The PUNCH learnt on Monday that the call for the removal of the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, by the National Leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, has divided the APC’s National Working Committee. Tinubu had, in a statement on Sunday, accused the national chairman of allegedly working against the ideals of the APC in the handling of its governorship primary in Ondo State.
He had alleged that the National Working Committee of the APC had voted in favour of a fresh primary in Ondo State but Odigie-Oyegun overruled the NWC and submitted the name of Rotimi Akeredolu to the Independent National Electoral Commission as the governorship candidate of the APC. The statement added:
“If Tinubu is to choose between John (Odigie-) Oyegun and progress toward a better Nigeria, the choice has already been made. For those who care about Nigeria and its chance for a better tomorrow, now is the time to stand against this brewing evil before it grows to encompass all we have built and all we hold dear.”
It was gathered in Abuja that members of the NWC, especially those from the South-West, were backing Tinubu, whom they argued was at the verge of being disgraced. Tinubu is also said to be receiving support from some party chiefs, who were said to have felt they had been sidelined in the party under Odigie-Oyegun’s leadership.
A member of the party’s leadership, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue, said:
“I was one of those who cautioned our chairman about the handling of this Ondo palaver. He (Odigie-Oyegun) was the one who said we should put the recommendations of the panel to vote, which we did.”
“He asked us to pray but used the opportunity to leave the hall. I personally think he is dancing to the tune of some individuals around Mr. President. He should simply step down.”
Asked to comment on the division within the party’s NWC, he said, “Our last meeting made that very clear.
“Six out of the 11 of us present at the meeting voted in favour of a re-run of the Ondo primary; five voted against. Yet, the choice of five was upheld. Is that democracy? You tell me.”
Another member of the NWC said Odigie-Oyegun should not be crucified because he made “an honest mistake here and there. I think this situation is not yet beyond redemption.” In an interview with The PUNCH, another NWC member said:
“Let’s be honest, the APC does not belong to any individual. It is a give and take thing. Tinubu asked for and got the VP slot; he has members of his political family in the cabinet and even heads of government agencies. What else does he want?”
A top source in the APC stated that an emergency National Executive Committee meeting might be summoned after the Edo State governorship election to iron out some of the contending issues. The Deputy National Chairman (South) of the party, Mr. Seguin Oni, in response to enquiries by The PUNCH on the issue, said, “Yes, we have issues within the party but we are resolving them.
“You must give us some credit. We are a relatively young party with members drawn from diverse backgrounds. There are bound to be issues but we have the internal capacity to deal with our issues and we are doing it; be patient.”
The acting National Publicity Secretary of the party, Mr. Timi Frank, backed Tinubu’s call for Odigie-Oyegun’s resignation. He said he saw this coming long before now, stressing that many did not take him seriously. He said:
“I said there was crisis within the party. At that time, I was alone; nobody saw what I saw coming. The crisis of this party came up when the issue of the National Assembly came up; the position of the party leadership against its own party members, Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara, for the party to close its eyes to the travails of these two men.”
“Today, God has vindicated me after the Ondo primary. A national leader of our party, a founding father of the party has agreed with my earlier call that Odigie-Oyegun should resign as National Chairman. I knew from day one that the person that we have as national chairman could not give what he does not have.”
“It is now clear that (Odigie-) Oyegun cannot take this party to where it is going. Can we now deny that one of the founding fathers of this party has come out clear to say Oyegun should resign?’’
Meanwhile, Odigie-Oyegun has said he will not take issue with Tinubu. Odigie-Oyegun, who spoke on Monday in Benin, said Tinubu, a former Lagos State governor, was a respected leader in the party, adding that he would have to consult with other party leaders before making a statement.
He, however, said “most” of the allegations in the media report were “not true,” noting that the party would focus on the September 28 governorship election in Edo State, which he said was his “priority”. He said:
“Asiwaju is a well respected leader of our party; so, I cannot be seen speaking evil against him. I have to consult properly with other leaders of the party before we make any definite statement. Again, you know we have a crucial election here in Edo, which is my priority right now.”
“We do not want to lose focus and I know Asiwaju also wants us to win because we all have worked hard for this. So, maybe, after the election, if there is need, I will speak. If (there is) no need, I will relax. But all I can say now is that most of the things said in the papers about me are not true.”
Odigie-Oyegun stated that he had always believed in internal democracy and the credibility of primaries, which must be taken seriously. The former Edo State governor added:
“I believe that if primaries of parties are not credible, it may derail any democracy. So, I do not play with these things at all. Everybody knows me and I do not joke with my credibility and I have tried to maintain it.’’
“But maybe after Edo election, after we must have emerged victorious, we may speak on some of the issues raised. So, there is no problem at all.”
It was learnt that Odigie-Oyegun came under serious pressure on Monday not to respond to Tinubu’s call on him to resign as the APC national chairman. The outburst of Tinubu was said to have confirmed the internal wrangling in the ruling party. However, Odigie-Oyegun, who was said to have been seriously jolted by Tinubu’s accusation, was said to have been prevailed on by some ministers and governors from the APC not to respond to Tinubu’s attack.
A minister, who spoke on condition of anonymity with The PUNCH in Abuja, said he, along with some of his colleagues, had called the party chairman not to speak. He said while it was true that the former governor of Lagos State had every reason to be embittered, allowing the party chairman to respond would further portray the ruling party as uncoordinated. The top party chief stated:
“Though it is painful when you are accused of something and you feel you needed to reply, but we have told him to keep quiet because we don’t want the opposition and the media to feast on it.”
“The matter is being looked into and I think the leaders of the party, especially President Muhammadu Buhari, must act fast, otherwise, the party will die under his Presidency.”
Reacting to the crisis in the APC, Alhaji Tanko Yakasai, elder statesman and former aide to ex-President Shehu Shagari, called on Tinubu to condemn what he described as the current injustice in the party before it degenerated. Claiming that he “foresaw” the current crisis, Yakasai also urged Tinubu to tackle Buhari, alleging that Tinubu’s political travails were well-thought-out and plotted in the Presidency. Yakassai said:
“From all indications, every right thinking person will figure out a sinister plot to bundle out Tinubu from the hierarchy of the APC; and I want to believe this is coming from the Presidency. The situation at the moment is that apart from the CPC (Congress for Progressive Change) members, everybody in the government is a mere onlooker.’’
Also, one of the Ondo State governorship aspirants of the APC, Dr. Tunji Abayomi, has asked Tinubu, to accept the result of the APC governorship primary in the state “instead of chasing a lost cause.” Abayomi said this during an interview with The PUNCH on Monday while reacting to Tinubu’s statement, demanding the resignation of Odigie-Oyegun. Abayomi urged Tinubu to behave like a true democrat and accept Akeredolu. He said:
“Asiwaju Tinubu is a respected leader of the party and is also a champion of democracy. “He needs to understand that in life, you cannot win every battle. You win some and you lose some. Now that he has lost, he should accept the outcome and act like a true leader by accepting the outcome of the primary.”