CHIBUZO UKAIBE and GABRIEL EMAMEH write on the intrigues arising surrounding the debate over APC’s options for producing it’s candidate at primaries.

Behind the veil of togetherness is a subtle tussle for the soul of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), which manifested in the debate over what system of primaries should be adopted by the party as it heads into primaries to elect candidates for the general elections.

The party was naturally stuck between the use of either direct or indirect primaries. While indirect primaries, which allows for use of delegates during primaries had been the norm in political parties, the APC in the buildup to Osun governorship polls experimented with the direct primaries. The outcome was hailed and equally criticised by party faithfuls.

That move however sent out a red flag to incumbent governors, who had a firm control over the delegates and by inference the party structure in their states and by extension wield measurable influence at the national level. For some pundits the Osun experience was possible largely because the governor was serving out his tenure in office and as such wasn’t in the direct line of fire.

Regardless, aspirants in Osun State, especially, the Deputy Speaker of the Hon Yusuf Lasun, decried the outcome of the direct primaries which, as advocated by its proponents chief of which was the APC national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, was meant to avoid the controversies surrounding the delegate system. The delegate system has often been faulted for being too monitised as delegates are usually influenced by the highest bidder to vote in a certain pattern.

Smarting from the procedural success of the Osun experience, the party leadership had hinted at adopting the direct primary format ahead of 2019. But expectedly the governor and some party stalwarts objected to it.

This played out during the party’s caucus meeting where the idea was broached.

Speaking at a press conference in Abuja, APC National Vice Chairman North-East, Mustapha Salihu, accused some leaders of the party from the South-West of plotting to foister regional imperialism on the party.

Salihu believed that apart from the fact that the system required a lot of supervision, the electoral body was not prepared for the system.

“Before now, I didn’t have any feelings that there was possibility of conspiracy, but when I see people planting stories, I now began to suspect. If one region feels that (direct primary) was best for them, I think they can canvass that at the regional level and give us reason they need that.

“I want to believe that in a democracy, the majority have their way and the minority have their say. So, they have the right to wish and if we decide to make it flexible, definitely what they want will be given to them in their own various states.

“But one thing I want to assure is that we will not succumb to regional imperialism so long as we are acting within the constitution,” he warned.

When asked if the NWC was divided on the method for the primary, Mustapha replied: “I cannot say we are divided, because division is a big word for us to use in a family issue. Actually, there may be divergent views, and all these divergent views will be trashed out at the NEC.”

National Chairman of the party Adams Oshiomhole however assured that the party would follow Independent Electoral Commission’s (INEC) guidelines.

He stated that the APC would comply with the INEC guidelines because they were derived from the provisions of the Electoral Act.

The former Edo governor who spoke at the National Caucus meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari, at the Presidential Villa on Tuesday night further assured that the principles of internal democracy would be followed in the primaries.

On strategies put in place to ensure the primaries are rancour free, “by Thursday we will go to NEC where the formal decisions will be ratified and once they are ratified there will be no problem; they are not being kept because every member of the party and indeed Nigerians are entitled to know how we agreed about the exercise.

“But I think everybody has confidence that we will do a very credible primaries to ensure that those who fly the flag of the party have the mandate of their various constituencies.”

From the outcome of that meeting it had become clear that a middle ground had to be achieved over the matter ahead of the National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting in Abuja.

At the NEC meeting, APC chose a middle ground as it decided to make the primary system flexible. While it adopted direct primaries for the emergence of its presidential candidate, the party however, opted to give a free hand to the states to choose their own method for the conduct of primaries in their respective domains.

The Plateau State governor, Simon Lalong, who briefed journalists in the company of his Kogi State counterpart, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, and other party chieftains, also disclosed that NEC had resolved to let the National Working Committee (NWC) fix the cost of nomination forms.

Governor Lalong said: “The constitution of the party provides for either direct or indirect or consensus, but for the presidential election primaries, we will adopt direct, but there was a recommendation by a committee that the states should adopt the indirect mode of election which could vary in some states.”

Buttressing the position of the party, acting national publicity secretary, Mr. Yekini Nabena, said “We wish to make the following clarifications on NEC’s resolutions: Primary Elections into all elective offices shall be by the Direct and Indirect Election or by Consensus. The use of the Direct and Indirect Primaries shall however depend on the peculiarity and need of a given State.

“In each case, the State Executive Committee (SEC) shall in consultation with candidates and other critical stakeholders of the Party in a given State identify and forward for the consideration and approval by the National Working Committee (NWC) for the mode of election to be adopted.

