Azu Ishiekwene

Offices of the All Progressives Congress (APC) across the country are still littered with broken bones, bloodied faces and shredded tallies from the party’s ward congresses last weekend.

In virtually all the states, the ward congresses were marred by violence, with special drama in Anambra where the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Chris Ngige, and a former governorship candidate of the party, Tony Nwoye, could not even agree whether what was held was a congress or an imaginary clan reunion.

It was worse – a bloody shambles – in Delta State. One of the aspirants, Jeremiah Oghoveta, was stabbed in the neck by a thug who fled and left his victim to die.

Suddenly, the party that promised change is making the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) look like amateur thugs. By the fruit of the ward congresses, APC and PDP have shown, yet again, that they are different branches of the same blighted tree.

The ward congresses were an utter disgrace and it remains to be seen if the leader of the APC, President Muhammadu Buhari, would look beyond the smokescreen in his corner in Daura and find the courage to tell his party that it has fallen short.

If Buhari is unable to do this, I can understand why. What the party is today is largely what he has made it. It’s true that party discipline tends to be stronger under the parliamentary system. But even under our presidential system, we have had party leaders who combined the useful features of both systems to give their party a spine.

If former President Olusegun Obasanjo were not his capricious self, for example, he would probably be a good example of a party whip-in-chief in recent times.

Buhari never seems to be interested, and it's such an irony that this man ran for the Presidency four times. After declaring at his inauguration that he was for everyone and yet for no one, it turned out that what he probably meant was that he was for himself and no one else.

Immediately after his election, he abandoned his party and recessed into his royal court in the Presidential Villa.

Once that happened, the various tendencies within the newly formed APC, comprising the CPC, ACN, ANPP, nPDP and a faction of APGA, fanned out in a do-or-die power struggle to fill the void.

Even remnants of core PDP elements in government took advantage of the internecine war and Buhari’s indifference to embed in the new administration, forcing First Lady Aisha Buhari to warn of a potential rebellion in the APC rank and file.

As elections draw closer once again, rebellion is manifesting as homicide. It may not seem apparent with politicians, including notorious suicide bombers and their godfathers decamping to the ruling party in droves. But it’s there, boiling slowly, but surely, to the surface.

The seeds of negligence that Buhari sowed when he abandoned the party after his election, paving the way for the leadership struggle at the National Assembly, and the alienation of a number of those who had helped him to come to power, have yielded a harvest of ward congress crises.

Like a delinquent athlete, the APC barely exercised its muscles three years after taking power. No introspection, no convention, no engagement. Nothing. 

The party became so run down that it could not even replace dead light bulbs in its national headquarters. There was nothing to show that it was in any way fundamentally different from the power-grabbing machine that its predecessor was.

Yet, in spite of its waywardness, it is staging its own local congress Olympics and hoping for a medal haul.

There’s the argument that Buhari should be excused on health grounds. That his sponsors didn’t quite know that they had bought a pig in a poke, and that his effectiveness has been depleted after he spent, all together, nearly five months of his first three years in office trying to deal with his health.

Others have said health or not, it’s his style, the essential Buhari: he’s a master of the high horse, riding in the spotlight while others do the dirty work for him.

Well, politics is a messy thing. If Buhari still had any illusion, last weekend’s congresses should have shown him that the road to 2019 would be a turbulent one, even within his own fold.

It may appear unfair to hold Buhari responsible for the large-scale failure of the APC ward congresses but the failure wasn’t an event: it didn’t just happen. It is the sum total of a series of mishaps that started three years ago when he failed to provide the leadership that might have sealed the cracks in the fragile alliance.  

When that didn’t happen, post-election animosities and injuries became festering sores. Party stalwarts who waited in vain for Buhari to act – or even pretend to be interesting in acting – began to instigate their base and sympathisers, from the ward level up, against the party. Others simply switched off. The shambolic ward congresses were inevitable.

True, Buhari appears to have roused himself from the sleep of political death. The eleventh-hour man that he is, never to be hurried and never in a hurry, he asked one of the party’s national leaders, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, to help reconcile the warring factions in a war which he, Buhari, instigated either by default, negligence or both.

The ward congresses, with the ricochet of missiles in the stalled Ekiti governorship primaries, are a tale of just how far the reconciliation has progressed. Who could have believed that the day would come when PDP will mock APC about doing the right thing and Governor Ayodele Fayose’s PDP in Ekiti would show the APC how to conduct primaries?

Understandably, the PDP has capitalised on the self-inflicted blunders of the ruling party, but common sense suggests that the talk of APC’s death is slightly exaggerated.

The ultimatum by nPDP with its laundry list of demands is meaningless because the group has disintegrated and its influence has waned over time.

The remnant of the nPDP is split between bigwigs like Rabiu Kwankwaso and co who have one leg out the door and remainers like Rotimi Amaechi who have no where to go. 

The nPDP's complaint, addressed to a sitting duck chairman and reported by The Cable, is only to provide temporary oxygen for Bukola Saraki, Danjuma Goje and others who are still testing the waters.

APC still has a chance to recover from its convulsion, even though its scars would remain. My guess, in fact, is that despite its hubris, it remains the party to beat in the next election, as the nectar of power continues to draw hordes into its fold.

But there’s a candle on the window. Even though Buhari’s aloofness, the government’s incompetence and the internal war have left the party severely damaged, they may yet produce an opportunity. That is for parties and politicians not obsessed by 2019.

With a serious, sustained political challenge, the APC, in its current form, will not last the distance it took to remove the PDP from power. 

But will the discontent produce strategic thinking and enough stamina in our politicians?

Ishiekwene is the Managing Director/Editor-In-Chief of The Interview and member of the board of the Global Editors Network

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