APC CHAIRMANSHIP: Top 10 contenders unveiled

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Buni under pressure to contest
Battle for control of party structure gathers steam

Uba Group

BY ROTIMI DUROJAIYE, AUGUSTINE AVWODE AND BENEDICT NWACHUKWU

As the 2023 general elections draw nearer, the scramble for the control of the structures of the ruling All Progressives Congress has started in earnest, and the race for the national chairmanship seat of the party has unofficially commenced.

Investigations by The Point revealed that several northern leaders of the party have started consultations ahead of the national convention.

It is believed that the chairmanship position may be zoned to the North because of a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ for the Presidency to go to the South after President Muhammadu Buhari’s second and final four-year term in 2023.

This issue has, however, been controversial. A good number of stakeholders have said that the next President could come from any zone, noting that there is neither zoning nor gentleman agreement in the party’s constitution.

Former governors and senators are among those jostling for the coveted office.

Although, the aspirants are waiting for the party to release its zoning formula before making formal declarations, most of the candidates have started subtle campaigns.

The Governor of Yobe State, Mai Mala Buni, who is the chairman of the current Caretaker Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee, is being persuaded to run to retain the seat as elected national chairman.

The CECPC chairman has continued to receive accolades from the presidency, his colleague governors in Progressives Governors Forum, members of the CECPC, party leaders at all levels for his magic touch that has revitalised, refocused and pulled back the party from the brink since the exit of the Adams Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee.

The APC 13-man CECPC led by Buni was inaugurated in June last year, following the sack of Oshiomhole, about two years to the end of his tenure.

Though the governor has not indicated or made his interest public, The Point gathered reliably that he is under intense pressure to contest for the position.

A top chieftain of the party told The Point on the condition of anonymity that “Governor Mai Mala Buni is all that our party needs as we head for the 2023 general elections.”

“He has done well as our caretaker committee chairman. It is his leadership that has attracted top politicians and caused mass defections to APC. Under him, APC has achieved a lot, so do we need to stop him? For what reason? Yes he is a sitting governor, but he is doing very well as our chairman. If he is the sure bet to lead us to victory in 2023, then it’s a welcome development,” he added.

Even President Buhari has very good words of commendation for Buni on account of his handling of the party affairs.

In a goodwill message to Buni on his 54th birthday on Friday, Buhari extolled the Yobe governor’s virtues in almost superlative adjectives in a statement by Garba Shehu, his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity.

“The President commends the party chieftain for providing exceptional and visionary leadership at state and national levels, noting in particular the role played by the Chairman, who is also the Governor of Yobe State, in successfully repositioning the party, with remarkable evidence in increased membership, healthy social atmosphere and exemplary internal democracy.

“The President extols the political leader for inspiring hope in the young and old for a greater and better future for Nigeria by embarking on a historic reconciliation and restitution drive that has strengthened the governing party and positioned it for victories, starting with the successful ward, local and state conventions, and build up to a national convention.

“President Buhari notes the laudable achievements of the Buni led political team that rekindled hope in members, attracted new members, including key leaders in other parties, and steadily showed the APC as the most organised, well-structured and fully motivated platform for bringing development to the country.”

Also on Saturday, APC governors passed a subtle vote of confidence on Buni, saying he had continued to provide an all-inclusive leadership for the APC.

The governors, in a statement by their chairman and Governor of Kebbi State, Abubakar Atiku Bagudu, felicitated with Buni on the occasion of his 54th birthday, saying he had led the party well.

“We wish to acknowledge and commend your leadership, vision and commitment to a united and prosperous Nigeria. As the chairman, APC Caretaker and Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee, we celebrate your inclusiveness leadership in this period of the life of our Party, APC,” Bagudu stated.

The APC governors added that Buni had been “a consistent and selfless contributor to progressive initiatives towards developing our states and Nigeria.”

“We also recognize your insightful and resolute inputs to the processes of managing governance in Yobe State. As Governor of Yobe State, through all the development initiatives being implemented by your APC-led government, you are a shining light of our politics.

