Indisputably, the position of national chairman of a political party – especially a ruling one – carries considerable weight, especially in charting the course of informed engagements with the critical elements in a democratic mix. That the inherent power of that office, its responsibility and authority have been watered down in recent times and often caged by forces out of sync with transformative politics need not translate to an any-occupant-goes scenario.
A ruling party like the All Progressives Congress (APC) must not settle for just any occupant because this would unfortunately mean jettisoning pluck, principle, vision and discipline. These are incidentally critical navigational tools for the man who would guide the ruling party as it goes into a presidential election in 2023.
In a political milieu where national interest often comes a poor second to personal and sectional imperatives, men of principle and vision become objects of suspicion and fear – to friends and foes alike. This arguably sums up former Governor George Akume’s apparent public relations challenge as he seeks the office of the national chairmanship of the ruling APC.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Senator George Akume who is Minister of Special Duties and Inter-Governmental Affairs has made it clear that his aspiration for that office is not a do-or-die affair, a standpoint that quietly bespeaks principle. He also correctly observed that it was APC’s Acting Chairman of the Caretaker and Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee, Governor Mai Mala Buni’s unassuming leadership footing that prompted the massive defection into APC by both members of the major opposition PDP and other fringe parties.
Akume opened up recently in Abuja when he received members of Middlebelt Youth Vanguard, who named him the Grand Patron of the association. He told the visiting youths that his major concern was for the position to be zoned to the North-Central.
His words: “We are still going on with our state congresses, after that it will be the National Convention. Our prayer is that let this position be zoned to the North-Central. I have not declared, but after appropriate consultations and the zoning, we will do the needful. When that occasion arises, I will be depending on you. Whoever gets your support is close to getting the victory. Also in our zone, we are all committed that whoever emerges will get the support of all of us. It is not a do-or-die affair.”
It could be recalled that on June 23, 2018, amid considerable internal dissonance and palpable party governance deficits that hobbled the ruling APC, former Edo State governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, was elected national chairman at the party’s national convention, to rein in unseemly dissidence and provide a new trajectory.
Perhaps not surprisingly, less than two years after he formally took the baton of leadership of APC from Chief John Odigie-Oyegun and successfully guided the party to victory, his approach to leadership came under serious scrutiny, especially because of what some pundits saw as a belligerent style he allegedly adopted. But interestingly, much of this scrutiny was skewed and ungoverned by good faith.
It is beyond dispute that a ruling party’s national chairman must be firm as well as diplomatic. These are qualities that recommend Akume for significant consideration by party leaders and members ahead its national convention. But then Akume naturally has competition.
Close observers note that trailing PDP’s decision to zone the seat of its national chairman to the North, there are strong feelers that the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) would go the same route. Since the fusion of the legacy parties in 2014 birthed APC, the contest for the party’s leadership positions at any level has never been as keen as what currently subsists. Not surprisingly, APC’s forthcoming national convention is generating much attention.
The upcoming party convention has spawned increased agitation for zoning of its positions and elective offices. There is clear pressure for the party to honour the gentleman’s agreement of power rotation between the North and the South.
But the silence from the Governor Buni convention committee on the modalities for the national convention has been fueling some tension. But in all, significant indications point to the fact that the party has conceded to the idea of a power shift.
Notwithstanding that the APC has not formally announced its decision on the matter; feelers from some of its chieftains indicate that the party would go with zoning the national chairmanship of the party to the Northern region. The array of national chairmanship aspirants – all from the North- serves as a key portent. Against this background, many founding fathers of the APC from the Northern region are showing keen interest in the race to succeed Governor Mai Mala Buni as chairman of the ruling party. This is where Senator Akume stands out.
Some other contenders for the APC national chair include Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, ex-Governor Abdul’aziz Abubakar Yari of Zamfara State, Umaru Tanko Al’Makura (Nasarawa) the oldest at 69, Senator Danjuma Goje, a former governor of Gombe State, Senator Kashim Shettima, another former Borno State governor. Out of this horde, Senator George Akume is perceived as the most eligible aspirant to occupy the position of APC national chairman.
As things stand, Nigerians closely watch the ruling APC’s trajectory, especially with focus on how its national convention plays out. A natural winner who handles power and influence with fetching humility and diplomacy quietly stands by and seeks the nod of his party. He is the candidate to beat.
Akume was born on December 27, 1953 in Benue State. He obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and a Master’s degree in Labour Relations from the University of Ibadan. Certainly not a political neophyte, in 1999, he became governor of Benue State and served two terms of four years each. He was the first governor of Benue State to have completed two terms in office. He was elected governor of Benue State on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and was then elected to the Senate.
He won elections to represent the people of Benue as a Senator for Benue North-West in Nigeria’s Senate. Akume was re-elected Senator for Benue North-West in the April 2011 elections, running on the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) platform. He polled 261,726 votes, to defeat Terngu Tsegba of the PDP who polled 143,354 votes. He was in his first term in the Senate the Minority Leader.
He was again re-elected to the Senate on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2015. He was chairman Senate Committee on Army and a ranking member of the Upper Legislative Chamber. He was nominated and confirmed a minister by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Nigerians wait with bated breath to see how the APC party apparatchiks navigate the seemingly boisterous storm of their selection and election of a national chairman. Will the voyage be as successful and consensual as that of the PDP? Only time will tell.
▪︎Chukwuma contributed this piece from Abuja