Leadership questions in APC, By Salihu M. Lukman

#TrackNigeria: Events in APC are curiously presenting very distinctive features especially in relation to contests for 2019 elections. A major unfolding change scenario is the issue of exercising political leadership prerogatives by President and Governors. This has to do with the emergence of perhaps involuntary liberal atmosphere more due to the personally reserved style of President Muhammadu Buhari, which kept him detached from issues of party management and administration and the baggage of politics that comes with it. On accounts of that, the APC is producing interesting leadership scenarios, which could be interpreted as rebellious in every respect.

With the politics of the country coming out of a garrison-oriented experience under PDP due largely to the bullish approach of former President Olusegun Obasanjo whose method required absolute subordination of almost every component of critical functions of the party, leaders of APC are today enjoying liberal atmosphere, which confers some freedom to disagree with national leadership in manners that could qualify as boisterous. Such boisterous actions are now public exhibits with thrilling attributes.

The issue of party primaries as to whether it will be conducted through direct or indirect methods was the first activating factor with the newly elected national leadership under Comrade Adams Oshiomhole promoting the direct method, while most state governors expressed preferences for the indirect method. The dispute over the format for primaries in the states laid the foundation for most of the current leadership conflicts pitching many state governors against the APC national leadership. Although, President Muhammadu Buhari accepted the direct primaries for his emergence as the Presidential candidate, he encouraged the party to allow states to choose their preferred option.

The second factor was the decision by the APC national leadership to attempt to give automatic ticket to serving APC Senators and members of the House of Representatives. This became a major source of conflict between many governors who are already facing opposition from serving Senators in their states. Although governors and most of the affected senators did all they could to get President Buhari to intervene in their favor, the President simply maintained dignified neutrality. On accounts of all these, Governors Umar Jibrilla Bindo of Adamawa and Mohammed A. Abubakar of Bauchi had a tough contest to secure their candidature for re-election. In Niger, candidates for Senatorial elections that emerged from direct primaries who defeated serving Senators were dropped by the APC national leadership and replaced with serving senators from the state. As a result, the party is faced with legal cases.

These are the background to the boisterous actions with thrilling attributes being produced by contending sections of APC leaders across our states. The most recent of such boisterous actions coming from APC Imo State Presidential campaign rally of Tuesday, January 29, 2019, which practically became a tournament between Governor Rochas Okorocha and his supporters, on the one hand, and Mr. Hope Uzodinma, the APC gubernatorial candidate, backed by APC national leadership and the Presidential Campaign Council led by Comrade Oshiomhole and Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, on the other. Having sponsored Mr. Uche Nwosu against Mr. Uzodinma during the primaries, Governor Okorocha disputed the emergence of Mr. Uzodinma as the party’s candidate and is now fielding Mr. Uche Nwosu as the gubernatorial candidate of Action Alliance (AA), a rival political party to APC.

Prior to the January 29 rally, Mr. Nwosu’s campaign expressed support for President Muhammadu Buhari. With Governor Okorocha being APC Senatorial candidate for Imo West (Orlu) District, it is being projected that AA is in alliance with APC in Imo State. Enraged national leadership of APC made spirited public announcements disclaiming such information, culminating in the recent suspension of the APC leadership in Imo by the APC National Working Committee (NWC) and the appointment of a caretaker committee. Governor Okorocha was also reportedly suspended by the NWC.

Having therefore recognized Mr. Uzodinma as the gubernatorial candidate of the party in Imo State, and taking into consideration that some disciplinary steps against Governor Okorocha and the state leadership of the party have commenced, ordinarily, it should be expected that Mr. Nwosu and his supporters operating under the AA will keep away from the January 29 rally. Or even if they showed up at the rally based on claimed support for President Buhari, they will not get any recognition. Interestingly, Governor Okorocha was reported to have been joined by Mr. Nwosu and supporters of AA to receive President Buhari at Owerri airport.

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While Mr. Nwosu was kept away from the venue of the rally, supporters of AA were very lurid and a visibly angry Mr. Amaechi couldn’t deliver any address when called upon as the Director General of the Campaign but only invited the APC National Chairman, Comrade Oshiomhole to inform the audience that Mr. Uzodinma is the APC gubernatorial candidate. However, before Comrade Oshiomhole performed his function, Governor Okorocha used the opportunity of his welcome speech to send a reminder that he is “the founding father of APC in Imo State” and advice President Buhari not to carry the burden of other people.

While Comrade Oshiomhole presented Mr. Uzodinma as the APC Imo State gubernatorial candidate, contrary to the expectations of most APC leaders, President Buhari told the crowd of supporters at the rally that “you can vote for whosoever you want, do not allow intra and inter party affairs stop you from voting for the candidate of your choice”. This is a big departure from President Buhari’s convention of urging electorates to vote only candidates of his party, in this case, APC.

