For a political party that had been regularly chastised for avoiding meetings and internal elections, last weekend’s colourful convention of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC ushered a new narrative. However, old habits die hard!
By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor & Omezia Ajayi
After passing through at least four security check points to enter the Eagle Square venue of the All Progressives Congress, APC national convention last Saturday, you were bound to encounter the bio-security team.
On hand at the last check were party officials dispensing sanitisers on the palms of delegates, observers, officials and everyone else entering the venue. As the Vanguard correspondent finally entered the Eagle Square, he encountered the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed and two of his colleagues, Lt. Gen. Abdulraman Dambazzau (Interior) and Adebayo Shittu (Communicaiton) who were engrossed in a hearty chat.
“Why is your party putting hand sanitiser on the palms of everyone?” Mohammed was asked.
“It is to make sure that no one takes money here,” he jokingly said in pointed reference to party conventions of such magnitude where money is believed to normally decide the outcome of elections into national positions in the party.
There was apparently little influence of money at the APC convention that spilled over from Saturday to yesterday. However, there were other troubling issues that did not necessarily arise from lucre at the well attended convention.
The issues ranged from the lack of competition for offices, the still suspicious relationship among the leaders of the party, and of course the fights among some state delegates that spilled over from the first day to yesterday morning.
However, by 1.30 a.m. yesterday as the counting of votes for the eight positions progressed, much of the bitterness was temporarily put aside as the Edo State delegation led by the incoming party chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and Governor Godwin Obaseki enlivened the convention ground with captivating Bini songs and dance steps to celebrate what they termed as a new era in the party’s administration.
Though the convention was heralded with many controversies with disputes in more than two-thirds of the state chapters of the party, it was, however, remarkable that many of the conflicts in the states that preceded the convention did not spill over to the convention floor.
As the thespian, Kenneth Okonkwo said yesterday as the convention drew to an end, the prophecy that the convention would be characterised with violence turned into an error noting that President Muhammadu Buhari’s efforts to redeem Nigeria was going apace with the prospects that Nigeria would no longer be regarded as fantastically corrupt but fantastically correct.
Okonkwo’s summary, however, did not remove the slip-ups that characterised the convention.
At least 66 positions were opened for contest at the convention. However, in the end only eight positions were competitively contested as other positions were filled with single candidates who were returned unopposed.
It was not as if the candidates for the various positions easily stepped down on recognising the superiority of their competitors. In nearly all cases where candidates stepped down, they did so on the persuasion or sometimes compulsion of party elders and governors.
As they mounted the stage to announce their withdrawal from the contest, they almost always said that they did so in deference to party unity, President Buhari and also their local party leaders or governor.
“It is not the practise of we true progressives to do internal elections, as we prefer the non-acrimonious style of consensus,” a party chieftain from Lagos State told Vanguard.
The eight positions contested for were the Deputy National Chairman, North; National Organizing Secretary; National Vice Chairman, South-South; National Vice Chairman, North West and National Treasurer. The others were National Publicity Secretary, National Women Leader and Assistant National Legal Adviser.
Unending presidency-National Assembly face-off
The convention had been preceded by the most fractious relationship between the presidency and the National Assembly since the advent of the Fourth Republic with leaders of both arms openly squabbling over perceived infractions by the other.
Just last Wednesday when he signed the 2018 budget into law, President Buhari openly chided the National Assembly over the alterations to his proposals on the budget.
Remarkably, neither Senate President Bukola Saraki nor Speaker Yakubu Dogara was present at the budget signing ceremony a development that cast doubts as to the prospects of either of them coming for the party’s first convention in four years.
Surprisingly the two men were present. But instead of soothing the soreness, the president’s decision not to formally recognise the two men in his address further compounded matters putting to doubt the prospects of peace in the relationship between the two arms of government that are controlled by the party.
Kwankwanso visits Atiku, Melaye on Instagram
Reflective of the chasm among leaders of the party was the conspicuous absence of some prominent members of the party.
Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso who was a major factor in the formation of the party, as governor of Kano State, was noticeably absent.
That evening as party members were gathered in the Eagle Square, Kwankwanso was about one kilometre away at the Asokoro residence of a former chieftain of the party now turned foe, Atiku Abubakar. The two men according to sources were engaged in discussing among other things, the state of the nation.
There were suggestions that the meeting was an opportunity for Kwankwaso to pay Sallah homage to Atiku who was not in the country at the time of the last Sallah.
Yesterday, Kwankwaso in a statement said his absence was because the congresses organised by his faction were not recognised and as such chose to abstain in order to avoid the kind violence that occurred in the Delta and Imo states pavilion.
Even more provoking was the absence of Senator Dino Melaye. Four years ago, Senator Melaye was a stand-in MC in many APC gatherings of the sort that ended yesterday.
Instead of gracing the event of his party, Senator Melaye took to social media where he blasted his party as playing out a joke.
Melaye who was in the United Kingdom as the event in Eagle Square was unfolding in a post on his instagram page, said: “Happy to be away from the joke going on in Naija (Nigeria) today.”
Another loud absence was that of Senator Shehu Sani, the vocal social critic from Kaduna State who had only recently said he was at the departure gate of the party.
No more change slogan
In its days as the country’s opposition party, the APC had adopted CHANGE as its one word slogan as listed in Article 4 of the constitution of the party. The slogan was of course reflective of the party’s desire at that time to change the government at the centre.
