– “Plausibility of February 2022 APC Convention: Open Letter to APC Leaders” –
By Salihu Moh. Lukman, Progressive Governors Forum, Abuja
Ordinarily, there should be no need to be doubtful about whether our party, APC, will be having its convention in February 2022 or not. Recall that after the end of the year 2021 meeting of the Caretaker Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) on Monday, December 20, 2021 and in the APC 2022 New Year Message, both signed by the Secretary, Sen. John James Akpanudoedehe, there was confirmation that planning for the National Convention has commenced. Members and the general public have been put on notice that relevant committees will be setup. The major gap, however, is that no date or details of Committees, their membership and terms of reference, were given.
Largely because of the gap, the public speculation is strong that the Convention may not hold in February. It is quite worrisome that speculations about the Convention are allowed to create strong doubts as to when the Convention will hold. It is very clear that there is a decision about when the Convention will hold. It is public knowledge that following consultations between APC Governors and President Buhari, February was agreed as the date for the Convention. This was announced to State House Media Reporters by His Excellency, Abubakar Atiku Bagudu, Chairman, Progressive Governors Forum (PGF) on Monday, November 22, 2021, immediately after a meeting with President Buhari.
The whole issue around whether the Convention will hold in February 2022 was therefore settled. The CECPC under the leadership of His Excellency, Mai Mala Buni is vested with the responsibility of implementing the decisions. Inability to commence the necessary planning to hold the Convention and communicate it to members and all stakeholders, including the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as required by the law is what is responsible for all the suspicion and speculation that the Convention may not hold in February 2022 as earlier announced.
Speculation about the Convention not holding in February 2022 began to be strong when a letter written by Sen. Orji Uzor Kalu to the APC CECPC Chairman, His Excellency, Mai Mala Buni, dated December 13, 2021, calling for the postponement of the Convention was widely reported in the media. Sen. Kalu was said to have suggested that instead of the February 2022 Convention, ‘a simultaneous event’, combining ‘presidential primary and election of National Working Committee members’ hold ‘on the same day and venue to avoid rancour and litigations.’ This suggestion basically means possible extension of the tenure of the CECPC by another six months.
It is very difficult to understand the logic of such a recommendation. In fact, if anything, going by the recommendation, it means that the CECPC will be saddled with the additional responsibility of organising all party primary for all positions for the 2023 elections. If Anambra 2021 Governorship elections is any reference, the argument about avoiding ‘rancour and litigation’ cannot be sustained given that on December 20, 2021, Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja ruled that Sen. Andy Ubah, APC candidate for the Anambra 2021 Governorship election was never a candidate of the APC following a suit filed by one of the aspirants of the APC, Chief George Moghalu who argued that the party failed to conduct a valid primary. In addition to the suit, it is also public knowledge that following the declaration of Sen. Andy Ubah as the candidate of the APC for the Anambra 2021 Governorship election, notable party leaders in Anambra, including Sen. Chris Ngige declared their resentment.
In the end, with the support of the CECPC, Sen. Andy Ubah was the official candidate of the party. Had APC won the Anambra 2021 Governorship election, the December 20, 2021 High Court judgement clearly indicated that another Zamfara would have played out. All these are confirmation that management of internal party contest during party primary are being handled very recklessly even by the CECPC. Unfortunately, since Anambra election no party organ has met to review what has happened. With Ekiti and Osun election primary about to hold and to be managed by the CECPC, there is the urgent need to appeal to all party leaders to learn the appropriate lessons and avoid the crude show of power whereby candidates of the party are imposed without following party and electoral rules.
It is very difficult to excuse the CECPC from the campaign to postpone the February Convention. If the CECPC is not interested in the postponement of the Convention from the agreed February 2022 date, why is it difficult to make formal announcement about the date and venue of the Convention? Statutorily, by the requirement of the Electoral Act, the party is expected to serve at least 21 days’ notice of the Convention to INEC. Which basically means that if the Convention is to hold any day before February 28, 2021, the notice to INEC should be given on or before February 7, 2022. That being the case, the temptation could be to argue that there is more time. Some reminders would be necessary at this point.
