The All Progressives Congress National Executive Committee appointed Yobe State Governor, Mai Mala Buni to run the party and calm its troubled waters after the turbulence of the past era, eighteen months later, how well has the party fared in repairing the fault line,? Asks Chiemelie Ezeobi
When the All Progressives Congress (APC) National Executive Committee (NEC) dissolved the Adams Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee (NWC) on June 25, 2020, many stakeholders hailed it for moving to save the party from – in the words of President Muhammadu Buhari described – “self-destruction.”
The last months of the Oshiomhole era had seen the party teetering on the brink of implosion by a protracted leadership crisis.
To steady the ‘ship of state’ and bring it back from the precipice, the NEC at its virtual meeting appointed Yobe State Governor Mai Mala Buni to run the party.
Problems of Oshiomhole era
The task before Buni was daunting. The Oshiomhole chairmanship had resulted in several challenges that threatened the party’s relevance and existence.
President Buhari, in his remarks at the NEC, captured the mood at the time. He expressed worry over shifting loyalty within the party and inconsistency in leadership, which had opened the governing party to mockery.
Buhari said: “There are also other associated disputes as to the legitimacy or otherwise of holders of certain national offices of the party. The party is also contending with judicial claims and counter-claims, orders and counter-orders and indeed, judgments and counter-judgments that are predominantly at cross-purposes.
“Confronted with these issues, it is obvious that the fortunes of the party are currently in jeopardy, administration of our party is becoming impossible and there is consequently an urgent need for intervention to immediately arrest further drifts and internal wrangling which may lead to total disintegration.
“What we see clearly emerging, is that we are beginning to self-destruct. This, my dear party members, is not just regrettable but utterly gut-wrenching.”
Buni’s Committee to Steer the Party
Buni was not expected to face the problems alone. The NEC appointed 12 others to assist him. They are John Akpanudoedehe, a former senator for Akwa Ibom North East; former Senate President Ken Nnamani; APC governorship candidate in Bayelsa in 2019, David Lyon; Osun State Governor Isiaka Oyetola; Niger State Governor Sani Bello; Vice Chancellor of Baze University in Abuja, Tahir Mamman (SAN); and the Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Cooperation and Integration in Africa and NEPAD, Abubakar Yusuf (Taraba Central Senatorial District).
Others include Rep Akinremi Olaide (Ibadan North Federal Constituency of Oyo State); Executive Director (Business Development) of Nigerian-Export Bank (NEXIM), Stella Okorete; Chairman, Plateau State Disability Rights Commission, James Lalu; former interim chairman of the APC Youth Forum (APYF), Ismail Ahmed; and Abba Ari representing the Northwest geo-political zone.
Speaking with State House correspondents after the extraordinary NEC meeting, Buni was asked for his plans for the APC.
Buni said: “I know the party very well. It’s all about doing justice to every member of the party because without justice there won’t be peace. It is all about team play.
“I am a team player; I have a capable team that can work with me. If you don’t manage crisis, obviously crisis will manage you. So, I won’t allow any crisis to fester henceforth.”
Scorecard so Far
Eighteen months later, how has the Buni-led NCC performed? Has the strategy worked? Yes, says APC spokesperson, Salisu Na’inna Dambatta.
In a November 2019 article titled “Highpoints of Mai Mala Buni’s leadership of the APC” Dambatta touted the “positive role” the Caretaker Committee “is playing for the growth and consolidation of democracy in the country.”
He wrote against the backdrop of the “untenable calls on the chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Caretaker Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC)” Buni to relinquish his chairmanship of the Committee.
According to him, Buni has blended the talents and political sagacity of members of the Caretaker Committee to successfully revive the APC “which is now revving on high turbocharger as the leading, largest and winning political party in Nigeria.”
Noting that the party is barely eight years old, he observed that the APC was “managing triple issues: size (it grew too fast), success (it won two national elections twice in a row) and an internal turbulence (caused by many factors) that necessitated the change of its leadership.”
The spokesman argued that the committee had successfully discharged its basic assignments beyond expectations, “with adds-on that speak well of the quality and character of members of the Committee who restored oneness and installed mechanisms that made internal harmony a permanent feature that distinguishes the APC from other political parties.
