It’s been six months since governor Mai Mala Buni assumed the saddle of power in APC. Correspondent Lanre Oloyede, in this piece, examines how far the ruling party has fared under the caretaker committee and what lies ahead for the party heading to 2023 polls.
When the governor Mai Mala Buni-led Caretaker/Extraordinary National Convention Planning Committee, CENCPC, of the All Progressives Congress, was inaugurated by President Muhammadu Buhari on June 25, 2020, it had its work well cut out for it.
The committee, which was one of the major fallouts of an Emergency National Executive Committee, NEC, meeting presided over by the president at an unusual venue in the presidential villa, followed the abrupt dissolution of the party’s National Working Committee, NWC, led by its erstwhile national chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomole, due to a vicious leadership crisis that posed an existential threat to the party.
Consequently, the mandate of the Buni-led committee was fundamentally to reconcile aggrieved members of APC and set in motion the process leading to the conduct of an extraordinary national convention that would produce new national officers who would stair the affairs of the party leading into the 2023 general elections within a period of six months.
But after the expiration of its six-month tenure in December 2020, the performance of the committee left observers howling with mixed feelings of successes and failures measurable by the catalog of events that transpired between the period under review.
Amidst several controversies and oppositions to some of its policies and decisions by some sections of the party who believed the caretaker committee has failed and derailed on its mandate, another emergency NEC of APC held on December 8, 2020, extended the committee’s tenure by another six months, ostensibly to allow it time to conclude its newly introduced membership registration/revalidation exercise and the much-awaited extraordinary national convention.
This didn’t go down well with the opponents of the idea of new membership registration. The Buni committee had courted so many controversies and oppositions from some members and certain power blocs within the party when it introduced the idea of fresh membership registration/revalidation, which they believed was not part of its original mandate, and if anything, was only a subtle plot to perpetually extend the committee’s tenure thereby indirectly holding the control of the party structure and machinery in trust for the cabal to which it is loyal as close as possible to the 2023 general elections.
More so given that it is obvious that the desperation by the political actors to hijack the party structure from rival power blocs within the party is principally about political survival for 2023 and beyond.
Whether or not the ruling party has fared well under the leadership of governor Mai Mala Buni is somewhat a subject of debate, however, what becomes the fate of the party in the future remains to be determined.
Upon assumption of office, the immediate task that faced the caretaker committee was to secure victory for the party in the two off-season governorship elections in Edo and Ondo States which were to hold in September and October of last year respectively.
Though the APC lost the Edo governorship election to incumbent governor Godwin Obaseki who had defected from APC to opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, due to a face-off with the former national chairman Adams Oshiomole, it, however, won the Ondo governorship election with incumbent governor Rotimi Akeredolu retaining his seat.
The APC under Buni also laid claim to massive victory and a clean sweep in the last concurrent legislative by-elections conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC across eight states of the federation, a claim which was heavily contested by the main opposition party, PDP.
It was not all woes for the Buni-led committee as notable positives were recorded in the last six months among which included the successful reconciliation efforts which led to the return of some political heavyweights in the likes of Senator Barnabas Gemade to the party. Senator Gemade who was a former National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) swelled the numbers of APC returnees which included the former Speaker, House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara.
According to former APC Deputy National Publicity Secretary, Yekini Nabena, the caretaker committee has succeeded in winning to APC some political heavyweights like the governor of Ebonyi State, David Nweze Umahi and Senator representing Adamawa North Senatorial District, Elisha Abbo, several members of the national assembly, Chief Jimoh Ibrahim, former Head of service of the federation, Mr. Danladi Kifasi, Sen. Isa Hamma Misau, Alhaji Salisu Takai and several others.
Another credit to the Buni-led committee was in the area of resolution of conflicts in some State chapters and among some long-time political foes party.
For instance, the committee succeeded in brokering peace between the two warring factions in the Cross River State chapter of the party. As a result of the resolution, the factions led by Ntufam John Etim and John Ochala resolved to appoint Senator Matthew Mbu (Jr) as the consensus State chairman for the party.
Also, Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Ameachi, and his counterpart in the Ministry of Petroleum, Timipre Sylva, both Ministers, though in the same party, who have been apart in terms of political interests for a very long time were successfully reconciled.
In Oyo, the committee succeeded in brokering a truce between the former minister of communications, Adebayo Shittu, and former governorship candidate of the APC in Oyo State, Chief Bayo Adelabu. The two political gladiators in Oyo politics have been at loggerheads since 2018 as a result of the clash of interest in the party’s governorship ticket.
Adelabu, son of late Chief Adegoke Adelabu, a prominent politician in the old Western region, eventually got the APC ticket but Shittu refused to support him in the election which the party lost to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party’s candidate, Seyi Makinde.