In its first convention since taking over power, it seemed as if the slogan of change had become awkward and it was not surprising that the MCs on Saturday rather encouraged those at the venue to shout Progress instead of Change. The party it appeared does not want to change the present political configuration!
The party had also adopted as an insignia, the broom apparently as an indication of its readiness to sweep away the rot it perceived in the system at its formation.
It was the conspicuous symbol handled by its adherents at rallies. So much was it’s significance that whenever the party held rallies brooms became a hot commodity. However, last weekend, though some came with brooms, the proportion of those with brooms were considerably less than those who waved them before. Apparently party chieftains believe that there is nothing much left to sweep away after three years in power!
Ahead of the convention, there had been predictions of bedlam given the various contentions in the different state chapters of the party. However, the predictions of all out violence on the convention ground did not come to pass with the notable exceptions of Delta State and the little skirmishes among the Rivers and Imo delegations.
The two factions of the party in Delta State are respectively inclined to Olorogun Otega Emerhor and the pair of Great Ogboru/Ovie Omo-Agege.
The conflict between the two delegations who produced different state executives first played out at the accreditation centre outside the convention ground on Saturday morning. In the exchange of blows that drew the firing of live ammunition, at least five persons were wounded with at least one person reportedly hospitalised! There were unconfirmed reports that a presidential aide was among those injured.
Those aligned to the Emerhor faction claimed on Saturday that Senator Omo-Agege through his position as secretary of the Accreditation Committee blocked out delegates aligned to them and gave observer tags to his supporters.
Emerhor who was a member of the Finance Sub-Committee was unable to check what they claimed was Omo-Agege’s strategic manouvers.
So on Saturday morning, the Omo-Agege delegates with the cards they had took over the Delta State pavilion. When the Emerhor delegates realised that they could not enter efforts were made and reportedly through the influence of the outgoing National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun who had been sympathetic to the faction, were able to get inside the convention ground after the tags were provided.
After the Emerhor group finally gained entry into the convention ground, they mustered themselves in the first pavilion on the right which was not allocated to any state. Phone calls were made to other members associated to Emerhor to assemble themselves there. Sometime around 3.05 p.m. food was brought to the Emerhor group in jute bags and served round. After they finished eating and with the delegates sufficiently refreshed they moved as a group across the convention ground to engage the seated Ogboru/Omo-Agege group who were unaware of the impending attack.
As they arrived it first started with exchange of words and not too long later, exchange of missiles including sachet water, sticks and later chairs. Both sides especially women were brutalised and eventually they were able to dislodge the Ogboru/Omo-Agege group, but they were unable to take occupation as soldiers from the Brigade of Guards quickly moved in to intervene.
Following the intervention the Ogboru group retook possession of their seats while the Emerhor group was driven back. Their fate was compounded by the elements as the heavens opened up dispersing them to seek shelter.
Because of the fight it was initially agreed that the Delta delegation would not vote but the decision was changed on Sunday morning. After the bruising of the previous day, the Ogboru/Omo-Agage delegation left Abuja around midnight to return home.
However, the Otega group remained behind and for one reason or the other was on hand when the decision was reached that Delta could now vote.
So as some elements of the Otega group took position to vote, hell broke lose as they were attacked by yet unidentified persons who chased them away from the voting position. Like the day before, chairs, sticks were used on the delegates as they became recipients of the same medicine that they served on the Ogboru group the day before.
Sources in the Ogboru group, however, disclaimed the attack as they said that their delegation had left Abuja upon the decision that Delta would not be voting the day before. So the question yesterday among several tongues was who instigated the attack?
There were also skirmishes in Rivers and the Imo states pavilions. As Senator Magnus Abe arrived on Saturday for the convention and heralded by two trumpeters also bearing a banner bearing his political aspiration, there was expectation by some of a face-off.
Most of the seats had been taken by supporters inclined to the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi. So with the two delegations coming together they encroached into the neighbouring Plateau pavilion triggering a sharp rebuff from the later.
There was, however, excitement when Abe arrived and he was received by Amaechi who stood up to greet him.
In Imo State, a move by supporters of Governor Rochas Okorocha to displace the Allied Forces opposed to the governor was strongly rebuffed.
Buhari not indifferent to the crises
If anyone thought that President Buhari was aloof to the problems of the party and the need to squarely address them, the president soundly rebuffed such with his address at the convention ground.
Though the fight in the Delta State pavilion largely distracted several persons, but the words were poignant.
Noting the crises that engulfed many state chapters ahead of the national convention, the president said:
“I want to assure everyone here that despite a few lingering issues with the congresses in some states, our great party will emerge stronger after this convention. The unresolved cases we have is the price we have to pay for success, as everyone wants to be associated with a winning team. I am imploring all those with grievances to keep faith with the party until we put things right.
“The adoption of consensus as a first option is commendable and the process has led to a lot of healing and cohesion across the states and the zones, and where elections are inevitable, I have been assured that the process adopted will result in clear and undisputed results. Again I am appealing to all contestants to keep faith with the party.
“May I, therefore, appeal to all to put our great party ahead of personal considerations and to accept the outcome of the exercise in good faith. You are all important to our party’s progress and all must come together to ensure success in the forthcoming polls so as to enable us to continue the good work we have been doing for our fellow Nigerians”, he added.
There was, however, a bother about the delay it took to produce the results of the eight positions that were contested yesterday. As at midday yesterday, the results were yet to be produced.