By Tonnie Iredia
The process of revamping the leadership of Nigeria’s ruling political party, the All Progressive Congress APC is on at all levels. It all began last Saturday with congresses to elect party officials at ward level. The party’s national organizing secretary, Senator Osita Izunaso appears to believe that the process took off well with only a few hitches. When the assessment of Izunaso on national television a few days back that the party scored no less than 75% is placed side by side with media reports of the events, what emerges is the usual faulty perception of Nigerian politicians that peace and progress are coterminous.
The fact that APC top officials were themselves in disagreement on the subject is one confirmation that all was probably not well. Godfrey Onyeama, Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs who was a co-panelist with Izunaso on television didn’t need to say much. As the nation’s current number one diplomat, Onyeama was cautious NOT to wash the party’s dirty linen in the public. However, reports said that at his Eke country home in Enugu, party members booed him for allegedly attempting to impose a candidate on them.
Indeed, people watched the congresses on television and saw more than dirty linen; we saw brigandage and perverse anti-democratic posture reminiscent of the country’s past unwholesome political behavior. In places where the congresses were reportedly peaceful, they could hardly be divorced from chicanery. As one frontline columnist, Abba Mahmoud put it, APC was merely “plaiting on lice-infested hair.” We can only hope that the party would be wise enough to give ample room to its aggrieved members to wash the party’s obviously dirty linen within, otherwise APC would follow the same line of its predecessors which in the past swept so much dirt under the carpet. If indeed a personality like Onyeama was aggrieved about the visible absence of transparency by the appropriate officials, the self-acclaimed party of change merely perpetuated the old order.
In Ondo State, the congress was marred by violence and other irregularities. Many credited the irregularities to Mr. Sunday Abegunde, the Secretary to the State Government SSG. He was alleged to have used road transport workers to chase out some delegates who were not loyal him. A member of the House of Representatives from the state, Mr. Afe Olowookere, said armed men came in buses to chase away the legitimate delegates replacing them with hoodlums, wounding some members and disallowing the congress from holding in all the centres in Akure.
In neighbouring Oyo State, the situation was no less tense. Media reports confirmed that thugs disrupted the congress at the party secretariat in Oke-Ado area of Ibadan, with people sustaining injuries. The Chairman of the party’s Local Government and Ward Congress Committee, Musa Halilu-Ahmed, said two members of the committee sustained injuries because of the attack. Whereas a group led by the Minister of Communication, Adebayo Shittu claimed that some individuals loyal to Governor Ajimobi carried out the attack, the secretary of the party in the state, Mojeed Olaoya, said it was Shittu who stormed the venue with 150 armed miscreants to unleash terror on members and disrupt the meeting.
In some states, the trend of parallel congresses was observed. In Ebonyi, the congresses were conducted by the two rival factions headed by Pastor Eze Nwachukwu and Chief Ben Nwaobasi. The faction, led by Nwaobasi, conducted its congresses across the state, while that of Nwachukwu waited in vain at the party’s secretariat for congress materials. In Kogi, parallel congresses were held by the Audu/Faleke group, led by Haddy Ametuo, and that of the factional group led by Ibrahim Aboyi, said to be handpicked by Governor Yahaya Bello.
Even in the most unlikely locations such as Katsina and Lagos states, satisfactory conduct could not be attained. Although President Buhari’s voting was televised along with other reports suggesting a successful conduct of congresses, some party members threatened court action over the event. The members led by Abdulkadir Damale and Hassan Isah, claimed that the electoral officials from the national headquarters of the party were hijacked by officials of the state government who influenced them to fill result sheets with names of people selected by government officials. Evidence that the alarm may not have been false came from the assurance of the chairman of the monitoring team for the state, Mr. Mohammed Zakari, that necessary machinery had been put in place to address grievances and complaints.
In Lagos state, where national leader Bola Tinubu and Governor Ambode imagined peaceful conduct, pandemonium broke out in places like Oshodi/Isolo when a faction of the party which felt short changed mobilised to disrupt the exercise organised by the other faction. A political leader in the area one, Elder Jaiyeosinmi said although security operatives were drafted in to save the day, there was a lot deceit in the conduct. He said, “what we were initially told was that the materials to be used were still on the way, not knowing that some people had started organising themselves elsewhere.”
This deceit of scarcity of nomination forms hoarded by factional leaders happened almost everywhere. In Adamawa State, notable leaders, like former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal; Senator Abdulaziz Nyako; Sen. Abubakar MoAllayidi; Mallam Nuhu Ribadu and Chief Marcus Gundiri confirmed the difficulty of obtaining nomination forms. If these leaders didn’t get the forms, in whose custody could the essential commodities have been?
In Rivers state, distinguished Senator Magnus Abe said he was called a ‘thug’ for crying aloud that contestants who paid for forms didn’t get any. In Bauchi, Senator Nazif Gamawa said, people paid as much as N13m to purchase the forms yet, got none. In Imo, the search for the exact location of the materials looked like a story in the popular African magic TV series. The National Organizing Secretary of the Party, Chief Osita Izunaso said he handed over the materials to the correct source – Chief Ini Okorie, but when the Police took Chief Okorie to the residence of Senator Izunaso to resolve the issue, the man allegedly disappeared in Izunaso’s house.
Nigerians are probably beginning to see the non-existent differences between our new and old ruling parties. In Ekiti where APC governorship primaries were held at about the same time, VIP “thugs” did not only smash election materials in the full view of security operatives, one of them addressed the media to state the rationale for his actions and he was not arrested!! So whither Nigerian politics?