“As we rejoice with, HE Mai Mala Buni, we also reaffirm our collective commitment to implement programmes that would strengthen the capacities of our progressive states to create jobs, stimulate economic activity, reduce inequality and diminish poverty in Nigeria,” the statement added.

The APC Rebirth Group, otherwise known as Concerned APC Stakeholders, congratulated Buni on the occasion of his 54th birthday, with a demand that he immediately puts in place, machineries for the conduct of the party’s national convention.

The statement signed by one of its leaders, Aliyu Audu, however, noted Buni’s strides as a politician of note and commended him for stepping up to the challenge of leadership at a period the APC was going through what seemed like insurmountable challenges.

Buni has rich credentials through his performance as both governor and chairman of the party’s caretaker committee. He has the choice of seeking re-election as Yobe State governor in 2023.

The National Secretary CECPC, John Akpanudoedehe, has always described Buni as an achiever, peacemaker, stabilising voice and patriot.

However, some stakeholders of the party are asking him to resign and not to contest for the party’s national chairmanship position.

Buni had also come under storm following attacks launched by aggrieved stakeholders of the party.

In the latest of such attacks, a chieftain of the party from Zamfara State, Kabiru Marafa, described the Buni-led CECPC as an illegal contraption. Another group known as Concerned APC Stakeholders asked him to resign or get sacked.

Buni has had his tenure renewed for his good work and achievements since he assumed office.

Although the date for the imminent elective national convention has yet to be decided, just as its guidelines have not been released, an undercurrent has started flowing through its membership on the matter, fueling speculations on a consensus arrangement.

The fact that most of its ward and local government congresses were based on consensus, gives merit to the speculations.

Aspirants for the top party position have commenced consultations on how to achieve their respective dreams.

No less than 11 notable figures are believed to be eyeing the chairmanship position and pulling the strings in that regard.

Stakeholders are already feeling the impact of the consultations as aspirants and their agents scavenge for support across the country.

All the power blocs in the party are in auto mode activation to protect their respective interests.

The notable power units include the legacy parties that coalesced to form APC in 2013, the APC Governor’s Forum, the National Assembly caucus of the party, former governors, former federal lawmakers and the regional groups.

The Point learnt that all the groups are involved in the game of suspense, intrigues and horse trading on a convention that promises to be the most explosive in the party’s history.

The most important issue of discussion among politicians in the country has been on which zone will produce the presidential candidate of the party in the next election.

““Although the date for the imminent elective national convention has yet to be decided, just as its guidelines have not been released, an undercurrent has started flowing through its membership on the matter, fueling speculations on a consensus arrangement

Promoters of an unwritten rotational arrangement between the north and south want zoning to be honoured, while those opposed to it want the contest to be thrown open to all, irrespective of region of origin.

A look at the regional demography of the chairmanship aspirants, however, shows the zoning influence.

THE CONTENDERS

Except for the blend of one aspirant from the south, the people positioning for the position are predominantly from the north.

Arrayed in battle for the APC top party office are experienced statesmen and technocrats.

Here are some of the frontline aspirants.

Umaru Tanko Al-Makura, a former two term governor of Nasarawa State, now representing Nasarawa South, is a major contender to the party’s top seat.

He has not made formal declaration of his intent but news making the rounds has identified him as a prime contender.

He was the only CPC governor before the merger that gave birth to APC and his supporters believe this singular feat has effectively qualified him to vie for the post.

Al-Makura, born November 15, 1952, has also achieved a lot as a politician and businessman. A two-term governor and a serving senator, he enjoys massive followership. He has remained a loyalist of President Muhammadu Buhari, having been an astute member of the President’s former party, CPC, whose popularity defied the challenges of both PDP and ANPP to win governorship election in Nasarawa on April 26, 2011, running on the CPC ticket.

Al-Makura defected from the PDP after losing the primary elections for the Nasarawa governorship polls. He contested for re-election in the April 11, 2015 elections and won on the platform of the APC.

George Akume, one of the prominent APC chairmanship aspirants, has just set up an ultra-modern campaign office in Maitama, Abuja. The move sets him apart from the crowd and shows a level of seriousness and determination on Akume’s part.

