By Ehichioya Ezomon
Many polity watchers, and party members, even across the political divide, hold President Muhammadu Buhari as lacking the requisites for politicking, simply on account of his not perceptively involved in “fixing” party members in elective positions.
Save for his aspiration to be president, Buhari has been overly un-interfering, and noncommittal in party affairs, and the choice of candidates in the four political platforms he’s been involved in, viz: the All Peoples Party (APP), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Congress for Progressives Change (CPC) and the APC.
But the Saturday, March 26, 2022, national convention of the APC has changed the notion that the president is standoffish in matters affecting his political party, particularly the APC that’s faced crises arising from the party congresses and primaries.
To be fair, Buhari has, seemingly to no avail, warned members of the APC against divisive tendencies that could open it to exploitation of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2023 general election that precedes end to his eighth-year tenure.
Buhari had to intervene to put a stop to the bickering in the APC, and he did so by insisting that “consensus” be written into the Electoral Amendment Act 2022, as a mode of picking candidates for elective positions by political parties.
Recall that in the amendment to the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), the National Assembly (NASS) had radically changed the methods of electing candidates by political parties: from consensus, indirect or direct primaries, to only direct primaries.
Typical of him, Buhari waited for the near-lapse of the constitutionally-allowed 30 days for a president to assent or refuse assent to any Bill approved by the legislature, before transmitting the unsigned Electoral Amendment Bill 2022 to NASS.
In refusing to sign the Bill for the sixth consecutive time, Buhari argued that the political parties be left to choose the method of picking candidates for elective positions, and especially urged NASS to approve “consensus” with indirect and direct primaries.
To thwart a “presidential blackmail,” and avoid a repeat of the “killing” of the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2006 over non-support for former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s alleged “Third Term” bid, and thus threw out the baby with the bath water, the NASS obliged to insert “consensus” in the Bill, “to please Buhari.”
So, to all intents and purposes, Buhari’s insistence on “consensus” was to enable him, as a trial run, to determine “who’s fit for which position” at the national convention of the APC organised for the election of members of the National Working Committee (NWC) and zonal officers that emerged after almost two years of “planning and strategising” since June 2020.
With “consensus” in the bag, Buhari uncharacteristically endorsed a national chairman for the APC, and thereafter engaged in lobbying – critics label it “arm-twisting” – major stakeholders, including APC governors, aspirants for the national chair and leaders of the Legacy Parties that formed the APC in 2013.
Consequent upon a publicised “Unity List” that had Buhari’s imprimatur, all positions on offer, from the national chairman down the line, were coronated at the Eagle Square convention in Abuja.
The “selection” of party officials is the easiest part of the processes that lead to the 2023 polls. The hardest aspect is the conduct of the primaries to choose the flagbearer of the party.
And here come the questions: How well is APC handling fallouts from the convention some APC stalwarts hailed as a “coronation”? Can the party assuage aspirants for the national chairman that “stepped down” for President Buhari’s preferred candidate, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, a former governor of Nasarawa State? Having had his say and way at the convention, will Buhari also intervene in the APC primaries to pick the presidential candidate for the 2023 polls? Will aggrieved aspirants, and disaffected members defect to chiefly the PDP, or remain and sabotage the APC from within, such as the PDP suffered in the 2015 elections?
Notwithstanding the hype of a successful national convention, President Buhari and Sen. Adamu have realised the enormous task ahead of the 2023 polls, and harped on a united APC.
For a start, Buhari, at a March 23, 2022, meeting with APC governors, asked the party to refund money paid for nomination forms by any of the aspirants that would step down for Sen. Adamu and other consensus candidates at the national convention.
Then in a speech at the convention, which he noted was “coming at a crucial time when we prepare for another round of a general election,” Buhari stressed “the need to remain strong and united for the party to exploit the rich and abundant potentials at its disposal.”
While “passionately” appealing to APC members to support the incoming NWC, “to promote unity and avoid sentiments that are capable of causing disaffection and disunity,” Buhari said failure to realize aspirations for party offices or to fly the party flag, “should not be a basis for a campaign of calumny against the party.”
In his acceptance speech, Sen. Adamu, who alleged that due to the success of the convention, the “PDP and other opposition parties are now sulking, wearing long faces of sadness, bewilderment and dismay,” called for a renewed faith in the APC and its leadership at all levels, “in order to herald a new dawn.”
His words: “We need to commit to the resolution of our crisis within the confines of our party constitution. We must resist the temptation to blow every minor personal disagreement into a major party crisis.
“It is time for us to do things differently. When we quarrel, we open our flanks to our rival political parties that are only too eager to exploit them for their own benefit.
“I promise you… that we shall heal any wounds in our party; we shall effect lasting reconciliation among our members, and we shall go into the next general election as a strong and united party.”
Beautiful as these exhortations are, critics within and outside the APC hold they will come short in the absence of open and transparent primaries, devoid of a forced-down-the-throat “consensus” as happened at the national convention.
The fear is rife that having succeeded at the convention, Buhari will attempt a consensus “arrangee” at the APC primaries, what with his warning that “the APC shouldn’t give its flag to the highest bidders.”
Note that in a January 2022 television interview when he’s asked to name his successor, Buhari said: “I don’t have any favourite for 2023, and if I do, I won’t reveal his identity because if I do, he may be eliminated before the election. I better keep it secret.”
That speaks volume! But the president beware: The presidential aspirants, who took Buhari’s consensus bitter pill at the convention, may not accept another pungent capsule at the primaries that some of them consider as the last act in their long sojourn in politics.
Besides, it’s not the best, politically, to play one’s hand twice in a row, which’s what Buhari’s handlers wish and plan he does at the APC primaries, “so as to coronate another preferred candidate.”
Mr Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.