By Tunde Rahman
They predicted severe turbulence if not outright chaos. They were wrong. The success of the All Progressives Congress convention belied the cynical predictions. The party held a convention to elect its national officers. Competition for office did not tear the party apart as some people wanted and a few honestly feared. Instead, holding the convention energized the membership, galvanizing and strengthening the party in the process. After President Muhammadu Buhari gave the final speech to draw the curtain on the event, party members were beside themselves, basking in joy and excitement of the moment just concluded. The party members with whom I talked spoke well of the convention. There was a general sense of accomplishment and happiness. The party had been reawakened to itself.
Over 7,000 delegates participated in the convention. The convention enabled the party to affirm its reason for existence and select a new leadership that would give impetus to the APC’s mission of progressive and democratic good governance. Being an instrument of democratic governance, it was essential that the party honoured the tenets of democratic practice by conducting a convention that would elect the party leadership. APC had good and able people to replace the prior team. The highlight of the convention was the emergence of a highly accomplished and charismatic former Labour leader and former Edo State governor, Comrade Adams Aliu Oshiomhole, as the national chairman. With the emergence of Oshiomhole setting an upbeat tone, the elections for the other party positions followed suit.
A team of skilled and energetic officials was the end result: former Ekiti State governor, Otunba Niyi Adebayo, is now the Deputy National Chairman (South), the National Legal Adviser Babatunde Ogala is a renowned lawyer. National Organising Secretary Emma Ibediro is well known as skilled administrator. National Woman Leader Salamatu Baiwa is popular and capable. Some in the immediate-past executives like National Secretary Mai Bala Buni, Deputy National Chairman (North) Senator Lawal Shuaibu, National Vice Chairman(North-west) Alhaji Inuwa Abdulkadir, National Vice Chairman (South-South), Mr. Hillary Billiard Etta, and a few others retained their positions in acknowledgement of their performance while holding these key offices.
At the convention, some positions eventually went unopposed while some were vigorously contested. This is how things should be. Everyone was given a chance to step forward to contest for office or step aside if they thought the odds aligned against them. People were given the opportunity to make the mature decision to contest or not. While it is impossible for everyone to be pleased by every outcome of every contest, the convention was an exercise in fairness as well as political and moral suasion. The delegates by and large, recognized the value of the convention and appreciated the atmosphere in which it was conducted.
There were some minor rough spots and an instance of a minor tussle between a small number of rival delegates. However, these brief hiccups were of minor consequence and had no bearing on the substance of the proceedings. Given the vast number of people and the important stakes involved, the convention was a generally harmonious event as the vast majority of delegates conducted themselves with a decorum befitting the task at hand.
Comrade Oshiomhole promises an active leadership that will give greater focus to the progressive nature of the APC, highlighting the differences between the reformist vision of the party and the reactionary designs of the PDP. In his acceptance speech, the former Edo governor stressed his commitment to “the provisions of our constitution, commitment to internal democracy, mutual respect for each and every one of us-purging ourselves of any ignorance- and a commitment to honesty: listen, discuss, persuade and find a common ground so that in the end we can have a win-win solution in any state we have challenges and even on issues affecting various arms of government elected on the platform of our party”.
This brilliantly encapsulates what needs to be done. Oshiomhole has hit the ground in full stride. He immediately launched into series of meetings with his executives and other stakeholders to quickly map out his strategies on the way forward. Already, some are saying that the active approach of Oshiomhole will make a significant difference. This energy and optimism probably would not exist but for the holding of the convention.
Now that the convention is over and was successful, it would be easy to forget that, at one point, the idea of holding a convention had been put in grave danger. In the infallible light of hindsight, the holding of this convention seemed inevitable and proper. However, this was not the case beforehand. Getting to the decision to hold the convention became a dramatic journey. There were people who attempted to turn the party away from the conduct of a democratic convention and even the holding of congresses at the state and local levels.
