it could be predicted that our leaders are wrongly investing trust and confidence on wrong people. Contrastingly, those who are consistent and loyal to our party and our leaders hardly gained the deserving respect they should have. This may not necessarily be intended but it is there. Be that as it may, members need to move forward with every confidence and commitment to engage our leaders. If we are to succeed in changing Nigeria, both APC leaders and members must commit themselves to developing strong and functional relationship. Ability to develop strong and functional relationship between APC leaders and members is the foundational requirement for APC leaders to be able to develop strong and functional relationship with Nigerians. This will require that APC members are able to respectfully tell leaders the truth.

Functional relationship with Nigerians is always very crucial for winning elections. Since our leaders have developed the needed large heart to forgive Mr. Fani-Kayode, as loyal party members, we should be able to take advantage of their large hearts and make some demands, which, if met, can make our party better and more attractive to credible Nigerians beyond Mr. Fani-Kayode. The proviso however is that even if our leaders ignore our demands, as loyal and committed party members, we should take a rain cheque and continue to respect decisions of party leaders and make every sacrifice for our democracy and our dear country. One day, our leaders will have no option but to concede to members’ demands. Who knows, some of the members making demands may even become leaders tomorrow. In which case, what will be their excuse not to respond to those demands, which they themselves made on leaders.

To that extent therefore party members should respect the decision of our leaders to admit Mr. Fani-Kayode and welcome him with a red-carpet reception. On no account, should we be distracted. If Mr. Fani-Kayode need red-carpet reception to be a member of APC, millions of party member have demonstrated that they need any form of recognition to work for Nigeria. Being very consistent and stable members of the APC, we should also recognise that the party is partly what it is today on account of our little contributions over the years. At the same time, all our leaders, without any exception, are also where they are today partly because of our small support, loyalty and committed to execute task given to us. Having recognised all these, although we would have loved a situation whereby our leaders carry party members along in every decision they take, the difference between many party members who today feel unrecognised and people like Mr. Fani-Kayode is that even when not carried alone, they will respect decisions of party leaders and execute tasks that can make both the party and leaders succeed.

Specifically with respect to accepting Mr. Fani-Kayode as a member of APC, therefore, party members expect that our leaders accepted him to join the APC so that he can be supported to reform himself. That being the case, party members should hope that our leaders, including President Buhari, also accepted to forgive Mr. Fani-Kayode because he has undertaken to commit himself to the process of getting reformed. With all the reservations party members may have about the commitment of Mr. Fani-Kayode to reform himself, we should trust our leaders and through them, also trust that Mr. Fani-Kayode will truly want to reform himself. His (Mr. Fani-Kayode’s) statement to the effect that ‘let’s focus on unity, peace and togetherness’ is an encouraging testament. For Mr. Fani-Kayode to talk of the unity of Nigeria at this time, shortly after he supported and promoted secessionist campaigns of Nnamdi Kanu and Sunday Igboho is a remarkable departure. However, recognising such a departure shouldn’t be interpreted to mean that we should blindly trust Mr. Fani-Kayode.

What is required in the circumstance is that our leaders must test the commitment of Mr. Fani-Kayode to reform himself. The first test is that Mr. Fani-Kayode should be reminded that politics is local. Coming from Osun State, his commitment to reform himself should start with getting him to integrate himself with APC leaders back in Osun State. At this early stage of his membership of APC, beyond the photo show with our dear President Buhari and the Chairman of the APC Caretaker Committee, Mr. Fani-Kayode should have a photo gallery with images of him uniting with Chief Bisi Akande, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, Governor Gboyega Oyetola and other party leaders in his home state, Osun. In fact, part of this test would have been met had Governor Oyetola and Ogbeni Aregbesola, at the minimum, been part of the welcome reception at the Presidential Villa on Thursday, September 16. Had that happened, the raging controversy following the admission of Mr. Fani-Kayode into the party would have been minimised.

The photo gallery should also cover images with leaders from the South-West. Mr. Fani-Kayode should take every step to reciprocate the gesture of our leaders by demonstrating that he is ready to reform himself. Some of the controversy he has already created makes it doubtful whether he want to reform himself at all. For instance, when he claimed that he facilitated the defection of some Governors that joined the APC from PDP, suggests that he is still his old venomous self. Only people with very small minds could make such statement and only gullible people can believe them. The claim that three additional Governors – Bauchi, Oyo and Enugu – are on their way to join the APC, also falls in the same category of small mind talking to gullible people. If Mr. Fani-Kayode truly want the party to succeed in recruiting anybody, including Governors, he should quietly support the leadership. We have a very competent leadership that can handle that responsibility, which is why his admission into the party succeeded in the first place.

