Behind the scenes at APC’s Aso Rock NEC meeting
On Thursday, a portentous National Executive Committee meeting of the All Progressives Congress (APC) was held in the Federal Executive Council chamber of the Presidential Villa leaving in its wake some controversies. In this piece, YUSUF ALLI, Managing Editor, Northern Operation, revisits the pre-meeting intrigues, the drama at the session and the post-NEC politics.
THE ATMOSPHERE BEFORE THE NEC MEETING
The usual taciturn gaze, President Muhammadu Buhari kept everyone guessing whether or not the controversial National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting will hold or not on the direction which the All Progressives Congress (APC) was headed. While the self-styled former Acting National Chairman, Victor Giadom, was overwhelmed with braggadocio, all APC leaders were waiting for the body language of Buhari to manifest. The cat was eventually let out of the bag by the emerging multi-purpose and politicized Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, who seems to have his hand on the till in Villa politics. Armed with his common linguistic fragrance during any testy moment, Shehu confirmed on Wednesday that the President would attend the NEC meeting. From his interface with the media in the last one week, the presidential aide left no one in doubt that he knew where the pendulum would swing beforehand but he kept it to his heart. It was evident he was aware of all the scheming of the Cabal, the antics of anti- Adams Oshiomhole’s governors / forces and the President’s mindset.
On Tuesday when Governor Kayode Fayemi visited the Villa for the second time in the day, he purportedly pleaded with State House Press Corps not to report his presence at dusk and there was a blackout in line with the media script. Although Fayemi only intended to reduce media feast on APC crisis, the leakage of his plea assumed political dimension. Also, the leak made some anti-Oshiomhole governors to change tactics on Wednesday by using different gate to enter the Villa to perfect their strategies for the APC NEC meeting and avoid the prying eyes of newsmen. And on Thursday, there was unwritten media advisory that the details of the NEC meeting must not be reported until the session was over.
Also, plans by some governors to meet with Buhari before the NEC meeting were unsuccessful.
The governors, who are pro-Adams Oshiomhole, had scheduled a session with the President for 11am but they had no access.
It was learnt that the anti-Oshiomhole governors were behind the blockade.
Some of those who wanted to see the President were Abdullahi Ganduje (Kano), Gboyega Oyetola (Osun), Babajide Sanwoolu (Lagos), Hope Uzodinma (Imo), Dapo Abiodun (Ogun), Abdulrahman Abdularazaq and others.
A governor said: “We felt we were deliberately blocked from having an audience with the President by some of our colleagues peddling influence in the Presidential Villa.
“This was part of the game on Thursday. They did not want the President to have a second opinion on the state of affairs of the party.”
Prior to these, the Villa had witnessed many advisory shuttles in the last six days. The Chairman of the National Assembly, Dr. Ahmad Lawan (who is also the President of the Senate) was with the President on Sunday; the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN) allegedly led a team of six legal giants (Senior Advocates of Nigeria) to give legal advice to the President; and anti-Oshiomhole governors, (including Atiku Bagudu (Kebbi), Simon Lalong (Plateau) and Abubakar Badaru (Jigawa), on Monday submitted their position to the President. None of the forces either encouraged or allowed the President to hear from the other side of the crisis at hand. And having been associates of the President for years, Buhari had no cause to doubt their pretentiously honest advice.
A top source said: “There was a plot before plot in the Villa by some governors to regain the control of the party and shape the direction of 2023 politics in APC. Some of these forces actually worked in connivance with some kitchen cabinet members and some strategic persons closer to the President. They formed a ring around the Villa to shut out pro-Oshiomhole colleagues.
“And they succeeded in winning over the President who eventually accepted their arguments and opted to attend the NEC meeting. I think those governors and ministers behind the appointment of a Caretaker Committee covertly behaved like Young Turks who moved against Ottoman Empire in 1908. They surreptitiously aligned their hidden agenda with the desires of the President, especially his refrain of “I belong to everybody, I belong to nobody. I think they are long distance runners because they have been on this APC agenda in the last 15 months.
