National chairmanship: Why APC must make right choice

President Muhammadu Buhari and governors elected on the platform of the All Progressives Congress, APC, rose from a consultative meeting and finally laid to rest speculations about the zoning of the party’s national offices. By a simple play of musical chairs, the APC leaders announced they would be swapping roles between the North and South.

Thus, offices in the National Working Committee hitherto occupied by Northerners in the last eight years will shift to the South and vice versa. It was a welcome development, especially as it disappointed those who had gone to town in recent times crowing about the imminent disintegration of the governing party for an alleged inability of her leaders to agree on anything.

Still, it is not yet Uhuru. The APC must now sit down and transform this record accord into an election-winning strategy by making sure that each post goes where it will garner the most electoral benefits for her given existing power dynamics in the Nigerian political space in the build-up to the 2023 general elections.

This is only possible by a clear-headed SWOT analysis based on the reality on the ground in each geopolitical zone within the context of the overall national balance of power between the APC and her opposition parties, especially the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. It goes without saying now that where the party sends the position of national chairman within the North to which it has been micro-zoned, is of utmost importance.

The most compelling criteria for the choice of national chairman who comes from Northern Nigeria should be based on at least five fundamental factors, namely: current strength of the party in the selected zone, the candidate’s biodata, his acceptance within the party, his national diversity rating, political experience and overall state of health. The current strength of the APC in the state from which he or she will emerge and the strategic imperative of using the office to buy strength where the party is relatively weak.

The candidate’s leadership persona translated in terms of charisma, persuasiveness, acceptability within the party, capacity to rally members using party structures as well as in-depth knowledge of party processes and procedures. The proven national influence and network of the individual, especially capacity to quickly feel the political pulse of a situation and respond constructively or of a constituency and reach across diverse political stakeholdings and platforms for a resolution.

Cognate experience in high political leadership, with a clear line of sight, i.e, hindsight to recognise common pitfalls or advantages and evolve, and political foresight to drive for success while avoiding the inevitable rabbit holes that enthral and distract an inexperienced leader.

Strong mental and physical fitness for, among other reasons, hitting the ground running on the inevitable tour of reconciliation across the 36 states and the FCT and going through the rigours of leading a presidential campaign across the length and breadth of the country so soon after his emergence.

Once the above five factors are accounted for, and in order to make sure no geopolitical zone is marginalised or excluded, or feels so, the APC must go further to align them with the political considerations that will play out in 2023. Many of such considerations are already very visible right now and proving to be extremely divisive within both the governing party and even pretenders to her throne, such as the PDP.

For instance, the question of where the next presidential candidate of the APC comes from will take bearing from where its next national chairman emerges from. It is a fact that out of the three geopolitical zones in the North, only the North Central has not enjoyed any stint in the seat of power in a democracy since Independence in 1960, either as President or Vice President, and that includes the Fourth Republic.

North Central people have recently risen in unison against what they call the near default zoning of the national chairmanship of ruling political parties to them once it is the turn of the North, while the other two zones rotate and savour the two highest jobs.

There is now a groundswell of support for such bodies as the North Central Renaissance Movement, NCRM, which campaigns to withdraw the zone’s support from any party that dumps the chairmanship on them again on the journey to 2023. Of course, one cannot blame the people of the zone.

The premise is that parties send their national chairmanship position to the zone they want to exclude, ab initio, from the presidential race, and a people is entitled, not only to wonder why they must always be the ones to get the short end of that stick but to reject it as the pendulum starts to oscillate towards them again.

To further underlay their seriousness on this matter, the region which hosts the Federal Capital Territory has promised to rally voters to the party which puts one of its own on the ballot for the Presidency. As all political parties know, the North Central owns the second-largest voting turnout among Nigeria’s geopolitical zones, going by the 2019 presidential elections. Thus, their threat or discontent on this matter of a national chairman should not be trifled with, at least not by the APC to which they gave nearly half a million more votes in 2019 than they gave the PDP.

Moreover, if the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, is to be believed, voting in elections have become too organic and too techy to be manipulated on any scale large enough to affect electoral outcomes. With the barrage of citizen advocates and groups springing up all over the region around this cause, the APC must not dismiss their threats lightly or it may end up discovering that they were serious the hard way. In fact, it would be most unwise to toy with the disenchantment of a zone where its five states effectively encircle the PDP’s sole outpost.

Number One is the former Governor of the State, Alhaji Isa Yuguda. My opinion and advice to the APC would be that he is the perfect candidate for a consensus National Chairman of the APC from the North. He has won two gubernatorial elections for himself in Bauchi State, he was a striker in the APC’s lineup for the 2019 presidential election campaigns and he helped to beat the incumbent governor and the PDP silly in that contest as illustrated in the figures above.

As an added incentive he is a cosmopolitan Nigerian indeed whose reach, network and friendships are sufficiently national in outlook so that striking the accords necessary to run the party effortlessly would be easy for him. He is also of that rare breed of crossover politicians who moves seamlessly between the elite and the grassroots and is trusted well enough by both classes. Isa is also a son-in-law to the powerful Yar’Adua dynasty of Katsina State, another massive voting bloc for the APC which gave the party 1,232,133 in 2019 and only 308,056 to the PDP. As Chairman of the APC, Yuguda will come with panache, but more importantly with people who can help the APC win elections across state lines.

In the case that Yuguda does not fly, and I do not know of any lawful or unlawful reason why he should not if the APC is out to win elections and not merely get in her own way with tribal and religious politics, I would suggest another excellent pick in the person of Yakubu Dogara, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives from 2015 to 2019.

While in office, he presided over strong political stakeholders from at least 360 constituencies in Nigeria. Some of them are currently serving in the same house, the Senate, or in some other high capacity at party or national levels. He has the capacity, reaches and network to bring more people to vote for APC. His brief stint in the PDP after leaving office before decamping back to the APC is a minus on his curriculum vitae but it could be a plus too, as he can reach across party lines to friends in the opposition to help him in any office, including as National Chairman of the APC.

He has been the number four citizen in Nigeria at a relatively younger age and will appeal to Nigeria’s burgeoning youth demographic which has recently begun to pull political weight.

The North East is thus the perfect geopolitical zone for the APC to source her next national chairman from. Bauchi State is the state to go to because, despite our overwhelming win there with President Buhari on the ballot in 2019, we still lost it to the PDP in the last gubernatorial elections and we need to retake it as soon as possible to consolidate our chances in 2023. An Isa Yuguda or Yakubu Dogara will vastly improve our chances of getting back Bauchi and building the party for the future – the former much more than the latter.

In conclusion, if the APC is to retain the Presidency in 2023 and remain a formidable party in Nigeria into the future the current sentimental approach over legacy party, promise or fail, disregard of health status, disregard of the mood of the nation, hubristic belief that Nigerians can be cajoled to endorse any nonsense that politicians come up with, including empty North/South zoning or religious and tribal favouritism must stop immediately and make way for clear-headed political assessments such as this one. I hope that the APC leadership right up to the President is serious about winning elections and not just playing to the shifting galleries of parochial opinions.

If they are, they will take my free counsel to heart. If they are not, the party might as well start now to pack her load out of the Aso Rock Presidential Villa.