First, in June 2020, when the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party dissolved the Comrade Adams Oshiomhole led NWC, one of the expectations was that holding the Convention in December 2020, would have free the party from all the tempestuous atmosphere created around national elections. It would also have provided the needed atmosphere to review issues in the party before the process of selecting candidates for elections. All these would appear to have been forgotten and lost. And for whatever reasons, arguments are now being given about why ‘presidential primary and election of National Working Committee members’ hold ‘on the same day and venue to avoid rancour and litigations.’ Anyone campaigning for ‘presidential primary and election of National Working Committee members’ hold ‘on the same day and venue’ simply want a situation whereby any possible dispute around presidential primary will submerge the emergence of leaders (NWC members) of the party.
This leads to the second ugly scenario being setup by those campaigning for the postponement of the Convention, which is the possibility that all candidates of the party from all the 36 states of the country to be submitted to INEC by the same NWC members whose elections may be disputed would be in jeopardy and subject of litigation. Once that is the case, we would have succeeded in making the 2019 Zamfara electoral disaster a national phenomenon in 2023. Is that what the CECPC members under the leadership of His Excellency, Mai Mala Buni want to subject the party to?
The third issue is that both the CECPC and by extension all leaders of the party should be fair to President Buhari. The President has so far, with very good reasons, endorsed all the prayers of majority party members and leaders. Beginning with the June 25, 2020 dissolution of the Comrade Oshiomhole led NWC, to the extensions of the tenure of the CECPC. Understandably, the President want to ensure that the capacity of the party to manage its internal affairs is strengthened. The need to develop the infrastructure to guarantee participation of members in the process of candidates’ selection required that more time is given for the CECPC to execute membership registration and revalidation exercise. No doubt, the CECPC did a good job in this respect. Unfortunately, the relevant department in the party’s National Secretariat, Organisation, is not able to competently take the process of preserving the membership records of the party to the point whereby party membership are displayed or can be accessed, in any way possible.
The fourth issue is that with the suspension of meetings of organs of the party, notably NEC and National Caucus, capacity of leaders of the party and members to get the CECPC to be accountable and take all the needed guidance from party leaders is weakened. This is partly responsible for the momentary anger by APC representatives in the National Assembly following the conclusion of Wards, Local Governments and States’ Congresses who felt shortchanged allegedly by Governors on account of which they inserted the clause on compulsory Direct Primary on all political parties in the amended Electoral Act. Again, ordinarily, if organs of the party are meeting, especially NEC and National Caucus, aggrieved members would have used the platforms of these organs to contest issues and seek redress. The attempt to impose Direct Primary on all political parties by aggrieved APC representatives in the National Assembly was borne out of desperation to seek redress of perceived act of injustice by the CECPC.
Fifthly, since the suspension of meetings of organs of the party, internal debate in APC is very low. A lot of things are happening in many states with grave consequences to the electoral fortunes of the party. To be far to His Excellency, Mai Mala Buni and the CECPC, within their limited capacities, they have taken some initiatives. The reality, however, is that without superior decisions of organs of the party, in particular NEC and National Caucus, many leaders of the party in states have acted or are acting almost disrespectfully to the CECPC and Hs Excellency, Mai Mala Buni. A typical example is the raging war of attrition going on in Imo State. Apart from the war of attrition going on in Imo State, the broader question of uniting leaders of the party in all states ahead of the 2023 election is proving to be very impossible.
It is very clear that since 2013, when APC emerged, its electoral strength is derived from the unity of party leaders. This is being eroded systematically since the 2015 election. It became worse with the scandalous management of party affairs under the Comrade Oshiomhole led NWC. With the emergence of the CECPC in June 2020, His Excellency Mai Mala has done an excellent job by bringing down tension within the party. Sadly, all the good work of the CECPC under His Excellency Mai Mala is about to be destroyed once it yields to the temptation of staying longer than February 2022.
At this point, His Excellency, Mai Mala, party leaders and indeed all members of the party need to be reminded that the one most important political legacy, which we must all support President Buhari to bequeath to the nation is a functional, responsive and representative party. At the moment, no registered political party in the country is functionally responsive and representative. The truth is that all parties function only as platforms for election. The APC is about the only party that has been going through internal contests to make it functionally responsive and representative. It is a very hard internal struggle, which must be sustained and won to justify the confidence of Nigerian electorates since 2015.
