Nigeria’s ruling party: Looking into growing schisms inside the APC

By 'Tofe Ayeni

Posted on Monday, 13 July 2020 12:54
A supporter of incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari wears sunglasses with a photo of Buhari and the initials of his All Progressives Congress (APC) party. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

None of the rival factions have won in the struggle to control Nigeria’s ruling All Progressives’ Congress but the latest crisis was serious enough to warrant President Muhammadu Buhari’s intervention.

When President Buhari summoned the national executive committee of the APC on 25 June for a rare face-to-face meeting – despite public health concerns about spreading the coronavirus – he told them the ruling party’s future was at risk if they did not respond to the deepening crisis.

He may have little interest in the APC’s internal skirmishes, but Buhari knows that should the party’s schisms open up, it will derail his programme for the rest of his second term until national elections in 2023.

READ MORE Nigeria’s ruling APC starts to push PDP out of electoral strongholds

The reality is that these schisms within the ruling party are more about which faction and which contenders are in the ascendancy – rather than any fundamental division over policy or ideology – as the party prepares for national elections and chooses its flagbearer over the next three years.

So at the 25 June meeting, the National Executive Committee (NEC) on Buhari’s request dissolved the APC’s National Working Committee (NWC), led by Comrade Adams Oshiomhole. In its place, a 13-member caretaker committee headed by Governor Mala Buni of Yobe State was set up. Former members of the dissolved committee are free to seek re-election if they choose. This caretaker committee will run the affairs of the party for the next six months.

Will there be pushback?

Following the dissolution, some lawyers argued that this was a violation of the constitution of the party, as Article 21D (vi) stipulates that an officer or officers of the party must be given a right to fair hearing before they are removed by any organ of the party, something Oshiomhole and the NWC say they were denied.

However, Oshiomhole, and his backer, national leader of the APC Bola Ahmed Tinubu, have decided to accept the decision, with Tinubu stating: “…the President has spoken and his decision has been accepted.”

READ MORE Lagos supremo Bola Tinubu puts downpayment on Nigeria’s presidency

In the same vein, Oshiomhole withdrew his legal battle against his suspension as party chairman last year. This is a tactically smart decision by Tinubu and Oshiomhole who can use the next six months to regroup within the party rather than subject it to drawn-out court hearings that could engender ill-feeling against them.

They may also calculate that it would be counter-productive to defy Buhari’s leadership of the party at this point.

The different factions

Tinubu is the national leader of the APC with aspirations to run for the presidency in 2023 and is a firm ally of Oshiomhole, who made several enemies during his tenure as party chairman. On the other side are Transport Minister Rotimi Amaechi and Kaduna States governor Nasir el-Rufai who also wants to run for the presidency in 2023.

There are several other names in the frame for the succession – such as Kebbi governor Atiku Bagudu, Ekiti governor Kayode Fayemi, Works minister Babatunde Fashola, Interior Minister Rauf Aregbesola and, of course, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo – but they are standing back from the Tinubu/Oshiomhole versus Amaechi/el-Rufai clash.

READ MORE Nigeria’s VP Osinbajo: Does he have friends in the political elite?

Tinubu would have to win over a substantial number of states for his bid to get the party’s presidential ticket. That means more deal-making and a more emollient tone.

The path to the dissolution

The High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) agreed to suspend Oshiomhole as National Chairman in November 2019, and the Court of Appeal upheld this decision in last month.

At an emergency meeting on 17 June, 17 members of the NWC loyal to Oshiomhole appointed the former governor of Oyo State Abiola Ajimobi as acting chairman.

However, as a counter move, Amaechi supported Victor Giadom from Rivers State in the Niger Delta. Two other NWC members held a press conference on 17 June, declaring Giadom acting chairman. Amaechi cited the judgment of the Abuja High Court in March who endorsed Giadom’s status as  acting national chairman.

There was a clear conflict within the party. They could not even decide on a national chairman. Then nature intervened, with tragic results. Ajimobi, who was suffering from COVID-19, was hospitalised and died in Lagos on 25 June. Tinubu’s and Oshiomhole’s candidate for the party chairmanship had been taken out of contention.

Malam Lanre Issa-Onilu, a member of the dissolved NWC, said: “Like the President said, the party was ominously hanging on a cliff and as expected, something had to give way because the APC could not have continued along that obvious path of destruction.”

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