By Tonnie Iredia
Certainly, this is not the best of times for the All Progressives Congress (APC). Early warning signs of her decline which later became visibly ominous replicated what political analysts had seen in the past with the former leading party-the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) before it lost the 2015 general elections. On at least two occasions, this column drew attention to the likely collapse of the APC.
The first piece, published February 16, 2020 and titled “APC: It’s time for introspection” diagnosed the danger the party was facing an insider malaise. Rather than heed this and other clarion calls for introspection, the party’s leadership discountenanced what it saw as the unsolicited “rantings of hired writers and interlopers” as if analysts are irrelevant in a nation’s political activities.
Thereafter, sensing that the party was further declining into deeper crisis while engaging in self-denial, the title of my second piece published on May 7, 2020 was couched in question form: “Will APC be twice beaten and thrice shy?” Today, the situation is no longer whether the times are good or not for the APC, the real issue now is whether the party can still evolve a survival strategy.
Being essentially an insider malady, it should not have been too hard to cure but that would be if the components which originally formed the party would endeavour to cohere. Indeed, there would have been little or no difficulty if the said components were not already engaged in political realignments for the future – a development in which what is right or wrong depends largely on which group the actor belongs to and through which prism his actions are perceived. Under the circumstance, what was being managed in the APC for the better part of the last two years was not political party affairs but pure intrigues and collusions.
Edo state quickly assumed the epic centre of the scheme, for reasons not too hard to identify, the most obvious being that the driver of the scheme hails from there. Using familiarity with the terrain as a point of departure, structures were being built in the state for the scheme from Abuja.
From nowhere, a purely APC state which produced national chairman, governor, his deputy and ALL members of the state legislature suddenly began an inexplicable war with itself which later divided the party into two, one side in support of the national chairman Adams Oshiomhole and the other for the state governor, Godwin Obaseki. Contrary to expectations that the governor would be malleable, Obaseki had his eyes on the verdict of history with a clear understanding of the ideals of his new role – service to humanity through societal transformation.
Thus, everything had to be done to bring him down; first a de-marketing design was made reversing all the accolades bestowed on him during the campaigns which made him governor in 2016. As Oshiomhole’s supporters aptly put it, ‘we shall give him the Ambode treatment” – in reference to how the tenure of the former Lagos state governor, Akinwunmi Ambode was truncated.
Considering that the bitter quarrel was about an undisclosed ambition, no one fully understood it enough to help resolve it – not even the respected President Buhari or the revered Benin Monarch. Each side to the conflict unleashed all it had, suspending each other’s leadership including hurting the governor’s second term while the national chairman’s safety could no longer be guaranteed in a state where he himself was immediate past governor for all the 8 years allowed by the constitution.
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Immediately the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC released guidelines for the state governorship elections, Oshiomhole picked direct primaries for the contest not because the indirect mode which was used for himself during his time was bad, but only because he wanted to cut short Obaseki’s tenure.
The governor’s faction opposed the use of direct primaries because as former followers of Oshiomhole they know how such primaries could be manipulated. The argument that the Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee NWC of the party was mandated to organize primaries was moderated by the subsisting rule that it is the state chapter of the party that best knows the option most suited to her environment.
But because the law permits only the national body to communicate with INEC, Oshiomhole took liberty to convey a primary mode yet to be agreed by all stakeholders. The allegation that the NWC was yet to meet on the subject when Oshiomhole conveyed a decision on it to INEC was never refuted.
In Benin, the Obaseki faction that is in charge of the government of the day released a regulation which rendered direct primaries impracticable – a regulation that tallied with the nation’s official covid 19 protocols and the constitutional mandate for government to make the security of lives and property of the people its primary obligation.
Oshiomhole responded by fixing dates and modalities including the setting up of screening and appeals committee culminating in the disqualification of the governor. Two other aspirants were also disqualified, one of them, a former Minister of the federal republic Chris Ogiemwonyi allegedly had one document describing him as Christopher and another stating Chris – an everyday commonly used abbreviation of the longer version of the same name.
Obaseki was also found blameworthy for having an NYSC certificate with his name written as Obasek instead of Obasek(i), an accusation Oshiomhole had described as childish in the past when the authenticity of his own credentials, one bearing Aliu and another Aliyu was questioned
A few issues have remained unclear. First, if another candidate Mathew Iduoriyrkemwen goes to court to challenge his disqualification for seeking judicial redress which the party forbids, will the judiciary allow its ouster by a party? Second, in a televised address Oshiomhole likened the screening committee to a High Court, the appeals committee to a Court of Appeal and his NWC to the Supreme Court for the primaries, thereby clarifying the roles but why was it necessary for the appeals committee to deliberate on zero appeals?
Besides, if the NWC is APC’s in-house Supreme Court, what power is then left for the highest organ of the party – the National Executive Committee NEC? If none, what is the purpose of NEC which incidentally has reportedly not met for about two years? If that organ as we hear is in charge of confirming virtually every activity including primaries and all elections into party offices who authorized all the activities so far concluded?
One critical lesson of the entire episode is that no organ of a political party should be undermined. Now, the action of an ordinary ward chairman has ended in the suspension of the national chairman. Again, an aspirant’s failure to satisfy party registration at the ward level has rubbished the waiver granted him, just as the party has lost a sitting governor.
One can only hope that such impunity would not be extended to other states especially Ondo state whose governorship election is quite close. It is also hoped that the PDP, another major party similarly notorious for impunity would learn from the dire consequences of the vagaries of APC’s political weather.