The governing All Progressives Congress won the hearts of many Nigerians prior to the 2015 general elections.

This translated into massive votes which ended the 16 years unbeaten rule of the then ruling People’s Democratic Party.

It’s simple message to Nigerians which was succinctly captured in its slogan, “Change,” reverberated across the length and breadth of the nation.

It promised to change the nation from one which it said was fast becoming a lawless entity, to one where the rule of law would reign supreme.

It also demonstrated how to carry along members in terms of party administration. Members of the then young political party were exposed to various opportunities to not only interact with their leaders, but also make an effort into advancing its course.

Public lectures and symposiums where intellectual discussions about Nigeria’s problems and possible solutions were dissected, analysed and solution proffered became the norm.

Nigerians were fed a daily dose of how life would be better with the APC at the helm of affairs. Robust discussions were held at interpersonal and group levels before decisions were taken.

When it was time for the party to choose its presidential candidate, a process which was hailed by both friends and foes of the party as democratic and transparent was held.

Perhaps for the first time in his political life, the eventual winner of the primary, the then Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), had to face battle-tested veterans in the political game.

He beat former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, former Kano State Governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso; Senator Rochas Okorocha and the late Sam Nda Isaiah to clinch the APC presidential ticket. The rest has now become history.

But sooner had the party won the 2015 general elections than the inherent challenges of coupling a party of strange bedfellows began to manifest.

The scramble for positions led to a supremacy battle among prominent party stakeholders and the duo of the then Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara and the John Odigie-Oyegun-led APC National Working Committee.

The situation worsened when the party held its first ward congresses under the leadership of the then National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun in May 2018.

A former APC National Vice Chairman (South-South), Hilliard Eta, told Saturday PUNCH, “As I said back then, it still holds true today. Our party, the APC, has not recovered from the damage done to our moral fabric by the illegality perpetrated during the 2018 congresses.”

In the Saturday’s congresses from Adamawa State to Rivers State, Delta State to Kwara State, and Imo State to Bayelsa State, party chieftains led factions of the party to lay claim to its structures in the various state chapters.

Some party chieftains have taken steps further to challenge the processes in court in spite of an earlier warning by the party’s National Secretary, Senator John Akpanudoedehe, against such actions.

A public affairs analyst and Executive Director of the Civil Societies Legislative and Advocacy Centre, Awual Musa, traced most if not all of the crises within Nigerian political parties to the conflict between the personal interests of party promoters and the general group interest.

Similarly many argued that since political parties remained custodians of their rules and enjoyed the power to sponsor candidates for elective office, desperate politicians who most often than not are promoters of political parties, internal democracy had become an endangered species in Nigeria’s democratic space.

Since the return to democracy in 1999, party leaders and their proxies have used whatever means available to game the system and advance their causes.

Party congresses and primaries in Nigeria have always been contentious.

Manipulations and violence are also part of the game as leaders desperately struggle to control the process.

The APC ward congresses held across 34 states of the federation last Saturday were no different. Most party leaders appeared to have taken a cue from the fate which befell the party’s former National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, to pay more than a passing interest in the process leading to the emergence of their ward leaders.

Perhaps for the first time in recent memory, a Supreme Court judgement in a governorship election petition matter is challenging political party administrators to have a rethink on how they manage party affairs.

The varied interpretation given to the Supreme Court judgement on the Ondo State governorship election which Governor Rotimi Akeredolu won, did not only save the governor’s job but also the governing APC from a situation which many would rather imagine than experience.

Just as the seven-man judges gave a split decision, loyalists of the party are divided in their thinking as to whether or not to proceed with the party’s ward congresses in the light of what some of the party’s chieftains observed as a word of caution from the Supreme Court judgement.

Prior to the judgement, the Governor Mai Mala Buni-led Caretaker/Extraordinary National Convention Planning Committee had laid out plans to hold ward congresses across 34 out of the 36 states of the federation including the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.

