Since Adams Oshiomhole, former National chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), was dethroned in a spectacular, illegal but unchallenged intraparty coup last year, his forces, supporters and powerful backers had every month continued to yield as many inches, yards and miles as the new power brokers demanded of them. There was indeed no end to the yielding. They yielded in the landing grounds, if you forgive the military pun, and yielded in the heights. There was no ground too hallowed for them to practise their new philosophy of abject surrender. Sometimes they couched surrender as discretion, for as the English say, discretion is the better part of valour; but often they simply surrendered to the new lords of the party simply because the president backed the coup and spoke indiscreetly in its favour.
Pressing their advantage, the new lords, nearly all of whom are serving or former governors, made the registration and revalidation of old or new members – pick your option – the fulcrum of their progress and advancement. They had first embarked on reconciling feuding party members. Soon after they began that arduous and thankless job, they discovered that there was no harder task in the world than reconciling friends and enemies who were either strange bedfellows from the beginning or became ambitious and cantankerous party members and leaders once they won elections and the crowns settled over their ears. Sadly, with Mr Oshiomhole out of the way, President Muhammadu Buhari no longer had the benefit of the countervailing arguments that induced moderation, bargain and compromise in the party. It was thereafter one-way sailing, even if the party henceforth sailed continuously and indifferently near the wind all the time. The new party lords had empowered a committee headed by the noncommittal Governor of Yobe State, Mai Mala Buni, and canonized him and his panel with the garish label of Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention and Planning Committee. Once they found their feet and grew teeth and knew how to bark and bite, the committee and their scheming backers threw caution to the wind, unfurled their combat flags, and made the extermination of their enemies in the party the centerpiece of their philosophy.
Last week, however, the previously yielding and reticent Mr Oshiomhole camp began to growl. It was as if they knew they were marked for extermination. But they had been marked since last year when the president, against all odds and reason, was persuaded to back the intraparty coup. Curiously, Mr Oshiomhole was not the first to growl. That distinction was reserved for the first national chairman of the party, Bisi Akande, a former governor of Osun State and principled state and party administrator. Voicing his opinion on the unspoken and unwritten plot to completely decapitate and disembowel the APC as led since 2015, Chief Akande said: “No population census is repeated within less than a decade and voters are not re-registered at every election. Within this context, I see the present APC membership registration within less than a decade after the original register as an indefensible aberration leading to certain ugly perceptions that the APC leadership might be wasteful and unappreciative of the proper use of money in a kind of scanty economy in which Nigeria now finds itself. These seeming ugly perceptions put into abeyance the applause of the two national election successes that the original APC register enjoyed since its completion on 15th February 2014 and the over N1bn of 2014 value that the original register cost when the APC had no money of its own.”
Chief Akande’s logic is infallible, but it did not cut ice with the new party lords. Few within and outside the party can pretend not to know where Chief Akande’s sympathies lie, nor where he was heading, nor whom he backed. But just in case there were lingering doubts about Chief Akande’s position, former Lagos State governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, spoke next about the same issue of registration and revalidation. According to him: “Since we have a foundation, and that foundation is one on which the structure of the party up till the present was built at the time of the registration of this party, I will not fault Baba Akande’s position; I cannot but endorse it.”
Completing the triumvirate, Mr Oshiomhole was even more unsparing and poignant. In his words: “APC is governed by a constitution and not by man; the constitution only provides for registration and I registered as a member of the APC in 2014 under the Interim national chairman, Chief Bisi Akande. There is nothing in the APC constitution that says a member shall revalidate or renew his membership. Once you registered when you joined the party and you have not decamped, you are a member. So, revalidation is strange to our constitution…If you ask me, as a foundation member, who has never decamped, to revalidate my membership, it is double registration because there is nothing like revalidation in our constitution.
He then adds: “By asking me to revalidate my membership, it means I was not a member though I have never left the party. So I think the correct language should be either reviewing or updating because it makes sense to review voters register due to the new members that have joined or those that have exited… So what this means is that I have come here to do another registration, but I insist that my registration never expired within the provision of the APC constitution…” None of the triumvirate wanted to censure their trifling party. They had borne the pain of being deliberately ostracized by their party, and had watched in dismay as the president himself joyously took sides in the dissension. They had endured the agony of being accused of hijacking the party they helped turned into a winning machine and tried their best to imbue with a sense of purpose and dynamism that would turn it into one of the best organized in Africa. But they had also watched as the party began to fritter away its gains and go the way of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), hijacked by their governors, misdirected in philosophy, and turned into a political and moral libertine, if not an outright prostitute. But the triumvirate and all they represent also made their own tactical mistakes when they noisily climbed their high grounds and discomfited and even brusquely ignored their opponents.
Unfortunately for the Oshiomhole crowd, and regardless of the superiority of their arguments, particularly in the run-up to the 2019 polls, they overstated their strength and number, and reposed too much hope and confidence in President Buhari despite his glaring political inconsistencies, suspect capacity to think issues through and direct the party, and inability to formulate and stand by inspiring principles and values. Months after the Oshiomhole group was turned out of the party, they were still cooing to the president and genuflecting before him. They would not fight because the president had spoken, they said incongruously. Party unity was uppermost in their minds, they also boomed, despite the strident display of power and arrogance by their opponents and new lords of the party. In all, the dethroned Oshiomhole group refused to question the impression that the coup within the party was a fait accompli, and the president both infallible and unchallengeable. Where they got both heresies from, not to say why they promote them, is hard to guess.
