The “Oshiomhole Must Go” Coalition, By Reuben Abati
Chief John Odigie Oyegun, former National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) must be having a good laugh wherever he is. If he is just finishing a meal, he can afford to pick his teeth and belch from the deepest part of his biological system, and even turn up his nose as he asks for a glass of water. He can also look around and thank Karma for being kind to him, as he gulps down the water and reflects on the circumstances of the APC since he was shunted aside and Adams Oshiomhole, former Governor of Edo State and former labour leader, supplanted him.
Oyegun’s waterloo was the election in Ondo state and the emergence of Rotimi Akeredolu as Governor, and before then, his power-tussle with some key stakeholders in the South West wing of the ruling party. Oyegun was accused of being disdainful of reconciliation within the party, and not willing to work with some prominent stakeholders. He was seen as an obstacle to party cohesion. He was sacrificed. His place was taken by Adams Oshiomhole.
Oyegun took his humiliation with absolute equanimity and has not since then uttered any fighting words nor has he openly worn his hurt on his sleeves. If he is aggrieved, it would be difficult to find enough evidence, in this season of extreme emotionalism, to prove that such is the case. But if he has been so studiously silent, why we do we think he should laugh and pick his teeth?
Our answer is as follows. His successor, Adams Aliu Oshiomhole, in less than one year of supplanting him has blown nearly all the bridges of goodwill and conspiracy that brought him to power as Chairman of the ruling party. In October 2017, 17 APC governors plotted to remove John Odigie-Oyegun as Chairman of the ruling APC. He was accused of being too close to only 7 out of the 24 APC governors in the country then and that he was using his position to the advantage of the purportedly famous 7.
These seven Governors were named as Nasir el-Rufai (Kaduna), Abdullahi Ganduje (Kano), Mohammed Abubakar (Bauchi), Rochas Okorocha (Imo), Simon Lalong (Plateau), Yahaya Bello (Kogi), and Samuel Ortom (Benue). They were called Oyegun’s “anointed Governors” with whom he was ruling the party. The loyalists of John Odigie-Oyegun at the time insisted that Adams Oshiomhole who had left the Governorship of Edo State and was looking for a job – so they alleged – was the man behind the anti-Oyegun plot. The detractors took their case to President Muhammadu Buhari. Oyegun soon lost his job. Oshiomhole replaced him.
But right now, in what looks like poetic justice, Oshiomhole is at the point where Oyegun was in 2017, and I dare say, he is in a worse position. We are told that 15 out of the 21 Governors of the APC, are now collecting signatures to force the National Executive Committee of the APC to unseat Adams Oshiomhole. In 2017, 17 APC Governors out of 24 wanted Oyegun out. Today, it is not just even 15 Governors that are against Adams Oshiomhole, there is a coalition of APC Presidential aspirants and you can add to that, other aspirants at every level in the recently concluded APC primaries, who are calling for Adams Oshiomhole’s head. They accuse him of extortion and fraud. They say he has become “a cancer to APC”.
Since his assumption of office, Adams Oshiomhole began to carry on like a “little Hitler”- that is what his own party members say behind him – and don’t ask anyone to come forward to say so publicly. Oshiomhole having won the crown of Chairmanship began to pound the floor like a conqueror. He issued threats to Ministers and threatened to sanction them if they did not listen to the party. He in fact began to sound as if he was President of the country. At more illumined moments, he even tried to do the job of the Minister of Information, party spokesperson and presidential spokespersons. He projected himself as a bundle of exaggerated enthusiasm and ambition.
The recent party primaries exposed the limits of Chairman Oshiomhole’s over-reaching politics. The Governors that were against Oyegun were 17. The ones that were for him were 7 as reported. In less than one year of taking over, Oshiomhole is far less popular. Under his watch, all the alleged pro-Oyegun Governors are biting their fingers. They have been battered, crippled, harassed and humiliated. Nasir el-Rufai almost had a heart-ache trying to prove his relevance in Kaduna politics. The same with Rochas Okorocha of Imo.
In Plateau, Simon Lalong began to sound openly like a member of the opposition. Samuel Ortom of Benue chose the option of defection back to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Yahaya Bello (Kogi) is neither here nor there. He follows wherever the Buhari tide flows. But the real issue is that even the Governors that used to be anti-Oyegun and pro-Oshiomhole have turned against Oshiomhole. They don’t want him anymore. In the same manner in which a majority rose against Oyegun in 2017, they have risen against him. This time, the problem is not coming from just Governors, but members of the National Assembly, and all the way down to the grassroots.
