2021: Succession Game Ahead Of Next General Elections

The succession games in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) shaped the polity in the outgoing year.

High-profile defections, intra-party crises and the bid to amend the Electoral Act, 2021 accounted for the drama. Deputy Political Editor RAYMOND MORDI lists some of the main political events that made the headlines during the year

To a large extent, many of the events witnessed within the polity during the year 2021 have been shaped by the politics of the 2023 general elections. The era of President Muhammadu Buhari is gradually coming to an end and politics during the year was defined by the succession game within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and beyond. From defections, regional bipartisan collaboration, to landmark electoral reform bills at the National Assembly, the reasons behind many of the events or issues that shaped politics within the year is discernible to many Nigerians.

Year of defections:

With the next general elections just around the corner, there has been a realignment of forces, as some politicians try to reposition themselves for the contest. The topsy-turvy nature of Nigerian politics makes it easy for politicians across the political divide to move from one political party to another without qualms and legal encumbrances.

The ruling party was a beneficiary of such defections during the year, particularly from the main opposition party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP); as there have been some high-profile defections into the party.

 For instance, on January 28, seven lawmakers in Ogun State elected on the platform of the APM returned to the APC. They are Modupe Mujota who represents Abeokuta North State Constituency, Musefiu Lamidi of Ado-Odo/Ota II and Amosun Yusuf of Ewekoro State Constituency. The others are Ajayi Bolanle (Egbado South), Ganiyu Oyedeji (Ifo II), Ajibola Sikiratu (Ipokia/Idiroko) and Ademola Adeniran (Sagamu II).

The following are some of the high-profile defections in February: Senator Iyiola Omisore, a former deputy governor in Osun State defected from the Social Democratic Party (SDP) to the APC; Gbenga Daniel, a former governor of Ogun State and campaign manager for the PDP presidential candidate in the last general elections, Atiku Abubakar, from the opposition for the APC; Abiola Peters Makinde who represents Ondo East/West at the House of Representatives, from the African Democratic Congress (ADC) for APC;

Blessing Onuh who represents Oturkpo/Ohimini Federal Constituency of Benue, from the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) to the APC; Yakubu Abdullahi who represents Bauchi Federal Constituency, from the PDP to the APC; and Jemili Akingbade (former Minority Whip), Adegoke Adeyanju, and Wahab Haruna, the three lawmakers elected on the platform of the ADC in the Ogun State House of Assembly, to the APC.

March was not an exception. During the month, a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole left the PDP and pitched tent with the APC; a lawmaker representing the Egbado North/Imeko Afon Federal Constituency of Ogun State, Jimoh Aremu also defected from the ADC to the APC; while former Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Azubike Ihejirika (rtd) formally joined the APC towards the end of the month. He was received into the party by Yobe State Governor and Chairman APC Caretaker Committee, Mai Mala Buni.

Indeed, there were defections all through the year. For example, on May 20, Cross River State’s Governor Ben Ayade officially joined the APC from the PDP.

 On Tuesday, June 29, Zamfara State’s Governor Bello Matawalle also formally defected from the PDP to the APC. He was received into the party at a rally in Gasau, the state capital, attended by 11 APC governors, ministers, senators and members of the House of Representatives. Similarly, on August 27, Stella Oduah, a former Minister of Aviation, joined the APC, while former Aviation Minister, Femi Fani-Kayode met President Buhari at the State House, Abuja on September 16, after he rejoined the ruling party. The former minister had been a fierce critic of the party.

Narrow escape for Akeredolu:

The Supreme Court on July 28 upheld the election of Ondo State’s Governor Rotimi Akeredolu. The court, in a split decision of four-to-three, dismissed the appeal brought by the candidate of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), Eyitayo Jegede on the October 10, 2020 governorship election. The majority judgment, which was read by Justice Emmanuel Agim, said it found no reason to set aside the concurrent judgments of the Court of Appeal and the Ondo State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal which had dismissed Jegede’s petition for lack of merit.

But, Justice Mary Odili, in a dissenting minority verdict, upheld Jegede’s appeal that the nomination of Akeredolu, which was signed by Governor Mai Mala Buni of Yobe State, was not valid under Section 183 of the 1999 Constitution. The PDP candidate had challenged the APC primary election which produced Akeredolu, saying it violated Section 87 of the Electoral Act and Article 20 of the APC constitution and other relevant election guidelines.

Some observers described it as a narrow escape for Governor Akeredolu, as four judges upheld his victory against the dissenting judgment of three other justices. They said the judgment is a warning to the APC to quickly sort out its leadership challenges.

Meanwhile, Governor Akeredolu was sworn in for his second term in office, alongside his deputy, Lucky Ayedatiwa at a ceremony held at the International Culture and Events Centre, Akure, the state capital. At the oath-taking ceremony, which took place on February 24, Akeredolu has promised to set the state on the path of inclusive and renewed growth. He also listed his achievements during his first term in office and promised not to depart from his ‘redemptive and restorative’ blueprint.

