The cracks appears to be widening within the ranks of the stakeholders of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), following the bombshell released by Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu against the National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun. But could this development mean that the grand coalition that sacked the Peoples Democratic Party from power is crumbling? Politics Editor, NIGERIAN TRIBUNE;TAIWO ADISA, presents some insights.
NOT a few feathers were ruffled within the ranks of the ruling All Progressives Congress(APC) when Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who is ceremoniously crowned as the National Leader of the party dropped a bombshell that hit the very root of the party’s survival. Tinubu, who pivoted the consummation of the marriage that produced the APC in 2013, had been credited with a larger than life image in the party ahead of the election of 2015. He was the de facto leader of the party and generally dictated its direction ahead of the election. With the victory the party recorded, his voice and stake were expected to blossom. Not so, as politics is not usually played on a straight line. But then, no one expects a cry of marginalisation from a man of his standing.
That, however, appears to be the reality of the day in the APC and Tinubu, being a man noted for his fight against anti-democratic forces even in the days of the military, found it hard to stomach such.
On Sunday September 25, he fired a detailed account of his take on the outcome of the governorship primaries in Ondo State. There had been controversy that preceded that election. In the build-up, some chieftains of the party accused Tinubu of partisanship and displaying open support for one of the aspirants, but the man defended himself and insisted that he, as a leader of the party, is free to have his preferred choice among the aspirants.
True, certain goalposts got shifted in the APC power-sharing game upon the party’s ascension to power on May 29, 2015. Promises made to some of the groups that formed the alliance, Sunday Tribune, learnt were not kept. But no one expects that a powerful voice in the coalition like Tinubu would be caught in the net of brutal power play. Since the Tinubu’s allegation of foul play against his person by the party’s chairman, Chief Oyegun, spontaneous reactions have followed with the party getting the wrong stick of newspapers’ headlines.
One of the aspirants for the Ondo governorship seat, Chief Olusola Oke, told the Sunday Tribune that Tinubu apparently spoke out due to the enormity of the wrongdoings perpetrated by chieftains of the party during Ondo governorship primaries. According to him, the drumbeat that makes a king to stand on his feet, if beaten for a chief, he would found himself on the roof.
“For a man of Asiwaju’s [Tinubu] standing to come out in this way is a testimony that all we have been saying about Ondo primaries are not just noisemaking. Truth is on the flight from the party and that is where the problem lies,” Oke said in a telephone interview.
He added: “Oyegun is a threat to the survival of the APC. For someone like Asiwaju to speak out, it shows you that we are not just making noise. The injustice perpetrated in the primaries was unheard of and no one can put it better than Asiwaju.”
Aside Oke, there are four other bigwigs who contested the governorship primaries and all of them except the winner are crying foul. The major aspirants were Senator Robert Ajayi Boroffice, Senator Tayo Alasoadura, Dr. Olusegun Abrahams and Chief Rotimi Akeredolu, who was declared winner and whose name has been forwarded to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Tinubu’s outbursts left no one in doubt as to the anger brewing among the party’s leaders. He instantly decried what he called “injustice” done by the party through the outcome of the primaries and called for Oyegun’s ouster, insisting that a man like that should not lead the party.
In a five-page document, Tinubu declared that the founding objectives of the APC were severely “under critical threat by those who managed to be in the party, but never of it.”
“For those who care about the party, who care about Nigeria and its chance for a better tomorrow, now is the time to stand against this brewing evil before it grows to encompass all we have built and all we hold dear,” he said, adding that Oyegun “has done the irredeemable. His coup is an insult to the party and to patriot, to reason and to the reform agenda of this government. To remain silent would be to admit the defeat of the reform and progressive change many have laboured to bring forth.”
The former Lagos State governor went further: “While the forces resistant to change and reform are strong, Tinubu dare not submit to them. Tinubu encourages all party members not to submit to them. If we acquiesce in this wrong, the one greater than this shall cascade upon us.
“Oyegun’s transgressions are a warning. He is but the mercenary of forces that seek to return the nation to the old ways. If they get away with this infraction, no telling what or whom they will undermine tomorrow. Much is at stake. On the chopping block lies the future of the political party in which the majority of voters had placed their confidence.”
