Prospects For Reclaiming APC
Salihu Moh-Lukman

Prospects For Reclaiming APC

2 months ago
8 mins read

The heartwarming news from Edo State that emerged early on Friday, 23 February 2024 reported His Excellency Bassey Otu, Governor of Cross River State who is the Chairman of the reorganised APC Governorship Election Committee to have declared Sen. Monday Okpebholo as the APC Gubernatorial candidate for the September 2024 election in the state. Polling 12,433 votes, he was reported to have defeated 11 other aspirants. The aspirants are Hon. Dennis Idahosa who polled 6,541, Mr. Agba 2,732, Mr. Amero Sunday 2,562, Mr. Everest Afolabi 2,117, Mr. Gerald Charles 1,181, Dr. Blessing Agbomhere 731, Mr. Gideon O. Ikhanire 720, Sen. O. O. Osunbor 634, Mr. Lucky Imasuen 493, Col. David Imose 423 and Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu 378.

Recall that the National Working Committee (NWC) of the APC declared the Edo primary election, which held on Saturday, 17 February 2024 as inconclusive following the emergence of three aspirants – Hon. Dennis Idahosa, Mr. Anamero Dekeri and Sen. Monday Okpebholo – all claiming to have won the primary. The February 17 primary was conducted under the supervision of His Excellency Hope Uzodinma, Governor of Imo State who was the initial Chairman of the Primary Election Committee. Following the controversial February 17 primary, His Excellency Uzodinma was reported to have declared Hon. Idahosa as the winner of the primary with 40,448 votes. Notably, Governor Otu was Deputy to Governor Uzodinma and the Committee Secretary was Mallam Lawal Garba.

The Chief Returning Officer for the primary was Dr. Stanley Ugboaja who announced a different result, returning Sen. Okpebholo as the winner with 12,194 votes. The February 17 primary was marred with a series of allegations of malpractices. Everything about the February 17 APC primary election turned out to basically replay all the old scripts of attempts to manipulate the emergence of a particular aspirant as the Governorship candidate of the APC for the September 2024 Edo elections. This was almost exactly the script acted in 2020 that produced Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu as the APC 2020 Edo State Governorship election. The slight difference is that this time around Com. Adams Oshiohmole is not the National Chairman of the APC. Interestingly, His Excellency Hope Uzodinma was also the Chairman of the APC 2020 Primary Election Committee.

 

It was quite worrisome that the APC was almost set up for another electoral disaster in Edo State. Without attempting to overlook one of the critical challenges of political party development in Nigeria, which is about instituting a transparent democratic process of candidate selection within our political parties, it is a source of pride that the APC NWC under the leadership of Dr. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje was able to quickly arrest the drift, which would have confirmed the APC as an undemocratic party. It is quite commendable that the leadership of the APC was able to retrace its steps by first reorganising the Primary Election Committee and then allowing a level playing field to guarantee the emergence of a popular candidate based on majority votes. Unlike previous cases whereby the Primary Election Committee practically allocated votes to aspirants and declared an anointed person as the winner, it is also commendable that the reorganised APC Primary Election Committee under the leadership of His Excellency Otu chose the path of honour by allowing a fair contest to produce the winner of the primary.

The big question is whether this will be the new standard in APC. Before even assessing whether this will be the new standard, the question of whether this will guarantee electoral victory for the APC in the Edo 2024 election needs to be interrogated. What is very clear is that given the emergence of Mr. Asue Ighodalo and Mr. Olumide Akpata SAN as PDP and Labour Party candidates for the same elections, it should be expected that the election will be keenly contested. These are two well-accomplished and respected persons. APC needed a popular candidate for the election to contest against these heavyweights. Is Sen. Okpebholo the popular candidate APC needs to win the Edo 2024 Governorship election?

First, the mere fact that he could stand out and successfully become the arrowhead against the imposition of a candidate in APC for the Edo 2024 election suggests that he enjoys strong support within the APC. Secondly, being the first person to have defeated the PDP since 1999 to emerge as the winner of the Edo Central Senatorial zone is indicative of his popularity. Are these enough to guarantee victory for APC? Certainly, not. But what all these mean is that they provided the strong political foundation needed for a strong campaign structure for APC in Edo State. If anything, it can be said without fear of contradiction that Sen. Okpebholo will not be carrying the baggage or liability of any so-called Godfather. That alone is a source of political attraction in a state whose people are known to be very combative against Godfathers.

If anyone aspiring for political office in Edo State misses this point, then such a person should not expect victory in a fair election. However, notwithstanding the combative orientation of Edo politics against Godfathers, any candidate also desirous of winning an election in the state must be a unifier. In fact, not just in Edo, this is the reality for every part of the country. Unfortunately, this is an aspect that APC is very weak, largely because of the strong influence of former President Muhammadu Buhari in terms of controlling mass followership, which earned APC the electoral victory of 2015 and thereafter. We must be honest to admit that the question of getting APC leaders to serve as unifiers is taken for granted by many APC leaders. In fact, the reality is that most APC leaders are contemptuous of the issue of uniting leaders of the party. Many believed that they could win elections without the support of other leaders. This has substantially damaged the electoral viability of the APC and is indeed a major stumbling block to the question of whether the APC will return to its founding vision of progressive politics.

