Battle for 2019 : The various problems rocking the APC

The raging feud between a former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, and the governor of Kaduna State, Nasir el-Rufai, has yet exposed expanding cracks in the ruling All Progressives Congress and deep-seated suspicion among its leaders.

In a recent interview with Zero Tolerance, an in-house magazine of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mr. Abubakar accused Mr. El-Rufai and the pioneer Chairman of the Commission, Nuhu Ribadu, of betraying him, even though he brought them into the administration of former president Olusegun Obasanjo in which Mr. Abubakar was vice president.

Mr. El-Rufai responded swiftly to Mr. Abubakar’s claims in the interview. He not only accused the former vice president of having “a record of spewing outright lies and innuendo” against him, he linked the claims to Mr. Abubakar’s alleged ambition to run for president in 2019.

A few days later, Muhammadu Abdullahi Sugar, another chieftain of the APC, re-enacted he war against Mr. El-Rufai and other chieftains of the party.

He warned President Muhammadu Buhari to be careful with Mr. El-Rufai and former Governors Rabi’u Kwankwaso and Danjuma Goje, alleging that they were betrayers.

Messrs. Kwankwaso and Goje, both serving senators are also members of the APC.

The spat between Messrs. El-Rufai and Abubakar came a few weeks after two of the party’s

leaders openly engaged in verbal punches that suggested a threat to the party’s unity.

In September, the National Chairman of the APC, John Odigie-Oyegun, and a national leader of the party, Bola Tinubu, similarly confronted themselves publicly over the party’s governorship primary election in Ondo State.

Mr. Tinubu casts the first stone.

In a statement, he accused Mr. Odigie-Oyegun of playing an undignified role in forwarding the name of Rotimi Akeredolu to INEC as the party’s candidate in the November 26 Ondo State governorship election, despite the recommendation of the Appeal Panel that a fresh primary be held.

He demanded the resignation of the national chairman for “duping” the party and INEC.

Mr. Oyegun not only denied Mr. Tinubu’s allegation of corruption against him, he described it as “reckless” and baseless.

For many however, the war of words between the two party leaders, was shocking.

Mr. Tinubu it was, who supported Mr. Odigie-Oyegun as national chairman in 2014 above another Edo man, Tom Ikimi, considered an outsider because of his previous membership of the PDP.

Alarmed by his rejection, Mr. Ikimi, who hosted most of the meetings that led to the merger of four opposition parties – to become APC – in his Abuja home, scurried out of the party and rejoined the PDP.

Yet, Mr. Odigie-Oyegun and a fellow member of the NWC of the APC, Timi Frank, have had to publicly engage in verbal punches.

Mr. Frank, the party’s youthful deputy national publicity secretary, repeatedly taunted the 77-year-old national chairman, describing him as incompetent.

For him, Mr. Odigie-Oyegun has mismanaged the party, warning that except something urgent is done, the situation could lead to the implosion of the party in no distant time.

Watchers of the APC believe that Mr. Frank’s bitterness against the national chairman stemmed from his failure to become the substantive spokesperson of the ruling party.

Since its former spokesperson, Lai Mohammed, was named the nation’s information and culture minister, Mr. Frank, an ally of Mr. Abubakar, has never hidden his desire to step up and speak for the party.

But Mr. Odigie-Oyegun and some members of the NWC have done everything to block him from realising the ambition.

The national chairman insisted that in the absence of a spokesperson, he (Odigie-Oyegun) and the National Secretary of the APC, Mai Bunu, would speak for the party and not Mr. Frank who they perceive as not only controversial but always taking positions not in line with party directive.

Apart from open quarrels between the leaders of the APC, there are other that have characterized the ruling party lately.

Since it assumed power at the centre some 18 months ago, the three-year old party has increasingly come under tension, both at the national and state levels, which is capable of leading it to disastrous electoral outing in the future.

Crises at the national level and state chapters

The emergence of Messrs. Saraki and Yakubu Dogara, as the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, respectively, and their deputies against the wishes of the party, was the first major crisis that hit the party after it took over power at the centre.

