Chief John Odigie-Oyegun’s announcement not to recontest the office of the chairman of the APC may have put an end to months of speculations, the race of who succeeds him anything but easy. ANDREW ESSIEN writes.
The current chairman of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief John Odigie-Oyegun recently announced his intentions not to seek for a second term as the party’s chairman, a position he has held for four years, but the race to get a replacement for the office ahead of the convention is slow and steadily snowballing into a storm within the rank and file of the governing party. Chief Oyegun who said the decision was taken in the best interest of the party also revealed that he had to taken the decision after wide consultation with close political associates and family, ending weeks of speculation whether or not he with jump into the ring to fight for the retention of his seat.
The outgoing party chairman however shared this thoughts on the botched attempt to keep the existing leadership structure of the party, saying the tenure extension that was hitherto agreed to by the NEC which suffered a setback owing the sudden U-turn of President Muhammadu Buhari, would have helped to stabilise the party in the face the various crisis the APC has faced. Indeed, the party is neck-deep in several crisis which if it goes unchecked, may significantly affect its fighting power ahead of the much talked about 2019 general elections.
The resurgence of the New Peoples Democratic Party (nPDP), ironically one of the major power blocs that fused into the APC before 2015 general elections and saw to the party coasting home to victory, disenchantment from stakeholders because of issues arising from irregularities of the recent nationwide ward, local government and state congresses, intra-party squabbling in the various states across the nation, unequal reward system for the people who allege had worked hard for the party when it was in the opposition, the list is endless.
Amidst all these, various stalwarts of the party are already pitching tents with contenders for the chairmanship stool who will ultimately push their cause during the electioneering period. Comrade Adams Oshiomhole as popularly referred to and a former labour leader is one and if not the major contending force since the current national chairman, Chief Oyegun backed out of the race, according to sources, is said to have been favoured by Pesident Muhammadu Buhari, for the number one party position.
Interestingly, Out of the 23 APC governors, it was learned Oshiomhole is backed by a reasonable number of them, owing to the expectation that his emergence will go a long way to resolving the crisis plaguing the party in some APC-controlled states and restore confidence among party faithfuls. Indications of his preference became more pronounced when leadership of the party in the South /South unanimously endorsed him for the party’s top job. This is not to say that it is yet uhuru as he still has to network and pull delegates to vote for him as surprises could yet spring up at the last minute. However, his choice to lead the party was announced barely 24 hours after the Edo State caucus of the party endorsed the candidacy of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole as chairmanship candidate for the position of the National Chairman of the party.
The party’s National Vice Chairman (South South), Ntufam Hilliard Eta, had explained that the leadership of the APC in the zone had decided to endorse the immediate past governor of the state, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, for the position of the National Chairman of the party because “Oshiomhole is the rebranding APC needs” ahead the 2019 general elections. He had noted that the party followed the tradition and due process in endorsing Oshiomhole contrary to the views from few leaders of the party in the zone, recalling that it was in a similar manner that the incumbent National Chairman, Chief John Odigie Oyegun was endorsed in 2014 in Port Harcourt, at a meeting hosted by the then governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi, where he said, the incumbent was adopted as the candidate of the zone.
This point was as a result of four out of the six state chairmen of the party within the zone who distanced themselves from the purported endorsement of the former Edo Governor. The chairman were allegedly that of Rivers State APC Chairman, Chief Davies Ikanya, Bayelsa State APC Chairman, Deacon Joseph Fafi, Cross River State APC Chairman, Mr. Etim John and the Akwa Ibom State APC Chairman, Dr. Amadu Attai as well as the APC Deputy National Secretary, Hon. Victor Giadom. News reports say they had stormed out of the south south zonal caucus meeting at the Edo state Government House in protest at what they said were plans by the Edo state Governor, Godwin Obaseki and the zonal Vice Chairman of the party, Hilliard Eta to bar the incumbent national Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun from standing for reelection in favour of Comrade Oshiomhole.
“We were here for a meeting only to be ambushed by the national vice chairman of the party to adopt a preconceived candidate. Somebody that he had already made up his mind on. Whatever was his arrangement with the person….we do not know”, Mr Ikanya said. He added that “Yesterday, we held a meeting and we were all in that meeting, only for him to come and manipulate, sort out every suggestion and he is trying to say he has come out with a resolution. First, I want us to know that the zonal executive committee does not have the power to elect or to nominate or to adopt candidates for national offices. It is the national convention that can do that.
