■ The trouble with APC
■ PDP in search of soul
■ PDP, APC divisions,
    others plot new party

By Onyedika Agbedo

NIGERIA still has about two years and four months to go before the next elections in 2019.  But the battle has started in earnest. The political atmosphere indicates so, even as there are signs of an ongoing realignment of forces that will lead to the formation of another major political party in the country that will test its might at the 2019 polls. At the root of the realignment are the crises in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the major opposition party in the country, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).  While the crisis in the PDP has led to the factionalisation of the party, the APC is on the verge of an imminent implosion.  Already, there is a growing concern within the camp of President Muhammadu Buhari over his second term ambition.
A chieftain of the APC and former national secretary of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Alhaji Buba Galadima, in a recent interview with a national newspaper didn’t in fact hide his worries over the state of affairs of the ruling party. Galadima, a hitherto close ally of Buhari who had been part of his struggles since the days of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and the subsequent merger arrangement that culminated in the formation of the APC, warned that the growing discontent within the supporters of the APC could lead to its disintegration and thus jeopardize the president’s chances for a second term in 2019, if he decides to seek re-election.
However, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, swiftly dismissed Galadima’s claims as unfounded and utterly ridiculous. “President Muhammadu Buhari is far from isolation. He enjoys a very strategic relationship with ordinary Nigerians. This relationship is as solid as the proverbial rock. If Buba Galadima thinks that because he has no role and no job in this government that means president is isolated he is putting himself up to ridicule,” Shehu said.
To many observers, the Presidency’s quick response to the issues raised by Galadima in the interview suggests that Buhari already has his eyes on 2019 even without announcing it yet.
Also within the rank of the APC, there was a public spat recently between the Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai and former vice president Atiku Abubakar, to which the former had hinted that it was all about the party’s presidential ticket in 2019. His words: “Alhaji Atiku is already running for 2019, and he thinks that he can make people like us collateral damage in his attempt to rejuvenate his image.”
“This obsession for power inclined him to support the rebellion against the party that manifested in the National Assembly, and is continuing with obvious disrespect for the incumbent president.”
With the crack in the APC obviously widening and the PDP still in crisis, the contending forces in both parties are working to ensure they are not caught off the guard should reconciliation moves crumble. One of the factions of the PDP was clear about this recently.

PDP in search of merger
Since its botched national convention of May 21, 2016, in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, the PDP has been enmeshed in a deep crisis that broke it into two factions. The crisis resulted from the appointment of a National Caretaker Committee (NCC) with a mandate to steer the party’s activities for a period of 90 days. The appointment, which purportedly ended the reign of Ali Modu Sheriff as national chairman, was made by the party’s leaders led by the governors elected on its platform, a move which Sheriff  rejected leading to PDP’s fragmentation.  Since then, both the Sheriff and Makarfi factions have been fighting for the soul of the party to the extent that they almost didn’t have a common candidate in the November 26 gubernatorial election in Ondo State but for the intervention of the court. Meanwhile, the Makarfi faction recently made public its desire to join forces with other like-minded political associations with the inauguration of a 115-member Strategy Review and Inter-party Affairs Committee. The major mandate of the committee is to consider the possibility of merging with other political parties towards 2019. Former Minister of Information, Prof. Jerry Gana, is the Chairman of the committee. According to sources, the inauguration of the committee formally opened up the process of dialogue and consultations with other political parties, including former members of the PDP who left to join the APC with a view to building a formidable platform.
Makarfi, while inaugurating the committee, had said that the move was part of the party’s strategy to return to power in 2019 through democratic means. He said the committee should, among other things, “explore strategies to engage all possible allies, with a view to building positive relationship in overall interest and in furtherance of democracy in Nigeria.”
Makarfi further said: “Time is going, a lot of things are happening and our men and women are on their own and are beginning to do all sorts of meetings. However, if you don’t bring all your flocks together to talk as one family, before long, a good chunk of them would have gone on their own, because nobody will remain inactive for forever.  After due consultation, we felt that time is now right to set up a committee, called Strategy Review and Inter-party Affairs Committee. The strategy is how to come back to power in 2019 through every democratic means. Even as caretaker committee, we get approached by various groups and we felt that it is not the few of us that should be talking to these people. The committee may seem large but its responsibilities are wide and huge. The committee will break into sub-committees to talk to different groups. It is also the role of the committee to advice on how to make the party stronger and better.”
Makarfi’s speech showed that his faction is desirous of returning to power at the national level in 2019. But they have realised that it would be an uphill task for them unless they merge with other like minds that are not comfortable with the current leadership at the centre. And as he indicated, some groups had been discussing with the faction.