The party had in a mock election picked Ahmed Lawan and Femi Gbajabiamila to contest for the positions in the June 9 election of the officers of the national Legislature.

It also picked George Akume and Mohammed Monguno, as their deputies.

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The party is yet to recover from that disappointment.

Indeed, many attribute Mr. Saraki’s arraignment at the Code of Conduct Tribunal for alleged corruption and false asset declaration to his perceived rebellion against the party.

The senate president himself already alluded to this.

It was the first time a serving senate president, who is also the number three man in the country, would be arraigned.

The PDP block of the party, to which Messrs. Saraki and Dogara belong, is still livid.

Kawu Baraje, who led some PDP members, including five governors and lawmakers to the APC in 2013, said the worst would happen if the senate president is removed.

Mr. Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, were also arraigned in court for allegedly forging the senate rule that brought them to power on June 9.

At the moment, no fewer than 12 state chapters of the party are having unresolved crisis.

They include Adamawa, Kogi, Bayelsa, Bauchi, Nasarawa, Zamfara, Kaduna and Kano.

However, those of Kaduna and Kano, both in the north western zone, appear more intense as they repeatedly reverberate at the national level.

In Kaduna State, the hostility between the governor and the senator representing the central district of the state, Shehu Sani, has continued unabated.

The animosity between the two political gladiators in the state began shortly after the APC took over in Kaduna and has led to a split of the party with members queuing behind them.

In the neighbouring Kano, there is also a raging feud between Governor Abdullahi Ganduje and his predecessor, Rabi’u Kwankwaso, now a serving senator. Mr. Ganduje had served as deputy to Mr. Kwankwaso while in power.

The governor made desperate moves to undermine Mr. Kwankwaso’s influence in the state chapter of the APC by sacking some loyalists of his predecessor from his government and also ensuring the removal of others from the state executive committee of the party.

One of the victims is the Secretary to the State Government, Rabi’u Bichi.

Complaints over lack of patronage

Also, there appears to be a feeling of discontentment among the APC faithful over lack of patronage by the federal government.

Many members who worked for the party at different levels feel abandoned and are grumbling that some persons have hijacked the Buhari administration, hence appointments go to people unknown to the party.

Some feel Mr. Buhari has not adequately settled party members with appointments, especially those who worked for the party during the 2015 presidential campaign.

Interestingly, the president’s wife, Aisha, leads the pack.

A few months ago, apparently frustrated, she blamed the president for giving appointments to those strange to the party just as she threatened not to back her husband if he decides to seek re-election.

“The president does not know 45 out of 50 of the people he appointed and I don’t know them either, despite being his wife of 27 years,” the First Lady told BBC in an interview.

“Some people are sitting down in their homes folding their arms only for them to be called to come and head an agency or a ministerial position.”

Buhari Vs Tinubu

It is safe to conclude that the former Lagos governor is the issue in APC or even the Nigerian politics having played a significant role in the merger of four parties into the APC three years ago.

The parties were Action Congress of Nigeria, Congress for Progressives Change, All Nigeria Peoples Party, and a section of the All Progressives Grand Alliance.

A section of the then ruling PDP later fused into the new APC thus forming the fifth block that make up the party.

Mr. Tinubu mobilised resources, energy and manpower to successfully bring the parties together to oust the PDP from power at the centre.

However, there are speculations that there is a cold war between Messrs. Buhari and Tinubu.

Although, Mr. Buhari has since dismissed the speculations, a presidency source said it has to do majorly with political patronage.

Apart from Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and a few others Mr. Tinubu nominated into the Buhari administration, the president rejected ministerial nominees of the former Lagos governor. Tinubu-and-Buhari

Mr. Tinubu has also been having it rough with the party’s national leadership, which has refused to do his bidding. He could not have his way in Kogi and Ondo states where the leadership of the party frustrated the bid of his allies to become governors.