While alleging fraud in the process, Tinubu stated that the delegates list was tampered with by replacing some 150 delegates with some surrogates who were meant to vote in a particular way.
He said: “The delegates’ list had been materially altered by someone in a strategic position to so do. The names of over 150 valid delegates were excised to make room for an equal number of impostors. This was not a clerical error.
“The alteration was wilfully executed that the primary would be directed toward a chosen end that bore nothing in common with the will of most state party members. A cunning few had tried to deceive the many into believing they were outnumbered.
“A conspiracy to steal the Ondo primary had been uncovered. Fortunately, the grand deception afoot had been unable to cover its tracks fast enough. Truth began to cry for justice. Several candidates filed petitions contesting the result.”
He also accused the party’s national chairman of upturning the report of the appeal committee set up to review the primaries. He disclosed that the panel had recommended a fresh primaries but Oyegun went ahead to submit the name of Akeredolu to INEC.
“This recommendation was tabled before the National Working Committee (NWC). After many hours of deliberations spanning several days, a final vote was held by the NWC. Beforehand, NWC members agreed that the decision of the majority would become the stance of the party. Such is the way of democracy.
“The NWC voted six against five to cancel the fraudulent results and hold an honest primary. For a moment, it seemed the party would restore its integrity by giving democracy a chance. However, those who sought to scam an entire state would not let the vote of 11 people
spoil their enterprise.
“After the NWC’s vote, a noticeably agitated Oyegun proposed the NWC engage in prayer before concluding the meeting. Adhering to this chairman’s request, NWC members began to pray. Seeing that the others had taken his bait, Oyegun used the prayerful interlude to secretly excuse himself from the meeting.
“Contravening the NWC decision and in violation of all rules of fundamental decency, Oyegun decided to safeguard the fraud done in Ondo by perpetrating a greater fraud. Oyegun arrogated to himself the right to submit the name of Rotimi Akeredolu to INEC as the candidate of the party.”
The former Lagos governor clearly gave a sign that the party could be heading for more danger in his further submissions. He declared that Oyegun may not be alone in the act as, according to him, a camp already exists in the party that does not believe in the ideals of the founding fathers.
He said that there “exists a regressive element in the party that cares nothing for the progressive ideas upon which this party was founded. They joined the APC because it was the best ride available at the time. Now they want to guide the party into the ditch.
“They want to turn the party into a soulless entity incapable of doing good, just like they are. When such a person tastes power, they shed all good restraint. They come to abuse the trust given them as if they are the owners of that trust and not its mere custodians. These people did little to build the party, but now will do much to wreck it.”
Two things immediately send shock waves through the spines of many party faithful. One the outbursts were frontally directed at the National Chairman of the party by Tinubu. Two, he confirmed the rumours of a powerful cabal that has allegedly hijacked people’s power from the party in the ruling party. Still the allusion of “retrogressive” forces which are behind the “conspiracy” in Ondo sent shockwaves across the party and revealed grave animosity and suspicion within the ranks as Tinubu categorically insisted that Oyegun must go.
Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, who was a known ally of Tinubu read the words carefully but unlike many other leaders refused to keep quiet. He fired a statement last week backing Tinubu and insisting that the party cannot break its own rules without causing problems for itself and its members.
The former vice-president charged the party to ensure it was not found wanting on the promotion of rule of law and due process so as to ensure unity in its ranks.
According to Atiku, since the party had found “veritable reasons” to review the outcome of the Ondo gubernatorial primary and was able to establish valid grounds to cancel that election and call for a fresh one, there should be no decision to further vary that conclusion.
He said: “It was wrong for the APC to have set aside a resolution it had reached aimed at resolving the crisis in our party in Ondo State. It is a recipe for acrimony and division.”
Perhaps being a veteran of intra-party squabbles, Atiku counsel that the party would be deceiving itself to pretend that crisis doesn’t exist but added that the leaders must do a soul-searching to address the issues. He also counselled that the leadership of the party do the needful and be guided by respect for the rules, fairness, equity, neutrality and respect for democratic consensus always. He also urged the aggrieved APC chieftains in Ondo to exercise restraint in seeking redress while the leadership retraces its steps to restore confidence among members.
