GUEST COLUMNIST By Sufuyan Ojeifo
It is no longer news that the screening of aspirants on the platform of the All Progressives Congress, APC, with some of its interesting outcomes, has come and gone. One of the interesting fallout was the audacious disqualification of two serving ministers from seeking the governorship tickets of the party in their respective states.
Minister of women affairs, Senator Aisha Alhassan, aka Mama Taraba, as well as her counterpart in the communications ministry, Mr. Adebayo Shittu, was sensationally screened out by the Comrade Adams Oshiomhole-led national working committee, NWC, in what has turned out to be novel in the nation’s fourth republic politics.
The development, indeed, represents a turning point in the administration of political parties especially that of the governing party. Ordinarily, the governing party would have pampered those in the corridors of power as a mark of reward for political correctness and other considerations, particularly now that the APC has had its fair share of defections ahead of the 2019 general election.
That the fear of more defections did not put the NWC under pressure to waver and compromise the higher ideals for the selfish political interests of the affected ministers was courageous and the Oshiomhole leadership must be commended for blazing the trail in the entrenchment of propriety in party administration.
When, the other time, Oshiomhole spoke passionately about instilling discipline in the entire membership of the party and ensuring that the party is supreme, not a few watchers of the nation’s politics derided him. To them, the former Edo state governor and one-time national president of the NLC, was trying to overreach himself.
I am sure they have begun to see the seriousness in the notice recently served by the comrade chairman to return the party to the path of discipline and party supremacy. The disqualification of Adebayo and Alhassan is an extremely important development that points in the direction of keeping fidelity with that notice.
This kind of action would have been unthinkable in the more recent past. It certainly shows the strengthening of the party, its leadership and structure in the reinforcement of democratic practices, especially within the APC. To be clear, Shittu and Alhassan were not arbitrarily barred from seeking the party’s nomination, but they were excluded for reasons firmly anchored in APC’s constitution and rules.
As Oshiomhole would laterexplain to the press, Shittu was disqualified from running for Oyo governorship ticketbecause it was discovered thathe avoided the compulsory one-year National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, programme aftergraduation. And, as for Alhassan, she was disqualified from running for Taraba governor because of concerns regarding her loyalty to the party.
Now, considering that soon after her disqualification, she resigned her ministerial appointment and also defected from the APC to United Democratic Party, UDP, for the purpose of contesting the governorship election, it is patently obvious that Oshiomhole and the APC NWC were completely right in their summative perception and the decision they reached.
Indeed, one cannot help but admire their collective prudence on Alhassan’s unreliability and the strategic decision to appropriately recompense her with disqualification. Alhassan had been impolitic by expressing her preference, as a serving minister, for the presidential aspiration of her political godfather, Atiku Abubakar, over Buhari’s in 2019.
Read how Oshiomhole explicated the issue: “She has issues that have to do with party loyalty. Our constitution is clear and it dictates that to contest elections or even hold office in the APC, you must be loyal to the party in every material concern. From all she had said in the past and even her comments and general attitude during the screening, the NWC reviewed everything taken together and we arrived at the conclusion that she does not possess the level of loyalty that the APC requires for her to contest elections on our platform.”
The extent of her perceived disloyalty was illuminated by Oshiomhole when he said that Alhassan lacked the attitudes and characteristics of an ideal member of the governing APC. Read him: “The Electoral Act and the APC constitution forbid anyone from being a member of more than one political party at a time. You cannot be a member of APC and be a card-carrying member of another party.”
He stated further, “But when you have a situation, where it would appear, based on what you know and based on what I know, that someone is probably APC in the day time, maybe for the purpose of retaining certain offices and they are PDP at heart. Or if they are not PDP at heart, they are actually and simply a follower of a one-man permanent presidential candidate…then we have the right to ask ourselves if these attitudes and qualities are characteristics of an ideal member of APC.”
Indeed, as recent events have shown, a vast majority of APC leaders and stakeholders would seem to acquiesce in the conclusion reached by Oshiomhole and the NWC on Shittu and Alhassan. As a detached analyst, I consider the conclusion very apt and deserving of commendation by not only loyal APC members, but also those who genuinely care about party discipline and supremacy.
The APC, by its background checks, screening and assessment, has towered above other parties. To reinforce the integrity of the political and electoral process, individuals with doubtful backgrounds should be weeded out, first at the party level, before candidates are submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, for further screening, preparatory for the general election.
Parties owe Nigerians a duty to field people of proven integrity as candidates for elective offices. It is against this backdrop that the disqualification of Shittu for non-participation in the compulsory NYSC programme after graduation has helped to resolve other issues, particularly the propriety of his staying put as minister if he has yet to resign.
Oshiomhole reportedly clarified that: “Shittu admitted that he did not do the mandatory NYSC as provided for under the law; and in his own judgment, his being a member of the House of Assembly in the state and now a minister of the federal republic, that these were enough sacrifices.”
With the recent resignation of the minister of finance, Kemi Adeosun, due to forged NYSC exemption letter, Shittu’s predicament could not have been partially or preferentially treated in the face of the explicit spirit and letters of the law concerning participation of graduates in the NYSC programme.
Indeed, it was clear that Nigerians knew that Shittu’s grandstanding and excuses were jejune and could, therefore, not hold water. And, as Oshiomhole rightly noted, for the APC, participation in the NYSC is a must and non-participation raises serious moral and legal issue. Since Shittu did not participate in the NYSC programme, the NWC under Oshiomhole’s leadership found the courage to disqualify him.
Having done the needful in these two high-profile circumstances, it is expected that Oshiomhole and the party’s NWC will continue to be fearless and firm in discharging their duties in other areas, regardless of whose toes they step on. It may just be the action that is needed for restitution and moral rectitude by some errant party members.
For instance, Shittu, according to media reports, had indicated his willingness to correct the mischief of his non-participation in the NYSC programme. He was quoted to have said that he was ready for mobilisation for national service by the NYSC authorities. This and the Adeosun saga may be good starting points for moral rearmament in government and public office; and this will be appropriately referenced by posterity as a contribution by the APC leadership and government.
Ojeifo, an Abuja-based journalist, writes firstname.lastname@example.org