Category: Big Story Written by Ismaila Lere, Muideen Olaniyi & Abbas Jimoh Hits: 11211
• 2015: Buhari insists on presidential candidate acceptable to the North
• Governors work out reconciliation
• Party sets up legal team to tackle INEC on registration
The coming together of the four main opposition parties, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) to form the All Progressive Congress (APC) has created ripples within the nation’s political arena.
This is not the first time Nigeria’s top opposition political parties will be coming together, partly or as a whole, in their desire to wrestle political power at the centre from the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The resolve is to put all resources together to form a platform that is equally gigantic in magnitude to match PDP in contests.
The parties have always claimed that the ruling PDP has grown into a behemoth, that a confrontation by fractions of diverse small units of independent forces would not serve the purpose of dislodging it.
The efforts of the four parties eventually paid off with the announcement of the formation of the APC on February 6, coming on the heels of a meeting of the 10 governors of the opposition parties a day before in Lagos where they endorsed the merger.
Chairman of the merger committee of the ACN and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Tom Ikimi, who read the one-page communiqué of the meeting announcing the birth of APC said the new party’s mission is to restore hope to Nigeria.
“At no time in our national life has radical change become more urgent. And to meet the challenge of that change, we, the following progressive political parties, namely ACN, ANPP, APGA and CPC have resolved to merge forthwith and become the All Progressives Congress (APC) and offer to our beleaguered people a recipe for peace and prosperity. We resolve to form a political party committed to the principles of internal democracy, focused on serious issues of concern to our people, determined to bring corruption and insecurity to an end - housing, agriculture, industrial growth, etc - and stop the increasing mood of despair and hopelessness among our people.
“The resolution of these issues, the restoration of hope, the enthronement of true democratic values for peace, democracy and justice are those concerns which propel us. We believe that by these measures only shall we restore our dignity and position of pre-eminence in the comity of nations. This is our pledge,” Ikimi said.
The position paper was jointly signed by Ikimi, ANPP merger committee chairman and former Kano State governor, Alhaji Ibrahim Shekarau, CPC merger committee chairman and former deputy governor of Bauchi State, Alhaji Garba Mohammed Gadi and the representative of APGA merger committee, Senator Annie Okonkwo.
But even as members of the opposition parties are busy formalising the merger agreement, stories are making the rounds that the 2015 aspirations of some prominent members of the new party may derail the APC from gelling into a formidable political force.
Sunday Trust investigations revealled that apart from the challenges of the perennial crisis in the CPC and APGA that is affecting the smooth take-off of APC – in the case of CPC, the Sen. Rufai Hanga faction has indicated its intention to withdraw all court cases – a bigger problem lies in how to convince the various individuals and groups to step down their interests for the good of all, especially the presidency in 2015. While younger politicians like Rochas Okorocha, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Ibrahim Shekarau and Malam Nasir el-Rufai are reportedly interested in the presidency, Gen. Buhari has remained the main motivation for the strength of the APC and many fear that without the presence of his very strong personality, the attraction would vanish, hence it would be an uphill task to ask him to step down for any other candidate.
A source, who pleaded anonymity, told Sunday Trust that Gen. Buhari and Tinubu have specifically met twice on their presidential ambitions and that the two have tacitly agreed that it would be rather in the best interest of the newly formed party to back young candidates than either of them contesting in the 2015 presidential election.
“Tinubu was emphatic that he would not be contesting, the General (Buhari) was however not as emphatic as Tinubu. He said the onus will be on the party after the formalisation of registration with the INEC to pick a presidential candidate that would be acceptable to the North, which if he decides not to run may make his decision acceptable to Nigerians who want him and his supporters,” the source said.
When contacted, national publicity secretaries of the ACN, Alhaji Lai Mohammed and his CPC counterpart, Rotimi Fashakin in separate interviews, were unanimous that Buhari and Tinubu’s fate over the 2015 presidency will be decided by the APC.
Fashakin told Sunday Trust in Abuja that insinuation that Buhari has stepped down his presidential ambition is untrue and that it has been made clear that the newly found APC will decide his fate.
“Gen. Buhari has said it that, it is up to the party to give him ticket or not and he may then make his own decision on it but to say he has opted out of contest now when nothing of such has been discussed, is mischievous,” Fashakin said.
Also concurring with the CPC spokesman, a chieftain of the party, Senator Hadi Sirika insisted that the former Head of State has every right to contest the presidency in 2015 even though it will be the decision of the new party to make if Gen. Buhari would be on the party’s ticket.
“I don’t know what reason they have to ask Gen. Buhari to step aside. Gen. Buhari as a Nigerian, has every reason to be entitled to aspire for any office and he is so permitted by the law to do so.
“If you will recall I am the first to say Gen. Buhari will contest in the presidential election in 2015. Gen. Buhari has said that if his party will approach him to contest he will consider it and he always means whatever he says. For me, we did not form APC for anybody to contest election. We have, indeed, formed APC to provide a strong, alternative platform for Nigerians. We are facing serious socio-economic challenges as a nation. Our country is being run aground and we don’t believe in the quality and style of leadership provided by the PDP-led government.
