By Salihu Moh. Lukman
In the afternoon of Tuesday, January 12, 2022, there were media reports attributed to sources close to the APC Caretaker Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) claiming that the APC National Convention is postponed from February to June 2022. Shortly following the news of the alleged postponement, the Secretary of the CECPC, Sen. John James Akpanudoedehe issued a statement of rebuttal, calling on the general public to ‘completely disregard fake news on the reported suspension of the planned National Convention’. The statement further informed the public that the CECPC ‘is already embarking on consultations with party stakeholders to prepare the ground for a rancour-free National Convention.’ Sadly, the statement, like previous ones from the CECPC didn’t announce any date and venue for the National Convention. Very disappointingly, the statement said ‘sub-committee on budgeting and other substructures will be set up in due course.’
This is a slap on the face of Nigerians and an insult on party members. How can a statement from ‘a focus-driven, process-oriented political party’, make such a scandalous statement allegedly assuring that a Convention scheduled to hold in February without indicating a date and venue for the Convention? If subcommittees, whether for budget or anything are to be set up, to perhaps mobilise funds for the Convention, why are they not set up with just about two weeks to the end of January?
Somehow, it is difficult not to conclude that the CECPC is intentionally promoting speculations around the APC National Convention by claiming to embark on ‘consultations with party stakeholders to prepare the ground for a rancour-free National Convention.’ Recall that on November 22, 2021, the Chairman of Progressive Governors Forum (PGF), His Excellency Abubakar Atiku Bagudu led a delegation, which include the CECPC Chairman, His Excellency, Mai Mala Buni, to President Muhammadu Buhari to finalise consultations on the date of the Convention. Immediately after the meeting with President Buhari, His Excellency Bagudu announced the agreement reached with President Buhari to the effect that the Convention will hold in February 2022.
With such an agreement, the responsibility of the CECPC is to go ahead and start organising the Convention. With almost two months after, the CECPC has not issued any notice of the Convention to anyone. Not even the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which by the provision of the Electoral Act as amended is required to be given at least 21 days’ notice. It is very difficult not to conclude that both the Chairman and all members of the CECPC have no respect for President Buhari, which is responsible for why they are doing everything possible to sabotage decisions validly taken to hold the APC National Convention in February after consultation with the President.
For whatever reasons, it would appear that the leadership of CECPC are enjoying all the public speculations maligning Governors and some other senior leaders of the party as working to stop the APC National Convention from holding in February 2022. This is most unfortunate. The truth must be told, the responsibility of organising the February 2022 APC National Convention rests squarely with the CECPC. At this point, it will be necessary to remind all members of the CECPC and by extension all leaders of APC that part of the reasons that made it very necessary to dissolve the Comrade Adams Oshiomhole led National Working Committee (NWC) was the disrespect for leaders and members of the party, especially by Comrade Oshiomhole, the former National Chairman of the party. It was on record that during the tenure of Comrade Oshiomhole as National Chairman, the recommendations of party leaders and members were hardly considered.
The CECPC leadership have returned the party back to mode of open disrespect for any recommendation given. It is even worse now given that the CECPC is ready to sacrifice the future of the party. Clearly, what is steering us in the face is that all the bad leadership records under Comrade Oshiomhole led NWC is about to be met and outstripped by the present CECPC. This clearly raises question about political leadership recruitment approaches in the country. Unless this is addressed, as a party, APC may continue to change leaders, but the problem will remain. APC, being a party envisioned to facilitate the process of political change in Nigeria, must appropriately use the present challenges to begin to introduce changes to the process of political leadership recruitment in Nigeria.
However, the first challenge now is to ensure that the CECPC has no option but to organise the APC National Convention in February 2022 as decided based on all the consultations that has taken place. The CECPC must be told that all consultations about organising the Convention ended with the meeting with President Buhari on November 22, 2021 and therefore the CECPC leadership should stop lying to Nigerians and APC members. The CECPC should also stop claiming that it is waiting for the meeting of Progressive Governors before it takes all the necessary decisions to commence the process of organising the Convention. Such a claim is not only dishonest but also taking the support of Progressive Governors for granted, which is why Progressive Governors have been reduced to punching bags of all party members regarding all the challenges facing the party.
Progressive Governors, like all party members will not associate themselves with any act of disrespect to decisions validly taken in consultations with President Buhari. They will not take the responsibility of actions or inactions of the CECPC. Every responsibility of organising the Convention is vested with the CECPC. Therefore, in the event that the CECPC is unable to implement the decision to hold the Convention in February 2022, as decided, the leadership of the CECPC should honourably resign to save the APC, its leaders (including Progressive Governors) and members from the current spate of avoidable public embarrassment, simply because the leadership of the CECPC have decided to disrespect the decision to hold the APC National Convention in February.
At this point, we must appeal to all APC leaders to take the issue of leadership recruitment beyond the question of loyalty. Given that already, 2023 electoral atmosphere is gradually setting, the temptation that choices of leaders of the party will be based on permutation for 2023 will be very significant. Once that is the case, the probability will be high that the soul of APC will be sacrificed in the process of assembling new leaders. Party leaders need to adopt some minimum guiding principles to determine the qualification of potential party leaders especially the National Chairman. Some of the recommendations include:
1. Any potential candidate must have good relations will party leaders at national level, especially President Buhari.
2. The candidate must also have good relations with all party leaders in his/her state, including the Governor, where there is an APC government.