“The adopted mode shall now be applied to all categories of the Party’s Primary Elections i.e. State Assembly, Senate, House of Representatives and for the Governorship Elections.

“The request for the selection of mode of election must be signed by majority of the Executive Committee in attendance at the meeting where such resolution is reached.

“NEC resolved to adopt the Direct Primary option for the Presidential Primary,” he said.

Automatic Ticket Saga…..

However, the intrigues playing out over the delegate system, is tied to the power play over the lobby for automatic ticket especially when some governors are opposed to some lawmakers returning to the hallowed chambers.

Clearly, the party may have once again found itself in a state of dilemma such that it may end up eating its own words. The Adams Oshiomhole led National Working Committee had few weeks after its inauguration said the direct primary is the most democratic way to ensure that popular candidates emerge as all card carrying members of the party will now be guaranteed the right to elect their representatives at all level of government.

However, in the wake of the gale of defection that almost sent the party to its knees and the subsequent exit of Senate President, Bukola Saraki, to the major opposition Peoples Democratic Party, leadership of the party was believed to have been arm twisted by some of its legislators and other stake holders of the party, leaving it with no choice but to dangle before them juicy carrots to prevent a further mass defection.

Oshiomhole had after a meeting with leadership of the APC in the House of Representatives in June, promised that the party will do all it could to retain seasoned legislators with electoral value.

Oshiomhole had given the assurance after House Leader Femi Gbajabiamila appealed to the party leadership to compensate loyal members of the party with a return ticket during the meeting.

Many pundits had earlier linked the difficulty in getting automatic tickets as perhaps, one of the core reasons why some lawmakers and governors left the ruling party.

But the defection of Saraki further increased the pressure on the leadership of the party, who had insisted that the Senate President resign his position, having been elected under the platform of the APC and made Senate President still under the same platform.

While the Senate President had insisted that he would not relinquish power, unless through the constitutional requirements by 2/3 majority of the house, Oshiomhole had threatened to impeach him with whatever it takes the party to achieve it.

The APC had after an alleged botched attempt to impeach Saraki embarked on a new ploy, which saw the party allegedly compiling signatories of Senators to have the required number to dispel the former Kwara State governor.

This development was believed to have led to what many had alleged to be a reason for the purported promise of return tickets for all legislators of the party, particularly those in the red chamber, who stood by the party during the stormy weather that almost sent it into limbo.   

While the adoption of direct primaries for elections, as tested in states like Osun is already creating division among governors and leaders of the party who still want to hold control over party structures in their various states, rumours of automatic ticket for any politician seeking election or re-election under the platform of the party is also stocking rift among party aspirants and majority of the electorates.

Many have wondered if the party would still go ahead to give automatic ticket to senators who have allegedly put their signatures in ink for the impeachment of the Saraki, a course many had described as a white elephant project given Saraki’s commanding influence even among some of the senators in the APC.

But the resolution of APC’s NEC meeting on Thursday, appears to have set a new pace for the party.

What this entails is that the question of automatic ticket as initially speculated in some quarters has been ruled out. However, LEADERSHIP Sunday gathered that there may be plots to return unopposed, the governors and legislators of the party, hence denying other aspirants the right to contest.

Oshiomhole had a day before the party’s sixth NEC meeting held in Abuja on Thursday, assured that the party will follow electoral guidelines and would be fair and just to all parties in the forthcoming primaries, saying that the principles of internal democracy will also be strictly adhered to in the party primaries.

The deputy national organising secretary of the APC, Muhammed Sani Ibrahim, had also ruled out any attempt to give automatic ticket to any law maker as it is being speculated. This was coming after the rumour of an automatic ticket Senator Shehu Sani.

LEADERSHIP Sunday learned that the APC in Edo State, has already concluded plans to return Senators elected under the platform of the party. This scenario, allegedly led to an inhospitable welcome the Governor Godwin Obaseki received in Edo Central, when he was suspected to have visited the zone to speak with party leadership to endorse a particular aspirant.

In Edo North, LEADERSHIP Sunday gathered that in the last party leaders meeting summoned by Oshiomhole, the former Edo State governor was alleged  to have called on other aspirants to step down for Senator Francis Alimikhena, who wants to return to the upper chamber.

At rumours of automatic ticket, the atmosphere in most camps in the APC are in a state of confusion over the  direct primaries, to old traditions of delegate system the party initially promised to deviate from, or perhaps the consensus model which many had said would end up robbing credibility for mediocrity.

How the APC survives another shock before the 2019 election will depend on how its leadership manage dissatisfied members of the party.