When the governors elected under the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) emerged from their meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari, December 5, 2019, they were unusually stone-faced. None was in the mood for the usual corridor banters with State House correspondents. They had been instructed not to divulge the agenda or the outcome of the meeting. That was the first sign that they may not have had their way with the president.
However, it was common knowledge that many of them were angry with the national chairman of the party, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, over his perceived high-handedness and dictatorial attributes in the running of its affair. That much was made open in a recent press statement by the Progressive Governors Forum, led by Governor Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi State, in which they upbraided the party boss for disregarding party principles and running its affairs like a sole administrator. They worried that he would not convene the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting to discuss critical issues amid party meltdown in different states, particularly in Edo.
“What legacy is Oshiomhole hoping to achieve as a national chairman by running the party in a way that suggests almost zero commitment to issues of party development?” The statement signed by the Director-General, Salihu Lukman, had said.
After much hesitance, Oshiomhole eventually called a meeting of the party’s NEC, which reportedly ended abruptly because party leaders were baying for his head.
The presidential summon
The Villa meeting was therefore to explore ways to bring calm to the storm, but the governors did not seem impressed with what the president had offered as the way forward. Despite the presence of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and the Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari, Oshiomhole was not present at that meeting, raising eyebrows as to what was coming up.
The following day, he led 35 APC state chairman to the Villa for a meeting with the president. Unlike his frigid relationship with the governors, Oshiomhole enjoys a warm disposition with the state chairman. Ostensibly, the party boss brought them to make a case for him. They did as they threw their collective weight behind the embattled chairman.
Ali Buhari, the chairman of the chairmen told the president: “Mr President sir, let me also express our recent worries regarding the activities of some of the governors who are undermining the efforts of the national chairman of our great party, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, to reposition the party by plotting his removal. It is more worrisome knowing full well that they are not doing this because the national chairman is not performing his duties according to the constitution, but they are fighting him due to their 2023 presidential ambitions when it is a notorious fact that Mr President has just commenced his second term in office a few months ago.
“Your Excellency, it may interest you to know, Sir, that because these governors were desperate in their bid to oust our national chairman, they even worked against our governorship candidates in Kogi and Bayelsa states so that we would lose and they would have latched on the losses as grounds to advocate for the removal of the national chairman. It is really unfortunate.
“Your Excellency, that just after we won the additional state in the South-South, which is Bayelsa, consolidated on our hold on Kogi, these governors have been busy collecting signatures, spending our hard-earned resources in both covert and overt campaigns for the removal of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole. We believe sir that the affected governors don’t mean well for your administration because after Nigerians voted massively for Your Excellency, all hands should have been on deck to give Nigerians the desired dividends of democracy and not creating a crisis where there is none.”
They, therefore, argued that Oshiomhole alongside his National Working Committee (NWC), who they said had midwived a cordial relationship between the executive and the legislature, should be supported for the good job done. “Therefore, why will some people want to remove a winning team? “
The chairman added: “We want to appeal to Your Excellency to use your good office to call these governors to order so they will not destabilise the party. We need stability at this point and not anything that will cause distraction. And we use this opportunity to reiterate the vote of confidence, which we earlier passed in our national chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and we appreciate Mr President for the cooperation that you have been giving to the NWC.”
The meeting was held behind closed doors and, a presidency intent on controlling the narrative, sought to prevent journalists from interacting with the politicians after the session. The APC national chairman would not be stopped though when he had a favorable message to pass across. He walked to waiting reporters and opened up on the secret meeting. First, he said his absence from the meeting with governors the previous day did not mean anything. Then, he acknowledged the crisis in the party under his watch and rationalized it as a necessary accompaniment of every human organisation.
“The first thing to appreciate here is the fact that, in a human organisation, there’s bound to be contestations sometimes. Even when the destination is not in dispute, how best to get there may be a point for argument and those arguments are a reflection of the democratic nature of the party. I don’t know any organisation that doesn’t have some internal disagreement. What matters is the commitment of everyone, both the leadership and the followership, that when there’s discontent or disagreement or misunderstanding, or communication gap, as soon as it is noticed, that efforts are made to resolve it.”
