In a familiar power-grab project, some imperious governors, ministers and operatives of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) have contrived a stalemate to attempt dethronement of the party’s tough national chairman Adams Oshiomhole whose stern insistence on new party governance template provided potent ammunition for the shadowy operators. Louis Achi looks at the key issues
In a season of partisan frenzy, with many red-eyed politicians focused on various power-grab intrigues often dressed up as patriotic ventures, discipline, party supremacy and rule-governed processes become threatened.
Against this background, it is a given that the position of national chairman of a political party carries considerable weight, especially in charting the course of informed engagement with the critical elements in a democratic mix. That the inherent power of that office, its responsibility and authority have been watered down and often caged by forces out of sync with transformative politics doesn’t mean the occupant must jettison plucky, principled and disciplined conduct.
With principle, pluck and discipline as watchwords, former governor of Edo State and current embattled chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole has thus far guided the party in power. What’s more, this significantly evokes the days of Chief Adisa Akinloye, national chairman of the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, of the Second Republic. But this scenario has a flip side.
The tough-guy image of former governor of Edo State and national chairman of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) Oshiomhole’s evolved over decades of challenging trade unionism and often bruising engagements with recalcitrant governments – both military and democratic.
This unwittingly feeds a perception that Oshiomhole, now a mainstream national politician is a fellow to be wary of. When this scenario interfaces a milieu where national interest often comes a poor second to personal and sectional imperatives, both the messenger and his message become objects of suspicion and fear – for friends and foes alike. This arguably sums up Oshiomhole’s apparent public relations quandary.
It could be recalled that on June 23 2018, amidst considerable internal dissonance and palpable party governance deficits that hobbled the ruling All Progressives Congress, 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 see as a belligerent style he allegedly adopted. But interestingly, much of this scrutiny is skewed and ungoverned by good faith.
Ahead of the governorship primaries in Edo State, Governor Obaseki had scaled up the war between him and his erstwhile godfather Oshiomhole, quite sure that the national chairman would hold back his anointing oil this time around. The scenario had made the Edo governor a key arrowhead in the dethrone Oshiomhole project.
Going forward, the ruling party has been engulfed in crisis after a court ruling ordered the suspension of Oshiomhole as the national chairman of the party pending the determination of suits filed against him. The court gave the order following an application by a member of the party that the national chairman had been suspended by the APC in his home state of Edo.
Oshiomhole is appealing the suspension as well as the attendant decision to deny him access to the party’s national secretariat. Last week, the assistant national secretary of the party, Victor Gaidom, circulated a statement announcing a NEC meeting on March 17.
But a counter-statement issued by some top officials of the APC enjoined party members to ignore Gaidom saying his action fell outside the party’s constitution and jurisdiction. The statement was jointly signed by Lanre Issa-Onilu, the party spokesperson; Babatunde Ogala, the national legal adviser; and Bulama.
Gaidom, however, continued to insist he is the next in line in the party hierarchy following Oshiomhole’s suspension and the absence of a substantive national secretary. The party’s former national secretary is now the governor of Yobe State.
Mid last week, a high court in Abuja restrained party members – specifically Messrs Issa-Onilu, Ogala, and Bulama – from disrupting next Tuesday’s NEC meeting. The application was filed by Mustapha Salihu, the North-East zonal vice-chairman of the APC.
In his counter application, which is designed to effectively oppose the Abuja court ruling, the Lagos State APC chairman prayed the court to compel the party to recognise Bulama as the acting National Secretary, Ajimobi as the acting National Deputy Chairman (South), and Chukwuma as the acting National Auditor of the party. He said the trio were nominated by their geo-political zones after the offices became vacant and were zoned to the North-East, South-West, and South-East respectively.
According to Balogun, the nomination of Bulama was ratified at the meeting of the APC National Working Committee held on January 14, 2020, while those of Messrs Ajimobi and Chukwuma were ratified at the NWC meeting of March 4, 2020.
“By virtue of the ratification stated above, the nominees have become members of the National Executive Council and are entitled by the constitution of the defendant (APC) to work and operate in acting capacities in their respective offices pending their swearing-in at the National Convention of the party,” he said.
“In spite of the foregoing, the defendant (APC), acting through its officials and officers, particularly, the Deputy National Secretary, has not allowed the nominees to perform their duties as members of the National Executive Council.”
He argued that the party’s NEC could not effectively operate unless Messrs Bulama, Ajimobi, and Chukwuma were allowed to perform their duties and prayed the court to compel the APC to recognise them.
After listening to the applicant’s lawyer, Justice Liman granted the prayers and adjourned till March 25, 2020, for further hearing.