Accountability and High-Profile Membership Recruitment

A major challenge of high-profile political party membership recruitment, like that of Mr. Fani-Kayode, is the issue of getting those recruited to be accountable. How can the party ensure that newly recruited high-profile members moderate themselves such that it is the party that control them and not the other way round? While it is easy to control people that are already constraint by legal provisions on account of statutory responsibilities such as Governors and legislators, individuals like Mr. Fani-Kayode, who are only responsible to themselves, would be difficult to manage. It is therefore important that APC members prepare to engage Mr. Fani-Kayode to ensure that he is accountable to our leaders, our party organs and by extension, Nigerians. A reformed Mr. Fani-Kayode should be an accountable personality, both to the party and to Nigerians. On no account should Mr. Fani-Kayode ever imagine that he has come to APC to conduct himself uncontrollably. He must be accountable to our leadership and all our party structures. He must respect himself and abide by the provisions of the party constitution and its manifesto. To support him, copies of the APC constitution and manifesto must be made available to him immediately.

There are also issues related to getting him to work with other party members especially in relation to addressing national challenges. The problem of managing Nigeria’s diversity, for instance, require respect and tolerance. That he (Mr. Fani-Kayode) has joined APC and has made statements to the effect that he is committed to a united Nigeria must be demonstrated based on respect for all Nigerians irrespective of differences. A major test will be the extent to which Mr. Fani-Kayode is able to demonstrate tolerance and respect for opinions of leaders and members of the party. This doesn’t mean he shouldn’t disagree. But he must express his disagreement with utmost respect. On no account must he promote divisive campaigns, in whatever forms or manner. Doing so will suggest that he is still the old venomous Mr. Fani-Kayode. Once that become the case, party members must be ready to engage him including campaigns to discipline him as provided in the constitution of the APC. Therefore, his membership of the party must take root in his Ward in Osun State, and he must subordinate himself to his Ward leadership.

The Case of Former President Jonathan Goodluck

Part of the reason why high-profile membership recruitments by political parties in Nigeria attract a lot of debate, attention, and controversy, is that it hardly come without any ambition to contest election by those joining the party. Although in the case of Mr. Fani-Kayode, no one can associate it with the ambition to contest election, which is why many questioned his electoral value, with 2023 elections less than two years away, and with the APC leadership efficiently succeeding to win so many high-profile leaders joining the party, there has been lots of speculation in terms of what all the high-profile membership recruitment into APC represent. Partly because President Buhari will be completing his 2nd term and therefore ineligible to contest, the question of who will emerge as the Presidential candidate of the APC for 2023 is quite open.

Two of the Governors that recently joined the APC from the PDP are speculated to have done so because of ambition for 2023. And since the 2019 Bayelsa State Governorship election, when APC leaders met former President Goodluck Jonathan to lobby support for APC candidate, Mr. David Lyon, there have speculations that he (former President Jonathan) will also be joining the APC. Some have even alleged that as part of the negotiation, former President Jonathan has already been offered the APC Presidential ticket for 2023. Amid the controversy around Mr. Fani-Kayode, the Secretary of the APC Caretaker Committee, Sen. Akpan Udoedehe, is reported to have confirmed that anyone who join the party will be free to contest. However, it is important that the issue of high-profile membership recruitment by APC are clarified beyond the narrow expectations of electoral contest. Why should the objective of recruiting high-profile members be reduced to the issue of contesting election? Assuming someone like former President Jonathan agree to join the APC and he fail to emerge as the President Candidate of the party for 2023 election, what will happen to him?

As Nigerians, we must begin to take steps to protect our leaders. As APC members, we have campaigned against former President Jonathan in 2015. As President, former President Jonathan made every effort to block the emergence of APC in 2013. But those should not be the reference point. The reference point should be the historic decision of former President Jonathan to concede defeat in 2015 even before the final votes were counted. With that, former President Jonathan ranked himself as one of those who fought and defended Nigeria’s democracy. On no account therefore, any political party should be allowed to push former President Jonathan to diminish his stature, either as an aspirant or a candidate for any office. Doing so will mean that we want him to gamble away all his legendary achievements.