“Secondly, there are very senior members in the zone that were shut out of this meeting purposely. Number one, the national chairman of the party is from this zone and the national vice chairman of the party ought to seek the permission of the national chairman of the party even to convene this meeting because the constitution states that the national vice chairman shall assist the national chairman. “So, in this zone where we have a sitting chairman and he is not invited to a meeting, you have six ministers, you have former governors, you have very senior citizens of this zone and they were shut out of the meeting only for the national vice chairman to ambush everybody, ignore every motion that was moved, even when somebody moved a motion that he should disqualify himself having shown bias from the beginning in this meeting, he still sat there and he is saying to the public that there was a resolution.
“We want you to know that out of the states of the zone, four states are saying that this was an ambush, it was not acceptable, there was no resolution. We have said that every person is free to run in the election. We stand by the resolution of the NEC that there is waiver.
“The national chairman can recontest if he wants to recontest, any other person from the zone can recontest if they want to recontest. What has happened in this meeting is a farce, is not binding on anybody, is null and void because four of us, four states are saying no, whereas just two states, in fact one and a half, maybe Edo and some parts of Delta are the people that are saying that they have a resolution. This is not how democracy should be practiced. Arising from this meeting today, the majority view is that there is no consensus on any candidate”.
On his part, the deputy national secretary of the APC, Mr Giadom also said: “I am a member of the NWC of this party. Every resolution of this party must come back to the NWC where I am a member. What we have done here today is the Edo state Government House position. It is not the party’s position. First, the zonal headquarters of this party is in Port Harcourt. “Two, this zone does not have the power to sit in Government House to decide or take a decision against any candidate. This decision was not put to a vote. It was smuggled by the national vice chairman of this zone and without allowing the people who were in the meeting to have input or for us to have an election as the case may be.
I want to put it on record that out of the six state chairmen of our party, we have the chairman of Cross Rivers state here, Akwa Ibom, Rivers and Bayelsa, that is, four state chairmen are here. “So, it is a decision of the Edo state government not the decision of the party and cannot stand. I have spoken with the national chairman of the party who still presides over this party up till this afternoon. It was when I got to this hall that I put a call across to him. I said, ‘National Chairman sir, are you aware of this meeting’, and he said ‘no, I am not aware’. “I want to put it on record that this decision is not that of the party, it is that of the Edo state government and that is why it is being held at the Edo state government house”.
“Bayelsa state chairman, Joseph Fafi on his part said; “I want to also align myself with my colleagues from other states that they are not aware of what happened here. It is undemocratic, unexpected and a complete fraud and we dissociate ourselves from what has happened here and we believe that the election should be open to any interested candidate from the south south and the people will decide who to vote for and not the decision of Edo state.
Cross Rivers state chairman, Mr Etim John also dissociated himself from the decision to endorse Oshiomhole. He said; “I align myself with my colleagues. As far as the meeting today is concerned, I completely dissociate myself from it and so are my members from Cross Rivers state. This is not our decision. It is not APC decision. It is the personal decision of the vice chairman south south and the Edo state governor. It is on this note that I am saying that whatever decision they reach there, if at all, is completely null and void, also bias and has no stand. It is undemocratic and it is inconsequential. I so state”.
On his part the state chairman, Akwa Ibom, Dr Amadu Attai said they were ambushed at the Government House, describing the outcome of the meeting as null and void. “We came here and we were ambushed by the Edo state Government House to take decisions that are not in line with the workings of the party. We give respect to the national chairman of this party, and we believe Edo people should respect him and give him the right of first refusal and that is democracy.
“We from Akwa Ibom state do not support any decision that is taken today in this meeting, any resolution that was reached is null and void because we were not allowed to vote. We stand by my colleagues in this unanimous decision that whatever was arrived at is out of context”, he declared. However, on the issue of the four chairmen who disassociated themselves from the Benin meeting, Mr. Eta clarified that “I know that Cross River State does not have a chairman as we speak, so it could not have been four chairmen. Let me say that the chairmen are members of the zonal executive committee, just like the other 164 people in the zonal committee of the party.
