By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
This report attempts to explain to the generality of Nigerians, the leadership of the All Progressives Congress, APC, and President Muhammadu Buhari why the APC should tame the monster of opposition within its ranks if only to avoid the folly of the Goodluck Jonathan administration in allowing a section of its party leadership to exit. Whereas Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is handling the talks with leaders of the New Peoples Democratic Party, nPDP, bloc within the APC, the need for strategic engagement dictates that Buhari should not make the mistakes of Goodluck Jonathan by being aloof.
The Kawu Baraje led New Peoples Democratic Party, nPDP, tendency in the All Progressives Congress, APC, resumes its talks with the Presidency tomorrow with little optimism on a breakthrough.
Like Jonathan, Like Buhari?
Worse still, there are concerns that President Muhammadu Buhari is not the one taking charge of the discussions, something similar to the events leading to the crack in the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, during the tenure of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.
In fact, the inability or refusal of Jonathan to move swiftly against the opposition within has been serially mentioned as one of the many reasons he lost the 2015 presidential election.
At the PDP National Convention of late 2014, some leaders of the party, made up of serving national officers and serving state governors and leaders of the National Assembly, walked out of the Eagle Square Convention Ground, even while Jonathan was seated. From the Eagle Square, the leaders moved to the Musa Yar’Adua Centre, where they announced their formal exit from the PDP. And while moves were made to mend the cracks, the seeming aloofness of then President hastened the exodus of leaders from the party.
Now, in 2018, the same drama appears to be playing out all over again, with Buhari, appearing disinterested.
A Hung Negotiation?
The decision to forge ahead with the talks despite the scepticism on the part of many of the stakeholders, Sunday Vanguard learnt, is coming from the determination of Senate President Bukola Saraki to press for the option of dialogue despite the seeming move by extremists on both sides to sabotage the talks.
One of those sabotage acts was the publication of a report that presented the nPDP as having demanded a stop of the ongoing trial of Saraki on the allegation of false assets declaration as one of the conditions of the aggrieved party members.
That claim was viciously denied by the Senate President and also by Senator Lawali Shuaibu, the Deputy National Chairman of the APC, who is representing the National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, in the talks.
Inside sources within the ranks of the nPDP said morale for the talks was especially low as many of the members of the bloc believe that nothing concrete would come out of the discussion especially as Buhari, who is the party leader, is not directly involved. The President has delegated Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo to represent the Presidency.
The nPDP bloc had, on May 9, delivered a letter to the National Chairman of the party, Odigie-Oyegun, in which it alleged, among others, the marginalisation of their tendency in the APC, noting, among other things, that, besides being denied appointments, the two prime positions of Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives they won for themselves became a cross. They also alleged that the marginalisation of the group was despite the decisive role the bloc played in ensuring victory for the party and its presidential candidate in the 2015 elections.
The Presidency, after some dithering procrastination, heeded and conveyed a meeting where Osinbajo led the Presidency team that also included the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami; Shuaibu; National Security Adviser, NSA, Babagana Monguno; and the Deputy Chief of Staff, Ade Ipaye.
The nPDP delegation had, among others, Saraki, Speaker Yakubu Dogara, Governors Aminu Tambuwal and Abdulfatah Ahmed, Senators Rabiu Kwankwanso and Danjuma Goje.
Following the initial meeting, it was resolved that the two teams would meet again one week after, that is, tomorrow during which substantive issues would be further brought to the table.
Among the conditions for peace, it was gathered, was for the President to fully address the issues raised in the nPDP letter. The group, it was also learnt, is also determined to fashion out a sharing policy with Buhari on positions that the group should occupy should the party win the forthcoming presidential election.
Whereas the President is famously said to have (and indeed he did) defeated Jonathan with about two million votes in the 2015 election, it would be in the political interest of the incumbent to have a more than passing interest in the on-going-negotiations.
Pointers to this can be located in the quality and calibre of those in talks with the Vice President.
For instance, 10 states were represented at the meeting. The states are Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Gombe, Kaduna, Kano, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara and Sokoto.
From those states, some of the leaders at the talks were Murtala Nayako and Senator Nyako; Speaker Yakubu Dogara and a sizeable number of members of the House of Representatives; Barnabas Gemade, former National Chairman of the PDP and Minister of Housing; Senator Danjuma Goje, former Gombe State governor; Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi; Kwakwanso, a two-time governor of Kano State; a former Kebbi State governor, Adamu Aliero; Senator Dino Melaye; Saraki, who had also served as governor of Kwara State, along with the incumbent, Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed, as well as legislators from the state; and Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State and some political leaders from the state.
In fact, the political leaders made it known to Osinbajo that many more political leaders would have attended the parley but opted not to show their faces because of the fear of intimidation for which the Buhari administration was already known. One of the leaders said “many leaders would have been here but they are afraid that sudden arrest could be their portion”.
Those raising concerns now see in these individuals the potentials of mobilising more than the two-million-vote deficit. Each of the individuals leading the teams from the states can, with the plethora of sub-leaders, mobilise more than 200,000 votes, without prejudice to those who would be joining the voting eligibility net on the grounds of age and collection of PVC.
