Less than 27 months to the 2023 presidential polls, leaders of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, are in a pitch battle for the soul of the party. They are also divided over which zone should produce its next presidential flagbearer.
Sources told the media, yesterday, that eyes on 2023 is at the heart of the renewed battle for the control of the party hierarchy as party leaders in South-West and South-East are locked in underground moves to get the presidential ticket zoned to their areas.
APC minders sowed the seed for the looming battle between South-West and South-East zones in 2019 while campaigning for President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election with a promise to both zones that they would produce the president in 2023.
During a visit to the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, on December 22, 2018, few months to the 2019 presidential poll, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, said if the South-West wanted to produce the president in 2023, it should vote for Buhari in 2019.
“The 2019 election is our own. We are not looking at 2019 but 2023. If we get it in 2019, Yoruba will get it in 2023. Because if we don’t get it in 2019, we may not get it in 2023 and it may take a very long time to get it.
We need to look at tomorrow and not because of today. What we are doing now is for tomorrow and not for today,” he said.
In the same token, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, made a similar promise to the South-East.
Mustapha reiterated the presidency’s promise to hand over power to the Igbo in 2023 if they support Buhari’s second term ambition when President Buhari met with a delegation of South-East leaders in the state house, Abuja, on November 21, 2018.
Speaking to state house correspondents after the meeting, Mustapha said the fastest way for the Igbo to acqualise their dream of occupying the seat of power was for the region to support Buhari’s re-election bid in 2019 and then by 2023, the Igbo presidency could become a reality.
“This obviously might not be most appropriate time. You remember there was a programme in the South-East where Mr. President asked me to represent him and I flew the kite by telling the south-eastern states that their quickest and easiest means to presidency is to support President Buhari’s second term.
Meaning that they can short-circuit the period in terms of only having him there for another four years and whatever they do in 2019 will determine what will happen thereafter because politics is a game of numbers and it is like a cooperative society.’’
Angling for APC presidential ticket
Indeed, since Buhari’s re-election the polity has been awash with underground jostling for the presidency by some South-West and South-East leaders. Last week, Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State, left the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, for the APC after he failed to get the PDP to zone its 2023 presidential ticket to the PDP.
He complained that the main opposition party had treated South-East unfairly since the return of democracy in 1999. The polity is awash with reports of more South-East leaders and governors defecting to the APC soon to boost the zone’s chances and bargaining power.
This happened as Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, SAN, counselled the political class to honour any agreement they had reached on zoning whether it is written or verbal.
Resurged leadership crisis
On Friday, the leadership crisis in the APC, which seemed to have been resolved resurfaced when a former National Vice Chairman of the party in the defunct National Working Committee, NWC, Ntufam Hilliard Eta, sought a declaration of court to oust the Governor Mai Mala Buni-led Caretaker/Extraordinary National Convention Planning Committee of the party.
Eta was in the Comrade Adams Oshiomhole camp. He wants the court to sack Buni and declare him acting national chairman of the APC on the grounds that it is illegal for a person to hold an executive office in government simultaneously with an office in any organ of the APC at any level.
He cited Section 183 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended) and Article 17 (IV) of the APC Constitution to back up his prayer.
Eta, therefore, sought an order “setting aside and nullifying the meeting purportedly summoned on behalf of the All Progressives Congress on 25th day of June, 2020, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja as well as all decisions reached therein.”
Aside Eta’s move, some party leaders opposed to Buni, said the committee has left the major reason it was raised to pursue 2023 agenda.
According to them, the committee was set up last June and given six months to conduct a national convention to elect party leaders. Five months down the line with 25 days to the end of its tenure the committee is yet to fix a date for the national convention.
C/River APC, Buhari’s minister blast Eta over attack on Buni
However, the Cross River State chapter of the APC, yesterday, dissociated itself from the case instituted by Ntufam Eta against the Buni-led committee The party made the rebuttal in a statement titled “Hilliard Eta is on his own, to be sanctioned.”
