Why APC should settle for George Akume as national chair, By Sufuyan Ojeifo
...an Akume consensus option will throw into the mix a re-enactment of the Anenih-Ikimi political contestation. This time round, it will be Akume-Ayu’s political face-off to determine who is more popular politically and electorally, and in fact, who between them the people would follow when it comes to choice of a preferred leader.
In this dispensation, I honestly crave for a repeat of the political contestation between the late Chief Tony Anenih and Chief Tom Ikimi in Edo State during the ill-fated Third Republic. This could spice up the 2023 political contestation between the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The political actors can deliberately inspire a feeling of de javu by recreating the 1992/1993 scenario when the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (NRC) produced their national chairmen not only from Edo State but also from the same Esan ethnic nationality.
Anenih, who stepped in the saddle consequent upon Ambassador Babagana Kingibe’s resignation as national chairman to seek the SDP’s presidential ticket, was from Uromi while Ikimi of the NRC is from Igueben. Both towns were not too far away from each other. That scenario brought out the best of politicking in Edo State. The fact that the leaderships of the two political parties were domiciled in the state put considerable pressure on the party leaders and their respective structures. Both Anenih and Ikimi tried to outwit each other in the battle for control of Edo to prove who, between them, owned the land?
But that question was resolved in favour of Anenih who, using the governorship election as a battleground, produced Chief John Odigie-Oyegun as governor of the State on the SDP platform. The battle for control saw the Iyasele (Prime Minister) of Esanland tame the Oduma (Lion) of Igueben and Akinrogun (Brave warrior) of Ile-Ife in a bruising political fight that saw SDP’s candidate, Odigie-Oyegun, defeat NRC’s candidate, Chief Lucky Igbinedion. The battle was quite interesting. It provided an opportunity for both Anenih and Ikimi to put either of the parties on a significant one-state lead while leaders in other states battled to deliver their states to their respective parties. It would be very interesting if the APC can deliberately take steps to recreate this scenario prelude to the 2023 general elections.
The proposition supra is helped by the fact that the PDP had, on October 31, 2021, settled for a Tiv man, Dr Iyorchia Ayu who was Senate President in the ill-fated Third Republic and Minister under the junta and the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, as its national chairman, through consensus that was ratified at its last national convention. It was a seamless process that somewhat boded well for the party.
Why can’t the APC toe the same path by intentionally micro-zoning the position of national chair to the North Central? It could deliberately further micro-zone it to Benue State to enable a former two-term Governor of the State, three-term senator and current minister of special duties and intergovernmental affairs, George Akume, to emerge as the party’s consensus candidate to ignite political contestation with Ayu right from Benue State?
First, consensus will serve the party better. It will save the party the efforts that it would normally deploy in reconciling disparate aspirants and their supporters in the event of a fractious national convention. Second, an Akume consensus option will throw into the mix a re-enactment of the Anenih-Ikimi political contestation. This time round, it will be Akume-Ayu’s political face-off to determine who is more popular politically and electorally, and in fact, who between them the people would follow when it comes to choice of a preferred leader.
A run through the vital political statistics of these two men shows a scenario that is as intriguing if not more intriguing than the Anenih-Ikimi situation. Both Akume and Ayu are Tiv. In fact, a grapevine hinted that it is a fence that separates the houses of both men in Gboko. Both had been in the Senate; both had been ministers; in fact, Akume is a serving minister in Buhari’s government. Whereas, Akume had been governor of the state for two terms; Ayu was never governor of Benue. That gives Akume an edge over him. And, also, whereas, both had contested and won elections, Akume’s electoral outings-two governorship contests and four senatorial contests, to boot- also clearly outclass Ayu’s single electoral outing from 1991-1993.
Beyond this ethnic pigeonholing, what in terms of external influence, political gravitas, electoral charm and national network of allies can either of them leverage to win the sympathy of Nigerians and those watching Nigeria’s political landscape from outside for their respective parties? How robustly can the duo deploy their personas in getting the support of Nigerians? While Akume’s political pedigree as a grassroots politician, who throws the doors of his house wide open to both the rich and the hoi polloi to ingress and egress, places him at an advantageous position to most possibly enjoy national association in a contest of popularity and acceptability, Ayu’s writ-large elitist politics has always created a gulf between him and the people. That was, perhaps, the reason he could not sustain his quest for elective offices beyond his senatorial outing in the ill-fated Third Republic. He would thereafter play the big-league prebendal politics in which ministerial positions are shared in Abuja to cronies and associates who claim leadership of the parties in the states. That was why he was able to get appointed as Minister of Education 1993-98 under the junta, then Minister of Industry between 1999 and 2001, Minister of Internal Affairs from July 2003 to 2005 and Minister of Environment from June 2005 to December 2005 under the Olusegun Obasanjo administration.
