Oshiomhole’s ouster: Will APC avoid path to perdition?
Despite the victory of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2015 and 2019 presidential elections, it has been unending crises within the ruling party, with the latest round of wrangling leading to an unceremonious exit of its National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and other members of the party’s National Working Committee (NWC). FELIX NWANERI reports
he emergence of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2013, two years of the 2015 general elections was like a bolt out of the blues not because Nigerians were unaware of its coming, but because nobody expected that the then main opposition political parties would close ranks and fuse into one platform.
APC is an amalgam of the then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Congress for Progressives Change (CPC), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), factions of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) otherwise known as New PDP.
While many were skeptical about the workability of the merger, especially against the backdrop of assumptions that previous attempts never worked, founding members of the party however expressed optimism of a possible defeat of the then ruling PDP. Their dream turned to reality, when against expectations; the APC defeated the PDP in the presidential poll by 15.4 million to 12.8 million votes.
The then opposition party’s victory cut shot the PDP’s dream of being at the helm of affairs for 60 years as its leaders boasted at a time. It also marked the first time an incumbent president would lose election in Nigeria’s political history.
Besides winning the presidency, the APC also won in 20 out of the 29 states, where governorship elections held. The states were Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Sokoto, Kebbi, Niger, Bauchi, Kaduna, Plateau, Benue, Jigawa, Zamfara, Borno, Adamawa, Katsina, Yobe, Nasarawa, Kwara, Kano and Imo.
The party also gained control of both chambers of the National Assembly. It won 60 out Senate’s 109 seats and 212 out the 360 seats in the House of Representatives. At the end of the elections, the APC was in control of 22 states, but the figure rose to24 as the party later won governorship polls in Kogi and Ondo states.
Many had thought that the APC would build on its victory at the poll and most importantly avoid internal wrangling that caused the downfall of the PDP, but the ruling party, has remained a divided house since then.
A crack first manifested in the party at the inauguration of the Eight National Assembly on June 9, 2015, over the emergence of Senator Bukola Saraki and Hon. Yakubu Dogara as Senate President and Speaker, House of Representatives, respectively.
This did not only cut short the euphoria that ushered in the then opposition party’s administration, but defied almost every measure to have it cemented. The duo (Saraki and Dogara) had emerged against their party’s choices – Ahmed Lawan as Senate president and Femi Gbajabiamila as Speaker, House of Representatives – through an alleged deal they struck with the leadership of the PDP.
Saraki and Dogara were members of the PDP until they pitched their political tents with the APC in 2013. Saraki, a former governor of Kwara State, emerged as Senate President unopposed through the support of about 60 senators, who were present during the inauguration of the upper legislative chamber, while Dogara polled 182 votes against Gbajabiamila’s 174.
No doubt, the development humbled the leadership of the APC, but it offered the opposition PDP the opportunity to clinch the position of Senate deputy president through Senator Ike Ekweremadu.
The APC initially threatened sanctions against its “rebelling members,” but the issue was somehow resolved, when both divides yielded grounds given admonishments by Nigerians for the party to put its house in order and face governance.
From cold war to fierce political battle
Whereas many played down on the crack that manifested in the APC shortly after it assumed power in 2015, saying it was expected given the party’s various tendencies, it did not take time before it dawned on most political observers that all was not well within the ruling party.
However, the cold war that saw the ruling party constituting opposition to itself assumed a worrisome dimension, when it degenerated to a fierce political battle. The infighting first came to the fore at the eve of the September 2016 governorship election in Ondo State, when APC National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, called for the sack of the then National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun.
Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos State and one of the arrowheads of APC’s formation, not only described Odigie-Oyegun as a fraud and regressive element, who cares nothing for the progressive ideas upon which the party was founded, but added that he (Odigie-Oyegun) was hell-bent on guiding the party into the ditch.
In a statement entitled: “Oyegun’s Ondo fraud: The violation of democracy in the APC,” Tinubu also accused the then national chairman of having breached democratic promises and vows made between APC members and the public in a most overt and brazen display.
While Odigie-Oyegun described as false all issues raised against him by Tinubu, saying they were figment of his (Tinubu) imagination, he noted that he decided to respond to the issues because they were already causing disaffection within APC, and as well, painting the party in bad light.
But, definitely, there was no disputing the fact that APC was then enmeshed in crises in all fronts going by battles for the control of its structures at all levels. There was hardly any state chapter that was free from crisis.