A chieftain of the party, who is currently the Minister of State for Labour, Festus Keyamo, (SAN)and a former APC National Legal Adviser, Muiz Banire (SAN), had in separate opinions, advised against going ahead with the ward congresses.

They based their advice on their interpretation of a part of the judgement which they observed called to question the propriety of a sitting governor presiding over the affairs of the party as national chairman.

However, the party’s lead counsel in the Ondo governorship election case, Niyi Adebayo (SAN), and a former Director-General of the Nigeria Law School, Prof. Mamman Tahir, as well as the Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), expressed the view that there was no judgement stopping the congresses from going ahead.

Tahir was proved right when excerpts of the full judgement became public on Thursday.

He wrote, “On the power of the National Executive Committee of the APC to appoint a caretaker committee, the Supreme Court affirmed the position of the Court of Appeal which held that the National Executive Committee is empowered by virtue of Article 13.3 of the APC Constitution 2014 (as amended) to create, elect and appoint any committee it may deem necessary, desirable or expedient and assign to them such powers or functions as it may deem proper (see pages 15 to 17 of the lead judgment).

“The said holding of the Court of Appeal was never appealed against by the PDP which therefore meant (as held by the Supreme Court) that parties accept it as correct, conclusive and binding on the parties.

“The position of the Court of Appeal as affirmed by the Supreme Court in this regard is in tandem with the position of the Supreme Court in Sheriff vs. PDP (2017) 14 NWLR (Pt. 1585) Pg. 212 and is therefore a re-affirmation of an already established position of the Supreme Court on a similar provision in the PDP Constitution, 2012.”

Although last Saturday’s exercise was largely successful in most of the states, there were parallel congresses in a number of states.

Party watchers had, however, argued that the parallel congresses could have adverse effects on its fortunes in upcoming elections if not properly handled.

In Rivers State, the faction of the party loyal to Senator Magnus Abe announced a boycott of the exercise a day before its commencement, citing irregularities.

The faction has approached a High Court in the state to seek redress for what it considered an infraction.

In Ogun State, supporters of incumbent Governor Dapo Abiodun and his predecessor, Ibikunle Amosun, held parallel congresses, while a similar scenario played out in Kwara State where supporters of the Governor, Abdulrazaq Abdulrahman and those of the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, held separate congresses.

In Lagos State, a traditional stronghold of the APC, a group of young politicians under the factional chairmanship of Fouad Oki, confirmed that he and other party members held congresses different from the one held by the Alhaji Tunde Balogun-led APC.

A senior lecturer in the Department of Political Science, University of Jos, Joseph Anuga, recalled that prior to ascending power in 2015, the APC had all the trappings of a political party with answers to almost every question.

He said, “Many Nigerians were under the impression that the party’s leaders at the various levels had learnt a thing or two from the missteps of the then ruling People’s Democratic Party but what do we have today?”

The APC has suffered more from self-inflicted losses than it did from external sources since its formation. The nullification of its electoral victories in Zamfara and Bayelsa states by the Supreme Court is still fresh in the minds of affected party members.

Akpanudoedehe had, however, warned that the national leadership of the party would not tolerate any form of disloyalty from members of the party. He said, “Like I have said several times, we will not accept results from parallel congresses.

“Only duly constituted committees will bring their reports to us. If anyone has a complaint, he should wait for the appeal.”

A Bauchi State chieftain of the party, Abdullahi Dauda, expressed sadness that many members of the party had yet to come to terms with what the party truly stood for.

He said, “We promised Nigerians ‘change’, a ‘change’ in the way we play politics, a change in the way we govern but I am afraid most of those who used our party platform to get into public offices have not demonstrated this in their conduct.”

Dauda further said, “We must accept the bitter truth, unless we change the way we do things right now, our chances of retaining power beyond 2023 cannot be guaranteed.”

The Buni-led caretaker committee has won at the courts, but its next task is to win over aggrieved party members.

This task, stakeholders believe, may not be easy in the coming months.