If asked to describe President Muhammadu Buhari and his mode of governance, political watchers and Nigerians in general will have a lot to say: good, bad and ugly.
However, one common characteristic that will be mentioned, is his laid-back attitude to crises in the political parties he belongs to.
Mr Buhari has, over the years, been criticised for taking the back seat in the face of internal party crisis, despite being the national leader of the party.
He seldom intervenes in such crises and only does so when he appears to have been forced or when they seem to be getting out of hand or when the ‘entire universe’ comes begging for his intervention.
Although, the constitution of his current party, the All Progressive Congress (APC), does not recognise positions like “national leader”, it is sometimes expected that as a high ranking member of the party, a member of the National Executive Council, supposed member of the Board of Trustees, one of the founders and the president, he would intervene during such crises and make things right.
The president’s prolonged silence in the recent crisis in the APC which led to the removal of Adams Oshiomhole as the party’s national chairman, is one of many instances where he (Mr Buhari) has acted so.
Many have said his attitude is perceived lack of interest in the affairs of the party. Others have also likened this attitude to his attitude towards insecurity and other ills ravaging the country. The president has also been advised to resign if he is too tired and overwhelmed to handle such crises.
On the flip side, some political analysts believe the president is right to stay away from party crises. This, some said, will let democracy thrive within the party, which they considered supreme, and also give room for members of the party to resolve issues themselves.
Dates back to his CPC days…
Mr Buhari’s apathetic attitude to internal party crises can be traced back to his days in the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), where he contested for his third presidential election in 2011.
Being one of the founders and the national leader of the party, Mr Buhari had many ‘disciples’ who were loyal to him and to his cause. One of such people was Mike Ahamba with whom he subsequently fell out.
Mr Ahamba, a senior Nigerian lawyer from Imo State had been Mr Buhari’s lead counsel at the tribunals where he challenged his loss to former presidents Olusegun Obasanjo in 2003 and Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in 2007.
Trouble started in 2010 when Mr Ahamba declared interest in running for the position of the national chairman. He had informed Mr Buhari who gave him his blessings. The party had decided to give the position to the South-east geo-political zone.
But while preparations for the convention were ongoing, the party leadership rezoned the position to the South-south and in the end, Tony Momoh, a former information minister from Edo State, emerged national chairman while Buba Galadima was voted National Secretary of the party.
In January 2011, Mr Ahamba, announced his resignation from the CPC and politics to “return to his law profession” following disagreements with the party leadership. After which he disclosed that Mr Buhari had promised to pick the vice-presidential candidate from the Southeast but failed to do so – his main reason for leaving the party.
“In fact I am shocked and embarrassed that Buhari has not been able to stand for me. I am shocked that he will stand and let a party board he presides over humiliate me and zone the position to the South-south, against the party’s constitution. I consider it a betrayal. There is nothing I have not done for the party and for Buhari, except that I have not committed a crime for him,” he said in a press conference.
In all of the drama, Mr Buhari, after sometime, merely wrote a letter urging Mr Ahamba to return to the party. One would have expected him to also address the internal crisis of confidence rocking the party and taking measures to remove the dead woods holding back the party. He however, failed to address those fundamental issues of concern raised by the lawyer.
Many CPC supporters were privately convinced that Buhari was morally nervous to confront the alleged misbehaviour of those he trusts so much.
Some analysts believe Mr Buhari seemingly allows the unwholesome activities of the opportunists around him who have undermined the larger interest of the party in no small measure.
In APC, same story
Since his emergence as president under the APC in 2015, the narrative has not changed.
The APC has witnessed a series of leadership crises since its inception till date, most of which occur in the build up to elections at different levels. And the national leader, Mr Buhari, is always found wanting at the start of every hassle.
It is almost as though he had to be briefed about happenings in the party and the need for him to intervene. It is almost as though he had to be reminded that he has the power to call to order, those who seem to be failing in their responsibilities to run the party; that he has the power to step in and make things right.
