The battle for the chairmanship of the All Progressives Congress Board of Trustees may be a fierce one among former Vice President Atiku Abubakar; former interim National Chairman of the APC, Bisi Akande; and a chieftain of the party, Audu Ogbeh, writes TOBI AWORINDE
Article 13.2 (X) of the APC Constitution (October 2014 as amended), which deals with the powers of the BoT, stipulates: “The Board of Trustees shall elect its chairman, deputy chairman, secretary and other officers as it deems necessary, and formulate its own rules and procedures to regulate its meetings and activities.”
This must have prompted the National Executive Committee of the All Progressives Congress, to ratify proposals made for the inclusion of some members of the party’s Board of Trustees. No sooner had the NEC approved proposals made by the party’s National Legal Adviser, Dr. Muiz Banire, that some contenders emerged for the chairmanship of the BoT.
Last Monday, it was gathered that three party chieftains desired to give it a shot. They are: former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar; a former interim national chairman of the APC, Bisi Akande; and an ex-national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Audu Ogbeh.
When asked in a recent interview with SUNDAY PUNCH, if amending the party’s constitution may hold the key to resolving the ongoing leadership crisis at the National Assembly, Ogbeh, who is the former national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, and also a founding member of the APC, expressed disappointment in the party’s delay in inaugurating the BoT, adding that the board is the answer to the party’s woes.
Ogbeh said, “It isn’t the constitution that is the real problem. Constitutions are run by human beings. We have our constitution; we have a certain understanding among ourselves about what we should do and shouldn’t do. I think there are some managerial lapses somewhere.
“For instance, we have not yet formally inaugurated our Board of Trustees. What are we waiting for? This is the kind of crisis that the Board of Trustees should have taken over and resolved and not the National Working Committee or the National Executive Committee of the party. Why is the Board of Trustees still not in place?”
The party’s NEC, which is its highest decision-making body, reportedly took nominations for membership of the BoT from the various state chapters during a NEC meeting which held penultimate Friday.
On June 20, this paper had reported that a fresh power tussle between Atiku and Akande was on the horizon over the party’s BoT chairmanship. According to findings, the tussle is an episode in the supremacy war between power blocs in the APC.
Atiku and the National Leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, were reported to have been the primary contenders in a fierce battle to control the party. With these two camps, clinching the BoT chairmanship would go a long way in assisting them to control the party.
Both camps were said to have started reaching out to members of the board, who will elect the chairman. Further investigations showed that Akande had the backing of Tinubu, who is reportedly angry with Atiku’s role in the National Assembly leadership elections.
The struggle for the chairmanship of the APC’s BoT, it was learnt, became intense following the inauguration of the eighth Assembly which witnessed the controversial emergence of Bukola Saraki as Senate President and Yakubu Dogara as Speaker. They were said to have won with the support of Atiku.
Tinubu and the party’s National Working Committee, on the other hand, were voting for Ahmad Lawan for the Senate presidency and Femi Gbajabiamila for the House speakership.
Political observers have since highlighted that Saraki’s election would enable the Atiku camp take control of the party’s National Executive Committee since the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives are members of the NEC.
However, Tinubu is believed to be in control of the party’s NWC, as many of its members are said to be loyal to him. Thus, the contest for the control of the BoT is clearly between both camps.
Atiku, who has held the number two office in the country for two consecutive terms and contested in the party’s first ever presidential primary which produced President Muhammadu Buhari as the APC candidate for the March 28 election, is widely regarded as a political heavyweight in the APC. Pundits, however, note that Atiku’s chances are slim.
The executive chairman of the Coalition against Corrupt Leaders, Debo Adeniran, in an interview with SUNDAY PUNCH, argued that Atiku was not as all-embracing as the job of BoT chairmanship demands. Recalling Atiku’s political history with concern, the activist said the APC may not last long with the ex-vice president at the helm.
He said, “When we look at Atiku, especially with regard to the controversy surrounding his activities as vice-president, he has not yet convinced Nigerians that he didn’t soil his hands. Moreover, the kind of divisive politics that he plays may not put him in a good position to be the best BoT chairman that can satisfy the yearnings of rank-and-file members of the party.