Africa’s Largest Party Waxes Stronger
The ruling party’s rival, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) had once prided itself as the largest political party in Africa. But it seems to have relinquished that title following the APC’s recent registration exercise under Buni.
Dambatta said: “Regardless of the short-lived squabbles over the recent ward, local government and state congresses, the APC is waxing stronger nationwide. Many political pundits undeniably admit that it is the most sought-after political party in the country.
“This is an additional highpoint achieved by the Buni-led Committee; even the habitual bashers of the party accept the political truth that the APC has emerged stronger than they expected after the crisis that engulfed it.
“A solid evidence of the rush to embrace the APC and its progressive outlook is in the more than 40 million Nigerians that registered as its partisans. There are many justifications for the mass rush into the party. The most outstanding reason is the purposeful leadership provided by President Muhammadu Buhari. The good deeds of APC progressive governors and the good performance of legislators elected under its banner are additional strong justifications.
“The APC has, it must be said for record purposes, at least one member elected on its platform in more than 90 per cent of the states of the federation. It has absolute majority in more than half of the 36 in the federation and the Federal Capital Territory.”
Buni Corroborated the claim on January 13, 2022
“The APC conducted a very successful membership registration and revalidation exercise. We now have over 41 million registered members across the country, with full details of every member.
“APC remains Africa’s largest political party and Nigeria’s ruling party with a population that will always win elections,” he said, according to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).
Bringing ‘Party Back to Life
Dambatta put the party’s success since the inception of the Buni-led Caretaker Committee down to “strategic political bridge-building and hard work.”
He added: “It involved engagement to reconcile, forgive and forget and look to a future that is positive, and definitely rewarding, in the form of winning elections and the subsequent service delivery to the citizenry.
“The party has cleared political bumps, settled internal disputes and extended its arms, beckoning on millions of Nigerians to join its fold and become part of its unstoppable march toward changing the development landscape of the country.
“The testimonial to the success of the Caretaker Committee was vividly expressed by the topmost national leader of the APC, President Muhammadu Buhari, when the Caretaker Committee presented its report to him at the State House. He said: ‘With the work done by the Committee, the party has bounced back to life.’
He noted further that the Caretaker Committee had conducted ward, local government and states congresses, heard and resolved subsequent appeals from aggrieved contestants, thereby preparing the party for a rancour-free elective national convention.
Another achievement of the committee, according to him, was the winning for the APC family three sitting state governors and scores of parliamentarians from other political parties.
The ruling party has in the Buni era gained a lot of political capital from the political misfortunes of the PDP.
In 2021, there were several high-profile defections into the APC, including the following:
January 28: Seven APM lawmakers in Ogun defected to the APC. The lawmakers were Modupe Mujota representing Abeokuta North State Constituency, Musefiu Lamidi from Ado-Odo/Ota II and Amosun Yusuf from Ewekoro State Constituency.
Others were Ajayi Bolanle and Ganiyu Oyedeji from Egbado South and Ifo II State constituencies, and Ajibola Sikiratu and Ademola Adeniran from Ipokia/Idiroko and Sagamu II constituencies.
February 15: Iyiola Omisore, a former deputy governor of Osun state defected from the SDP to the APC.
February 16: Otunba Gbenga Daniel, a former Governor of Ogun State and campaign manager for the Presidential Candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party PDP in 2019, Atiku Abubakar, ditched the opposition for the ruling party.
February 23: At the House of Representatives, member representing Ondo East/West Hon. Abiola Peters Makinde left the ADC for APC.
Just days before then, Hon. Blessing Onuh and Hon. Yakubu Abdullahi announced their defection to the All Progressives Congress (APC).
While, Onuh who represents Oturkpo/Ohimini Federal Constituency of Benue, joined the APC from the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Abdullahi who represents Bauchi Federal Constituency, also dumped the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) for the APC.
February 23: All the three lawmakers elected on the platform of the African Democratic Congress ADC in the Ogun State House of Assembly defected to the ruling All Progressives Congress.
