President Muhammadu Buhari and governors under the aegis of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) on Tuesday January 22, 2022 rose from a consultative meeting and finally laid to rest speculations about zoning of the party’s national offices. By a simple play of musical chairs, the APC leaders announced they would be swapping roles between the North and South. Thus, offices in the National Working Committee hitherto occupied by northerners in the last eight years will shift to southerners.
It was a welcome development especially as it disappointed those who have gone to town in recent times crowing about the imminent disintegration of the ruling party over an alleged inability of its leaders to agree on anything. Still, it is not yet uhuru. The APC must now sit down and transform this record accord into election-winning strategy by making sure that each post goes where it will garner the most electoral benefits for her given existing power dynamics in the Nigerian political space in the build-up to the 2023 general elections.
This is only possible by a clear-headed SWOT analysis that is based on the reality on ground in each geopolitical zone within the context of the overall national balance of power between the APC and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-led opposition. It goes without saying now that where the party sends the position of National Chairman within the North to which it has been micro-zoned is of utmost importance.
To my thinking, the most compelling criteria for the choice of the next APC National Chairman from Northern Nigeria should be based on at least five fundamental factors, namely current strength of the party in the selected zone, the candidate’s antecedence, his acceptance within the party, his national diversity rating, political experience and overall state of health. We will now examine the following:
The current strength of the APC in the state from which he or she will emerge and the strategic imperative of using the office to garner strength where the party is relatively weak; the candidate’s leadership persona translated in terms of charisma, persuasiveness, acceptability within the party, capacity to rally members using party structures as well as in-depth knowledge of party processes and procedures; the proven national influence and network of the individual, especially capacity to quickly feel the political pulse of a situation and respond constructively or of a constituency and reach across diverse political stakes and platforms for a resolution; cognate experience in high political leadership, with clear line of sight, ie, hindsight to recognise common pitfalls or advantages and evolve, and political foresight to drive for success while avoiding the inevitable rabbit holes that enthrall and distract an inexperienced leader and; strong mental and physical fitness for, among other reasons, hitting the ground running on the inevitable tour of reconciliation across the 36 states and the FCT and going through the rigors of leading a presidential campaign across the length and breadth of the country so soon after his emergence.
Once the above five factors are accounted for, and in order to make sure no geopolitical zone is marginalized or excluded, or feels so, the APC must go further to align them with the political considerations that will play out in 2023. Many of such considerations are already very visible right now and proving to be extremely divisive within both the governing party and even pretenders to the throne, such as the PDP.
For instance, the question of where the next presidential candidate of the APC comes from will take bearing from where her next national chairman emerges from. It is a fact that out of the three geopolitical zones in the North, only the North Central has not enjoyed any stint in the seat of power in a democracy since independence in 1960, either as President or Vice President, and that includes in this fourth republic.
The people of the North Central have recently risen in unison against what they call the near default zoning of the national chairmanship of ruling political parties to them once it is the turn of the North while the other two geopolitical zones (GPZs) rotate and savour the two highest jobs. There is now a groundswell of support for such bodies as the North Central Renaissance Movement (NCRM) which campaigns to withdraw the zone’s support from any party that dumps the chairmanship on them again on the journey to 2023. Of course, one cannot blame the people of the zone. The premise is that parties send their national chairmanship position to the zone they want to exclude, ab initio, from the presidential race, and a people is entitled, not only to wonder why they must always be the ones to get the short end of that stick but to reject it as the pendulum starts to oscillate towards them again.
To further underlay their seriousness on this matter the region, which hosts the Federal Capital Territory, has promised to rally with their votes to the party which puts one of them on the ballot for the Presidency. As all political parties know, the North Central owns the second largest voting turnout among Nigeria’s geopolitical zones, going by the 2019 presidential elections. Thus, their threat or discontent on this matter of a national chairman should not be trifled with, at least not by the APC to which they gave nearly half a million more votes in 2019 than they gave the PDP.
Moreover, if INEC is to be believed, electoral votes have become too organic and too technical to be manipulated on any scale large enough to affect electoral outcomes. With the barrage of citizen advocates and groups springing up all over the region around this cause, the APC must not dismiss their threats lightly or it may end up discovering that they were serious the hard way. In fact, it would be most unwise for the party to toy with the disenchantment of a zone where five APC states effectively encircle the PDP’s sole outpost.
Wide-ranging logic and strategy, not sentiments, are therefore the best tools to use in choosing a national chairman for the APC that will be acceptable to all the differing positions. While 2023 presidential permutations alone may not be the most compelling argument for where its national chairman should come from, it should not be lost on the APC that this is a strong factor that will affect voting patterns in the 2023 Presidential race.
In the circumstances, if the APC chooses to tread with caution and side-steps the brewing rebellion against perceived marginalisation in the North Central geopolitical zone logic and strategy would dictate the APC’s National Chairman must come from a state in the North West or North East which does not currently have an APC governor on seat. By ceding this very influential position to such a state, the APC will shore up her political weight in that state for future elections.
As of today, among the 19 states of the North, the APC has 14, leaving five states to the PDP. It is thus strategically wise and logically adds value for the APC to further deplete the electoral value in those PDP states by strategic selection of her National Chairman and other offices from them. Let us break it down further by geopolitical zones and states.
In the North West, the only state without an APC governor is Sokoto State. Tambuwal, the sitting governor of the state is likely to run for the presidency under PDP. If he gets his party’s ticket, it is clear that even having a National Chairman from that state will not win it for the APC because the people of Sokoto will want to have a repeat of Shagari by having another of their sons occupy the exalted seat of the President of the country. It will therefore not be strategic for APC to pick its Chairman from Sokoto as there will be no significant positive impact. It needs to look elsewhere while working hard to divide the PDP’s votes in Sokoto and simultaneously maximise her electoral gains in six of the seven states in that North West geopolitical zone that it controls.