With clear positions taken by Tinubu and Atiku on this matter, it became obvious even to the outsiders that the APC was courting trouble. It runs the risk of getting the crisis expanded even before it gets started. Signals of that immediately started unfolding. The Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Comrade Timi Frank, who issued a statement during the week immediately, corroborated the two leaders insisting that many more members of the APC were of the view that Oyegun did not do well in Ondo.
Frank said that the call by Tinubu was a vindication of his earlier call that Oyegun must resign: “It is very clear that I’m one of the first persons that took the bull by the horn to foresee what is happening today in our party. I came out earlier on to say there were issues and crisis in this party. As of that time I was alone; nobody knew where I was coming from.
“The founding father of our party, the national leader of our party, has concurred to my earlier call that Oyegun should resign as the national chairman. That should let you know that I foresaw what they didn’t see. I knew from day one that the person we had as national chairman, yes he has tried by taking the party where he feels he can take it, but again you can’t give what you don’t have.”
Also the former Political Adviser to President Shehu Shagari, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai told newsmen in Kano that the travails of Tinubu might have been engineered from the presidency. He declared that Tinubu’s political travails were well-thought-out and plotted from the very top, but urged the former Lagos State governor not to give in to the forces at work.
“From all indications, every right thinking person will figure out a sinister plot to completely scheme out Tinubu from the hierarchy of APC; and I want to believe this is coming from the Presidency,” he said, adding that the emerging crisis was not a surprise to political observers.
“Political analysts believe that soon after the formation of the present government it is only a matter of time before crises in the APC would explode.
“APC is an amalgamation of four to five political groups. After the formation of the government, only CPC group is considered for political patronage. ACN and PDP groups are sidelined. ANPP group is neither here nor there in spite of the appointment of the party’s former National Chairman, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu into the cabinet.
“ACN leader, Tinubu is totally out of the picture despite the fact that the vice-president is his nominee. The appointment of Fashola to the jumbo ministry is considered personal, just like that of Amaechi. The situation at the moment is that apart from the CPC members, everybody in the government is a mere onlooker. To those that control the government and the party, those shut out of the power equation in the government, including Tinubu, are seen as a bunch of disgruntled elements.”
Speaking in an interview with Sunday Tribune on Friday, Timi Frank further reiterated his earlier position in a statement. He insisted that by all intents and purposes, I stand by my earlier position on Oyegun.
“The outbursts of [Tinubu], you know, it started from me. I foresaw it when my leaders didn’t see the danger in continued leadership of the party by Oyegun. I know his leadership is not for the good of the party. We don’t need a leader who would be under the control of a handful of people.
“Today it has happened to Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Atiku has also seen it. A majority of party men hold this view but they don’t speak up. For me silence is a crime. The truth is bitter but it is only the truth that can set us free.”
He said that Oyegun must call an emergency meeting of the National Executive Committee of the party within 14 days and also speak up within the same period otherwise; he would lead the charge to raise the required number of members to call a meeting and possibly sack the executive.
Though it could be safe to say that the Armageddon is not hear yet for the APC, it is also fast becoming obvious that the party may not be far away from the precipice. A number of political observers would say that as the ruling party, the allure of power patronage would still hold a lot of aggrieved persons down until it became obvious that no crumbs could fall from the power table anymore. Thus, the tendency for the party to continue to patch up till close to the next election is there.
I won’t respond-Oyegun
Despite the barrage of attacks on his person, the man in the middle of the storm, Oyegun, insisted that he would not join issues with Tinubu on the matter. The chairman had evaded media interviews since the crisis blew open, but just managed to say “I won’t respond to attacks from any quarters,” last week. Sunday Tribune made efforts to draw him out, but the veteran politician insisted that he must consult the party organs widely before making any comments that affect the top members of the party, adding that he was not doing a personal thing.
Is the ‘war’ in APC’s stars?
Those who saw the APC spring up in 2013 were surprised it held firm all through the electioneering process. Not a few were of the opinion that the party would not stand in view of the perceived conflicts in the characters of many of the chieftains. The party started off with three legacy parties; the Action Congress of Nigeria led by Tinubu; President Muhammadu Buhari’s Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) led by Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu. There was also a section of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) led by Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha. Initially the progressive bent was noticeable with eyes on Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and the CPC but with the fusion of APGA and ANPP and then by the time the new Peoples Democratic Party (nPDP) wing led by Senator Bukola Saraki and the five governors who defected in November 2013 joined the fray, it became an ideological potpourri, a clear amalgam of political forces in search of power.