“One would not want the ruling party to succumb to the whims and caprices of somebody who already has an open agenda that once was hidden. We must not forget the influence of the Peoples Democratic Movement in the PDP and the prominent role it played in the breakup of the PDP. The same thing happened when the New PDP emerged. That means that with an Atiku in the saddle, the APC may not last the tenure of the current regime before they break it into pieces.
“The divisive politics of Atiku puts him at a disadvantage. I don’t see him as having a sectional agenda; his agenda cuts across, but he plays opportunistic politics and that is not fair. People like Saraki and Dogara need somebody who is courageous enough to confront them. Atiku is hand in glove with them, and if he becomes BoT chair, he will tolerate whatever they do.”
Similarly, a professor of political science in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Onyebuchi Ezeani, agreed with Adeniran, adding that Atiku could not be held to the commitment of the party’s founding members because he formed the party late.
“Most of the groundwork that was laid for the party’s formation was already there long before he arrived. As a result, I don’t think he has what it takes to hold such a position. Atiku is what I call a latecomer,” the professor opined.
But the Director-General of the Atiku Media Office, Mr. Paul Ibe, when contacted on Monday, said the former vice-president “is eminently qualified to occupy the position.” He added, “We are not aware that the APC has thrown open the race for the chairmanship of the party’s BoT. But if, in the wisdom of the party, it elects to appoint (Atiku) Abubakar as chairman of its BoT, the Turaki Adamawa will be amenable and well-disposed to it because he is eminently qualified to offer his services to the party at that level.”
For Akande, the battle for a top job in the APC is not entirely new. On June 11, 2013, the erstwhile national chairman of the now defunct Action Congress of Nigeria was reported to have been in a fierce contest with Tom Ikimi, another chieftain of the party, for the position of interim national chairman of the newly formed APC.
The battle between Akande and Ikimi followed the decision by stakeholders of the APC — a merger between the ACN, the Congress for Progressive Change, and the All Nigeria Peoples Party — to cede the chairmanship to the ACN.
But the APC, following a meeting behind closed doors in Abuja on June 26, 2013, named Akande its national chairman.
Spokesman for the Congress for Progressive Change, Rotimi Fasakin, said the appointment, which was, “part of the requirements (set by the Independent National Electoral Commission) for the registration of the new party was a collective decision of all the merging parties.”
The APC was then registered by INEC on July 31, 2013, after which the party was joined by aggrieved PDP members, including Atiku, Saraki, and seven governors, between November and December of the same year.
On June 14, 2014, Akande handed over his seat as chairman to a former Governor of Edo State, John Odigie-Oyegun, who became the first substantive national chairman of the APC, following a consensus arrangement by the leadership of the party at the inaugural national convention of the APC.
By August 21, 2014, the party was reported to have appointed no fewer than 74 persons, including Buhari and Tinubu, as members of its BoT. Others listed were Atiku, Ikimi, Akande and Ogbeh.
The BoT also comprises serving and former APC governors still in the party as well as two senators representing each of the six geopolitical zones and a member representing each state and the FCT.
However, in a provocative statement on June 28, Akande alleged that the members of the APC, who left the PDP, came into the ruling party with vested interests, which he claimed were fuelling the APC crisis.
The APC chief said, “What began as political patronages, which was to be shared into APC membership spread among ethnic zones, religious faiths, (as well as) political rankings and experiences, has now become so complicated that the sharing has to be done by and among PDP leadership, together with cohorts of former New PDP affiliations in the APC, by and among gangs against Buhari’s presidency, and certain APC legislators and party members who dance round the crisis arena to pick some crumbs.
“After the elections, which saw the APC to victory all round, a meeting was reported to have been held by certain old and new PDP leaders in (former National Chairman of PDP) Kawu Baraje’s house in Abuja to review what should be their share in this new Buhari’s government and resolved to seek collaboration with the PDP with a view to hijacking the National Assembly and, having got rid of Goodluck Jonathan, with an ultimate aim of resuscitating the PDP as their future political platform.”