James Faleke’s bid to succeed the late Abubakar Audu as the governorship candidate of the party in Kogi was frustrated by the party, which went for Yahaya Bello, who is now the governor.

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It was messier in Ondo. The party in concert with some forces frustrated his spirited battle to get the primary that produced Mr. Akeredolu cancelled.

The failure to get Olusegun Abraham the party’s flag in Ondo prompted Mr. Tinubu’s letter accusing Mr. Odigie-Oyegun of sell-out.

Matters came to a head when Mr. Tinubu boycotted the party’s November 19 rally in Akure. Apart from him, three southwest APC governors, namely Rauf Aregbesola (Osun), Abiola Ajimobi (Oyo) and Akinwunmi Ambode (Lagos) shunned the event where Mr. Buhari presented the party’s flag to Mr. Akeredolu.

Although none of the absentee south west governors gave reasons for staying away from the event, Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State, who chaired the Ondo APC Governorship Campaign Council, explained a few days later that they sent in their apologies.

He also claimed Mr. Tinubu was absent at the rally due to ill-health.

Perhaps, Mr. Lalong was merely labouring to play down the discontentment in the ruling party.

Just three days after the Plateau state governor spoke, Tokunbo Afikuyomi, a former senator faulted his claim.

Mr. Afikuyomi, a political ally of Mr. Tinubu’s, said the former governor’s medical trip to the US at the time the rally held did not mean he was sick, thus further fuelling the belief that he (Tinubu) had not reviewed his position on Mr. Akeredolu.

Mr. Tinubu has however since congratulated the governor-elect apparently in a bid to unite the party. Mr. Buhari admitted that the unity was threatened over the Ondo saga.

The spokesperson of the APC in Lagos State, Joe Igbokwe, told PREMIUM TIMES that though he was not are aware of any cold war between Mr. Buhari and Mr. Tinubu, the former governor has not been fairly treated by the party, especially in resolving the issues arising from the two states.

But the Director General of the Voice of Nigeria, Osita Okechukwu, said the former Lagos governor and the south west zone have been sufficiently patronized by the Buhari administration.

“Mr. President did not forget what they are bringing to the table. The vice president is not a spare tyre in this government, he has enormous powers. The south west is one of the greatest beneficiaries of appointments,” Mr. Okechukwu told this newspaper.

“The president has appointed five special advisers and three of them are from the south west. They have ministers in strong ministries. So unless anybody is talking about his household, the southwest has had its fair shares.”

Atiku’s Presidential Ambition

A major source of tension in the ruling party is the quest of some of its members to run in future elections.

Although, the 2019 elections are still over two years away, there are speculations that some APC members will challenge Mr. Buhari to the contest.

Mr. El-Rufai alluded to this in his recent exchange with Mr. Atiku.

The former vice president came third in the 2014 APC presidential primary election which Mr. Buhari won.

Mr. El-Rufai may just be right as there are pointers to the plan by Mr. Abubakar to enter the presidential contest again.

In August last year, the former vice president reportedly held a meeting with political soul mates in Dubai as a prelude to reviving his presidential ambition.

Mr. Abubakar was to deny the report of the meeting, explaining that he was in Dubai on medical ground.

He said the reports were sponsored by political opponents to cause distraction for Mr. Buhari whose administration he said should be supported by true APC faithful.

Apart from the Dubai saga, there are speculations that Mr. Abubakar has been meeting with some APC members and even PDP members to prepare grounds for the 2019 presidential contest.

The declaration of support by the government of Mr. Abubakar’s home state, Adamawa, has further fuelled the conjecture that he would join the race.

At the flag-off of the construction of Girei-Wuro Bokki road, Abba Jimeta, Chief of Staff to Governor Jibrilla Bindow, said all elected and appointed officials in the state would work for Mr. Abubakar as soon as he declared his intention to contest the presidential election.

“The entire Adamawa state government is firmly behind the former Vice President; wherever he (Atiku) goes, the state government is behind him,” he said in presence of his principal, who did not protest it.

