Since the APC leadership endorsement of the candidature of Sen. Ahmed Lawan, Senator representing Yobe North of Yobe State and Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, House of Representatives member representing Surulere of Lagos State for the leadership of the 9th National Assembly, respectively as Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives, some elected APC Senators and House of Representatives members aspiring for these positions have come out to declare their opposition. Who are these elected representatives and why are they opposed to the decision of the APC leadership? What does this opposition mean? Does it suggest that the party is not in control of its members? Or does it confirm that the decision of the party’s leadership is actually an imposition, which means that there was little or no consultations within the party before the decisions?
Leading the opposition to the party’s choice of Sen. Ahmed Lawan in the Senate are Sen. Ali Ndume, Senator representing Borno South and Sen. Danjuma Goje, representing Gombe Central of Gombe State. Sen. Abdullahi Adamu, representing Nasarawa West of Nasarawa State and Sen. Orji Uzor Kalu, representing Abia North of Abia were reported to have aspired for the position but later withdrew. While leading the opposition against the party’s choice of Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila in the House of Representatives are Hon. Umaru Mohammed Bago, representing Chanchagi of Niger State; Hon. Ahmed Idris Wase, representing Wase of Plateau State; Hon. John Dyegh, representing Gboko/Tarka of Benue State; Hon. Nkiru Onyejiocha, representing Isuikwato/Umunneochi of Abia State; Hon. Abdulrazaq Namdas, representing Jada/Ganye/Mayo/Belwa/Tonga of Adamawa State; Hon. Yusuf Buba Yakub, representing Gombi/Hong of Adamawa; and Hon. Chika Okafor, representing Uboma/Obowo of Imo State.
The first time the party announced its decision, endorsing the candidature of Sen. Lawan for the position of the Senate President of the 9th Senate was on Monday, March 25, 2019, at a dinner with the 65 APC Senators elected on the platform of the APC hosted by President Buhari. Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, APC National Chairman was reported to have informed the 65 Senators-elect that the APC National Working Committee (NWC), having consulted with APC Governors and APC leaders, reached the decision that Sen. Ahmed Lawan is the candidate of the party for the position of Senate President. Senators Ndume and Goje were present at the dinner as well as about 12 APC Governors.
Immediately following the announcement of the party’s decision, Sen. Ndume expressed his opposition to the decision, arguing that it is wrong for the party to settle for an individual instead of zoning the position to a particular geopolitical zone “and also consulting or allowing the senators from that zone to decide who among them” should emerge as the Senate President. Alleging that aspirants were not given the opportunity to speak during the dinner with the President, Sen. Ndume wrote to APC leadership declaring his intention to contest for the position of Senate President of the 9th Senate.
On Tuesday, April 16, 2019, President Buhari hosted APC elected members of 9th House of Representatives to dinner. Similar to what happened during the APC Senators-elect dinner, the decision of the party to endorse the candidature of Hon. Gbajabiamila for the position of the Speaker of the House of Representatives was announced. Both President Buhari and Comrade Oshiomhole were emphatic at the dinner that the mistake of allowing disloyal members of the party to assume the leadership of the 9th National Assembly as was the case in 2015 must not be allowed to repeat itself. Further clarifications from Malam Lanre Issa-Onilu, APC National Publicity Secretary, indicated that the choice of Sen. Lawan and Hon. Gbajabiamila was informed by combined considerations of ranking, experiences and loyalty to the party.
Both in the case of opposition to Sen. Lawan in the Senate and Hon. Gbajabiamila in the House of Representatives, reasons of geopolitical considerations appear to be the strongest. The only distinction is that while in the case of the Senate, it is the two aspirants (Sen. Ndume and Sen. Goje), who on accounts of coming from the same zone (North East) with Sen. Lawan, their opposition is hinged on the demand that APC should just seed the position to the zone and leave Senators and stakeholders from the zone to decide who emerge. In the case of House of Representatives, perhaps because all the aspirants are from zones outside the South West where Hon. Gbajabiamila comes from, they are all claiming lopsided treatment of other zones in allocations of principal officers’ positions by the party. Part of the allegation is that the South West is being favoured given that the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo is also from the South West.
Hon. Nkiru Onyejiocha, the only female aspirant for the position of Speaker of the 9th House of Representatives, in addition to campaigning on the basis of zoning, is also plying her gender credentials and calling on President Buhari and the APC leadership to give effect to their promise of women inclusivity in politics and in governance. Hon. Umaru Bego, on his part, is raising issues of historical allegiance to President Buhari, which is a reminder that some politicians, including leaders and elected officials have not been able to integrate themselves in the new political structure of APC.
This must be a sad reminder to some of the important organisational challenges facing the APC around the need to ensure that members of the party who had their political roots in the old parties – ACN, ANPP, CPC, N-PDP and Okorocha’s APGA – gel into the new APC based on which leaders and elected officials of the party at all levels should conduct themselves without downgrading it to considerations of old loyalties to legacy blocs. In other words, what qualifies aspirations or claims should be based on factors of loyalties to current configuration of the APC and contributions to its development and electoral successes. Inability to do that will continue to provide cheap openings for aspiring politicians during contests within the party to create disputes on accounts of being members of the legacy parties’ era.