Let us move to the North Central which consists of six states. Five of those states are under the firm grip of APC governors. It used to be all of them but Ortom of Benue State defected to the PDP. Incidentally the PDP has already gone to Benue State to pick their National Chairman in person of Mr. Iyorchia Ayu. It is a most unwise choice by the PDP, if I am allowed to posit. It does not strengthen the electoral chances of the main opposition party in any way because it is most likely to continue winning there in future elections for as long as the Governor is in its fold. While this is a rather strange assessment, it is the correct one and simply part of Nigeria’s peculiar electoral realities. Aside Benue, the geopolitical zone is expected to go with the APC in 2023 and for as long as the existing five to one status quo remains.
In the North East there are six states, three are under the APC, and the other three are under the PDP creating ample room for a tie-breaker play. With the permutations favoring the North West and the North Central to remain firmly APC in the 2023 presidential race, the North East geopolitical zone is the go to place for the APC in her search for an impactful national chairman. If the APC is wise, it will look outside the three states she has in her kitty already, that is, Borno, Yobe, and Gombe. That leaves Taraba, Adamawa or Bauchi.
Adamawa is the state of the former Vice President, Mr. Atiku Abubakar whose influence there is already towering. On top of that he is also seeking to run again for president under the PDP in 2023. Whether we admit it or not, Atiku is a former Vice President, and still has a very strong political grip on the electoral jugular of Adamawa State. This is a state where he has previously been elected Governor, been nominated and won as Vice President and which has been his base in virtually all presidential elections since 2007. His network in the state will still remain strong whether he is in the 2023 election or not. The APC will also not have President Buhari on the ballot in 2023 so Atiku’s influence needs strong countering from some other quarter.
Fortunately, Mr. Boss Mustapha, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) hails from Adamawa State. His political influence, while not at par with Atiku’s is enough to split Adamawa votes to keep APC reasonably relevant there. Hence, APC is advised to avoid Adamawa in her search for a national chairman, which leaves us with Bauchi and Taraba for the eminent position.
Taraba State has been under the strong influence of the PDP for as long as this fourth republic has lasted. Taraba has always gone with the PDP, we have but less than one year to the next general election and going there for a National Chairman may not really bring the value that we need considering the shortage of time that we have. Moreover, there is more at stake in Bauchi than Taraba for the APC. In the 2019 presidential elections, Taraba gave the APC 324,906 and the PDP 374,743, not an earth-shaking margin. On the other hand, Bauchi delivered 798,428 votes to the APC and a miserly 209,313 to the PDP indicating that the APC has a golden vein of support among the populace that she can tap into for 2023. If we mine with the tool of a local boy who is widely acceptable by his people, we can repeat 2019 in 2023 in Bauchi. Fortunately for the APC it does have at least two persons who fit the profile perfectly.
Number One is former Governor of the state, Mr. Isa Yuguda. My opinion and advice to the APC would be that he is the perfect candidate for a consensus National Chairman of the APC from the North. He has won two gubernatorial elections for himself in Bauchi State, he was a striker in the APC’s line up for the 2019 presidential election campaigns and he helped to beat the incumbent governor and the PDP silly in that contest as illustrated in the figures above. As an added incentive he is a cosmopolitan Nigerian indeed whose reach, network and friendships are sufficiently national in outlook so that striking the accords necessary to run the party effortlessly would be easy for him. He is also of that rare breed of crossover politicians who moves seamlessly between the elites and the grassroots and is trusted well enough by both classes. Yuguda is also a son-in-law to the powerful Yar’Adua dynasty of Katsina State, another massive voting bloc for the APC which gave the party 1,232,133 in 2019 and only 308,056 to the PDP. As Chairman of the APC, he will come with panache, but more importantly with people who can help the APC win elections across state lines.
In the case that Yuguda does not fly, and I do not know of any lawful or unlawful reason why he should not if the APC is out to win elections and not merely get in her own way with tribal and religious politics, I would suggest another excellent pick in the person of Yakubu Dogara, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives from 2015 to 2019. While in Office, he presided over strong political stakeholders from at least 360 constituencies in Nigeria. Some of them are currently serving in the same House, the Senate, or in some other high capacity at party or national levels. He has the capacity, reach and network to bring more people to vote for APC. His brief stint in the PDP after leaving office before decamping back to the APC is a minus but it could be a plus too, as he can reach across party lines to friends in the opposition to help him in any office, including national chairmanship of the APC. He is relatively young and will appeal to Nigeria’s burgeoning youth demographic which has recently begun to pull political weight.
The North East is thus the perfect geopolitical zone for the APC to source her next national chairman from and Bauchi is the state to go. Despite APC’s overwhelming win there with President Buhari on the ballot in 2019, the party still lost to the PDP in the last gubernatorial elections and needs to retake it in 2023. A Yuguda or Yakubu chairmanship will vastly improve APC’s chances of getting back Bauchi and building the party for the future – the former much more than the latter.
In conclusion, if the APC is to retain the Presidency in 2023 and remain a formidable party in Nigeria, the current sentimental approach over legacy party, promise or fail, disregard of health status, disregard of the mood of the nation, hubristic belief that Nigerians can be cajoled to endorse any nonsense that politicians come up with, including empty North/South zoning or religious and tribal favouritism must stop immediately and make way for clear-headed political assessments such as this one.
I hope the APC leadership right up to the President is serious about winning elections and not just playing to the shifting galleries of parochial opinions. If they are, they will take this free counsel to heart. If not, the party might as well start now to pack her load out of Aso Rock Presidential Villa.
Abubakar Kago writes from ABU Zaria, Kaduna State.
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