IT is too early to determine whether the plot to oust the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Adams Oshiomhole, will acquire enough momentum to keep it revving. Not only is it too early trying to determine the integrity of the plot, the plot itself is coming too early in the day. Triggered by Lawan Shuaibu, APC deputy national chairman (North), through a letter calling for Mr Oshiomhole’s resignation, the plot is widely expected to miscarry in its first trimester. Sen Shuaibu, who is from Zamfara State that is convulsed with intra-party crisis and enervated by sweeping legal cum electoral losses, is merely the titular arrowhead of the conspiracy to force the party chairman out. Mr Oshiomhole is accused of high-handedness, blamed for the loss of Zamfara State to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2019 elections, and denounced for alienating some aggrieved governors, a few of whom the chairman caused to be suspended for anti-party activities.
Going by the changes — not reforms — instituted by Mr Oshimhole in the party, the APC is expected to remain somewhat agitated in the foreseeable future. The old ways of doing things have proved very ephemeral and destabilising. Instituting new ways will, therefore, engender natural resistance and acrimony, especially if the new ways are driven by the chairman’s unionist approach to running things, not to say his idiosyncratic brittleness and impatience. The party may still get round to instituting reforms and restructuring its mode of operation; but for now, it has its hands full trying to discipline, manage and pacify quarrelsome and intransigent members and leaders. Mr Oshiomhole is in the thick of the fight. But meanwhile, the APC will stick to identifying and emplacing cosmetic changes and, if top members still prove a handful, carrying out major cosmetic surgeries, often without anaesthesia, forswearing the deep restructuring indispensable for building an enduring party organisation.
Whether party leaders sense it or not, and regardless of the absence of a systematisation of the renewal efforts being undertaken in the party, the APC is involved in a struggle to determine which of two worldviews to embrace: party supremacy or governors supremacy. For many years, both the APC (and its progenitors) and the PDP had been shackled by powerful governors who virtually determined who breathed and who didn’t breathe in the party. Party chairmen were at their beck and call, and state and federal lawmakers were either disembowelled by the governors or rendered soulless. It led to terrible fights for influence and control between some governors and recalcitrant federal lawmakers who, after being defeated, were invariable exiled. In the end, agitated lawmakers were often bludgeoned to submission so openly that aspiring rebels lose appetite for revolt. The collateral damage of that waning appetite is that state assemblies, state judiciary and traditional chieftaincy institutions became completely shorn of courage.
Worse, because governors called the shot in the party, even presidential primaries became hopelessly hamstrung, not to talk of state and national legislative primaries that became a farce. Local governments fared much worse, all of them, without exception, completely castrated. The Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF), until it was disgraced and degraded by its recent chairmen, chief among whom was the inscrutable poster boy for ineffectiveness, Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara State, almost became the alternate presidency and national legislature. There word was law, and their whims became both practice and convention. When the NGF met in those giddy days, sometimes well into the night, media hounds had sleepless nights and worked hard to either plant spies inside the governors’ meeting halls or hire mind, body language and lip readers.
Having acquired such enormous power and influence over the years, with presidents and powerful politicians and aspirants pandering to their every whim and grinning at their coarse jokes, Nigerian governors are characteristically loth to be so emasculated. The rebellious Sen Shuaibu, a political handyman, is predictably the instrument in the hands of aggrieved governors to give voice and face to the resentment seething below the surface, the first shot among many to come to weaken or distract Mr Oshiomhole from persisting in his radical and insouciant ways. Since the senator from Zamfara shot his first cannon through a lengthy letter brimming with diatribe and judgement, other fusillades have since erupted from the howitzers of party rank and file. If they can sense that the resolve of Mr Oshiomhole is weakening, or if his backers, especially the president, appears to be wavering, they will press home their advantage, corner their quarry, and finish him off without mercy.
Mr Oshiomhole is, however, the natural embodiment of the second worldview, the chief proponent among those who argue that party supremacy is to be desired far above anything else, and must be restored. They see party supremacy as more enduring, less fickle, and far more promotive of party discipline and cohesiveness. The party chairman himself, being evidently desirous of accreting power to an office weakened and left forlorn by former chairman John Odigie-Oyegun, is a firm and enthusiastic supporter of party supremacy. So, it is far easier for him to champion the cause of APC recovering its soul and rediscovering its raison d’être. Some see him as a tool in the hands of a few party leaders, a pathfinder to foist party dictatorship and unspeakable cruelty by calculative politicians casting wary glances at 2023. But his detractors defame the person of so accomplished a unionist like Mr Oshiomhole, a man who is by nature and by self-training accustomed to fostering radical viewpoints and political pragmatism.
