By Nurudeen Oyewole
On August 14, 2018, the national leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and former governor of Lagos State, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, rolled out new guidelines for the party’s primary elections during a meeting of stakeholders. The meeting was held at the party’s secretariat in Ogba, Ikeja, Lagos.
Instead of wide acceptance as earlier expected, the guidelines attracted fear and concerns in some quarters, that the much-anticipated endorsement of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode for a second term ticket may face huge challenges.
Since he became governor of Lagos, Tinubu has maintained a firm grip on the political structure of the state. From the defunct Alliance for Democracy (AD) to the Action Congress (AC) and Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), and now, the
APC, he has always had his way.
In 2011,Tinubu’s relationship with his godson and successor, Babatunde Raji Fashola, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), almost turned awry. It was at a similar stakeholders’ meeting like the recent one that matters were resolved and support for Fashola’s re-election was announced.
Our sources who attended the meeting told Daily Trust on Sunday that against the expectation that the former governor would use the occasion to declare support for Ambode’s second term bid, the matter was not even mentioned throughout the deliberation.
“Going by the fact that we have about five months before the next elections, and with the fact that activities for gubernatorial election are in top gear in other states, nobody would have thought that the key issue of re-electing Ambode would not be mentioned. But considering the fact that the leader is in charge, we defer to his superior position in all sensitive issues like this one, we cannot but wait for him to give the go-ahead,” one of our sources said.
Another stakeholder who attended the meeting said, “We even became more worried when all that was discussed was ‘direct primary’, against the ‘delegate system’ we have been used to in primary elections. We hope this would not affect the governor’s chances if a primary is called.”
Of greater worry to the party stakeholders was Tinubu’s pronouncement that nobody would secure an automatic ticket any longer. They insisted that notwithstanding Tinubu’s claim that the party is democratic and is embracing an open selection process, it remains an open secret that whosoever enjoys his blessing has greater chances of winning.
“Don’t borrow money to pursue your aspirations. If you come to me because of primaries I will attend to you. If you bring yam and cassava flour for me I will collect it, but there is no assurance that I will support you.
I only have one vote in my ward and my vote is not different from that of other leaders. There is nothing like you are going to meet Asiwaju; I am not going to endorse anybody. Everybody should go to the field to determine his or her popularity by votes. We will do primaries and whoever wins will be the party’s candidate,” Tinubu said at the stakeholders’ meeting.
There have been speculations in recent times that certain forces who are not happy with Governor Ambode for sidelining them in the scheme of things have been mounting pressure on Tinubu to drop his support for him and allow a free contest during the party’s primary election. The position taken by Tinubu appears to further strengthen that claim.
Fuad Oki, a factional chairman of the APC in the state, was among the first people to raise the alarm that Ambode’s chances to return might be endangered.
Less than 24 hours after he was sworn into office following a parallel congress conducted by his faction, Oki told journalists during an interaction in Lagos that Ambode had been boxed to a tight corner. He said certain forces were holding him hostage, and except he re-negotiated his terms of support with them, he might be frustrated.
Not many took Oki seriously at that time since he was known to belong to another caucus of the party, different from that of Tinubu/Ambode. However, a look at how events have unfolded since the last local government election in the state seems to be solidifying Oki’s red flag.
In the supremacy battle that ensued in the buildup to the local government primary election, many political bigwigs were embittered that their candidates lost out to those from the Tinubu/Ambode camp. For instance, loyalists of the Osun State governor, Rauf Aregbesola, who are also rooted in the politics of Lagos State, and the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Hon. Mudashiru Obasa, were among those who were known to have lost out in the political scheming.
The matter came to a head when, on the day of the primary election at the Teslim Balogun Stadium, hoodlums hijacked the process, tore the cloth of the chief returning officer, Senator Tokunbo Afikuyomi and delegates were forced to flee in different directions.
Keen watchers of events were quick to point to other developments that unfolded afterwards. One of the most-talked-about was the signing of the state budget. As is the tradition, after the budget proposal has been passed, the speaker, alongside other lawmakers, as well as the governor and his executive members, would sit together and witness the budget proposal being signed into law.
The situation was, however, different this year when, in the last minute, the governor called off the earlier scheduled date for signing the budget into law. He was later said to have signed it at a day when the speaker and other legislators could not witness it.
Thereafter, it was reported that different forces within and outside the party mounted pressure on Tinubu to withdraw his support for the governor. And until the recent stakeholders’ meeting, not many could say what was actually in the offing.
A chieftain of the party, Hon. Razak Muse, however, said that beyond the political anxiety in some quarters, the idea of direct primary is a good development. According to Muse, direct primary truly enhances democracy as that would bring about members’ participation in determining those who would represent the party at general elections. He, however, admonished party leaders to ensure that the system is not hijacked as that may create greater problems than the delegate system.
Dele Seteolu, a doctor of Political Science, Lagos State University (LASU), also raised concerns about direct primary election, saying it is susceptible to manipulation.
“Very critical to an acceptable direct primary is a credible party membership register. Without that in place, direct primary, as lofty as its idea looks, is susceptible to manipulation.
In the statement of Mike Igini, the Independent National Election Commission (INEC) commissioner in Akwa Ibom State, few days ago, no political party in Nigeria can be said to even have a reliable membership register. To that extent, I am worried about the credibility or otherwise of the outcomes of direct primaries,” he said.
But for Joe Igbokwe, the spokesman of the APC in Lagos State, having experimented with direct primary in Osun State, the party has come to the conclusion that “it is cheaper and nobody needs to camp delegates in hotels and be paying them.” He added that since the national leader of the party had spoken on the matter, there is no going back on its implementation.
He declined to speak on the chances of Governor Ambode in the face of direct primary.
For Ambode’s loyalists, however, there are no reasons to panic. In a statement issued and signed by the governor’s chief press secretary, Habib Aruna hours after the stakeholders’ meeting, Ambode was quoted as saying: “There is no better time to appreciate our national leader (Tinubu) than now.
What we have just witnessed is the beginning of a revolution about deepening democracy in Nigeria. People might not understand what is going on, but we are giving power to the people, and it is starting from the APC.”