It would be recalled that there a bad tradition in political parties in subsisted where governors insist on picking their successors and actually move to handpick all candidates for elections and just organise party primaries as a formality. Left to governors, they want everything in their state politics to revolve round them. For example, in Imo State, during the 2019 elections, former Governor Rochas Okorocha (now senator) wanted his son-in-law as successor.
He also nursed an ambition to represent his senatorial zone, which he eventually actualised. Not done, he pushed for his choice associates as candidates for various elective posts. But Oshiomhole would have none of that. He insisted that proper primaries must be held to pick the party’s candidates. This bold, decisive move stopped Okorocha from having his way in imposing his son-in-law as governor.
In Ogun State, the same script played out. Former Governor Ibikunle Amosun insisted that his choice aspirant must be governorship candidate and also wanted only the people he solely chose to be candidates for other elective positions. Oshiomhole defied him. Amosun sponsored his governorship candidate and others in another political party.
Oshiomhole once told Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, to obey the directives of the political party that gave him the platform to serve the nation. That was during the controversy over the constitution of the board of the Nigerian Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF). Typically, he starred down Ngige and made it he would not tolerate disobedience to constituted authority in APC.
The Rivers State governorship primary where former Governor Amaechi took measures that willy-nilly led to the loss of the state to the powerful Governor Wike was a study in extreme ambition at odds with party governance and supremacy. It’s then not surprising who the choreographers are at the core of the current dethrone Oshiomhole project.
Although much of the internal political landmines that ruffled APC primaries ahead of the 2019 general elections were laid well before his ascendancy as national chairman, instructively, he was never heard to grumble about these but set about defining a new direction. That is leadership. Like other leaders of note, Oshiomhole disdains hazy journeys and consequently prefers to define a direction clearly.
Without buck-passing, he seized the bull by the horns. Before his coming the governors had hijacked the party, creating serious crisis between governors and National Assembly members in their states. Oshiomhole decided to hand over the party to the people so as to bring the party back to life.
He introduced direct primaries so as to deepen democracy and ensure that the masses produce candidates of their choice not that of the god fathers. Apart from the fact that the direct primaries gave party members the feeling of belonging, it helped in checking the numerous legal issues which arose during the congresses held by the Oyegun-led NWC. To a large extent, direct primaries was a huge success apart from states where the governors where hell-bent in producing their successors against the wishes of party members in their states. Oshiomhole changed the narrative such that the common party members and not the governors or leaders are the supreme commanders.
In no small way, this gung-ho approach played a crucial role in APC’s victory in one of the keenest presidential electoral contests in the nation’s history, on Saturday. APC candidate, President Muhammadu Buhari defeated Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, former vice president and candidate of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, with 15,191,847 to 11,262,978 votes. Little wonder, a hugely grateful Buhari specifically commended the National Chairman of the party, Adams Oshiomhole, in his post-victory speech, in Abuja.
By effectively overhauling the party’s internal governance template and processes and resolutely standing down party spoil-sports, the APC national chairman simply proved he is indeed a sublime command room guru. Without the enforcement of party discipline, a political party’s journey becomes an unduly hazardous enterprise. Oshiomhole made it clear that the era of petulant, rambunctious anti-party intrigues to achieve personal interests were over. Members of the APC must submit to orderly, disciplined conduct and use prescribed channels to seek redress of any grievances.
He unambiguously signaled a total break from the old way of doing things to help reposition the ruling party and align it with 21st Century best practices. He is initiating a comprehensive, computerised membership data-base which would make it much easier to peg real members and ensure they are meeting party membership obligations. According to him, ultimately, this will be synced with members PVCs data, a really unprecedented course.
His moves, not surprisingly spawned internal resistance. But Oshiomhole quickly reminded his party stakeholders that the dinosaurs died out because they could not work smart and adapt quickly to critical changes in their environment then. Even when some miffed APC governors went as far as weaponising dissent, Oshiomhole never backed down.
Drawing from a history of tough, diverse labour and political engagements, Oshiomhole unquestionably has provided nimble guidance, intellectual spunk and bold party governance leadership for the ruling APC. It’s worth recalling that significant, unresolved deficits in these areas led to the sacking of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, from power in the 2015 poll and its rejection again in 2019.
Clearly, Oshiomhole is not a saint. But the parameters for selecting the national chairmen of political parties in Nigeria do not specify sainthood as a key requirement. His choice, simply acknowledges the capacity of focused individuals to change their society for the better. Revamping of the progressives’ vanguard has clearly compelled the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to revise its gratuitous assumptions and ponder its future, a hitherto unaccustomed footing.
Against the background of his clear accomplishments, despite the bracing challenges, the top-echelon party hierarchs can really not afford to fold their hands and watch a competent, bold party leader go down with consequential retributions for the party.