By Lindsay Barrett
In recent weeks the Nigerian political arena has witnessed a plethora of institutional rivalries and crises but none has been as prescient as the reports of internal divisions that have been provoked within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). According to the version of the narrative of this crisis that has become commonplace in national media Alhaji Bola Ahmed Tinubu a powerful patron of the party’s fortunes has fallen out with the incumbent leadership under Chief John Odigie-Oyegun and wishes to have it changed. However the interpretation that is given to the events occurring in the pre-convention planning stages, especially by adherents of the two factions that have coalesced around the main antagonists, indicate that the cause of disagreement might be based on differing views of how to achieve fundamental equity in democratic participation within the ruling party. Supporters of the incumbent Chairman have asserted that his record of performance as well as the views and expressed wishes of a substantial number of the members of the party render him eligible to continue to guide the party up to the next elections.
However some powerful elements within the APC tout Alhaji Tinubu’;s role as a power broker and sponsor of the party’s ascent to power as giving him the right to dictate the strategies that should inform the party’s role in the future of the Nigerian polity. The introduction of this element of personal rivalry into the volatile political circumstance that the development of the party’s strategic electoral profile has created has provoked a situation that is undermining political harmony.
Lately it has emerged that President Buhari supports the argument that favours the ascent of the Tinubu faction .in spite of the fact that Chief Odigie-Oyegun and his team clearly enjoyed wide support from several governors and many ordinary members of the party. However the conduct of the party’s pre-convention congresses following the revelation of the Presidential viewpoint has exposed enormous divisions and elements of fragmentation in the institutional foundations of the party. As a consequence the overwhelming impression that has arisen from these operations is that the APC is suffering from some of the critical and fundamental liabilities that were responsible for the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP’s) failure to hold on to power in 2015. At the core of this perception is the desire for internal democracy to prevail in the election and appointment of party officials and aspirants to political office on the party’s platform. In the run-up to the forthcoming electoral season it was noticeable that the Odigie-Oyegun led party executive was leaning towards a strategy of consolidation and avoidance of acrimonious competitiveness in the strategic management of the party’s preparation for the 2019 contests. However it soon became obvious that a powerful movement mounted by adversaries of this position had been initiated. Unfortunately the strategists of this movement appear to be much better at mounting a scurrilous media campaign against their opponents than at maintaining internal harmony in the party that they wish to control.
The Odigie-Oyegun strategy of party management was apparently based on the presumption that the successful conduct of the party’s affairs under the watch of its incumbent National Executive Committee (NEC) should be sustained up to the conclusion of the first tenure of the administration’s existence. In defence of this strategy it was argued that instead of changing a winning team in the middle of the course it would make sense to allow those whose experience and performance served to install a successful and triumphant regime for its first term should have been left in place to monitor and implement the party’s program for sustaining its strategic stability. Opponents of the incumbent NEC asserted, however, that the strictures defined by the party’s constitution demand that the opportunity for other aspirants to seek to be elected into the body is time-bound and must be adhered to before the next season of elections. When these contentions were taken before the party for a general discussion the prognosis attributed to the incumbent Chairman’s supporters was recognised as being worthy of consideration. In response the President who was present at the formal meeting where this conversation was held supported the provision of a waiver to enable the members of the NEC to contest. This decision was apparently taken in order to provide the party with an opportunity to conduct internal elections which would be less acrimonious than they would be in a situation where the main contestants were unknown and untried aspirants.
However a few days after this meeting the waiver provision appeared to have been forgotten as opponents of the incumbent NEC’s members mounted a vehement press campaign in which personal attacks and falsehoods against Chief Odigie-Oyegun were prominently displayed. In addition to this it soon became clear that the group working to support the aspirations of those who have been characterised as being Senator Tinubu’s supporters were laying siege to President Buhari’s loyalists as well as to the President himself. Less than a fortnight later it emerged that their overtures had been successful when it was reliably reported that the President had announced his support for a slate of aspirants headed by former Edo State Governor Adams Oshiomhole, who has been touted as the replacement for Chief Odigie-Oyegun. Following this the conduct of the preparatory congresses undertaken by the APC in a situation where the waiver compromise appears to have been jettisoned by the very leaders who had first suggested and then embraced it has vindicated the Odigie-Oyegun faction’s fears. The overwhelming impression given so far is that the party is replete with divisions and indiscipline at its grassroots, and even though Odigie-Oyegun has exhibited exemplary discipline and equanimity in his effort to supervise preparations for the party convention his detractors have continued to publish negative and unsubstantiated allegations against him in the pages of some national newspapers. This suggests that the problems within the APC at this time might actually be symptomatic of an attempt to install a powerful element of god-fatherism in the contest for a new NEC to the detriment of the entrenchment of equity and internal democracy in the party’s selection process.