The statement which was jointly signed by the state Chairman, Sen. Mathew T. Mbu Jnr and the Minister of State for Power, Prince Jedy Agba, said the chapter has put in place measures to discipline Eta. Their position came as another chieftain of the party and Director General of Voice of Nigeria VON, Osita Okechukwu, advised Eta against acting as a spy for the PDP.
Okechukwu said: “As a foundation ordinary member of our great party, my own take is to ask Hon. Hilliard Eta to please as a matter of national and urgent importance, withdraw the suit forthwith.
Otherwise, without prejudice to court processes, is it not an afterthought, that five months down the line, Eta kept quiet after the National Working Committee which he belonged was validly dissolved? Where was he when his former National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole endorsed and upheld the dissolution of the NEC in the collective interest of our great party?
“Why is it now that many prominent PDP members are migrating to the APC that he woke up from his deep slumber?
How come that he can flagrantly disobey Mr President, who admonished us to withdraw all cases for the peace and harmony of our party?
For the avoidance of doubt, if he fails to withdraw the suit forthwith, it means that one may not be wrong in suspecting Eta as a PDP spy.
I am earnestly pleading with him to beware of how politically incorrect it is, being accused of spying for PDP.” On its part, the Cross River State chapter of the APC said it is in receipt of media reports indicating that Eta has instituted a court case against the Buni-led committee.
It said it received the news with shock and embarrassment as neither the state chapter to which Eta supposedly belongs, nor the zonal chapter of the party sanctioned such decision.
“As a matter of fact, the Cross River APC is on all fours with the decision of the National Executive Committee of the party and our leader, President Buhari that those who took the party to court before should withdraw such cases while any aggrieved person is urged to explore all the internal mechanisms of resolving any issue.
“Ntufam Eta neither brought to our notice any misgiving, nor did he avail himself of the internal mechanisms of resolving issues.
Consequently, the Cross River State APC condemns and dissociates itself from Hillard Eta’s purported legal action against Gov. Mai Mala Buni and other members of the CECPC”, the party stated.
It added that Eta’s action is capable of jeopardizing the remarkable gains recorded by the party since the inauguration of the CECPC.
“We hereby warn Ntufam Eta and his co-travellers as well as co-conspirators to retrace their steps and avoid being used by fifth columnists as agents of destabilisation.
“The Cross River State chapter views Eta’s action as an embarrassment to the party because the entire leaders and members of APC in Cross River State are fully in support of the leadership of the Gov. Buni-led CECPC.
“We have also endorsed the reconciliatory and peace moves of the Caretaker Committee. We acknowledge the restoration of peace and discipline in the party which has resulted in the resolution of crisis in some state chapters.
“The Cross River State chapter also acknowledges the unique measures put in place by the Buni-led CECPC which have attracted many members of the opposition PDP to the APC.
“Finally, the Cross River State chapter of the APC has resolved to set up a committee to look into the nefarious activities of the former National Vice Chairman, South South with a view to meting out disciplinary measures on him accordingly.”
It’s uncharitable to talk about zoning now – Salihu
However, Comrade Mustapha Salihu a former National Vice Chairman, North-East of the APC has picked holes on agitation for zoning of the party’s presidential ticket, saying it would be uncharitable to start talking about 2023 elections now when the focus should be on governance. He said: “There is nothing about 2023.
We are talking about governance now. People should understand that there is time for governance, there is time for politics.
When you start talking about 2023 now, I don’t think we are fair to Nigerians who gave us this mandate.
“It is proper for us now to talk about how we are going to deliver dividends of democracy, how we are going to deliver on the mandate given to us by Nigerians before we begin to talk about 2023.
From now to 2023 is a life time. Only God knows how many of us will even reach 2023 but we know that we have the mandate of Nigerians to deliver dividends of democracy and that is what we are talking about. We have bigger issues to talk about than 2023.’’
No zone has been shut out
On his part, Director General of the Progressive Governors’ Forum PGF, Salihu Moh. Lukman said the party has not foreclosed the chances of any zone ahead of 2023 presidential election.
Lukman said; “For instance, everybody could see that the place is open whether you call it with reference to 2023 or reference to any election, it is about the fact that the spirit of political contest in the party is now very high.
