The cracks within Nigeria’s ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) became pronounced during the local government congress of the party held nationwide penultimate Saturday.
The crisis and infighting reached its crescendo last Saturday when the party held its state congresses across the country.
The congresses, staged to elect new leaders for the party in Nigeria’s 36 states and Abuja, revealed that the ruling party has been unable to resolve its differences as parallel congresses were held in many states.
The split of the party in many states governed by APC and others showed that there is unsettled rift among top leaders of the party, including those holding sensitive elective and appointive positions in the federal government.
While the state congresses revealed non-cohesive party structures across the states, the developments are fallouts of supremacy wars that had been raging within the party among the power brokers, long before the congresses were held.
Here is a look into the intrigues and conspiracies that snowballed into what was witnessed during the congresses in three of the affected states––Kwara, Lagos and Oyo.
In Kwara, the battle for the soul of the party since its creation on February 6, 2013, has been between the scion of the Saraki dynasty who is also Nigeria’s Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed.
Mr Saraki is the son of Olusola Saraki, a former Nigerian Senate Leader and formidable political leader in Kwara State.
Shortly before the death of the older (Olusola) Saraki, Mr (Bukola) Saraki has strategically positioned himself as the leader of Kwara politics.
His candidate, the incumbent Abdulfatah Ahmed, had defeated his father’s preferred candidate and his (Bukola’s) own sister, Gbemisola Saraki, to emerge the state governor in 2011.
The victory validated Mr Saraki’s emergence, fetching him the title “Leader” among political stalwarts in the state.
His late father’s popular house located in the old GRA part of Ilorin, known as ‘Ile Arugbo’, is a political Mecca of sorts for the hoi polloi and other appendages of power in the state.
Mr Saraki has been in charge of the house since his death. He is effectively the new godfather of Kwara politics while Mr Mohammed on the other hand, although considered influential in national politics, is believed not to possess such a clout in the state.
‘Majority’ Town Vs. ‘Minority’ Town
A significant part of the politics of the state is defined by religion, culture and the perceived strength of a politician’s place of birth. Mr Saraki is scion of Olusola Saraki with links to Agbaji area of central Ilorin, the state capital. Mr Mohammed, on the other hand, hails from Oro in Irepodun Local Government Area of the state.
While Ilorin, the state capital with huge voting population, is considered an influential voting bloc in the state, Oro cannot boast of such equal political influence. These dynamics, inconsequential as they appear on the surface, determine the power politicians from the respective places can exert in the party.
The nPDP Debacle
The APC was formed in 2013 as a merger of different political blocs. It was the result of an alliance of Nigeria’s three biggest opposition parties – the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) – and a faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), which merged to tackle then ruling People’s Democratic Party.
In November 2013, five serving governors from the governing PDP defected to the APC. The governors, who formed what was known as the nPDP (New PDP), included Chibuike Amaechi (Rivers), Abdulfatah Ahmed (Kwara), Rabiu Kwankwaso (Kano), Murtala Nyako (Adamawa), and Aliyu Wamakko (Sokoto).
At the time of the defection, analysts believed the structure of the APC in Kwara State was effectively in the hands of some old ACN stalwarts among whom is Mr Mohammed, who had acted as the publicity secretary of the ACN and was retained in the same position in the APC.
But the defection of Governor Ahmed, a political sidekick of Mr Saraki, changed the dynamics of power in the party.
The power game was shifted with the influx of numerous serving nPDP lawmakers, both at the state and the federal levels, including Mr Saraki himself, who was at the time a senator.
But the party managed to maintain its fragile structure prior to the 2015 elections, winning a number of elective positions. The incompatibility of interests, however, remained.
The conflicts resurfaced a few weeks before the state congress when members of the old nPDP alleged that they were not given a sense of belonging in the party.
On Saturday, factions in the state chapter of the party held parallel congresses in the state. While the faction loyal to the Senate President held its congress at the Banquet Hall opposite the Government House, Mr Mohammed’s faction held its own at Arca Santa Event Hall.
Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed; APC National Publicity Secretary, Bolaji Abdullahi; a senator, Shaaba Lafiaji; and lawmakers representing the state at the National Assembly and state House of Assembly were present at the congress held at the Banquet Hall.
On the other hand, some former loyalists of Mr Saraki joined the other faction led by Mr Mohammed. They include Moshood Mustapha, a former Special Assistant to the Senate President on Special Duties and Inter-Parliamentary Affairs; Raheem Adedoyin, a former Commissioner for Information under the Saraki administration; and a former Secretary to the State Government under the Saraki administration, Ganiyu Cook-Olododo.
The composition of members at the parallel congresses shows that the crack within the party is deeper and it would need serious reconciliation efforts to get things right in the state.
Also, Mr Mohammed is a known loyalist of ex-Lagos governor Bola Tinubu, who vehemently opposed Mr Saraki’s emergence as senate president. Mr Tinubu eventually accepted Mr Saraki’s emergence after reconciliation efforts, but both men are still believed to be political adversaries. Observers believe the Kwara APC crisis might be Mr Tinubu’s way of taking the APC structure in the state away from Mr Saraki.
