After months of dithering procrastination, the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC is set to hold its national convention in Abuja with the prognosis of a war of attrition over a new national leadership with two former Edo State governors pitched in battle.
Probably the last time Rotimi Amaechi and Comrade Adams Oshiomhole sat down to discuss party matters was last February in the Abuja residence of Oshiomhole when leaders of the APC from the South-South gathered to make an arranged endorsement of Muhammadu Buhari as the zone’s consensus aspirant for the party’s presidential ticket. Since then both men apparently seem to have trudged different paths as to the party structure to be used in achieving their quest to return Buhari to power.
The scenario of crisis was evident in the two contrasting narratives that came from the stakeholders meeting of the South-South caucus of the APC on Monday.
Minutes after the caucus meeting of the South-South leaders at the Government House Benin, the national vice-chairman of the party, South-South and the party’s number one officer from the region proclaimed that the immediate past governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole had been popularly endorsed by the leaders from the region for the office of national chairman. Odigie-Oyegun and Amaechi two principal leaders of the party from the region were absent at the caucus meeting.
The former labour leader turned politician had lately become the cynosure of eyes given past accolades given him by President Muhammadu Buhari. The latest of such accolades was weeks ago when Oshiomhole clocked 65 on April 4. In his birthday message to the former Edo State governor, Buhari in a message articulated by his media adviser, Chief Femi Adesina had praised Oshiomhole’s contribution to the nation’s development saying that as the former governor “grows older, his invaluable wisdom will be most useful for the growth of the nation.”
Such warm accolades have inevitably inspired reasoning that after passing him over in several recent Federal Government appointments, that Oshiomhole was being considered for the national chairmanship of the ruling APC.
The reasoning is not far-fetched among those who seem to be reading the mind of the president and the leader of the party. The president and Chief John Odigie-Oyegun had never really hit it and only managed a working relationship. Odigie-Oyegun it was gathered only managed to become national chairman only at the insistence of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu who canvassed him as a democratic veteran from their days in the pro-democracy struggle.
Buhari it was gathered had been sceptical of Odigie-Oyegun given his experience with him in their former party, the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP. Odigie-Oyegun had teamed up with Ibrahim Shekarau in the days leading to the 2011 elections, and Buhari was forced out of the party to form his Congress for Progressive Change, CPC.
As he was at that time in 2014, not the president and was still desirous of Tinubu’s patronage for the presidential ticket of the new party, Buhari easily kowtowed to Tinubu who mobilised support for Odigie-Oyegun to win the national chairmanship election.
Odigie-Oyegun’s only challenger at that time was Chief Tom Ikimi who in the face of the mobilisation by Tinubu abandoned the contest and left the party that he, Ikimi played a major role in forming.
Four years on and after serial conflicts between Odigie-Oyegun and his former patron, Tinubu the narrative has changed with both men now engaged in direct battle against one another.
It is no secret that Tinubu wants Odigie-Oyegun out immediately as national chairman. Odigie-Oyegun according to the outgoing national spokesman of the party, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi is set to run for a second term.
Whereas Buhari’s disposition against or at best lukewarm attitude to Odigie-Oyegun remains unchanged, the other permutations in 2014 have switched sides.
Tinubu has now joined Buhari against the national chairman, even if more ferociously. Four years ago, Oshiomhole got around to support Odigie-Oyegun’s candidacy after the Ikimi projection collapsed. Today, the former governor is himself a direct rival of the national chairman, and even if he has not said that he wants the job, the whispering campaign to hand over the job to him seems to be gaining momentum.
The Edo State chapter of the party despite the fact that both Oshiomhole and Odigie-Oyegun are both former governors of the state has not hidden its proclivity towards the former. The state chapter of the party has even taken the lead to instigate actions seen as detrimental to Odigie-Oyegun’s political interests famously shaming what it described as the plot to extend Odigie-Oyegun’s tenure.
However, despite the famous denial of its son, Odigie-Oyegun is, however, not without support at home and abroad.
At home, Bini groups Vanguard learnt are quietly mobilising support for their son with some saying that he should not be disgraced out of office.
At the national level, a sizeable proportion of APC governors including some ministers including reportedly Amaechi are believed to be backing Odigie-Oyegun for a second term. Those backing Odigie-Oyegun it is claimed assert that he is a better person to manage than the former labour leader who they fear cannot be dependent on them. If the governors stand firm in their support for the national chairman the party would be inevitably headed for a showdown of significant consequence to its unity.
It was as such not surprising at the end of the meeting in Benin last Monday that different narratives of the outcome came out.
Speaking at the end of the meeting, the Zonal Vice Chairman of the party, Ntufam Hilliard Eta, announced that the meeting with near unanimity adopted Oshiomhole as the zone’s candidate for the office of national chairman.
Eta said that the caucus observed that the Edo State chapter of the party had presented Oshiomhole as the candidate, a decision he said was put to the vote.
“Having considered the position of Edo State it was put to the vote and the majority of the members of the zonal executive committee decided that Edo State position must be affirmed by the zonal executive committee.
Eta’s assertion was immediately rebuffed by four of the six state chairmen from the zone who in a joint resolution described the decision to adopt Oshiomhole as that of the Edo State Government House.
The chairmen of the Rivers, Cross Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Bayelsa States chapters, namely, Chief Davies Ibiamu Ikanya, JP; Mr. Etim John; Dr. Amadu Attai and Deacon Joseph Fafi respectively in the joint resolution deposed thus:
“That the afore-mentioned four (4) State Chairmen out of the six (6) Chairmen of the zone and the executive committee members from their states reject attempts by the South-South APC Zonal Vice Chairman, Prince Hilliard Eta, to railroad members present in the meeting into adopting the former governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole as the candidate of the South-South zone for the national chairmanship position at the forthcoming national convention.
“We condemn in totality the attempts by the South-South Zonal Vice Chairman, Hilliard Eta and Governor Godwin Obaseki to impose Comrade Adams Oshiomhole as the adopted candidate of the South-South zone for the position of national chairman at the forthcoming national convention of our great party.”
Even more, the absence of very senior party members from the region, notably, Odigie-Oyegun and the six ministers from the region at the Benin meeting has raised an issue with some who saw the arrangement as pre-conceived.
The developments in Benin with the seeming unity of party members behind the Buhari project but their division on the structure to use could be foreboding.