The new campaign office set up by Akume houses the same office used by the National Committee of Buhari Support Groups during the 2019 general elections.

Already the office is currently a beehive of activities where countless strategies and brainstorming sessions are held daily. Akume in the coming weeks will hold a massive declaration rally in Benue State.

Two term governor of Benue State, former senator and serving minister of the Federal Republic, Akume is working hard to emerge as the national chairman of the APC.

Ali Modu Sheriff is a popular name in politics. He was a two term governor of Borno State, a senator, and at a time the national chairman of the PDP before returning to the APC.

Sheriff is known as SAS in political circles. He is what political watchers describe as heavyweight in the Nigerian political parlance. He was the first Borno State governor to serve two consecutive terms. Though Sheriff had held two elected offices as a member of the All Nigeria People’s Party, he would later join the APC becoming a founding member of that party.

In 2014, Sheriff switched affiliation to the PDP. He acted as the National Working Committee chairman from February 16, 2016 until the national convention when he was removed and replaced by former governor Ahmed Makarfi. On April 26, 2018, he returned to the APC.

An APC chieftain from Delta State and immediate past interim Executive Director of Project on the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission, Cairo Ojougboh, said the chances of Sheriff clinching the chairmanship of the APC were very bright.

Ojougboh, who was deputy national chairman of the Modu-Sherif faction of the PDP, before they defected to the APC, told The Point that “The Ali Modu Sheriff project is very much on and we are very hopeful and relying on his wealth of experience for the APC to accept him as the next national chairman.

“Looking at the field, in him, you have a man who is well established and well-grounded and so his chances are very bright. The campaign office at 21, Gana Street, Maitama, is a beehive of activities where several meetings and consultations are taking place every day. Even as we speak, I am talking to you from the campaign office.”

Ojougboh urged the party not to zone the position so that it wouldn’t jeopardise the chances of the party in 2023.

“In party politics, positions are zoned to persons in the interest of the party so that the person who can hold the party together and deliver on the need of the party gets it. The APC is a very well-established party and very well rooted to know that zoning should not jeopardise their chances of winning the election in 2023,” he said.

A former two-term Governor of Nasarawa State and third term Senator, Abdullahi Adamu, is a strong defender of merit and competence as basis for sharing political positions. From 1977 when he won election into the Constituent Assembly, Adamu has grown through the ranks in politics.

He was former NPN state secretary and chairman. He says he will bring his wealth of experience to bear in managing the party.

The North Central zone where he hails from is in strong contention for the slot and most of his opponents are from the zone. He is of the old PDP block.
Former Governor Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara State is also a major contender.

He was a former two-term governor of Zamfara State, which he held firmly for the party.

Those agitating for zoning do not favour his North West zone in their discussions. It is also left to be seen how the recent defection of his successor, Governor Matawalle from the PDP to APC will affect his aspiration.

Yari leaves the matter in the hands of God. “If God decides that it should be, it is going to be. People can manouvre and do all sorts of calculations, but they will not prevail. All I know is that I can lead this party and they know what I can do,” he said.

Although he has yet to declare his chairmanship ambition, he enjoys the support of many members of the National Assembly to become the national chairman of the APC.

Mallam Isa Yuguda served as governor of Bauchi State for eight years and a minister for six years. He has declared his intention to run for the chairmanship race. He said he reviewed his earlier decision to stay out of public view in the interest of the party and country.

“I was privileged to serve in Nigeria for six years as minister and eight years as governor. I think I have served long enough in the Villa to know the dynamism in the power at the centre. If I am the dullest person, at least I still have to offer something that will be meaningful. This is why I said let me give it a shot. If I succeed, fine and good and if I don’t, the Almighty Allah will not say you did not come out,” Yuguda said.

His aspiration is reported to be making waves across the country.

Senator Danjuma Goje, a serving third term senator was Gombe State Governor for eight years. His supporters believe he has a unique ability to bring people together.

