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Sunday, 4 August 2013

APC: It’s the Candidate, Stupid!

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Major-General Muhammadu Buhari
Cast your mind back to former United States President Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign, “It’s the economy, stupid” was a phrase Clinton campaign managers used to keep the focus on the troubled U.S. economy. Americans love a robust economy; they care a lot about their economic wellbeing. By keeping the debate focused on economic issues, Clinton was able to defeat then President George Bush. Today in Nigeria, that phrase can be adapted for the newly registered All Progressives Congress thus: For APC, it’s the candidate, stupid. The choice of candidate, many believe, is what will make or mar the opposition coalition party. Will APC adopt an open presidential primary election model like the former NRC and SDP or resort to the culture of imposition of candidates, which was a hallmark of the politics of the now defunct Action Congress of Nigeria and Congress for Progressives Change, two of the three coalition parties? Vincent Obia and Chuks Okocha examine the candidate challenge facing the APC…
Buhari is the Issue
The elephant in the room of the opposition merger All Progressives Congress is former Head of State, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari. Will he run in 2015? Buhari has not categorically addressed this issue, though he has not ruled himself out of the race. He had contested for the presidency and lost on three occasions previously (2003, 2007 and 2011). But Buhari, running or not running in 2015, like double-edged sword. There are serious implications both ways. The former head of state is adored by the Northern masses, held with suspicion by the Northern elites but reviled by Christians across the country because of his strong views on issues, for which some doubt if he can truly be called a statesman. These views have raked in widespread condemnation and sometimes scorn for him in some parts of the country. At the height of the post-2011 election riots in some cities in the North, the former head of state who lost the poll declined to condemn the violence outright. In a statement at the time on the post-election violence by his spokesman Yinka Odumakin, Buhari had said: “In the last 24 hours, there has been a spate of violence across certain parts of the country. What started mainly as a political protest reportedly included the burning of worship places. This is sad, unfortunate and totally unwarranted development.
“I must say that this dastardly act is not initiated by any of our supporters and therefore cannot be supported by our party.
“I would therefore like to seize this opportunity to disassociate myself and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) from any such act. I must emphasise that this is purely a political matter, and it should not in any way be turned into an ethnic, religious or regional one”. Even his views on the Boko Haram insurgency and the military crackdown on them are widely perceived as unstatesmanly.
Speaking in Kaduna on June 2 during a Liberty FM Hausa Service Programme, Guest of the Week, Buhari said Boko Haram members were being killed and their houses demolished unlike the “special treatment” given to the Niger Delta militants by the Federal Government. He also blamed President Goodluck Jonathan for failing to tackle the security problems in the country, and argued that the challenges started in the Niger Delta. He had said: “What is responsible for the security situation in the country is caused by the activities of Niger Delta militants. Every Nigerian that is familiar with happenings knows this.
“The Niger Delta militants started it all. What happened is that the governors of the Niger Delta at that time wanted to win their elections, so they recruited youths and gave guns and bullets to them to use against their opponents to win elections by force.
“After the elections, they asked the boys to return the guns, and the boys refused to do so. Because of that the allowance that was being given to them by the governors was stopped.”
Yet, notwithstanding his seeming jingoistic views, the seeming pro-North positions, the APC cannot discountenance his cult following particularly in the North. In the 2011 election, Buhari won 12 states mostly in the North, particularly in the high votes yielding North-west, where support for President Goodluck Jonathan is at best tenuous. On the other side of the divide, the PDP prefers that APC settles for Buhari. It would be celebration in the ruling party’s camp if APC eventually pitches its tenth with Buhari. So how will APC handle this Buhari challenge? With him as its presidential standard bearer, the APC may win massive votes in the North but damned in some other parts of the country; left out of the ticket, the party may lose the much-needed popular votes in the North.
Speaking recently on the 2015 Presidency, the former head of state said his joining the APC was not all about securing the party’s presidential ticket. He said the formation of APC and his joining the group was to help effect the needed change in the polity and not just about his presidential ambition. “If APC fails to give me the ticket, I will remain in partisan politics and in the party. Anyone the party picks as its candidate, I will support him because I will remain in the APC,” he said.
He, however, qualified that position when he told journalists in Minna, that he would forgo his ambition to run for a record fourth time if a better candidate emerged in APC. He was in Minna for the maiden edition of the Sam Nda-Isaiah Annual Lecture Series. “I am willing to step down if there is a formidable and better candidate than me. It is not about me but for the survival of the party. APC is about ensuring internal democracy, whoever emerges is the person I will support. Yes I will be ready to step down,” he said.
But his associates believe Buhari remains the candidate to beat in APC. One of them, Osita Okechukwu, an ardent follower of Buhari from the South-east spoke with THISDAY on the Buhari challenge.
He said: “General Muhammadu Buhari, as the man to beat in the 2015 presidential race, has the greatest assets of integrity, candour and uncommon resolve against corruption. His greatest problem is from those who benefit from the monumental corruption going on in our country. They are so scared of his emergence that they resort to all manner of blackmail and brinkmanship to smear his image.
“GMB, as we fondly call him, is a victim of spurious campaign of blackmail to the extent that they pushed the government to set up the Lemu panel, thinking that he engineered the unfortunate post- 2011 electoral violence.
“When the Lemu report came out they were disappointed.
The report said he was not the culprit of the mayhem. The outcome is that up to date, the President Jonathan regime has refused to issue a White Paper on the report. GMB traducers have not rested, even when he openly declared that he would support any one that wins the presidential primary of the APC. They still throw barbs at him, calling a man who spent 32 months in the presidential electoral tribunal an anti-democrat.
“GMB, to sum it up, is loathed because he is the darling of the masses and can sacrifice his life for the masses. Because he rarely replies his traducers and is by nature a quite type, his traducers have a field day. But in all, it can be said that he has the tool to cure our indisposed polity, the transparency to revamp our decayed infrastructure and the patriotism to reposition our dilapidated social services.”
…And the Swing Votes
Call them renegade governors if you like, these PDP governors may ultimately be the ones to swing the votes in the election. One analyst calls them the ultimate game changers in the build-up to the 2015 election, writes Olawale Olaleye
The eventual registration of the APC on Wednesday by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) may have formerly kicked off the political chess game, with eyes set on the presidential election. While there are a number of factors that may work both in favour and against the two major parties, PDP and APC, based on their relative strength and support base, there is yet another factor that may swing the votes in the end: the nine aggrieved PDP governors and their sympathisers.

