By Zakaa Lazarus
The emergence of APC in 2013 presented new ray of hope and opportunity to address problems of political leadership recruitment in Nigeria, especially the big issue of producing successors to President and Governors.
Experiences during the sixteen years of PDP were cases of last minute and impulsive decisions influenced by considerations of factors of loyalties to current leaders.
Arbitrary decisions influenced choices of leaders, often creating big gaps leading to the emergence of leaders who have little or no capacity to meet public expectations. This reality further entrenches problems of accountability, with many leaders flagrantly converting public resources to personal wealth.
Mainly because leadership recruitment based mainly on consideration of loyalty is not a function of commitment to principles or values, even where so-called loyalists succeed current leaders, problems of political disagreements between past and current leaders continue.
Consequentially, this has negatively impacted on governance through policy reversals, with successor leaders behaving worse than leaders from the opposition.
As a party envisioned to facilitate the process of changing Nigerian politics, APC leaders and members must be reminded that the most important determinant for political change at this crucial point in the nation’s political development is initiatives to change the orientation of political leadership recruitment.
The reality is that leadership recruitment in APC, as it is today, is not fundamentally different from what exists in PDP. Partly because it is not different, we have produced leaders, both in government and in the party, APC, who at best, are typical PDP leaders. These are leaders who only succeed in reducing government and party management to a Bureau De Change.
However, unlike PDP, in our case in APC, internal contest in the party is effectively mobilising opposition against such leaders. The current contest going on in APC is a typical example. Although the contest is partly to ensure that the March 26, 2022 APC National Convention hold and produce new leaders, it must be stressed that the quality of the new leaders of the party being expected to emerge from the Convention should begin to change, if APC is to meet public expectations.
For instance, the internal opposition against His Excellency Mai Mala Buni’s leadership of APC Caretaker Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) is largely because of all the numerous cases of allegations of corruption against him.
How different from His Excellency Mai Mala will the new leaders of the APC after the March 26 National Convention be? Will the new leaders continue the business of extorting aspirants for elective positions and to that extent continue to run party management as a Bureau De Change?
How the party treat allegations of corruption against the leadership of His Excellency Mai Mala will substantially determine the nature of new leaders to emerge.
Many of the allegations against His Excellency Mai Mala are already public knowledge in the media. From Anambra to Ekiti and Osun primary, there are allegations against about extorting money from aspiring party leaders for Governorship.
Part of the media report alleged that the discovery of how much money could be made from conducting primary is responsible for why His Excellency Mai Mala is doing everything necessary to ensure that APC National Convention is delayed and merged with the process of party primary to produce candidates for the 2023 elections.
The speculated expectation is that the opportunity to organise APC primary to produce candidates for 2023 election will provide the opening to make ‘good business.’
There are already allegations against His Excellency Mai Mala that he has started extorting money from some of the emerging Presidential aspirants.
Although no details are available, there are speculations that one of the aspirants who is alleged to have made some payment is yet to join the party. Yet, party campaign offices are being speculated to begin to spring up for the would-be aspirant expected to join the APC, as part of the deal.
There was also specific allegation against His Excellency Mai Mala bordering on extorting money from party leaders, including serving Governors, involved in disputes arising from the party Congresses.
First term APC Governors are being alleged to have been offered automatic tickets. Similar automatic tickets are also being alleged to have been offered to APC Senators and House of Representatives members.
If Anambra State 2021 Governorship primary is to be the yardstick, automatic tickets would mean that highest bidders will emerge as the APC’s candidates at different levels.
Serving Governors, Senators, House of Representatives members, etc. will be required to match the amount given by aspiring highest bidders. Based on that, dishonest party leaders will be given the responsibility of returning highest bidders, just like His Excellency Dapo Abiodun was the returning officer of the APC Primary election in Anambra State, which declared Sen. Andy Uba as the winner with more than two hundred thousand votes. Yet, in the main election, APC could barely poll fifty thousand votes.
Beyond the new APC leaders to emerge from the March 26 National Convention, how is the APC going to take steps to block bad leaders such as His Excellency Yahaya Bello from emerging as standard bearers of the party for 2023 elections.
The case of His Excellency Yahaya Bello requires some bold decisions by the APC as a party, which should include acknowledging that his actions as Kogi Governor contradicts the commitment of the party for good governance as represented by the provisions of the APC constitution and manifesto. Take the case of N19.3 billion salary bail out given to Kogi State by the Federal Government, which was deposited in an unlawful bank account domiciled with Sterling Bank Plc. The money was recovered in November 2021 by the EFCC and returned to the CBN.
