The race for the national chairman of the All Progressive Congress (APC) is gathering pace and the two top contenders from the same state, are not leaving anything to chance, PATRICK OCHOGA, writes
The immediate past governor of Edo State and former labour leader, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, has barely declared his intention to vie for the position of the national chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC). But, he has been grabbing the spotlight as the party prepares for its national convention. He is giving the incumbent chairman of the party, who also was a former Edo State Governor, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, a tough battle for the seat.
The tenure of the Odigie-Oyegun-led executive will end in May but they have been granted waiver to recontest their positions when the party holds it elective national convention.
The fall out of APC’s recent National Executive Committee, (NEC) which reversed an earlier decision of tenure extension and opened the space for contest during the convention, precipitated the meeting of South-south zonal executive committee members in Benin city, Edo State capital.
A decision reached among the 168 members in the zone penultimate Monday seemed to pave way for the eventual emergence of Oshiomhole for the position of chairman of the ruling party.
However, Odigie-Oyegun’s condemnation of Oshiomhole endorsement by the state caucus and the South-south party leaders was a pointer to the fact that the ship of the party, atleast in the zone, may be heading for turbulent waters.
Four chairmen out of the six in the zone had stormed out of the meeting held in Osadebey’s Avenue, the seat of power.
The aggrieved chairmen from Cross River, Rivers, Bayelsa and Delta States who were said to be loyalists of minister of transport, Chibuike Amaechi/ Odigie-Oyegun, seeking to return the incumbent, alleged that they were ambushed to endorse Oshiomhole at the gathering.
Shortly after the contentious endorsement, Odigie-Oyegun in a statement described the endorsement by party zonal leaders as a ‘childish and foolish charade.
He, according to a report, questioned the rationale of the endorsement in government house, alleging that the rule of the game was abandoned. He noted that it was a clear indication that “the trumpeters do not understand the rule of the game.”
He continued “The endorsement is childish, absolutely childish. The voting is done at the convention and not in State houses, not in government houses.”
Also, a statement by the state deputy chairman of APC in Delta State, Chief Cyril Ogodo, declared his support for the position of the party chairmen in Cross River, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Bayelsa against the endorsement of Oshiomhole.
According to the statement, “Delta State APC wishes to align itself with the position of APC Chapters of Rivers, Cross Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Bayelsa dissociating themselves from the fake, dishonorable and undemocratic endorsement of Comrade Oshiomhole as the choice of the South-south Zone for National Chairman of APC. It is a crying shame that one who aspires to the National Chairmanship of our great Party will employ such underhand and sinister method to promote his objective.
“This is because the meeting at which this very important decision was made excluded the National Chairman, ministers, and many other key stake holders of the Party and was held at the Edo Government House in Benin City and not the accepted zonal headquarters which is Port Harcourt.
“Oshiomhole being the primary beneficiary of the decision and supported by the Edo State Government must have contrived this meeting to procure the fake endorsement. The National Vice Chairman by allowing himself to be used for this desperate and despicable job has disgraced his office. This is a great blow to the democratic tradition that the APC has labored so hard to build so far.”
But barely 48 hours after, a counter statement from a pro-Oshiomhole camp in Delta State surfaced. Signed by E.V Onojeghuo, the state legal adviser to the party and emailed to LEADERSHIP Sunday, the statement shut down the positon of Ogodo, adding that the position of the deputy chairman is of no effect and should be rejected outrightly.
Onojeghuo said: “It must be emphatically stated that the deputy chairman has no locus standi and does not possessed the constitutional powers to make such statement on behalf of the party in Delta state without the express permission from the state chairman who has not authorized such unguarded statement rejecting the endorsement of Adams Oshiomhole. It is clear that the deputy chairman is playing the script of his pay master. He is not a member of South South zone executive committee and was not present at the meeting.
“The hue can cry over the venue of the meeting at the Edo state government house and not in Port Hacourt as the zone headquarters is total hogwash as they are no provision in the party’s constitution that makes it mandatory to hold meetings in Port Harcourt before they became binding. Meeting of the zone are called at the behest of the zonal chairman who has the authority to pick any state in the zone to be the host.”
The National Vice Chairman (South-South), Mr Ntufam Hilliard Eta, gave a blow by blow account of what transpired at the meeting. He said they deliberated on the zonal pattern of the party and for it to be retained. Eta said over 20 people spoke on the issue of respecting the position of the NEC which by implication maintained the micro zoning of the chairmanship position to Edo State, a situation which technically knocked off former governor of his state, Cross River, Chief (Dr) Clement Ebri, from contesting the position.
He added “The resolution of NEC was to maintain zoning even at the micro level and it went on to ask the position of Edo State given the fact that the process of congresses and convention commences a week after this meeting. And it has historical comparism because in 2014, before the National convention of the party, under the auspices of the then former governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi, such a meeting was convened in his house. That time Chief Tom Ikimi had resigned as the National Vice Chairman of the party, so the two leaders Amaechi and Comrade Oshiomhole were governors then.
“Amaechi invited us for a meeting including Oshiomhole; he invited the persons who wanted to contest the national chairmanship to speak to us. At that meeting, since the slot was ceded to Edo, the chairman of Edo state APC was called to come and present the position of Edo State. And at that time, the chairman of the Edo APC presented the position of Edo which was endorsing Chief Odigie-Oyegun as their choice. And we followed the tune of Edo and endorsed Odigie-Oyegun as our candidate.