Evidentially, the APC, with Chairman Oshiomhole’s NWC in charge, conducted problematic primaries in states like Edo, Ogun, Delta, Rivers, Imo, Zamfara, Kaduna, Kano, Oyo… with negative results. Oshiomhole deployed the powers of the National Working Committee and his influence as Chairman, but he alienated the party’s power base. For this reason, the state Governors and other critical stakeholders are up in arms. In Ogun, Ibikunle Amosun does not understand why some Godfathers in Lagos and Oyo state will be allowed to have their way and he would not be allowed to have a say in the choice of his own successor.
In Zamfara, the Governor even threatened to take the law into his hands if his importance was ignored. In Kaduna, Governor el-Rufai’s arch-rival, Senator Shehu Sani is on his way out of the APC, into another party, and that has split the party in Kaduna state. In Lagos state, the party’s incumbent Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode has been left in limbo, dangling between survival, a lost bid for a second term, and the threat of impeachment around his neck.
On October 21, Oshiomhole, through his aide, issued a statement saying that the reason there is a rebellion against him is because he has been a champion of party supremacy and internal democracy within the APC. Nobody believes that wordy, rambling statement. What is clear is that the party primaries conducted by the APC under Oshiomhole’s watch have been far from transparent. They have been divisive and disruptive. The state of the APC right now, as I have argued elsewhere, is where the PDP was in 2015.
Too many APC aspirants feel that they have been marginalized and excluded because Oshiomhole working with other actors, has hijacked the party. His argument that he is being persecuted because he is insisting on party supremacy is unimpressive. The APC party primaries were riddled with double standards and a descent into fascism by a man once known as a comrade. Oshiomhole may have committed the error of too much identification with the master. He talks about party supremacy. Those who use that phrase should be diplomatically reminded to double-check the source and quality of their knowledge.
They like to quote the United Kingdom, but not even in the UK is the party absolutely supreme – people hold on to their right to differ and be independent. Nobody votes in the House of Commons or the House of Lords like a robot. That is why Prime Minister Theresa May doesn’t have the absolute support of either her cabinet or the parliament on the question of Brexit. In the United Sates, the jurisdiction that we model our democracy after, nobody is a zombie under the banner of party supremacy. That explains the prolonged debate over the suitability of Brett Kavanaugh as a nominee for the US Supreme Court bench, despite the 51-49 majority in favour of Republicans.
In Nigeria, the party Chairman expects party members at all levels to be zombies who take directives from the party. Adams Oshiomhole has not been defending party supremacy. He has been defending the supremacy of Adams Oshiomhole, and that is why he may lose his position as Chairman of the party.
Two things: we must remind ourselves that Governors are very powerful members of either ruling or opposition parties in Nigeria. They control the grassroots for the party and when their party is in power, they wield even greater influence. In either the PDP or the ruling APC, they insist on the control of the party through indirect primaries. In the last APC party primaries, the National Working Committee of the APC marginalized the Governors by voting for direct primaries, despite an earlier agreement that some latitude will be allowed based on the peculiar circumstances in each state. In handling the petitions from the various states, Oshiomhole ignored what had been previously agreed. The tragedy for the APC is that President Buhari is reportedly on the side of the party and Adams Oshiomhole.
President Buhari may support Oshiomhole but can he afford to go into the 2019 elections with a broken, damaged party? I may have predicted the implosion of the APC somewhat too early, but it seems to me that with Oshiomhole now asking the “Red Cross” to save him from drowning, the ruling APC in Nigeria, may have finally arrived at the crossroads. In 2015, the PDP talked about changing the game.
The APC said they were bringing change. Now, the pre-election circumstances of the ruling APC may well be the game changer for the 2019 Nigerian Presidential and general elections. My simple view is that while changing Oshiomhole on the eve of the game may be the inevitable outcome of his own self-inflicted nemesis, perhaps the APC needs to beware of the lessons of history. If he is removed, there will be no orchids for him. If he survives as Chairman, the APC will still pay a price. The APC faces a Hobson’s choice.