Abuja: Widening splits in Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) are jeopardising his bid for re-election next year.
As the APC holds its national convention to elect party executives on Saturday, it’s threatened by defections as well as infighting between the presidency and its top lawmakers: Senate President Bukola Saraki and House of Representatives Speaker Yakubu Dogara. They joined a coalition that helped Buhari, 75, become the first opposition leader in Nigeria’s history to win executive power through the ballot box.
Forged from a combination of two opposition parties and a faction of the then ruling People’s Democratic Party to help Buhari defeat Goodluck Jonathan in 2015, the APC has since struggled to unite its various personalities. Bitter party rivalries produced parallel APC elective congresses last month in several key states, such as Lagos, Kaduna and Kano.
“The APC is a banding together of disparate political interests that didn’t try to blend,” said Clement Nwankwo, executive director of Abuja-based Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre. “The party didn’t compensate many of those who supported it. And waiting until now, the elections are coming, to try to do that is rather late.”
Party primaries between August and October will mark the start of serious campaigning for presidential and parliamentary elections in February in Africa’s biggest oil producer. At that point, the APC could face an increased chance of defections by candidates who fail to win nomination.
“Some of the groups see themselves as an independent or autonomous group within the party,” Kaduna state governor Nasir Al Rufai said in May. “But I do not think the APC has any major factionalisation problem.”
So far the main opposition party, the PDP, hasn’t shown it can capitalise on the APC troubles — it has no frontrunner and is itself facing divisions across Africa’s most populous nation.
Besides the internal party bickering, Buhari spent five months in the UK last year for treatment of an undisclosed ailment. He’ll have to defend a record that includes continuing attacks by militant group Boko Haram, deadly clashes between nomadic herders and crop farmers, an economic slump in 2016, and an anti-corruption crusade critics call partisan.
Buhari’s biggest headache inside the ruling party at the moment is the faction led by Saraki and Dogara, known as the ‘New PDP.’
Though APC members, Saraki and Dogara had to rely on opposition support to become legislative leaders against the wishes of Buhari and the party. Tension with the presidency has slowed passage of key bills and the budget, which lawmakers approved in May, about six months after Buhari presented it. He signed it on Wednesday.
The police ordered Saraki to appear for questioning last month over allegations linking him to a robbery in April in which 33 people were killed in his home state of Kwara, where he previously served as governor. Saraki has called the charges politically inspired.
Days later, a communique, published on his Facebook account, said “the National Assembly will not hesitate to invoke its constitutional powers if nothing is done to address” a set of demands for Buhari to end insecurity, violence, and the “systematic harassment and humiliation” of political opponents.
In the past year, Buhari has had more success in placating another faction, led by Bola Tinubu, who was the key to his support in the southwest among the Yoruba people, one of Nigeria’s three biggest ethnic groups.
The president posthumously honoured regional idol Moshood Abiola, whose election victory 25 years ago was annulled by military rulers who kept him under arrest until he died five years later. Buhari declared the date of that election, June 12, as Nigeria’s new Democracy Day and a national holiday.
It is “part of Buhari’s battle to win back the hearts and minds of Abiola’s Yoruba ethnic kinsmen, whose support will be crucial if he is to win a second term,” said Malte Liewerscheidt, vice-president of the London-based Teneo Intelligence.
While it’s been bloodied by infighting, there’s little chance that the APC will completely fall apart before the election, said Imad Mesdoua, a senior analyst with London-based Control Risks Group.
“There’s a strong chance of defections, regardless of whether those differences are ironed out, but an outright split of the APC remains somewhat unlikely,” he said. “What happens before, during and after the primaries will be key to see whether or not the APC can go into the electoral battle as a united entity.”