By Okey Ndiribe, Asst. Politics Editor
IT appears there are unseen hands somewhere that are hell -bent on frustrating the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) from having its National Convention. For now the convention of the party- which is scheduled to begin today after it had been dramatically postponed twice earlier- hangs in the balance. The initial date for the convention was last July 17, but it had to be shifted to July 31 due to what the party officially called “unforseen circumstances.
While giving reasons for the first postponement of the party’s convention, the Chairman of ANPP’s National Convention Committee (NCC ) Gov. Ibrahim Geidam of Yobe State had explained that “the Committee could not use the earlier time-table it inherited from the leadership of the party because a week had already been lost before the Committee commenced work. He further stated that the Committee made slight changes in dates. The second postponement of the convention which was linked to the intense rivalry between groups within the party over the election of new members of the National Working Committee (NWC).
This time around, the problem faced by the leadership of the party and its NCC is that of securing a new venue for the event. Already, the party has been displaced from the Eagle Square, Abuja, which was earlier announced as the venue for the convention. The same Eagle Square and tomorrow’s date were few days ago announced as venue and date by one of the groups campaigning for President Goodluck Jonathan to contest the 2011 presidential election as venue for the President to declare his intention to run for the presidency in the forth-coming poll.
Even though the reason for mix -up is not yet clear, ANPP had postponed its convention twice in the last few months for reasons which some of the party’s leaders considered as flimsy. Observers of happenings in the party had pointed out that both postponements arose due to the internal wrangling and power play within the party. Notwithstanding the fact that the leadership of the party did not admit that internal crisis was tearing the top hierarchy of the party apart, it was hoped that there would not be another postponement of the party’s convention.
Despite the earlier denial that there was internal feud in the party, the signals pointing in that direction were all to clear.
Indeed, the crisis had pitched the National Working Committee (NWC) which was under the leadership of its immediate past National Chairman Chief Edwin Ume-Ezeoke against another group led by Senator Mohammed Mohammed. Ume-ezeoke had alleged that the faction led by Mohammed was sponsored by the Governor of Kano State Alhaji Ibrahim Shekarau for the purpose of realising his ambition of picking the party’s ticket as its presidential candidate for next year’s poll general election.
He also accused the Kano Governor of intending to realise his goal without going through primaries. Ume-Ezeoke said he had rejected Shekarau’s request because of his past experience when Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (rtd)- the party’s former presidential candidate in the 2003 and 2007 general election -was selected in a similar manner.
However, Mohammed had dismissed Ume-Ezeoke’s claims and countered by alleging that the former Chairman achieved nothing for the party in his four year tenure but rather benefitted by rushing to participate in the Government of National Unity (GNU) with the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) led Federal Government . He further alleged that it was through this channel that Ume-Ezeoke’s son was appointed Special Adviser to the late President Umar Yar’Adua in 2007.
Earlier on Mohammed’s faction had sacked the Ume-Ezeoke led National Working Committee on the ground that its four year tenure expired last September 6. They had also gone ahead to set up a new NCC in which Geidam was retained as Chairman.
The Ume-Ezeoke faction had retaliated by sacking Mohammed and several members of his group from the party and setting up a Transition Management Committee (TMC) and a parallel NCC which also had Governor Geidam as Chairman.
Another rumour that had trailed the crisis all along was that the internal feud was fuelled by the attempt of former military President Gen. Ibrahim Babangida to use the party as his alternative political platform to realise his plan B in case he failed to secure the ticket of the PDP. Sources within the party said that the internal wrangling was a manifestation of the rivalry between some of the party’s stalwarts who were working inside ANPP to pave the way for Babangida to clinch ticket at the appropriate time.
It was widely rumoured that some of the aspirants for the office of Chairman of the party were Babangida’s cronies.
In fact, it is strongly believed if either George Moghalu or Emma Eneukwu- who are believed to be close to the former military President, emerge as the next Chairman of the party, the former military ruler’s entry into the party to grab its presidential ticket would be greatly enhanced.
Babangida was believed to have resorted to this plan B because- as things stand presently- he remained unsure of procuring the ticket of the PDP given the wide-spread opposition to his candidacy has faced side by side with and increasing agitation for President Good-luck Jonathan to run for next year’s general elections. Indeed, Babangida himself had this fear when he said several months ago that apart from the PDP, there were other parties available for him to join and realize his 2011 presidential ambition.
It was learnt that apart from ensuring that their loyalist emerges as the new Chairman of ANPP, the pro-IBB group has deployed another strategy for the purpose of lobbying the national caucus of the party, to amend the party’s constitution to pave way for a new entrant to aspire to any position in the party. It was learnt that the specific section to be amended in the party’s constitution is that concerning the qualification of candidates contesting party offices which stipulates that a contestant for a party office must have been a member of the party for 12 months consecutively.
It was also rumoured that the anti-IBB group within the party had been directed by Governor of Kano State Alhaji Ibrahim Shekarau to ensure that the plan by the pro-IBB group to alter the provisions of the party’s constitution for the purpose of enhancing the former military ruler’s chances is undermined. A Lagos state governorship aspirant and ANPP stalwart, Yomi Tokoya, had reportedly alleged that plans had been perfected to deceive the national caucus to agree to an amendment of the party constitution just because of Gen. Babangida’s Presidential ambition.
However, Ume-Ezeoke, reportedly dismissed the rumour and said that it would never materialise and that the party’s constitution would be strictly adhered to at the National Convention. He also dismissed claims that Gen. Babangida had approached the party leadership to use the its platform for his plan B.
However, nobody can predict what would be the outcome of the ANPP convention when it eventually holds. Although the rumour of the Babangida factor has been denied by the leadership of the party
it is believed in some circles that there is no smoke without fire. Only time would tell how the ANPP crisis would end.
Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that the fortunes of the party has been declining since 1999 when it emerged as the second most powerful party in the country after it won the election in nine northern states. Then the party was the undisputed leader of the opposition in the country. But in 2003, it lost four states to the ruling PDP which reduced the number of states in its fold to five.
But some of the governors elected on the platform of ANPP also defected to PDP. For now the party is left with governors in only three states-Yobe, Kano and Borno. Another major loss the party suffered after the 2007 poll was the exit of Buhari from the party. The former military ruler is now the presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). However, the only incontrovertible fact in all this is that the continued decline of the ANPP is reflective of the general decline of the opposition which observers believe poses a serious threat to the growth of democracy in the country.