Ahead of today’s national convention of the All Progressives Congress (APC), in Abuja party leaders and aspirants Thursday engaged in frantic efforts to secure a last minute consensus for the party’s first national convention.
Throughout yesterday, leaders of APC were engaged in consultations and horse-trading in a bid to build consensus and ensure that all outstanding differences were resolved.
Top on the list of priorities of the leaders was the issue of who would emerge the substantive national chairman of the main opposition party at the convention.
So far, three aspirants – former Governor of Edo State, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun; former Foreign Affairs Minister, Chief Tom Ikimi; and former Bayelsa State Governor, Chief Timipire Silva – were still standing in the race, while Chief Sam Jaja from Rivers State was said to have stepped down.
In what seemed like an epic battle for the chairmanship’s seat, loyalists of former Lagos State Governor, Senator Bola Tinubu, who was rooting for Odigie-Oyegun, were up against former Borno State Governor, Senator Modu Sheriff, who had thrown his weight and resources behind Ikimi.
In what some insiders described as the likely infiltration of the main opposition party by elements of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the chairmanship tussle had set up a clash between Tinubu and Sheriff.
Another aspirant said to have the support of the former Borno governor is Alhaji Kashim Imam who is gunning for the post of national secretary of APC.
However, indications still pointed to the likelihood of Odigie-Oyegun picking up the chairmanship post, as a reliable source told THISDAY that Tinubu launched an intensive lobby yesterday to get the backing of former military Head of State, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari.
The source revealed that it is in Tinubu’s interest that Odigie-Oyegun emerges the chairman of the party, as this would pave the way for him to influence the outcome of the party’s national congress when the presidential contender of APC and his running mate would be chosen.
Should Buhari decide to run, however, the source said this would shut the door against Tinubu’s bid for the vice-presidential slot of the party, as any design for a Muslim-Muslim ticket have been discarded by APC owing to its unpopularity.
Similarly, the source said some of the governors backing Silva had been approached to sway their support and agree to a consensus arrangement.
Affirming the contestants that are vying for the post of national chairman, the Chairman of the Convention Sub-committee on the Election, Alhaji Kawu Baraje, said the tussle was between Odigie-Oyegun, Ikimi and Sylva.
Baraje, who spoke to reporters while inspecting facilities at the Eagles Square, Abuja, venue of the convention, said regardless of any consensus arrangement, all the aspirants would file out for the election.
“I intend to use my experience and improve on it during the APC convention to ensure that there is transparency, honesty and credibility at this election. The method is one man, one vote. Even where we have reached a consensus on any position, there will still be voting, every position that is contestable will be contested for. No voice voting, no affirmation, everything is going to be by secret ballot,” he said.
He said about 47 positions would be contested for while 58 aspirants had indicated interest in vying for the posts during the convention.
He said for the chairmanship position, four aspirants had shown interest in being elected to occupy the seat.
When asked if any of the aspirants had been declared unopposed, Baraje said no consensus had been reached on any of the aspirants.
“Even if they reach a consensus, there will still be voting. As far as I am concerned, there is nothing like unopposed. What we are going to adopt for the election is a simple majority.
“I may be new in APC but I am not new in the terrain of Nigerian politics. This is not the first time I am organising a convention. The last convention I organised when I was with the PDP was rated the most transparent and the most credible,” he added.
The interim Deputy National Secretary, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, who spoke to THISDAY shortly after the briefing by the convention committee at the Sokoto Governor’s Lodge on the zoning formula adopted by the party, said he had accepted the verdict of the party.
He said although he had a different opinion on the matter, the decision of the party leadership was final and binding on all members.
“The zoning system is the decision of the party. I have my opinion about it, but that is not relevant. What is relevant is that the party leaders have come to some agreement in ensuring that all the 47 national executive positions are spread round the country and that is okay.
“The APC is not a party that believes in zoning but we believe in distributing the positions in a way that there is fairness. We do not call it zoning, zoning is for PDP,” he said.
Earlier while briefing reporters on the plans for the convention, the Sokoto State Governor and Chairman of the Convention Committee, Alhaji Aliyu Wamakko, said about 6,855 delegates across the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) were expected to participate at the event.
The governor said the expectation was that the convention delegates shall ratify the amended party’s constitution and put in place the national officers to guide its affairs in the next four years.
On the issue of zoning, he explained that the positions have been zoned and that it was left to each zone to go and discuss and possibly present the best candidates to fill the positions.
“As a committee, we have worked hard and long to put in place the arrangements for accreditation of delegates in six different venues in accordance with the six geopolitical zones. It is our desire to depart from past experiences of rowdiness at the venues of such exercises.
“We have equally concluded arrangements with the security agencies in ensuring the safety of lives and property in and around the convention grounds,” he said.
Wammako stated that since the advent of APC in July last year, “leaders of the ruling PDP had been awakened to the cold fact of the presence of a viable alternative in respect of delivering inspiring democratic governance within the country’s political space”.
He said APC had had to contend with many obstacles planted on its way in the organisation of the convention, including the use of security agencies to frustrate the smooth movement of party supporters to Abuja in the name of conducting stop-and-search operations.
“Regardless of the deliberate plans by unscrupulous elements to scuttle our convention, the first APC national convention is here. By the grace of God, we will overcome all these obstacles,” he said.
He also said APC had survived all the “devious intrigues” put together by the ruling PDP government to truncate its birth.
Preparatory to the party’s convention, the Eagle Square wore a new look yesterday with about 50 party flags and the national flag hoisted at the venue.
Also, party delegates were accommodated at designated hotels around the city where they were expected to undergo accreditation before being bused to Eagle Square today for voting.