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 betweenOshiomhole, the governors and other aggrieved party members was sown when thenational chairman allowed the governors to decide the mode of primary electionto be adopted in spite of adopting direct primary for the presidency. Butcuriously when it was time to walk the talk, Oshiomhole back-tracked. Politicalwatchers saw this as a recipe for chaos believing that Oshiomhole may haveunwittingly shot himself in the foot and set the stage for the confusion thateventually followed. The bitter feud that followed has gone beyond that tothreaten the fortunes of the party at the polls. Barely two weeks to theopening of the polls, the ruling party may have lost out completely in twostates – Zamfara and Rivers. The electoral umpire published a final list ofcandidates to participate in all the elections with the party ruled out ofcontention in the two states.

The first sign oftrouble for the party emerged when the Independent National ElectoralCommission, INEC, announced that it would not be fielding candidates for thevarious positions in Zamfara State because it failed to conduct a primaryelection before the October 7, 2018 deadline stipulated in its time-table. Theparty’s case is not helped by the discordant tunes coming from key politicalactors in the state and the NWC over whether there was indeed a primaryelection in the state or not. Though Oshiomhole and the governor insisted thata primary election took place, they however differed on how it was conducted.While the national chairman stated that candidates emerged through consensusarrangement, the governor posited that they emerged through direct primaryelection. But a governorship aspirant and serving senator representing ZamfaraCentral, Kabiru Marafa was to endorse the action of INEC, insisting thatneither was an election held, nor did candidates emerge through consensus. Marafa leads a faction of the party opposed to the governor, Abdul’AzizYari whom they accused of planning to impose candidates on the party.

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

Rivers State, like Zamfara, was apitiable case of mutually assured destruction, MAD. Parallel primary electionswere held which produced Tonye Dele-Cole and Magnus Abe. While the leadershipof the party had gone ahead to submit the name of Dele-Cole, who emerged thegovernorship candidate in the indirect primary election organized by the RotimiAmaechi-led faction, the Senator Abe-led faction went to court on the groundthat the NWC acted in brazen violation of a subsisting court order whichnullified all the party congresses as well as the primary election held in thestate. As far as Abe was concerned, the party had no candidates for any of thepositions. Sometime last year, the Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt divisionupheld Abe’s position, foreclosing the possibility of the party fieldingcandidates. The appellate court chaired by Justice Abubakar Yahaya dismissedtwo of the three appeals filed by Dele-Cole and the sacked factional chairmanof the party, Ojukaye Flag Amachree for lacking in merit. It also confirmed thejudgment of Justice Chinwendu Nwogu of October 10 nullifying the candidacy ofDele-Cole having held that the state had no ward, local government and stateexecutives, further tightening the noose around the party.

To some political pundits, the Rivers casewas not irredeemable if only the feuding parties had acted timeously and putpersonal interests aside to opt for an out-of-court settlement instead of thejudicial rigmarole it is presently engaged in. Some legal experts had suggestedthat in the circumstance that the party found itself, the reasonable thing todo as loyal party men, was to have settled for Abe who emerged from the directprimary election initially approved for the state, though not supervised by theNWC 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 ofCole in court, urging it not to recognize Abe as its candidate. At the end ofthe day, the party, aided by the courts, threw away the baby with the bathwater.

The party’s woes becameeven more compounded and its chances seemingly hopeless following the January 7judgment of the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt, which restrained INEC fromrecognising all its candidates. Justice Kolawole Omotosho who gave the order,declared both the direct and indirect primary elections of the party illegalhaving 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 48others seeking to declare them the party’s candidates, and the PeoplesDemocratic Party, PDP, which sought the order of the court to declare that theAPC had no candidates for the election. The Appeal Court sitting in Port Harcourtwas 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, 2018judgment by Justice Chiwendu Nwogu of a High Court of Rivers State voiding theindirect primary elections which produced Cole. Amidst controversies that theelectoral umpire might be scheming to postpone elections in the state in orderto accommodate the APC in the event of a contrary verdict, Okoye, speaking lastweek on Channels Television current affairs programme, Sunday Politics,insisted that INEC had since complied with the directive by Justice Omotosho tothe effect that APC in Rivers State would not participate in the elections, andthat the party’s logo and any of the names of the candidates should not appearon the ballot papers. He was however quick to add that “if anything arises aswe proceed towards the 2019 elections, we will deal with that particulareventuality. But as at today, the reality is that the APC will not participatein the elections, and the elections will go on and the elections will not bepostponed”.  

