ANALYSIS: All northern affair as race begins for new APC national chairman

In May, Saliu Mustapha declared his intention to run for the national chairmanship of the All Progressives Congress (APC) at the party’s forthcoming National Convention slated for this month.

It remains uncertain whether the party will keep that schedule as the convention was initially expected to hold last year following the controversial dissolution of the Adams Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee (NWC) of the party. After sacking the NWC, the party appointed a reconciliation and convention planning committee headed by Yobe State governor, Mala Buni, and gave it six months to complete its assignment and hand over to an elected leadership.

The committee has not been able to conduct a national convention. And despite its efforts at the settlement of disputes and reconciliation of aggrieved members, many still fear a crisis ahead for the ruling party if the next national chairman does not enjoy the confidence of some of the gladiators in the party.

Mr Mustapha has been joined by seven others in the race to take the seat last occupied by former Edo State governor, Adams Oshiomhole.

In anticipation that the APC 2023 presidential ticket would be zoned to the south, most of the chairmanship aspirants are from the northern part of the country.

Aside Mr Mustapha who is a former deputy national chairman of the party, others jostling for the seat are a former governor of Nasarawa State and serving senator, Tanko Al-Makura; two former governors of Borno State Kashim Shettima and Ali Modu Sheriff; a former governor of Gombe, Danjuma Goje; former governor of Zamfara, Abdulaziz Yari; a former member of the House of Representatives from Bauchi, Ibrahim Baba; and a former chairman of the Action Congress of Nigeria in Abuja, Sunny Moniedafe from Adamawa State.

Aspirants counting on zoning

The APC was formed in February 2013 after the merger of three major opposition parties and factions of some other parties. The parties involved in the merger were the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), a faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and a faction of the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). APC has since had three national chairmen, with the tenures of the last two ending in crises.

John Odigie-Oyegun succeeded the interim national chairman, Bisi Akande, as the first elected chairman of the party. But he stepped down under pressure, clearing the path for Mr Oshiomhole to take the saddle at the June 2018 National Convention.

Mr Oshiomhole lasted only two years in the position as he was ‘officially’ booted out in June 2020. He is qualified to seek a comeback.

Section 17 (i) of the APC constitution states: “Except as otherwise provided in this Constitution, all officers of the Party elected or appointed into the Party’s organs shall serve in such organs for a period of four (4) years and shall be eligible for re-election or re-appointment for another period of four (4) years only, provided that an Officer elected or appointed to fill a vacancy arising from death, resignation or otherwise shall notwithstanding be eligible for election to the same Office for two terms.”

While the party’s constitution clearly establishes Mr Oshiomhole’s eligibility, however, a convention of Nigerian politics may stop him. If the APC embraces the power rotation principle and zones its next presidential ticket to the south, the north will produce the chairman. The first three chairmen of the party are from the south because President Muhammadu Buhari is from the north.

With Mr Buhari’s final term expiring in 2023, there is a reasonable expectation that the party will nominate his successor from the south.

PREMIUM TIMES reported a former governor of Ogun State, Olusegun Osoba, stating this expectation in an interview.

“Part of the understanding in the case of rotation is a conventional understanding that the presidency will move between the North and the South. That was the reason why we now allowed the chairman (of the party to come from the South). I don’t want to use the word zoning because we definitely did not put zoning. We know it may go in conflict with the Nigerian constitution, which says anyone who is a Nigerian, who has read up to school certificate, can contest and at the age of 35, I think can contest for the presidency of the country,” Mr Osoba said.

But Mr Buhari, in his recent interview with Arise TV, said party members would determine the direction of the party over his succession, indicating that the party has not yet taken a position on zoning.

Aspiring ex-governors, senators

Regardless of the president’s statement, the current composition of the field in the national chairmanship race indicates the strength of an expectation of presidential power shift to the south as all of the aspirants known so far are from the northern part of the country.

A look at their profiles also indicates the importance attached to the office by members of the party. Most of the aspirants are former state governors and these include three who are currently serving as senators.

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Al-Makura

Mr Al-Makura was a two-term governor of Nasarawa and is currently serving as the senator for Nasarawa South district. He began his campaign for the top party position in March 2021 when his posters first appeared on the streets in his state. These were immediately followed by radio jingles and promotion messages on social platforms.

“If they zone the office of the national chairman of our party to the North Central zone, then we will all go out with our might and officially declare our ambition. If they throw it open, we will come out in full glare to contest, but if they zone it to either North-east or North-west, then I will not go into the race because I am a loyal member of APC,” he said in May.