Akume at 68 and Ayu at 69 qualify as elder statesmen in their own right. They have the sagacity derived from political experience to navigate the political terrain and carry along their party leaders and members for the 2023 political contest, that is assuming the APC settles for Akume. But a quiet opinion sample of the temperament of both men has returned positive responses in favour of Akume, who many described as though sedate, yet highly fecund. His capacity for political accommodation was also underscored in the opinion sample. This character appraisal contrasts sharply with Ayu’s elitist “arrogance” that is fueled purportedly by his academic accomplishments and this disposition might not augur well for him within the precincts of the opposition PDP where he needs to exercise self-restraint in close personal or open wider interactions.
Ayu, having already assumed the driver’s seat of the PDP, courtesy of the consensus arrangement that threw him up, the only thing APC can do to counter and diminish his choice is to push Akume forward as its battle axe to contain him at home. It will be quite interesting to see the battle for the soul of Nigeria in 2023 begin from Benue, which occupies a strategic place in the politics of North Central zone. The northern identity of Benue in the geographical context, cannot be denied just as the fact that the State is predominantly Christian. Both Ayu and Akume, if the scenario is consummated by the APC’s acquiescence in generating northern consensus around Akume, will be projected on the same religious card, just as Anenih and Ikimi.
Remarkably, Ayu has the national chair of the PDP already in his kitty. To get over-engaged in the business of deconstructing and interrogating his essential place in the politics of Nigeria is neither here nor there as he is already a fait accompli for the opposition party, at least between now and the time the party’s presidential candidate would emerge. Akume, on the other hand, and quite a number of aspirants from the northern region who are jostling for the APC topmost job are staking their reputations in the race to lead the party. Interestingly, it is a star-studded field comprising mostly former governors, including Senator Umaru Tanko Al-Makura from Nasarawa, Senator Abdulaziz Abubakar Yari from Zamfara, Senator Ali Modu Sherrif from Borno, and Senator Kashim Shettima also from Borno.
A race by Akume with all of these political giants in the APC will put the party under considerable pressure. Is it the contemplation of President Muhammadu Buhari and the leadership of the party to cause tension and, in the corollary, stress out the party on the eve of an election year? The contemplation and consideration now should be how to surmount and/or calm the raging storm of aspirations, ambitions and desperation through consensus. That should be the conversation to undergird the process. The APC is not new to this option. It was the option that has produced all its national chairmen from inception till date: Chief Bisi Akande, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, Comrade Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole and even Hon. Mai Mala Buni who chairs a Caretaker Committee that is working round the clock to midwife the birth of a substantive national chairman.
In arriving at a choice of a national chairman, critical stakeholders under the leadership of the president must decisively resolve to stave off acrimonies and unhealthy disputations. This is not the time to feign democratic correctness, that the national chairman must be produced through election. The consensus option has vitiated that þargument. Stakeholder should therefore draw up a template with which the aspirants would be assessed in this leadership recruitment process. Political pedigree, performance in previous elective and appointive offices, temperament, level and/or scope of accountability, prudence in management of public finance, and corruption records vis-à-vis interrogations and prosecution by anti-graft agencies, among others.
For instance, Nigerians are apprised of significant pieces of information by some of the anti-graft agencies concerning some of the former governors in the race. Some have never come under the searchlight of the agencies. This counts for something. Other factors should also count. The ball is in the court of President Muhammadu Buhari and the national leadership of the APC to determine which route it intends to go and how it intends to chart it. Whichever way they decide, I strongly recommend that they should take a very close look at George Akume. I believe he is actually “the man that the job needs,” not one of the aspirants that has already adopted that as his sign-off line in billboard adverts.
▪︎ Mr Ojeifo contributed this piece from Abuja via firstname.lastname@example.org