“What aided them most was COVID-19 pandemic which forced pro-Oshiomhole governors to stay mostly in their political domains. Being products of the cabal, the plotters have unfettered access to the Villa.”
The source confirmed that it was at one of the Villa sessions that the decisions reached at the NEC meeting were compiled.
ISSUES AT STAKE IN APC AHEAD OF THE NEC MEETING
The crisis in APC has triggered many litigations and contradicting court rulings and judgments. There were cases of abuse of ex-parte injunctions too in some instances. The pronouncements of the court in Abuja, Kano, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Benin and others have put a stain on the progressive and democratic credentials of some APC leaders. Both the Federal High Court and the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory became the shopping centres of political judgments and rulings. One of the court orders made the erstwhile Deputy National Secretary, Victor Giadom, Acting National Chairman of APC when he was not the plaintiff before the court, even when the plaintiff denied applying for any order to make Giadom the Acting National Chairman, there was no reversal
The Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice John Tsoho, felt worried and he had to revalidate a previous warning. He said: “It is of common knowledge that elections will be held in some states in Nigeria in the nearest future.
“The normal party conventions and primaries with attendant political manoeuvring have already commenced amongst various political parties, which very often culminate in the institution of cases in the courts. In this regard, your lordships are strongly advised not to grant ex-parte injunctive orders in any political matter brought before your lordships. Furthermore, your lordships are equally advised not to entertain matters of which the course of action had arisen from outside your judicial divisions.”
Heating up of the polity over the retention or the removal of the suspended National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole
In the last seven months, the crisis in APC has caused much tension in the country to the extent that a party expected to bring change was in charge of change. Governors, who were hitherto united, became foes. Many cells sprang up in APC following recourse to their pre-merger fault lines. Slight matters were seen in the light of the cells or camps a leader belongs to. Some forces in the party felt Oshiomhole was no longer loyal to the party but to his benefactors.
- Polarization of the NWC. Out of 20 members, 17 were on one side, two (Giadom and the National Vice Chairman (North-East), Comrade Mustapha Salihu, moved decisively against Oshiomhole and one was floating in anticipation of a slip which could make him the National Chairman of the party,
- Alleged relegation of the governors, Edo crisis and Governor Obaseki’s factor. Although the Progressive Governors Forum is not a statutory organ of the party, its political, moral and financial muscles are weighty. The governors were excited that one of them was elected as the National Chairman in 2018 but the anticipated leverage and concessions, including the determination of the direction of issues in the party at all levels and nomination of candidates for 2019 poll. There was a total breakdown of trust between Oshiomhole (who wanted to do things differently) and the governors who sought to maintain the status quo. The technical loss of Zamfara State and Rivers State to the opposition PDP was an unpardonable sin listed against Oshiomhole.
The adamant posture of Oshiomhole on the governors’ demand for the Right of First Refusal for their colleagues, Obaseki and Akeredolu, who were seeking second term ticket, triggered the revolt in APC. It was easier to co-opt first term governors into anti-Oshiomhole’s campaign. But Governor Babagana Zulum stood out as a governor who could die for Oshiomhole for giving him the governorship ticket on merit without collecting bribes.
- Politics of 2023 and power shift. Some forces in APC, with their eyes on the presidential ticket in three years’ time, do not want Oshiomhole. Those nursing presidential ambition or whose political life felt threatened by the continued stay of Oshiomhole are Governors Atiku Bagudu; Kayode Fayemi; Rotimi Akeredolu; Yahaya Bello; Nasiru el-Rufai; Abubakar Badaru; Simon Lalong, among others. They alleged that Oshiomhole was beholding to the National Leader of APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who crowned him as APC National Chairman. Some of these governors have political disdain for Tinubu for no just cause. They are determined to curtail his influence at all cost. Part of the dummy they sold to the President in 2019 was that without Tinubu, they can win the South-West.
