BY MAHMUD JEGA, MARCH 14, 2022 | 02:35 PM
During birthday and get together parties during our secondary school days, Riddles and Jokes was a regular item on the program. In case students these days still do Riddles and Jokes at parties, I have one riddle suggestion for them.
It is this. A Nigerian political party wants to hold a National Executive Council meeting in order to replace its Caretaker National Chairman and Caretaker National Secretary with an Acting Caretaker National Chairman and an Acting Caretaker National Secretary, who will be in office for ten days because a convention is scheduled for next week. A letter was sent to INEC to observe the daylight coup. INEC wrote back and said the letter was not signed by the substantive caretaker officials. INEC will only observe the meeting convened to sack the substantive Caretaker Chairman and Secretary if they themselves invite it. They must also give it 21 days’ notice while the convention is less than two weeks away. Any party goer who can solve this riddle will get an extra bottle of Coke.
On Tuesday last week, nearly every print and online newspaper in the country used the word “confusion” in its story headline to describe the situation in APC. Maybe it was worse than that; what happened in APC was the political equivalent of an abortive coup such as we had in Nigeria in 1976, 1986 and 1990. Chairman of its Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee [CECPC], Yobe State Governor Mai Mala Buni, was abroad on sick leave. First thing on Monday, Niger State Governor Abubakar Sani Bello arrived at the party’s national secretariat, parked his car in Buni’s lot, sat on Buni’s chair, assumed Buni’s title and rapidly undid many of Buni’s decisions, such as membership of convention planning committees. Videos of Bello’s arrival at the secretariat showed a crowd of supporters hailing him as “Chairman!”
Nigerians were forewarned because ThisDay came out with a story that morning saying Bello was set to replace Buni. At that point it was still possible to find an amicable solution. It turned out that before he left the country, Buni wrote a letter to Bello asking him to take charge of party affairs pending his return. Though the letter was widely posted in the media, Bello denied that he received it and INEC also denied receiving it.
Matters however got out of hand when Kaduna State Governor Nasiru El-Rufa’i went on Channels television and made some startling claims. He said “Buni will never return” as party chairman. He accused Buni of many things, including obtaining a secret court order to truncate the March 26 convention. Which of the orders? A report in Punch last Friday said there are 206 court cases from APC state chapters that held parallel state congresses seeking recognition as delegates before the convention can hold, so which one of them did Buni get?
El Rufa’i forcefully said Buni’s removal as party chairman was approved by 19 APC governors and endorsed by President Buhari. This assertion was a public relations disaster for legality and internal party democracy in APC. Governors have no power under the party’s constitution to appoint or remove its officials. That 19 out of 22 of them supported the putsch is immaterial, as long as it was not endorsed by the party NEC, which they cannot now convene.
Governor el-Rufa’i’s assertion that President Buhari told them to go and effect the change in the party’s leadership damaged the president’s credentials as a born-again democrat and stickler for procedure. Buhari’s case was not helped, in the public mind, by the fact that he did not proceed to UK from Kenya as earlier announced but returned home for two days. Some commentators alleged that he returned home only to support the party putsch.
Attempts by APC’s spokespersons to clarify matters only added to the confusion. Three statements they made were ambiguous and contradictory. They said Buni was not removed but that Bello is in charge, that John Akpan Udoedehe had not resigned as party secretary, even though Prof Tahir Mamman signed the letter to INEC in his place. From that point, things really got out of hand when Ondo State Governor Rotimi Akeredolu said “Yahoo Yahoo governors” in APC were supporting Buni. Akeredolu also accused “some pocket filling elements within the corridors of power to supplant the President’s will through fake letters, endorsements as well as Black Market injunction [procured since November, 2021].”
Zamfara State Governor Bello Mohammed Matawalle responded by condemning Akeredolu’s “use of unprintable words.” He said it was not right for APC governors “to wash our dirty linens in the media” and that “there is no point in promoting disharmony among ourselves.”
Among the strange accusations that some APC governors made was that their colleague Mai Mala Buni nurses an ambition for a higher office. To accuse a political party member of nursing an ambition is like accusing a man who attends prayers in a mosque of nursing an ambition to enter Paradise. Anyone who has no ambition has no place in a political party.
It could well be that when this wind blows over, relations between APC governors would be so poisoned that they may not be able to meet again. Which may not be a bad idea because back in the Second Republic, the ruling NPN never had a visible Governors’ Forum. Its opponents however had one, the Nine Progressive Governors’ Forum of 5 UPN, 2 PRP and 2 GNPP governors, later joined by three NPP governors after the NPP/NPN Accord fell apart. NPN governors never had need for such a forum since the highly effective NPN secretariat took care of all their political needs.
As a ruling party, APC is doing things much more crudely than NPN ever did back in the Second Republic. I cannot remember a newspaper story in that era saying President Shehu Shagari summoned NPN governors and dictated to them a consensus candidate. At NPN’s 1982 Kano convention, which Shagari could not attend because of the weather, reports said he preferred Chief Adisa Akinloye to continue as chairman against Chief MKO Abiola. Though Akinloye won, Shagari’s preferred candidate to continue as National Secretary, his old classmate Alhaji Sulaiman Takuma, was defeated by Senator Uba Ahmed. Shagari accepted the convention’s verdict and worked very closely with Uba Ahmed.
NPN had something else that APC lacks, which was the regular meeting of its top executive, legislative and party leaders. Shagari hosted those meetings at State House every Monday night, which Vice President Ekwueme, Senate President Joseph Wayas, Party Chairman Adisa Akinloye, National Secretary Sulaiman Takuma [later Uba Ahmed], Senate Leader Olusola Saraki, Deputy House Speaker Idris Ibrahim and Secretary to the Federal Government Shehu Musa all attended.
That meeting completely harmonized positions on all political matters. As such, it was unthinkable in the Second Republic for NPN legislators to publicly disagree with the President, for the president to veto a bill that NPN MPs supported, for NPN MPs to unanimously reject a bill that Shagari sent, for the party’s governors, ministers and MPs to be inserting self-serving amendments into the Electoral Act, for NPN governors to trade words in the media, or for anyone to attempt to take over the party’s leadership without approval of its NEC.
Anyway, President Buhari moved on Saturday evening to try to clear the mess. He warned party leaders and members “to desist from name-calling and backstabbing” but did not say who did the back stabbing or who was stabbed in the back. APC, he said, should learn lessons in disunity, mismanagement and corruption from PDP, which he said is now enfeebled and adrift. He made references to dissent, intra-party discord, competing egos, infighting and distractions ahead of the convention. He blamed the media for magnifying the ruling party’s internal problems.
President Buhari's statement however stopped short of saying whether he approved of last week’s abortive caretaker leadership change, whether it should continue or whether it should be reversed. In case our young party goers turn around and say that this riddle I posed to them has no solution, I have news for them. When I complained that a homework he gave us had no solution, my Maths teacher said, “Every problem has a solution. If it does not have a solution, then it ceases to be a problem. It becomes a mystery.” We shall find out this week if the APC riddle is a problem or a mystery.
VIEW FROM THE GALLERY in This Day and 21st Century Chronicle. Monday, March 14, 2022.
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30 March 2022