He was in contention for the senate presidency until he deferred to Senator Ahmed Lawan, the current president.

His supremacy battle with the present governor of his state over control of the party structure may affect his chances.

Saliu Mustapha is one of the very few aspirants who has never served as governor or in the National Assembly, but interested in the APC national chairmanship race. He hails from Kwara State.

The young businessman turned politician is of the old CPC block, and a founding member of the APC. Mustapha has held many party positions, including deputy national chairman of CPC. He says he will be a bridge builder between the old and the young.

Another dark horse for the race is Sunny Moniedafe. He was born and raised in Adamawa State by parents from Delta State. He was Secretary of ACN in the FCT before the formation of the mega APC. He was the first to declare his intention to succeed Oshiomhole.

“I will put every bit of my energy to institute an effective working synergy among all party structures and arms of the government, which is critical to ensuring that promises made during campaigns are not mere rhetoric but will be accelerated and fulfilled to the letter for the good of Nigeria and its citizens, as well as excellent global relations.

“My dealings as a national chairman will exhibit absolute transparency in the party’s affairs as one of its hallmarks. We will be free of any form of influence or corruption whatsoever,” he said.

Another contender is Sani Mohammed Musa. He is the Senator representing Niger East and at 54, among the youngest in the race. He enjoys the support of his Governor Sani Bello.

“Promoters of an unwritten rotational arrangement between the north and south want zoning to be honoured, while those opposed to it want the contest to be thrown open to all, irrespective of region of origin

The aspirant promised to utilise his experience in service of the party.

“My experience in private and public sectors, the capacity required to manage diverse people and interests irrespective of tribe, religion and region is already imbibed by me. I am a mobilizer, a bridge-builder, and a strategist that is passionate about the wholesome development of the nation. I possess a strong interpersonal skill by demonstrating the utmost discretion and integrity in all of my dealings,” he said.

A chieftain of the party, Abdullahi Jalo, is of the opinion that “the kind of national chairman we need now is one who can unite the party, he must have grassroots appeal and command the respect of all members.”

When three opposition political parties, namely: the All Nigeria Peoples Party, Action Congress of Nigeria and the Congress for Progressive Change, as well as a fragment of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, came together to form the All Progressives Congress, little if anything, was heard about their power-sharing agreement.

Rather, party leaders were preoccupied with pursuing the main objective – to wrest power from the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party and form government.

No sooner than the APC won the election in 2015, that the internal squabble for the control of the party structure started.

With President Buhari from the CPC assuming office as President, the ACN bloc produced the first National Chairman of the party in the person of Chief John Odigie-Oyegun.

Political intrigues marked Odigie-Oyegun’s tenure.

Odigie-Oyegun’s successor, who is also a member of the APC but from the ACN bloc, was Adams Oshiomhole. His tenure ran into troubled waters quite early.

From clashes with fellow members of the National Working Committee of the party to governors and ministers, Oshiomhole was always in the news.

The crisis of confidence in the party under Oshiomhole led to a series of court cases with different members of the NWC laying claim to the chairmanship seat within a space of 48 hours.

Many members of the party heaved a sigh of relief when on June 25, 2020, President Buhari presided over a hurriedly-called National Executive Committee meeting of the party where the Oshiomhole-led NWC was dissolved.

Soon after the dissolution of the NWC, the 13-member Governor Mai-Mala Buni-led Caretaker/ Extra-Ordinary National Convention Planning Committee, was put together and given the mandate to reconcile aggrieved party members and organise a national convention to elect new national officers.

It’s been over a year now since the Buni-led CECPC took the initiative and embarked on a membership registration and revalidation exercise to pave the way for congresses that would lead to a national convention where new members of NWC are expected to be elected.

The congresses which have since commenced have not been without challenges.

There have been reported cases of parallel congresses in Kwara, Ogun, Osun, Lagos, and Enugu states among others.

Those interested in party positions at the national level are not leaving anything to chance.

How well the APC is able to manage the fallout of its recent rancorous congresses will impact heavily on the job schedule of whoever eventually wins the national chairmanship contest, stakeholders say.