Battle for APC National Chairman: We will reposition ruling party, accommodate all interests, Oshiomhole vows
IT was a carnival of a sort last Thursday at the Lagos/Osun Hall of the TRANSCORP Hilton, Abuja when the immediate past governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, declared his intention to run for the national chairmanship of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Oshiomhole, also a former National President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), is enjoying the backing of President Muhammadu Buhari, who had shot down the attempt by the outgoing members of the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party, led by Chief Odigie-Oyegun, to elongate their tenure. Worried about the crises rocking the party ahead of the 2019 general elections, the President must have believed he needs to rejig his party for success at the polls. Fortunately for Oshiomhole, who also is from Edo like the incumbent APC National Chairman, Oyegun, the caucus of the party in the state endorsed him for the top job. Similarly, the South-South leadership of the APC, led by the National Vice Chairman, Mr Ntufam Hilliard Eta, converged in Benin-City, on Tuesday, April 24, 2018, to endorse the former governor as the candidate of the zone in the election scheduled to hold during the National Convention of the APC on June 2. The APC zonal leadership described Oshiomhole as the “machine” the party needs to win the forthcoming general elections and urged him to make himself available for the job. Following the overwhelming support received from Buhari, party governors and leaders across the nation, Oshiomhole decided to accept the challenge and declared his intention for the job on Thursday. You could see joy on the faces of APC leaders who thronged the venue to witness the event. Governor Godwin Obaseki led the powerful delegation from Edo comprising the Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Kabiru Adjoto, members of the state and national assemblies and members of the state Executive Council. Other dignitaries include the Chairman of the Progressives Governors Forum and governor of Imo State, Owelle Rochas Okorocha; a former governor of Bayelsa State, Timipriye Sylva; Senator Omo Agege; Deputy Governor of Edo, Comrade Philip Shaibu; Hilliard Etta; Senator Olusola Adeyeye; Omehor Otegar; NLC President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba; Comrade Sunny Ofehe; Senator Francis Alimekhena; NDDC Managing Director, Nsima Ekere; a former Minister of Labour, Emeka Wogu; Chief Great Ogboru; Parry Iriase; General Lawrence Onoja; Cairo Ojougbou; Osita Okechukwu; Issa Aremu; Chief Francis Inegbeneki; Jonathan Zwingina; Senator Abubakar Gada; Anslem Ojezua; Bassey Essien; Prof.Julius Ihonvbere; Lous Odion; USMAN Shagadi; Senator Magnus Abbe and Hon. James Faleke. Oshiomhole arrived the hall at about 2:30pm and the guests went wild with jubilation when he was being introduced by the Master of Ceremony and former Chief of Staff in Edo, Hon Patrick Obahiagbon (Igodomigodo). The APC National Chairman frontline contender, who was dressed in his usual khaki shirt and trousers, while addressing the gathering, said, “I present myself for the position of the National Chairman of our great party, it is pertinent to reflect on what constitutes the APC. The APC is a progressive party which represents the collective will of all the members of the party in all the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). It is my hope that if and when elected as National Chairman of the party, we will reposition and re-organise the party based on its philosophy of social democracy which basically means people-oriented, membership driven and mass based political organization”. Saying his leadrship of the APC will do a couple of things differently in the day-to- day management of the party, while interfacing with all those elected on the platform of the party at all levels, Oshiomhole went on: “For me, it is fundamental to be able to have a membership driven party grounded at the grassroots. Accordingly, it is important that we must ensure that we have an authentic and verifiable membership register that can be checked and verified by members and even non-members of the party. It is, therefore, an irreducible minimum obligation on the part of the party to have a credible membership register that cannot be altered at the whims and caprices of any one, including the leadership of the party. Incidentally, the idea of a credible, verifiable membership register was one of the key commitment of the founding leaders of the party. Indeed, the interim leadership of the party, under Chief Bisi Akande, working in concert with other leaders, did their best to establish APC Data Centre. “Unfortunately, the Data Centre was raided and destroyed by the State Security Service on the orders of the PDP administration of Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan on November 22, 2014. The challenge right now is not to lament the clear abuse of power that led to the destruction of the Data Centre, but to commit the incoming leadership to rebuild the Data Centre and put it to practical use in the shortest possible time. With a credible membership register and, given the state of information technology, a functional database is an indispensable tool that will help eliminate abuse and corruption in the conduct of intra-party election from unit to ward to local government to state and national levels. It will also create a credible platform for conducting direct primaries which will afford every member of the party to participate in the party primaries at all levels rather than the current situation of indirect, delegate election which is susceptible to manipulation, abuse and corruption by desperate aspirants at all levels. “While we will sustain membership recruitment”. He said his leadership will ensure that members of the APC are given a robust sense of ownership and control. “This would enable the party to adopt a policy of bottom-up, as opposed to top-down approach to party administration process. The beauty of this is that members of our party will own the party and will be ready to work to ensure the success of the party at all levels and at all times”, Oshiomhole stated. He continued, “We will strive as much as humanly possible to promote internal democracy within the party. For me,I am clear that a political party is a structured, voluntary association and not an amorphous informal mob that is not governed by the mood of its leaders at various levels. Therefore, APC must be seen to operate on the basis of its rules which is the party Constitution and other laws of the Federation, as they relate to the formation and administration of political parties. Indeed, the Constitution of the party is the basis of the contract between the party members. Thus a credible membership register is a pre-condition for sustainable internal party democracy. “As governing party, founded on the values of social democracy, we must be seen to play politics of inclusion which encourages debates, contestations and consensus on policy choices. Under our leadership, we will give effect to article 25 of the APC’s Constitution which provides that National Convention of the party shall be held once in two years; National Executive Committee (NEC) every quarter and National Working Committee (NWC) once every month. In addition, we should be able to organise annual platforms to review not only the activities of the party but even of governments elected on the platform of the party at all levels. Similarly, other organs of the party including those at the zonal and state levels will be encouraged to meet as stipulated by the