Kogi 2019: Split among APC stakeholders over gov primary

The mode of primary election to be adopted by the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the next governorship election in Kogi State is causing ripples among stakeholders, with the two distinct camps that have emerged not willing to shift ground, YINKA OLADOYINBO, reports 

THE November 16, 2019 governorship election in Kogi State is gathering momentum, with the major political parties in the state perfecting individual plans to win. Already, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are leaving no one in doubt as to their seriousness about securing victory. A number of the aspirants, including serving and former governors of the state have thrown their hats into the ring in the quest to occupy the Lugard House.

The parties have released the guidelines to be followed by the aspirants as dates for the party primaries draw near. However, the guidelines released by the APC is generating among members of the party, with some publicly expressing their displeasure over the decision of the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party. The NWC, led by the national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, had adopted the indirect primary pattern as the one to be used to elect the candidate that will fly the flag of the party at the poll. This decision was in line with the resolution of the stakeholders of the party in the state who had earlier met and agreed on the system to be used for the primary election.

Before the adoption of the indirect primary by the stakeholders at the state level, opinions had been divided among members and aspirants on the issue. The state governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, members of the State Executive Committee (SEC) and other party leaders had supported the indirect primary option, while many of the governorship aspirants believed the direct primary option would be the best for the party.

Apart from the governor, other stakeholders who decided on the resolution included the Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Rt Honourable Matthew Kolawole, senators from Kogi east and central senatorial districts, serving House of Representatives members, former National Assembly members, former principal officers of the  state assembly, state executive members and party chairmen at the local government level.The speaker, who moved the motion for the adoption of the indirect primary method, reminded the stakeholders that the same method was used during the general election and wondered why some people were calling for a change now. Kolawole, who spoke glowingly about the leadership ability of Bello, said the party had grown in leaps and bounds under the incumbent governor, noting that there was no reason the party should not forge ahead with its winning formula.

His motion was then seconded by both former Speaker of the state legislature, Honourable Abdullahi Bello, and the current majority leader of the Assembly, Honourable Bello Abdullahi Sheikh, who expressed confidence in the ability of the party leadership to give the state a transparent process.

Speaking at the stakeholders’ meeting, the governor, who welcomed the development, said the party was poised to win the election. Bello said that although he was not worried about any form of primary adopted by the party, adding that he was confident of his ability to clinch the ticket and win the election irrespective of the format the party decides to adopt. He said the APC’s stakeholders had justified the different positions they occupied by giving the party an excellent outing during the last national and state assembly elections in the state. Bello reminded the party that the state achieved 100 per cent record for the state assembly during the last election in rancour-free congresses at all levels where the party faithful participated democratically and were given the free will to make their respective choices. He stated that the party membership, under the leader of the party in the state, had increased tremendously, which was a testament that the people trusted his leadership, even as he promised not to disappoint such trust.

However, a few days after the adoption, another set of APC stakeholders, including 20 governorship aspirants met and rejected the indirect primary system. Accordingly, they urged the party to use the direct primary option that would allow every card-carrying member of the APC to participate in the choice of the party’s candidate. Speaking under the aegis of the Kogi APC Stakeholders Forum, Senator Alex Kadri accused the governor of attempting to manipulate the process to favour him, lamenting that the APC could lose the state to the PDP if Governor Bello was allowed to have his way.

He said, “We are opposed to Yahaya Belloi contrived indirect primary. He can’t be a judge in his own case. So we are saying it must be direct primary. We believe his faction can’t do the primary.  “We are calling on the National Working Committee, (NWC) to dissolve the state executive and create a caretaker committee to run the affairs of the state.

“We have bent over backwards to accommodate Governor Bello. In 2015, he worked for PDP and as of that time, he wasn’t a registered voter in Kogi State. We won’t accept indirect primary for the selection of governorship candidate. We won’t allow Governor Bello to choose for us; the insult on Kogi people is too much.

“We have made representations to the NWC. They set up the Tony Mommoh committee, they refused to implement, they also created the General Chris Garba and we met the team under Chief John Odigie-Oyegun.  We met with them and even met the vice president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo.