The unfolding leadership contests in APC represented what could be termed as one of the APC distinguishing features. Ordinarily, such contests would have resulted in the typical decamping episodes, in the case of Imo state for instance, Mr. Nwosu, his supporters and possibly Governor Okorocha too would be the decampees. If for any reason, the Imo APC Presidential campaign rally were to take place based on prevailing political practices in Nigeria, it would have most likely resulted in a violent situation. Somehow, given also the garrison-orientation associated with ruling parties in Nigeria, it would have been inconceivable to have a situation whereby the President, National Chairman of the party and a Governor proclaiming varied positions regarding choice of candidates and the three of them all cohabiting in the same party.

The reality today is that the Imo situation is also exactly the state of affairs in Ogun state with Governor Ibikunle Amosun leading a section of party members in the state against the party’s national leadership over the choice of gubernatorial candidate. Like Governor Okorocha, Governor Amosun is the Senatorial candidate of APC for Ogun Central, while he supports Mr. Adekunle Akinlade, gubernatorial candidate of the Allied Peoples’ Movement (APM) against Mr. Dapo Abiodun, the APC candidate. Interestingly, Governor Amosun has on separate occasions taken the National Chairman of APM and Mr. Akinlade to President Buhari. Just like in Imo, APM is claiming to be in alliance with APC in Ogun state.

There is also the Zamfara situation where Governor Abdulaziz Yari is entangled in an unsettled contest against the APC national leadership, which has produced court judgements baring the APC from presenting candidates for the 2019 elections at all levels (governorship, Senatorial, House of Representatives and House of Assembly). Although there is a recent judgement lifting the legal impediment against the APC, groups opposed to Governor Yari in Zamfara, led by Sen. Kabiru Marafa, who enjoyed what may be termed as implicit support from the APC national leadership, is threatening to go on appeal.

Rivers state case is very similar to Zamfara with Sen. Magnus Abe spearheading the opposition against former Governor Amaechi and the APC national leadership. Like in Zamfara, the APC is contending with legal cases in Rivers. These are very extreme situations, which established reasoning would suggests that President Buhari will simply declare support for the National Leadership of the APC against dissenting groups within the party and proceed to take steps to suppress them.

No doubt President Buhari’s detached approach to party management and administration is producing a liberal atmosphere within APC, which is encouraging strong contests for leadership in the party. The capacity of President Buhari to embrace all contending leaders, including aggrieved ones is exceptional but also very discomforting especially to other national leaders of the party. This is a sharp contrast to the tyrant-figure being associated with President Buhari promoted especially by the PDP.

How all these played out in the 2019 elections will be very difficult to predict. However, given that Presidential elections are going to hold together with Senatorial elections, victory for President Buhari could easily equate to victory for Governors Okorocha and Amosun as Senators of the 9thSenate. In terms of the gubernatorial elections, in both Imo and Ogun, other political factors would determine the winner. The possibilities of both APC and the rivals AA and APM losing the gubernatorial election to other parties in the two states are also there. Unfortunately, given legal limitations, which forecloses possibilities for tradeoffs at this point, it is almost impossible to reconcile the defiant groups in these four states – Imo, Ogun, Rivers and Zamfara – with the party’s national leadership before the election.

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Are we therefore faced with a high risk of APC already losing four states before the election? Three out of these four states are currently governed by APC, which suggests high electoral prospects for APC to retain control of these states. Why should our leaders be this reckless? Why is President Buhari unable to control or moderate the conducts of our leaders?

For the purpose of analysis, with respect to Imo and Ogun states, let us assume three important scenarios. First is that APC candidates for gubernatorial election won and Governors Okorocha and Amosun also won their Senatorial elections. The newly elected Governors Uzodinma and Abiodun would present a very hostile atmosphere against Governors Okorocha and Amosun to the degree of the Ganduje – Kwankwaso experience in Kano. Supported by a national leadership that is already opposed to Governors Okorocha and Amosun, the reported disciplinary process could be escalated, which may mean expulsion from the party.

The second scenario is that both Mr. Nwosu and Mr. Akinlade emerge victorious. This will embolden both Governors Okorocha and Amosun. It simply means that they succeed in calling the bluff of the national leadership of APC. In such circumstance, Mr. Nwosu and Mr. Akinlade may have the option to come back to APC, which is what is being speculated. The question is, will they be accepted by the APC national leadership, especially given that their electoral victory would have humiliated the party?

The third scenario is that both APC, AA and APM lost the gubernatorial election. Tempers would remain high on both sides. The possibilities of Governors Okorocha and Amosun facing disciplinary processes would remain. Both Mr. Nwosu and Mr. Akinlade may have to remain outside APC. However, faced with a hostile administration in their states’ they may be moderated and become more disposed to possible conciliatory initiatives whether started by themselves within their states or by the APC national leadership. The big question is, will the APC national leadership consider any conciliatory initiative after losing the election in the two states?

