Salihu Moh. Lukman
Progressive Governors Forum, Abuja
Following the interlocutory injunction by the FCT High Court presided over by Justice Danlami Senchi, against Comrade Adams Oshiomhole from acting as the National Chairman of the APC, on Wednesday, March 4, 2020, the question of the commitment of our political leaders to the rule of law, is once again being tested. In this circumstance, lawyers are having a field day with all manners of interpretations. In the midst of all the interpretations is also another alleged ruling of a Federal High Court in Kano presided over by Justice Lewis Allagoa, on Thursday, March 5, 2020, setting aside the interlocutory injunction by the FCT High Court.
Defending on one’s disposition, the question of jurisdiction, coordinate or otherwise, may be the focus of analysis. Once that is the focus, even lawyers may have to run back to the Courts to seek determination of the matter. In the circumstances, every position canvassed may just be wishful thinking. This is one reason why when it comes to matters of the law and its interpretation, no matter our levels of education, in the end, we are all laymen (and laywomen, if there is anything like that). Simple!
The most important political question however has to do with implications of the unfolding events to our party, All Progressives Congress (APC) and our leaders, especially regarding the status of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole. With all that is going on, is he (Comrade Oshiomhole) still the National Chairman? If he is, will he be able to respond to all these challenges in a way that restores his legitimacy to continue to preside over affairs of the party? How will all these affect the electoral fortunes of the party especially given the question of his membership credential in the party? On the other hand, if it turns out that he is no longer the National Chairman, who succeeds him and how can we ensure that such a transition comes with increased electoral advantages for our party? What could be the determining requirement for that to be guaranteed?
Responding to all of these are perhaps, the most critical challenges facing us. Unfortunately, all the analyses since the Justice Senchi’s injunction hardly focus on most of these issues. The dominant issue is about retaining or sacking Comrade Adams Oshiomhole. What happens to the electoral fortune of the party, is at best assumed. Interestingly, some of the commentaries expressed disappointment about the refusal of President Buhari to intervene on the matter. Both those for and against the sacking of Comrade Oshiomhole have expressed such disappointment. The reason being that his intervention, in one way or the other, will just settle the issue and enable the party to configure itself based on the wishes of President Buhari as the leader of the party. In other words, President Buhari should just carry the burden of the party.
Maybe it is necessary to remind Nigerians about President Buhari’s declaration of May 29, 2015 to the effect that he ‘belongs to everybody and belongs to no one’. The President’s refusal to intervene in any way, is a confirmation that he truly meant that 2015 declaration. For many of us students and practitioners of politics, President Buhari’s non-interference posture really calls for celebration. This is partly because, such non-interference disposition is needed to institute frameworks for party supremacy. What is required to achieve that is a clear leadership that operates based on the provisions of the party constitution, which imposes an obligation to hold periodic meetings where all issues are addressed. With such framework, decisions of the party will always aggregate the interests of members, and leaders of the party will be obligated to respect and implement party decisions. The business of leaders will not be to intimidate party members to accept their positions.
Somehow, this is the locus of all our challenges. Whether we want to accept it or not, we today find ourselves with the embarrassing situation whereby almost all the structures of the party have been frozen at all levels. This is certainly not the making of President Buhari. The only possible structure that appears to be meeting is the National Working Committee (NWC), which is an administrative organ. Even the NWC we are told that it is not united, so much that it could make a decision on January 14, 2020 and the announcement of its decision will only ‘coincidentally’ come on March 4, 2020 shortly after Justice Senchi issued the order for interlocutory injunction. This is all because members of the Comrade Oshiomhole-led NWC have constituted themselves into an unaccountable assembly with a thuggish temperament, which seeks to browbeat every member of the party, especially aspiring candidates into submission.
Sadly, some accounts of the management of the 2019 election process around selection of candidates produced some discomforting reports of corrupt practices of members of the Comrade Oshiomhole-led NWC. These are accounts that suggested that the process of candidates’ selection within the party is turned to stock broking in which the main stock is the party’s nomination to contest any of the elective positions. Interestingly, now all the issues around the current challenges are being reduced to contestation for 2023 almost in a way that suggests maybe the ‘stocks’ for 2023 have already been sold and therefore anyone that is complaining is doing so based on that prism. It is simply a case of judging the dynamics and other standpoints based on the 2023 mindset that appeared to be informed by expectations of projected ‘stock broking’ transactions.
