•S-South moves to retain APC chairmanship
•You don’t shift goalpost in the middle of a game — Ebri
•It will shore up party’s fortunes in S/East — Okorie
•Our focus now is Edo, Ondo polls — Nnamani
By Clifford Ndujihe, Omeiza Ajayi & Dennis Agbo
Zoning of offices and which part of the country should produce the national chairman of the All Progressives Congress, APC, are constituting tough nuts to be cracked for the Caretaker/National Convention Committee led by Yobe State Governor, Mai Mala Buni.
The committee is currently visiting major pillars and stakeholders of the party on fence-mending missions. Last week, it visited APC National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and former national chairman, Chief Bisi Akande.
Moves by some power brokers in APC to tinker with the party’s zoning formula are hitting high tides following the decision of the South-South Zonal chapter of the party to frustrate the attempts. Some stakeholders, weekend, were angling for the South-East to produce Mr Adams Oshiomhole’s successor.
Some South-East leaders of the party being fingered for the prime position include Senator Ken Nnamani, who is a member of the caretaker committee; Science and Technology Minister, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu; Labour and Employment Minister, Dr Chris Ngige; and an unnamed politician from Imo State, which sources said might be to entrench APC in the state. Imo is the only foothold of the APC in the 11 states of the South-South and South-East zones.
In the South-East, there are pockets of opposition to ceding the chairmanship to the area over what they consider as a plot to shut the zone out of the presidential ticket of the party in 2023.
Bent on retaining the national chairmanship, some stakeholders from the South-South are pushing forward former Governor of Cross River State, Chief Clement Ebri and former Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba.
Multiple party sources from the South-South told Vanguard, yesterday that the move would be fiercely resisted, describing it as the handiwork of those who want to “commandeer the party.”
This was as Chief Ebri also kicked against such plans, warning that it could disintegrate the party. He, however, declined comments on his ambition.
Ebri was one of those who contested for the office of National Chairman in the 2018 convention but was prevailed upon at the last minute to step down for Oshiomhole, who hails from the same state as his predecessor, Edo.
Edo, Ondo now our focus — Nnamani
Senator Nnamani played down the challenges, when contacted, yesterday, saying that the major issues before the committee now are the Edo and Ondo states governorship polls.
An official of the party told Vanguard that the Mai Mala Buni-led Caretaker Committee has no powers to tinker with the zoning formula, noting that only the National Executive Committee, NEC, can do that.
“The June 25 NEC did not mandate the committee to tinker with the zoning formula. The committee does not have such powers. It can only propose to NEC and I am sure that we are going to shoot down any such proposal. Oshiomhole’s tenure was for four years and if you now ease him out, it would be an insult to the zone to have that office taken elsewhere when we haven’t served out our term,” the official said.
Another party chieftain who was a member of the recently dissolved National Working Committee, NWC, said a change in the zoning formula would affect “many things.”
“Some people want to commandeer the party and put it in their pockets. That was what we rejected but in the end, we had to let go because we know that in the nearest future, the real vampires would surface. If you change the zoning arrangement, it is going to affect many things. First, the defunct Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, has the Executive. The defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, has the Senate President.
“Yes, the Speaker is of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, tendency, but the party chairmanship was also supposed to be zoned to the ACN. If you are going to change the zoning arrangement, you have to consider this too because we discussed this before resolving to work together in 2013.
“Secondly, are you going to ask Buhari to resign or ask the National Assembly leadership to step down when you change our zoning formula in the NWC? There are a lot of things to be considered,” he said.
Dangers in re-zoning slots now – Ebri
Ebri on his part said any plan to zone the national chairmanship to the South-East could be interpreted as a plot to scheme the zone out of the 2023 presidential calculations.
Urging the Buni-led team to be circumspect in its dealings with the various components of the party, Ebri added that the South-South caucus of the party has not met to say it no longer has interest in the position nor has anyone contacted it on the need to tinker with the zoning arrangement.
Ebri warned that it would be disastrous to shift the goalpost in the middle of a game, adding that it would amount to a constitutional crisis to change the zoning formula as some of the members of the NWC who may emerge through that arrangement would come from the same zone as their deputies who are currently in office and have two more years to go.
He said: “The first thing I will like to say is that this is a rumour. The rumour mill may be rife with it but at the end of the day it may not be the truth. Since the caretaker committee was constituted, there has been a lot of rumours regarding zoning or dissolving state chapters, but that is not unusual in politics. I would not want to give credence to that but the only thing I will want to say for now is that you do not change the goalpost when the game is still on. A football match is being played and then you change the goal post. Taking the chairmanship to another zone would amount to that.
