After overcoming initial fears of a possible judicial challenge to its convening, the National Executive Committee of the All Progressives Congress held its second meeting in six months on Tuesday, December 8, 2020.
In the meeting which was presided over by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), party leaders reviewed the activities of the Governor Mai Mala Buni-led APC Caretaker/ Extra-Ordinary National Convention Planning Committee since June when it was set up.
The caretaker committee had been given an initial six months to reconcile aggrieved party members and conduct a national convention to elect new leaders to take charge of the day-to-day running of the affairs of the party.
The decision to dissolve the Adams Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee during the June 25th NEC meeting was preceded by several months of internal wrangling within the party leadership which later culminated in a series of litigations that led to the suspension of the former APC chairman via a court order.
The then Deputy National Secretary, Victor Giadom; the late APC Deputy National Chairman, Abiola Ajimobi; and National Vice Chairman (South-South), Hilliard Eta, had at various times within the period, laid claim to the position of the APC Acting National Chairman.
President Buhari, governors elected on the APC platform, and other party leaders who attended the June 25th NEC meeting agreed with the President when he chose to intervene in the crisis by dissolving the Oshiomhole-led NWC.
The decision, according to party chieftains, was meant to stop the party’s slide into anarchy.
The dissolution of the NWC and the setting up of the Buni-led committee were also welcomed by many others who argued that the party was in dire need of fresh ideas in order to reposition itself.
The Director-General of the Progressives Governors Forum, the umbrella body of governors elected on the APC platform, Salihu Lukman, gave some insights into events that led to Oshiomhole’s sacking.
He said, “With the emergence of Comrade Oshiomhole’s leadership in the APC, there was high expectation that the process of party building would return.
“A lot of the frustrations leading to the June 25, 2020 APC NEC decision to dissolve his leadership had to do with the failure to return to the process of party building. With the appointment of His Excellency, Mai Mala Buni-led Caretaker Committee, the expectation is that the process of reorganisation and party-building starting from membership registration/revalidation will commence.”
The Secretary of the Buni-led committee, Senator John Akpan-Udoedehe, noted that neither the NEC nor members of the committee had a full grasp of the enormity of the challenges on the ground.
He told Saturday PUNCH that “when the (initial) six-month tenure was given to us by NEC, it did not envisage that the enormous crises in the party would take this long to resolve.”
He explained that having done a quick appraisal of the challenges it was confronted with, the committee resolved that it was best to reach out to party leaders across the board to not only get their support but also find out what issues required urgent attention.
The trouble-shooting shuttle took the panel first to the Lagos residence of the APC National Leader, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, as well as the country home of pioneer Interim National Chairman of the APC, Chief Bisi Akande.
Explaining the reason behind the trip, Akpan-Udoudehe said it was difficult “to play politics, especially in the APC, without reaching out to Bola Tinubu and Baba Bisi Akande; we went and explained things to them. That was the first thing we did.”
However, what he didn’t mention was the fact that many of Asiwaju’s loyalists within the party considered the sacking of the Oshiomhole-led NWC as part of a larger plot to whittle down the influence of the party leader. Of course, many believe Tinubu has a constitutional right vie for the APC presidential ticket in 2023.
Tinubu enjoyed the confidence of most members of the defunct NWC. In fact, he was instrumental to the emergence of Oshiomhole soon after leading the charge which culminated in the ouster of the pioneer APC National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun.
Party insiders, who confided in Saturday PUNCH, explained that the governors who arguably had long been the most powerful power bloc within the party felt disrespected by several actions taken by the national leader and Oshiomhole.
As a result, they decided it was time to take their pound of flesh.
A party source said, “Apart from Oshiomhole’s high-handedness in running the party, the governors as a group felt bad that their pleas to the national leader and Oshiomhole to let former Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, and later Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, benefit from a gentleman’s agreement to seek a second term, fell on deaf ears.
Another party insider also said, “Most people knew that the gloves were off when one of our respected leaders, the Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, openly asked the people of Lagos to ‘end godfatherism in the state.”
However, a member of a group of aggrieved party members, under the aegis of Concerned APC members, Abdullahi Dauda, explained that it would be difficult to convince anyone that Tinubu was not being targeted because both the NEC meetings held in June and December were not preceded by a caucus meeting as was the tradition.
He observed that Tinubu, Akande and ‘other strong party voices’, who were members of the caucus but not the NEC, were sidelined by other power brokers.
Dauda said, “Some people may not like Tinubu but the truth remains that his contribution to the merger which led to the APC and our historic victory in 2015 and 2019 remain part of our history. Politics is his life and I know he is not in politics for money or fame but for service to the people.”
As the initial six months given to the Buni panel drew to a close, the leadership convened a second NEC meeting two weeks ago to assess progress so far made.
Satisfied with the progress report presented by Buni and his team, the NEC resolved to give the panel another six months within which to conclude its assignments.
Announcing the NEC decision after the meeting, El-Rufai, among other things, said, “The National Executive Committee of the party approved the extension of the tenure of the Caretaker/Extraordinary National Convention Planning Committee led by Mai Mala Buni, which expires on December 25, 2020, for another six-month period, to terminate on June 30, 2021.
“This is to enable the Caretaker and Convention Planning Committee to conclude its assignment as laid before NEC.
“NEC has also donated its powers as enshrined in Articles 13.3 subsection 5 and 13.3 subsections 6 of the APC Constitution to the Caretaker and Convention Planning Committee.
“The second resolution is that NEC has approved the granting of waivers to persons, who have recently joined the party and those desirous of joining the party in the nearest future.
“The third resolution is that NEC approved the expulsion of Ntufam Hilliard Eta from the party for flouting the directives of NEC to discontinue all litigation against the party and its members.”
Three days before the convocation of the second NEC meeting, Eta had gone to court to challenge the dissolution of the NWC during the first NEC meeting held in June.
He has vowed to pursue the matter to the very end. While reiterating his resolve to continue with the court case, Eta told Saturday PUNCH, “I’m still in court. So, the illegal contraption cannot speak for NEC that is not properly constituted. Even if it was properly constituted, the NEC of a party cannot take the place of the courts.”
In its determination to reposition the party, the Buni panel which has strong backing from the party’s governors is forging ahead with its planned nationwide membership registration and revalidation exercise.
Although some party members had raised fears about the decision, supporters argued that this was the right thing to do.
Lukeman, who belongs to this school of thought, in his defense of the planned registration exercise, said, “The process of membership registration/revalidation is expected to be followed immediately by processes of leadership formation at all levels. From all the internal debates so far, one of the underlying objectives is to resolve the challenge of electing new party leaders in the same year when general elections are to take place.
“Electing party leaders in the same year when candidates for general elections are to emerge only re-enforce the desperation of aspiring politicians to control structures of the party. With all the rebuilding process expected to end in June 2021, it then means that APC can have almost two years before the 2023 general elections to negotiate landmark political challenges and possibly produce some internal consensus, which should be able to throw up credible candidates for the 2023 general elections at all levels.”
One of the major challenges before the committee is rebuilding confidence among party members as well as leaders.
The unresolved dispute over the recognition of one faction and not the order in states like Zamfara, Rivers, Kwara, Ogun, and Edo among others will likely test the party manager’s will.
It is worthy of note that most of the yet-to-be-resolved challenges in the various state chapters of the party have their roots in the acrimonious ward, local government, and state congresses of 2018.
After the party membership registration exercise scheduled to hold early next year, the party is expected to conduct the same set of primaries to produce delegates for the national convention. Only time can tell if the party has learned its lessons from the missteps of the immediate past.