President’s intervention ahead of 2019
President Buhari had to step in, when it became clear that the crisis in the various chapters of the party could affect its chances of retaining power in the 2019 general elections. The President, who also doubles as leader of the party, appointed Tinubu as the head of a national reconciliation committee. The committee was charged to consult, reconcile and build confidence for the party.
While the national leadership of the party initially kept mum over the development, apparently over the claim that it was not consulted before the decision was arrived at, it later pledged to cooperate with Tinubu.
But the peace move rather than heal the wounds, widened the crack in the APC as Tinubu accused Odigie- Oyegun of frustrating the reconciliation effort. He made the claim in a letter he personally signed and addressed to the national chairman, dated February 21, 2018. Copies of the letter were forwarded to the President, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Saraki and Dogara.
The APC national leader particularly accused Odigie-Oyegun of seeking to undermine the mandate given to him by the President to reconcile aggrieved members and ensure party cohesion by engaging in dilatory tactics.
Tinubu further accused Odigie- Oyegun of contributing to worsen the crisis in some state chapters of the party through unilateral decisions. He mentioned Kogi, Kaduna, Kano and Adamawa states and advised the national chairman not allow personal issues he has with him to affect the party’s fortune.
Tenure elongation and its defeat
The APC national leader’s letter, not only changed the narrative in the party, but set the stage for Odigie-Oyegun’s possible ouster. As a result of this, apprehension was the word ahead of the February 26 and 27, 2018 Caucus and National Executive Committee (NEC) meetings of the party.
Reasons for the anxiety were clear then. There was doubt that tenure extension canvassed for members of the NWC would be approved. The idea was muted by some chieftains of the party, especially the governors, who reasoned then that a national convention to elect a new executive could rupture the fragile peace in the APC. To them, the party could not afford the fallout of a regime change at a time it was going into a general elections.
The merit of this position, notwithstanding, some other chieftains of the party considered tenure extension not only illegal, but noted that it was capable of triggering more crises for the party. They also argued that the party would be going against its constitution if it opts for tenure elongation against a national convention that is provided for in its law book to elect its executive.
It was against this backdrop that a plot was hatched by antagonists of the tenure elongation proposal to make sure that a no confidence vote was passed on Odigie-Oyegun at the Caucus and NEC meetings, so that he and other members of the NWC will resign on or before June 2018, when their tenure was expected to elapse.
However, to the shock of many political analysts, the APC NEC rose from its meeting on February 27, 2018, to announced tenure extension for the NWC members. The NEC said its decision was based on Article 13 of the party’s constitution, which gives it such powers.
That development was not only victory for some APC governors, who were Odigie-Oyegun’s major backers, but for the then national chairman himself. However, while the victors’ savoured their victory, the vanquished kicked against the extension.
For instance, then chairman of APC Governors’ Forum and immediate past Zamfara State governor, Abdulaziz Yari, described the NEC’s decision as a “mere expression of interest,” and insisted that it is only at the national convention that a constitution amendment can be carried out to extend the tenure of the executive.
Tinubu’s camp also rejected the extension on the basis that it violates the Nigerian constitution and that of the party. The camp insisted that the NWC and all those who benefitted from the extension should seek reelection, when their tenure elapses.
Tenure elongation reversed
While the party was still contending with the controversies over tenure elongation for the NWC members, a fresh twist emerged, when President Buhari called for a reverse of the tenure extension for the party officials.
Buhari, who argued that the decision was “against the party’s constitution and the Nigerian constitution,” said he made a detour because he didn’t want the party’s activities to be faulted by the court.
His fear was that besides the fact the decision can be legally faulted; there was also the possibility that any nomination and primary election conducted by the Odigie-Oyegun-led executive would be faulted in court.
The party responded by setting up a technical committee headed by Plateau State governor, Simon Lalong, to advise it on the matter, but as expected, the committee toed the President’s position and the stage was set for a national convention, commencing with ward congresses.
Congresses of crisis
The ward, local government and state congresses, rather than serve as a forerunner to the national convention, turned a test of political might for party gladiators, particularly senators and ministers, who locked horns with governors of their respective state over control of the party’s structure.
At the end, most party leaders described the exercise as a sham and called for cancellation of the results. Some even went ahead to conduct parallel congresses. In some extreme cases, thugs loyal to the various factions engaged in free for all. A ward chairmanship aspirant in Delta State was shot dead, while arson was the other of the day in some states.
Most of the governors seized the opportunity to affirm their grip on the party’s structures at the grassroots. It was however mixed fortune for some as they lost to opposing camps in their respective states.