Lawmakers who announced their defection during plenary included Jemili Akingbade, who was also the former Minority Whip, Adegoke Adeyanju, and Wahab Haruna.
March 12: A former Speaker of the House of Representatives and party chieftain in Ogun State, Hon. Dimeji Bankole left the PDP and pitched tent with the APC.
March 17: Lawmaker representing the Egbado North/Imeko Afon Federal Constituency of Ogun State, Jimoh Aremu, moved from the African Democratic Congress ADC to the All Progressives Congress APC.
March 26: On this day, Buni received former Chief of Army Staff, Lt.Gen. Azubike Ihejirika (Rtd)“Dike Abia” into the party.
Ihejirika was formally presented to the chairman by the Jigawa State Governor and Chairman APC Strategy and Contact committee Abubakar Badaru and Farouk Aliyu.
April 13: Samuel Tsebe, the member representing Akwanga South constituency in Nasarawa Assembly, dumped the PDP for the APC.
May 20: Cross River State Governor, Prof. Ben Ayade officially ditched the PDP for the APC.
To ensure certainty on rules and regulations in the operations, management and conduct of APC affairs, the Caretaker Committee raised a team that reviewed its constitution.
The party, also under the Buni-led Committee, scrutinised claims of inherited debts and paid them off.
“Prior to the constitution of the Caretaker Committee, many aggrieved members had sued the party. The Committee ended such litigations by reaching out to the aggrieved members who thankfully sheathed their swords,” Dambatta said.
He argued further that the Buni-led Committee had established a basis for strong internal democracy through several new clauses in the APC amended constitution, “thereby making the party the most democratic of all existing political parties in the country.”
Perhaps alluding to this during an interview with the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) on January 6, the President foreclosed the possibility of foisting party leadership on members by any kingmaker.
Buhari said: “There is no kingmaker from Abuja. No constituency is being dictated to. All constituencies are supposed to produce their leadership in our party. What other parties are doing is their own business, but we want to make sure that our party members understand that they are respected. It is from polling unit, to ward to local government, to state and after Abuja. So, those who want to be elected at any level, let them work for it. Nobody is going to appoint anybody.”
Dambatta added: “The Caretaker Committee bought the party headquarters for less than N500 million and named it Buhari House, thus commendably giving the APC a permanent abode in the Federal Capital. This is poignant as one of the political parties was recently ejected from its rented office in Lagos for defaulting in paying rent to the landlord.
“As other political parties lose members, the Caretaker Committee organised the revalidation of the party register and registered more members, thereby raising its membership to over 40 million as indicated earlier. The register is being digitised. All members have their photos and biometric information captured for authentication.
“The Caretaker Committee chaired by Alhaji Mai Mala Buni established a Reconciliation Committee led by Senator Abdullahi Adamu which is reaching out to aggrieved members to end misunderstandings and proactively prevent crisis. This will strengthen internal democracy and unity.”
The Task Ahead
President Buhari in the NTA interview urged APC leaders to put their house in order so that the ruling party can retain power in next year’s election.
He warned against the persistent differences, disunity and lack of agreement, which could put the platform in jeopardy during election.
He acknowledged the disagreement among APC leaders, which is delaying the party’s National Convention.
The APC Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) on January 11, 2022 also acknowledged some of these problems.
It, however, declared that resolution of various disputes arising from the recently conducted congresses and various litigations against the party remained its major priority, rather than picking a date for its National Convention.
The APC, in a statement signed by CECPC Secretary Akpanudoedehe, stated that the party would inform the public through the appropriate channel when it picks date for the convention.
“Dates for party activities such as meetings, primaries, congresses, National Conventions are communicated through well-known official channels and not through ‘sources.”
“The APC Caretaker Committee is already embarking on nationwide consultations with party stakeholders to prepare the ground for a rancour-free National Convention. To this end, the sub-committee on budgeting and other substructures will be set up in due course.
“Finally, the party notes and appreciates the continued support of well-meaning members and leaders as the APC Caretaker Committee undertakes the immediate task of addressing contestations within the party, litigations, fallouts of recently-conducted congresses and generally reposition the party ahead of the National Convention,” the statement read.