Quid pro quo
A sober-than-usual Oshiomhole spoke of the National Reconciliation Committee (NRC) set up by the party hierarchy “to reconcile those aggrieved for whatever reason,” suggesting that progress was being achieved. The support he enjoys from the state chairman is a pointer to this even though observers now think that their loyalty may have been a return of favor, a quid pro quo. Oshiomhole told the president that his leadership had decided to extend financial support monthly to all the state chairmen to enable them to run their respective offices effectively. ‘‘Whatever support we (NWC) are giving them is a small token in relation to the huge responsibilities entrusted to them.”
Without that, even the state chairman themselves were said to have been split between Oshiomhole’s supporters and those who wanted him to be kicked out. The Nigerian Tribune had learned that the configuration of the state chairmen had been that the south-south, south east, and the north were solidly behind the party chairman while the rest of the geopolitical regions were divided. Therefore, political watchers think that Oshiomhole may still have serious cause for concern. This is especially against the fact that President Buhari did not attempt to resolve the party’s problems during the brief meetings with the governors and the state chairmen. The highpoint of his message to the governors and the chairman was for them to return to their states and resolve their internal differences. This leaves the aces with the state governors in APC-controlled states as party chairmen are known to dance to the tune of their state chief executives when the chips are down.
The Edo State crisis
The Edo APC crisis was high on the agenda for discussion and its drama played out in full. Before the Friday meeting, about 24 hours earlier, the Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Frank Okiye, had declared vacant, the seats of 12 members-elect, who refused to be inaugurated and two others who had absconded from sitting and unable to meet the constitutionally required minimum attendance. All 14 are loyal to Oshiomhole. The APC national chairman succeeded in bringing into the villa meeting, Col David Imuse (retd), his newly installed factional state chairman while the Anslem Ojezua, armed with the court ruling recognising his leadership, was denied access to the meeting even though he made it to the villa gate.
The Edo imbroglio, the power struggle between ex-godson, Governor Godwin Obaseki and erstwhile godfather, Oshiomhole, is thought to be one of the reasons the APC governors are crossed with the party chairman, who is fully aware of the fears being expressed even by APC members including the governors that his insistence on having his way in Edo politics is capable of jeopardizing the ruling party’s chances in the future elections in the south-south state.
A bullish Oshiomhole
After Friday’s villa meeting, despite the ruling by an Abuja High Court presided over by Justice SylvanusChineduOriji, affirming his earlier suspension from the APC by the Edo State chapter, Oshiomhole was bullish about APC’s ability to retain the state. He told probing correspondents: “Let me reassure you, APC is not at risk of losing Edo state in the next election…that I come from a place does not mean that the place cannot quarrel. You will be exceptionally lucky as husbands and wives if you do not have misunderstandings with your spouses and sometimes, your children. If anybody suggests that whenever you have arguments in the family house, the family may go under, the person may be a poor student of human history and human organisation. “I believe that the issues in Edo and every other state will be resolved peacefully, to the benefit, not just of the party, but of the people in those states. We are committed to retaining Edo, particularly now that we have Bayelsa added to Edo, the more reason we cannot do anything which in our opinion, can lead to APC losing Edo State. “Be rest assured that as the national chairman, even if I wasn’t national chairman, the investment that I have put in, the much effort that we invested to be able to defeat the PDP in 2008, against federal might, when President (Olusegun) Obasanjo was the supervisor of that election and I got reelected and you know the PDP forces in Edo. If you have invested that kind of effort like I have invested, like I have done and God bless it, you will do nothing that will undermine it. There is nothing anybody will do that will make one forget that a lot was invested and therefore we must keep the house together, whatever it will take. I am sure we will keep Edo together for the good, not only of our party but more importantly, for the good of the people of Edo State, he said.”
What Oshiomhole got in the, Villa with President Buhari sending everybody back home to do a bit of introspection can be read as a reprieve for the party chairmen. He came into office as the choice of the president and, therefore, as long as he enjoys his confidence, he may hang on as the national chairman. But the governors’ demeanour after Thursday’s meeting did not suggest that they are about to give up. It is not unlikely therefore that the plot against him will thicken, unless he submits to the discretion of the governors. Observers think though that a strong-willed Oshiomhole will remain unbendable, more so, with the president on his side.