Attempts to drag President Buhari into such a mindset based on some expected interventions is simply a blackmail strategy. Even when the President appealed to Comrade Oshiomhole and all party leaders to work for the institutionalization of the APC so that the party can continue to provide the needed leadership for the political development of the country beyond his tenure (2023), the attitude is to be recalcitrant and continue on the wayward approaches of not convening meetings and mismanaging processes of candidates’ selections with the attendant consequences of handing over electoral victories to our opponents.
As a layman, it is important to ask the question, assuming in all of these, Comrade Oshiomhole remained as the National Chairman and proceeds to organise primary elections for Edo, Ondo and Anambra, how advantageous will that be to APC? Let us also assume for the purpose of analysis, that undisputed candidates emerge from the primaries in which no one within the party is contesting the results. Whether those undisputed candidates include Governors Godwin Obaseki of Edo State and Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu SAN of Ondo State, is immaterial. The Zamfara and Bayelsa judicial cloud would appear to have already gathered with any opposition party led by PDP just positioned to harvest what will come with such clouds.
Given such reality, it will be foolhardy for any upright thinking politician to aspire to contest on the platform of the party with Comrade Oshiomhole as the National Chairman. The only possible remedy will be if Comrade Oshiomhole is able to humble himself and go back to the root cause of the problem and resolve it. What is the root cause of the problem? It is the suspension by his Ward 10 in Etsako West Local Government Area of Edo State. Since November 2, 2019, the Ward 10 Executives passed a vote of no confidence on Comrade Oshiomhole and suspended him from the party. Somehow, Comrade Oshiomhole and his supporters treated this action of the Ward Executives with contempt to the point of projecting Comrade Oshiomhole as superior to the Ward.
This now has turned out to be the very albatross that is setting the stage for Comrade Oshiomhole’s downfall as the National Chairman. Other than issuing another suspension order on Mr. Obaseki and Mr. Aselm Ojezua, Edo State APC Chairman, Comrade Oshiomhole hardly initiated actions to challenge his suspension from his Ward, at least not to public knowledge. All his concentration appeared to be recruiting potential Governorship candidates for the Edo State 2020 elections against Mr. Obaseki. It is quite shocking that Comrade Oshiomhole, with all his leadership experience, will cheapen himself this way. In many respects, issues of Edo State became the main focus of Comrade Oshiomhole’s leadership of the party. Every other issue from any part of the country affecting the party took a backstage.
Not even a meeting of any of the superior organs of the party was convened to review the 2019 elections. Many of Comrade Oshiomhole’s supporters have cited so-called reform initiatives and issues of discipline in the party as the reasons why he is facing opposition from some leaders in the party. This is just a convenient lie aimed at blackmailing anyone who is opposed to the way Comrade Oshiomhole is running the party. Even when it is clear that most decisions regarding sanctioning leading members of the party required the endorsement of National Executive Committee (NEC), as provided by Article 21B(i & ii) of the APC Constitution, at no time did the Comrade Oshiomhole-led NWC convene or make any presentation to any NEC meeting in that regard. Where then, is the so-called reform Comrade Oshiomhole is implementing, which required non-compliance provisions of the party constitution?
In all of these, what is very clear is that the Comrade Oshiomhole-led NWC for strategic reasons, decided to employ cheap public propaganda as a means of survival. Leaders of the party need to decide whether they want to gratify the Comrade Oshiomhole-led NWC with a consideration of their survival antics or the focus will be the future of APC as a party with all the required electoral advantages restored. Herein lies the critical challenge; how can we turn all the challenges facing us as a party today into an opportunity? Some may even ask, what kind of opportunity?
A simple response is that since the 2015 elections, all manners of leadership conflicts have consumed our party at all levels. Attempts by President Buhari to assign the task of reconciliation to Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu in January 2018 met a brick wall. Unfortunately, the 2019 elections compounded all our problems as a party. Given how bad things are now, it will be very deceptive to imagine that the simple resolution of whether Comrade Oshiomhole should remain as National Chairman or not can address all our challenges. The truth is that our challenge today is to rebuild the party in such a way that can re-invent the belief and confidence of members of our party in our capacity to win elections. Those who are looking for who will succeed President Buhari can continue with the reductionist analysis of internal contestations in the party, based on the 2023 projections. This is simply a very lazy approach and the same people will be shameless in providing possible analysis of failures in 2023.
The reality is that our party, APC is faced with a big problem whereby none of our organs are meeting as provided by the constitution. In fact, we are not even quite sure who our members are. There is therefore the urgent need to resume the process of party-building with confirmation of our members, as well as recruiting new members. This has to be followed with processes of leadership reformation through Wards, Local Governments and State Congresses to National Convention.