“Besides, if you follow the dissolution, it affected the NWC. The NWC is made up of 21 members. The executive is larger than that. You have national deputies and ex-officios. All of these people are still there and they still have their two years to go. So, how are you going to reconcile things like that? Some people are reporting that the convention will throw up NWC members that would stay for four years. Again, this is still part of the rumours. But is there any sense in that?
“The right thing should have been to get an executive to serve out the term, that is, the unexpired term of the Oshiomhole-led officials and that is the only way you can carry along those who have not been dissolved and also be in line with the Constitution. If you go and do something else now, it won’t be fun and you will go and face a lot of issues because it is too early in the life of the second term of this administration and it will distract a lot of attention.
“So, for me as a loyal party man, I think that they should simply tidy up their work, do a national convention and elect people based on the same zoning formula to serve the unexpired term and at the appropriate time, we will have a national convention that will usher in the next phase in 2022.
“The caretaker committee must be very careful in dealing with matters of this nature because we already have a mountain of problems and if you create more problems now, we may end up disintegrating the party.
“Take for instance, if you say you are zoning the chairmanship to the South-East, the conclusion right away is that you want to exclude them from running for the presidency in 2023 and that is why you now want to take the chairmanship position to their zone. When you begin to give room to such speculations this early, almost three years to the end of the tenure, it will create problems within the party. So, the best thing is to stick with what is there and do as much reconciliation as possible to build the party. All these issues of re-zoning or dissolving some state structures would create problems. They say if you are in a hole, you should stop digging.
“In terms of whether the South South caucus has met on this or whether we have been approached, it is a categorical no. There has not been any such meeting. This can only be speculation,” he added.
South-East ‘ll welcome such posts – Chekwas Okorie
However, a chieftain of the APC from the South-East, Chief Chekwas Okorie, said the zone will welcome the national chairmanship and argued that it would not hurt the zone’s chances in the 2023 APC presidential primaries if the exercise was free and fair.
His words: “We will welcome any high position the APC zones to the South-East. People are saying it might affect the zone in 2023 presidential club. I disagree because elective office is different from appointive office. It will not be a minus. It will be a plus for the South-East presidential quest because a South-East chairman will ensure a level-playing field at the presidential primaries.
“National Chairman is a very high profile position for the ruling party. The APC is not well-seated in the South-East. Giving us the position will change the narrative of the APC in the South-East.”
We’re yet to discuss zoning in APC – Ken Nnamani
Contacted, a member of the APC National Convention Committee in charge of the South-East, and former President of the Senate, Chief Ken Nnamani, denied knowledge of the purported zoning of the party’s National Chairmanship position to the South-East zone.
Nnamani told Vanguard that what was crucial to the committee and the party for now was how to ensure that the party secures victory in the upcoming gubernatorial elections in Edo and Ondo states, as well as ensure that the party members access membership registration without stress.
Nnamnai said: “We have not discussed anything like zoning, and I don’t know how they arrived at that. You know the third world war would likely be caused by the social media. Our challenge now as caretaker committee, the issue of zoning is not part of it at all, it’s not in the template.
“What is on the template is Edo and Ondo, and then preparing the party for mid-term convention, that is our immediate challenge and not zoning, we haven’t got to that level yet, I don’t know where that came from and I am not aware of it. At no time did we discuss anything about it at all.
“What we are focusing on now is Edo and Ondo elections and to reinvigorate the party by having a registration; making it closer to people, so that those who want to register will be free to come and register. That is it for now.”
Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the party, Yekini Nabena did not immediately respond to enquiries but he had earlier told Vanguard that the caretaker committee has not discussed the issue of zoning party offices.
While the office of the National Chairman is currently zoned to the South-South, that of National Secretary is zoned to the North-East. The Deputy National Secretary is also zoned to South-South, specifically Rivers State. The National Treasurer is zoned to the North-West; National Publicity Secretary (North-Central), National Auditor (South-East), National Organizing Secretary (South-East) and many more.
By the arrangement in the party, Delta State is out of the equation in the race for the national chairmanship. This is because the leader of the party in the South-South, Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, hails from the state.
Gladiators in Rivers State are still battling for the soul of the party in the state while stakeholders in Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa and Edo are said to still consulting on the way forward.