Like many serious APC leaders and members, Mr Oshiomhole knew that running the APC like his predecessor did and sustaining the ghastly status quo was simply untenable. Change had to come, even if imperious governors and stubborn national lawmakers had to be dragged screaming and kicking into a new regime of party discipline. Chief Odigie-Oyegun was not in charge, especially in his last one year in office. He was held in thrall by governors whose capricious view of politics and party organisation had become so wayward that few Nigerians bothered to call APC a party. Under the former chairman, the party had no soul, and its listless, heaving body was fodder to every politician, including President Muhammadu Buhari who saw himself in contradistinctive glory with the party that put him in office. Indeed, under the former chairman, the party was derided and feckless, waiting for an implosion.
In his provocative letter, Sen Shuaibu accuses Mr Oshiomhole of weakening the party and exposing it to needless electoral losses, even pointing out that the APC lost seven states to the PDP. But had Mr Oshiomhole not taken over, the losses, which were exaggerated by the senator, would have been more traumatising. The party would then have needed more unscrupulousness than it summoned in the last polls to either sustain its control, win a few more states, or even check its inevitable decline. Its net loss is of course less than Sen Shuaibu proclaimed from the rooftops. But more fundamentally, if the governors had had their way in line with the conservative arguments advocated by Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State, if the vacillating President Buhari had not been finally bowled over by legal and political arguments so close to elections he feared he could lose, and if the audacious Mr Oshiomhole had not himself been readily available and eager to give his candidacy a greater push than his backers intended, the quest for change would have floundered and a nauseous and unsustainable status quo would have prevailed.
Moments after the uppity Mr Oshiomhole took over the party chairmanship, he began to propound political, legal and judicial theories about party discipline and supremacy. He was colourful where Chief Odigie-Oyegun was staid, and radical and rambunctious where his predecessor was overwhelmed with a sense of appeasement and compromise. The party was of course not reorganised, as there was no time for fundamental structural changes, but the new chairman infused the party with an infectious can-do spirit that instantly alarmed the woolly hairs in the party, sending signals to state regicides to rise and decapitate their tormentors. Backed by Mr Oshiomhole’s visceral and abrasive statements, most of them lacking rhyme and reason, the regicides took the battle to their hated governors and party chieftains. Indeed, for some tantalising weeks, it seemed as if the apocalypse the Akeredolu-Oyegun political alliance predicted would come to pass. Strangely, the party core held together, perhaps by the skin of its teeth, and the anticipated implosion didn’t happen.
The Oshiomhole tendency is now tentatively on the ascendancy. This accounts for the troubles he is beginning to have. No one knows how long the party will hold together, or whether it can survive another scare like it experienced before the 2019 elections. For now, some measure of party discipline has been restored, with a few former governors, some of them powerful friends of the president, suspended for rebellion. Indeed, their open anti-party activities surprisingly led the president to walk the tightrope before and during the polls, fearing that if he sided with the party, as he should, it would lead to an open war. The president knew he could not side with his friends. He stood to lose much more. In the months and probably years ahead, Mr Oshiomhole will be tested in ways neither he nor his friends have ever imagined. The president will be called to finally side with one side. He will, however, dither as he is accustomed to. For now the phony war will rage on until, finally shorn of pretences, the combatants clamber out of their trenches, having expended their bullets, to fight brutally and sickeningly with bayonets. No one knows who will win, or whether the party will even survive the Buhari presidency. The PDP has retaken Zamfara not just because the APC lost the legal war through technicalities, as Itse Sagay, a law professor, argued, but because the party wrecked the state and, through its undisciplined approach to politics, opened up its underbelly to be slashed by the opposition. President Buhari will have to leave behind a disciplined party and, much more, a string of great achievements in order to stave off the Zamfara-type disaster. His best bet will be to stick with Mr Oshiomhole.
But Mr Oshiomhole will also have to help himself. He seeks to enthrone discipline in the APC, but he is often undisciplined in his statements, some of them so amoral and uncouth that he seems to beg the question of his own nascent political philosophies and credentials as a radical and progressive. While his progressive ideology may be in doubt, his pragmatism is not. He is often impatient, carried away by bombast, and can sometimes be cruel and unfeeling to his opponents when a little diplomacy would help. He is lucky that the dividing line in the party between the good side and bad side seems neatly drawn, far better than it is in the opposing PDP. He can, therefore, train his guns on enemy positions far easier than if the lines had been ideologically and ethically blurred. But if his enemies are not encamped behind silhouetted lines, and are in plain sight, in the valley even, it does not absolve him of his customary tactless and impulsive approach to jousting. Mr Oshiomhole is sometimes hyperactive. He needs to calm down, and refine his words, tactics and manners. Above all, he must locate those within the party who can help him develop a great ideology for the party. It is clear that he must bruise his way into delivering a tight and disciplined party. But he must also think his way through delivering a party that is thoughtful and ideologically clear. That is the ultimate victory or revenge he can have against his proliferating enemies within the APC.