APC was produced out sacrifice by leaders and members of all the legacy parties that merged in 2013. Both the merger process and the process of contesting the 2015 and 2019 elections made leaders of the party to undertake objective review of national challenges especially since 1999. Very honest debates, which aggregates the expectations of Nigerians took place within the party, which endeared both the party and its candidates for elections to Nigerians. This was the foundation laid for both the 2015 and 2019 electoral victories.
It will be foolhardy to expect that the popularity of the APC will be sustained in 2023 without undertaking similar objective reviews. It would be such objective reviews that would assist the party to renegotiate and retain the support of Nigerians. Also recall that it was the process of reviewing challenges that enabled President Buhari to develop the policy priorities of APC led Federal Government since 2015. And to be fair to the President, he has been very faithful to all the agreed priorities despite all the slanderously sectional campaigns promoted by the opposition against his person, his government and the APC. The President has provided leadership to the party and the nation in a very trying time. Notwithstanding all the odds, he is able to reinvent governance and prove that there can be strong correlation between politics and physical development of the country, which was lost under the sixteen years of PDP.
In all these, the President has maintained a very dignified honesty by always recognising and accepting challenges, notwithstanding many of the landmark achievements of the administration. The issue of insecurity, especially in the last two years, is one issue that every party leader must be very concern. There are many false narratives out in the public domain which only a process of comprehensive review will strengthen the capacity of the party to combat opposition propaganda that the current challenge of insecurity is a confirmation that President Buhari and APC have failed. Sadly, people who have shared money meant for the procurement of arms to fight insurgency in the country in 2014 are today parading themselves ahead of 2023 elections as the saviours of the nation.
APC leaders must wake up to the responsibility of providing the needed political leadership to the country. We must remind APC leaders that the process of setting the right agenda to drive governance in the country post 2023 must begin with strong internal debates within the party. No one should imagine that agendas set in 2014 or 2019 are sufficient to respond to contemporary challenges, which post 2023 governance will be expected to respond to. If anything, it may also be important to emphasise the fact that to respond to contemporary challenges facing the country would require massive investment in human capital development in the country. This will call for a deliberate and aggressive policy to mobilise large scale public investment to rebuild public schools at all levels. The correlation between collapse of education since the mid 1980s, rising levels of unemployment and insecurity are very glaring. As a party, we must come up with practically convincing answers, which should form the basis of public support by Nigerians to guarantee victory in 2023 elections.
The burden of responsibility to strengthen the capacity of the APC to put itself on a vantage position to commence internal negotiation around all these issues is on the CECPC, especially, the Chairman, His Excellency, Mai Mala Buni. Inability to discharge this responsibility or avoid it by toying the path of a deceptive campaign for postponement of Convention can only spell doom for the APC and return Nigeria to the hands of those who laid the foundation for all the challenges facing the country.
By way of an appeal to APC leaders, as much as the question of who emerge as the candidate of the party is very important, it is not only who emerge as a candidate of the party that can win the election. But how united are party leaders behind the candidate will be a more determining factor. President Buhari, with all his mass support in the Northern part of the country, may not have won the election in 2015 without the unity of all APC leaders from every part of the country. All APC leaders must be reminded that, there is no one political leader in the country that enjoy convincing mass support of any region of the country.
Therefore, the process of internal debates within the APC to enhance the confidence of party leaders from every part of the country and by extension Nigerians to support any potential candidate of the party should be oriented around agreement on what needs to be done to address national challenges. In fact, ability of the party to manage internal party contest for the emergence of Presidential candidate for instance, will be dependent on the kind of confidence that would have emerged among party leaders during internal debates. Party leaders and all members should try to see the bigger picture and work for stronger internal unity within the APC. The only reason why some leaders, perhaps including the members of CECPC, are attracted to campaign for postponement for the Convention is the deceptive belief that any candidate who emerged, whether elected or imposed on the party can win the 2023 elections. This is a big lie!
Finally, we must also appeal to the CECPC to ensure that the February 2022 Convention is not just about electing NWC members. There must be some reflections about the challenges facing the country, with priority focus on problems of insecurity, rebuilding public education and health through mosilisation of massive financial investment in these sectors. As part of the review of public education and health, consequences of avoidable strikes actions and how to bring an end to what has become clearly destructive to these sectors must be considered. Conclusions and recommendations from the Convention should guide the review process of the party’s manifesto and bring out some of the campaign agenda of the APC for the 2023 campaigns.
This position does not represent the view of any APC Governor or the Progressive Governors Forum