The simmering leadership crisis rocking the All Progressives Congress for several months took a different dimension on Monday in Abuja as most of the governors were said to have abandoned the Chairman of the Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee, Governor Mai Mala Buni, who had been steering the affairs of the APC since June 2020.
In an unprecedented move, the Governor of Niger State, Abubakar Bello, who is a member of the caretaker committee, arrived at the APC national secretariat about 12:30pm to assume the position of the acting chairman of the caretaker committee.
However, there was confusion on the status of Buni in the party on Monday as Bello told journalists that he was not aware of his (Buni) position.
But an aide to the Yobe State Governor at the APC secretariat, Yusuf Ali, in an interview with one of our correspondents on the telephone, said Buni remained the party chairman, adding that governors were in support of him.
The Niger State governor, Bello, who arrived amid heightened security presence comprising about 70 security personnel with no less than 15 patrol vehicles which barricaded access roads to the premises, said he had the blessing of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.).
The governor disclosed this to reporters shortly after a meeting with members of the caretaker committee and state chairmen of the APC.
When asked in what capacity he was taking action, he responded, “Acting chairman of the APC and governor of Niger State. I am acting chairman, caretaker committee.”
But when Bello was asked what Buni’s position in the party was, he responded, “I am not aware of any position at the moment.”
Explaining the purpose of his visit to the national secretariat, the acting chairman said “The state chairmen took their oath of office today and we discussed progress made so far on convention and what needs to be done next so that we will achieve the March 26 date for the convention.”
The PUNCH observed that the development appeared strange to some party officials who said the National Secretary of the CECPC, Dr John Akpanudoedehe, had always overseen the daily operations of the party including the handing of certificates to state chairmen in early February, and not the Niger State governor.
As acting chairman, Bello also received a report of the party’s zoning committee ahead of the March 26 national convention.
The PUNCH had earlier reported that the Zoning Committee was constituted last Tuesday with Kwara State Governor, AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, as Chairman.
According to the APC, the committee was inaugurated to ensure a just and equitable sharing formula of leadership positions in all the geopolitical zones in the country.
Speaking after receiving the report, the Niger State governor said his role in the CECPC had the President’s blessing.
He also explained the reason for the heightened security presence, saying it was meant to maintain law and order in the midst of Monday’s “major event”.
“Every time there is a major event, we beef up security. Today, we have a major event and all the chairmen came in, so they are to maintain law and order.
“Most of my colleagues are here to support me to receive the report. You know the zoning committee report is a very important one. And all the governors here are here to support me. Now, at the zonal level, they can go and do their work.”
Asked if the happenings at the Secretariat had the blessing of the President, he said: “Of course”.
Receiving the report, the acting chairman commended members saying “I will like to thank you for this assignment handled in a very mature manner. This is the beginning of good things to come to our party.
“This exercise was hitch free and by God’s grace every other exercise will be hitch free.”
Earlier, the chairman, APC Zoning Committee and Governor of Kwara state, Abdulrazaq, who thanked the party for the opportunity to serve, said the Committee’s assignment was completed within the time frame of the responsibility.
Monday’s development follows reports that the Niger State Governor has taken over the APC as ‘sole administrator’ following the “sack” of Buni as chairman of the caretaker committee.
The reports also asserted that President Buhari approved Buni’s sack and Bello’s appointment shortly before leaving Abuja to London Sunday afternoon.
No change of leadership in APC – CECPC national secretary
But the Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee of the All Progressive Congress denied reports that the President had sacked its chairman.
A statement signed by the National Secretary of the CECPC, Dr John Akpanudoedehe, titled ‘Fake news: No leadership change in APC CECPC,’ revealed that leadership changes are not announced by ‘sources’ through name-dropping in the media.
The statement read, “Our attention has been drawn to sponsored media reports on an imaginary leadership change in the All Progressives Congress Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee.
“The media report is fake news and should be disregarded. The APC is a progressive political party guided by rules. Leadership changes are not announced by ‘sources’ through name dropping in the media.
“We urge our teeming supporters, members and indeed the general public to remain calm and support the Governor Mai Mala Buni-led APC CECPC conducts a rancour-free and credible national convention.”