9 Aggrieved PDP Governors Plus Obasanjo
With the embattled chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) and Governor of Rivers State, Hon. Rotimi Amaechi, as the point man at present, are governors, who are not just big players in their respective states but also in their regions. They are the ones who may eventually swing the election.
Apart from Amaechi, the other governors are Sule Lamido (Jigawa), Rabiu Kwankwaso (Kano), Babangida Aliyu (Niger), Aliyu Wamakko (Sokoto), Murtala Nyako (Adamawa), Saidu Dakingari (Kebbi), Abdulfatah Ahmed (Kwara) and Ibrahim Dankwambo (Gombe).
Interestingly, while the nine governors are the ones that have openly shown where they stand, there are two other governors who, though have filed behind President Jonathan at present, are feared not to be with him in the real sense of it. One of them is from the North-east while the other is believed to come from the South-south region.
To say, therefore, that these governors, given their influence as PDP leaders, and their political networking, can determine who becomes the next president is simply pronouncing the obvious. These governors have fallen out with President Jonathan and the PDP leadership, though there are recent moves to reconcile with them and put the PDP house in order. The governors are believed to have the total support of former president Olusegun Obasanjo, who in turn has also fallen out with President Jonathan and the PDP leadership, and now claims he wants to correct his legacy.
These PDP governors had all but reached an agreement to work with the APC leadership and indicated they would be willing to defect to the party, but with a caveat that they must be part of the decision-making process in determining the APC presidential candidate and that Buhari would not be the candidate, which unfortunately the APC could not guarantee at the moment.
They had held several meetings with the APC leadership where they made it clear they would not support President Jonathan for re-election but based their support for the opposition APC on the choice of a candidate that would be acceptable to both parties.
The nine governors have been meeting; they have resolved to stick together. Their first plan is to field a candidate against Jonathan in the PDP presidential primary, if it ever holds. Note that the PDP leadership is also pondering options to give the president a soft-landing, including the one of first refusal.
However, if they lose to the president, they would not waste time to turn to their Plan B, which is to leave the party en mass and work with APC or float a third force.
But the governors have also not completely ruled out reconciliation within PDP, as they had indicated they would stay within the party and fight. If Jonathan is able to reconcile PDP and bring them back into the fold, they would strengthen the party. But against this backdrop, it is believed that whichever side the governors and their sympathisers swing may determine victory at the end of the day.
Though they are considered renegade governors, one analyst describe them as the real game changer in the 2015 general election.
Merger of Opposites
In terms of past leanings and antecedents, a majority of those who have come together to form the All Progressives Congress are no less than strange bedfellows. But they have a rare opportunity to make history, writes Olawale Olaleye
Expectedly, there was an uncommon elation on Wednesday when the news of the APC registration filtered in, though it had become palpable over a period of time that there was no stopping the registration.
A quick run down on the major characters in APC, from the stalwarts of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) to the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), would show that what binds them is not ideology or political philosophy but a resolve to grab power from the PDP.
From General Buhari to former ACN National Leader Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, all those who have come together to form APC are people with different political backgrounds and tendencies, strange bedfellows more or less. They must, however, pull together their individual strengths, work towards building unity and forging a common bond to work together.
Therefore, with a free and fair primary election to determine the candidates of the party, APC could rewrite its profile and those of its leaders in the artery of the nation’s body polity. But if it sticks to its old culture of imposition of candidate, this may sound the death knell of the opposition challenge and all the dreams and hopes of their supporters. Now, the leading lights in APC…