“It is difficult to sell Yahaya Bello to the Kogi electorate. If the party had worked with the recommendations of Tony Mommoh or General Garba, we won’t be where we are. The fact of the matter is that Governor Bello isn’t competent. High Court judges are being owed 12 months’ salary. The man has no standard and we expect the APC NWC to do the needful. The man they posted to Kogi has failed.”

But despite the opposition of the group to the indirect primary option, the national secretariat of the APC accepted the decision of the SEC and other stakeholders and settled for the indirect primary system. The party, at the end of the meeting of the NWC last week, made its decision on the issue public. The national publicity secretary of the APC, Lanre Issa-Onilu, in a statement said, “The National Working Committee (NWC) of the All Progressives Congress (APC) has approved indirect primaries to elect the party’s candidate for the November 16 governorship election.

“The approval was given after a meeting of the NWC on Friday where a formal request from the Kogi State executive and stakeholders in preference for the Indirect Primary was considered and deliberated on. Recall that the APC Constitution which was re-emphasized by a decision of National Executive Committee (NEC) provides for three modes of primary election to elect party candidates – Indirect, Direct Primaries and consensus – depending on the peculiarities of the state and preferences of the stakeholders in respective elections.”

The decision of the NWC notwithstanding, those opposed to the indirect primary option have continued to push their side of the argument. The 20 governorship aspirants again protested to the national secretariat and handed a protest letter to the national chairman of the party. The people said that the decision taken by NWC was done without adequate consultation with critical stakeholders in the state.

The letter read by one of them, Muhammad Ali, reads in part: “We categorically reject the indirect primary adopted by our party for Kogi election. We urge the national leadership of the party to set up an Independent Caretaker Management Committee without delay with the sole mandate of providing a level playing ground for a popular direct primary involving all card-carrying members in the state.

“At an emergency meeting of all the governorship aspirants in the State held on Sunday, July 7, 2019, we reviewed the decision of the National Working Committee of the party. We resolved that the adoption of indirect party primaries is inherent with serious negative consequences for the fortune of the party in the State. We regret to observe that such decision was taken without adequate consultation with critical stakeholders of the party in the state. In particular, the governorship aspirants on the platform of the party and other contending groups in the polarized structure of the party in the state,” he said.

Ali argued that the decision to adopt indirect primaries by the NWC is fraught with severe implications. “First, contrary to the information given to the NWC, there is a suit pending in an Abuja court seeking to determine the authentic executive of the party in the state. We observed that as a party committed to the enthronement of popular democracy, the resort to an indirect primary in the state amounts to a muzzling of the wish of the generality of our party members. As loyal party men, we would not fold our arms and allow our party to suffer huge political loss,” he said.

The last may, however not have been heard on the crisis generated by the Kogi primary of the APC as the party leadership has resolved to look into the complaints against the decision. The party had during the week at the meeting of its NWC, said it would consider the petitions it had received from stakeholders over the matter. The party, which refuted the claim of pressure from the presidency to rescind its decision, however promised to consider its interest on the matter.

The spokesperson for the APC said, “The NWC will look at the merit of the petitions in line with the party’s constitution and come out with a position in due course.”The NWC, therefore, thanks the aggrieved APC stakeholders in Kogi State for the peaceful manner in which they have conducted themselves so far and their trust in the NWC to do the right thing. Issa-Onilu, nonetheless, restated that the APC Constitution, which was re-emphasised by a decision of National Executive Committee (NEC), provided for three modes of primaries to elect party candidates – indirect, direct Primaries and consensus. This is depending on the peculiarities of the state and preferences of the stakeholders in respective elections. We assure all concerned parties that the NWC would be guided only by our rules,” the APC spokesman said.

Another dimension was however introduced into the matter as a group within the PDP rolled out drums to celebrate the adoption of indirect primary by the ruling party. According to the group known as Salvage Kogi 2019, with the system adopted by the APC, it will be easy for Bello to emerge and this will make the election easy to win for the PDP. The convener of the group, Samuel Alamoh, said the party members strongly believed that it would be easy to defeat Bello if he emerged as the party candidate because he had lost popularity among the people of the state due to his unsatisfactory performance in entrenching good governance in the state. “Although, the APC is free to choose any mode of primaries they want, we know and believe he is not and will never be a good match for our candidate,” he said. This, according to Alamoh, was the alleged inability of the governor to pay workers’ salaries and failing infrastructure in the state.