State governors present during the submission of the zoning report include Yahaya Bello of Kogi, Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos, Hope Uzodinma of Imo, Babagana Zulum of Borno and Muhammad Yahaya of Gombe.
Speaking with The PUNCH on Monday, an APC chieftain said most of the governors had abandoned Buni having grown tired of his shenanigans.
The official, who wished to remain anonymous, said it had become obvious to all the governors that Buni had no plan to conduct the national convention as he was nursing a Vice-Presidential ambition.
“Buni is planning to become the Vice-President and this has beclouded his judgment. He allowed his personal interest to override that of the party. He was supposed to have conducted the convention in December 2020 but they continued to manipulate the President.
“He had no plan to hold the national convention on March 26. Governors have grown tired of his tricks and I can tell you that at least 15 governors out of the 22 governors of the APC are now against him,” he said.
In a statement he signed on Monday titled ‘Rescuing APC: A task for all Party Leaders’ a former Director-General of the Progressive Governors’ Forum, Salihu Lukman, argued that the Buni-led Caretaker Committee was battling several allegations, especially one purporting that the committee has allegedly procured a court order against holding the national convention on March 26; but which it plans to tender a few days to the convention.
He, however, said Buni’s purported removal had nothing to do with Buhari.
Lukman claimed that Buhari, like most party leaders and members, was highly disappointed at the serial cases of deliberate efforts by Buni and his associates to block the APC Convention from holding based on alleged personal ambitions.
He added, “Between November 2021 and January 2022, the APC Convention had to be postponed three times because of deliberate refusal to initiate most the processes required, such as booking the venue for the convention and serving the statutory three weeks’ notice to INEC.
“In addition, there were other serious allegations against the leadership of Mai Mala Buni, which include the discovery that his group, since November 2021, had obtained a court injunction against the convention and are waiting until three or two days to the convention before serving it on the party to succeed in blocking the March 26 APC convention from holding.
“The plot is that Buni wants to continue to run the affairs of the party and conduct the party’s primary where candidates for 2023 elections would emerge. Based on that there are specific allegations of Buni striking some deals with some Presidential aspirants to ensure their emergence as the Presidential Candidate of APC for the 2023 elections.”
He said it would be difficult for members and leaders to continue to trust Buni’s leadership due to an alleged attempt to constitute another zoning committee after an existing decision between the President and progressive governors on zoning, based on which party stakeholders at zonal levels are to finalise negotiations.
In a separate interview on Channels Television, Lukman said Buni failed to challenge an existing November 2021 injunction barring the APC from conducting its national convention.
He said from reports, Buni was allegedly planning to use the injunction to call for a postponement of the March 26 national convention.
Ex-Deputy national publicity secretary faults Niger gov, says Buni returns today
Meanwhile, it was learnt that Buni, who is currently on medical leave, is expected to return to the country on Tuesday (today).
Confirming this to The PUNCH, a former Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Yekini Nabena, said things would become clearer once Buni returns.
He, however, warned the Niger State governor against convening a meeting of the National Executive Council, arguing that Bello lacked such powers.
Nabena stated, “He was planning to convene a NEC meeting in order to take over the secretariat. That was why I sent out a warning to them. The chairman (Buni) is coming back to the country on Tuesday. When he comes back, we will know the true picture of things. This has never happened before.
“Whenever the chairman is absent, the secretary is in charge. He is the one that inaugurates all committees. So, why is the Niger governor inaugurating state chairmen and receiving reports for the committees? We all want the convention to take place but we will wait for Buni to come back and hear his own version.”
Buni remains APC chairman, govs behind him, he is abroad for treatment – Aide
Also, Yusuf Ali, an aide to Buni at the APC national secretariat, said the Yobe State governor remained the chairman of the party.
Ali stated, “He went for treatment abroad and his deputy, the Governor of Niger State took over party affairs.
“I want to confirm to you that all the APC governors are behind Mai Mala Buni and they support his leadership 100 per cent.
“Mai Mala is beyond what anybody can imagine. He is a very smart politician and he knows the game well enough to be pushed aside.
“When the chairman of the party is not around, who do you expect to take over party affairs, is it not the vice chairman? Who is the vice chairman of the party? It is Abubakar Bello and he has done just that.” PUNCH