Constitution. In this way, there will be a bottom-up approach to internal democracy within the party from unit to ward to local government to state to zonal and national levels. These meetings will be dedicated to issues of party management, mobilisation and policy debates. Once the National Working Committee leads by example, it will have not only constitutional powers but the moral authority to compel all other organs of the party to toe the line. Conversely, when the head is right and the direction is clear, every other person will behave responsibly and appropriately”. Stressing the need to make the party more formidable and closer to the people, Oshiomhole said, “We will endeavour to ensure that the party conventions beyond elections also seeks to discuss about development, governance and policy issues. Also, we will organise activities at regular intervals across the six geopolitical zones where issues and challenges facing the polity, economy and society will be discussed by party leadership and elected and appointed officials, and members. “The overall objective will be to create platforms for setting national development agenda that will focus on the issues that affect the people of Nigeria on the front burner. In my view, the absence of such credible and organized platforms to interrogate and debate matters of national importance has created a void for ethnic champions, religious bigots and other elements with different motives, and idle individuals to promote hare speeches and even in some cases beat the drums of disunity. The party should, therefore, serve as a veritable platform to keep both the executive and the legislative arms of government to remain faithful and focused on delivering the deliverables for the good of the people and the welfare of the country. It is common for people, particularly the party leaders to evoke the concept of party supremacy when dealing with party matters. For me, party supremacy flows from the implementation of decisions democratically debated and consensus reached at the appropriate and relevant organs of the party”. Apparently referring to the crises in the party in some states, he said, “It should be appreciated that a truly democratic political party such as the APC founded on the principles of social democracy and inclusiveness, is by definition prone to contestations. For us, a measure of progress is how free members are to contest issues as it relates to the party or government. Hence, internal disagreement is not necessarily dysfunctional. What is important is that while encouraging healthy debate, the party must demonstrate the competence to objectively and constructively resolve or manage any conflict or disagreement within the ranks of the party. “To promote party supremacy and party unity on a sustainable basis, the party must ensure discipline within its ranks and evoke sanctions where appropriate. For us, rules and policies are useful to the extent that they are enforced. To sustain party unity, there must be party discipline. Once a party position is taken, anyone who goes against the party position will be subjected to party discipline in line with the party Constitution following due process. Without sanction for misconduct and commendation for proper conduct, there cannot be party discipline.We will reposition the party for a united Nigeria. Internally, we will build the capacity of both leaders and members; improve administration, organisation and financial management and ensure proper management of the party”. Oshiomhole vowed to smoothen the relationship between the executive arm of government and the leadership of the National Assembly if elected as the APC leader, saying, “When elected, we will have the courage to continually remind the two arms that they are separate but not autonomous arms of government because, if you are entirely independent, you will not complement each other. It is important to point out that the two arms of government, namely, the executive and legislature, are not independent of the party or themselves because they are expected to complement each other to ensure that the policies of the executive and deliberations of the legislature agree with the manifesto of the party. This will require robust engagement with the executive and legislature on policy issues necessitating the need for functional and effective party caucus in the legislature. Whenever there is an apparent conflict between the parliament and executive, the party must take proactive steps to mend fences so that the two arms will work harmoniously even as both must respect the principles of separation of powers. “To sustain harmonious interaction between the executive and the parliament, the party must have seasoned parliamentarians including non-serving Senators and Representatives to monitor the National Assembly on a daily basis and advice the party leadership on engagement with the National Assembly. The party under my leadership will recognise that the parliament is unique, diverse and faced with a lot of challenges. The party will, therefore, ensure coherence in all dispositions and decisions of parliament. The party will proactively settle any rift between executive and legislature without compromising the principle of separation of powers.“Finally, we shall put in place mechanism for conflict management. We know that in human interactions, there are bound to be conflicts arising from differences in opinion and perspectives. The responsibility of the party will be to engage in consensus building and conflict management. In particular, we will intervene in the lingering crises between Governors and members of the National Assembly in their respective states as a result of poor communication, conflict of interest, or just being victims of rumour mongering. When I am given the privilege to lead the party by being elected at the National Convention, we will proactively engage all the parties involved in such conflicts with a view to helping them to find common ground on the basis of justice, equity and fairness, and without bias. My dear party members, my commitment when elected is to provide leadership that will be firm, fair, just, transparent, faithful, and loyal to the members of the party. In other words, I belong to all members and leaders of the party without bias. I am asking God to give me the wisdom, courage and will to be firm and just in all I shall do in the overall interest of the party and all Nigerians who have invested overwhelmingly in us in the 2015 elections”. Oshiomhole, who urged the opposition parties to be ready for the assessment of the entire polity ahead of the 2019 general elections, said he will not speak much about the opposition “ for now”. He added, “But as we head towards 2019, we will know the players and their coaches and we will tell Nigerians who they are. At least, even the PDP agreed that our President, Muhammadu Buhari is not a thief. The contestation will start from there and we will remind Nigerians where our problem started and those who have plunged us into this mess that the APC administration is making effort to clear. We may not have gotten to where we want to be but we are in safe hands with President Buhari. APC will make corrections where we made mistakes but what is clear is that we can never allow the thieves of yesteryears to come back under any guise or name. We will engage them in these issues and I can tell you we will win again and again”. In his good will message, the Chairman of the Progressives Governors Forum, Okorocha, expressed confidence that Oshiomhole will make “APC great again”. On his part, Senator Adeyeye said the party needs a man like Oshiomhole to steer the ship of the party at this time.