“The same thing was done yesterday (last Monday) where we invited everybody for the meeting and we called on the state chairman of Edo to give us the position of Edo state. The chairman came to us that the Edo State APC caucus unanimously endorsed Oshiomhole as their choice for chairmanship of the party. At that point, people started speaking; people did not raise issues that the chairmanship should be moved from Edo. But they raised issues that we cannot consider the position of Edo caucus in 2018 whereas in 2014 we considered such position in the presence of Amaechi. And knowing that what is good for the goose cannot now be said not to be good for the gander, we also put the question to the house to ask whether they accepted the position of Edo. And majority of the zonal executive committee affirmed the position of Edo.
“Now those who were against us putting the question to the house, less than 15 of them stormed out of the hall and said they were four chairmen and few others, saying they have disassociated themselves having participated in the voting, having lost in the votes they resorted in tyranny and desecration of democratic principles by going to say they have disassociated themselves after they lost in the voting. If they had won will they disassociated themselves?
On the choice of Oshiomhole he added “Let me tell you, everybody who has been monitoring the situation in Nigeria and our party since understand what it means to have Oshiomhole as the chairman of APC. We are not stopping Oyegun from contesting and Chief Ebri but what we are saying is that the majority prefers Oshiomhole as our candidate. If you ask me my opinion, I am the National Vice Chairman for close to four years now and what I can say now is that this party, the APC needs rebranding, reinvigoration, we need new creativity, we need to build strong leadership.
“ I can tell you that we have been lacking very seriously, leadership at the national level of our party. And in bringing in Oshiomhole on board, I can tell you that the party will have a new lease of life. The impunity that has crept in, in the APC will be halted. And the laws of the party will be respected. For now, God forbid that Jesus Christ will come to the headquarters of the APC, he will not flog us with cane, he will flog us with thorns,” he said.
In Edo State, the immediate past governor has a firm grip of APC’s structures. His distant predecessor, Odigie-Oyegun, appears to be struggling to have as much command in the internal workings of the party in the state, it was gathered.
Events at the national level, further revealed that Oshiomhole appears to be enjoying more than a sprinkle of support in his zone.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s endorsement of Oshiomhole at a recent meeting with APC governors was, perhaps, the clearest indication yet that Odigie-Oyegun is losing grip of his support base: the governors.
The chairman enjoys a cosy relationship with the governors especially as it affects the running of the party in their states.
In the face of internal wranglings across the states, series of reconciliation committees setup by the Odigie-Oyegun-led national executive, seemed to pandering to the desires of the governors.
However, the resurgence of the party’s national leader, a former governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu, whom Odigie-Oyegun has had tussles with significantly over the outcomes of the Kogi and Edo State governorship elections, sparked the unrest within camp of the chairman.
But the party leadership, through its national spokesman, Bolaji Abdullahi, said President Buhari’s entitled choice of candidate for the national chairmanship may not be binding on the party as he has not foreclosed the possibility of others contesting the position.
He said “The President is a party member and has the right to have his preferences and I don’t get the feeling that he told anyone this is the person you must support. He met with some of the governors who went to ask him and they were actually four governors. I don’t think that the governors that met him on Wednesday to say he told them this were up to five or six.
“So, maybe they probably asked him and because of the relationship he has with them, he told them what his preferences are and they felt that it was important for them to make this available to the public. I don’t get the feeling that President Buhari called the governors and told them that this is the way you must go.”
But much like the reversal of the tenure extension for the current NWC, the president, having increasingly become the leader of the party, has set the direction for the party ahead of the convention by voicing his choice of immediate past Edo State governor, analyst opine. The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had sought escalate the rift by accusing the president of imposing Oshiomole as chairmanship candidate of the APC.
The opposition party accused the president of high-handedness in the crowning of Oshiomhole as the national chairman from the Presidential Villa without allowing for a free and fair congress as enshrined in their constitution.
PDP national spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, in a statement said “It is therefore not surprising that deflated APC governors, who were at the villa meeting, acquiesced to the orders and preferences of President Buhari because the APC has since lost its populist buoyancy and strength with which it was berthed on 2014.
“More appalling to this impunity are the reports of threats and harassment of APC members who demanded for free and fair congress, as well as those, indicating support for other aspirants other than Oshiomhole.”
It continued “We invite Nigerians to note that the same Oshiomhole, who is burdened by allegations of humongous corruption while serving as Edo State governor, is the person President Buhari, the African Anti-Corruption Champion, is pushing as the national chairman of his party without taking him through the rigours of due diligence checks.
“We know that the presidency has been jittery over mounting opposition against President Buhari within the APC and, in their desperation to clinch the party’s presidential ticket at all cost, finds a good ally in the former Edo State governor, who by now should have been facing investigation over allegations bordering on corruption,” the party said.
Reacting to PDP’s claim of imposition, the Kano State governor, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje said “There is no imposition at all. Everybody is free to contest just as everybody is free to hold an opinion on who should lead the party. I don’t think that there is any case of imposition because it is not a guideline and not part of the constitution.
“Just like every other person, Mr President has the right to air his opinion but that does jog mean he should stop any person who will like to contest from contesting. Mr President’s opinion is not constitutional and it is not a non- constitutional opinion as well.
“He just voiced out his thought which will serve as a guideline to some and otherwise to some. The issue of being undemocratic does not even arise. There is what we call guided democracy and we regard what Mr President said as such. If that is what will make the party stable and avoid the fallout after the election like we saw in the PDP, it will be better for us.”
One thing is clear, the APC national convention is shaping up to be a tough battle between two kind men, former governors (albeit in different eras) but with different dispositions to politics.
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