How can we get all these started? First, pending the settlement of all the cases around Comrade Oshiomhole’s membership, we need to invoke provisions of Article 17 (vi) which provides that in the event of a vacancy, “the relevant Party organ shall appoint another person to act in his place pending ratification by the National Convention or Congress.” The relevant party organ in this case may have to be the National Executive Committee (NEC). Given all the vacancies (about six so far); National Chairman, Deputy National Chairman (South), Deputy National Chairman (North), National Vice Chairman (North West), National Secretary and National Auditor, who convenes the NEC? This is where the organizing, consulting and negotiating capacity of our leaders will be tested. Combinations of majority of the remaining members of the NWC in consultation with President Buhari, Governors, other party leaders who are leading members of the National Caucus, can resolve all these issues and convene the NEC to appoint an Acting National Chairman.
With the appointment of an Acting National Chairman, the next would be to seek to invoke provisions of Article 25 A(i) of the APC constitution, which stipulates that the “National Convention of the Party shall be held once in Two (2) years at a date, venue and time to be recommended by the National Working Committee and approved by the National Executive Committee, subject to the giving of statutory notice to Independent National Electoral Commission and at least fourteen (14) days notice given to members eligible to attend.” Already, this is the second year since the last Convention in 2018 where the Comrade Oshiomhole-led NWC was elected. What this means is that with or without our current challenges, we are actually due for a National Convention.
Once a ‘NEC’ is convened, all these processes should therefore be activated. The other issue is the question of ‘what are the other steps or decisions needed to ensure the emergence of a new atmosphere in the party that will promote reconciliation and re-orient the party to regain its political profile as a party commanding mass appeal?’ Part of the requirements may have to include a decision by the NEC to set aside all cases of disciplinary decisions taken by the party organs at different levels in the last two years. This is important in order to basically promote reconciliation based on a strategy to ensure internal harmony.
In order that this is not taken as endorsement of all the leadership rascality that has taken place especially in the build-up to the 2019 elections, it is important that the ‘Chief Bisi Akande Reconciliation Committee’ setup by the ‘Comrade Oshiomhole-led NWC’, is allowed to proceed with its assignment. In fact, it should be strengthened, such that its reports and recommendations are presented for consideration at the National Convention. Already, they have called for memorandum from members which may have been disrupted by the current challenges. Any NEC meeting convened to address the problem of leadership arising from the interlocutory injunction against Comrade Oshiomhole should review and renew the mandate of the Chief Bisi Akande Reconciliation Committee.
Maybe as part of the terms of reference of the ‘Chief Bisi Akande Reconciliation Committee’, the issue of reviewing processes of candidates’ selection with all the allegations of financial misdeed against the ‘Comrade Oshiomhole-led NWC’ during the 2019 elections should be included as part of their terms of reference. There is no way we can make progress in our fight against corruption if in the end, our NWC is turned into a harbinger for corrupt practices during elections.
In addition to the ‘Chief Bisi Akande Reconciliation Committee’, there is the need to set up a ‘Constitution Review Committee’. All the gaps associated with discipline and leadership succession need to be addressed based on either amendment of existing provisions or formulation of new provisions. This is very important in order to ensure that we are developing necessary safeguards against future recurrence of our current challenges.
I am confident that our current challenges present good opportunities to rebuild our party. Those with a static mindset will celebrate what is going on as the signal for the collapse of APC. Yes, we have big challenges. Agreed, these are challenges that based on existing political culture, are prone to mismanagement by our political leaders. But we have at different times in the lifetime of our party, demonstrated the capacity to overcome our challenges in a way that departed from public expectations. Perhaps, this is because in the end, our leaders in APC are able to remember that politics is all about winning elections and based on that, make all the needed compromises to guarantee electoral victory.
This has been the narrative of APC from the merger negotiation to the 2015 and 2019 elections. If anything, the residue of failure is only traceable under the ‘Comrade Oshiomhole-led NWC’, because of the way it has acted as an efficient Trojan Horse that opened us to cheap electoral defeats through the judicial backdoor. Once the response of our leaders is about putting up a framework that can return us to the process of party building, it will just be a matter of time (maximum by the end of this year; 2020), till will bounce back very strongly based on a capacity that ensured that all our organs at all levels are meeting regularly as provided by our constitution. And all emerging problems can be responded to as it should be. This is the dynamic template that goes beyond any timeframe (2023) or individual whether with reference to National Chairman (Comrade Oshiomhole) or who succeeds President Buhari!