It means that if you want to negotiate as a good negotiator, if you want to canvass as a good canvasser for a specific interest, the party is up to you.
“The pertinent point to make here is that nobody can say President Buhari has decided or there is a decision on the party, this is where it would go.
That is why in the whole speculation out there in the public, you will see that there are so many names that are being put in the public space which means that in 2023 there would be contest in APC.
“And if you are a politician, what are you looking for, is it not contest? So you go to where you know that if you play your card very well, there is a 50-50 chance that you can get what you want, when you want it and where you want it.
That is the message now which the President has nurtured and popularized in the APC. By extension, it serves a death knell that marks the end of foreclosure in political contests in the Nigerian politics. What we are saying is that foreclosure in our political contests is dead.”
APC requires strategic succession plan to remain in power – Lukman
Lukman also expressed disappoint over the shape of things in the party and said ahead of the 2023 general elections, APC requires a strategic succession plan to remain in power.
He argued that aside President Buhari who controls a 12 million voting bloc, no Nigerian politician can claim to control up to five million votes en bloc.
He accused those he referred to as permanent plaintiffs in Nigerian courts of trying to always stoke fresh crisis in the party as a means of negotiating their way to power.
In a statement issued, yesterday, in Abuja, Lukman said the absence of competition in Nigeria’s democracy, especially in the political parties is responsible for many unpredictable political circumstances and has made political leadership unsure and insecure.
“This has basically reduced Nigerian politics to a game of conquest. A major attribute is that political leaders are conquerors, while party members and ordinary citizens are the would-be conquered.
Arguably, while in other parties, including the PDP, this is a well-established order, in APC, it is being highly contested. This is because since the emergence of APC, apart from the personality of President Buhari, no leader can be sure of emerging as a candidate of the party for any election.
In the case of President Buhari, he has such a personal blessing that made him to attract at least 12 million votes in all the elections he contested since 2003.
No leader, whether in APC or out of APC can claim to be in control of five million votes.
“The fact that President Buhari is serving his last term, require some strategic succession arrangement within the APC, especially in order to guarantee the retention of all the electoral advantages.
With President Buhari clearly out of the race for the position of Presidential candidate of APC in 2023, there is clearly a potential for a big internal contest in the party.
The question is whether any of the power blocks within the party will take step to block internal contest and therefore emerge as the conqueror.
In which case, the issue is really whether the APC leadership will allow the process of democratisation to ensure that leadership emergence both within the party and at wider political levels are determined based on the choices of party members and citizens”, he stated.
Lukman also dismissed reports that the scheduled APC membership registration and revalidation was targeted at decimating some leaders of the party as part of calculations for the 2023 contest.
“Most of the public speculations around internal dynamics in APC today is basically informed by some strategic political expectations and leadership permutations.
Unfortunately, a lot of these permutations seems to be oriented based on an approach that seek to strengthen the capacity of some leaders within APC to conquer the structures of the party.
When members and leaders of the party, for instance, demand that issues of membership registration of the party are resolved such that the party is able to have a credible and verifiable membership register, it is being interpreted to mean that some leaders of APC want to take over the party to promote their political ambition for 2023.
Take over from who? Does it mean that those who claim to be in control of APC now have any credible and verifiable membership records? Why are they not able to make such records accessible to all party members and leaders?’’
Permanent plaintiffs stoking crisis
The PGF boss also accused those who made the party lose out in Rivers and Zamfara states as trying to use the courts to Stoke fresh crisis in the party.
He said “permanent plaintiffs” in the court, including a former National Vice Chairman, South South of the party, Hilliard Eta are simply negotiating a return to party leadership.
“Most of the needless court cases within our parties, including the APC, are initiated based on the anger that open and transparent leadership contests are blocked.
A simple legal audit of all the legal cases by party members and leaders against their parties, will show that the objective is mainly to negotiate leadership positions.
Even the recent suit instituted by Mr. Hilliard Eta, former APC National Vice Chairman, South-South, against the APC Caretaker Committee, is basically aimed at negotiating the return of Mr. Eta to the leadership of the APC.’’