Mr Al-Makura’s bid is supported by his successor as Nasarawa governor, Abdulahi Sule. This is a strong indication that his ambition is popular in his home state and that the delegates from the state will file behind him at the party’s national convention.

If Mr Al-Makura wins, he will become the first member of the CPC, Mr Buhari’s defunct party, to serve as APC chairman. The three to hold that position so far, Messrs Akande, Odigie-Oyegun and Oshiomhole, were all members of the defunct ACN, which also produced the vice president, Yemi Osinbajo.

The senator was a founding member of the PDP until he joined the CPC in 2011 after losing the then ruling party’s governorship primary. He won the governorship election on the ticket of his new party and was reelected in 2015 on an APC ticket.

Goje

Mr Goje also served two terms as governor of Gombe and is on his third term as senator. He served his two governorship terms as a member of the PDP until he joined some governors and former governors to cross from the party to the APC prior to the 2015 elections.

Although he won his own election as senator on the APC ticket in 2015, the party lost the governorship to the PDP. But it made amends in 2019 when it swept the polls in the state, ending 16 years of PDP rule that began with Mr Goje’s election as governor in 2003.

Mr Goje indicated interest in the Senate presidency in 2019 but stepped down for the party’s anointed candidate, Ahmad Lawan. Like Mr Al-Makura, the former Gombe governor also has the backing of his state governor, Muhammad Yahaya.

Mr Goje belonged to the old nPDP faction in APC. Many members of the faction, such as former vice president Atiku Abubakar, former Senate President Bukola Saraki and Sokoto governor Aminu Tambuwal, returned to the PDP before the last general election, so it is not certain how that will rub off on Mr Goje’s chances in this race.

If the former Gombe governor clinches the party’s top seat, would that encourage the nPDP members to return to the APC, as Mr Buni said they want to? One of the grievances the faction expressed before their mass desertion of the APC was that the party marginalised them in the allocation of political appointments.

Ali Modu Sheriff

Political behaviour in Nigeria will be considered strange by many familiar with politics in other climes. But that of Ali Modu Sheriff is even stranger. He was elected senator in Borno State at the start of the Fourth Republic in 1999 on the ticket of the All Peoples Party (APP). In 2003, he defeated the sitting governor, Mala Kachalla, at the party primaries, and won the general election on the ticket of the party that by that time had changed its name to All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP).

But after serving two terms, he fell out with his successor, Kashim Shettima, who had become governor after the candidate originally handpicked by Mr Sheriff was assassinated by Boko Haram insurgents. In 2014, Mr Sheriff defected to the PDP and became the national chairman of the party shortly after the party lost the 2015 elections. His leadership was at a time of grave crisis in the PDP when the party splintered into two factions, until the Supreme Court declared the other factional leader, Ahmed Makarfi, as the authentic chairman of the party. In April 2018, Mr Sheriff returned to the APC.

His political baggage includes the accusation by an Australian hostage negotiator, Stephen Davies, that Mr Sheriff was a sponsor of the terrorist Boko Haram Islamic sect.

However, he does not appear to think all that can stop him from election as the APC national chairman. Instead, what he fears is the party zoning the seat away from his own North-east. While confirming his interest in the office in February, PREMIUM TIMES reported him as saying:

“The leadership of the party has not been zoned to any particular zone of the country for now. People have expressed their interests across the country.

“But the real thing is that whether I will run for the office or not will be determined by what the caretaker committee takes as a decision on where the leadership of the party will go. Whether it will go to another place or it will remain in our zone.

“If it goes to another zone, I will not contest. But if it stays in our zone, I will contest.”

Mr Sheriff is a crafty politician and dogged warhorse. He has been seen on many occasions visiting Mr Buni, his friend, who is the APC interim chairman and governor of Yobe State.

However, the continued animosity between him and Mr Shettima, his erstwhile political godson and successor who is also aspiring to the office, may deny him home support in Borno and affect his chances at the convention, if he persists to that point in the race.

Kashim Shettima

The former two-term Borno governor and serving senator has not formally declared his bid for the vacant top party office. PREMIUM TIMES, however, gathered from sources in the party that Mr Shettima is very interested.

Mr Shettima’s governorship tenure was blighted by the Boko Haram insurgency. At some point, the insurgents had their flag over some local government areas and wreaked severe havoc on many parts of the state. Yet, many extolled Mr Shettima’s ‘relentless’ efforts in combating the insurgency and cleaning up the mess it created in terms of mass displacement of people and wanton destruction of schools, health facilities, government offices and physical infrastructure.

Mr Shettima also served as the chairman of the Northern States Governors’ Forum, which may count in his favour in the race for the APC chair. Governors have always played crucial roles in the choice of party leaders at all levels. Mr Shettima maintains a cordial relationship with his successor, Babagana Zulum, which will give him an edge against Mr Sheriff with the state’s delegates to the convention.

