The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) may have paused on its way to compulsive self –liquidation and timed unraveling. In the interim, direct intervention by President Buhari may have only put the crisis in the party on slow motion while driving the cross-currents underground to rehearse for the foretold future night of jagged long knives.
In less than a fortnight, the party has experienced half a dozen acting Chairmen and has become the subject of nearly the same number of litigations in various courts. Claims and counter claims of ownership and leadership of the rowdy party have acquired an entertainment value for hapless Nigerians. The leadership crisis in degenerated to the possibility of open fracas by unruly contenders and their thugs. The police moved in to occupy the party’s Abuja headquarters with obvious instructions not to allow some party leaders especially members of Mr. Oshiomole’s dissolved Central Working Committee (CWC) and their followers access to the premises.
President Buhari has intervened ostensibly to stem what is a growing embarrassment for his presidency and the party in power. The president first called a hurried meeting of party leaders and state governors and ended up endorsing the interim leadership of Mr. Victor Giadom, one of the contenders for the troubled soul of the party for the purpose of convening a meeting of the National Executive Committee of the party at the end of which a caretaker committee led by Yobe State Governor, Mr. Mai Mala Buni and populated by an assortment of illustrious political citizens was set up to oversee the affairs of the party pending a future convention. The Adams Oshiomole –led Central Working Committee of the party was summarily sacked.
Quite significantly, for the first time in our national history, the National Executive Committee of a political party took place in the council chambers of the Aso Rock Presidential Villa. Also, the hurriedly assembled Caretaker Committee of the party was sworn in by the Attorney General of the federation.
It is safe to assume that a presidential intervention would be on the side of fairness and order. It should whip the party leadership and members into line and ensure the restoration of some sanity. But I am afraid that Mr. Buhari’s intervention may hasten the demise of the beleaguered party unless sanity and common sense prevails. At best, the intervention of the president could slow down the haste of the ambitious contenders who may have forgotten that we still have three years before Mr. Buhari’s tenancy of Aso Rock Villa expires.
It is however convenient to hinge his decisive intervention on adherence to internal party democracy, with an implicit indication that as president he can only be on the side of the party constitution. The trouble with that position is of course that in a political contest among partisans, even a pretension to non- partisanship is itself a form of partisanship. Mr. Buhari can hardly be a disinterested party in a contest, legal or otherwise, involving factions of a political party that he leads and on whose ticket he holds office as president. And yet he can ill afford to be indifferent while his house of cards is on fire.
Opposition to the president’s present stance may not be as muffled as some might think. Some party leaders are already crying wolf. The dissolved Oshiomole led Central Working Committee has served notice that it might challenge its dissolution in court. Some other party leaders have charged that Buhari merely handed down ready made decisions to the National Executive Committee without any democratic debate. Some others have pointed to the incongruity of the venue and the role of the Attorney General of the federation in swearing in a Caretaker committee of a party. These cries are likely to increase and get so noisy as to disturb the peace of the party in the months ahead.
I am not so sure how effective the president’s power and influence will be in containing the impending blaze in the party. Mr. Buhari has not quite been the most ebullient political leader so far. In Africa, a political leader ensures compliance to his diktat either by the fear he inspires or the deftness of his political moves to rein in deviant forces. Neither of these factors is applicable to Buhari so far. So, the possibility that he could be defied by some elements in the party without dire consequences is clear and present.
The major reason why Buhari may not be able to resolve the crisis in his political household is that he and his political career are an interested party. Let us not equivocate about it. The crisis in the APC is not about legality or party constitutionality. It is not about internal democracy either. It is not even about the quality of Mr. Oshiomole’s rowdy leadership style either. The legalistic posturing is a mere disguise for a contest of naked ambitions and a plain power struggle for pre-eminence and vantage positioning in a transition season.
At this initial stage, the tribes positioning for ascendancy are the ones that were present at the christening of the party. While the factions in the original coalition were presumptive political equals, they each brought to table their respective strengths and advantages. Of the collaborating tribes, perhaps the most strategic is that led by former Lagos governor and prime political entrepreneur of the South West, Mr. Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Of all the groups that coalesced to bring about the APC, it was perhaps Mr. Tinubu’s ACN that was most instrumental in realising the Buhari presidency. Mr. Buhari’s cult followership among the mobs of the northern section of the country would have amounted to nothing without the demographic and strategic support of the South West.
To that extent, the biggest political debt that Mr. Buhari incurred on his way to the presidency is owed to Mr. Tinubu. Forget about the token appointments to South West elements and whatever other chunks of patronage and pork that may have been apportioned to Tinubu surrogates in the last five years. Nothing in all those gestures is sufficient recompense for the original debt. To that extent, Mr. Tinubu is right to feel a sense of political entitlement to the throne in 2023. It is healthy politics and enlightened self interest in any democracy.
In the course of being in power over the last five years, however, Mr. Buhari has vicariously created other factions and power tribes that feel equally entitled to a place of prominence in the coming succession bazaar. First is a disparate crop of highly placed devotees in positions of power at the national level who see their power, authority and implicit wealth as deriving directly from Mr. Buhari’s incumbency. It is only natural for these elements to feel entitled to the Buhari succession bazaar if only to protect, defend and extend their interests which they can conveniently couch as devotion to a Buhari legacy. At least, a certain commitment to that ‘legacy’ can serve as an effective marketing tool to cloak obvious private ambitions and interests.