Worse, still their agitation for more inclusiveness in the scheme of things is coming at a time of manifest, clear and present hardship in the land, a situation which, in the view of some, has blighted the popularity of Buhari. Also, the cracks in the APC, today, was not there in 2015 when Buhari defeated Jonathan.
Conversely, whereas only Tambuwal was initially officially the opposition within the PDP, the coalescing of other bigwigs in late 2014 dealt of heavy blow to the PDP, today, the hydra-headed discontent in the APC further creates a compelling reason why the President must act fast.
Unfortunately, the hardliners in the APC who continue to threaten fire and brimstone and who, therefore, insist that nothing can happen, are no more than clones of the sort of their breed in the Jonathan-era PDP, who stiff-neckedly maintained that then President should not lose sleep because of the exit of some politicians. Just as there were cogent and verifiable pointers to the challenges confronting the PDP at that time, pointers that could have been dealt with employing clear-headed strategies (but refused), today’s challenges confronting the APC are humongous.
Take, for instance, the South-West geo-political zone. That is the stronghold of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. But for Tinubu’s decision to swim with Buhari, the perennial inability of the President to secure the needed constitutionally demanded majority of votes, spread across at least 25% of votes in at least two thirds of the 36 states of the federation, may have been impossible. That is a zone whose Yoruba stock continue to see, in the seeming lack of inclusiveness of the Tinubu camp, as a negation of an agreement to work together once power is captured.
The discontentment in the zone is palpable, just as there are much more opposing voices today than there were in 2015. The zone is not as secure as it was in 2015. Interestingly, the plethora of parallel congresses in some states in the zone makes for a compelling reason why Buhari must act. The South-East, apart from the episodic and strange loyalty of the Ebonyi State governor, David Umahi, the fanatical but now confused commitment of Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, and the born-again effusion of praise for the Buhari administration by Orji Uzor Kalu, a former governor of Abia State, the zone has maintained a studied opposition to the Buhari government. Even as of Friday, the South-East leaders of the party were still grappling with the opposition to its decision to return national officers from the zone in the working committee of theAPC unopposed.
In the South-South region, the most populous state, Rivers, is governed by a decidedly militant state governor who has been put through the furnace of steadfastness in his PDP origins, because of the quantum of attacks he has endured from the Federal Government – his predecessor also went through a similar experience in his last days in office. Even based on recent developments and the continued political atomisation of goodwill in Rivers, the APC’s loss, is PDP’s gain. Just last week, Akwa Ibom State government posted the picture of a massive turnout of supporters for the Democracy Day celebrations in Uyo, the state capital, signposting the level of support the PDP administration in the state enjoys. Delta and Cross River States are PDP states and do not appear to be about to change status.
In the Middle Belt (North-Central Zone), the killing fields of Benue, Nasarawa and Plateau States would make a campaign for Buhari a bit difficult and, therefore, requires that the incumbent should pull all the stops to resolve whatever problems that are dogging his party. Apart from Kwara and Niger States, Kogi’s bouts of quarrel between some leaders and Governor Yahaya Bello are part of the mix.
In the North-West Zone, the crises in Kaduna and Kano Sates, the growing discontent in his state of Katsina, as well as the positioning of the Sokoto State governor, Tambuwal for president in 2019, all make for a compelling reason why the President should disembark from his flight of indifference and ensure that the APC does not go the way of the PDP under Jonathan. Even in the insurgency-infested North-East zone, Adamawa, Gombe and Bauchi remain fronts of contention.
All these make for an urgent and necessary ingredient for Buhari to take charge of the dialogue with those who say they are displeased with the status quo today.
“We have as a minimum that our group should hold the office of Senate President and Speaker; after all, the old CPC has the President, old ACN has the Vice-President and what do we have?” an APC stalwart said.
Members of the bloc, it was gathered, are, however, very sceptical of the capacity of the party winning the presidency in 2019 on a free ballot and, as such, seem determined to pull out as soon as possible.
“Do you think with their record in government that they can win?”, the source asked rhetorically, as he inferred that remaining in the APC may even do more damage to the politicians given what he alleged as the disappearance of the goodwill that ushered the party to power in 2015.
A stakeholder, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, was, however, dismissive of the talk linking the group to the PDP, saying the brand had been severely damaged beyond redemption. Expressing scepticism over tomorrow’s meeting, the stakeholder said:
“What is playing out in the APC is exactly what played out in the CPC – Congress for Progressives Change. The President allowed the crisis there to fester and did not manage it and that is what we see happening here.
“Imagine if the President had intervened when the problems between (Governor Abdullahi) Ganduje and (Senator Rabiu) Kwankwanso broke out, we would not have been here.
“That is the pattern we see and we do not see the talks bearing any fruit, so it is just a waiting game as we know that we are definitely going, but to where I do not know.”
The stakeholder reiterated that the Senate President was the one holding back restive members of the group.
“You know this was how Saraki tried to convince President Goodluck (Jonathan) before pulling out of the PDP, so it is that waiting game that we are in now”, the source added.