For the PDP which hadraised concerns over perceived scheming by INEC to postpone elections in thestate, Okoye’s explanation may offer no respite. Indeed, a furtherclarification 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 ofconfidence in the ability of INEC to conduct free and fair elections. OboEffanga, speaking as a guest on Channels Television breakfast programme,Sunrise Daily last Monday, posited that “if a court order came too close to theelection that the party should participate in the election at a time the ballotpapers had already been printed without the logo of the political party thatthe court now says should be part of the election, it follows that you cannothave elections without the logos of all the political parties that are entitledto be on the ballot paper being there”.  Distinguishing between whathappened in Ondo State and the present scenario, Effanga said in the case ofthe former, the question was not whether PDP was going to be part of theelection, 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 affectedanything because the logo of the party was already there. But in this case, thequestion is if a party is entitled to be on the ballot on election day, so, thequestion 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 doin that situation?” As far as Effanga is concerned, “this is an unnecessarycontroversy”. According to the REC, Okoye was only explaining what thepossibilities might be. 

The situation in Imo andOgun States don’t also offer much hope for the party in terms of theanticipated massive votes it hopes to garner. The governors of both states hadbeen at daggers drawn with Oshiomhole over the choice of governorshipcandidates. They both failed to have their would-be successors in the finallist of candidates published by INEC. It is common knowledge that Okorocha,chairman of the Progressives Governors’ Forum, is incensed with Oshiomhole overthe replacement of the name of his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu with that of HopeUzodinma who was said to have emerged from a contentious primary electionconducted by the Ahmed Gulag-committee which was disbanded by the NWC allegedlyfor lack of transparency. When it became obvious that he was fighting a lostbattle, Nwosu opted for another platform, Action Alliance, AA, to actualise hisambition. Being cautious not to lose out in both his senatorial ambition andproducing his successor, Okorocha, his father-in-law, decided to play smart bysupporting the APC in the presidential election which holds simultaneously withthe national assembly election in which he is a candidate, while switchingloyalty to the AA in the March 2 governorship election. Okorocha was tobrazenly take his anti-party activity to a ridiculous height at the APC’sSouth-east women and youth rally held penultimate weekend in Owerri, Imo Statecapital. The governor impudently seized the air space on the NTA paid for bythe party to campaign for his in-law contesting on the platform of anotherparty and bragging before the nation’s first lady who was represented at therally by the wife of the vice president, Dolapo Osinbajo, that he would win theelection. Hope Uzodinma, the party’s candidate who had spent huge personalresources to mobilize the women and youths to the rally was not recognized bythe governor and his wife while Nwosu, who had no business being there, stolethe limelight. The AA which had initially adopted Buhari as its presidentialcandidate was to later withdraw its support to throw its weight behind AtikuAbubakar, presidential candidate of the opposition PDP.  Amosun also toedthe same rebellious path. While protecting his senatorial ticket in the APC,for the governorship, he intended to switch allegiance to the Allied People’sMovement, 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’sgovernorship candidate in Oyo State, his namesake, Adebayo Adelabu, forallegedly being screened out of the race. He said without restitution, therewould not be peace in the party. To concerned stakeholders of the party,the actions of the trio and their cohorts, amounted to anti-party activitieswhich should be sanctioned. But to their chagrin, such perceived act ofindiscipline was to receive tacit support and encouragement by the presidentwho received the two governors as they came to present to him, the nationalchairmen of their fallback parties as having endorsed him as their candidate.The national chairman of the party and members of his NWC were either notinvited or chose to shun the ceremony as they were conspicuously absent at sucha significant event that would have been celebrated by the party if thecircumstances 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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