It is sad enough that PDP leaders, being who they are, don’t recognise and respect former President Jonathan’s deservedly political stature. No doubt, every speculation about the possibility of former President Jonathan joining the APC has to do with the reality of being unappreciated by PDP leadership. Negotiating to bring him into APC should not be based on aspiring for any office. It must be recognised that former President Jonathan, and indeed every former President, is beyond holding any office in the land. Bringing former Presidents to that level will to diminishing their political stature. Already, President Buhari is doing excellently well by delegating some high-profile diplomatic responsibilities to former President Jonathan. One of the failures of PDP is the inability to create responsibilities that can match the statures of former Presidents. Inability to create responsibilities for former Presidents is perhaps what accounts for the overbearing restlessness of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

With President Buhari scheduled to end his tenure in 2023, less than two years away, negotiation to recruit former President Jonathan into APC must be used to settle the question of the roles of former Presidents within the APC. APC must not allow the situation to emerge whereby party leaders and members only respect elected and appointed functionaries. Part of the lessons from the challenges created under the last National Working Committee led by Comrade Adams Oshiomhole had to do with the absence of Board of Trustees. Is it possible therefore to organise the APC Board of Trustees’ and get former Presidents to provide the needed moral leadership that can serve as a check to both party leaders and elected functionaries of the party?

The question of providing needed moral leadership to check party leadership and elected functionaries can be debated. But its desirability can hardly be contested. Part of the need for checks also has to do with the issue of implementing campaign promises and provisions of party manifesto. Having former Presidents discharging persuasive moral responsibilities as leaders of Board of Trustees would strengthen the capacity of party leaders and members to influence decisions of elected functionaries. Just emerging two former serving Presidents of the standings of President Buhari and former President Jonathan working in harmony towards a common political goal. It will take a rascally elected functionary at whatever level to ignore their recommendations. On the other hand, the big risk is when they are unable to work in harmony. That will tear the party apart and may potentially destroy the party. There is the need therefore to broaden consultations and agree on everything required to ensure that the framework of operations of the APC Board of Trustees guarantees that former serving Presidents can work in harmony.

Transforming Partisan Politics Beyond Electoral Contests

Negotiating to recruit high-profile members must go beyond the narrow speculation for electoral contest. Getting high-profile party members to be accountable to structures of the party should be developed beyond lip service. Weak accountability is responsibility for why some elected leaders become overbearing and refuse to respect decisions of the party. At the same time, weak accountability is also responsible for why leaders of the party, for instance the National Working Committee fails to convene meetings of organs of the party. Beyond failure to convene meetings, relationship between the party and elected representatives, both executive and legislative arms at all levels is similarly weak. Capacity to direct or influence decisions of elected and appointed functionaries of governments produced by the party is just notional. There is the need to take every step necessary to strengthen the relationship between the party structures and elected and appointed functionaries in both the executive and legislative arms at all levels.

The other important issue is managing internal negotiations to agree on substantive details that can guide the process of decisions of what the party needs to do to win elections in 2023. A major issue in this respect is the question of what will guide the emergence of APC Presidential Candidate for 2023 elections. As party members, we must appeal to our leaders to quietly negotiate this sensitive matter within the structures of APC. It is worrisome when some of leaders of our party partner with some PDP leaders to start public advocacy for power shift. Once APC leaders form partnership with PDP leaders to force a decision on a matter that a competent organ of the party is expected to decide, will suggest loss of confidence. Besides, what will be the morality of partnership with leaders of PDP who are decidedly in opposition against our party?

Negotiating a number of these issues will require tolerance and strong commitment by our leaders. It must be acknowledged that it is not going to be an easy negotiation. Part of the challenge also is the distraction from all the pressure from Nigerians. Leaders must be leaders by being able to withstand all the public pressure. Of course, most of the public pressure is also emanating out of some of our contemporary challenges as a nation. This include problems of insecurity on account of banditry and insurgency, which sadly is further widening all the fault lines of the country. Therefore, in addition to the question of who the Presidential Candidate of APC will be and from which part of the country he/she will come from, specific issues that can unite Nigerians must be identified by our leaders and make them issues for the 2023 campaigns.

APC leaders have demonstrated that nothing is impossible in Nigeria politics. With commitment and skilful negotiations, every desirable proposal can be achieved. That was the motivation for the successful merger of 2013. It was the driving factor for the successful defeat of PDP in 2015. It was similarly the reason why APC is coming out of a major leadership crisis successfully as a united party. APC leaders need to remain confident, committed and go into negotiation on all the issues around 2023. The same attitude that guided all the success of the party since 2013 can guide our party to victory in 2023!

Salihu Moh. Lukman
Progressive Governors Forum
Abuja

This position does not represent the view of any APC Governor or the Progressive Governors Forum