- Power shift. Since it is inevitable for power to shift to the South in 2023, some Northern elements are still routing for a President from the North because of alleged inherent 12million votes of Buhari in the region. They said with 25 per cent votes in at least 24 states, any political leader from the North can win a presidential election. A former governor from the North said: “Let me tell you the truth, the underlying factor for the removal of Oshiomhole is the desperation of some governors from the North-West to succeed Buhari. How on earth will a Northerner be thinking of taking over from Buhari?
“And any time we ask them to put Nigeria first, they have always said it is doable for another Northerner to succeed Buhari. They are already following this path without Buhari suspecting their plot to set this nation on fire.”
WHAT TRANSPIRED AT THE MEETING
On Thursday, APC entered a new phase in its seven-year old history when it held a virtual NEC meeting at the Villa with some members, including governors, boycotting and others merely fulfilling all righteousness to defer to the Office of the President. It was an emotional session where the fate of the suspended National Chairman of APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, and his National Working Committee (NWC) members was determined. But President Muhammadu Buhari kept to his script and did not throw it open for debate in order to avoid another rancour. There was however a tinge of drama at the session after the President announced the dissolution of the National Working Committee. It was learnt that the self-imposed Acting National Chairman, Giadom, was rattled when the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, gave him a birthday gift by asking him to step aside since he was no longer an NWC member.
Another reliable NEC member said the decisions of the organ at the Presidential Villa to put a Caretaker Committee in place were premeditated.
The source said the meeting had no agenda but President Muhammadu Buhari only read out some recommendations which became binding on NEC members.
The source said: “We were shocked that there was no agenda. All the decisions purportedly agreed at the NEC session were from a meeting held on Wednesday by some anti-Oshiomhole governors and others.
“The President just came in with their recommendations. We thought they were going to throw issues open for debate as expected in a democratic setting but there was nothing like that.
“The plot was already signed and sealed to the consternation of everybody.”
“It was an ambush”, one of the party leaders at the meeting said.
The NEC member also added that Giadom got more than he bargained for from the Speaker of the House of Representatives. He added: “Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila was the only person who raised a Point of Order at the meeting. He said based on law and APC Constitution, there was no basis for Giadom to continue to preside over the NEC meeting after the NWC has been dissolved.
“The President concurred and quipped, “Oh yes, you are right.” This earned instant applause from NEC members. The President directed and the Chairman of the Caretaker Committee, Governor Mai Mala Buni, to immediately take over.
“Giadom later left. Even after the NEC Meeting, he joined Governors Bagudu and Buni to brief the press but he could not be part of the session because he had no locus again. He later left the briefing hall with his personal assistant.”
WHAT BUHARI SAID
For the second time in about six months, Buhari used the NEC session to warn about the path of self-destruct which APC was treading. He announced the following steps which he felt could restore sanity. They are:
- immediate discontinuation of all pending litigations involving the party and its members;
- ratifying the primary election conducted in Edo State;
- dissolving the current National Working Committee, and
- appointing Caretaker/Extra-ordinary Convention Planning Committee.
The President said: “The directive had been issued before, unfortunately some members failed to heed the directive. Thus, at this time, it must be made a Resolution of the Party which must be effectively enforced with dire consequences for members who choose to ignore the directive.”
“We must be alive to the time and the task that is before us. As we all know, we are immediately confronted with the upcoming gubernatorial elections in Edo and Ondo states. Therefore, this is the time to get our acts together.
“Fellow party members, this is a very crucial moment in the life of our party and it is with a deep sense of concern that I stand before you today to speak as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria who has been elected on the platform of our great party – the All Progressives Congress.
“The issues currently confronting our party at this time are such that should worry every party member. At the moment, our great party is faced with internal wrangling; there are on-going litigations amongst some party members and we cannot clearly ascertain the status of certain National Working Committee (NWC) members.
“There are other associated disputes as to the legitimacy or otherwise of holders of certain National Offices of the Party. The Party is also contending with Judicial claims and counter-claims, orders and counter-orders and indeed judgments and counter-judgments that are predominantly at cross-purposes.