“We are not holding a state executive meeting, we are holding a zonal committee meeting and in the zonal executive committee we have over 168 people including senators, governors, deputy governors, former senators, former House of Reps members. So, the chairmen who stormed out of the meeting were not speaking for their states. Let me tell you something, Senator Nelson Effiong was seated and participated in the voting when his chairman stormed out and said he disassociated himself.” He was quick to however point out that it was within his constitutional right to stand for a reelection and having been equipped with the requisite experiences to navigate the party through political landmines.
The candidacy has both been greeted with excitement and has also created nervousness in some quarters within the party. How he navigates this murky waters ahead of the convention will be interesting to see. Dr. Clement Ebri, a former Cross River State Governor has also joined the fray of those seeking to replace Chief Oyegun as national chairman even though observers feel he will have to literally dismantle the appeal that the endorsement of Comrade Oshiomhole portends especially with President Muhammdu Buhari giving the ex-governor his nod.
Ebri, who made his intention known during a town hall meeting in Calabar recently, said his declaration came at a time when the party faces enormous leadership challenges even as he warned that the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari’s accomplishments could be reversed, if concerted efforts are not made to stabilise party and ensure victory at the polls. The former governor said a party without strong norms of internal democracy cannot bequeath any standard democratic or ethical ideals to a nation, adding that the fate of the country is inextricably tied to the fate of the party. He said: “The decision to run for this exalted office was not taken lightly but in deeply rooted and protracted consultation with family, friends, political associates and major stakeholders in the party.”
Many however wonder if the former governor has what it takes to piece together, the party has been so polarized with various crisis, to make it a strong fighting force to face the opposition parties, who are indeed leaving no stone unturned ahead of the upcoming general elections. Also, the fact that the president opening showed his preference to Comrade Oshiomhole may be a huge wall to pull down if he is to actualize his ambition of leading the party. Another contender would have been Chief Ibrahim Emokpaire, even as he was considered by analysts as “new on the block” since not much is known and heard about him within the party political structure. He had backed down to support the Oshiomhole candidacy.
However, while picking his form however, Emokpaire enjoined those who are aspiring to be national chairman of APC to choose issue based constructive campaign over crass mischief and political grandstanding. According to him, that competency and aptitude to deliver on promise, capacity to harness resources and the fact that he is corruption free are some of the attributes that make him better for the job of the national chairmanship of the APC. “My mission is to reposition the All Progressives Congress (APC) for growth nationwide while my vision is to expand the party and sustain its relevance in Nigeria’s political space.
“I am here to help build an all-inclusive, more people focused, result oriented and forward-looking party structure based on a purposeful and visionary leadership, which would be essentially about the insight, foresight and blueprint for the future of APC”, Emokpaire said. He also said he would address the seeming intractable problems that impede progress traceable to the skewed priorities of some greedy and corrupt politicians, adding that the problems were manmade and not insurmountable.
“My conviction for a more positive political party is guided by the fundamental belief that real and lasting prosperity must begin with all of us, be entrenched by all and shared by all. I and my team shall evolve the kind of paradigm shift that will help inspire generations of party faithfuls and dynamic youthful participation toward a more productive and gainful politicking”, the aspirant pointed out. “We shall constructively work our way back from the brink of foreseeable decline and the many divisions threatening to alienate us from cohesive coexistence, and as a coalition peopled by one purpose. My team shall strive to bring back those time-tested values, which the enemies of party politics have conspired to replace by false promises.
“I wish to offer myself to serve you as National Chairman of our great party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), and put at the disposal of the party, our peoples and country at large, the collective sum total of my pedigree, wealth of political experience, expertise and professionalism, which by the grace of God stands me in good stead for the onerous challenges ahead. You won’t be disappointed!!” Oserheimen Osunbor Former governor of Edo State, subterraneanly joined the race for the position of National Chairman APC at the twilight of the race. The ex-governor picked, filled and submitted his expression of interest and nomination forms at the Secretariat of the APC National Convention Committee, in Abuja, late on Friday, the day the whole process was expected to end.
This brings to three, the number of persons who have so far in the race to replace the outgoing National Chairman, John Odigie-Oyegun. Even though it is not immediately known why or what motivated him to enter the race late in the game, with the “anointing” from President Muhammadu Buhari on the comrade, he is set to cruise to victory. This was even bolstered when senior party bigwigs, governors and other party faithful recently gave Comrade Oshiomhole their blanket support. Whatever ex-governor Osunbor brings to the table, the convention will be the only deciding battle ground where there will be a final separation.