The Taraba State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) is currently sailing in very turbulent waters just as preparations ahead of the 2019 general election are beginning to gather momentum.
The battle for the soul of the party ahead of the 2019 general election is, primarily, between the Buhari loyalists who are predominantly new comers to the party with other founding members on one hand, and the group that feels they are the legitimate owners of the party, on another hand.
The new comers, including the immediate past state chairman of the party and Nigerian Envoy to Trinidad and Tobago, Alhaji Hassan Ardo Jika, still pledge their loyalty to President Muhammadu Buhari.
On the other hand, the “owners of the party”, comprising of the state exco is perceived to have thrown its weight behind the minister of Women Affairs, Hajia Aisha Alhassan known in the local parlance as ‘Maman Taraba, ‘ who has been the financial backbone of the party.
Alhassan has never hidden her unalloyed support to former Vice President ,Atiku Abubakar, and just recently, she declared that she would resign her position as a minister should President Buhari declares his interest to contest the 2019 presidency.
Findings revealed that there is a fierce battle within the party to ensure that “outsiders do not come and highjack the party they had nurtured and worked tirelessly for”.
A new group known as the APC Integrity came out recently to challenge the state’s leadership of the party, accusing it of serving selfish interests, been narrow minded, and shutting its doors against new members, among other issues.
Chairman of the group, Alhaji Uba Mairiga told journalists at a press conference held in Jalingo that the leadership of the party lacks transparency, and was undermining the core values of the party in order to serve selfish interests.
Uba further said that contrary to widely held presumption, all was not well with the state chapter of the party, adding that the “apparent bias against the majority members of the party had created the imperative for convening the Integrity group to chart a new course for the interest and destiny of its members who are trapped in the vicious plots to deny them not only their rightful membership of the party but also the opportunity to contest various elective positions in the state”.
He noted that the party had enjoyed massive influx of high profile politicians into it, in the state including former deputy governors, members of the national Assembly, and many key political figures in the state, but regretted that the leadership in the state was either reluctant or not ready to encourage the growth of the party for fear of losing certain interests.
Uba further declared that “the APC does not belong to any individual or selected group of individuals but to all Nigerians, and that nobody has the right to deny anyone membership of the party. The party belong to all Nigerians and no amount of brigandage and grandstanding can frighten us away from the party. We would take our right;” just as he insisted that Buhari enjoys the allegiance and loyalty of the state and any other interest “must be pursued without compelling members to shift loyalty as national interest remains the overriding concern”.
In a swift reaction, the state acting chairman of the party , Alhaji Sani Chul said that the leadership of the party had not, at anytime, denied anyone membership of the party. He said any person interested in joining the party must follow the party’s rule and procedures by joining the party first at ward level.
The acting chairman urged all members to work for the progress of the party in order to sack the PDP from the state, come 2019, adding that the party was one and has no faction in the state.
Alhaji Sani further explained that the party leadership has not received any complaint from any member on any wrong doing, just as he noted that the door of the party was wide open and those interested were always welcome.
Investigations however revealed that the fight in the APC was about securing the governorship ticket for the minister of Women Affairs, Hajia Aisha Alhassan ahead of 2019, a task she believes was only achievable if she aligns with Atiku who also supported her greatly in 2015.
Alhassan is said to feel threatened by the calibre of high profile politicians that have decamped to the party now and feels she might not get the party’s ticket to run for the governorship of the state.
In his speech at a press conference in Jalingo, Chul had said that “Hajiya Aisha Alhassan, the minister of Women Affairs has been funding the party in the state since its inception and therefore we cannot close doors against her interest”.
The APC and Alhassan lost the last governorship election in the state due largely to her gender. According to a political analyst and member of the APC, Yahaya Musa, “the people of Taraba and the North generally are not ready to have a woman rule over the men. It is contrary to their belief system and values and so it doesn’t matter how qualified and loved a woman is, her chances of winning governorship in the state are just too narrow to be banked on”.
But Alhassan does not see herself as a woman. She had said that at her age and level of exposure, it was condescending to refer to her just as a woman as she is simply a leader.
Interestingly, members of the party in the state, regardless of their alliances, believe that the party now, more than ever need to take over the leadership of the state, come 2019.
Both agree that the state has suffered for too long in the hands of the ruling PDP and needs to be salvaged for positive development.
This, some people believe can only be achieved if there was robust internal democracy to allow the people choose who fly the party’s flag.
According to Uba, “the APC represents Change, a shift from the way things were done with obvious impunity to an era where people are allowed to freely choose their leaders who ultimately represents them at various levels. We cannot compromise on that. And so the party must make room for everyone who is interested to contest any position to do so freely and whoever emerges should be allowed to fly the flag of the party and would be wholly supported so that it would be victory for the party and not any individual.
“In the same vein, we cannot be isolated now from the national body by shifting loyalty to any individual other than the President who is not just the face of the party but also the pillar of the APC”.
While threat from any other group could have been dismissed with a wave of the hand, the APC Integrity group comprises some of the most recognized and respected politicians in the state, and founding members of the party.
The group comprises the likes of former deputy governors Garba Umar and Uba Mairiga, Former minister of Labour Joel Ikenya, former senators and members of national Assembly, former speakers of the state assembly, the immediate past state chairman of the Party and Nigerian Envoy to Trinidad and Tobago Alhaji Hassan Jika, and other top government functionaries.
But the Minister, who seems to be at the centre of the crisis, dismissed the situation as a small misunderstanding that was common in any gathering. She however appealed to the members to shield their swords and embrace peace and unity.
By way of intervention, the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo called on the people to look at the bigger picture and work for the good of the party rather than personal interests as party interest takes pre-eminence over everything else.
On his part, the former Labour minister, Ikenya said “it was lack of unity and respect for elders within the party” that made him work for the PDP in the last election that cost the APC the governorship in 2015.
He however said that if the party was ready to work together and give members a level playing ground, “the jackals would be sent parking as the lions would ascend their thrones”.
Senator Abubakar Tutare also agreed that “we have no choice but to work as a team. No one can succeed alone. No matter how rich, influential, smart, connected, and good you are, you cannot win election on your own”.
The state party chairman shared a similar view when he said that the “dreams of the party to take over the mantle of power in the state in 2019, as lofty and realistic as it is, could slip by if the members fail to come together to work as a team for the common good of the people of the state”.
However, a source close to Alhassan told our correspondent in confidence that, the minister was seriously considering conceding the ticket to Chief David Sabo Kente, who is one of the recent defectors to the party, in a move most people believe would enhance the chances of the party more than greatly.
While Alhassan may allegedly be willing to concede the governorship opportunity to someone else, her condition was that the person protects the interest of Atiku in return.
In the meantime, the state chairman of the PDP, Victor Bala Kona has dismissed the APC as not capable of posing any serious threat to the PDP in 2019.