In Oyo state, the battle for supremacy is between the state governor, Abiola Ajimobi, and the Minister of Communication, Adebayo Shittu.
There are other interests on the sideline, particularly among aggrieved federal lawmakers in the state, who rallied together under the umbrella of what they called “Unity Forum”.
But the conflict dates back to the years of the ACN, before the formation of the All Progressives Congress.
The ACN, before the 2011 elections in the state, had two distinct camps: those loyal to a former governor of the state and leader of the party, Lam Adesina, and those in support of the gubernatorial candidate of the party, Mr Ajimobi. The late Mr Adesina’s camp were known as ‘Lamists’ while those loyal to Mr Ajimobi were tagged ‘SENACO’ – a name purportedly derived from the governor’s campaign sloganeering.
Lamists Vs. SENACO
Shortly before the death of Mr Adesina, there had been insinuations in the party (ACN) that the ‘Lamists’ were being sidelined in the scheme of things. But the animosity was not pronounced until the death of the late politician and the formation of the APC.
The cracks became visible in December 2016 when some members of the ‘Lamist’ group alleged that the governor was planning to impose candidates on party members in the then scheduled local government election fixed for February 2017. The conflict later degenerated into sharp division in the party, snowballing into the full scale controversy that tore it apart in the violent ward congress held penultimate Saturday and the just concluded state congress.
Old ACN Vs CPC debacle
Mr Shittu, the minister, is believed to be a loyalist of President Muhammadu Buhari from their days in the CPC. Mr Shittu was the gubernatorial candidate of the party in 2011, when Mr Buhari contested as president.
Since the formation of the APC, Messrs Shittu and Ajimobi have been at loggerheads in their struggle for the control of the party. Mr Shittu, reportedly banking on ‘federal support’ has been wrestling the structure with the governor, after he was reportedly denied the governorship ticket in 2015.
In 2016, Mr Ajimobi, reports said, stood against Mr Shittu’s selection as the minister from the state on the ground that ”he didn’t work for the success of the party in the elections”.
The battle for supremacy is also being fought by old members of the CPC loyal to Mr Shittu and those of the ACN, loyal to Mr Ajimobi.
Meanwhile, events of the past few weeks have shown that Mr Shittu found worthy allies in other aggrieved elected lawmakers in the party, together with whom he has been wrestling the structure with Mr Ajimobi. Collectively, they are known as “Unity Forum”.
Based on the composition of the “Unity Forum” faction, those against the governor include son of the late Mr Adesina, Dapo Lam-Adesina; members of the House of Representatives including Sunbo Olugbemi (Oluyole), Taiwo Akintola (Egbeda/Ona Ara), Sunday Adepoju (Ido/Ibarapa East), Abiodun Olasupo(Iseyin/Itesiwaju/Iwajowa), Segun Ogunwuyi (Ogbomoso North/Ogbomoso South/ Orire), Bosun Oladele (Irepo/Olorunsogo/Orelope), Gbenga Ojoawo (Ibarapa North/Ibarapa Central). There is also a senator representing Oyo Central, Monsurat Sunmonu; Adeolu Akande, a gubernatorial hopeful, among others.
On the other hand, Mr Ajimobi has been able to mend fences with a former governor of the state, Adebayo Alao-Akala.
Until recently, the APC in Lagos is believed to be a cohesive whole under the leadership of a former governor of the state and national leader of the party, Bola Tinubu. Even though Mr Tinubu’s preferred candidates including incumbent state governor, AKinwunmi Ambode, had been challenged in party primaries in the past, the party still appeared indivisible under Mr Tinubu’s leadership.
But trouble began when Fouad Oki, a former loyalist of Mr Tinubu, rebelled against the mainstream leadership, splitting the party.
Earlier in February, Mr Oki launched a movement in opposition to the party leadership, stating that the movement was out to ”correct the party’s lack of internal democracy and wanton imposition of candidates”. The movement was called the Broom United Movement.
‘Broom United’ faction
At the launch of the group in Lagos, Mr Oki, said the group is a coalition of all members ”in one big and united enclave that will accommodate all shades of opinion, views and aspirations in a collective and healthy competitive atmosphere.”
“Our party suffers from low organisational capacity and lack of internal democracy,” Mr. Oki said. “The resultant effect of this has been its incapacity to support our democracy as expected. Its inability to serve many important functions, including citizen mobilisation, interest aggregation, public policy formulation, leadership recruitment and government organisation.
“This apparent weakness underscores the need for reform and institutionalisation of a process whereby professionals become more central to the running of our party.”
A History of ‘Imposition’ of Candidates
Mr Oki’s accusation of “imposition” of candidates on the party is not the first one. In 2014, dozens of party members marched to the office of the then governor, Babatunde Fashola, to protest against the imposition of candidates for elective positions.