Although further engagements within the APC towards negotiating the leadership of the 9th National Assembly involving wide spectrum of APC leaders are going on, opposition to both Sen. Lawan and Hon. Gbajabiamila are assuming those familiar political characteristics of leadership contestation. Initially, the focus was against Comrade Oshiohmole who was accused of imposing both Sen. Lawan and Hon. Gbajabiamila on the party, but with the clear stance projected by President Buhari in favour of the party’s choices, which departed from his approach in 2015, and subsequent pronouncements by other leaders of the party, the focus has shifted towards 2023 with Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu being made the object of attacks, ostensibly to bully all leaders of the APC to become passive and inadvertently submissive to plots that will re-enact the 2015 subversive strategy to install what can at best be qualified as a treacherous leadership for the 9th National Assembly.
Call those campaigning based on such strategy Machiavellian or anything, their loyalty will be to themselves, their commitment to their personal needs and any little discipline they may have could only be directed towards achieving their short-term calculations. The end justifies the means will always be the method and today’s end will hardly be tomorrow’s means. Such methodology respects no convention. At different times, it will assume varied colourations, from zoning, to historical allegiance to President Buhari, to gender, to God knows what. No matter what, it will remain what it is, opportunism.
Those who succeed based on that will always be opportunistic to the point whereby if by 2023, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, against all their possible onslaught, emerge as the President of the Federal Republic, they will come with some ‘sugar-coated’ narrative of how they have been quite promoters of Asiwaju since their so-called days when President Buhari was in ANPP and CPC. They could even come up with stories of how they played ‘defining’ roles of making the merger that produced the APC possible through some false narratives of setting up backdoor meetings between President Buhari and Asiwaju. With Asiwaju holding all the aces as President in such circumstance, the same opportunists would then turn around to begin to project Asiwaju as a pan-Nigerian leader and not the South West leader that is being accused of blocking the progress of other zones. And if that will require that these shameless opportunists’ distance themselves from President Buhari, they will seamlessly do that.
Proving the possibility of such a scenario happening in real time is as easy as showing that human beings need oxygen to survive. Those who tasted power can testify to such possibilty. Recall how during the times of President Ibrahim Babaginda the nation was presented with the epistle Prince of the Niger and what happened to that epistle immediately the ‘Prince’ step-aside. Other smaller narratives around ‘when the phones stop ringing’ are familiar stories of power relations in Nigeria.
The interesting thing, as always, these are narratives from people who had excellent opportunity but mismanaged it based on which they attempts to cover their failings with some claimed lineages, which could be defined with references to politics, social, economic, religious and cultural factors and how the relative effectiveness of others from other different lineages is being projected as threats and conflictual to some grandiose explanations of failure to improve the lives of so-called constituents. It is basically a pull-down syndrome approach whereby aspirants seek to hold back society, in this case Nigeria, to their ineptitude based on a framework that ensures that everybody fails since they themselves have already failed.
How does this explain the current struggle for the leadership of the 9th National Assembly? Simple, all those opposed to the party’s choices of Sen. Lawan and Hon. Gbajabiamila as Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives respectively, being ranking members of the two chambers, had good opportunities to make their mark. Unfortunately, relative to both Sen. Lawan and Hon. Gbajabiamila, with hardly any exception, all the other aspirants, didn’t make good use of the opportunity they had. For instance, when the 8th National Assembly leadership under Sen. Bukola Saraki and Hon. Yakubu Dogara were undermining the APC Federal Government, what action did any of the aspirants took in favour of the party? Putting aside the politics of the 8th National Assembly, what is the legislative scorecard of each of the aspirants for both Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives? In what way has anyone, including Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, prevented them from taking any initiative, good or bad as members of the 8th National Assembly? What is even the quality of their relationship with their constituents?
Somehow, it is quite shocking to recall that almost all these so-called self-declared party loyalists, since the inauguration of the 8th National Assembly, have been on the camps of Sen. Saraki and Hon. Dogara and are still on their camps. Unconfirmed reports present many of them as part of the scheming of both Sen. Saraki and Hon. Dogari towards influencing the leadership of the 9th National Assembly. Just recall which part of the divide each of these aspirants was on June 9, 2015 when the rebellion of Sen. Saraki and Hon. Dogara sadly triumphed against the APC leadership. With Sen. Lawan and Hon. Gbajabiamila being the direct and immediate victims of the combined assaults of the Saraki/Dogara barrage of attacks on APC led Federal Government, rationality and morality may have to assume new meaning in Nigerian politics if for whatever reasons, zoning, gender, etc., the party presents any different choices outside Sen. Lawan and Hon. Gbajabiamila.
Both Sen. Lawan and Hon. Gbajabiamila are the best candidates for the party. The question is, is the APC leadership handling the process of internal contestation and negotiation for leadership as provided in the APC constitution? What is the probability that Sen. Lawan and Hon. Gbajabiamila will win the race for the leadership of the 9th National Assembly? Or what is the possibility that the other aspirants campaigning against Sen. Lawan and Hon. Gbajabiamila could succeed in re-enacting the 2015 scenario of the APC being chastised by its elected representatives in the two chambers?
