21 February 2019

Nigeria: Insider Power-Play in APC's Defensive Electoral Battle

By now, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) must have come to the realisation that it is not easy to be a defending champion. There is also no doubt that the party, like a football team that lost most of its strikers, is convulsing on account of uncoordinated strategies of its playmakers.

To the simple-minded, APC's decision to hold its recent leadership caucus meeting at its headquarters appears as a welcome move away from the usual confabulation at the Presidential Villa. But deep down, the choice of APC headquarters for that important meeting did not do much to obfuscate the simmering distrust, infighting and insidious schemes among the party's leaders, especially between some state governors and members of the presidential campaign council.

The microphone scuffle between the party's campaign Director-General, Hon. Rotimi Amaechi and Chairman of Diaspora Committee, Hon. Abike Dabiri, during the party's campaign stop at Adamawa, remains a hanging feature of the level of influence-peddling and power-play plaguing the ruling party.

Then within the infamous circle of the cabal, there are those who are working underground with the northern sentiment piling against the president's second term, in the belief that it would not favour the north.It has become a subject of public knowledge that virtually all the powerful insiders in the presidency are not performing prominent roles in the presidential campaign, particularly the Chief of Staff, Mallam Abba Kyari, or the Secretary to the Federal Government (SGF), Boss Mustapha.

Although these men pull strong strings from behind the scene, their backstage operations underscore their low electoral worth or power of attracting votes to President Muhammadu Buhari. Wife of the president, Aisha, had in her celebrated British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) radio interview, announced to the world that some of those pushing her husband into a needless second term contest do not even have voter cards.

It is perhaps the perceived lack of electoral weight by President Buhari's henchmen that is fueling the division in the inner structure of the president such that some insiders are working at cross-purposes with the campaign council. This explains why most of the fire-spitting marketers of President Buhari's second term aspiration are from the southern part of the country.The mental attitude of most of the northern high flyers in the ruling party is that the salesmen from the south are wired by personal political advantages more than national or even APC's group interest.

Southern musketeers

FORMER Lagos and Abia States' governors, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, are two prominent chieftains of APC who lay claim to the merger arrangement that produced the party. However, Tinubu's clout and control of the Southwest geopolitics gave him the upper hand such that while he is recognised as a national leader of the party, Onu is hamstrung by his ministerial appointment.

But while Tinubu savours his adulation as national leader, a chieftain of the party from the north sniggers at his back, saying that he is carrying about a blank cheque of Peoples Bank that would not be drawn anywhere. The national leader is accused of working for his 2023 aspiration and towards emasculating the party structure through the national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, who he recommended and endorsed for the position.

It is this sentiment that seems to alienate most APC governors, particularly Owelle Rochas Okorocha, Senator Ibikunle Amosun and Abdullaziz Yari, from the campaign council. Okorocha and Amosun, who were absent from the caucus meeting, are convinced that Tinubu is behind their political ordeals in the party.

Although their insistence on retiring to the senate and implanting their preferred candidates as successors have been attributed to the squabbles within their states' chapters of APC, Okorocha and Amosun believe strongly that Tinubu engaged in underground plot to disable notable leaders in the party and make them redundant or ineffectual when the issues of 2023 would be on the discussion table.

Specifically, Ogun State governor has been pushing back on what he calls Tinubu's territorial political expansionism and obsession with the idea of acting as Pa Obafemi Awolowo's replacement by dictating the political direction of Southwest states. Amosun is among the emergent Yoruba leaders that decry Tinubu's overarching politics and penchant of handouts to governors suggestions and schemes he never brooked during his eight years tenure as governor of Lagos State.

Despite the show of shame that characterised APC's campaign rally in Abeokuta, Amosun's zonal duel with Tinubu resonates with the desire of certain presidency interests that moot the idea of sequestering 'every Tinubu's proxies' in the villa.Sources disclosed that the plot to limit Tinubu's influence around the president included the planned substitution of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo with Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, which was shelved in order not to endanger further President Buhari's chances of netting maximum votes from Lagos.

Alluding to Tinubu, Okorocha had told his supporters that Imo State gubernatorial candidate of APC, Senator Hope Uzodimma, accepted to play a spoiler's game against his 2023 presidential ambition by siding with those who are interested in same position.An APC stalwart from Kaduna State told The Guardian that most of the party leaders from the north overrated Tinubu's political sagacity until he started falling for the antics of some elements in the presidency.