“From the governor to the deputy governor, the Secretary to the state government, Commissioners, the special advisers and special assistants and all other political appointees and members of the State House of Assembly are behind Atiku Abubakar”.

Mr. Jimeta praised the former vice president for doing well for the economy of the state and the nation, saying, “Such an important figure in Adamawa State, we as a government have nothing to pay him back, than to support all his political ambitions and to give him our support if he declares to run for any political office.”

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Although, the governor has since denied the statement, describing it as “wrong, mischievous, evil and unwarranted,” the message seems to have sunk in the political circles.

Mr. Abubakar’s had never hidden his desire to occupy the nation’s topmost political office since he joined politics in 1989.

In 1993, he sought to contest for president on the platform of the defunct Social Democratic Party but came third in the primary behind Moshood Abiola and Babagana Kingibe.

In 2007, he had made efforts to succeed Mr. Obasanjo on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party on which ticket they came to power in 1999.

He dumped the party for the newly-floated but now defunct Action Congress to run for the office but lost to former President Umaru Yar’Adua.

In 2011, the returned to the PDP and ran against former President Goodluck Jonathan in the primary and lost.

Mr. Abubakar’s desire to return to the ring may be justified. He will be 72 in 2019. Should he decide to wait till 2023, he may be too old at 76 to run.

Analysts however say if he decides to run he might receive support from Mr. Tinubu with whom he has reportedly settled his political differences.

Suggestion that both might work together against a common “enemy” emerged when the former vice president, a few months ago, backed Mr. Tinubu’s vituperations against Mr. Oyegun.

Mr. Abubakar had charged the party to promote the rule of law and due process in the conduct of its affairs, noting that they were germane to its unity and stability.

But the quest by the former vice president to contest might hit a dead end. Not only do some members of the party view him as too ambitious, others are simply not comfortable with him.

They easily recall the role he played in the Obasanjo administration when he almost hijacked that administration as the former president was junketing around the world.

Mr. Obasanjo sweated to secure the PDP ticket for a second term as Mr. Abubakar had brought the “powerful” governors to his side.

But Mr. Okechukwu dismissed Mr. Abubakar’s desire to run against Mr. Buhari.

“Atiku is only trying to enrich our democracy,” Mr. Okechukwu said. “I don’t see anybody as a threat to the president.”

A former governor of the old Kaduna State, Balarabe Musa, condemned Mr. Abubakar’s speculated plan to run again.
Balarabe Musa
Balarabe Musa

“It is not surprising that he wants to run again because it is politics based on self-interest,” Mr. Musa told PREMIUM TIMES.

Yet, Mr. El-Rufai is not completely dislocated from the plan to run for president himself.

Although he claimed to have a granite support for Mr. Buhari, there are speculations that he would enter the race if the president declines to run for second term.

Threats of implosion and plans to float a new party

There are speculations that some members of the party are already planning to pull out for two reasons.

First is that Mr. Buhari would be given automatic ticket by the party’s leadership if he shows interest in seeking a second mandate.

The second is the inherent impunity in the party as noticed in the PDP, which some believe led to its defeat in the 2015 election.

Indeed, Mr. Tinubu has several times been associated with such plan.

But Mr. Igbokwe, a close associate of the former governor, debunked the claim.

He told PREMIUM TIMES that Mr. Tinubu has no plan to leave the APC.

“There is no plan to leave the party. It cannot be true. It took us 31 years to get the progressives in this country to power. You don’t form a party and abandon it. You have to stay there and resolve the internal contradictions.

“Although, we need to put our house in order. We should quickly come together to do the things we are expected to do. The president has to bring the party together”, Mr. Igbokwe said.

Mr. Musa said he does not see the APC surviving as a united party to contest the next election.

“As long as the negative state of the nation continues, the party cannot survive, especially because it does not have the capacity to correct anything.”

But Mr. Okechukwu says the crisis in the ruling party “is not as deep as it is being painted in the media.”

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