3. It should be a strong advantage when the aspiring person has played any role during the merger negotiation that produced APC and has been consistent in the party since 2013. This means such a parson would have the needed institutional memory to recognise and respect sacrifices made by party leaders and members to make the merger that produce the APC successful.
4. It should be a strong disadvantage when any aspiring candidate has records of defection from the party or any of the legacy parties that merged to form the APC.
5. Finally, public service experience will not only be an advantage but a measure of determining the democratic credentials of the candidate. Any candidate with public service experience at whatever level without incontestable records of achievements, such a person can not inspire any party member and by extension Nigerians into believing that his/her leadership can bring any good electoral fortune for the party.
Without any fear of contradiction, ideally, APC should have been the pride of Nigerian democracy given that it is the only party in the political history of Nigeria that successfully go through political merger negotiations and produced a new party. It is also the only opposition party in the history of Nigeria that defeated a ruling party in 2015. Unfortunately, reckless party leadership is diminishing all these excellent political credentials. APC leaders must wake up to the responsibility of resolving the leadership challenges facing the party. Part of what is required at this point is to commence leadership engagement towards consensus building on a number of these issues and assess all the so-called aspirants. Where necessary, APC leaders may wish to stretch the search for a National Chairman beyond current aspirants.
APC need a National Chairman who is humble, with very good relations and respect among both party leaders and members. Steps must be taken to ensure that APC National Chairman and other members of the NWC do not reduce themselves into extorting parting leaders, especially aspiring candidates. APC leaders must take every step to avoid vesting the responsibility of the National Chairman of the party on another ‘emperor’ who will end up conducting affairs of the party with absolute disrespect and contempt for decisions taken. APC need a National Chairman who can provide every level playing field for the internal party electoral contest for 2023. Any new National Chairman of APC who can lead the party to electoral victory in 2023 must not be a surrogate to any aspirant for 2023 Presidential contest. Similarly, such a person must be ready to control other members of the NWC from demonstrating bias in favour of any candidate for 2023 Presidential contest within the party.
Being a humble National Chairman, such a person must be ready to subordinate himself/herself to party leaders at local levels. A situation whereby as National Chairman, the person become overbearing to leaders at state level must not be acceptable. There should not be any debate or contest about who should exercise leadership at state level. The model should be what exists between President Buhari and leaders of the party in Katsina State. It is a known fact that President Buhari doesn’t interfere with activities of the party in Katsina State based on which party leaders in Katsina State are able to take every decision on party matters. However, the National Chairman and party leaders at state level should be encouraged to develop structured processes of consultations to ensure that the political interest of the National Chairman is protected in the state. Similarly, the National Chairman must also accept to protect the political interest of other leaders from the state, especially any serving Governor of his home state.
Beyond the National Chairman, APC leaders must also take every necessary step to elect very competent Deputy National Chairmen (North and South). It is important that the two Deputy National Chairmen to be elected are people with integrity. In addition to Deputy National Chairmen, positions of National Secretary, National Legal Adviser, National Organising Secretary and National Publicity Secretary must be head hunted. Individuals with good records of public service, very competent and committed to the party should be identified based on which the positions are zoned to states where they come from. The approach to blind zoning and trusting the judgement of party leaders to produce candidates who would occupy these offices will only produce cronies with hardly any consideration about their competence. If any of these offices are to be zoned to any state, it must be based on clear identification of particular party leaders from the state.
The more the party continue to allow the leadership of the CECPC to continue to hold everyone captive and refuse to commence the process of organising the February APC National Convention, the more party leaders would have supported the CECPC in weakening the electoral prospect of the APC. Largely on account of delaying the implementation of decision to organise the February APC National Convention, there is hardly any internal party preparation for the 2023 electoral contest beyond individual leaders declaring their personal aspirations for offices. Without any prejudice to the aspirations of leaders, it is important that the party is able to set some minimum standards for the 2023 campaigns so that individual aspirants can orient their internal party mobilisation around those minimum standards. APC must not make the mistake of orientating its internal party mobilisation for the emergence of candidates for 2023 elections, especially Presidential Candidate only based on personality contest.
Personality contest will only weaken the APC and undermine the capacity of the party to link its 2023 electoral contest with the achievements of the party, especially the Federal Government led by President Buhari. Once that is the case, the party will be strengthening the false opposition narrative about the failure of APC and President Buhari. If APC want to unassailably win the 2023 elections, it must take all the necessary steps to correct this false narrative. This can only start happening if everyone, APC leaders and members, rise to the challenge of ensuring that the CECPC faithfully implement the decision to organise the APC National Convention in February 2022. A major indicator for this would also include a review of the APC manifesto at the Convention.
Unless the CECPC has given itself the new responsibility of being the political and electoral undertaker of the APC, it must stop promoting some subversive campaigns suggesting that it is undertaking ‘the immediate task of addressing contestations within the Party, litigations, fallouts of recently conducted Congresses and generally reposition the Party ahead of the National Convention.’ Once this is the case, it simply means the CECPC’s new objective is probably to take APC to its political grave. This should not be acceptable!
This position does not represent the view of any APC Governor or the Progressive Governors Forum.
Salihu Moh. Lukman is the Director General of the Progressive Governors Forum, Abuja.