Former Edo State Governor Adams Oshiomhole has succeeded Chief John Odigie-Oyegun as national chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). The Nation’s Group Political Editor, Emmanuel Oladesu examines the challenges that will confront the new leadership.
Oshiomhole, a two-time governor of Edo State, is basking in the euphoria of his victory as the National Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). He is assuming the reins at a time of great expectations. As he inherits the burden of leadership, many challenges will confront him and the new National Working Committee (NWC) in the next four years.
Since he had the backing of President Muhammadu Buhari and other influential party stalwarts for his new assignment, the former Edo helmsman became a candidate to beat. Thus, his challengers, Prof. Oserheimen Osunbor and Clement Ebri, a former Cross River State, withdrew from the race to back Oshiomhole.
Oshiomhole’s emergence has finally erased the agenda of tenure elongation, which deepened the division in the fold in the last four months. The successful convention, which was the climax of ward, local government and state congresses, may have reinforced the party’s commitment to periodic intra-party elections, rule of law and due process.
A key element of the convention is zoning. The 2014 zoning formula was sustained, thereby giving the six zones a sense of belonging in the distribution of party offices. Party chieftains have deliberated on the positions zoned to their regions and selected their national officers through micro-zoning. But, where dispute arose, they resolved to allow the aspirants to compete at the election in Abuja.
Following consultations, Kashim Imam from Borno opted out of the race for national secretary. His withdrawal paved the way for the emergence of Mai Mala Buni as consensus candidate. Senator Tony Adeniyi from Ikere-Ekiti also stepped down for former Ekiti State Governor Niyi Adebayo to emerge as Deputy National Chairman (South). Also, former National Vice Chairman (Southwest), Chief Pius Akinyelure, stepped down for his successor, Bankola Oluwajana from Ondo State.
Ahead of the exercise, the party has inaugurated the Convention Appeal Committee, which is expected to commence sitting tomorrow. Aggrieved aspirants and delegates are expected to file 30 copies of petitions as they ventilate their grievances before the panel. But, as the consensus candidate, the new chairman is insulated from that “intra-party litigation”. In fact, the Convention Planning Committee Chairman, Governor Abubakar Badaru, ruled out post-convention crisis because many principal officers, including the chairman, deputy chairmen, vice chairmen, national secretary and legal adviser, were returned unopposed.
Yet, it was evident at the Eagle Square, venue of the exercise, that the party was not in one accord. The multiple crises triggered by rancorous congresses were carried to the convention. The political family is battling with predictable constraints and self-inflicted wounds, which have initially made the preparations for the convention very hectic.
Reflecting on the anxiety and tension that enveloped the party as it prepared for the national congress, Odigie-Oyegun, who alleged that they were fueled by the media, said the prophets of doom have been disappointed. In his farewell speech, he did not dwell on his achievements. But, he maintained that he will be handing over a cohesive party to his successor. It is debatable. Odigie-Oyegun said he was vacating the hot seat as a fulfilled man and he wished the party well in its future activities.
In those states where the congresses were successful, there was a feeling of comradeship. But, in states where results of the congresses were disputed, fresh crisis erupted. The chapters ultimately became more polarised. For example, rival factions from Imo and Delta states clashed at the venue for almost 45 minutes before security agents restored order into a state of pandemonium.
Trouble started when delegates loyal to Chief Great Ogboru and Senator Ovie Omo-Agege were asked to vacate their seats for those loyal to Chief O’tega Emerhor. Ogboru, who was ushered into the venue around 1 pm, was taken aback when Emerhor’s supporters invaded the space, demanding that delegates loyal to him should leave their seats.
Initially, Emerhor, who had assembled his supporters at a stand very close to the Eagle Square gate, tutored them on how to storm the space provided for Delta delegates. He brought food and drinks for them as he consistently reminded them that they should be prepared to invade the space, thereby sacking Ogboru’s supporters. With Emerhor was former Delta House of Assembly Speaker Victor Ochei, who had stormed out of the state pavilion, following Ogboru arrival. Also, Dr. Cairo Ojougboh, from Delta, initially sat among Kebbi delegates.
As President Muhammadu Buhari was on the podium delivering his goodwill address, there was commotion. The two factions started to flex muscles. A free-for-all fight broke out as chairs were flying in the air. Many of the rival delegates were locked in physical combat. Scores were injured. Delegates from Edo and Akwa Ibom, who sat next to their Delta counterparts, took to their heels.