As the tenure of the Chief John Odigie-Oyegun-led executives drew to its natural conclusion, some sought for that group an unnatural extension. Oyegun and his allies sought to subvert the national and party conventions by forgoing internal party elections in order to give themselves an extra tenure without recourse to the will of the majority of the party. Against the ideals of the party, an extension by virtual fiat was in the offing. This move came to a head at the February 27 National Executive Committee meeting. At that session, a voice vote was taken to forego elections and extend the tenure of the Oyegun executives by one year.
Injustice may prevail for a moment but justice never can be completely obscured. For the Oyegun crew, there was a problem that refused to be ignored. For reasons best known to him, the former National Legal Adviser rendered a piece of flawed advice. The APC constitution did not say what he purported it to say. The Constitution did not empower the NEC to substitute itself for the National Convention in the present situation. Consequently, the NEC could not extend party officials’ tenures beyond the appointed four-year tenure.
More importantly, the attempt at tenure extension collided against Section 223 of the national constitution, which provides for election of executive committees of political parties every four years. The party had entered into a legal quagmire because of people’s attempt to skirt the democratic process upon which the party was founded.
To correct the situation, there was but one thing to do. Return to honouring the democratic norms of the party. What I would call the most progressive element of what is a progressive party moved into corrective action. Spearheaded by Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, these constitutionalists began to indicate the problem with the position taken by Oyegun and the rest of his impositionists. President Buhari watched the unfolding situation. He carefully weighed and measured the arguments of both the constitutionalists and the impositionists. Because of his studious approach, President Buhari would see that the weight of justice rested on the side of the constitutionists. The impostionists tried to pull a fast one but had been found out.
When the President made his courageous statement in March 2018 that the APC should forego the improper convenience of automatically extending the tenure of party officers, the tide had turned. Conventions and congresses would be held so that party members could exercise their democratic right to vote for officials of their choice and could run for office if they saw fit. It was as if the trumpet of justice had sounded just when the impositionists thought they had silenced it. For Asiwaju and the progressives, tenure elongation was anathematic because it was both unconstitutional and patently undemocratic. It was unthinkable that the party with ‘Congress’ in its name would take action to avoid holding the required congresses and convention.
Thus, the March 27 NEC meeting will be recorded as one of the finest and tradition-building moments of this party. President Buhari wasted no time at the session. He went straight to the meat of the matter. His was a categorical position: No tenure elongation. After the President made a declarative statement, some tried to downplay its significance by stating the President merely expressed his personal opinion. What followed was a period of several weeks where some people still tried to forestall an elective convention. President Buhari, however, stuck to his constitutionalist position because it was the right thing to do..
Having lost the legal battle, the impositionists argued that an elective convention would erupt into public acrimony and cause possible implosion of the party. This was but a veneer to cover their real intention. Their fear ran contrary to the available facts. Barely a year after the merger forming the APC, a convention was held. That convention was a picture of decorum and open process. It galvanized the party and generated much public goodwill for it distinguished the party for the behaviour of the PDP and other parties. If the APC could hold a successful convention so quickly after its very formation, there was no excuse for not holding a convention four years later. Still, the plot at tenure extension refused to take its place in the graveyard of bad ideas. .
President remained steadfast in his support of an elective convention. More and more party members also became convinced at the wisdom and morality of this position. Dates were fixed for the congresses and convention. They were adjusted and re-adjusted. The National Convention Committee was constituted and headed by Jigawa State Governor Badaru aka Mr. Calculator who did a wonderful job. The rest, as they say, is history.
President Buhari deserves commendation for his commitment to democratic principles by insisting on elective convention. He led the way at the Eagle Square, kick-starting the voting and participating fully in the exercise. Credit must also be given to Asiwaju Tinubu and those other progressives who gave the president sound legal and political advice that an elective convention was both the right and pragmatic thing to do. Not only did it honour the party’s and national constitutions, the event energized party members and strengthened the institutions of the party while electing a new leadership more capable, than the preceding group, of developing a truly organic relationship between the party and the electorate. While democracy and justice require more work to perfect, the end result is more than worth the extra investment. The APC is better for holding an elective convention and Nigeria will gain as a result.
Rahman, Special Adviser, Media to Asiwaju Tinubu, is former Editor of THISDAY on Sunday Newspaper.