“The question whether Buhari will contest has nothing to do with APC but I can personally tell you that Gen. Buhari will contest for the presidency in 2015 by God’s grace,” Senator Sirika said.
Lai Mohammed on his part said, “Despite that, we are ahead in our schedule of the merger arrangement, we have not even discussed anything that has to do with officers, let alone the contestants. When we get to that level and we all know the APC would have been enlarged then, those who would represent the party will emerge, the party will decide who the flag bearers would be.”
Aside from the muted debate on the likely presidential candidate in 2015, a major hitch that heralded the merger of the opposition parties was internal schism within the individual parties, namely CPC and APGA. The issue of the 10 Katsina lawmakers and the leadership crisis rocking the party which led to institution of court cases challenging the legitimacy of the Prince Tony Momoh led National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party came to fore soon after the formation of APC. The other challenge was the denial by some chieftains of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) disowning membership of the APC, saying Imo State Governor, Owele Rochas Okorocha and Senator Annie Okonkwo were on their own and not representing the party.
Former Minister of Health and Board of Trustees (BOT) member, Dr Tim Menakaya in company of other party stalwarts including Dr Ifedi Okwenna, told reporters in Abuja at the end of a meeting that while they are not against the establishment of a mega opposition party, they believe issue of merger of political parties is a very serious matter that needs adequate consultations before a governor or anybody participates and makes public statement.
Noticing a possible crack in the merger, Asiwaju Tinubu sprang into action, holding series of meetings with principal actors in CPC to find a common ground.
Tinubu last Monday in Abuja, held a four-hour close door meeting with Hanga, which was a follow up to another meeting-held with Buhari and another with Prince Tony Momoh.
However, Sunday Trust gathered that during the meeting Tinubu was told that Gen. Buhari was blackmailed into accepting the Tony Momoh-led National Executive Committee (NEC) and that he (Tinubu) should prevail on Buhari to drop his recognition for Momoh as part of measures to achieve genuine reconciliation, a request Tinubu reportedly turned down.
Tinubu, it was gathered, promised to get the two factions to meet with other leaders of the APC for a collective bargaining and resolution of the crisis.
Sunday Trust learnt that Chairman of the Merger Committee of ACN, Chief Tom Ikimi, was with Tinubu at the meeting, while Senator Sani Stores, Hon. Abba Sada, Shehu B. Ningi, Engr. Chris Oko, Idris Usman Maiyanga and Dele Sobaloju among others were with the Hanga group.
The former Lagos state governor seemed to have succeeded in his trouble-shooting as he told newsmen that his interest is to ensure the success of the APC and things are moving according to plan. Apparently, Sen. Hanga said his group are committed to the success of the merger of the APC, as he they going along with the reconciliation in the interest of the masses and Nigerians and that they will not compromise the rights of Nigerians to have the desired change. When asked if his group would withdraw the cases in court, he said, “We are ready to do anything that will make this merger possible.”
But responding, the CPC spokesman, Rotimi Fashakin, said the party had welcomed Tinubu’s trouble-shooting, but it would not be blackmailed into surrendering its legitimacy by the Hanga group.
On the part of APGA, which the Presidency purportedly infiltrated to make sure the party renounced the merger as part of the grand strategy to undermine the APC, it was agreed that time should be given to it to resolve its internal crisis. APC, Sunday Trust learnt, will be willing to work with it whenever it normalizes its internal process and is ready to join the platform.
“Since democracy is about choice, alignments and re-alignments hinged on the fundamentals of individual freedom of association, we respect their (APGA) position, and will like to describe as unfortunate, whatever misconception the purported full involvement of APGA in the merger may have generated. But it is not only parties that can join APC but progressive individuals and groups can also join the party.
“On this basis, therefore, individuals such as the Imo State Governor and others of like minds are still considered members of the APC,” said Lai Mohammed.
Though the ACN and ANPP seem to be wrangle-free in the APC, the seeming clash of interest of former Borno State governor and ANPP BOT chairman, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff cannot be overlooked.
Sen. Sheriff was reportedly in romance with the Presidency and was arrow-heading a move to undermine the merger process. Some observers opined that his alliance with President Jonathan would further heighten the suspicion of his involvement in the new party.
But Senator Sheriff, who surprisingly attended the expanded caucus meeting of the APC on Wednesday told others in attendance, “I am for All Progressives Congress (APC)”, adding that he decided to attend the session to end speculations about his political standing.
Meanwhile, as the new party takes steps to resolve primordial wranglings within its composite units, Sunday Trust gathered that the eleven governors in the APC fold have been mandated to spearhead reconciliation of different factions in their states and ensure adequate mobilisation of members ahead of the special conventions of their respective parties in March, for ratification of the merger before the parties will be dissolved into APC. The party’s meeting on Wednesday also saw the announcement of the constitution of three committees, the Constitution, Manifesto and Strategic Committees, which may be inaugurated next week.