Crisis persist despite Oyegun’s ouster
It was against the backdrop of the crisis that trailed the ward, local government and state congresses that apprehension was the word ahead of the party’s national convention in 2018.
Though speculation was rife at the eve of the convention that it would not hold, but politics, being a game of interest masquerading as a contest of principles, almost all the aggrieved parties converged at the Eagle Square, Abuja, on 23 June 2018, for the second elective convention of the APC.
In an emotional farewell speech, Odigie-Oyegun expressed satisfaction for serving the party, but declared that “phase one of this party is over, phase two is about to begin and it is my hope that at the end of today, we would have elected a worthy son to carry on the battle, the leadership, the struggle of this party.”
He added: “I wish my successor the very best of luck, I wish him fair weather and for the rest, we leave to history.”
President Buhari, on his part, assured members of the party that the APC would be stronger after the national convention despite a few lingering issues over the ward, local government and state congresses in some states.
The President said the seeming crisis over the congresses was the price the party has to pay for its success. “I want to assure everyone here that despite a few lingering issues with the congresses in some states, our great party will emerge stronger after this convention. The unresolved cases we have are the price we have to pay for success, as everyone wants to be associated with a winning team. I am imploring all those with grievances to keep faith with the party until we put things right,” he said.
At the end of the exercise, the immediate past governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, was returned unopposed by delegates to replace Odigie-Oyegun, who also hails from Edo State.
Besides the national chairmanship position, aspirants for 18 other positions were elected unopposed. Though some contenders cited need for party cohesion as reason for their withdrawal, others said intense appeal by party leaders and shortage of time for them to make the desired impact on the fortunes of the party before the 2019 elections.
The assurances, notwithstanding, the party further became polarized. The aftermath was the emergence of faction, Reformed All Progressives Congress (RAPC) led by a longtime ally of President Buhari, Alhaji Buba Galadima and defection of the party’s chieftains such as Saraki, Dogara and several of APC members in the National Assembly to the PDP.
2019 primaries deepens crisis
From controversies over the directive by the Oshiomhole-led NWC for adoption of indirect voting in some states and direct voting in others, APC battled with crises in most of its state chapters ahead of the 2019 elections until the expiration of the December 1, 2018 deadline set by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for substitution of candidates for the elections.
Among the affected states were Ogun, Delta, Imo, Zamfara, Oyo, Ebonyi, Katsina and Ondo. The case of Rivers State was peculiar as the primaries that produced the parties candidates in the state were nullified by the court.
Despite the discord, the APC was able to win the presidential election. Its candidate, President Buhari Buhari polled 15.1 million votes to defeat PDP’s Atiku Abubakar, who garnered 11.2 million votes. The President won in 19 states, while Atiku won in 17 states.
But, it was not smooth sail for the ruling party in the governorship elections held in 29 states. Shockingly, the PDP won in 14, while APC won in 15 – a difference of one state. The states won by PDP are Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Ebonyi, Delta, Enugu, Taraba, Abia, Imo, Oyo, Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Sokoto and Rivers. APC won in Lagos, Ogun, Kebbi, Niger, Kaduna, Plateau, Jigawa, Zamfara, Borno, Katsina, Yobe, Nasarawa and Kano, Kwara and Gombe.
After the polls, APC had 20 states, PDP (15) and APGA (one). But, for the PDP, it added more states to its kitty. Remarkably, the main opposition party took-over four APC controlled states – Adamawa, Imo, Oyo and Bauchi. APC, on its part, won two PDP controlled states – Gombe and Kwara.
APC’s narrow lead over the PDP in the number of states won by both parties in the 2019 polls, however, changed on May 4, 2019, when the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal that challenged the nullification of the ruling party’s primary elections in Zamfara State.
As a result, the apex court voided all votes cast for the party during the general elections at the state level, from the governorship to state Assembly elections and ordered that the runners-up candidate be sworn in.
Aftermath of Zamfara loss
Apparently irked by the Zamfara loss, the party’s Deputy National Chairman (North), Senator Lawal Shuaibu, called on Oshiomhole to resign from his position.
In a letter to Oshiomhole dated May 27, 2019, Shuaibu, not only blamed the APC national chairman for the party’s loss in the north western state, but asked him to resign for the future of the ruling party. According to him, the APC project is failing due to Oshiomhole’s leadership as he has failed to add value to the ruling party.
Shuaibu added that the electoral fortunes of APC had dwindled because of the leadership style of Oshiomhole, whom he accused of conducting the NWC meetings at a private residence instead of the party’s national secretariat.