Muhammadu Buhari
Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) is the Chairman Board of Trustees (BoT) of the party. He has been contesting the presidential election since 2003 consistently.  He challenged former President Obasanjo and late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua in 2003 and 2007 respectively. In March 2010, he dumped the ANPP for the CPC, a party he founded.  He was the CPC presidential candidate in the April 16, 2011 general election and ran against President Jonathan of PDP, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu of ACN and Ibrahim Shekarau of ANPP.
Buhari cuts a picture of the incorruptible and this is believed to have earned him respect and admiration from Nigerians, especially the grassroots who seek an end to the endless sleaze in government. In addition, he also enjoys cult-like following, particularly in the Northern part of the country. He headed the Petroleum Trust Fund (Special), an interventionist agency to rebuild the nation’s decaying infrastructure, set up by the late military President, General Sani Abacha regime. He was said to have discharged himself creditably, but allegations that some of the roads built by the agency were concentrated in the North abound till today. But with his seeming anti-corruption credentials, many doubt if he can genuinely work with some in the APC.

Bola Tinubu
The former Lagos State governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, is one of the National Leaders of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).  Tinubu, who was elected Senator for the Lagos West constituency in Lagos State in the 1992 election on the platform of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), was elected governor in 1999 on the platform of the Alliance for Democracy (AD). He was the only governor that survived the 2003 political whirlwind that brought other AD states in the South-west under the control of PDP.
An active player in the process that culminated in the registration of APC, Tinubu has been leveraging his contacts to reach out to key political figures from various parts of the country to ensure the success of the APC in future elections. He is a major voice of the opposition in Nigeria. But with his background, many doubts if a Tinubu can trust the military, whether or not in uniform.

Bisi Akande
Chief Bisi Akande was governor of Osun State between 1999 and 2003 on the platform of the AD. He was ACN Chairman and now the Interim Chairman of APC.  Although by virtue of his office he commands huge influence, he may have bought into the merger initiative by circumstance.

Ali Modu Sheriff
Chairman, Board of Trustees (BoT) of the ANPP, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, was elected governor of Borno State in 2003. He was the first governor in Borno State to win reelection. Subsequently, Sheriff was elected Senator for Borno Central on the platform of the United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP) during the late General Sani Abacha regime. His tenure as governor ended in 2011 and was succeeded by the incumbent Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima. He has been a force to reckon with in the formation of the APC. Unfortunately, not many see him in the same camp with Tinubu, Buhari and the likes.

Ogbonnaya Onu
The first Executive Governor of Abia State between February 1992 and December 1993, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, was the ANPP National Chairman before the merger came full circle. He is no doubt committed to the merger deal. And for a man who had built a reputation for himself over the years, he may find it difficult to work with some in the APC.

Tony Momoh
Prince Tony Momoh was Minister of Information and Culture between 1986 and 1990, during the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida. He was also Director of Dr. Alex Ekwueme Presidential Campaign Organization in 1999. He was equally the Chairman, Media and Publicity of the ANPP Campaign Organisation in the 2003 and 2007 general elections. Also as Chairman of the Political Committee of the Muhammadu Buhari Organisation, Momoh was appointed Chairman of CPC in January 2011 ahead of the April 2011 general election of that year.

Malam Ibrahim Shekarau
Two-term governor of Kano State on the platform of ANPP, Ibrahim Shekarau was the ANPP presidential candidate in April 2011 general election. He believes in APC and has been leading the ANPP team in the merger deal until he was replaced by the ANPP Chairman Ogbonnaya Onu.