Abdul’aziz Yari

Some supporters have been campaigning for the immediate past governor of Zamfara State, Abdul’aziz Yari, to be elected into the APC topmost office.

Earlier than most of the aspirants highlighted in this analysis, Mr Yari had in September 2020 registered his interest to contest for the seat, if zoned to his North-west region.

“I have said it several times that I know from the grassroots how the chairman is picked, either in the PDP, ANPP, CPC, I know how the chairman is picked.

“It is not picked by okay, here I am, Yari, pick me; the party will sit down and critically look at which zone will produce the chairman, which zone will produce the secretary, which zone will produce the deputy.

“If they say the zone where I come from is favoured to pick it, of course, whole-heartedly, I will go for it.

“So, I know how the game is being played and I am ready to do it if I am trusted. So, there is no issue there,” he declared in the third quarter of 2020.

But Mr Yari also carries a heavy baggage. There are serious corruption allegations against him, some of which are being investigated by the anti-corruption agency, EFCC. He also bears responsibility for the disaster that befell the APC in his home Zamfara State at the 2019 general elections.

The party had won every seat in the elections, including the governorship, federal and state legislative seats but was made to forfeit all after the Supreme Court upheld a judgment that the APC did not hold valid primaries to nominate its candidates.

While a faction loyal to the ex-governor claimed the party held congresses to elect the candidates, the faction loyal to Kabiru Marafa, who was then the senator representing Zamfara Central, successfully challenged that claim in court. It was on this ground that the Supreme Court ordered the votes recorded by the APC to be deducted from the elections and the winner decided from the remaining votes. This led to the PDP, which trailed in second position in all the elections, to produce the governor, Bello Matawalle, and all the federal and state lawmakers from Zamfara.

This crisis was one of the reasons Mr Oshiomhole was removed as the APC national chairman.

Though the two APC factions in Zamfara recently claimed to have reconciled, it is difficult to see the members uniting behind Mr Yari’s ambition. To complicate matters for him, Governor Bello, who remains Mr Yari’s adversary, has long been speculated to be scheming to join the APC. If he does, it will further whittle down Mr Yari’s influence in the party in Zamfara.

The ‘underdogs’

Aside from the former governors and serving senators, some others have also shown interest in the race. However, the underdogs face a herculean task in ending the tradition of APC picking ex-governors as its chairman.

To be sure, this trend is not peculiar to the APC. A few ex-governors had also taken the chair at Wadata Plaza, headquarters of the main opposition party, PDP.

Salihu Mustapha

Mr Mustapha as National Vice-Chairman (North-east) never saw eye to eye with the national chairman, Mr Oshiomhole. Their ‘irreconcilable difference’ was a factor in the turmoil that characterised their NWC. Having contributed to the fall of Mr Oshiomhole, he now wants to take his position.

“I’m not new in politics. I have paid my dues in this terrain. I have always tried to build. Maybe that is why we are not recognised because we have always been in the background,” Mr Mustapha recently told journalists.

“On being intimidated because of the calibre of aspirants, before some of them became governors, they were also ordinary citizens like you and I. I don’t think anybody was born with the title of governor or senator. They also contested. It was ambition that took them there. So, it is not out of place to say my own ambition today is to be the National Chairman of APC,” he added.

Mr Mustapha, a former deputy national chairman of CPC before the 2013 merger, was loudly critical of Mr Oshiomhole’s leadership style and on several occasions called for his resignation.

Ibrahim Baba

Mr Baba is a former member of the House of Representatives from Bauchi State. He is currently a special adviser to the Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila.

Sunny Moniedafe

Mr Moniedafe is a chieftain of the APC chapter in Adamawa State. In March, he threw his hat into the ring for the party’s national chairmanship office.

He belonged to the ACN faction and was in fact the Abuja chairman of the party, a link that could endear him to the Bola Tinubu faction within the APC as the speculations of the latter’s zeal to clinch the party’s 2023 presidential ticket is much in the social media space.

Though Mr Tinubu has not declared his interest to join the race for the ticket, there have been reports of supporters setting up campaign offices for him in different parts of the country ahead of the 2023 general elections.

However, unlike some of the aspirants in the APC national chairmanship race who are publicly backed by one or more prominent figures in the party, Mr Moniedafe at the moment has only his campaign promises.

“If given the opportunity to serve as National Chairman of the APC, my team will, first of all, reaffirm the respect for and supremacy of the party’s constitution, and ensure its effective implementation, whilst maintaining utmost discipline,” he told journalists in Abuja.

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