Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
In an apparent move to ensure that President Muhammadu Buhari romps home in his yet-to-be-announced bid for the ruling party’s re-nomination, a strong lobby group within the All Progressives Congress is pushing for elongation of the tenure of the current National Working Committee led by Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, THISDAY has learnt. This was as a reliable source within APC confirmed yesterday that the party had decided to give Buhari all necessary support to run for a second term in 2019.
A top party source said the current thinking in the party was that Odigie-Oyegun and his NWC should be allowed to stay in office a little longer to enable them organise the presidential primaries that would endorse Buhari later in the year as the candidate of APC in next year’s presidential election.
Odigie-Oyegun and other members of the NWC were elected on June 13, 2014 for a four-year tenure, which would end this year. Though, the former governor of Edo State can seek re-election as APC national chairman, he is said not to be keen to vie again for reasons bordering on age and political considerations. The tenure elongation idea, THISDAY gathered, has gained ground within the party. Those trying to get him to continue as national chairman, and who are also pushing the Buhari re-election move, believe extending the NWC’s tenure would help to ensure stability and avoid internal disruptions, disaffections, and realignments that usually follow elective conventions. Which is why they are keen to push such contest forward, and have it after Buhari’s endorsement as the APC presidential candidate.
According to the source, the approval for a three-month extension of tenure for the NWC may be sought through a non-elective convention to be held in June. It said Buhari loyalists considered Odigie-Oyegun a more trusted person to deliver the ticket of the party to the president without precipitating crisis. They believe that it would be too risky to take the party through two elective conventions in one year due to the negative fallouts of such exercises. Again, the possibility of not resolving the crisis that may result from the election of new national officers in good time may spell doom for the ruling party ahead of the presidential poll in February next year.
Another argument in support of the retention of Odigie-Oyegun is that since he organised the December 2014 national convention in Lagos, where Buhari emerged presidential candidate of the party, which many saw as a big boost for the party ahead of its victory in the presidential election, he should be allowed to replicate the feat.
It is however, uncertain how a key segment of the party loyal to one of APC’s national leaders who ones called for Odigie-Oyegun’s resignation would react to the attempt to extend his tenure.
Many of the governors elected on the platform of the APC have openly supported Buhari’s second term bid. However, there is no consensus yet on the kind of arrangement that would be adopted to hand the party’s ticket to Buhari without undermining the democratic process and incurring the anger of some critical stakeholders. At the party’s last NEC meeting, members unanimously passed a vote of confidence on Buhari, saying he has performed satisfactorily. The national chairman also got a vote of confidence.
Underscoring the need to retain the national chairman, a chieftain of APC and Director-general of Voice of Nigeria, Osita Okechukwu, told THISDAY yesterday that, “Very few members of our party are in hash tones saying Mr. President should not go for second term, but majority had already endorsed him for a second term. It follows as well that the endorsement of the executive can follow the same line. As it stands in Nigeria today, I will not advise the party go into internal feud, it won’t be in its interest now.”
Okechukwu said that the zoning arrangement in the party, like the other parties in the country, which required the positions of presidential candidate and party chairman to be shared between the northern and southern regions, favoured Odigie-Oyegun’s retention as national chairman. Okechukwu said since Buhari was going for a second term, there was no need for a change of guard at the party’s leadership.
The VON director-general said, “The tradition in liberal democracy has been that if the zoning of the office of the incumbent president is going to remain where it is, the zoning of party national offices naturally falls in the same way because the zoning is either adjudged by the geopolitical considerations or other factors.”
The ruling party has been criticised by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party for failing to hold a convention in the last two years in contravention of its own constitution. However, APC at its last NEC meeting in November tried to correct the anomaly by directing that a non-elective convention be held before the end of 2017. But the leadership of the party shifted the non-elective convention to this year, saying that it would like to align activities leading to its convention with the 2019 election timetable to be released by the Independent National Electoral Commission.
According to the INEC timetable, which was recently released, collection of nomination forms by political parties for national and state elections will be done between August 11 and 24, 2018 while conduct of primaries, including resolution of disputes for national and state elections, will be between August 18 and October 7, 2018. Also primaries for FCT Area Council elections will hold between September 4 and October 27, 2018.
The INEC timetable also fixed commencement of campaigns for the presidential and National Assembly elections for November 18, 2018, with the campaigns to end February 14, 2019. For the governorship and state assembly elections, the campaigns will commence December 1, 2018 and end on February 28, 2019, according to the timetable.
While speaking last year on the mini convention, APC’s National Publicity Secretary, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, said though no date had been fixed for the non-elective convention, the party had asked NEC to fix dates for all outstanding activities of the party before the main elective convention.
Abdullahi had stated, “Like I said after the NEC meeting, because we were unable to hold the convention at the scheduled time – our mini convention scheduled for July 2017 – that means that all the programmes that the party has would have to dovetail into one another. We have the party’s state congresses coming up, we have the mini convention and the elective convention coming up that must happen by the first half of next year (2018).”