“Confronted with these issues, it is obvious that the fortunes of the party are currently in jeopardy, administration of our party is becoming impossible and there is consequently an urgent need for intervention to immediately arrest further drifts and internal wrangling which may lead to total disintegration.
“What we see clearly emerging is that we are beginning to self-destruct. This, my dear party members, is not just regrettable but utterly gut-wrenching.”
WHAT BUHARI LEFT UNDONE
Most leaders of the APC were in disbelieve that the President opted to obey a court order which asked Giadom to act as the National Chairman of APC without taking into consideration a similar order from a court with coordinate jurisdiction. A Rivers State High Court sitting in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, on June 18, restrained the former Deputy National Secretary of the All Progressives Congress, Victor Giadom, from Acting as the National Chairman of the party. Justice Florence Fiberesima also granted an order of perpetual injunction restraining Giadom from parading himself as a member of the National Working Committee of the APC
Also, the President gave much latitude to anti-Oshiomhole governors without hearing from pro-Oshiomhole governors who were shielded or frustrated from seeing him. He might not know what was going on behind the curtains but since APC was an amalgam of parties, some leaders of the party ought to have been consulted before arriving at any decision. A Senator said: “The President should realise that APC stands on a tripod, we all have a stake. Consultations should be broadminded.”
Despite his plans on how to resolve the APC crisis, the President should have also asked for input from NEC members on the options available to the party. Maybe his decisions could have been richer. The NEC session was bereft of a democratic setting. The entire NWC was not consulted but it was dissolved by the President.
HOW LEGAL WAS THE NEC MEETING?
Without prejudice to the six “wise” men who gave the President advice to proceed with the disputable NEC meeting, members of the sacked NWC felt Buhari was misled. In a statement on Thursday, they expressed shock that legitimacy was conferred on Giadom to hold the NEC meeting.
The statement said: “The National Working Committee of the All Progressives Congress (APC) wishes to reiterate its earlier position that Chief Victor Giadom has no authority whatsoever to convene a meeting of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of our great Party.
“Article 25(B) of the Constitution of the APC is explicit that only the National Chairman or the National Working Committee (NWC) is given the prerogative of summoning meetings of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Party either for statutory quarterly meetings or for emergency meetings.
“The same provision of the Constitution makes it compulsory for a notice of a minimum of 14 days in respect of statutory quarterly meetings and 7 days in respect of emergency meetings.
“We note that Chief Victor Giadom had convened and conducted a virtual meeting purportedly to be a National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting of our Party wherein certain far reaching resolutions were purportedly reached.
“While the National Working Committee is studying the unfolding drama, it will be consulting with stakeholders and a team of lawyers on the next line of action.
“Therefore, all members of our great Party and concerned Nigerians are urged to remain calm pending the outcome of the consultations.
The 17 members (out of 20) of the NWC who are part of this press statement, are Ntufam Hilliard Etagbo Eta (NVC SS), Hon. Inuwa Abdulkadir (NVC NW), and Pastor Bankole Oluwajana (NVS SW), Alh. Ahmed Suleiman Wambai (NVC NC), Hon. Emma Eneukwu (NVC SE), Hon. Adamu Fanda (NT), Hon. Ibrahim Masari (NWS), Hon. Paul Chukwuma (NA), Emma Ibediro Esq (NOS), Hon. Sadiq Abubakar (NYL), Haj. Salamatu Bawa Umar-Eluma (NWL), Alhaji Tajudeen Bello, Misbahu Lawan Didi (Ntl Spel Leader), Wogu Boms Esq (DNS), Babatunde Ogala (NLA), Hon. Lanre Isa-Onilu (NPS) and Arc. Waziri Bulama (NS).
Even the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) joined issues with Buhari on the legality of the NEC meeting. In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbodiyan, the PDP said: “It is even more disgraceful that the furtive APC NEC meeting at the FEC Chamber was convened in total violation of the APC Constitution, which prescribes 14 days’ notice for regular NEC meeting and 7 days’ notice in the case of an emergency meeting under Article 25 (b) (i) and (ii) respectively.