The truth is that once political leaders are contemptuous of uniting leaders and citizens, the capacity to make the needed sacrifices to inspire citizens to believe in the party and its candidates will be weak. This a challenge, which has been weakening the APC incrementally over the years. In most cases where APC lost elections in areas where it is adjudged to be strong, the inability of candidates and leaders of the party to remain united is one of the major contributory factors. This is certainly one of the problems that made APC lose the 2020 Edo Governorship election. Will the emergence of Sen. Okpebholo as the candidate of the APC for the 2024 Edo election change that? A strong determinant will be the question of what will define the relationship between Sen. Okpebholo and all the other 11 APC aspirants. What will be the relationship between Sen. Okpebholo and Com. Oshiomhole who was alleged to have supported Hon. Idahosa based on which His Excellency Uzodinma attempted to manipulate his imposition?

Above all, will the reality of the emergence of Sen. Okpebholo based on opposition to manipulation to impose candidates become the new defining orientation for APC? Assuming that is the case, is APC now going to open itself up and allow for fair internal contest to produce candidates for election? How can this be sustained? This can only be achieved when all the structures of the party are allowed to function as provided by the APC constitution. Just imagine for instance that the APC State Caucus in Edo State is allowed to operate and drive the campaigns for the 2024 Edo Governorship election. Once meetings of the State Caucus are allowed to happen on a regular basis, where for instance all the aspirants who contested the primary with Sen. Okpebholo are made members, the views of leaders of the party in the state can be accommodated.

Of course, the big challenge is the issues of negotiations in terms of appointments into government after winning the elections. At this stage of organising the campaign, Sen. Okpebholo and leaders of the party must try to focus more on issues of developing guidelines to manage processes of internal negotiations within the party. But once there are agreements, leaders, especially Sen. Okpebholo must respect them. Part of the appeal that must be made to Sen. Okpebholo and party leaders in Edo State is to avoid the familiar problems whereby in the end everything is reduced to invoking the template of winner takes all and the impunity that comes with it.

The problem of winner-takes-all is the main factor entrenching divisive politics across all our parties. Part of the impunity it produces include the temptation for elected leaders, especially Governors and Presidents to behave as if they are God. This encourages Governors and Presidents not to appreciate the democratic value of allowing structures of the party to function. If there is one area where APC has betrayed all the expectations of becoming a progressive party it is the issue of not allowing structures of the party to function. The hard truth is that because the structures of the party are allowed not to function as provided by the constitution of APC, there are many individual leaders of APC in virtually all the states, especially serving Governors who believe that they have every right to impose candidates for elections.

Even at the national level, during the 2023 general elections, there were APC leaders who made attempts to push former President Buhari to impose the APC Presidential candidate. One of the reasons why President Asiwaju Bola Tinubu won the support of the majority party delegates was his opposition to the attempt to impose a Presidential candidate. Now that President Asiwaju Tinubu is the leader of APC, will he take the needed steps to ensure that the problem of imposing candidates in APC is permanently resolved by ensuring that all the structures of APC are allowed to function? For APC to return to its founding vision of becoming a progressive party, that is the minimum that must be guaranteed.

Does the emergence of Sen. Okpebholo as APC Governorship candidate for Edo 2024 election suggest that the party is being reclaimed and is on the path of returning to its founding vision of becoming a progressive party? Does the emergence of Sen. Okpebholo even reflect any organised initiative by anyone or group within the APC to return the party to its founding vision? Unfortunately, very unlikely. Even, in the context of Edo State, the struggle against imposition is not mainstreamed as an organised response within the APC, which is responsible for why it is permanently an issue, which if not contained could cost the party electoral victory. This was what defeated the APC in 2020.

The sad reality is also that the inability to allow structures of political parties to function is also the source of leadership conflict in all the 36 states of the country irrespective of the party in power. Given the way the APC has managed the 2024 Edo Primary election, it gives strong hope and confidence that the party is committed to winning the 2024 Edo Governorship election based on popular votes. Winning popular votes is about winning the confidence of electorates, which will be determined first by how strongly APC members and leaders support the candidate of the party. Given that Sen. Okpebholo is not a product of imposition, his ability to emerge as a candidate in the election who is a unifier will be determined based on his ability to bring all APC leaders together to support his election campaign.

The capacity to hold regular consultative meetings as provided in the APC constitution is an important precondition for the unity of Edo APC leaders to support the election of Sen. Okpebholo as the next Governor of Edo State. The last time the APC probably managed its campaign based on a strategy to unite all party leaders was at the National level between 2014 and 2015, which strongly contributed to the defeat of the PDP in the 2015 Presidential election. For the APC to regain all its electoral advantages, the emergence of Sen. Okpebholo being a popular candidate who won a strong contest and defeated an attempt to impose a candidate for the APC should be consolidated by allowing structures of the APC to operate as provided under the APC constitution. That way, the framework that produces Sen. Okpebholo as a candidate can be replicated in every state, and party leaders who behave as God, audaciously imposing candidates can be put in their rightful place.

Anything short of this, will reduce Sen. Okpebholo’s emergence to being an isolated development, which may not guarantee electoral victory even in Edo State. If APC is to be reclaimed and returned to its founding vision of becoming a progressive party, the capacity to oppose the imposition of candidates must be a defining attribute. Candidates of the APC must emerge based on fair internal contests, and above all winning majority votes of party delegates and party members. Once the capacity to oppose the imposition of candidates becomes the defining attribute of APC, its ability to win the confidence of citizens and become the barometer for the nation’s democratic development will be guaranteed.

 

Salihu Moh. Lukman writes from Kaduna

Salihu Moh. Lukman

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