By Sufuyan Ojeifo
After nicking the historic presidential election victory in 2015, the All Progressives Congress (APC) was caught in the intriguing, embarrassing webs woven by its members in the National Assembly. That was at the point it showed bad faith in the zoning of key positions in government. Political parties and groups that had coalesced into a mega party to upend Peoples Democratic Party’s 16-year rule had justifiably expected to be rewarded through strategic accommodation in the power-sharing arrangements. But that was only going to happen on an inequitable basis.
Whereas, sharing and ceding positions to the six geo-political zones had never spawned rebellion, what happened with the APC in 2015 and now, contrast sharply with PDP’s years in power at the centre. Considering the historical and political circumstances that produced the APC and the mismanagement of victory by the party leadership under Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, APC’s power-sharing debacle could be clarified even if the episode suffers from selective understanding based on political interests.
APC’s formation was propelled by a single-minded objective to wrest power from President Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP. The decision by the new PDP (nPDP) to factionalise the party, triggered by Jonathan’s decision to seek re-election against widespread expectations by the political North, was the last straw that broke the back of the behemoth.
Five governors – Murtala Nyako (Adamawa), Magatakarda Wammako (Sokoto), Abdulfatah Ahmed (Kwara), Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers) and Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso (Kano) – as well as other leaders of the party, including then Speaker Aminu Tambuwal, Bukola Saraki, Adamu Abdullahi and a host of others, had exited the party to join the opposition elements in the formation of the APC.
The APC demonstrated a lack of sagacity to manage its electoral victory. That leaders of the legacy party did not tidy up power-zoning arrangements before going into the general election was glaring. They had possibly decided to cross the bridge when they got there. But on nicking victory and reaching the bridge of zoning, crossing it became more convoluted and herculean than they had envisaged.
The party leadership had coupled some zoning arrangements to muddle through that intersection. Northwest zone with only the president was not in contention for any other position. Some influential party leaders who saw through the chicanery and the shenanigans in the zoning of other positions had acted proactively by taking their destiny in their hands. That was how Bukola Saraki led the rebellion that had Hon. Yakubu Dogara and others as foot-soldiers to disrupt ceding the positions of senate president to the Northeast zone and speaker to the Southwest zone.
Saraki’s group demanding what was in the new government for the nPDP was valid. Other groups that merged to form the APC such as the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) had produced President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo respectively. But for Saraki’s disruptive politics, the party had actually zoned the senate president to Northeast and had micro-zoned it to Ahmed Lawan from the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) political tendency while the speaker had been zoned to the Southwest and micro-zoned to Femi Gbajabiamila, another member of the ACN.
Saraki, justifiably, decided to provide leadership to the nPDP. He simply navigated his way back to the PDP caucus for support to jointly produce the leadership of the senate. He was able to get the numbers to emerge as senate president. A similar scenario played out in the House of Representatives where Dogara from the Northeast bested Gbajabiamila in a close race to emerge speaker. That was how the positions of President, Senate President and Speaker ended up in the North.
A carefully-crafted zoning formula or some power-sharing arrangements ahead of the election that accommodated all the interests based on their contributions to the success of the APC would have forestalled that resultant debacle. For the APC, there was a lesson to learn. From what’s unfolding on zoning after another general election victory, the party appears to have learnt very little lesson.
APC is surprisingly digging its feet into the 2015 scenario that fractured its internal harmony. Wisdom should have counseled the imperative of strategic change. This is more so now that there are three ranking senators from the Northeast whose interests in the position are unbridled. If the party wants to retain the position in the North, it should have prudently looked towards the North central where it is not likely to have a clash of interests as it is being witnessed in the Northeast.
Besides, if it was true that senators-elect and other interested stakeholders were not consulted before the party announced Northeast zone and Ahmed Lawan as the potential beneficiaries of the position of senate president, then it was a political misstep. Had there been consultations, former Senate Leader, Ali Ndume, who claimed to have briefed and received promised support of Buhari to contest for the position before he formally wrote a letter to the party to intimate it of his interest would not have negatively reacted to the supposed endorsement of Lawan.
Danjuma Goje, the third ranking senator from the zone, believed to enjoy the support of PDP’s Senate caucus, is covertly plotting. Indeed, what is sacrosanct about senate president going to the Northeast and speaker going to the Southwest that already has the position of vice president? What is sacrosanct about the candidatures of Lawan and Gbajabiamila for the same positions that they unsuccessfully aspired for on the basis of the 2015 original arrangements?
Do these echo 2023 presidential succession politics? If the leadership had wanted the 2015 zoning arrangements to prevail, it could have seamlessly achieved it by carrying along all the interested stakeholders in the party and in the government. This is because the zoning arrangements are very fundamental such that a tweak as has been announced by the party to the existing arrangements foisted on it by the rebellion of Saraki and Dogara would affect other strategic positions and their occupants in the different zones.
Is the party ready for such possible tailspin? If senate president goes to the Northeast that already has so many strategic positions, would the individuals holding those positions be comfortable to be sacrificed for someone’s elevation? And, if the party decides not to remove them, then the North central which got the position in 2015, through Saraki’s rebellion can justifiably ask what is in the new administration for it since speakership has been or is being ceded to the Southwest?
For the reasons supra, the APC leadership must come clean about the zoning arrangements. The leadership should have met at the levels of the national caucus, National Working Committee and National Executive Committee to take the zoning issue through the mill and eventually announce the power-sharing formula at once, instead of the piecemeal approach it has adopted.
And this should have been done ahead of the general election subject to review after the election once the zonal performances are appraised. In other words, zoning arrangements should be worked for and positions justifiably earned in terms of number of votes earned in the presidential election, number of National Assembly seats won in pari materia with the outcomes of governorship and State Houses of Assembly elections.
Where no fewer than thirteen members-elect from across the six geo-political zones had already declared interest in the speakership before the party’s announcement via the media and not at any meeting with members-elect, does not augur well for confidence building and mutual rapprochement between the party caucuses in the National Assembly and the party leadership.
The situation that has now gone awry needs salvaging in the interest of harmony. The party should wisely commit to present a united front on the floors of both chambers when the 9th National Assembly is inaugurated and election of leadership is conducted. In 2023, steps should be proactively taken to settle the zoning arrangements possibly before the general election.
▪ Ojeifo contributed this piece via firstname.lastname@example.org