President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday waded into the All Progressives Congress (APC) post-primary crisis to avert further defections by its aggrieved senators.
The President met with 15 of 22 aggrieved senators protesting their loss of party tickets at the shadow polls, urging them to pull the brake on their defection plans.
No fewer than seven senators, including two top party leaders, Senate Majority Leader Yahaya Abdullahi and Senator Adamu Aliero, former governor of Kebbi State, have defected from the ruling party after losing re-election tickets.
The senators defected to the Peoples Democratic Party and the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP).
They attributed their loss of tickets to the overbearing attitude of some governors.
Fears are rife that APC may lose its majority status in the Senate and House of Representatives if the aggrieved legislators are not pacified by the party leadership.
Although President Buhari promised to look into the grievances of the affected senators, they told reporters after the meeting that they can still jump ship, if the promises are not kept.
Senator Adamu Bulkachua, from Bauchi State, who attended the meeting, shed light on the president’s promises.
He said the President promised that where possible, the injustices could be redressed while those who may fail to recontest will be compensated.
Bulkachua said the President was, however, silent on the kind of compensation.
Before yesterday’s meeting, there were speculations that 18 more senators may dump the ruling party.
To avert the loss of control of the National Assembly, APC National Chairman Abdullahi Adamu last week rallied other members of the National Working Committee (NWC), including National Secretary, Senator Iyiola Omisore, to a meeting with the APC Senate Caucus.
However, at yesterday’s meeting with the senators, facilitated by Senate Chief Whip Orji Kalu, President Buhari said the party leadership would sustain the hearing and healing process to ensure fairness, justice and oneness before the 2023 general election.
A source said the senators opened up to President Buhari on how governors hijacked the primaries to deny them return tickets.
They demanded justice before the 2023 poll to avoid an electoral disaster for the party.
Buhari, who claimed that he was aware of the tension associated with the primaries, said some errors will be corrected by the party.
The source said: “The President was painstaking in listening to our grievances and we were surprised he took meticulous note of all what transpired at the meeting in the Presidential Villa.”
Senators who took turns to bare their minds included Yusuf Yusuf, Ibrahim Yahaya Oloriegbe, Smart Adeyemi, Tolu Odebiyi, Ibrahim Hassan Hadejia, Yakubu Oseni, Danladi Sankara and Sen Sabo Nakudu.
Also at the meeting were Senators Ibrahim Yahaya and Frank Ibezim.
The allegations raised by the senators were:
- Doctoring of party registers.
- Manipulation of the list of delegates.
- Use of political appointees to conduct primaries.
- Intimidation of APC members.
- Monetisation of the primaries.
- Announcement of results of primaries before voting, and
- Declaration of results without primaries.
According to a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, the President noted the complaints by the senators, adding that machinery had been put in place by the NWC to address the grievances.
He said: “In keeping with our ethos, therefore, I shall continue to address the ensuing challenges and grievances through the party machinery while paying keen attention to the outcomes.
“I must also remind you of the primacy of justice in all our actions. If justice is denied, the outcome is usually unpleasant.
“This is because you are the members who keep the party running. I should add that as part of the policy of using the party machinery for effective resolution of conflict, the Chairman and some members of the National Working Committee visited the National Assembly recently to dialogue with our legislators.
“The leadership of the party is currently addressing the outcomes as part of the way forward. I am encouraging all the party functionaries to adhere to the truth and to be fair to all parties in any dispute.”
President Buhari told the APC senators that the strength and victory of the party in the election will depend on unity, and the ability to prevent injustices and heal wounds.
He said: “As the leader of the party, one of my primary roles is to ensure that our culture of internal democracy and dispute resolution is strengthened by creating the opportunity for members to ventilate their opinions, views and grievances at different levels.”
The President urged party members to exercise restraint and continue to demonstrate commitment to party ideals.
He said: “I have noted your grievances particularly as it concerns the just concluded processes, the cost to the nation, the threat to the majority position held by our party in the legislative chambers and likely consequent cost to the electoral fortunes of our party as we approach the general elections. We must not allow these dire threats to come to pass.
“I must acknowledge that in every contest, there must be a level playing ground just as there would be grievances at the end.
“That is the test of our democratic credentials, systems and practices. I have since the conclusion of the processes been inundated with various reports and complaints,” he added.
The President assured that “justice shall prevail, aggrieved members shall be assuaged and the interest of the party and the nation shall be protected.’’
President Buhari thanked the senators for suggesting a meeting on the future of the party and solutions to the challenges triggered by the primaries.
Senator Kalu said at least 22 senators were unhappy with the outcome of the primaries in their states, noting that they felt disenfranchised by the process.
He said the legislators had made sacrifices for the growth of the party and democracy in the country, urging the President to intervene in this crisis.
“Mr President, in the Senate we have worked hard and consistently sold your programmes beyond party lines. Be assured always of our support,” he added.
One of the senators, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the lawmakers have agreed to give the President the benefit of the doubt.
He said they would wait for the President to fulfil his promise before the September window announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the substitution of candidates.
He said the senators will carry out their threat of defection if the President fails to keep his promise to redress the alleged injustice by governors.
The senator said: “Our colleagues told the President about how delegates’ lists were changed overnight by the governors in connivance with the APC committees that handled the primaries.
“The National Chairman of the party was not at the meeting, but the Chief of Staff and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation were present.
“The President frowned at the complaints of my colleagues and expressed his sympathy about the situation.
“He then promised that he would hold a meeting with the leadership of the party to address our grievances.
“Specifically, the President assured us that he would ensure that we get justice before the INEC September deadline for the submission of candidates.
“We have respected the promise of the President and we believe in his ability to do the right thing.”
A Senator, who spoke in confidence, said: “We told the President that governors chose to install their stooges as Senators. They made us realise that hard work does not pay at all.
“The way they manipulated the primaries indicated that we are not in a democracy.
“But we are determined to prove a point that the governors cannot have their cake and eat it.”
Another Senator said: “We made the President realise that the brazen action of the governors will lead to the loss of experienced hands in the Senate.
“We said some of us decided to leave APC for parties that are ready to accommodate us.
“We warned the President of the possibility of APC losing the 2023 poll.”
The President said he was aware of some anomalies associated with the conduct of the primaries.
He said: “We will correct the injustice before the election. But make sure APC wins the poll.”
Imo State Governor Hope Uzodimma, who spoke on the senators’ defection plan, said there was no cause for alarm.
He said: “Did someone leave the party or is leaving the party? Until they leave…but for those few who left, of course, some others left other parties and joined the APC. So one cancels the other.”