A Party’s Executive Migraine

Barely two weeks to the commencement of the 2019 general elections, the ruling All Progressives Congress appears to be losing grounds with its national chairman, Adams Oshiomohole taking the bashing for his style of leadership.

These are not the best of times for the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, and its national chairman, Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole, the immediate past governor of Edo State who is desirous of returning his party to power especially at the centre. If there is a fact of life the former labour leader has come to terms with since taking over the party’s rein of leadership from his predecessor and kinsman, John Odigie-Oyegun, it is that indeed, uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. Oyegun rode his own storm but came out with his honour and reputation intact. Though he lost out in the power play that saw him out of office against his wish, he however wrote his name in gold. Oyegun achieved an unprecedented feat that was most confounding, leading his party to victory against a sitting president and party that had dominated the political landscape for 16 years. But barely five months into his four-year tenure, the diminutive but vociferous former labour activist began to feel the burden and agony of what has become a crown of thorns. Suddenly, the euphoria that heralded Oshiomhole’s ascension to the highest office in the party appears to have fizzled out and replaced with utter disappointment, frustration, anger and resentment. Today, there is palpable apprehension and fear in the party whether he would be able to replicate Oyegun’s 2015 electoral feat, even as his integrity is already being assailed.

A concerned chieftain of the party lamented to the magazine that “we had expected so much from Oshiomhole, but the sad and painful truth is that under Oshiomhole, APC is bleeding”. Interestingly, the worst adversaries of the national chairman are some of the governors who had in the military tradition of esprit-de-corps, routed for him and ensured his emergence as national chairman being one of their own. These are Rochas Anayo Okorocha of Imo State, Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State, Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara State and Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State. Like many members of the party, they are unhappy with Oshiomhole over the outcome of the party’s primary elections for various positions ahead of the general elections now around the corner.  Apart from alleged incompetence, the chairman is also battling with allegations of graft and extortion over which he was subjected to a humiliating grilling for several hours by officials of the Department of State Security, DSS, ostensibly on the strength of petitions against him.

Adams-Oshiomhole Photo
Adams Oshiomhole

The seed of discord between Oshiomhole, the governors and other aggrieved party members was sown when the national chairman allowed the governors to decide the mode of primary election to be adopted in spite of adopting direct primary for the presidency. But curiously when it was time to walk the talk, Oshiomhole back-tracked. Political watchers saw this as a recipe for chaos believing that Oshiomhole may have unwittingly shot himself in the foot and set the stage for the confusion that eventually followed. The bitter feud that followed has gone beyond that to threaten the fortunes of the party at the polls. Barely two weeks to the opening of the polls, the ruling party may have lost out completely in two states – Zamfara and Rivers. The electoral umpire published a final list of candidates to participate in all the elections with the party ruled out of contention in the two states.

The first sign of trouble for the party emerged when the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, announced that it would not be fielding candidates for the various positions in Zamfara State because it failed to conduct a primary election before the October 7, 2018 deadline stipulated in its time-table. The party’s case is not helped by the discordant tunes coming from key political actors in the state and the NWC over whether there was indeed a primary election in the state or not. Though Oshiomhole and the governor insisted that a primary election took place, they however differed on how it was conducted. While the national chairman stated that candidates emerged through consensus arrangement, the governor posited that they emerged through direct primary election. But a governorship aspirant and serving senator representing Zamfara Central, Kabiru Marafa was to endorse the action of INEC, insisting that neither was an election held, nor did candidates emerge through consensus.  Marafa leads a faction of the party opposed to the governor, Abdul’Aziz Yari whom they accused of planning to impose candidates on the party.

