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President Buhari calls ruling party to order over chairmanship fight

The battle over who runs the All Progressives' Congress threatens what had earlier looked like a smooth path to victory in the 2023 elections

The furore over the peremptory replacement of Yobe State Governor Mai Mala Buni as interim chair of the ruling All Progressives' Congress by Niger State Governor Abubakar Bello on 7 March has prompted President Muhammadu Buhari's intervention. At stake is the control of the party, and the nomination of its presidential candidate ahead of its national convention on 26 March (AC Vol 63 No 2, In search of flagbearers).

The convention, which has been postponed several times, is due to elect the party's senior office holders, including its chair. The new chair will set the rules and manage the party's primaries ahead of the 2023 presidential and legislative elections. The party also faces a hard deadline of 3 June, by when the presidential candidate must have been elected. If the party fails to agree on the procedures and the nominee by then, it risks being disqualified from the race by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Several state governors have rallied in support of Buni, who was once close to Buhari's inner circle. But Bello had strong security backing when he arrived at the APC's national headquarters in Abuja to start work last week.

In a carefully phrased statement on 13 March, Buhari demanded that APC officials and activists 'desist from name-calling and back-stabbing' but declined to pick sides in the dispute. He asked APC members to look at 'the once-powerful opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP) now enfeebled and adrift and learn lessons in disunity, mismanagement and corruption.'

Then he added: 'We are entitled to our own share of dissent and intra-party discord. These are common in all parties, left and right all over the world … but parties splintered by competing egos destine themselves to the worst possible fate.'

Although the APC is better placed than the PDP to win the elections, it could still be undone by divisions among its activists and officials. Most of those fights are over personal ambition (AC Vol 63 No 1, Contenders fill the stage).

Some of Buni's opponents contend that he was trying to engineer the election of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan as APC flagbearer in 2023, and his own election as Jonathan's running mate.

Another theory is that the ousting of Buni is the work of people around Bola Ahmed Tinubu, presidential contender and former governor of Lagos. Buni took over as acting chairman of the APC three years ago after the ousting of Tinubu's close ally, Adams Oshiomhole, who had been running the party.

With the chairmanship of the APC in question, the management of its primaries and their outcome is wide open again. We hear the idea of a serious candidate emerging from the country's banking sector is fast gaining support among top officials (AC Vol 63 No 3, Bankers circle the presidency).

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