Perhaps due to oversight or time constraint, the stakeholders did not settle down to interrogate the power equation. There was the understanding that the CPC wing would take the presidency and the ACN would take the vice-presidency. But the other positions, it was revealed, were not clearly rationed to other members of the alliance, though that claim was disputed by the Saraki group. Thus a blank cheque was given to the CPC wing, which produced the president and took charge in 2015.
Having occupied the seat in Aso Rock, it became the lot of the leader of the party to dispense every other favour and without prior clear understanding; issues of lopsided allotments seized the air. Even now, the crisis in Ondo is partially traceable to the situation above. It was gathered that some chieftains of the party gathered in Abuja and decided to thwart the candidate already favoured by the South-West leadership of the APC, Abrahams. The result was the accusations and counteraccusations we are witnessing.
Party insiders say that what is being witnessed could be an attempt to whittle down the influence of Tinubu not just in the South West but also in the party, preparatory to the rise of new godfathers in the polity.
Will the cookie crumble?
Frank, who likes to be addressed as the Acting National Publicity Secretary of the APC said that stakeholders must rise to the occasion and prevent the party from certain death.
He said: “Why I am crying is that I was a member of the PDP and we were making the same agitation then that the leaders must rise up and that Bamanga Tukur was suffocating the party. They woke up too late. I believe that the APC is too young to die, but if leaders don’t do the right thing, if care is not taken you might start seeing mass defections. We should act before it is too late.
“If we don’t act on time, what happened to the PDP, when five governors defected may happen to the APC. I am doing everything I can to ensure that the president [Buhari] breaks his silence to ensure that we do the right thing in this party. We need to call emergency NEC meeting and get the chairman to answer to allegations from Tinubu in 14 days. This party is too young to collapse.”
The “Forces” at play
Whether the APC survives its emerging crisis will largely be dependent on how the emerging forces manage their contentions. The issues at hand include the jostling and positioning for 2019, and the battle for the control of the party structure ahead of the full-blown 2019 power tussle.
A North-West/South-South alliance is seen to be working against the South-West group headed by Tinubu. It was learnt that a loose working alliance between the forces led by Kaduna state governor, Nasiru el-Rufai and the former Governor of Rivers state, Rotimi Amaechi is seeking a dominant voice in the party as it is. The structure is believed to be a dual-face one. It is on one hand said to be loyal to President Buhari and on the other hand positioning the duo of Amaechi and el-Rufai for a possible bite at the high office in 2019 should the opportunity present itself. The calculation, according to insiders, is to cut Tinubu’s wings ahead of the next election such that new leaders might take over his role, if he should decide to quit the coalition.
There is also the Atiku Abubakar/Senate President Bukola Saraki ensemble, which in another breathe encapsulates the New PDP wing of the APC. Atiku is believed to be warming up for 2019 and is seeking alliance across the board for that ambition. Whether Atiku would be able to work with Tinubu in view of the 2007 and 2015 incidents that separated them and whether the loyalists of Tinubu would be able to accommodate Saraki, who they are believed to have an axe to grind with, is another issue for political decisions.
Outside the major gladiators pulling the strings for the control of the party are some notable peacemakers who were former layers in the PDP. These actors are said to be pulling the strings to unite the forces and ensure peace at the end of the day. Former Osun State governor, Olagunsoye Oyinlola and the former Ekiti State governor and National Vice Chairman of the APC, Segun Oni, are seen as catalysts in this project. The duo and some members of the party are said to have devoted much of their time to orchestrating peace among the forces. One of the efforts recently yielded the peace in Edo APC before the just concluded governorship elections.
The issues on ground are as dynamic as the face of politics could be. There is also the threat of the formation of a “Third Force,” a new political movement believed to be in the making to subsume the troubled PDP and take a chunk out of the ruling APC. When that crystallises, the troubles of the party may get extended on different fronts but how the stakeholders manage the power game will determine the fate of the grand coalition.