Though Shuaibu’s outburst at the eve of the inauguration of President Buhari for a second term in office shocked most APC faithful, some, however, said his eruption was pardonable given that he would be personally affected by the loss as he hails from Zamfara State.
But state chairmen of the APC in the South-South zone, who rose in defence of Oshiohmhole then, said Shuaibu merely expressed his personal opinion on perceived issues, which was not a reflection of the views of the generality of party stakeholders, who are yet to find anything untoward in the stewardship of Oshiomhole.
Governors move against Oshiomhole
After the dust raised by Shuaibu settled, the next battle for the ruling party was wriggling itself out of the crisis over the NWC’s endorsement of candidates for the leadership position of both chambers of the 9th National Assembly.
Though the party’s NWC led by Oshiomhole had its way during election of principal officers of the Senate and the House of Representatives as the 2015 anointed candidates – Lawan and Gbabiamila – emerged as heads of the upper and lower chambers, respectively, some governors of the party intensified their plot to unseat Oshiomhole.
The plot got to a height in March this year, but was resisted by some governors sympathetic to Oshimhole’s cause. Imo State governor, Hope Uzodinma, who led the pro-Oshiomhiole governors practically challenged his colleagues on the other side of the divide and made sure they didn’t have their way.
The Imo governor was supported by his colleagues from Borno, Ogun, Gombe and Lagos – Babagana Zulum, Inuwa Yahaya, Dapo Abiodun and Babajide Sanwo-Olu though Governors Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti) and Nasir el-Rufai (Kaduna), who were then touted as arrowheads of the Oshiomhole must go campaign, were absent from the meeting.
A palace coup at last
While Oshiomhole survived the March onslaught by the governors, he could not survive the palace coup staged by some members of the party’s NWC in conjunction with the governors and other powers that be within the APC.
What started from a suspension by his state chapter of the party over Oshiomhole’s battle for the structure of the party in Edo State with his estranged political godson, Governor Godwin Obaseki, later snowballed into a full blown crisis at the national level even as Obaseki had to leave the party for the PDP after his disqualification from the party’s primary election for the September 19 governorship election in the state.
The crisis prompted several court cases instituted by the various interest parties. The height of the legal battle was the June 16 upholding of Oshiomhole’s suspension as a member and National Chairman of the APC by the Court of Appeal.
Ruling on an interlocutory appeal filed by Oshiomhole, the appellate court upheld the decision of the Federal Capital Territory High Court delivered by Justice Danlami Senchi, which in March ordered the suspension of Oshiomhole as well as restraining him from parading himself as the national chairman of the party.
In a unanimous judgement in the first appeal delivered by Justice Eunice Onyemanam, the court held that the FCT High Court had territorial jurisdiction to have entertained the suit as it did.
In the judgment on the second appeal delivered by Justice Mohammed Lamido, the court disagreed with Oshiomhole that his right to a fair hearing was breached by the trial court.
It further held that the suspension of Oshiomole from Ward 10 of Etsako Local Lovernment of Edo State was ratified at the ward, local and state government level as required by law and that the identity of those who suspended him was not in doubt because in their unchallenged affidavit, they made it clear that they were party members and officers of the party.
What ensued after Oshiomhole’s suspension was the emergence of factional nation chairmen for the ruling party. On one hand, Victor Giadom, who the party’s Deputy National Secretary declared himself Acting National Chairman, while the Deputy National Chairman (South), Senator Ajimobi (now late), who was then battling with life threatening ailment directed the National Vice Chairman (South-South), Hillard Eta to take charge.
While the Eta-led NWC went ahead to conduct the Edo APC gubernatorial primaries, which produced Oshiomhole’s anointed, Osagie Ize-Iyamnu as the party’s candidate for the Edo election, the rug was pulled off the former labour leaders leg, when President Buhari consented to last Thursday’s emergency National Executive Committee meeting convened by Giadom.
In the place of the dissolved body, the APC NEC set up a 13-member Caretaker/ Extraordinary Convention Committee to run the affairs of the party for the next six months. Governor of Yobe State, Mallam Mai Buni and Senator John Akpanudoedehe were appointed as Chairman and Secretary of the committee, respectively.
Other members of the Caretaker Committee include: Governor Gboyega Oyetola (SW), Ken Nnamani (SE), Stella Okotete (Women representative), Governor Sani Bello (NC), Dr. James Lalu (representing the phys-ically challenged), Senator Abubakar Yusuf (Senate), Hon. Akinyemi Olaide (House of Reps), David Lyon (SS), Abba Ari (NW), Prof. Tahir Mamman (NE) and Ismail Ahmed (representing the youth).