Interestingly, while the controversy of the seizure of the N19.3 billion salary bail out is yet to be resolved, in February 2022, Kogi State announced the commencement of payment of N30,000 minimum wage. By the end of February 2022, media reports emerged that Kogi State workers, instead of receiving the new minimum wage of N30,000, received only percentages of their old salaries, some as low as only 25%. Part of the media reports suggest that there are workers who have received as low as N2,000 as salary for February 2022.
Amid all these, His Excellency Yahaya Bello is going round the country shamelessly campaigning for his so-called emergence as the Presidential candidate of the APC for 2023. With such records of anti-people and anti-workers policies, APC must take steps to disclaim the government of Kogi State under Governor Yahaya Bello.
In addition, he is one of the few APC leaders collaborating with His Excellency Mai Mala to undermine the decision to organise the Convention of the APC, perhaps in expectation that His Excellency Mai Mala, as APC Chairman, will manipulate the process of electing the APC’s Presidential candidate in his (Yahaya Bello) favour.
We must appeal to all APC leaders, especially Governors, to recognise that the weight of political responsibility of producing new leaders for the APC is in fact a very strong test of whether the party can continue to justifiably earn the confidence of Nigerians. Will leaders, especially Governors, undertake the crucial task of performing background checks for aspiring candidates and dispassionately, even if painfully, select both party leaders and party candidates for elections, beyond issues of loyalty? The crucial task before APC leaders is to ensure that leadership selection process produce trustworthy leaders both as party leaders and as candidates for elections.
In fact, the quality of party leaders will substantially determine the quality of candidates the party will present for elections.
Once party leaders make the mistake of producing Bureau De Change managers as APC leaders during the March 26, 2022 National Convention, the probability will be very high that there will be many bad eggs emerging as standard bearers of the party for the 2023 elections.
Already PDP leaders have dug their political grave when for instance they elected people who shared $2.1 billion meant for arms procurement to fight insecurity as National leaders of the PDP.
Till today, PDP leaders continue to arrogantly and contemptuously ignore this foundational reality of public trust in politics. This is among many other factors why the PDP is still very unpopular among Nigerians. APC must fundamentally take every step necessary to produce new orientation for political leadership recruitment in the country as we approach the 2023 elections.
Therefore, starting with the March 26, 2022 APC National Convention, APC leaders, especially Governors should demonstrate stronger commitment towards recruiting tested and trustworthy leaders.
As much as possible, situations whereby good leaders only emerge ‘accidentally’ must begin to be reversed in Nigeria based on carefully planned initiatives under the APC. As part of the process of planning for the emergence of trustworthy leaders’ issues of getting current leaders to account for their actions or inactions will be necessary. For instance, His Excellency Mai Mala should be made to account for all the allegations of extorting money from aspiring candidates and party leaders. It is only when His Excellency Mai Mala is made to account for such charges that successor leaders would avoid toying such path. Similarly, there should be investigation into the conduct of party primary in Anambra, Ekiti and Osun to determine the truth or otherwise of the allegation of corruption against His Excellency Mai Mala.
APC, as a party, need to also take a special interest in what is going on in Kogi State. It is embarrassing that a government produced by the party will demonstrate that level of rascality. If PDP can tolerate such public rascality as was the case under for instance the inglorious era of Ayodele Fayose in Ekiti and many other PDP state governments across the country, APC must decisively disown what is coming out of Kogi State under Governor Yahaya Bello. If necessary, APC should declare opposition to what is emerging as the governance credentials of Governor Yahaya Bello, including taking every necessary step to save the people of Kogi State from the influence of Yahaya Bello in determining who succeeds him.
Every step must be taken to ensure that APC emerges as a distinctively different party from PDP and other parties especially on the question of leadership recruitment.
While in the case of PDP and other parties, issues of leadership recruitment are considered as given based on the received wisdoms of political leaders, in APC these issues are being debated and contested, which explains all the dynamics around the March 26, 2022 APC National Convention.
If anything, the contest for the emergence of trustworthy political leaders in APC is a contest for the unfettered development of Nigerian democracy. Nigerian democracy cannot develop unless the right conditions within parties are created for the emergence of trustworthy leaders both as party leaders and candidates for election.
May Allah (SWT) continue to guide both leaders and members of APC to strengthen internal contest for the emergence of trustworthy leaders. May He also give victory to only trustworthy people to emerge both as leaders of APC and candidates. May He also save the party and all the structures of government at all levels from falling into the hands of Bureau De Change leaders. Amin!
Former Director General Progressives Governors’ Forum, PGF, Salihu Lukman.