Nigeria: Is APC Changing Ownership?

Edo State House of Assembly

I think the Yobe State Governor, Mai-Mala Buni is currently the Acting Chairman of the ruling APC.

For those of us who follow Nigerian politics on a day by day basis, it has been a whirlwind of a week. A few days ago, the party chairman was Adams Oshiomhole. Then a court threw him out, and we all know courts have no basis determining who runs parties but this is Nigeria. Another court then decided that the Acting Assistant General Secretary, Victor Giadom is the new Acting Chairman, rather confusing as the party has a number of Deputy Chairman, who, one would have thought, should take over. This was the argument made by the former chairman's group who then appointed Deputy Chairman Abiola Ajimobi as Acting Chairman. It turned out Ajimobi was in intensive care in a hospital and was not immediately available to take the seat. Given the situation, another Deputy Chairman, Hilliard Eta, we learnt, would act for the other acting chairman who was not available. Are you still following me, I know it's all rather confusing? To consolidate this position, the Hilliard Eta group then expelled Victor Giadom from the party, remembering he had not too long ago resigned temporarily from his position to contest for another position in his state. I was trying to understand the appropriateness of this expulsion when I saw an announcement from President Buhari that the "expelled" Ogiadom is the legally recognised Acting Chairman of the party and he has called for a National Executive Committee meeting of the party for yesterday, which the president said he would be attending in his dual capacity as a loyal party man and believer in the rule of law.

Just after the president had called on all the National Executive Committee (NEC) members to attend the meeting, the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party announced that the convening of NEC was done illegally by Giadom and they called on all loyal members of the party to boycott the NEC meeting. For a political scientist like me, it's confusing for NWC to call a meeting of its superior organ, NEC illegal because it is NEC that appoints NWC to help it with day to day running of the affairs of the party. Be that as it may, NEC held, the president attended it and the fifth chair of the party emerged in as many days. Wow. Not surprisingly, NEC disbanded NWC and appointed another one under the Yobe governor. The expectation is that this weekend, interested parties will rush to the courts to get Yobe State Governor, Mai-Mala Buni removed as Acting Chairman as the struggle continues.

In a normal political system, this narrative would not make sense. Party organs rather than courts will determine party leadership. If there are factional disputes that arise, party elders would intervene to create peace and negotiate a compromise. The reality is that we do not have a normal party system. The National Executive Committee rarely meets and the National Working Committee members are imposed by the chairman and leader of the party - the OWNERS. The ruling party does not even have a Board of Trustees and decisions are taken unilaterally by the former, former, former chairman to displace or exclude others leading to numerous rounds of crisis. For the past few years, two individuals own the APC. The then Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole and the Party Leader, Bola Tinubu. I have asked party insiders whether the leader is a formal position and the unanimous answer I receive is that leader means owner. The narrative is that he has to keep total control of the party as he has presidential ambitions for 2023, which can only be realised if he remains the owner of the party and has an effective chairman that can carry out orders.

I am aware that in normal political systems, parties are owned by members who elect or remove leaders as they please. Unfortunately, that is not the case in Nigeria. Adams had to go because other forces also want to be in contention for the presidency in 2023; so Adams must go so that they can come into the fray, after all, the way we characterise our system is godfatherism. In this system, godfathers will remain in total control until another godfather is able to overthrow them and takeover control. That is what all the drama is about.

Recall April 2011, when elected Governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole visited with Oba Erediauwa of Benin to brief his Royal Highness that the godfather of Edo politics, Chief Tony Anenih has been defeated and sent into political retirement. Adams Oshiomhole returned to the theme of godfatherism on 28th September 28 2016, when he formally announced the complete termination of godfatherism in the state. The occasion was the defeat of Osagie Ize-Iyamu of the PDP by his own imposed candidate, Godwin Obaseki. He formally declared that he had eliminated all the remaining godfathers in the state naming specifically Tom Ikimi, Gabriel Igbinedion and Raymond Dokpesi as the last eliminated godfathers after the earlier ouster of Tony Anenih: "We have humbled Chief Tom Ikimi even in the local government he claimed to have created. We defeated Chief Raymond Dokpesi in his polling unit, his ward and his local government," he said.

One person in the audience, newly elected Governor Obaseki did not understand the message. He thought the announcement was about the end of godfatherism. He was to find out soon that what was said was not what was meant. The message was that Adams was the new godfather. When the godfather gave instructions to godson Obaseki, who naively thought he was governor, the crisis began that ended up with his disqualification for a second term and the crisis that affected the whole party.

The problem around the politics of godfatherism is that the only interest that matters is that of the godfather. On the scale of godfatherism, Adams Oshiomhole scores high because of his three core competences - street fighting, transaction politics and taking no prisoners. These are the skills to be deployed to determine success for the widely speculated 2023 political ambition of a former Lagos state governor, Bola Tinubu. The problem is that the skills are used in a zero-sum game to totally eliminate the other and in the process the baby is often thrown with the bath water as the party might not survive the process. For godfathers however, survival of the party is not important as new parties can be formed, procured or stolen to continue the struggle for total power.

Let me be clear, the other side too are playing the same politics. A number of governors such as Ekiti, Kayode Fayemi; Kebbi, Atiku Bagudu; Plateau, Simon Lalong; Kaduna, Nasir El-Rufai; Jigawa, Badaru Abubakar and Niger, Abubakar Bello are working hard with some ministers such as Rotimi Amaechi to destroy Mr. Oshiomhole's grip on the party and suffocate Bola Tinubu's presidential ambition. That is their own pathway to power. Over the coming days and weeks, we shall see whether there are new owners of the APC or the old owners have kept their control. The only thing we know for sure about Nigerian politics is that when someone is defeated and another takes over, it is extremely difficult to tell who the winner is. This is not surprising, after all, the technical definition of political godfatherism is that the person with the power is not the person with the power. Are you still following?

RIP Abiola Ajimobi

Just as I was about to send in my column, I learnt of the sad death of Abiola Ajimobi who featured in my narrative. May his gentle soul rest in perfect peace.

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