The next obvious faction is the tribe of APC governors. In our type of presidential arrangement, state governors elected on a common party platform have a natural tendency to see themselves as a natural power block with a common interest to protect. They flock together and quickly form a powerful interest group. This sense of strategic political importance is fed by the nature of our federation.
The governor of a state is the immediate symbol of government in the lives of the people. He is the leader of his party in the state. By that token, he often controls the state house of assembly, decides on who leads each local government as chairman. He decides delegates to national conventions of the party, indirectly controls senators and members of the house of representatives elected on his party’s platform. The governor’s signature controls the flow of state funds in a system that is essentially a feudal oligarchy sanctioned by an absent minded constitution. There is a sense in which Nigerian state governors wield more unchecked powers than even the president of the federation. The checks and balances are there on paper. But in our clime, the governor who controls the treasury is both the check and the balance. So, in the impending stampede about the Buhari succession, it would be foolish to discount the weight of APC state governors. The Obasanjo succession is testimony to this reality.
In the course of being president for the last five years, Mr. Buhari has also deepened the crises that will haunt his retreat from power. We have had easily the most divisive presidency in our national history. The lopsidedness in the leadership of major national institutions is common knowledge. The relative free rein given to Fulani herdsmen turned killers and sundry criminals is also well known and copiously documented. A north-south divide has only been complemented by a pervasive perception of a Muslim-Christian divide which has attracted international concern and national nervousness.
Clearly therefore, there is going to be a geo ethnic and religious dimension to the Buhari succession politics both within and outside the APC. There is an undercurrent of opinion in the northern wing of the APC which is pushing the meritocratic argument that what the nation needs is a good president irrespective of geo-political origins. That argument is of course an attempt to repudiate the North-South balance of power on which political leadership succession in the two dominant parties is predicated. As the APC rehearses for its festival of succession politics, the matter of geo political stake will come into play as the northern elements in the party either stake a direct claim to the presidency or jostle to play a decisive role in who from the south succeeds Mr. Buhari.
With all these factions and tribes fully gearing up as active factors in the Buhari succession, the APC crisis has begun where it should, in the party’s national leadership. The quest for control of the party machinery is central to the determination of who succeeds Buhari. As founding Chairman of the party, Mr. John Oyegun’s role was clear. His assignment was to shepherd the party into power after the 2015 elections and guide it with a basic bureaucratic structure up to the eve of the 2019 elections.
In the run up to the second term 2019 elections, the task of party leadership acquired a more militant urgency. The opposition PDP was gathering momentum and could cause Mr. Buhari and the party sleepless nights. The APC needed a fairly activist party leadership to counter the rampaging assault of the PDP. That is the decisive factor behind the emergence of Mr. Adams Oshiomole, a trade union activist who was just concluding a two term governorship of Edo state. Oshiomole was Buhari’s personal choice, to the discomfiture of some of the president’s ambitious staunch loyalists. Once assured that Mr. Bola Tinubu was still on his side, it did not matter to Buhari that Mr. Oshiomole is a known Tinubu political friend.
Ordinarily, Mr. Oshiomole would have held sway till the critical moments of the Buhari succession when a different type of chairman would have been needed by the APC. But Mr. Oshiomole’s fraternity with Tinubu signaled a clear and present danger to his ambitious adversaries in the scramble for the soul of the party and the possibilities in the post Buhari APC. The frequent political fisticuffs with Edo Governor, Godwin Obaseki, only served to weaken Mr. Oshiomole by distracting him from the more existential battle to retain his APC chairmanship. Now the judiciary has catalyzed the political ferment in the APC and forced the hands of the president to hint at who he does NOT want to succeed him. I recall when in the midst of his own political transition programme my friend, Ibrahim Babangida, was harassed as to his possible choice of successor. He made the memorable statement: ‘We may not know who will succeed us but we know those who WILL NOT succeed us”. By taking a position that seems targeted at Mr. Oshiomole and his factional interests, could Buhari have indicated whom he would rather NOT allow to succeed him?
This backdrop should prepare us for the outcomes that will unfold in the next three years. No matter how the current crisis in the party is resolved, it is clearly irresponsible for the ruling APC to preoccupy the nation with its internal wrangling three years ahead of 2023. More so, it smacks of cynical insensitivity for a ruling party elite to preoccupy itself with a parade of towering ambitions in the midst of very grave existential national problems.
The crisis in the leadership of the APC has raised some rather serious issues and concerns about the plight and future of our democracy. These are questions which touch on the relationship between a party in power, the state apparatus over which it presides and ultimately the people whose expectations of law, order and general well being are contingent on the health of the political infrastructure of parties. What happens when a basically dysfunctional state is presided over by operatives of a party in chaos and perennial crisis? Can a democratic culture be built on the foundation of seasonal parties that come into existence on the eve of elections and then self-destruct when their tenure in power either fizzles out expires by default? Can a ruling party with deficient internal democracy issues be trusted to ensure a credible democratic process for the rest of the polity? I am not so sure that the leadership of the warring APC has the presence of mind to reflect on these larger issues either now or in the future.
In the present circumstances, the urgent imperative is that of how to sustain governance of the country while politicians jostle for power vantage positions. To that extent, President Buhari has taken a reasonable course of action. The hope is that his intervention will restore sanity to the party for long enough to enable him govern the country up to his exit and hopefully ensure a credible transition of power. The hope is that his intervention in the crisis does not prepare the ground for more vicious conflicts that could precede and trail his retreat from power. As a combat general, I presume that president Buhari understands the full implications of retreating from a battlefield with your men in stampede.