After many weeks of pussyfooting, President Muhammadu Buhari finally wielded the big stick against the Adams Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee (NWC) of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Either deliberately or inadvertently, the president managed in the same breath to throw in his lot with the governors engaged in a bruising and remorseless war against the faction determined to free the party from their grip.
The war had been going on for more than two years, beginning shortly after the party won office in 2015, and continuing till the axe landed. As this column posited many years back, the war could not end until one faction had been obliterated, or at least one faction achieved unquestionable dominance.
The progressive governors’ faction is led or inspired by Kebbi governor Abubakar Bagudu, Plateau governor Simon Lalong, Jigawa governor Badaru Abubakar, Ekiti governor Kayode Fayemi, and Kaduna governor Nasir el-Rufai. There are, of course, many more who are with them; but these five form the visible, insouciant face of that unrelenting faction.ADVERTISEMENT
There are some ministers whose medium to long-term interests coincide with this faction’s. One of them is former Rivers governor Rotimi Amaechi. Then there are also many powerful figures whose interests also align with this faction, but who do not publicly declare their interest. It was this faction that raised Victor Giadom, a former deputy national secretary, to instigate rebellion against Mr Oshiomhole. The rebellion has been successful, but it is likely to be short-lived.
The National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting of the APC that met on Thursday, supposedly at the instance of Mr Giadom, implementing a labyrinthine usurpation programme connived at by the courts, simply afforded President Buhari the opportunity to wield the big stick that he had obviously wished to wield long before now. The stick was planned to end the brutal struggles between factions in the party, but probably designed for much more. Among other things, it returned the levers of power to the hands of an indeterminate group of party leaders.
For various reasons, some stated others unstated, the presidency had been exasperated by the Oshiomhole-led NWC. The NWC had, in the view of the faction and probably the presidency too, carried on indifferently to the sentiments and sensibilities of many powerful party interests, some of those interests posturing for the presidential politics of 2023. In the process of executing the sacking of the NWC, the president and the faction rode roughshod over party rules concerning how meetings are convened, arguing implausibly and provocatively that the Thursday meeting was merely a continuation of a previously adjourned meeting. So much for law and order. The president also precluded members’ rights to litigate the orders he was making. But where were the moral guardians of the party when Mr Giadom frolicked in the courts?
When five representatives of the Progressive Governors’ Forum visited the president on Friday to thank him for wielding the big stick, it was clear who at long last had seized power. The governors did not of course represent all the progressive governors, but they brazenly appropriated all the progressive governors’ interests and made them coterminous with their own.
In the short run, there will be no dissension between the progressive governors, for the president has shown his hand. But by dealing their cards openly, the president and the five governors who lead and inspire their faction may have done so too early and may be courting disaster. It is true that they fear that the Oshiomhole faction, which was determined to subordinate everybody to party discipline and philosophy, could become too entrenched and too powerful to be subverted or infiltrated in the years before 2023. But the dynamics of power indicate that the governors’ faction will have to exert themselves to breaking point to sustain their artificial primacy.
The malleable Mr Giadom, a close ally of Mr Amaechi, was the faction’s casus belli. His services have now naturally been dispensed with. But while the rebellion he fomented lasted, clearly with the imprimatur of the leaders of the governors’ faction, the presidency looked on somnolently. Regardless of the composition or legality of the caretaker committee headed by the governor of Yobe State, Mai Mala Buni, or their leanings and loyalties as analysed by some political watchers, the party has clearly been retrieved from the hands of Mr Oshiomhole and his supporters and handed over to the governors.
The governors’ faction will now try to make hay while the sun shines. It is also possible that, as some posit, the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), a legacy arm of the APC during its founding, is implementing a separate agenda to entrench itself to the detriment of the other legacy arms of the party. But even this goal is unlikely to be sustained in the long run. The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), one of the frustrated legacy arms of the party, is the most ideological and the most organised. It has spawned more rebels than others in the APC, but win or lose in the power play, it is likely to wield the most potent influence in the medium to long-term.
Since 2015, the APC has been unable to get its act together. This is simply because there are too many conflicting and irreconcilable interests in the party jostling for dominance. It was left for the president, after the APC took office, to find a way of merging interests in the party along the leitmotif of sound principles, values and ideologies. That objective was obviously too complex for the president and his team to manage. The consequence is that the party has remained in a perpetual state of turmoil, always teetering on the brink of implosion.
When Mr Oshiomhole was embroiled in his deathly struggles with various factions in the party, and Mr Giadom was launching his raucous rebellion, the president should have stepped in, not by retrieving the baton and giving it to the governor’s faction, but by ensuring that party supremacy reigned with or without Mr Oshiomhole. Surely the president cannot pretend not to know the damaging influence wielded by the governors in all the political parties during the Goodluck Jonathan years. By failing to act when he should have acted, and even if he is right in the actions he has now taken, the president has clearly indicated that his interest is less likely to coincide with the interest of party supremacy. Whether he knows this or not is not clear. But the damage is done.
Sweeping away Mr Oshiomhole’s NWC will not bring an end to the war in the APC. The caretaker committee will be organising a national convention in six months, assuming it does not ask for extension. So the fierce struggle for the soul of the party has just begun. The Oshiomhole NWC may have sheathed their swords now, but their swords are still flaming. The other interests in the party, which have appeared to lose ground, will also continue to wield their own swords dangerously.
Both the president and the now dominant faction have only succeeded in postponing the battle. They have served notice that they will fight brutally, even biting in the clinches, and they will show no remorse in adopting any unscrupulous tactics or rallying behind any banner no matter how stained. They will try to give no quarter, but so too will their opponents. The victors must not have the illusion that the battle is over or that they have a clear advantage.
