APC’s Rough Road to 2019 and Tinubu’s Mission Impossible III

The All Progressives Congress (APC) was formed from fragments drawn from disparate grounds, some from the rubble of the bifurcation of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and some from the ambitions of political parties weary from their fruitless attempts at lunging for the centre from their regional conclaves.

There were also perhaps a number of persons whose motivation for supporting and/or joining the APC at its inception, was the prospect of redeeming the country, through participation on the platform of a party with fairly realistic chances of bringing their dreams to reality. Whatever the varied reasons for joining the APC at its inception might be, one common truth to all is that the party has since unravelled amidst the interplay of interests and ambitions of the various units within the party.

It is true that more often than not, structures don’t crumble in a day but begin with cracks left unattended to. With the APC’s predecessor in government, the PDP believed in the illusion of invincibility and for many years boasted about its chances of staying in government for 60 years, while the party’s leaders refused to address the grievances of various power blocs. At the time it mattered most, a major bloc that had become known as the New PDPc dissolved into the fledgling APC and helped propel the new party to victory. In same fashion, there are tell-tale signs of a similar occurrence in the ruling APC which is now struggling to reverse the process.

As the lone governor on the platform of the Action Congress (AC) between 2003 and 2007, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu showed uncommon grit in not only keeping the party afloat but also extending its frontiers and courted Alhaji Atiku Abubakar to the party to vie for Nigeria’s presidency. It was clearly an audacious and unrealistic bid but the gambit paid off and the party moved on from being a Lagos party to a quasi-national platform, also making a bold statement with its rebranding as Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) ahead of the 2011 elections by which time it secured more legislative and gubernatorial seats. Many failed to see that Tinubu was on a mission and that while AC lost the presidential election both in 2007 and 2011, he was raising the political capital needed to attract counterpart funding for the 2015 election.

Political commentators are usually quick to count the 2015 election as President Muhammadu Buhari’s third attempt and usually fail to note that it was also Tinubu’s third shot at occupying Aso Rock by proxy. Having completed his first mission of building a political dynasty with roots in the south-west and acquiring some branches in parts of the south-south, south-east and north-central, Tinubu could convince Buhari to supply the reputational investment to give Goodluck Jonathan the fight of his life at the 2015 presidential poll. It was make or mar for Buhari with age fast slipping away from his side but not exactly the same for Tinubu, as there was the less pronounced possibility that if Buhari lost the 2015 poll, Tinubu could rally the troops they had jointly assembled for a personal bid in 2019.

Wielding an amalgamation of diverse interests tied together like a broom– the insignia of the party, Tinubu played a major role behind the scene in his second mission impossible. A rebranded Buhari with the aid of Tinubu’s political machinery and support from sundry quarters emerged president with so much hope and goodwill. It has been three years since that victory and the strap holding that broom together has slackened, threatening to give way to a free fall for the broom strands. While he remains popular in some areas of the country, Buhari can no longer lay claim to the aura of incorruptibility that earned him the benefit of doubt in south-west Nigeria. The heavy slump in the economy and his manifest provincialism – as reflected in political appointments, response to corruption allegations against members of his inner circle and dithering in tackling the menace of Fulani herdsmen who presumably share some ethnic affinity with him and other persons in charge of the country’s security apparatus, will count against him among informed voters.

In the face of depleted goodwill, Buhari’s hope for re-election in 2019 rests largely on the mobilisation of loyalty votes, and even that is threatened with the gradual disintegration of the APC. Members of the party have been at war at all levels in different dimensions right from the moment the party won the 2015 election. Differences between the ACN camp and members of the defunct New PDP played out at the National Assembly and Tinubu’s preferred candidates for the seat of the senate president (Senator Ahmed Lawan) and the seat of the Speaker of the House of Representatives (Hon Femi Gbajabiamila), both lost to Senator Bukola Saraki and Hon Yakubu Dogara respectively. A member of the PDP, Senator Ike Ekweremadu even managed to emerge deputy senate president.

Following the whipping at the National Assembly in 2015, Tinubu would go on to lose more internal power tussles in the APC in 2016, being unable to secure the party’s ticket for his preferred candidates for the governorship elections in Kogi, Edo and Ondo states. It came to a climax when the former Lagos governor called for the resignation of the party chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, a call that remained ignored till date.

Beyond Tinubu, a number of APC big wigs continue to tear at each other. Outspoken Senator Shehu Sani and his fellow senator from Kaduna, Suleiman Hunkuyi have become sworn enemies of the state governor, Nasir El-Rufai. A crisis of confidence within the Osun state chapter also saw the party lose the Osun West senatorial by-election to the PDP after Otunba Ademola Adeleke decamped to the latter party. In Kogi state, Senator Dino Melaye and Governor Yahaya Bello have tried desperate means to hurt each other politically while at the National Assembly, both Saraki and Dogara appear to have engineered the suspension of some APC lawmakers who had opposing views.

Buhari recently handed Tinubu the task of reuniting the party and Senator Sani has been quoted to have said the APC was doomed if Tinubu failed in his mission. The senator can surely read the signs on the wall and knows he may lose his chance at re-election if the tussle with El-Rufai subsists till later in the year considering how influential governors are within the party’s structures. Buhari’s fate similarly hangs in the balance, especially with moves by the National Assembly to alter the sequencing of the elections to place the presidential poll as the last while the federal legislative elections come first. In the absence of a united party, Buhari will struggle to rally the support needed to win if legislators have their fate decided before his.

It is hard to tell if Tinubu has put all the undermining he has had to deal with behind him as he goes about reconciling his party members, but it is not hard to tell that the Jagaban of Borgu will always have a reason to keep the APC united for the 2019 election. For one, the return of the PDP will edge him out of control at the centre for a prolonged period and while the ways of political wheelers cannot be predicted with certainty, it is unlikely that Jagaban will let go of the niceties that he currently has for another sojourn in the wilderness of opposition. A lot can happen in politics in a day and with at least a year to the first ballot in 2019, there is enough time for Tinubu to pull the chestnut out of the fire. Tom Cruise’s character in the Mission Impossible film series, Ethan Hunt, always finds a way to do the impossible and is set to return for a sixth installment. Whether it is through the APC and Buhari or otherwise, Tinubu can still pull off an improbable victory for himself in 2019 regardless of whatever he decides his agenda will be.

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