“Such a coup against their own party’s constitution renders the purported APC NEC meeting illegal and decisions taken therein, a complete nullity.
“Significantly, the kind of marshal orders and threats which President Buhari was issuing out at the so called NEC meeting without allowing for a debate was a sad reminder of his days at the Supreme Military Council in 1984.
“This raised questions on the democratic content of the charade called a NEC meeting by the APC.”
A member of the disbanded NWC said: “There are moral , legal and political implications of this illegal NEC meeting.
“We believe all the processes for the convocation of NEC meeting have not been followed. And the APC Constitution has no provision for fiat.
“There are grounds to contest the holding of the meeting in court as to whether those who summoned the meeting did so in line with the APC Constitution. It is so sad that we have not lived up to our much-vaunted democratic credentials.
“There are mechanisms for resolving issues and the illegal NEC meeting did not take cognizance of these measures. NWC members were legally elected, they ought to be allowed to serve their tenure.”
But a governor said: “The dissolved NWC should forget it; what took place was a moral intervention and at best it could be described as a “Doctrine of Necessity.” The alternative is anarchy which will not help any group.
“Imagine a ruling party being torn apart by different court rulings which emanated from selfish pursuits. It would be more disastrous for APC if moral persuasion does not take the centre stage. Left to Buhari, he would have allowed the law to take its full course but there may be no APC at the end of the day.”
WHO WON, WHO LOST?
Oblivious of the ultimate game plan of the anti-Oshiomhole governors, the President exercised wisdom to leave the struggle for the soul of APC open at the next National Convention if it is not manipulated.
Although the anti-Oshiomhole governors have been celebrating for sacking the former APC National Chairman and hijacking the party’s structure to truncate the presidential ambition of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, they have left many gaps unfilled. The gaps are: 2023 is still a long way for a politician to reorganize his base and every minute count in politics; it is too early to say a political figure has been upstaged; nobody knows tomorrow and the ultimate power belongs to God; most of the key actors are paperweight who have no presidential character; the plotters are strange bed fellows who may be consumed by their ambitions; and they cannot foreclose realignment of forces before 2023. Investigation revealed that some of the anti-Oshiomhole governors are not even trusted by Buhari. But it was politically convenient to use them to cause crisis in APC.
Notwithstanding, the reality is that the rebellious governors have finally removed Oshiomhole; they are targeting Tinubu’s political base which they want to erode; and they have dissolved the NWC and put a Caretaker Committee in place which is headed by one of them. But the Presidential decisions showed that pro-Oshiomhole got a reprieve in having Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu as the APC governorship candidate even though the PDP governorship candidate, Governor Godwin Obaseki, claimed that some APC governors are still working for him. There is likelihood that they might sabotage Ize-Iyamu for a clinical diminishing of Oshiomhole. The anti-Oshiomhole also lost Giadom as the Acting National Chairman; all NWC members are gone irrespective of political leanings (including many planted in NWC by some of the revolting governors) and they will no longer (temporarily) take undue advantage of the court for subterranean orders.
Above all, there is a fresh opportunity of a National Convention for all the key actors in APC to prove their mettle. Except the game changes, pro-Tinubu/Oshiomhole had the backing of 17 out of 20 sacked NWC members; 22 out of 37 state chairmen and 31 out of 40 Non-NWC members.
But the greatest outcome of the NEC meeting was the directive to withdraw all litigations in court. The APC cases have messed up the Judiciary such that some judges are regretting their rulings. The Chief Judge of the High Court of Justice of the FCT, Justice Ishaq Bello warned judges in the jurisdiction to be wary of political cases. He said: “Therefore, be wary of coming up with application when it comes to pragmatic politics because we are not going to accede to that. This is because we want the natural growth of democracy. We want the political actors’ role to learn how to resolve their disputes within themselves without coming to court, except where it is exceedingly necessary”,
THE COMPOSITION OF CARETAKER COMMITTEE
The composition of the Caretaker Committee by the President reflected the tendencies in APC to avert another crisis. Members of the Caretaker Committee are Yobe State Governor Mai Mala Buni (Chairman); Senator John James Akpanudoede (Secretary); Osun State Governor Adegboyega Oyetola (South-West), Niger State Governor Abubakar Sani Bello (North-Central), Senator Ken Nnamani (South-East), Senator Abubakar Yusuf (Senate Rep.), Hon. Akinremi Olaide (Reps.) and Mrs. Stella Oketete (Women Representative).Other members are Dr. James Lalu (physically-challenged), Chief David Lyon (South-South).