PDP battles for relevance:

The year was a crucial one for members of the PDP. They had been seeking to rebuild the party to regain power during the next general elections. As part of the efforts to reposition the platform ahead of the election, members of the party’s House of Representatives Caucus in early August had demanded the resignation of former National Chairman Uche Secondus.

In demanding Secondus’s resignation, the House of Representatives Caucus observed that Secondus was not effective as leader of the opposition. At the end of the day, the development deepened the crisis that hit the PDP after the resignation of seven national officers on August 4.

Eventually, the party held a national convention on Saturday, October 31 where Dr. Iyorchia Ayu-led NWC was elected to pilot the affairs of the party from this month.

After the successful conduct of the convention, stakeholders said is an indication that the party has been returned to its founding fathers and that the former ruling PDP is more organized than the APC. Dr. Ayu has also assured that the party is back to rescue and rebuild Nigeria.

Ayu spoke in Abuja recently when he and other members of the new NWC were being sworn in. He said that the newly inaugurated leadership will strengthen internal democratic processes.

The PDP has been trying to capitalize on the perceived incompetence of the ruling party; the opposition party says it is on a rescue mission to bring sanity back to the country.

Crisis management in APC:

The Buni-led Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee of the APC has been doing everything possible to prevent the crisis in various chapters from escalating. The committee was saddled with the task of bringing peace to the APC and organising a national convention that would produce another elected executive for the party within six months.

Today, over 18 months after, the party’s national convention has been postponed three times and there are a lot of challenges before the APC as it prepares for the long-awaited event, which is now scheduled to hold in February 2022. The Buni-led caretaker committee emerged in June 2020 after the dissolution of the Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee, following its dismissal last year through a court judgment.

Buhari’s changing attitude:

President Buhari is known as a man who does not usually sack anyone working for him; many of the ministers and numerous aides who got appointments at the outset of his first term are still with him. But, on September 1, he relieved two ministers of their appointments.

They are the Ministers of Agriculture, Mohammed Sabo Nanono and his Power counterpart, Saleh Mamman. Special Adviser to the President (Media & Publicity), Femi Adesina, who made the announcement, also indicated that the Minister of Environment, Mohammed Abubakar had been redeployed to the Ministry of Agriculture, while the Minister of State for Works, Abubakar Aliyu is to take over as Minister of Power.

War Over VAT

A controversy broke out in August between the Federal Government and some state governments over who should collect value-added tax (VAT); the goods and services tax levied on the price of a product or service at each stage of production, distribution or sale.

This came on the heels of an August 10 ruling of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, following Governor Nyesom Wike’s resolve to approach the court to determine who should collect the tax between federal and state governments. Before the judgment, the right authority to collect VAT was hardly an issue, possibly because it was a sustained source of revenue that contributed significantly to government revenue at all levels.

However, since the court ruled that the Rivers State Government, and not the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), should collect VAT, which implied that every state would collect VAT, the political landscape was inundated with arguments for and against the ruling. The FIRS has filed an appeal at the Court of Appeal in Abuja, and the court ordered that the parties should maintain the status quo. The Rivers State Government, which already enacted its VAT law, has also approached the Supreme Court to set aside the Appeal Court’s ruling.

Also, the Lagos State Government, which has also enacted its VAT law, has asked to be joined in the appeal. Meanwhile, the discourse has since shifted from an economic issue to the murky waters of politics before it was reduced to the usual inter-ethnic conflict between the North and South.

Deteriorating insecurity:

Like the years before it, 2021 is another year of failed promises, as far as security is concerned. The ruling APC has not been able to find a solution to the insecurity in various parts of the country. Insecurity continues to ravage many parts of the country; from a jihadist insurgency in the Northeast to attacks by criminal gangs carrying out mass kidnappings in the Northwest and separatists targeting security forces in the Southeast. President Buhari has been in the eye of the storm, as many observers continue to criticize his inability to stem the level of insecurity in the country under his watch. Despite repeated claims by the Buhari-led Federal Government about Boko Haram being ‘defeated’, ‘technically defeated’ or ‘decimated’ but revelations by some state governors prove otherwise.

Revival of Southern Governors’ Forum:

The impending general elections also spurred bipartisan regional collaboration among the 17 governors of southern states, with the revival of the Southern Governors’ Forum. A meeting of the governors was held in Asaba in May, to address some of the issues that may mar the next general elections, such as the open grazing of cattle. The southern governors, among other things, demanded the zoning of the presidential ticket of major political parties to the South. Follow up meetings were held in Lagos in July and Enugu in September.

It has been observed that resolving the political contradictions in the country sits at the bedrock of the nation’s challenges. They also demanded a restructuring of the polity or devolution of powers, and possibly for the return of the country to the 1963 Republican Constitution. Aside from governors, other stakeholders appear to be in sync with the recent move for power-shift, the bid to transfer the responsibility of collecting the VAT and the opposition to open grazing.