Without doubt, relative to 2015, both Comrade Oshiomhole led NWC and President Buhari are taking the right steps. Perhaps, all the consultations taking place would eventually culminate into a decision of superior organs of the party, notably National Caucus and National Executive Committee (NEC) affirming the party’s endorsement of the candidature of Sen. Lawan and Hon. Gbajabiamila for Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives. This is a necessary requirement for the enforcement of party supremacy, which was aptly captured in Comrade Oshiomhole’s May 10, 2018 declaration speech while presenting himself as aspirant for the position of APC National Chairman.
Specifically, Comrade Oshiomhole pledged to ‘promote internal party democracy as stipulated in Article 25 of the APC’s Constitution.’ According to him, matters of ‘party supremacy, party unity, and party discipline’ will come ‘from decisions of the party made by the relevant party organs. The decisions of the party have to emerge from the debate by party organs at various levels, and the conclusions reached will constitute the party’s position on any matter which will then be binding on all the members of the party from the President to every member. However, this is not to suggest that the Party Chairman is superior to the President or Governor as the case may be. It is to the extent that the position of the party taken by relevant organs of the party after consultation and debate is supreme.’
With such clarity, Comrade Oshiomhole’s leadership has so far taken all the right steps to initiate processes of negotiating party decisions regarding the leadership of the 9th National Assembly. The speed of consultations with stakeholders and power blocs in the party is remarkably promising and with President Buhari’s endorsement of Sen. Lawan and Hon. Gbajabiamila, Comrade Oshiomhole’s leadership should elevate the negotiations to the platform of statutory party structures – National Caucus and NEC. Failure to do that will dignify the status of disloyal APC members, non-party members, including opposition and treacherous PDP members to the ranking of APC leaders. This could only portend the risk of devaluing the quality of leaders that will lead the 9th National Assembly. The APC leadership, in particular Comrade Oshiomhole, need to take all the necessary steps to elevate the leadership negotiations for the 9th National Assembly to mitigate any possible risk of devaluing the quality of leaders for the 9th National Assembly.
Once National Caucus and NEC affirm the candidature of Sen. Lawan and Hon Gbajabiamila, for instance, any member of the party who go contrary to those decisions in any of the chambers contravenes the rules of the party as provided by the APC constitution. There can be no debate about activating processes of enforcing appropriate sanctions as provided in the APC constitution. In which case, the party would have to take all necessary steps to ensure high demonstration of discipline and accountable conducts especially by elected functionaries. Accountability in such instance will be about compliance with party directives to members as reflected in organ decisions. Anyone opposed to the implementation of decisions of the party is not only disloyal but against the democratic development of Nigeria. It shouldn’t be a case of pretentious indulgence with debate about zoning, gender, 2023, etc. It shouldn’t also be reduced to contest for eloquence in the typical passion of school debates whereby expression become sensibleness with hardly any meaning. It should be about achieving decisions taken by party organs after all necessary consultations, which should be the responsibility of all loyal party members.
It is necessary to begin to delineate processes of decision-making regarding leadership formation at all levels within APC. Why should parties exist only as electoral platforms and thereafter elected functionaries become deregulated and operate completely in opposition to the party and its government? Those who have nothing to offer Nigerians in every respect are very comfortable with such format partly because it permits unaccountable conduct with all the personal attractions that entrenches corrupt practices and abuse of public office. Subconsciously, promoters of these unaccountable conduct hope that 2023 process of candidate emergence in APC especially for the position of President will be downgraded to the level of treacherous permutations around all the loose faulty identity credentials with hardly any substantive service credential.
Comrade Oshiomhole’s leadership need to redefine the party’s relationship with its elected functionaries. Is the party going to take steps to set up legislative benchmarks for its members in the 9th National Assembly based on which it develops engagement framework with the leadership and all elected representatives? Setting legislative benchmarks with engagement framework for its achievement would strengthen processes of accountability and qualitatively enshrined practices of internal democracy within the party beyond issues of electoral contests. This will permanently settle all claims by aspiring party members for leadership positions, affirms supremacy of decisions of the party and expose all opportunistic and treacherous plots by all members who hide behind some primordial factors to undermine the party and its leadership in every form.
The test is the contest for the leadership for the 9th National Assembly. Will Sen. Lawan and Hon. Gbajabiamila, being the endorsed candidates of the party win? Or will acts of rebellion by so-called party members triumph against the party? The evidence of democratically oriented organisational strength and capacity to control and direct all elected representatives in the 9th National Assembly being the signpost of party supremacy should be demonstrated with the victory of the party’s choices for leadership. This should be a product of carefully negotiated and planned decisions. Unlike the case with opportunistic (Machiavellian) calculations, which respect no rules and thrives based on capacity to undermine all rules, democratically oriented organisational strength is rule based, and in the case of APC, it is founded in the letters and spirit of the APC Constitution!
Lukman is of Progressive Governors Forum, Abuja.