Unfortunately, on the other hand, a couple of failures however blighted the gains recorded in the first six months of the Buni-led committee in APC.
In the view of some political observers, the Buni-led committee fell short of basic standard and principle of fairness and equity in the discharge of its mandate as it was viewed to have demonstrated some traits of partisanship, particularly with regards to the selection of members of the Ondo State governorship primary election screening committee.
According to a source within the party who spoke to Nigerian Pilot on condition of anonymity, governor Buni showed some level of bias in favor of governor Akeredolu who happens to be his colleague as a fellow governor.
This prompted analysts to fault the choice of governor Buni as the chairman of the caretaker committee.
Whereas Article 17 (iv) of the APC Constitution, which says ‘No officer in any organ of the party shall hold executive position office in government concurrently’, contrary to this, the present caretaker committee have three serving executive governors performing the functions of party executives, which is a negation of the party’s constitution.
The source argued that President Muhammadu Buhari should not have made Buni the chairman of the very important caretaker committee of the party because of his position as a serving governor.
In his view, President Muhammadu Buhari made a mistake in appointing Governor Mai Mala Buni as the chairman of the caretaker committee, stressing that it is not possible to appoint a serving governor as head of a committee without him doing the bidding of his colleagues. This is because these governors meet and interface regularly at the level of the Nigeria Governors Forum, NGF, as well as the Progressives Governors Forum, PGF.
He argued further that it is common knowledge in Nigerian politics that governors do the bidding of their colleagues because they need each other to achieve and protect their political interests along the political voyage.
According to him, the president should have gone for someone in the mold of the former senate president, Ken Nnamani to chair the committee. That way, he believed, the committee would have been neutral and performed its duties without fair or favor.
His argument played out when the Ondo State governorship election screening committee singled out Mr. Michael Olusegun Abraham for disqualification, out of the twelve aspirants who participated in the screening exercise.
Whereas some analysts opined that Segun Abraham was disqualified because he happened to be the anointed candidate of the national leader of APC, Ahmed Bola Tinubu in the 2016 governorship election in Ondo, and that, that was done to spite Tinubu as part of ongoing scheming to uproot all his political footings from the party, others argued that it was because Mr. Abraham happened to be a great threat to the ambition of governor Akeredolu having allegedly defeated the governor in the 2016 primary election before it was allegedly manipulated in favor of Akeredolu.
Similarly, the Buni-led caretaker committee was equally fingered to have contributed to the crisis that rocked the Ondo state chapter of APC, in the build-up to the primary election as it was accused of doing the bidding of the incumbent governor by conspiring to impose an indirect mode of primary on the State despite the fact that eleven out of the twelve aspirants had a consensus agreement to settle for direct primary.
Other notable infractions recorded against the Buni committee was the manner it handled the Imo North Senatorial by-election which resulted in court litigations prompting the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to withhold announcing the winner of the said election despite the APC securing majority votes.
The committee was alleged of favoritism in favor of its preferred candidate, Ifeanyi Godwin Ararume as against Ibezim Chukwuma Frank, a development that resulted in parallel primary elections producing the two politicians as APC candidates in the election which resulted in court litigations.
In the same vein, the caretaker committee was accused of bias and favoritism in the crisis rocking the Zamfara State chapter of the party as the faction loyal to Senator Kabiru Marafa accused the chairman of the National Caretaker Committee, Mai Mala Buni of taking sides with the faction loyal to former governor Abdulaziz Yari.
Principally, the major setback for the Buni-led caretaker committee remained its failure to conduct the much-awaited extraordinary national convention of the party within the timeframe of its tenure.
The failure of the committee to convene a national convention of the party prompted some aggrieved concerned members of the party to hand the governor Mai Mala Buni-led caretaker committee a 14-day ultimatum to roll out a plan of action/timetable for the party’s December elective convention or face mass demonstration of party members nationwide.
The group which demanded that a timetable leading to a hitch-free convention be released within the next 14 days also asked that the Caretaker Committee halt the proposed registration of fresh members and allow the next National Working Committee members to carry out such assignments.
Adamant, the caretaker committee ignored calls for the stoppage of the planned registration as it went ahead to take delivery of materials for the said exercise. Buni, who was accompanied by the Governor of Jigawa, Abubakar Badaru; CECPC Secretary, Sen. John James Akpanudodehe among other senior party officials, insisted that the APC membership registration, update, and revalidation exercise would be conducted across the country’s 119,973 Polling Units and 57, 000 Voting Points.
The Buni-led committee had earlier in November got the approval of President Muhammadu Buhari to proceed with the exercise despite stiff opposition to the idea by some concerned members of the party who saw it as a move to illegally extend the tenure of the committee beyond its initial six months.