Zamfara, Rivers example
The APC lost all its seats to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2019 general elections majorly because of party crisis in Zamfara State.
The dispute among leaders of the APC in the north-west state led to the inability to hold the primaries within the stipulated time.
The state chapter had two factions; one loyal to the former governor Abdul’Aziz Yari which claimed it held congresses and had candidates and another faction loyal to ex-senator Kabiru Marafa which insisted that no primary was held.
After weeks of legal battles, the court ruled that the party did not conduct valid primaries to select its governorship, national and state assembly candidates in the build-up to the elections.
And during this period, the president only expressed hope of resolving the crisis in the state.
Same thing happened in Rivers State because factions of the party loyal to the Nigerian minister of transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, and Magnus Abe, a former senator, could not reach a compromise on the party’s flagbearer.
The controversy between the APC leaders in the state paved the way for the incumbent governor, Nyesom Wike, who got a smooth ride to victory in the election.
Not forgetting the earlier feud between APC chieftain, Bola Tinubu and the party’s former chairman, John Odigie-Oyegun, which started in 2016. The duo confronted themselves publicly over the party’s governorship primary election in Ondo State.
Mr Tinubu accused Mr Odigie-Oyegun of playing an undignified role in forwarding the name of Rotimi Akeredolu to INEC as the party’s candidate in the November 26 Ondo State governorship election, despite the recommendation of the Appeal Panel that a fresh primary be held.
He demanded Mr Odigie-Oyegun’s resignation for “duping” the party and INEC.
Mr Odigie-Oyegun not only denied Mr Tinubu’s allegation of corruption against him, he described it as “reckless” and baseless.
Up uuntil 2018, Mr Tinubu still accused the former chairman of sabotaging his presidential assignments. This came weeks after he was asked by the president to lead the APC “consultation, reconciliation and confidence-building efforts” ahead of 2019 elections. The latter simply pledged to show support.
Again, the president was absent during this brawl which nearly wrecked the party. Mr Oyegun was forced to go meet with Mr Buhari who simply told him to ignore Mr Tinubu and refrain from replying in like manner.
Same attitude was displayed in the most recent crisis in the party which saw the removal of Adams Oshiomhole as the national chairman.
Amid the leadership tussle which lasted for almost two weeks following Mr Oshiomhole’s suspension, the president kept mum on the matter. This prompted several groups and members of the party to urge him to intervene.
Both APC governors and the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, met with Mr Buhari on the issue while some federal lawmakers called for his intervention via letters and press releases.
The president finally intervened and when he did, threw his support behind one of the contenders for the position of acting national chairman, Victor Giadom.
IN BUHARI’S DEFENCE
While some APC officials have frowned at Mr Buhari’s style of looking the other way, while the party was falling apart, his spokesperson, Femi Adesina said the president was a democrat who would rather prefer to allow the “process to run its course”.
In a recent video interview with a UK-based Nigerian, Ata Ikiddeh, on the Edo APC crisis, he said the president likes to be fair to everybody and those complaining about his stillness do not know what he has done.
“What he has done is to meet with the parties separately. And he has been doing this for more than a year since the crisis in Edo began. So if the people are in entrenched positions and refuse to shift ground, what would the president do as a democrat? You allow the process to run its course.
“What people expect the president to do is to legislate things, to order Obaseki ‘No, step down’ or order Oshiomhole ‘No, give him the ticket’. That is not democracy. When you begin to order and legislate things like that you would be unfair to one party,” Mr Adesina said.
Experts who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES expressed conflicting views on the president’s style. While some say Mr Buhari is right not to interfere in party crisis, others criticise him for ignoring the happenings in the party when his intervention as father of all is most needed.
Ezenwa Nwagwu, chairman of Partners for Electoral Reform and Convener of Say No Campaign, said there is an extent to which Mr Buhari should meddle in the affairs of the party and that the president was right to have stayed aloof for most part of the crisis.
“Coming from the blackmail of being a military dictator, you will see a president that is restrained and does not want to interfere with workings within the political party. In a presidential democracy, the candidate of a party and the government are not fully participatory in the activities of the party immediately after elections are over.
