By News Desk
In June 2020, after months of intra-party bickering, the APC National Executive Committee dissolved the Oshiomole-led National Working Committee and appointed a caretaker committee to manage the affairs of the party until a national convention is held. That decision, at the behestst of President Buhari, was received with mixed feelings among different factions. But one thing was certain, it was masterminded by APC governors working with AGF Malami, who provided the legal basis for such a decision.
Enters Mala Buni…
That fateful decision ushered in a relatively obscure name in Nigerian politics – Mai Mala Buni, a taciturn governor of less known Yobe State who emerged from the shadows as National Secretary to become the Governor of Yobe State. Buni’s rise to political stardom is a pure grass-to-grace story. He walked his way to the top from ward councillor to state party chair, APC national secretary to Governor, and then Acting APC chair.
After Luck comes Hubris
As is typical with many people who experience rapid rise to fame, Buni couldn’t control his ambition. His acting role as APC chair was meant to last only for 6 months, till december 2020 during which the APC will organize a convention and elect new executives.
No sooner that he was appointed that he started planning to extend his stay as APC chair using different tactics. The CECPC, which was a 13-man committee, became the personal political tool of Governor Buni. According to a member of the CECPC: ‘even though there are other governors like that of Niger and Osun in the CECPC, Governor Buni monopolized decision-making and sidelined everyone at the committee, only dealing with the secretary (Senator Akpan Udohehe) whom he needs to run the party secretariat smoothly.’
Governance in Yobe took the biggest hit as he is always in Abuja for party business. He even boasted of spending an average of 3 days per month in Yobe when he was questioned about his absence in Yobe State. One Yobe State official who prefers anonymity noted that: ‘Yobe is still being ruled by the camp of the former Governor Geidam. Remember that Gov. Buni married the former governor’s daughter in order to ingratiate himself with Geidam. Also, all ranking political appointees from the SSG to the Head of Service are remnants of Geidam administration as the former governor remains politically powerful in the State.’
Defector-in-Chief or Destroyer-in-Chief
Governor Buni’s stewardship of APC started on a high note, he secured many high-level defections from the PDP to the APC, including governors of Cross River, Ebonyi and Zamfara, earning him the sobriquet defector-in-chief. Such successes clearly impressed President Buhari, allowing the president to overlook Buni’s excesses and inadequacies.
His critics however argued that the defections would still occur in spite of him. They accused Buni of blackmailing governors and party leaders to support his tenure elongation plan. Those that refused to do so risk seeing Buni recognize the factional APC exco in their states. Mr. Alwan Hassan, a prominent pro-Osinbajo campaigner, recently accused Buni of extortion, collecting money in order to the bidding of any politician willing to pay him.
Postponements and more postponements
From holding the convention December 2020, Buni moved it to June 2021, and then to December 2021, and then to February 2022. Alarmed that Buni was jeopardizing the party’s cohesion and chances ahead of the 2023 elections, Mr. Salihu Lukman, an outspoken Buni critic and erstwhile Director-General of the Progressive Governors Forum, an umbrella group of APC governors published an open letter accusing Buni of playing games with APC’s convention. Lukman was later forced to resign as PGF DG.
The much anticipated convention of February 26 didn’t hold, after assurances from Governor Buni. But many people saw it coming as there wasn’t any preparation on the part of the party to hold the convention as scheduled. APC leaders became more skeptical about Buni’s intentions. They met with President Buhari twice and it was finally agreed that the convention would then hold on March 26, 2022. It appears at last that the APC will hold its convention and put in place a solid leadership ahead of 2023 elections. Immediately after the meeting, doubts begin to reappear.
What Does Buni Want?
That’s the question on the lips of many political watchers in Nigeria. According to a political analyst who requested anonymity, ‘Buni wants to become the APC chairman in perpetuity. Given the choice between Yobe State governor and APC chair, he would choose the latter because he makes far more money and wields far more influence as APC chair.’
According to many political watchers, Buni’s endgame is simple, delay the APC convention and combine it with primaries. That way, Buni would have strong influence to bargain for the position of vice president with any candidate that emerges the winner. Buni and his political proteges are constantly bringing up his name as vice president and even planting stories about APC zoning the vice president position to the North East.
The Night of Long Knives
Last week, President Buhari was scheduled to visit Kenya and then proceeded to the UK for medical checkup. In order to create the conditions that would make the March 26 convention impossible, Governor Buni left Nigeria ostensibly for medical vacation. ‘His plan was to return to Nigeria when the president finishes his medical leave in the UK which is very close to March 26. Since nothing can be done in Buni’s absence, that will force the postponement of the primaries once again till May which is very close to the deadline for primaries because you cannot hold the convention in April since it coincides with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan,’ said an insider with knowledge of the political intrigues in the APC. That would give Buni the opportunity to merge convention with primaries as his critics alleged.
Alarmed by these latest intrigues, many APC governors decided that enough is enough. Removing Buni outrightly will have significant legal implications. The best way is to allow the 13-member CECPC to continue with the job, with Buni side-lined. That’s how Governor Sani Bello of Niger who was Buni’s deputy chair at the CECPC emerged as acting chair to continue carrying out the affairs of the party. The governors have decided that the March 26 convention date is non-negotiable. The move was also endorsed by President Buhari who was angry at Buni for sacrificing the future of the party on the altar of his personal political ambition.
Will Buni return from his ‘medical vacation’ to attempt to claim his seat? Will there be any counter move from the pro-Buni camp even in absentia? Or will that signify a fresh start for the APC as it seeks to emerge from its post-2019 crisis? Only time shall tell!
Editor’s Note: Attempts to speak to Governors Buni and Sani Bello, as well as the CECPC national secretary, were unsuccessful as their lines were either switched off or unanswered.