By Femi Ayelabowo
As a political party peopled by strange bed-fellows with well-stated, often-divergent interests, many people have always seen the All Progressives Congress (APC) as a disaster waiting to happen. From day one, it was obvious the party did not hold together all the political tendencies that conveniently find shelter within its fold, though it managed to keep its internal divisions away from the public. In the past few weeks, however, the crack in its leadership has become manifest so much that the last meeting of the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC), nearly ended in fisticuffs.
Not only did the meeting veer towards violence, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, one-time governor of Borno state and the party’s national leader, Bola Tinubu, nearly engaged each other in a brawl, thus confirming a tendency that many have predicted would consume the party. On one hand is a self-proclaimed king-maker who believes the party revolves around him; on the other are supposed democrats who believe they are in a political party where members stand on equal ground.
Tinubu’s high-handedness and his insistence on having his way on crucial issues within the party may yet prove to be the party’s undoing. As the party prepares for its ward, local government and state congresses as well as the national convention, glaring divisions have emerged among its leadership and ranks. At issue is the critical decision about who emerges the National Chairman – a decision that will ultimately influence who who picks its presidential ticket for the 2015 election.
While the party’s leaders at all levels had broken into factions behind their choice candidates, Tinubu appears to have, single-handed, worked out who would get what, a situation that offends the spirit of oneness and equality which the party has preached since the merger of four parties to give birth to the APC. At an exclusive interactive meeting of the APC Contact Committee hosted late last month in Abuja by a chieftain of the party and a former Deputy Governor of Bauchi State, Alhaji Garuba Ghadi, indications emerged that such vested interests are already threatening the outcome of the impending exercise. To him, the imminent crisis, is avoidable.
The growing tendency of Tinubu and his lieutenants in the defunct ACN to continually lord it over the other parties in the merger that brought about APC, may have accounted for Sheriff’s frustrations with the present interim leadership. Like many others in the party who frown at Tinubu’s manipulation of the party’s leadership, Sheriff who was Chairman of the ANPP Board of Trustees until the merger, clashed with Tinubu when the issues of the party’s impending congresses and convention came up for discussion. The former Borno governor refused to accept the propriety of the APC Interim National Chairman, Bisi Akande, heading the Convention committee that would organize the convention fixed for May 24, 2014, as well as supervising the ward, LG and state congresses in his dual role as interim national chairman. This is more so that Akande wants to emerge as substantive national chairman.
For those who fear the lopsidedness in the leadership of the APC family, Tinubu’s statements that Sheriff should quit the APC and go elsewhere if he was not comfortable with the party, confirmed their worst fears. Why would a party that sings equality like a song, be turned into another animal farm by an over-ambitious man? With the ongoing high-handedness which has already pushed the like of Buba Marwa out of the party, the APC is set to enter the 2015 elections as a disunited political family; yet the permutations are that the impending convention may still further polarize its leaders. The political interest of Tinubu, who is scheming to enter the political contest as running mate to Muhammadu Buhari in the 2015 elections, is responsible for the division. While the Buhari/Tinubu ticket being proposed by Tinubu is rooting for Interim National Chairman, Akande, to emerge as National Chairman, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar’s loyalists in the party prefer Chief Tom Ikimi.
To checkmate Atiku, Tinubu had reportedly wanted to personally handpick the Convention Committee members, an action which did not go down well with Sheriff and some other senior APC leaders, especially Sheriff, Chief Audu Obeh and Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, all of who are backing Atiku’s candidature for the party’s presidential ticket. It is this dictatorial tendency of Tinubu that is also threatening to push the G-5 governors who defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) last year, out of the party. The G-5 governors – Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers), Murtala Nyako (Adamawa), Aliyu Wamakko (Sokoto), Musa Rabiu Kwankwaso (Kano) and Abdulfattah Ahmed (Kwara) –are threatening to return to the PDP over the policy for the composition of the APC National Executive Council.
Tinubu fears that Ikimi’s emergence as the APC National Chairman will scuttle his proposed ticket with Buhari in favour of Atiku who is known as a close Ikimi ally. Analysts believe that is the reason the former governor of Lagos State now prefers to retain the incumbent APC Interim National Chairman, Akande, to emerge as substantive national chairman, a stance that negates the earlier decision of the leadership of the party that members of the Interim National Exco should not contest for any offices in the substantive executive at the National Convention.
As all these play out in the build up to the congresses and national convention, many of the party’s leaders have already queued behind their candidates. Among them, the former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Nasir el-Rufai, has insisted that the party’s choice of presidential candidate would not be dictated by religion. el-Rufai, a close ally of Buhari, is said to be in support of the Muslim-Muslim ticket of Buhari/Tinubu which another party chieftain, Femi Fani-Kayode, had admonished the APC leadership against. In a statement he issued recently, el-Rufai said the party’s candidates for the 2015 presidential poll should be picked on individual competence rather than on religious affiliation. “APC will present an integrity-competence ticket not religion. Politics and governance are not to be mixed or dictated to by any religion,” el-Rufai said.
Fani-Kayode, a former Aviation Minister, had said “the biggest mistake that my party, the APC, can make is to field a Muslim/Muslim ticket in the 2015 Presidential election. If we do that, we will not only offend the Christian community, but we will also lose the election woefully.” How these issues play out in the coming days will determine whether or not the APC remains one. More importantly, if Asiwaju Tinubu eventually has his way as the ongoing machinations suggest, then he would have succeeded in cornering the opposition party to himself and his lieutenants. Whether or not the Muslim/Muslim presidential ticket he proposes will fly, is a decision for the Nigerian voting public to determine.
- Ayelabowo can be reached through Femilabowo@gmail.com