In a move meant to establish and consolidate his leadership, the Niger State Governor and acting National Chairman of the Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) of the All Progressives Party (APC), Abubakar Sani Bello, on Monday, announced the notice of meeting of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party, where an official seal of the approving organ of the party would be secured.
Bello, who had since moved to stabilise the ruling party, met with members of the caretaker committee and, as part of his first set of assignments, announced the date for NEC and also the pruning down of the national convention sub-committees earlier constituted by the sacked Mai Mala Buni leadership, to accommodate other equally critical interests in the party – from the party leaders to the governors and members of the National Assembly – THISDAY gathered.
According to Villa sources, the president’s main interest is to put the party back on track and ensure that the convention holds without any fear or favour.
Meanwhile, Buni according to very reliable sources, is due back in the country tomorrow from Dubai where he had gone for medical check up. He is however expected to cooperate with the new arrangement in the interest of the party.
Also, some of the governors elected on the Party’s platform realigned for the new reality in the party. Some had immediately switched loyalty from Buni and declared support for Bello, depicting the advent of a new era.
It was an interim leadership meant to usher in a new National Working Committee (NWC) of APC on Saturday, March 26. One APC governor from the North declared triumphantly, “we are going to have our convention at last.”
But a group, APC Youth Development and Solidarity Forum (APC-YDSF), has declared Buni’s removal as chairman of CECPC as illegal and akin to a coup.
THISDAY had learnt that with just a note of his directive to the SGF, President Muhammadu Buhari, had on Sunday, actuated the leadership change witnessed yesterday at the national headquarters of the ruling APC in Abuja, before departing for London on medical grounds.
Although Buhari was wary of the implications of arbitrarily removing the former chairman of the APC Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC), Mai Mala Buni, the president had also considered his options after consulting and thus, with a note, gave detailed instructions on what to do.
According to Villa sources, those who could read between the lines saw the handwriting on the wall, when at the point of departure to London, the president said: “The party has all it takes to resolve all convention issues… and the March 26 convention would go on as scheduled.”
Inside sources hinted that the president had been inundated with unsavoury reports of mismanagement and alleged corruption against the Buni leadership.
But he had often dismissed the allegations as lacking proof, until he was able to see first-hand, how the Yobe State governor, had truly messed things up, including encouraging a court case against the party to prevent it from conducting the convention.
Based on that, and with the convention just a little over two weeks away, the president, sources stated, saw the danger in not acting in time to save the situation as well as give confidence to members and supporters of APC.
Therefore, before leaving for London on Sunday, the president left a note, instructing without equivocation, that the APC leadership must change.
The Villa source explained: “What happened was that, after some governors went to ambush the president, while he was about to travel and convinced him that the Buni-led committee was foot-dragging on holding the convention on March 26, and that there was no preparations to indicate any serious plan on the convention, the president got angry and asked that Buni should be removed.
“First he tried to get hold of the SGF, but couldn’t reach he him on phone. So, he called the Permanent Secretary in the Villa, who took down note of what the president’s directive was. It was the Permanent Secretary, who now decided to recap all what the president said on the note to Boss Mustapha, that first, dissolve the committee; secondly, let Bello act and thirdly, that March 26th is sacrosanct. Those were the three instructions to be relayed to the SGF for action.”
The THISDAY Source further explained that while the choice of the Niger State governor was not originally the Buhari’s, as the suggestion came from the governors, who saw the mistake in appointing a first term governor as chairman of the committee, he did not object to it and gave his express approval.
According to the THISDAY source, some of the governors, who ambushed the president before leaving for London included the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum and Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi; the Kaduna State Governor, Malam Nasir El-Rufai; the Kebbi State Governor, Atiku Bagudu; the Jigawa State Governor, Mohammed Badaru Abubakar; the Plateau State Governor, Simon Lalong and the Niger State Governor, Abubakar Sani Bello.
However, Bello, after meeting with members of CECPC at the national secretariat of the party, where he had his maiden interaction, served a notice of NEC, including the need to prune down the national convention sub-committees.
An APC source, who hinted at the purported notice for the NEC meeting noted that, “So, NEC would hold any time after the seven days notice. The minimum notice for NEC is seven days and after that, NEC can hold.”
Asked if NEC would sack Buni, the source was straight to the point: “Well, there is only one item on the agenda for NEC to deal with and it is the convention. But anything can come under Any Other Business. That means anyone can stand up to say he is passing a vote of no confidence on Buni, because technically by law, he is still Acting Chairman of the CECPC.”
Bello, who further announced the need to prune down all the sub-committees set up by Buni for the purpose of the national convention, argued that, the party did not need as many people as his predecessor had appointed.
The acting caretaker committee chair, according to the source, explained that the sub-committees, which was made up of about 1,700 people was too unwieldy, arguing that the party didn’t need more than about two hundred people.
He was of the view that the new membership of the sub-committees must reflect all the various interests in the party, such as Governors, Senators, members of house of representatives, etc nominating members of the committee, rather than one person drawing up the entire list of convention sub-committee members.
Dwelling in Bello’s first day in office, the source explained that, “The truth is that the chairmen have been sworn in, the zonal committee has submitted its report and by tomorrow, the sub-committees would be sworn in, so things are moving ahead. Governor of Niger was appointed to act any way. He had been acting in that capacity even before.”
