There are strong indications that two power blocs within the All Progressives Congress are now engaged in a fierce battle for the soul of the party.
Saturday PUNCH’s investigations on Friday revealed that the battle between the two power blocs to control the party: one led by Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu and the other led by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, played out during Tuesday’s National Assembly leadership elections.
The ruling party’s preferred candidates in both the Senate and the House of Representatives were defeated by party members who contested the elections against the wishes of the party.
The battle for supremacy between the two power blocs led to the emergence of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party’s candidate, Ike Ekweremadu, as the Deputy Senate President.
Saturday PUNCH learnt that both Atiku and Tinubu were desperate to have maximum control over the party structure so that party decisions could favour them at all times.
It was learnt that the two blocs wanted their candidates to emerge principal officers of the National Assembly since that would automatically qualify their candidates to become members of the party’s National Executive Committee, which is the highest decision arm of the party.
Senator Bukola Saraki emerged the President of the Senate at a time when leading figures of the party including Tinubu, Chief Bisi Akande and APC Senators as well as members of the House of Representatives were waiting for President Muhammadu Buhari at the International Conference Centre for a crucial meeting.
The party’s NWC earlier held a shadow election in which Senators Ahmad Lawan and George Akume emerged as the party’s candidates for Senate President and Deputy Senate President respectively.
But, Atiku, Saturday PUNCH learnt that Atiku was never in support of the mock election believed to be spearheaded by the APC national leader as the former Vice President was bent on breaking Tinubu’s influence on the party’s NWC.
As things stand, most of the current members of the APC’s National Working Committee are Tinubu’s loyalists.
With the outcome of the National Assembly leadership elections, there are strong indications that the Tinubu camp, which many agree, boasts of the likes of Lawan and Akume are not prepared to let the matter rest.
Sources said the Tinubu camp, though still jolted by its initial ‘defeat’ would likely spring a surprise in the days ahead.
It was gathered that members of the Senators Unity Forum, who supported the party’s candidates are queuing behind Tinubu and are likely to continue to do so in the days to come.
It was learnt that in supporting the aspirations of Saraki and Dogara, Atiku had argued that democracy could better be served when the principle of internal democracy is respected.
It was further learnt that Saraki’s publicised visit to Atiku’s residence a few hours after his emergence, was part of the power play.
By virtue of their new positions as Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Saraki and Dogara, have become automatic members of the National Executive Committee, the highest decision making body of the party.
Their positions also confer on them automatic membership of the party’s Board of Trustees and National Executive Committee.
A leading member of the party’s NWC, who confided in Saturday PUNCH, explained that the unfolding scenario is likely to open up new frontiers in the power struggle within the party.
According to him, decisions at NEC from now on will be keenly contested by the two power blocs.
Saturday PUNCH learnt that the outcome of the National Assembly elections would likely affect decisions to be taken on ministerial nominees as some of the candidates in Tinubu’s camp may be rejected during screening by the Saraki/Atiku group.
He said, “It is obvious that with what happened on Tuesday at the National Assembly, two (dominant) power blocks have emerged in the party.
“We hope to heal the wounds created by the contests, but there is mutual suspicion between the two groups.”
When contacted, the Director-General of the Atiku Media Office, Mazi Paul Ibe, said, “Atiku did not orchestrate the emergence of the new leadership in the National Assembly and insinuating that amounts to nothing but political mischief, as he had refused to leave the party or work for the PDP even when the then President Jonathan was desperate for Atiku’s support.
“The visits of politicians and APC leaders including that of the Senate President are common political rituals in Atiku’s Asokoro residence. For the purposes of emphasis, the President has confidence in him and that explains why he had drafted him as an envoy of sorts in the race leading up to the emergence of a Nigerian President of African Development Bank.
“It is baseless and unfounded to suggest that Atiku conspired with the PDP or Saraki to ‘sabotage’ the APC. He would have congratulated Senator Ahmed Lawan (or any other leader) if he had won. It is simplistic to attribute conspiratorial agenda to an innocuous congratulatory visit.
“Atiku’s loyalty to his party is indisputable. He remains a loyal party member. He, in fact, threw his political assets behind the Buhari presidential campaign. Any suggestion that he conspired with Saraki or anybody is the figment of someone’s imagination.”
Attempts to get a reaction from Tinubu’s Spokesperson, Mr. Sunday Dare, were unsuccessful.
Calls to his mobile phone at 5:21pm and at 7:14pm were neither picked nor returned. A response to a text message was still being awaited as of the time of filing this report at 7:24pm.
But, a member of Saraki’s Like Minds group of Senators, Rafiu Ibrahim (Kwara South), said Saraki’s emergence, has no negative implication for party cohesion.
He said, “We are already reaching out to everyone. At the leadership level, we are reaching out to individuals.
“The Senate President is a very generous Nigerian with a very large heart. He has already extended his hands of fellowship to every senator and he has assured us all that he would carry everybody along. It is not going to be a case of winner-takes-all.”
Also, a member of the Senate Unity Forum, Senator Kabiru Marafa (Zamfara Central), said the party leadership is currently working tirelessly to ensure that the party remains a formidable and united entity.
The South East Zonal Spokesperson for the APC, Osita Okechukwu, said the party was seeking ways of moving forward.
According to him, it will be futile to begin to apportion blame and look for scapegoats because doing so will provide an avenue for those who do not wish the APC well to cash in.
He said party leaders deserve the respect of all party members, adding that if the wise counsel of President Muhammadu Buhari for non-interference in National Assembly issues was adhered to, the party would not have found itself in this situation. He, however, said it was time to move on.
Okechukwu said, “It is the desire of our opponents for there to be a rift but there is no rift. As a party, the only thing we need now, more than ever before, is unity.
“We need to unite especially in the National Assembly to be able to deliver on our promises to the Nigerian people. I dare say, we also need bi-partisan support if we are to get things done because we need each other.”