This created serious tension in the APC which heightened when a former acting chairman of the party, Chief Hilliard Eta, asked the Federal High Court in Abuja to nullify the governor Buni-led Caretaker /Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee of the party and declare him as the Acting National Chairman of the party.
Eta, who was appointed acting national chairman of APC following a court ruling suspending the substantive national chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomole, was controversially removed from office when the National Working Committee which he led was dissolved by the extraordinary National Executive Committee of APC at its meeting held at the Presidential Villa on June 25, 2020.
On November 26, 2020, Eta filed a fresh suit challenging the dissolution of the Oshiomhole – led NWC which he was part of sought various orders of the injunction to restrain the Buni- led committee from taking any further steps on behalf of the party which may include planning the party’s convention.
Seeing that it was now at sea, the caretaker committee hurriedly scheduled an emergency NEC meeting for Tuesday, 8th December 2020, less than 48 hours after Hillard Eta went to court.
In the ensuing melee, another chieftain of the party, Mr. Kalu Kalu Agu, filed a fresh suit at an Abuja Federal High court, seeking to stop the planned NEC meeting. The Plaintiff equally sought an order to restrain the party from embarking on new membership registration and revalidation.
He alleged that the aim of the planned revalidation is to deregister members that instituted court actions against the party. Agu, therefore, prayed the court to order the APC not to take such steps, pending the final resolution of the legal battle on the legality of the dissolution of the Adams Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee, NWC.
Besides, Plaintiff urged the court to void and set aside the notice of the NEC meeting that was issued by Senator Akpan Udoedehe, on the ground that he had no power to do so.
Unbothered by the litigation instituted by Etta and Kalu, the committee went ahead with the NEC as planned. As a fallout of the meeting, the NEC again presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari, wielded the big stick by expelling Chief Hillard Eta for challenging the dissolution of the immediate past NWC by the NEC in the courts against party directives.
The NEC equally announced the immediate dissolution of the party executives at the State, local government, ward, and zonal levels while approving the extension of the tenure of the Buni-led caretaker committee for another six months.
Though APC, however, postponed its planned Membership Registration, Update and Revalidation Exercise earlier scheduled to commence on Saturday, December 12, 2020, to the second week of January 2021 on account of the Christmas and End of Year celebrations; it hinted that it will soon make public details of the timetable for its congresses and national convention which is expected to hold later in the year.
Nigerian Pilot reliably gathered that the elective national convention of APC is likely to hold in November 2021. The reason for the delay is understandably to allow the period of the convention to be closer to the 2023 general elections as it is a general consensus within the party that the move might backfire if the party conduct its convention anytime earlier than November 2021 as the opposition PDP might heavily latch onto the fallout that might result as a result of any mistake made by the party in zoning its principal offices at the convention.
Going forward, the year 2021 will be a significant year in the life of the ruling party as it is bound to witness a litany of massive decamping and cross-carpeting, serious alignment and realignment that will necessarily lead to betrayals, frictions, and conflicts of interests, which if not well managed might precipitate another internal terminal crisis.
Already political heavyweights within and out of the APC are warming up on the sideline in preparation for the 2023 presidential election and 2021 will be a crucial deciding year in the history of the ruling party as well as in the political sphere of Nigeria.
Leading the park among notable political big shots that will likely slug it out for the presidential ticket of the ruling party is the national leader of APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Kaduna State governor, Nasir El-Rufai, Kogi State governor, Yahaya Bello, Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi, Ekiti State governor, Kayode Fayemi, immediate past governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha, former governor of Zamfara State, Ahmed Sanni Yerima, Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi among others.
As the APC looks forward to the 2023 general elections, it is important to note that the internal crisis within the party is far from over.
This is because to date, the Oshiomole’s faction of the NWC which was being headed by Hilliard Eta until the time of its dissolution is still at loggerheads with the other faction and remained unpacified and unreconciled.
Party insiders revealed that APC governors who plotted the ex-party chairman’s downfall simply cashed in on his missteps to edge him out in order to take full control of the party structure ahead of the 2023 general elections.
This is because Oshiomhole and several members of the dissolved NWC are known sympathisers of the party’s National Leader, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, who is believed to be nursing a 2023 presidential ambition.
Backed by the cabals that presently call the shots in APC, the Buni-led committee brandishes absolute power with which it is crushing every opposition on its way.
Though the committee appears to be having its ways by cutting to size every opposition that arise against it, damning any consequencies in the process, it suffices to say that the leadership style of the Buni-led committee might have succeeded in creating widening fissures within the party more than it was mandated to mend.
It is thus important to put in place deliberate measures to calm all frayed nerves in the party and rightfully position it on a united front to face the huge electoral battle ahead in 2023.