The Oshiomhole debacle was a great opportunity for the president to make up his mind on exactly what vision he had for the APC, particularly for the years ahead. It was an opportunity for him to redefine the party, merge all the competing interests, imbue the party with a brilliant and moralistic soul, and shape it for the decades to come, especially learning from the tragedy that befell the People’s Democratic Party after 16 years in office. That he was unable to seize that great advantage is an indication of the dearth of brilliant political aides in the presidency.
If he had such aides, they would have told him that it was possible to successfully carry out those visionary objectives of the party without massive displacements. Mr Oshiomhole was probably too strong-minded to help conceive and execute that great objective, but it is hard to see how dispensing with him altogether can now help the president to either formulate or execute that noble goal in the absence of an intellectual or ideological vacuum in the state house.
By returning party power to the governors who came to garland him last Friday, the president will now discover that he is back to the beginning. But herein is the dilemma. Does the president even recognise that he is back to the beginning? Does he know what else to do with or for the party going forward? Has he gauged the unmerited revival which the PDP seems to be enjoying, a revival that indirectly suggests that the political system was getting irritated with the APC?
In the months ahead, as the APC nears its extraordinary convention, the public will see whether the president and his advisers have given any thought to how to reconfigure the APC and shape it for the future. It will not matter whether the president manages to influence whoever takes over from Mr Oshiomhole and the sacked NWC members. It will not even matter which interest becomes dominant flowing from the extraordinary convention. What will matter is that the public is not so short-sighted that it cannot judge whether the APC is endowed or not, or whether it can propel the country to greatness in the years ahead.
The APC knows that not all its governors align with the progressive forum governors who visited the president last Friday. But whether the president knows this or not is unclear. They have sweet-talked him into believing that all the progressive governors are united in acknowledging and lauding his moves in the party, particularly his peremptory sacking of the NWC.
They have said nothing about the fact that the NEC meeting presided over by the president, unusually in the Council Chamber, did not afford any attendee the opportunity of debate or dissent. The president simply read the riot act; an indication that the outcome of the meeting was preconceived. On Friday, the president was probably carried away by the blandishments of the visiting governors who have managed to frame the struggle within the APC, not as a teething problem for ideological realignment, but as a struggle that fostered instability for which Mr Oshiomhole should be the sacrificial lamb.
Mr Oshiomhole was accused of fertilising the field for some powerful interests ahead of the 2023 presidential battles. Whether he is guilty of this or not, little proof has been offered. It was a brusque conclusion that was used to hang him. But there is another part of Mr Oshiomhole that not too many people have acknowledged, which is germane to the discussions, struggles and hopes of the APC. Whether he watered the ground for anybody or not, Mr Oshiomhole was active, proudly progressive, and called his soul his own, one reason the conservative and staid John Odigie-Oyegun loathed him. Mr Oshiomhole was right in Edo; if he had not moved against Governor Godwin Obaseki, the Edo APC, rank and file, would have defied him. The state APC universally disliked Mr Obaseki, and for the governor, the feeling was implacably mutual.
Mr Oshiomhole was also right in how he handled the Imo and Ogun states primaries, among other primaries, in 2019. He tried to infuse in the members and departing governors a healthy respect for their party and members in 2019. He did not succeed all-round because he was trying to overthrow a nefarious and serpentine system that promoted mediocrity over mentorship. Judging from his politics and worldview, he would have liked to do something about Ondo State where Mr Akeredolu has also not enjoyed a robust relationship with the party in the state. But in order not to fight on too many fronts, an accusation that was glibly levelled against him, he has probably succumbed to wrong in many states, including Ondo, where he would have loved to shake things up. The former party chairman’s faults were not a product of his head, but of his highly emotive and often unguarded mind that leads him to dramatise his battles, exult over his successes, and was often not averse to finger-wagging at his enemies or mocking their defeats.
The months ahead are not too good for the APC. The caretaker committee will obviously try to do the best they can, but enough bad seeds have been sown in the party to injure not only its present but to jeopardise its future. Miracles are sometimes possible in party politics, and so it must not be discounted that by some celestial sleight of hand the president and his advisers may be touched by the fingers of heaven and may decide to appreciate that a successful move in the present may not always augur well for the future. Perhaps, in the months or even years ahead, the APC may rediscover the principles by which great political parties are founded and sustained. There is little to hope that in the case of the APC that outcome is feasible; in fact, if anything, the party seems ineluctably fated to flounder.
Last week, the party came upon a moment that needed the president’s impartiality and deftness. Instead, in a military fashion and posing as a law and order president, he threw away the baby with the bath water. His move may amount to “peace in our time”, but the war is still unwon. Whether they will fight and placate one another within the party, and not fall on their own swords as seems perfectly possible, will depend on whether the backroom deals that are certain to proceed from last week’s capital blunder will amount to anything.
Surely, the APC cannot pretend not to know that the PDP is waiting in the wings. In 2015, the party launched brilliantly into the country’s murky political waters like a dreadnought; it was billed as the answer to its political and existential troubles. It was hoped that it would champion real change, break the country’s unwieldy and unworkable structure, and remould and reengineer the society. It chose, sadly, to limit itself to mundane, self-centred and counterproductive struggles.
Before 2015, many people thought that President Buhari, despite his limitations and stultified background, would help realign Nigeria for national and continental greatness. But, almost right from the beginning, he chose to start on the wrong foot. He has a new Chief of Staff, Ibrahim Gambari, a professor of International Relations, to help him marshal a structure that could think for the presidency in a way that the encumbered Abba Kyari did not. Whether Prof Gambari will perform that role or be allowed to do so remains to be seen. But the intellectual poverty that stares the country in the face shows why radical and progressive change in the presidency, let alone the country, may in fact be forlorn hope.