To prove that it was not merely grandstanding, when the INEC released its initial list of candidates for the 2019 election, no candidate from the state made the list. Its position was further affirmed when it released the final list Thursday January 17.  As it stands, only the courts, according to INEC’s director of information and voter education, Festus Okoye, can decide otherwise.  Zamfara State is not however the only state not like to field candidates. In the same quagmire are Delta and Rivers States where the courts had restrained the party from presenting any list to INEC. Curiously, INEC was to publish names of candidates of factions of the parties in the two states. Giving judgment December 4 in a suit filed by an aggrieved governorship aspirant in Delta State, Victor Ochei, an engineer and former speaker of the state House of Assembly against the candidacy of Great Ogboru, a serial contestant for the topmost job in the state, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba of a Federal High Court, Abuja refused the prayers of INEC, the APC and Ogboru to strike out the suit challenging the outcome of the September 30 primary election on the ground that a different delegates list was used to conduct the primary which produced Ogboru, stressing that a subsisting consent judgment given by Justice Anwuli Chikere of a Federal High Court, Abuja on June 19 had contemplated that the list of delegates brought before the court was the one to be used in the governorship primaries. The court adjourned the matter until Wednesday, January 23, 2019 for further hearing to allow all parties file pleadings and claims within the stipulated time.

Rivers State, like Zamfara, was a pitiable case of mutually assured destruction, MAD. Parallel primary elections were held which produced Tonye Dele-Cole and Magnus Abe. While the leadership of the party had gone ahead to submit the name of Dele-Cole, who emerged the governorship candidate in the indirect primary election organized by the Rotimi Amaechi-led faction, the Senator Abe-led faction went to court on the ground that the NWC acted in brazen violation of a subsisting court order which nullified all the party congresses as well as the primary election held in the state. As far as Abe was concerned, the party had no candidates for any of the positions. Sometime last year, the Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt division upheld Abe’s position, foreclosing the possibility of the party fielding candidates. The appellate court chaired by Justice Abubakar Yahaya dismissed two of the three appeals filed by Dele-Cole and the sacked factional chairman of the party, Ojukaye Flag Amachree for lacking in merit. It also confirmed the judgment of Justice Chinwendu Nwogu of October 10 nullifying the candidacy of Dele-Cole having held that the state had no ward, local government and state executives, further tightening the noose around the party.

To some political pundits, the Rivers case was not irredeemable if only the feuding parties had acted timeously and put personal interests aside to opt for an out-of-court settlement instead of the judicial rigmarole it is presently engaged in. Some legal experts had suggested that in the circumstance that the party found itself, the reasonable thing to do as loyal party men, was to have settled for Abe who emerged from the direct primary election initially approved for the state, though not supervised by the NWC as it happened in Lagos, since it is the party that picks candidates. Rather, it chose to cut its nose to spite its face by fighting on the side of Cole in court, urging it not to recognize Abe as its candidate. At the end of the day, the party, aided by the courts, threw away the baby with the bath water.

The party’s woes became even more compounded and its chances seemingly hopeless following the January 7 judgment of the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt, which restrained INEC from recognising all its candidates. Justice Kolawole Omotosho who gave the order, declared both the direct and indirect primary elections of the party illegal having been held during the pendency of a suit at the Rivers State High Court. Omotosho was delivering judgment on two separate suits filed by Abe and 48 others seeking to declare them the party’s candidates, and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, which sought the order of the court to declare that the APC had no candidates for the election. The Appeal Court sitting in Port Harcourt was to finally seal Cole’s chances when in a January 16 judgment, Justice C. N. Uwa struck out an appeal filed by the APC challenging the October 10, 2018 judgment by Justice Chiwendu Nwogu of a High Court of Rivers State voiding the indirect primary elections which produced Cole. Amidst controversies that the electoral umpire might be scheming to postpone elections in the state in order to accommodate the APC in the event of a contrary verdict, Okoye, speaking last week on Channels Television current affairs programme, Sunday Politics, insisted that INEC had since complied with the directive by Justice Omotosho to the effect that APC in Rivers State would not participate in the elections, and that the party’s logo and any of the names of the candidates should not appear on the ballot papers. He was however quick to add that “if anything arises as we proceed towards the 2019 elections, we will deal with that particular eventuality. But as at today, the reality is that the APC will not participate in the elections, and the elections will go on and the elections will not be postponed”.  

