Mahmud Jega

Events unfolding on the national political scene last week reminded me of the presidential election imbroglio in the United States in 2000AD, when top American politicians swapped political and ideological positions with the utmost opportunistic ease.

TIME magazine writer Nancy Gibbs wrote at the time that Republican candidate George Bush, who campaigned on the basis of putting faith in people, turned around and insisted on electronic counting of votes despite the dimple chads problem. On his part, Democratic candidate Al Gore, who campaigned as a champion of technological solutions to problems, turned around and insisted on manual recount of votes because he lost faith in electronic counting machines.

Suspended APC national chairman Adams Oshiomhole rode to power in Edo State in 2008 on the message of ending the grip of a godfather, the late Chief Tony Anenih. Eight years later he tried to assume Anenih’s position in the same state. Anenih’s career as godfather ended on an unhappy note and Adams’ career as a godfather is also in doldrums, because the very first godson that he installed as governor rebelled against him.

Nor has Adams been consistent in his evaluation of Obaseki. During a 2016 APC campaign rally, he praised Obaseki to high heavens, boasted about the godson’s genuine certificates and said Obaseki contributed immensely to the APC state government’s success. Conversely, Oshiomhole condemned PDP candidate Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, questioned his certificates, rubbished his career, and said he took the title of pastor because he could not earn a genuine title.

Four years ago, Godwin Obaseki happily accepted to be the anointed political godson. Adams forced out many aspirants in order to clear the path for him. Obaseki sheepishly tagged along as outgoing governor Oshiomhole pranced around Benin streets, waving brooms and munching roasted corn in alleged fidelity to the grassroots. Now Obaseki has comprehensively repudiated godfatherism while Adams is busy rewriting Ize-Iyamu’s career script that he once rubbished.

In 2018 when President Buhari selected Oshiomhole to become APC’s chairman, I personally wondered whether he was the right guy for the job. He has many good personal qualities, but Adams is very combative. He has the veteran labour leader’s autocratic temperament, has a ready opinion on every issue, has little patience with opposing views, has a single-minded determination in pursuit of everything, and has some contradiction in his personal lifestyle. The ideal Nigerian party chairman is a tough but open consensus builder.

APC’s governorship screening exercise for Edo State was a repeat of Zamfara State, no lessons learnt and with a predetermined outcome. No one in Nigeria was surprised when it was announced that Obaseki failed the screening, allegedly due to discrepancies in his certificates. The same APC screened the same certificates four years ago and he scaled through. Just in case, he was also accused of anti-party activities, the most wide-open political party offence in Nigeria.

Obaseki, however, got his just deserts. He is not a democrat or a fair player at all. He serially abused governorship powers; tried to stop Adams entering Edo; forcibly shut out 16 members of the state assembly from assuming their seats; engineered ward, local government and state APC chapters to expel the sitting National Chairman; had thugs attack Adams’ house at Iyamho; imposed lockdowns in the state’s local government areas in order to stop APC from conducting direct primaries; but he curiously permitted public gatherings in Benin, so that the indirect party primaries that he favoured could take place. To boot, Obaseki had no strategic patience to wait until he secured a second term before fighting Oshiomhole.

It is very rare for a governor in Nigeria to be denied his party’s re-election ticket. In the Second Republic, only Dr. Clement Isong of Cross River State was denied NPN’s return ticket at the behest of Senate President Joseph Wayas. The few other cases in this Republic were Mala Kachallah of Borno, Chinwoke Mbadinuju in Anambra and Akinwunmi Ambode in Lagos. Of other Second Republic governors, Kaduna’s Abba Musa Rimi did not seek re-election in 1983 while Kano’s Abubakar Rimi, Borno’s Muhammadu Goni and Gongola’s Abubakar Barde all quit their parties before the polls and run for re-election on other party tickets. The history of governors seeking re-election on other party tickets does not instil hope for Obaseki because Rimi, Goni, Barde, Isong and Kachallah all lost at the polls.

Not only Oshiomhole and Obaseki but APC and PDP too, did last week a Bush/Gore switch in political principle. In 2014, APC was very happy when Governors Rotimi Amaechi, Aliyu Wamakko, Rabi’u Kwankwaso, Abdulfatah Ahmed and Murtala Nyako defected from the then ruling PDP. Not minding the issues that made the men to defect, APC rolled out the red carpet, lobbied them to cross over to APC, seized state party structures from existing leaders and handed over to them. That action forced Kano’s Ibrahim Shekarau and Sokoto’s Attahiru Bafarawa to quit APC; they said they were not so much as consulted.

Since 2016, PDP has been doing exactly the same thing. Governors of Benue, Sokoto and Kwara serially bolted from APC while the governors of Ogun and Imo left with one leg and retained the second leg inside APC due to quarrels with Adams. PDP rolled out red carpets for Atiku, Saraki, Dogara, Tambuwal, Ortom, Abdulfatah and Obaseki with no questions asked. On the very day Obaseki quit APC, he picked a PDP membership card. PDP quickly gave him a waiver from the provision that one must spend two years in the party to be eligible to seek its platform. It then postponed its scheduled primaries by several days, with every intention of ramming Obaseki’s nomination through the state congress. PDP state leaders who fought Adams/Obaseki for the last 12 years were left high and dry.

Nigerian courts almost re-enacted their post June 12 state of confusion in this episode. Remember that one of IBB’s reasons for annulling the June 12, 1993 election was “the courts ridiculed themselves” with contradictory orders. Earlier this year, an FCT High Court removed Adams as party chairman because he was expelled by his ward. Cantankerously, a Kano High Court gave him a stay of execution, which he rushed to Aso Rock with and showed Buhari. Later the Appeal Court granted a stay, only to lift it recently and oust Oshiomhole from the post.

Indiscipline reigned unfettered in APC in the wake of Adams’ ouster. Four men simultaneously claimed the chairmanship. The party said Deputy National Chairman [South] Abiola Ajimobi is Acting Chairman but since he is in hospital, the National Vice Chairman [South South] Hilliard Eta will be the acting chairman. Since Ajimobi’s installation as Deputy Chairman [South] is also contested, Deputy Chairman [North] Lawal Shu’aibu claimed the chair. Deputy National Secretary Victor Giadom then emerged with a previous court order and pronounced himself the acting chairman. At the weekend, Adams’ ward secretary said his expulsion from the party had been lifted but the ward chairman said it was still in effect.

In this Republic, state governors have noticeably lost political influence relative to party and president. In the run up to the 1983 elections, many of President Shehu Shagari’s ministers planned to challenge governors for their seats. The seven NPN governors therefore rammed a resolution through the party’s NEC, that any minister aspiring to be a governor must first resign. Minister Ibrahim Gusau did, but most other ministers quietly dropped their ambitions. This time around, the combined force of 20 APC governors could not save Obaseki from being screened out.

Only President Muhammadu Buhari has been consistent. He remained consistently aloof from this and previous imbroglios within the party he leads. He watched askance last year when Oshiomhole wrestled Zamfara State governor Abdulaziz Yari to the ground, leading to APC’s total loss in the state. Buhari also remained aloof while Adams fought governors Rochas Okorocha and Ibikunle Amosun, watched askance as Bola Tinubu drove out Lagos Governor Ambode, and he is aloof from the ongoing rift in Ondo. Between staying aloof and flip flopping in matters of political principle, which one is more unprincipled?

Monday Column in Daily Trust today, June 22, 2020.

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