The ongoing turmoil within the ruling All Progressives Congress drags Nigeria down a familiar path, writes JOHN ALECHENU
When supposed strange bedfellows came together in 1998 to form the Peoples Democratic Party – which went on to rule Nigeria for 16 years until its stranglehold was broken in 2015 – only a few people envisaged that the sharing of power on the altar of political patronage would cost the party its prized jewel, the Presidency.
Gone were the days when a PDP ticket could guarantee the bearer election victory with or without campaigns. Politicians fought, maimed and in some cases, killed to obtain the party’s tickets in order to gain access to power and wealth.
A number of the All Progressives Congress members are sure to dismiss the ongoing threat to the party’s existence occasioned by the National Assembly leadership crisis, as a storm in a tea cup. They cannot, however, discountenance the gathering ominous dark clouds of danger that lie ahead.
Some commentators are of the view that the APC had yet to come to terms with the reality that the electoral campaigns were over and Nigerians are waiting for governance to begin.
It is instructive to recall the birth and the journey of the APC so far. Tired of losing elections as opposition political parties, three leading parties, which included the All Nigeria Peoples Party, the Action Congress of Nigeria, the Congress for Progressive Change and a faction of the All Progressive Grand Alliance, set aside their differences and came together to begin a journey which culminated in the APC. After initial hiccups, the party and its leaders proved sceptics wrong by putting together a very formidable opposition. The party went on to, not only decimate the population of the then ruling PDP by winning over five sitting governors and several members of the National Assembly, it also swept the general election.
This did not happen by chance. Careful planning and sacrifice by the various power blocs ensured that the party not only got registered but that its message of change from the unsavory past became the song on the lips of a cross-section of Nigerians.
It is also worthy of note that the chairmen of the three political parties that merged to form the APC: Chief Ogbonnaya Onu of the ANPP, Chief Bisi Akande of the ACN and Prince Tony Momoh of the CPC, as well as other members of their respective executives, had to give up their positions for the new arrangement to come to fruition. The merger did not happen without seemingly endless meetings and financial commitments made by some wealthy leaders of the party.
The boost given to the party by the entry of a former Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar, and five sitting governors of the PDP cannot be overemphasised. The five governors who took the plunge were Rabiu Kwankwaso (Kano), Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers), Murtala Nyako (Adamawa), Abdulfatah Ahmed (Kwara) and Aliyu Wamakko (Sokoto). Senators, especially ex-governors, who were members of the PDP, equally grabbed the opportunity to rise up and be counted.
While the party celebrated its growing popularity, it appeared little prepared to accommodate the monstrous political interests which had started to build nests within its structure. With the elections won, reality has now set in.
It’s now three months after the APC won the historic 2015 general election. Many now question whether the party has been able to transit from being an opposition party to a ruling party. Others even argue that the APC faced serious challenges of disintegration sooner than anyone envisaged.
Political commentators are of the view that the party is grappling with its first real test. Its level of cohesion is being tested from within as some of its members decided to call the bluff of the party leadership in pursuit of their individual political objectives.
After two months of unending nocturnal meetings, party leaders failed to agree on a sharing formula aimed at giving the various interests a sense of belonging.
For instance, there are those who are quick to point out that while the defunt ACN, ANPP and CPC blocs may have been taken care of, the “New PDP” bloc made up of former PDP governors, senators and their followers were left out in the power game.
Those in this school of thought point to the fact that the emergence of President Muhammadu Buhari takes care of the CPC interest while the emergence of Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo for what it is worth, represents the interest of the ACN. In the same vein, some are of the view that Chief John Odigie-Oyegun’s emergence as the national chairman of the party gives members of the defunct ANPP a sense of belonging.
The uneven pattern in the sharing of leadership positions in the party informed why at some point, the party leaders mandated its National Working Committee to work out the modalities for a zoning arrangement in order to reduce the mounting tension. Twice, the committee zoned the positions. Twice, it failed to submit its findings and recommendations to the National Executive Committee – which is the party’s highest decision making body, for ratification.
Powerful interests, who were convinced their interests would not be protected if the recommendations sail through, ensured that the NWC’s recommendation never made it to the NEC.
Unable to contain his discontentment, a former Governor of Kano State, Rabiu Kwankwaso, went public. He held several press interviews, advising the party to adopt a zoning formula acceptable to all. Unknown to many, he was speaking the minds of most of his colleagues who joined the party from the PDP.
The party’s National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, and the former National Chairman of the defunct ACN, Chief Bisi Akande, at different times, announced that the party would not zone offices because it was alien to the APC constitution.
They had also argued that what the nation required were men and women of character who were the best in their chosen fields to move the nation forward. However, not every leader of the party shares their idealism in this direction. One of such party leaders is elder statesman and Second Republic Minister of Communications, Chief Audu Ogbeh.
Ogbeh, who is also a founding member of the APC, explained that for a developing nation like Nigeria, zoning is an indispensable component of democracy. “This whole business of ‘no zoning’ is a political fallacy that can’t work in Nigeria,” he had said. Ogbeh pointed out quite correctly that issues of leadership in Nigeria, nay Africa, are not issues to be glossed over.
The announcement by President Buhari that he was prepared to work with whosoever emerged as a leader in the National Assembly was well received, especially by the members of the new PDP power bloc within the APC. They saw the elections into leadership positions in the National Assembly as their chance to strike.
Against permutations by other power blocs, especially the ACN which has a firm grip of the NWC, some elements of the new PDP reached out to their friends in the PDP for help. The rest, as they say, is history.
On the surface, it may appear that the various power blocs are simply jostling for positions. However, party watchers are quick to point out that beneath the surface, two prominent power blocs, one led by Tinubu, and the other led by Atiku, are setting the stage for 2019.
Although both leaders of the party have denied this, it is becoming an open secret that the battle for the soul of the party ahead of 2019 has started in earnest. Allegations by Chief Akande, a close associate of Tinubu, that what happened in the National Assembly is a “northern conspiracy” against the Yoruba gives credence to the insinuations ahead of 2019.
Akande also hinted what some have interpreted to mean a growing lack of confidence in the party’s leadership to arrest an imminent drift. Akande, in a letter made public on Sunday, said, “It is my opinion that President Buhari and the APC governors should now see the APC as a rocking platform that may not be strong enough to carry them to political victory in 2019.”
A lone voice, the Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the party, Mr. Timi Frank, had earlier called for the resignation of Odigie-Oyegun over the impasse.
Odigie-Oyegun, on his part, succinctly captured what is playing out. He said in an interview, “It (the crisis) is an unfortunate thing and I think it has arisen because of the clash within major interest groups in the party and that has given rise to gross disloyalty and an unacceptable level of indiscipline and disrespect to the party.”
Odigie-Oyegun is, however, optimistic that the situation has not got to the point of despair because the month-long recess declared by both chambers of the National Assembly has provided a window of opportunity to mend fences.
Nigerians are waiting and watching to see whether sanity will be restored within the party that promised a change from the old ways of the PDP.
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