Onochie in eye of storm:

The nomination of President Buhari’s Special Assistant on Social Media, Mrs. Lauretta Onochie to serve as an INEC commissioner caused quite a stir within the political circle.

 Members of the opposition and civil society activists launched an intensive campaign to prevail on the Senate to reject her nomination because it would be undemocratic for partisan individuals like Onochie to be made electoral umpires. Onochie is a card-carrying member of the ruling party. On July 13, the Senate eventually rejected the nomination, based on a report by its committee on INEC.

The committee, chaired by Senator Kabiru Gaya, however, insisted that she was disqualified based on Federal Character principles. Senator Gaya said Onochie’s nomination was rejected because there was a serving INEC commissioner representing Delta State.

The insinuation was that Onochie would be nominated again when the tenure of Mrs. May Agbamuche-Mbu from Delta State as a National Commissioner representing the Southsouth expires. But, on December 14, President Buhari re-nominated Mrs Agbamuche-Mbu for a fresh term. This must-have dashed the hopes of Mrs Onochie of being re-nominated.

Anambra governorship poll:

After resolving the challenge posed by the deteriorating insecurity in the Southeast, the November 10 governorship election in Anambra State was eventually held, with a turnout of 10 per cent of registered voters. Charles Chukwuma Soludo of the APGA who polled 112,229 votes was declared the winner of the contest. His closest challenger was Valentine Ozigbo of the PDP who got 53,807 votes, while Andy Uba of the APC came third, with 43, 285 votes.

But, last week Monday (December 20), the Federal High Court in Abuja nullified Senator Uba’s participation in the election. In the judgment, Justice Inyang Ekwo held that Uba was never a candidate in the election because he emerged through an illegally conducted primary. Justice Ekwo said the plaintiff, George Moghalu succeeded in proving that the APC did not conduct a valid primary.

The judge, therefore, ordered INEC to delete Uba from its record as a candidate in the election and ordered the APC to refund to Moghalu, the sum of N22.5 million, which is the amount he paid for expression of interest and nomination forms since the party failed to conduct a valid primary.

Drama over #EndSARS report:

The release of the Lagos State #EndSARS panel’s report on Monday, November 15, 2021, after one year of taking testimonies, receiving evidence and awarding compensations, generated controversy between those who welcomed with relief the outcome of the judicial inquiry into the October 20, 2020 shooting at the Lekki tollgate and those who contended that the report was fabricated to embarrass the government.

The eight-man panel of inquiry headed by retired Justice Doris Okuwobi had submitted a 309-page report in which it indicted soldiers and the police and affirmed that security agents killed peaceful protesters. Describing the Lekki tollgate incident as a massacre, the panel declared that at least nine persons were killed by security agents. It listed 48 names as casualties out of which 22 protesters sustained gunshot injuries, while 15 others were assaulted by soldiers and the police.

But, the Lagos State government, in a white paper on the report, rejected some of its conclusions, saying there were fundamental inconsistencies.

 For instance, the state’s Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Moyosore Onigbanjo (SAN) said the panel’s findings were contrary to the evidence provided and that the panel’s report “created doubts and gaps and did not explain how they arrived at that conclusion, the names, who shot them and when they were shot”.

The Federal Government had also rejected the report. Information and Culture Minister, Lai Mohammed who made the government’s position known during a press conference in Abuja described it as an equivalence of fake news because it was riddled with a lot of errors, inconsistencies and discrepancies. The minister contended that the report was “social media tales by the moonlight’’ and sheer waste of taxpayers money.

Another failed bid to amend Electoral Act:

One of the major bills that were passed by Senator Ahmed Lawan and Femi Gbajabiamila-led 9th National Assembly this year was the Electoral Act Amendment Bill. After the delay and re-drafting of the bill, the document that was harmonized by both chambers of the National Assembly and passed in October was widely perceived as a historic opportunity to introduce unique electoral reforms to the polity. It was presented to President Buhari for assent on November 19.

Some of the landmark provisions of the bill seek to resolve issues regarding the use of modern technologies in the electoral process. In the bill, the National Assembly made provision for the use of electronic voting and transmission of results from polling units, at the discretion of the electoral umpire, INEC. The lawmakers also mandated all political parties to use the direct primary as the only mode of election to select candidates to fly their flags at various levels.

After keeping Nigerians in suspense within the 30-day window he has to sign or veto the bill, President Buhari declined assent, stating that the parties should be allowed to decide on their mode of primary. Reasons adduced by the president include the high cost of monitoring the primaries of various parties by INEC; marginalisation of small parties; possible litigation; security challenges of monitoring direct primaries, violation of rights of citizens; and possible manipulation of the primaries.

This is not the first time President Buhari would refuse to sign amendments to the Electoral Act. The Eighth National Assembly under the leadership of Senator Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara also made efforts to amend the Electoral Act before the last general elections. But, Buhari declined to assent to the bill three consecutive times, even after it was reworked to accommodate his recommendations.

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