"How far did his reconciliation standing committee go?" he asked rhetorically, stressing that the north knows that the former Lagos State governor was playing some political pranks.On his part, those close to Tinubu said even though he chose to forget the past and join the Buhari campaign, he does not pretend that most of those around President Buhari are engaged in clandestine plots to undermine his political interests. It could not be ascertained whether it was based on this mind games or knowledge that the election would be postponed that the Jagaban held back from mobilising electoral foot soldiers as usual on the Friday preceding the aborted poll.

Not that alone, in 2014 the current Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, then incumbent governor of Rivers State, was made the Director General of Presidential Campaign Council and he wielded enormous power and influence. But although Amaechi was retained as DG immediately President Buhari declared interest in seeking a second term, his powers were so whittled that one APC chieftain from the north jocularly referred to him as 'MC' and 'protocol officer' interchangeably in Hausa.

Yet despite that mockery, the minister's decision to sideline Senator Magnus Abe and unilaterally impose a governorship candidate on APC in his home state, Rivers, is also held against him as evidence that he was not working for Buhari's victory.As Amaechi fights his domestic political battles in Rivers, he blames Tinubu for working in cahoots with Oshiomhole to orchestrate the seeming confusion in the Presidential Campaign Council. On his part, Oshiomhole believes the minister brought in Festus Keyamo, who has zero electoral value in his home state, Delta, without his input as national chairman of the party.

Oshiomhole and Tinubu see Amaechi's loss of traction in Rivers State as reason for the party to bring in the former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Senate Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio, to shore up support in the South/South geopolitical zone. Akpabio, who is working tirelessly to return to the Senate with the vain hope of succeeding Senator Bukola Saraki as Senate President, has not been finding things easy in his home state, Akwa Ibom, a development that has warranted recourse to violence.

North's somnolence

WHILE APC leaders from the south cause too much friction, their counterparts from the north appear to be in dreamland. With the exception of Adamawa and Zamfara States, where intraparty squabble pits the governors against other chieftains, the general mood among northern politicians in APC is that head or tail they win.But just as the southern APC leaders make the loudest noise over President Buhari's second term, their northern counterparts, especially those opposed to the five-member cabal in the presidency, prefer a change of guard in the presidency so as to pave way for the eventual end of zoning arrangement.

Although the north is sure of four plus four, ambitious politicians in the ruling APC insist that the battle for 2023 presidency would be between Northeast and Southeast, which is why there is a scheme to ensue Osinbajo's replacement with a female politician from the Southeast to make the coast clear for the north yet again.

Northern politicians in APC are looking beyond President Buhari and 2019 poll. Nothing underscores the northern sentiment against a continued Buhari's presidency than the statement attributed to the Emir of Kano, in which he noted as follows: "It is not always easy to have a leader who has both integrity and capacity to govern, two important qualities of a leader.

"If a leader does not have both integrity and capacity to govern, choose the one that has the capacity to govern, because his capacity to govern will benefit the people, while his lack of integrity will be his own harm. If you choose a man who has integrity without capacity to govern, his lack of capacity to govern will harm the people, while his integrity will only benefit himself."

Defying the peace treaty

IT is therefore obvious that as the presidential poll holds, the north is divided on the issue of a second term for President Buhari and it would take a strong-arm tactics to pull victory through. The recent caucus meeting exposed the frustration within the ruling party. Despite the bold face given to the public, insiders in the presidency say it is well known to party leaders that the party is not surefooted for victory.

Sources disclosed that factions in some state chapters that have fielded of rival governorship candidates are pointers to the reality that some chieftains of the party are either hobnobbing with the opposition or have lost confidence in the ability of the ruling party to retain power.

A senator from one of the Northwest states confided in The Guardian that President Buhari's directives to the military to deal ruthlessly with anyone hijacking ballot boxes was a way of conveying his frustrations with the state of affairs of the party and the campaign for his reelection.He said: "The president does not believe that Tinubu, whom he relinquished much powers to, still maintains control over Southwest votes. There is also lack of coordination in the strategies for the election and the situation is made worse by infighting and narrow schemes. What you should ask yourself is, why the military?"

After Saturday's elections, intriguing developments would unfold and the common refrain would be, where would APC go from here? The north understands the power game and does its homework well unlike other zones.

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