Tinubu/Presidency cold war
Meanwhile, speculations have been rife that loyalists of the national leader of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, have been complaining that the political capital of the ‘Jagaban’ was being eroded by the actions of a cabal in the Presidency. Among the grudges Tinubu’s men hold against Buhari are the exclusion of Tinubu’s candidates from the President’s final ministerial list, the gang-up against his candidate in the Kogi governorship election, James Faleke, who was the late Audu Abubakar’s running mate; and the alleged fraud against his candidate in the Ondo governorship primary, Olusegun Abraham. The Ondo governorship primary had led to an exchange of words in the media between Tinubu and the National Chairman of the party, John Odigie-Oyegun. Feeling short-changed and sidelined in the affairs of a party, Tinubu’s supporters are reportedly calling on him to float a new party and strip the APC of his support. In fact, they recently organised a rally in Lagos under the hash tag #IStandWithTinubu to express their displeasure over the state of affairs of the APC. Although Tinubu has remained silent amidst speculations about his next political move, he has not attended any event organised by the party in recent times neither has he been seen in Aso Rock villa of late. For instance, he was conspicuously absent at the final governorship rally of the party in Ondo State recently, which was attended by President Buhari. His tactical withdrawal from the party’s functions has been interpreted in some quarters to mean that he might eventually dump the APC with his supporters.
Besides, the former Lagos State governor is a deft politician who does not belong where his influence is diminished. For instance, following his misunderstandings with the leadership of the Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, and subsequent crisis in the Alliance for Democracy (AD), which was the brainchild of Afenifere, Tinubu exited the party that brought him to power as governor in 1999 and formed the Action Congress (AC) during his second term in office. The AC later merged with some other minor political parties to form the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in September 2006. Under the arrangement, he was the only governor on the platform of the ACN and as such called the shots. To his credit, he was able to build the ACN into a formidable political platform especially in the Southwest geo-political zone where at a time it controlled five out of the six states in the zone. That earned him a lot of respect and influence in political circles, which he took into the APC. With the outstanding victory of the APC in the 2015 elections, it was expected that more reverence would come his way, but that has not happened yet. Instead, there are insinuations that Buhari is building a new bloc of loyalists in the Southwest zone through ministers and other appointees, which would moderate Tinubu’s influence and subdue him.  It is, therefore, very unlikely that in spite of his enormous contributions to the formation and success of the APC in the 2015 polls and his desire to play politics at the federal level, he would remain in the APC until 2019.

The Buhari angle
Like Tinubu, President Buhari too commands enormous influence in his northern political base and likes operating from a vantage position. His exit from the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), the platform on which he contested the 2007 presidential election and formation of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) proves that much. During the April 2007 presidential election, The Buhari Organisation (TBO), his campaign outfit had worked with the ANPP in the election campaign, but there was friction between the two groups. After the elections, which the late president Umaru Yar’Adua won, Buhari contested the result of the election up to the Supreme Court against the wish of his party, which had tried to persuade him to withdraw the suit. After losing at the court, Buhari felt that he lacked the full support of the leadership of the ANPP and decided that he needed a new platform to support his political ambitions.
He filed an application to register the CPC with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in March 2009, and received official approval and registration in December of the same year. He formally left the ANPP and joined the CPC in March 2010, using the platform to contest the 2011 presidential election. In his statement to announce the formation of the CPC, Buhari had said he dumped the ANPP due to “verifiable irreconcilable differences.”
From every indication, the APC is already challenged by serious irreconcilable differences and it is just a matter of time before a major parting of ways would occur amongst members of the party if the leadership fails to urgently address the situation. On formation, the APC was actually seen as a ‘marriage of convenience’ that would eventually break up. Not many observers even gave the party the chance of surviving to contest the 2015 general elections. But they stuck together and proved bookmakers wrong, eventually winning the presidential election, majority of the members in both arms of the National Assembly, and about 21 state governments. Nevertheless, things are rapidly falling apart within its fold. With the PDP also in crisis and a faction of it frantically seeking for a merger with other platforms, Nigerians might witness another ‘marriage of convenience’ in the political scene soon. All in preparation for 2019!