For his constant loyalty and appreciation to the North-East, the choice of Mai Mala Buni (a two-term National Secretary of APC) was acceptable to the President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmad Lawan and other stakeholders. Although Buni was one of the anti-Oshiomhole governors, he sounded reconciliatory at his maiden meeting. He said: “As a former two-term National Secretary, I know the party very well. It’s all about doing justice to every member of the party because without justice there won’t be peace and it is all about team play. I am a team player. I have a capable team that can work with me.
“If you don’t manage crisis, obviously crisis will manage you, so I won’t allow any crisis to fester henceforth and the process of convening this NEC, I want to tell you that it is a continuation of the last notice that was issued and we said we have adjourned and now it’s a continuation of the last adjourned NEC meeting. All the notices were issued accordingly, so in no way are we in any aberration.
“The duration of office is for six months within which we will do whatever we can as enshrined in our constitution and ensure that we strengthen the party and cap it up with the convention.
“NEC is the highest organ of the party if not convention and by our constitution, NEC can act for convention in-between. Whatever that happened during the last NWC culminating in Edo primaries have already been ratified by NEC. So we are good to go. All litigations will be withdrawn.
But a party leader said: “On the choice of Mai Mala Bunu as Chairman of the so-called Caretaker Committee, the APC Constitution says you cannot be elected into a public office and hold party position. But since he was one of the anti-Oshiomhole governors, it was convenient to appoint him to suit an agenda.
“In short, an interested party in the APC crisis is leading the Caretaker Committee. This is not a progressive or a democratic spirit we are preaching in APC.”
The PDP also said: “Moreover, now that the Governor of Yobe state, Mai Mala Buni, has been sworn in as the Chairman of APC Caretaker Committee, he has made himself a full administrative officer of the APC and as such, should immediately resign as the Governor of Yobe State, in keeping with Article 17 (iv) of the APC Constitution which prohibits such dual mandate”.
Although the Secretary of the Caretaker Committee, Senator John James Akpanudoede, was once a political foe of the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Sen. Godswill Akpabio, it was learnt that he might have been a nominee of another Minister from the same zone as Akpabio. He once had a political romance with Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. On his part, Osun State Governor, Mr. Adegboyega Oyetola is no doubt a trusted political ally of Tinubu and a pro-Oshiomhole leader in APC. On his part, a former Director-General of the Nigerian Law School, Prof. Tahir Mamman (SAN) is being suspected to be either a nominee of the Minister of Justice or a member of the dissolved NWC, Comrade Mustapha Salihu. But Prof. Tahir failed in his bid to get APC senatorial ticket for Adamawa North in 2019. The women representative, Mrs. Stella Oketete, was said to be a candidate of the Deputy President of the Senate, Sen. Ovie Omo-Agege. While Hon. Akinremi Olaide is representing the APC Caucus in the House of Representatives, it was learnt that he was nominated by Speaker Gbajabiamila.
The extent to which all litigants in APC comply with Buhari’s directive will determine the restoration of peace in APC. Already, all leaders have been persuading their associates to sheath the swords to avoid the wrath of Buhari. But the Caretaker Committee holds the ace in bringing all tendencies in the party together. If it conducts a free and fair convention, APC would no longer use ventilator. Otherwise, it will mark the final collapse of the party.
All the stakeholders have agreed to give Buhari solutions a chance. This is a good template for Buni team to work with. The scars of the NEC meeting will however be nursed for a while by all the warring lords.
Behind the scenes at APC’s Aso Rock NEC meeting