“I don’t think he is nonchalant. I think it is a cautious strategic response to what it has always been. If the president is aloof in the matters of his political party, that is the correct thing to do.
“It is for us to ask the organs of the party that has responsibility to whip members when they are misbehaving, to be alive to such responsibilities. People want to drag the president into party affairs just because it is a governing party,” he said.
He wondered why Nigerians and the media talk less about internal party democracy and the functioning of the Board of Trustees.
The reason people talk about the president, he explained, is “because we want him to solve every problem. Is it possible?”
“If we want our political parties to grow, we must allow and understand that it is the organs of that party that should function effectively. We had a PDP government that was funding the party. When a government funds a party, it means members of the party will not have a say in the running of the party.
“We don’t want a situation where the president begins to feel like it is a monarchy and can dictate what happens in the party and let other members have a say.
“Do not blame Buhari for not interfering. He eventually intervened but that is wrong. He, like other members, has only one APC card. His will should not be imposed on other members because he is the president.”
Public Affairs Analyst, Jide Ojo, noted that the constitution of APC does not recognise the title, national leader and the president is just a leader of the party and member of the NEC.
“The president is like a father figure. You can’t jump in at the earliest smell of trouble. You allow the party organs to resolve the crisis. it is when they refuse, that you come in and that is what happened.
“Ordinarily, the NWC should constitute a conflict management committee for the crisis but as it stands out, they are the ones involved in the whole crisis. These are issues surrounding the president’s late interference.”
Mr Ojo also faulted the manner in which the president intervened as he said due process was not followed.
“Article 23b of the constitution of APC says in the event of an emergency NEC meeting, you need seven days notice but that notice was not up to two days. If the NWC had gone to court, they would have humiliated the president because due process for the meeting was not followed and as such, decisions taken there were null and void.”
He argued that the reason the president intervened was because there was an ambush where the ranks of the governors had been divided into pro and anti Oshiomhole and that at the end of the day, he had to wave the big stick.
Mr Ojo cited lack of internal democracy as a challenge within political parties. He said if parties would obey their own constitution, electoral guidelines and the likes, there would be no more problem.
The Executive Director of YIAGA Africa, Samson Itodo, explains how running under the platform of a political party does not make the president the national leader. For him, it does not mean that the president and other high ranking members are above the party.
He also believes the president did right by staying aloof.
“I think his non-interference is a principled position that should be encouraged because there is a difference between party politics and governance. He should face the business of governance to deliver on the manifesto of the party. It was a good decision to have done that.
“But you can see that at times when he intervened, what became of the party. I don’t see the difference between the Oyegun-Tinubu crisis and this one because his interference has been like on the order of the president.
“It reaffirms the fact that we don’t really have political parties in the true sense of the word. Because if a ruling party cannot resolve its internal dispute until the president intervenes, it speaks to constitutionalism and the democratic credentials of the political party. It means the party cannot uphold its own rules and their constitution.”
He further explained that a disadvantage of the president’s intervention means if the president has an agenda, regardless of party rules and policies, he will have his way.
It also means the party structure is around an individual and Mr Buhari remains that individual. He is a rallying point and you don’t build a party like that, he said.
Inibehe Effiong, lawyer and human rights activist, disagrees.
He said the apathy the president has shown towards crisis in the party is the same apathy he has shown towards governance generally.
A president, he noted, is supposed to know and be interested in the happening in his party.
“The leader of the party is usually the president that the party has produced, not delivered officially but in terms of giving directions to the dealings of the party. Same is recognised in the US, UK and other countries where a party has produced the leader of the country,” Mr Effiong said.
“But what we have in Nigeria are just vehicles for attainment of political power not necessarily political parties. So, the president has been showing this indifference openly towards the affairs of his party.
“It took him six months to appoint ministers, three years to constitute federal boards. We have a president that is very slow to govern and inefficient as well so that leadership deficit that the president has shown, has been replicated in the party.”