In an interview with PREMIUM TIMES a few months later, the party’s National Legal Adviser and a former commissioner in the state, Muiz Banire, also spoke out strongly against the “tendency of imposition on the people” in the party. Mr Banire has since been at loggerheads with the party leadership in the state.
Muiz Banire as “Opposition Within”?
Last year, Mr Banire threatened to sue the immediate past chairman of the party in the state, Henry Ajomale, for alleged defamation.
The threat came after Mr. Ajomale, while reacting to a court ruling ordering a fresh primary election in Odi-Olowo local council, accused Mr. Banire of misleading the judge.
Earlier, some party members had approached a Lagos High Court seeking the cancellation of the party primaries which ended in violence. Mr Ajomale accused Mr Banire of sabotaging the court processes, thus exposing the party to ridicule, a charge to which Mr Banire threatened a lawsuit and N500 million compensation.
The controversy within the party also snowballed into the dispute over the reported demolition of Mr Banire’s mother’s property in Lagos last November. The plan prompted the official to sue Mr Ambode, whom he said ”was persecuting him”.
On Saturday, Mr Banire was not present at either of the parallel congresses held in the state, a move political watchers described as strategic in the context of the animosity between him and the party leadership.
Apart from Mr Banire, another pointer to a possible weakness in the structure of the party in the state was the absence of Mr Fashola (who is now a minister) in the scheme of things. Mr Fashola’s input has been conspicuously absent in the affairs of the party in the state, a pointer to the fact that all may not be well between him and the party leadership.
Although Messrs Fashola and Banire were absent at the factional state congress held by Mr Oki, their stance on happenings in the party in the state are similar to Mr Oki’s who is believed to enjoyed their tacit support.
Maruf Asudemade, a public affairs analyst, noted that the way forward is for the national leadership of the APC to rework the constitution of the party to take the leadership of the party away from the governors and engender party supremacy.
“The challenges of factional division threatening to tear state chapters of APC are not peculiar to the party alone,” Mr Asudemade said in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES Monday afternoon.
“Other parties also have same factional divisions. However, as a party whose mantra is built on ‘change’, one expects a deviation from the norms of putting parties at the whims and caprices of state governors who are using the opportunity of being the leaders of the party in the state to curry every political favour to their side. As it stands now, some governors stand to lose (their) party structures to the majority faction who seems to have the ears of the presidency.
“Parallel congresses have been conducted and what was surprising is that INEC officials and committee on congresses from the national headquarters of the party were on hand to coordinate the parallel congresses. After the party’s national convention, one foresees an intervention from the national leadership by way of harmonising the results of the parallel congresses to pacify the factions at war. Yet, some governors stand to lose their relevance in the scheme of things, especially now that most of them are winding down their second tenure in office.
“One surmises that the challenges of factional division will persist unless APC returns to the sanity of party supremacy. It is high time parties stopped empowering individuals at the expense of institutions,” he said.
Strong individuals and weak institutions will continue to weaken Nigeria’s democracy and the masses because of whom democracy is being practised will always be at the receiving end, he added.
For Akinola Sikiru, a political analyst, there is need for those identified by the mainstream APC establishment in the states where there were parallel congresses to bury their differences and mend fences with aggrieved party members.
Speaking specifically about the case of Oyo State, he opined that the governor needs to extend the olive branch if he truly wants genuine reconciliation.
“These people have had to stomach many things,” he said of the aggrieved factional leaders. “It was when they were pushed to the wall that they voiced out their grievances.
“Imagine a governor choosing 68 chairmanship candidates and 602 councillorship candidates all by himself. This was after many aspirants had purchased forms. Some even borrowed money. For the past six years, the governor has not deemed it fit to meet members of the National Assembly from Oyo State.
“Unknown to the governor, his enemies keep increasing on daily basis. The Unity Forum is not a Lamists’ thing alone. It’s only populated by majority of the late governor’s loyalists. They are people who have, one way or the other, helped the governor. As a leader and somebody who has many things to lose, he needs to meet the aggrieved party men, talk to them assure them of their places in the party.”
Speaking in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital at the weekend, Bolaji Abdullahi, the spokesperson of the party said the APC would not recognise parallel congresses organised in places the party had no representative in.
He said, “I have only one message; you may have heard that some people are gathered somewhere, saying that they are organising another congress.
“I was to reaffirm that the only congress that is recognised by our party, is the congress organised by the committee that the party has sent; any other congress is an exercise in futility,” he said.
How much Mr Abdullahi’s statement will hold sway in the final decision on the parallel congresses is yet unclear, especially as the current national leadership of the party, of which Mr Abdullahi is a member, is expected to leave office in June.
As the party prepares for its national convention in June, it is unclear whether the various disgruntled elements across the states would agree to reconcile.
Yet, however the pendulum swings, what is crystal clear is that, like it happened to the then ruling PDP, the divisions, ultimately, would have an effect on the fortunes of the APC ahead of the 2019 general elections.