In all these, what will be the position of President Buhari? It is almost certain, he will retain a neutral candor. Given the first scenario, the Ganduje – Kwankwaso experience is very refresh. This would mean that the President will remain receptive to Governors Okorocha and Amosun in the same measure as the new APC Governors Uzodinma and Abiodun. The second scenario could be more frustrating for the APC national leadership given that the President may be pushed by the newly inaugurated Senators Okorocha and Amosun to project the kind of neutrality that may appear to suggest that he is treating the non-APC Governors Nwosu and Akinlade almost like APC Governors.

Beyond Imo and Ogun states, should Governors Okorocha and Amosun win their Senatorial elections as predicted, how will they conduct themselves in the process of leadership negotiations for the 9th National Assembly? Will they extend their opposition to the APC national leadership to the realm of leadership negotiation for the 9th National Assembly? Or put differently, will the APC national leadership remain hostile to them especially if Governors Okorocha and Amosun are to aspire for any position in the leadership of the 9th Senate? How is the APC national leadership even preparing for the 9th National Assembly? Are they going to be able to ensure that leaders for both Senate and House of Representatives that are not antagonistic to the APC Presidency and the party emerged?

Perhaps, the dinner for APC Senatorial candidates hosted by President Buhari on January 28 and another scheduled dinner to hold for APC House of Representatives candidates on February 4, suggests that appropriate steps are being taken to ensure good coordination towards the emergence of leadership for the 9th National Assembly. Be that as it may, it is important to note that processes of leadership emergence in a legislature is often conservatively oriented based on combined factors of experience, length of service, public approval, etc.

In the context of APC, for both the Senate and House of Representatives, there are high-flying potential candidates in the persons of Sen. Ahmed Lawan and Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila. These are leaders in their own rights that have demonstrated abiding loyalty and commitment to the party leadership and the Presidency in the face of disloyal conduct of the Senate and House of Representatives under the leadership of Sen. Bukola Saraki and Hon. Yakubu Dogara respectively. The reality is that Sen. Lawan and Hon. Gbajabiamila should benchmark the qualities of leaders of the 9th National Assembly.

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Two important issues that should be emphasized in the context of APC leadership challenges and its boisterous forms are; how will it influence the processes of internal party leadership contests? Secondly, how will it play out in 2023 especially given that President Buhari will be concluding his 2nd term?

Without attempting to prophesize, depending on the ability of the APC national leadership to conclude the project of putting in place membership databank based on which party leadership at all levels become elected through direct methods, for quite sometimes, the influence of governors at state levels will continue to influence contest for party leadership. Ability of the party to transit from indirect to direct methods has the potential of changing patterns of leadership contests and with it, also leadership outlook and behavior. Given such possibility, leadership contests may even be more boisterous involving lower level leadership – states, local governments and ward leaders – on the one hand, and contending groups, on the other.

In the event however that the present format of indirect method continues, contests would be largely between governors and groups opposed to governors. The APC national leadership would have to continue to carry what could be regarded as consequential burden arising from judgements, rightly or wrongly. Whichever way it is considered, party primaries and processes of electing party leaders would continue to come with high possibilities for disputes and perhaps internal rebellion.

Against the background of such reality, APC national leadership would need to strengthen its capacity to facilitate reconciliation among aggrieved members. Its capacity to discharge such functions will be weakened and the national leadership will continue to carry consequential burden arising from judgements it will likely pass affecting aggrieved members. To a large extent therefore, current boisterous events in the party constitute a test of whether the the APC national leadership will take the needed steps to adjust develop its capacity to facilitate internal reconciliation through acting as an impartial arbiter when faced with internal disputes and leadership disagreements.

How all these plays out in 2023 will be very interesting. One of the unfortunately deceptive outlooks of the APC is its pretentious blind eye about the existence of power blocs within the party. Arising from such pretenses, matters of leadership aspirations and contests are subjects of speculations. Inability to recognize power blocs would only result in mismanaging processes of leadership emergence as was the case in 2015 in the case of the emergence of the leadership of both the Senate and House of Representatives. The APC national leadership would need to develop informal approaches for engaging all the emerging power blocs within the party. A major question would be in terms of where individual members of the national leadership stand with respect to any permutation for 2023.

With President Buhari consolidating himself as a moral leader, his influence in the process of the emergence of a successor is remarkably significant. To what extent will he seek to influence the emergence of his successor? No one can with any degree of certainty predict. Would he go the whole hug to identify a particular candidate as he has done in previous elections up to 2015? Or will he retain his unique ability to remain neutral and embrace everyone, as is the case today?

Largely because politics is dynamics, any answer based on today’s reality may be different from what may playout in 2023. Taking bearing however from the Imo January 29 APC Presidential rally and the message President Buhari gave to Imo voters to the effect that vote for whosoever you want, do not allow intra and inter party affairs stop you from voting for the candidate of your choice, President Buhari may be quietly telling prospective successors – endear yourself to the electorates and let their support promote you!

Lukman is of the Progressive Governors Forum, Abuja and is reached @ [email protected]

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