Buhari, while addressing the NEC meeting, stressed the need for members to put an end to all the crises rocking the party. He warned that the gains the APC had made in the last five years could be reversed if members allowed conflicts to overshadow the primary objective of service to the people.
The President also expressed worry over the shifting loyalty within the party and inconsistency in leadership, which had opened the APC to mockery. His words: “The issues currently confronting our party at this time are such that should worry every party member. At the moment, our great party is faced with internal wrangling; there are on-going litigations amongst some party members and we cannot clearly ascertain the status of certain NWC members.
“There are also other associated disputes as to the legitimacy or otherwise of holders of certain national offices of the party. The party is also contending with judicial claims and counter-claims, orders and counter-orders and indeed judgements and counter-judgements that are predominantly at cross-purposes.
“Confronted with these issues, it is obvious that the fortunes of the party are currently in jeopardy, administration of our party is becoming impossible and there is consequently an urgent need for intervention to immediately arrest further drifts and internal wrangling which may lead to total disintegration.
“What we see clearly emerging is that we are beginning to self-destruct. This, my dear party members, is not just regrettable, but utterly gut wrenching.”
The President said that the APC must maintain cohesion by closing ranks in order to return to winning ways. “We must be alive to the time and the task that is before us. As we all know, we are immediately confronted with the upcoming gubernatorial elections in Edo and Ondo states. Therefore, this is the time to get our acts together,” he admonished.
Oshiomhole surrenders but not yet Uhuru for APC
While Oshiomhole for now has ceased to be the national chairman of the APC, it is still peace of the grave yard as many have interpreted his ouster as a palace coup by a clique of the party’s leaders, who are against the 2023 presidential ambition of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos State and one of the founding fathers of the party.
The belief in most political circles is that some presidential hopefuls, particularly governors in their second term mobilised for the change of guard to tame Tinubu as Oshiomhole’s continued stay in office as national chairman would be to his advantage in the race for the 2023 APC presidential ticket.
But Buni, who briefed newsmen after the NEC meeting disclaimed this postulation. He said Tinubu is not only one of the founding fathers of the APC, but also part of the current efforts to rescue the party.
“We are all together to rescue this party from all these challenges. Nobody is happy with the situation under which the party is now operating because we are in court for various problems and crises.
“So this decision was taken by NEC to address some of these issues. Nobody is being targeted and it is not against anybody. Asiwaju is one of the leaders of this party and a founding father of the party.
“My plan is all about doing justice to every member of the party because without justice, there won’t be peace. It is all about team play. I am a team player; I have a capable team that can work with me. If you don’t manage crisis, obviously crisis will manage you. So I won’t allow any crisis to fester henceforth,” he said.
Tinubu did not attend the NEC meeting, but in a statement on Saturday, he said he has not taken a decision to run for president in 2023 contrary to speculations, maintaining that he was more worried about the health and economic challenges facing the country at the moment.
“To those who have been actively bleating how the President’s actions and the NEC meeting have ended my purported 2023 ambition, I seek your pity. I am but a mere mortal who does not enjoy the length of foresight or political wisdom you profess to have. Already, you have assigned colourful epitaphs to the 2023 death of an alleged political ambition that is not yet even born,” he said.
Oshiomhole, on his part, has complied with the NEC’s directive for the suspension of all litigations against the party by members, not only accepted the dissolution of the NWC but pledged loyalty to Buhari.
Speaking with journalists on Saturday in Abuja, Oshiomhole said the real test of his loyalty is not when things are going smoothly but when things suddenly become rough.
“Of course, we have now been dissolved and I have accepted that dissolution in good fate. I have always assured the President of my loyalty. I know it is easy for people to speak of loyalty when the going is good but loyalty is brought to the test when the going gets really tough,” he said.
He, however, expressed joy that the APC under his leadership was able to work hard to ensure that unity returned to the Ninth Assembly. According to him, the emergence of Lawan and Gbajabiamila as Senate President and Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives, respectively, has helped the executive arm of government to succeed.
No doubt, Oshiomhole has gone for good and the governors, whom he had a running battle with, not only had their way, but have taken back the party from those believed to have hijacked it, however, the question that would be answered as development continue to unfold is: Will the ex-labour leader’s exit as APC national chairman restore peace to the ruling party?