Ahmed Sani Yarima
Controversial Senator Ahmed Sani Yerima was governor of Zamfara State from May 1999 to May 2007 on the platform of the ANPP. He represents Zamfara West in the Senate and is also Deputy Minority Leader in the Senate. Although he had wanted to be ANPP’s presidential candidate for the 2007 presidential election, he later withdrew from the contest at the party’s national convention to pave the way for Buhari.
He was active in the APC formation. In fact, he was arrested and later released on March 9, 2013 in Kaduna after taking part in a live Hausa radio programme broadcast by the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) for saying if INEC failed to register the newly-formed APC, the party would embark on a peaceful protest to the Eagle Square, Abuja. He remains a major force in his state of Zamfara but has penchant for courting needless controversies.

Rochas Okorocha
Another controversial figure in APC is Governor Rochas Anayo Okorocha of Imo State, who led a faction of APGA into the merger. Okorocha has been around for some time too. In 1999, he competed in the PDP primaries for Imo governorship. He also contested to be ANPP presidential candidate in 2003 but lost. He, however, formed the Action Alliance (AA) party in 2005 and planned to become as a presidential candidate on the AA platform in the 2007 elections. Ambitious Okorocha also gave the PDP national chairmanship a shot in September 2007.

Tom Ikimi
Chief Tom Omoghegbe Ikimi is an Edo State-born politician and former Foreign Affairs Minister between 1995 and 1998 in the military government of General Abacha.
He is one of the representatives of ACN in the merger and was chairman of the ACN Merger Committee. All the strategic meetings that culminated in the formation and registration of APC were held at his residence. The name of the new party was announced at his residence in Abuja on February 6, 2013. But he lost out in the bid to emerge as the national chairman of the emergent party.

Chief Audu Ogbeh
A former National Chairman of PDP, Chief Audu Innocent Ogbeh, contested election into the Benue State House of Assembly on the Platform of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in 1979 and became deputy speaker of the assembly. A former Federal Minister of Communications and Steel Development, Ogbeh was forced to resign as PDP National Chairman due to his criticism of Obasanjo’s handling of the crisis in Anambra State.  He was the chairman of the 20-member APC Manifesto Committee (Motto, Slogan and Message), and his name has been touted as also a possible presidential candidate.
Olusegun Osoba
Two-time governor of Ogun State, Chief Olusegun Osoba, had been involved in the merger process from day one and was in virtually all the committees that matter in the run-up to the APC registration. He is reputed to have a wide network of contacts; the journalist-turned politician understands the political terrain well.