But Baraje, in a summary rebuttal, described Akande’s claims as unfortunate and expressed disappointed that the former interim chairman of the APC would make such claims.
Baraje was not the only one who had a bone to pick with Akande. The APC chieftain’s claims also drew the ire of party chairman, Oyegun, Saraki, Dogara, the Arewa Consultative Forum and the northern caucus of the party, among several others, leading to speculation that Akande’s chances of emerging the APC BoT chairman had been hurt.
But Adeniran disagreed. On the contrary, he argued, the same reason that made some party members allege that Akande was being sponsored by Tinubu proved his suitability for the job.
“He told no lie within the submission he made. He has said he didn’t make any sectional statement that was credited to him and nobody has disproved him since. Confronting them with past records that they have is not supposed to be seen as a disadvantage. It should, instead, be seen as an index of courage, which is why I believe he has adequate courage to confront anybody that wants to sabotage the good fortune of the party,” Adeniran told this reporter.
Commenting on speculation that Tinubu is behind Akande’s candidature, the activist said the national leader of the APC is a proven political tactician whose prowess would serve as an advantage.
“Take it or leave it, Tinubu is a political strategist with a level of sagacity that no other politician has been able to achieve in the (Nigerian) political landscape. If Tinubu is supporting Akande, it should be seen as a plus, rather than a minus,” he opined.
Citing Akande’s tenure as governor of Osun State, Adeniran described Akande as an articulate leader and a Cicero in his own right, whose wealth of experience would position him well for the job.
Akande’s former Chief Press Secretary, Adelani Baderinwa, also expressed conviction of Akande’s capability to lead the APC’s BoT.
Baderinwa, in an interview described the party chieftain as well qualified for the position. He highlighted Akande’s run at the party’s interim national chairmanship, and his role in laying the groundwork for the party’s formation.
“He knows Nigeria very well and so there is nothing so spectacular about being the BoT chairman. By virtue of being the (interim) national chairman of the political party, he must have met quite a lot of the stakeholders in the process of managing the party, especially to the level that it became a success in terms of what the APC is. My take is therefore that he is found to have an advantage,” he said.
But Ezeani expressed opposition to Akande’s advantage, arguing that Ogbeh is the candidate to beat.
The professor of political science said, in comparison to Akande and Atiku, Ogbeh stands out because, “he does not have the baggage that comes with being linked to Tinubu. He is untainted, which is a crucial consideration in picking the man for the job.
“If we are talking about those who have experience and contributed to the formation of the APC, Audu Ogbeh has the advantage. Let us not forget that he has held top positions in the PDP, so he has the most experience and the best understanding of what the party needs to.”
Adeniran, however, expressed mixed feelings about Ogbeh’s candidature, arguing that though Audu Ogbeh is not known to accumulate wealth, his gentlemanly disposition would translate to a reluctance to want to rock the boat, which the political expert believes, is contrary to the demands of politics in Nigeria.
“Save for the possibility that he might be too conservative for the dynamism that Nigerian politics deserves, he could have been the best candidate. But he may not have the guts, courage or political will to discipline erring party members and he doesn’t have the charisma with which he can carry everybody from different sections of the country together the way some other leaders are expected to. He is likely to tolerate the intolerable and that would be a minus against him,” Adeniran opined.
Attempts to get Ogbeh’s reaction were unsuccessful, as he did not answer calls by our correspondent to his mobile telephone number on Wednesday.
On the consequences of a fierce BoT chairmanship race to the already embattled part, Ezeani told this reporter that the crisis in the APC came as a shock to many political observers.
According to him, the rift in the party is proof that the parties that came together to form the APC did so out of selfish interests, rather than a shared ideology.
“I would advise the President to maintain his objective position and not meddle in the political dealings of the party. That is the right decision; I think that it is best that he stays away from the crisis rocking the APC so as not to be distracted from governance,” he added.
But Adeniran argued: “Everybody was surprised that the (primary) election conducted by the APC went as smoothly as it did and that the general elections also went smoothly. It could be yet another surprise that, after this race, everybody will go back to his camp calmly without any strife.”