Also, fight broke out among Imo delegates when supporters of Senator Ifeanyi Ararume resisted an attempt by delegates loyal to Governor Rochas Okorocha and his in-law and Chief of Staff, Uche Nwosu, to sit with them. Supporters of the governor were dispersed. It took security agents 45 minutes to restore order. However, delegates loyal to Ogboru regained their seats, to the consternation of Emerhor’s supporters who were seen loitering around and trading abusive words with their kinsmen.
Also, an APC stalwart from Ondo State, Senator Ajayi Boroffice, and his supporters avoided the space allocated to delegates from the Sunshine State, citing likely hostility from the state leadership of the party. Instead, Boroffice, a retired professor and former Director of the Nigeria Airspace Agency, sat among delegates from Jigawa State.
On why he opted to sit among Jigawa delegates, he said: “I could not even enter with any delegate tag, because I don’t have one. I was allowed into this venue because I showed my identity card to them at the gate. I decided to sit here among Jigawa delegates to avoid likely embarrassment if I go to space provided for Ondo State delegates.” However, the party chairman, Ade Adetimehin, said: “The senator is afraid of his shadows. He committed serious anti-party offences during the last governorship election. He worked for the opposition. How can the generality of the party trust him? That is the explanation I can give. But, there is room for reconciliation.”
There was also anxiety in Kwara camp, following the refusal of an aspirant to the position of publicity secretary, Lanre Isa Onilu, to step down for the incumbent Bolaji Abdullahi. Before voting started, another aspirant and former House of Representatives member, Duro Meseko, withdrew from the race.
In Lagos arena, supporters of former National Legal Adviser, Dr. Muiz Banire, shunned the convention. A chieftain from Lagos, Babatunde Ogala, a lawyer and former House of Assembly member, succeeded the senior advocate.
In Kogi State, ebullient Senator Dino Melaye was conspicuously absent. Also, there was no trace of Senator Shehu Sani from Kaduna State at the convention. Former Kano State Governor Rabiu Kwakwanso, a senator, was also absent.
However, the historic convention was a welcome relief to many stalwarts. It provided a rare opportunity for self-assessment, subtle reconciliation and renewal of loyalty to the core values that motivated its birth by four defunct platforms — the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and a faction of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) – before the so-called new-Peoples Democratic Party (nPDP) elements teamed up with the party in 2015.
In the last four years, the ruling party has been beset with leadership failure. This may have been due to inaction, aloofness, lip service to the cause of unity and personalisation of power by party officers. Many founding fathers had cried out over the style of the former chairman, who they perceived as a divisive factor. There were protests over the obvious exclusion of founding fathers from party affairs. Many members and followers were taken aback when the party could not hold its mid-term convention two years ago. To analysts, APC’s ratings nosedived among Nigerians, because the party was in disarray. In lamentation, they started yearning for a credible and formidable alternative.
After winning presidential power, no concrete attempts were made to really embark on party reforms. The gulf among members of the defunct legacy parties was not closed. The chairman was not perceived as a symbol of unity. Not only did the APC fail the two critical tests of party supremacy and party discipline, after becoming a ruling party, it also failed to lay example for smaller parties in crisis resolution. The legislative/executive feud, the governor/senators face-off in some states and governor/ministers tango in others, further reinforced the protracted division. Although the APC has the majority in the National Assembly, passage of budgets has always been herculean task.
Many party officers also worked at cross purpose at the national level. The NEC and NWC meetings were not held regularly. So weak were the party organs that it could not resolve the conflict between the presidency and the parliament, although the president and majority of legislators belong to the ruling party. The APC Board of Trustees (BoT) was not constituted. The party caucus was helpless.
Alarmed at the drift, one of the founding fathers, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, cried out that the Odigie-Oyegun was not ready for the task of reconciling warring chieftains across the troubled chapters. When President Buhari later asked the former Lagos governor to take up the assignment, Tinubu also said that Oyegun was trying to frustrate the process.
However, many believe that the APC still has a brighter future, once its house is put in order. During his consultations with party stakeholders, Oshiomhole has shown the promise of great leadership. He built on his strong political base as the candidate of the president by taking his case to the governors, ministers and legislators. The goal was to avoid a legitimacy crisis which his sole candidature may foist and to prevent any likely perception or feeling of imposition. He succeeded by selling his candidature and gaining national acceptance among party leaders and followers.
Reconciliation is inconclusive in the APC. The onus is now on Oshiomhole to genuinely work for peace in the troubled ruling party. He is expected to beam the searchlight on the simmering crises in many chapters, including Delta, Imo, Oyo, Kano, Kaduna, Rivers, Kwara, Enugu and Kogi.