The source explained thus: “The committees were not dissolved. What they said was that the committee were too many. We had 1,700 people in committees and so, he said they should go and prune down the list and also make sure it covers every body’s interest. So, it was more about his reluctance to do what was expected of him. There appeared to be a reluctance to hold the convention.
“The thing to take away from the president’s decision, it came about against the background of what he was told that Buni was not preparing to hold the convention.
“The President was angry by the report and expressed his dissatisfaction with the NWC – something like an expression of loss of confidence in their ability to ensure that we have the convention on March 26. Therefore, he felt it was better to find a way to relieve them of their responsibilities. A team that would ensure that the convention holds.”
Bello’s maiden meeting had nine out of the 12 members of the CECPC in attendance, including the secretary of the committee, Senator John Akpanudoedehe, who had earlier denied a THISDAY exclusive report about imminent leadership change but had since not deemed it fit to retract his gaffe or apologise, after deliberately embarrassing a foremost national daily with a terse but false statement.
THISDAY had earlier reported that there was palpable tension at the headquarters of the party, as officers of the Nigeria Police took over the secretariat. The police numbering about 70 had come with 10 vehicles and cordoned off the secretariat situated at Blantyre Street to prevent any breakdown of law and order as early as 8am.
This followed an earlier exclusive report by THISDAY that Buhari approved Buni’s removal and in his stead, appointed Bello. This was because a faction of APC governors had allegedly complained to the president that Buni was not inclined to holding the convention as rescheduled as there were no preparations on the ground to indicate a readiness to do so.
APC Governors Switch Support, Line Behind Bello
Not surprisingly, the APC governors appeared to have left Buni in the lurch after Professor Babagana Zulum of Borno, Babjide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos, Yahaya Bello of Kogi, Hope Uzondinma of Imo, Dapo Abiodun of Ogun, Inuwa Yahaya of Gombe, and AbdulRahman Abdulrazaq of Kwara, stormed the national secretariat of the party to show support for theirNiger State counterpart.
In his first official assignment as acting caretaker chairman of the party, Bello inaugurated the APC state chairmen.
Addressing journalists after the inauguration yesterday in Abuja, Bello said the governors were at the secretariat to show him support.
When asked if he had taken charge of the party, Bello said, “Acting chairman? I have been acting for a while since the chairman travelled. Every time there is a major event, we beef up security. Today, we have a major event and all the chairmen came in. And they are to maintain law and order.”
On the question of how often he would come to the party secretariat, Bello said, “Almost everyday”, adding, “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 are here to support me. Now, at zonal level, they can go and do their work”.
Asked if the happenings at the party had the blessing of Buhari, he said, “Of course”.
However, when Akpanudoedehe was asked if he still stood by his earlier statement that there was no leadership change in the party, he referred THISDAY to the statement made by Bello, where he said he was the acting national chairman of the party, because Buni was out of the country.
The apparently mystified secretary told THISDAY that he was not the right person to answer the question, adding that the question should be directed to Bello instead.
“I am not the right person to be asked this question. You should direct your question to the Niger governor. Whatever I say now will be like speculation, because I didn’t speak with the president and the president didn’t speak with him,” he said.
Lukman Sheds More Light on Why Buni Was Sacked
Throwing more light on the latest development, former Director General of Progressive Governors Forum (PGF), Dr. Salihu Lukman, said Buhari, like most party leaders and members, was highly disappointed at the deliberate efforts by Buni and his associates to block the APC convention from holding, based on alleged personal ambitions.
Lukman noted that between November 2021 and January 2022, the APC convention was postponed three times, because of deliberate refusal to initiate most of the processes required, such as booking the venue for the convention and serving the statutory three weeks’ notice to INEC.
Lukman stated, “In addition, there were other serious allegations against the leadership of His Excellency, Mai Mala, which included the discovery that his group, since November 2022, 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.”
He explained that the plot was for Buni to continue to run the affairs of the party and conduct the party primaries, where candidates for 2023 elections would emerge.
Lukman said there were specific allegations about Buni striking deals with some presidential aspirants to ensure their emergence as the presidential candidate of APC at the 2023 general election.
He stated: “Some of the allegations suggest extorting money from these aspirants, including someone, who is yet to join the party. It is being alleged that campaign offices for the aspirant are already being opened even before such a person joins the party.
“A good confirmation of why it will be difficult for party leaders and members to continue to invest any trust on Buni leadership of the caretaker committee is the attempt to constitute another zoning committee after there is a decision by President Buhari and the Progressive Governors on zoning, based on which stakeholders of the party at zonal levels are to finalise negotiations on positions to go states.
“As far as His Excellency Mai Mala is concerned, his interest is supreme and together with the secretary of the CECPC, Senator John James Akpanudoedehe, and their collaborators outside the CECPC, they must block the APC convention from holding on March 26.”
Lukman pointed out that anybody, who would emerge as a replacement to Buni and Akpanudoedehe, as chairman and secretary, would have all the requisite mandate of the organs vested with such responsibility as provided by the constitution of the party.
He said this was the time Buni, Akpanudoedehe, and all their collaborators were required to demonstrate their loyalty to the party and Buhari, noting that attempts to delegitimise the process of changing the leadership would only confirm their undertaker mission.