Deft politicking, last minute conciliations, and strategic compromises all came into play at the weekend in Abuja to produce the first substantive national chairman of All Progressives Congress during the party’s first national convention.
Chief John Oyegun was elected chairman of the merger party in a broad political consensus that saw the withdrawal of other contestants, including former Bayelsa State governor, Chief Timipre Sylva, who had been backed by APC’s powerful governors’ forum.
But former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who is an APC chieftain widely believed to be nursing a presidential ambition, said the zoning agreement that led to the emergence of Oyekun and other members of his new executive did not affect the race for the party’s presidential ticket. He was reacting to what he called “sponsored stories” in the media that he had been zoned out of the APC presidential race due to the permutations that prevailed at the convention, which began Friday and ended Saturday morning.
“As for the presidential ticket,” a statement by Atiku’s media office said, “the position of all organs of the party is that it is open to all Nigerians irrespective of where they come from.”
This was as Special Adviser to the President on Political Matters, Professor Rufai Ahmed Alkali, congratulated Oyegun and other members of the APC executive that emerged at the weekend on their election. In a release in Abuja, Alkali applauded the successful conduct of the opposition party’s convention and urged the new leadership to use their position to strengthen democracy in the country and douse tension ahead of next year’s general elections.
Weekend’s national convention of the opposition coalition followed weeks of horse-trading and a lot of frantic behind-the-scenes negotiation. These were said to have delayed many of the activities for the convention till late Friday evening.
The major contenders for the APC chairmanship position, besides Oyegun, were Sylva, who was supported by the Progressive Governors’ Forum; former deputy national chairman of Peoples Democratic Party, Dr. Sam Sam Jaja, who was backed by the governor of Rivers State, Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi; and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Tom Ikimi. Oyegun was believed to be supported by South-west governors aligned with former Lagos State Governor Bola Tinubu, who is a national leader of APC.
THISDAY learnt that Amaechi had put up an aggressive campaign to push Jaja’s candidature but was prevailed upon by party stakeholders to abandon the move. Sylva also stepped down after a lot of negotiation. With the withdrawal of the duo, the race was narrowed to a contest between Oyegun and his fellow Edo kinsman, Ikimi.
Sources said Sylva might be compensated with the position of secretary to the APC Board of Trustees.
However, it was learnt that prior to the weekend’s event, Tinubu and former Head of State, General Muhammadu Buhari, who is also an APC national leader, had agreed to jointly float a proposal to allow the interim national leadership of the party to remain in office for another year as way of stemming suspected acrimonies and divisions that may follow an outright change of leadership at the convention. But while they were contemplating their suggestion, the governors of APC were also said to be plotting their own agenda on how to find a common ground on the issue of zoning of party offices ahead of the national convention.
THISDAY gathered that it got to a point where the governors, operating under the aegis of PGF, had to take a vote to decide between the South-east and South-south which should produce the national chairman. After the voting, it was alleged, there was no clear winner, as the 12 governors present at the meeting held in Abuja were divided. But the stalemate was said to be broken when the Kano State governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso, came in to indicate his support for the South-south.
A source, who followed the negotiations, said Tinubu was initially stunned by the action of the governors, but he later made a U-turn and chose to support Oyegun for the party’s top job.
Oyegun romped to victory at the convention, despite the challenge from Ikimi. The voting conducted by the election committee was a mere formality.
Both Jaja and Ikimi were conspicuously absent at the convention.
While announcing his withdrawal from the chairmanship contest, Sylva said he took the decision to maintain the unity of the party. He also announced his support for Oyegun, who had emerged as the party’s preferred candidate.
In his acceptance speech in the early hours of yesterday, Oyegun said the 2015 general election was an opportunity for Nigerians to kick out PDP
“I say to Nigerians, your wait is over. Your prayers have not been in vain. Help is on the way,” the new APC chairman said. “The APC is here! In 2015 Nigerians will finally have the opportunity to kick out a long-ruling party that has, among other things, failed to provide them with stable power supply, failed to provide them with security that will enable them sleep peacefully on their beds at night, failed to provide employment for millions of Nigerian youths.”
Oyegun said the PDP-controlled federal government had failed to stem the tide of corruption that is robbing Nigerian children of a decent future.
But he acknowledged that wresting power from PDP would not be an easy task.
“The very task of salvaging Nigeria will, on its own, be hard because the rot is deep. But the task will be made even harder by the fact that we have, as opponents, a political party that will stop at nothing to frustrate our mission. We know the make-up, the habits, the philosophy and the mindset of our opponents. We know the extent they will go to cling on to power. And we know the immensity of the resources at their disposal.
“But because the resources they misuse are resources that should rightly be used to improve the lives of the Nigerian people, those resources will not be effective in frustrating the people’s hopes for liberation,” Oyegun stated.
He said, “In 2015, APC will provide Nigerians with a visionary, dedicated and people-oriented leadership that will liberate the nation from PDP’s rule of poverty and oppression. Under the stewardship of the APC, Nigeria will progress and Nigerians will thrive. This is our sacred pledge to Nigerians.”
The new chairman called for unity among APC members and warned against betraying the enormous hope reposed in the party by Nigerians.
In other positions contested during the APC convention, Mai Mala Buni from Yobe State won the post of national secretary, replacing Tijjani Tumsah, who was the interim secretary; Segun Oni was elected Deputy National Chairman, South; Lawal Shuaibu became Deputy National Chairman, North; and Lai Mohammed, who was interim national publicity secretary, retained the post.
Chief Emma Eneukwu, a former publicity secretary of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party, won the post of National Vice Chairman for South-east, while the interim National Organising Secretary, Senator Osita Izunaso, beat Chief Annie Okonkwo to retain his position.
It emerged at the weekend that Alhaji Kashim Imam from Borno State was actually persuaded to shelve his ambition of contesting for the position of national secretary. Atiku had announced midway into voting at the convention that North-east elders had agreed that Imam should step down for Buni.
But THISDAY learnt that what hurt Imam was his closeness to Tinubu. The APC national leader had before the voting for the national chairmanship post already succeeded in having his nominee, Oyegun, as national chairman, and many chieftains of the party thought it political unwise to allow Tinubu’s allies to occupy two of the highest positions in the party’s national executive.
Meanwhile, Atiku has frowned on reports at the weekend that he had been zoned out of the APC presidential contest following the outcome of the national convention. His media office said in a statement that at no time did the party’s Convention Planning Committee or its recently-dissolved interim national executive committee discuss the issue of zoning of elective offices outside the party positions that were filled at the convention.
The former vice president called the publications “a hatchet job for Aso Rock,” blaming President Goodluck Jonathan for the reports.
The statement said, “Atiku’s chances have never been better, given the climate of democracy and freedom in the APC.”
Atiku had in an address to welcome the delegates said that the interest of the party was bigger than the personal aspirations of members. He urged unity of purpose among members, saying it is only a strong and viable APC that can take power from PDP.