But at long last, the vanquished have found their united voice and raison d’etre. By controverting the convention planning committee on the ongoing registration and revalidation exercises, they may be serving notice that they are not ignorant of the entire purpose of the controversial exercise. The exercise, they have said in many cryptic words, is designed not to enhance the party’s administration or recalibrate it into a powerful and invincible electoral machine, but to oppose, destroy or neutralize one man and one tendency. The new party lords could have chosen to update their registers, which had given them probably the only two elections they will ever win; instead they have chosen to create a mirage and midwife an upheaval that gives them short term gains, massages their ego, and gifts them illusions of future triumphs. The new party lords, particularly the governors, do not have the steadying philosophy and doggedness that would help them birth or lead a great party, and Mr Buni is too shifty and circumscribed by forces more powerful than his delicate conscience can expiate. They will, therefore, want to deliver at all cost the only objective of their entire scheming: to take the party away from the Oshiomhole crowd, superintend the emergence of election candidates at the local and national levels contrary to the president’s belief, and in the naive expectation of the Kogi State governor Yahaya Bello, create the largest and most powerful party in Africa. This is nothing but magic.
Judging from the remonstrance of last week, it is now clear that the Oshiomhole crowd is not sleeping. They may have refused to dare the president for tactical reasons best known to them, but now they seem to have lost both respect and fear of him. They were never in doubt as to the inattentiveness of the president, nor his legendary lack of capacity as constantly elucidated by former president Olusegun Obasanjo, nor the confusion that reigns in the presidency, nor yet the abominable and utter lack of organization and focus in the administration. But the Oshiomhole crowd seemed to know that the Buni committee was bound to exceed itself one day, and it would be necessary to prime and hone opposition to its willfully destructive methods and ways. That day seems to be near, if it has not yet come. The Oshiomhole crowd will do battle. But whether they will spring a surprise sometime later or do battle within the party soon is unclear. What is clear is just how distasteful they have found the caretaker committee in which the president inexplicably reposes so much confidence, and how even much more galling and immature they have found the plots and objectives of the new lords of the party.
When the president kick-started the registration and revalidation process in the party, he gushed that the era of dictation from Abuja was over. Endorsement of aspirants at the local or state level would not be inspired by the president, he seemed to say. Really? Was that what tore the party apart in 2019; and who told him the governors would ever surrender powers he facetiously pretended to be abdicating? It was clear in late January that the president had been hoodwinked with mischievous arguments, and led down the rose path in which idealism is deployed interchangeably with realism. But the president believed his party minders, those who work relentlessly on his simplicity and eagerness, those who manipulate him for their own goals and ambitions. The president can’t see the forest for the trees, and by 2022, he will discover that he had been duped by party smart alecs.
In 2015 when the APC produced the then candidate Buhari, the party imagined it had got the magic wand to unseat President Goodluck Jonathan. They won, thrillingly, incontrovertibly, and unprecedentedly. But the magic wand was a double-edged sword. It cut the opponent into pieces, but it also delivered a fatal blow to the victor. With the party now inspired by triflers like Gov Bello, and their doors flung open to admit hedonists and unprincipled politicians and journeymen, 2015 may have given APC victory, it may also have produced the self-destructive template that will tragically undermine the party. It produced a president in 2015 who should have lost in 2019, but it also produced a man that had no pretence to be called a leader, let alone one to inspire the biggest and most organized party in Africa. In short, President Buhari has found himself atop a party he cannot inspire or direct, and is too distant to even control the upstarts and rascals and magicians swarming all over the party and pretending to already have 2023 in their kitty.
For the APC, 2021 is not supposed to be about registration or revalidation, regardless of Article 9 of the party’s constitution inappropriately quoted by Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State. It is supposed to be about the president entrenching his legacy, and about the party rediscovering its raison d’etre, its inner core and identity, its ideological platform, and establishing why it needs to renew a country it had so recklessly led, balkanized and corrupted. It is supposed to be the year in which it will clean up the party by putting the Kaduna State tyrant and megalomaniac, the waffling and deceptive Nasir el-Rufai, in his place, relegating the vacuous Mr Bello of Kogi to the backwaters in which he should naturally wallow, and imposing discipline on rampaging, unscrupulous and unethical governors who are choking the party. It is supposed to be a year in which the presidency would have the gumption and courage to rein in the violence perpetrated by criminal herdsmen who have destroyed Nigeria’s countryside and made highways absolutely unsafe.
But in the magic book of the APC, 2021 is the year in which their registration and revalidation exercise would give them victory in 2023. Former party chairman John Odigie-Oyegun does not think registration gives victory, but he sells and embraces the dummy anyway, since in his view the Oshiomhole crowd who sacked his leadership is still left disadvantaged by the Buni committee. Somehow, even the president has been seduced into ignoring the anonymity in which the Nigerian presidency is now ensconced. But in the next election, that anonymity will be a factor, just as the party’s ideology – who knows what it is now? – has become incomprehensible. If they cannot cobble together a platform, let alone an ideology, and cannot refine same; and if they cannot find a solution to herdsmen pillaging the country or curb the wasting power of banditry and insurgency; and if they cannot produce the principles and values that would entice voters to look in their direction, they must either be prepared for magic or rig elections. They must not assume that no one knows how wasteful they became once they won the elections, or how distracted and incompetent their presidency is, or how anarchic their party has become, or how putrefying and sterile their ideas had morphed.
The only relief so far, particularly in the face of an equally impotent PDP, is that the administrative, electoral and ideological war expected in the APC will take place after all. The president’s image had been thought to be too intimidating to let anyone dare to oppose him, and the takeover of the party by the new lords too complete and total to be reversed. Both the president and the party have, however, done and said things in the past few weeks that expose their feet of clay. They will probably get the battle they have sauntered into. What is unclear is when or how.