For the PDP which had raised concerns over perceived scheming by INEC to postpone elections in the state, Okoye’s explanation may offer no respite. Indeed, a further clarification on the matter by the state Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC, may have in a way confirmed their fears. The PDP had not hidden its lack of confidence in the ability of INEC to conduct free and fair elections. Obo Effanga, speaking as a guest on Channels Television breakfast programme, Sunrise Daily last Monday, posited that “if a court order came too close to the election that the party should participate in the election at a time the ballot papers had already been printed without the logo of the political party that the court now says should be part of the election, it follows that you cannot have elections without the logos of all the political parties that are entitled to be on the ballot paper being there”.  Distinguishing between what happened in Ondo State and the present scenario, Effanga said in the case of the former, the question was not whether PDP was going to be part of the election, but who the authentic candidate was. “So, whoever the court decided, even if it was decided on a day of the election, it would not have affected anything because the logo of the party was already there. But in this case, the question is if a party is entitled to be on the ballot on election day, so, the question now is supposing a day to the election, or two days to the election, the court now says the party ought to be part of this election; what do we do in that situation?” As far as Effanga is concerned, “this is an unnecessary controversy”. According to the REC, Okoye was only explaining what the possibilities might be. 

The situation in Imo and Ogun States don’t also offer much hope for the party in terms of the anticipated massive votes it hopes to garner. The governors of both states had been at daggers drawn with Oshiomhole over the choice of governorship candidates. They both failed to have their would-be successors in the final list of candidates published by INEC. It is common knowledge that Okorocha, chairman of the Progressives Governors’ Forum, is incensed with Oshiomhole over the replacement of the name of his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu with that of Hope Uzodinma who was said to have emerged from a contentious primary election conducted by the Ahmed Gulag-committee which was disbanded by the NWC allegedly for lack of transparency. When it became obvious that he was fighting a lost battle, Nwosu opted for another platform, Action Alliance, AA, to actualise his ambition. Being cautious not to lose out in both his senatorial ambition and producing his successor, Okorocha, his father-in-law, decided to play smart by supporting the APC in the presidential election which holds simultaneously with the national assembly election in which he is a candidate, while switching loyalty to the AA in the March 2 governorship election. Okorocha was to brazenly take his anti-party activity to a ridiculous height at the APC’s South-east women and youth rally held penultimate weekend in Owerri, Imo State capital. The governor impudently seized the air space on the NTA paid for by the party to campaign for his in-law contesting on the platform of another party and bragging before the nation’s first lady who was represented at the rally by the wife of the vice president, Dolapo Osinbajo, that he would win the election. Hope Uzodinma, the party’s candidate who had spent huge personal resources to mobilize the women and youths to the rally was not recognized by the governor and his wife while Nwosu, who had no business being there, stole the limelight. The AA which had initially adopted Buhari as its presidential candidate was to later withdraw its support to throw its weight behind Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the opposition PDP.  Amosun also toed the same rebellious path. While protecting his senatorial ticket in the APC, for the governorship, he intended to switch allegiance to the Allied People’s Movement, APM, where his loyalists and preferred candidate, Adekunle Akinlade, and candidates of his choice for other state and federal legislative positions, had moved to.

Adebayo Shittu, communications minister, similarly vowed to work against the party’s governorship candidate in Oyo State, his namesake, Adebayo Adelabu, for allegedly being screened out of the race. He said without restitution, there would not be peace in the party. To concerned stakeholders of the party, the actions of the trio and their cohorts, amounted to anti-party activities which should be sanctioned. But to their chagrin, such perceived act of indiscipline was to receive tacit support and encouragement by the president who received the two governors as they came to present to him, the national chairmen of their fallback parties as having endorsed him as their candidate. The national chairman of the party and members of his NWC were either not invited or chose to shun the ceremony as they were conspicuously absent at such a significant event that would have been celebrated by the party if the circumstances were different.

Political observers believe Oshiomhole failed the leadership test in his handling of the fallout of the APC primaries. His perceived confrontational, aggressive and arrogant posturing, rather than a conciliatory approach, they believe, aggravated the crises. His choice of language and caustic tongue did not help matters, especially where soothing words would have calmed jagged nerves.  Oshiomhole had dismissed Amosun and Okorocha as “bad losers”.  On another occasion, to the discomfiture of many Nigerians, he likened the agitated governors to “drug addicts suffering from withdrawal syndrome”.

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