The 11 APC Governors
Other than those listed above, there is a major power bloc in the APC and that is the group of its 11 governors. They are Kashim Shettima (Borno); Adams Oshiomhole (Edo); Ibrahim Geidam (Yobe); Tanko Al-Makura (Nasarawa); Abdulaziz Yari (Zamfara); Rochas Okorocha (Imo); (Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti); Babatunde Fashola, SAN (Lagos); Ibikunle Amosun (Ogun); Abiola Ajimobi (Oyo); and Rauf Aregbesola (Osun).
The governors have been part of critical meetings with opposition party leaders, involving Buhari, Tinubu, Sheriff and national chairmen of the three merging parties.
They have also held meetings in Lagos, Abuja, Borno and Owerri over the formation of APC. The governors set up zonal contact and mobilisation committees across the six geopolitical zones to facilitate the party’s birth.
The Tortuous Journey to Registration
Onyebuchi Ezigbo examines the challenges that promoters of the All Progressives Congress overcame to achieve registration and what lies ahead for the party
It was not meant to be an easy venture but through share determination, dogged approach and sacrifices, the coalescing political parties of Action Congress of Nigeria ( ACN), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) took the step to form a merger and to everyone’s surprise got the new merger platform registered. The road towards the merger was indeed a rough one and the actors themselves were apparently aware of this having gone a similar route before and faltered.  Some political  parties first attempted an alliance in the 1999 Presidential election and tried to field a common candidate then in person of Chief Olu Falae on the platform of All Peoples Party (APP) but things did  not work out. Another attempt was also made in 2011, just before the general election by ACN and CPC and for weeks, the dramatist persona held the nation spellbound to the extent that even the ruling PDP became jittery on the likely threat posed by the move. In the end, the  alliance also failed to realise its objectives and it’s promoters became almost frustrated and abandoned the talks. 
However rather than get disillusioned over their past failures, the leadership of the three opposition political parties, Action Congress of Nigeria ( ACN), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) summoned  courage and re-opened talks again, but this time they went for outright merger instead of mere loose alliance as was the case in the past.  Although the merger talks were kick-started by the top leadership of the parties, who brought their individual charisma and experiences to bear on the negotiations, it was not until the merging parties took the unique step to set up merger committees that the foundation for formalised relationship began. 
The history of the emergence of the new mega party will probably not be complete without the mention of the efforts and sacrifices made by the membership of the joint merger committees representing all the parties and interest groups involved in the political movement.  Part of the initial pessimism that  heralded the merger plan was that based on past experiences, there were fears that the parties and other interest groups promoting the venture were probably not compatible and as such may not be able to  agree  on a  common  platform.  Critics  were also skeptical  about  the  ability of the  parties to resolve  the  issues  of  ideologies,  manifesto,  logo  and  constitution for  the would-be  new party. 
Perhaps who looked like the first sign of a major break-through in the new coalition was when the merging successfully  floated a common constitution, manifesto, logo, slogan and flag for APC with a  subsequent concurrent approvals at individual party conventions. The choice of the name APC sparked off a row between the three coalition parties and another group, the African Peoples Congress leading to serious altercations between the geoups on one hand and INEC.  While African Peoples Congress was claiming tomhave filed its registration before the three opposition parries in March, the later said its choice of APC was made public since Feburuary this year. It took the quick intervention  of the commission to disapprove the application filed by African Peoples Congress, to douse the brewing tension in the polity. The second and perhaps the most challenging stage of the merger negotiation process came when the parties were to choose interim national officers as required by INEC guidelines.  Political gladiators and their parties could not resist the temptation to flex muslces with each other as they  deployed all manner of intrigues and manipulations in a bid  to secure an edge in the emerging party structure.  It took the ingenuity and perseverance of the Leadership of the parties and their governors who met day and night until truce was finally reached on how to distribute the APC interim leadership structure.
After crossing the party leadership hurdle and making final submission  of application to INEC, then began the waiting game. At first, it was as if the merger process will crumble at the table of INEC, following a court case hovering over the heads of the merging parties and which a rival political group had threatened to use it in frustrating the registration of APC. The weekend that followed the approval of the registration application of the merging parties was full of anxiety and apprehension with leaders of the opposition coalition alleging a possible sabotage by officials of INEC.
It was ACN that blew the first lead,  asking  INEC to be fair and unbiased in handling the  registration  of the merging registration application.
The party’s National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said since the  promoters of APC has met all the requirements to consummate their merger,  INEC has no defensible reason not to approve the merger.
However, Lai Mohsmmed tried to avoid direct accusation of INEC by insisting that inspite of media reports concerning the antics of some negative forces within INEC over APC’s registration, the emerging party’s leadership had no doubt that in the end, the electoral body will do what is right in accordance with the law.  “We urge INEC not to compromise its neutrality and integrity by acting contrary to the law. We remind the commission that Nigerians are keenly watching how it will handle this merger issue, and whatever it does will determine whether or not Nigerians can count on it to organize a free, fair and credible elections in 2015.
‘’We believe we are on the same page with INEC as far as this trail-brazing merger is concerned, and that has been confirmed by the INEC spokesman, and we therefore call on the commission to do the proper thing right now - which is the registration of APC.
‘’There is no doubt that INEC is under tremendous pressure, from both the card-carrying PDP members of the commission and their collaborators who are mortally afraid of the merger, and who will want the electoral body to commence, right now, the process of rigging the 2015 election in their favour.
‘’Given the already over-heated polity ahead of the 2015 elections, we believe INEC will not do anything that will aggravate the situation,”
‘’We are convinced that INEC has no discernible reason to write such a letter to us. In the first instance, there exists no court injunction anywhere restraining the commission from registering APC. There could be many court cases, but until there is a court order, no one can preempt what a court will do and act on that basis. In the meantime, ACN went on to appeal to all the supporters of the emerging APC across the country to remain calm over the registration issue. ‘’We know that many of our teeming supporters are upset by the report of the shenanigans in INEC over this issue. But it is important for them to remain law-abiding as we await the decision of INEC. We are confident, going by the words of INEC itself, that the court case instituted by those laying claim to the APC acronym has no bearing on what is going on”.  It was not only the ACN that was caught up in the tension and anxiety that gripped the parties.  ANPP through its National Publicity Secretary of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Chief Emma Eneukwu urged the commission not to succumb to pressures from agents of the the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to frustrate the registration of the new opposition coalition party. Eneukwu said although it will be a shock to the merging parties if INEC rejects registration application for APC, they have the capacity to forge ahead.  All the worries and permutations eventually took flight when on Wednesday INEC made a surprise announcement in a statement signed by the secretary of the commission, Alhaji Abduallhi Kaugama, that the merging parties’s application for the registration of APC was successful
INEC letter to the merging parties said: “The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has approved the application by three political parties – the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) – to merge into one, to be known as the All Progressives Congress.  On considering the application, the commission found that the applicant-parties have met all statutory requirements for the merger, and has accordingly granted their request.

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