Put differently, the many reasons advanced for quitting the All Progressives Congress, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Gen. Sani Abacha regime, Chief Tom Ikimi, obviously has an axe to grind with a former Lagos State Governor, Bola Tinubu. Ojo M. Maduekwe writes
Since August 27, when former Minister of Foreign Affairs in Gen. Sani Abacha’s government, Chief Tom Ikimi, withdrew his membership from the All Progressives Congress (APC) and gave his reasons in an advertorial on the same day, the battle line had been drawn between Ikimi and supporters of one of the co-founders of APC, Senator Bola Tinubu.
In Ikimi’s reflection, he narrates how the ‘propaganda’ of him being a sell-out is being sold by Tinubu through the aid of his supporters and goes on to allege that Tinubu instead is the one selling out the opposition dream.
“Who then is really selling and who is indeed buying? Who sold Mallam Nuhu Ribadu’s ACN presidential candidature in 2011? Was it Chief Tom Ikimi?”
Both Tinubu and Ikimi are sometimes referred to as lions. One is the ‘Lion of Bourdilon’ while the other, owing to a chieftaincy title, is the Oduma (Lion) of Igueben in Edo State. Once, in an interview, the Oduma said: “If I am the Oduma of Igueben, Oduma of Esanland and Oduma beyond Esanland, it means that I hold that cap in my community to ensure that I protect everybody… I don’t oppress people and I will not allow anybody oppress me.”
With his recent action, the Oduma claims to be refusing oppression. His argument is that since his former political party has refused his protection and also failed to protect him, he has resigned his membership in search of “friends who share a common vision” and where his “freedom, respect, honour and dignity would be guaranteed.”
There are two sides to Ikimi’s grouse with Tinubu. One is that he was schemed out of the party. The other is what he and others before him continue to allege; that the party’s constitution is hardly followed in making decisions.
“Those of us who had worked so hard towards the successful merger and creation of the APC were manipulated out of the scheme of things. In the bizarre struggle to seize control of the party, we were even accused by the self-proclaimed owner of the party of wanting to steal ‘their’ party.”
Though he made no effort at denying harbouring an ambition for the party’s chairmanship, to which some would view as selfish, there are those who would agree that one argument that shouldn’t be lost amidst Ikimi’s feeling of being relegated is the failure of the opposition from adhering to internal democracy. For a party that prides on being progressive, disregarding its own constitution in the election of its officials makes the APC unarguably undemocratic.
In reacting to Ikimi’s allegations, some APC supporters claimed that he was not popular in APC to win the chairmanship. On the opposite end of the discussion are those who feel that if indeed Ikimi couldn’t win the APC chairmanship, the party, for the purpose of strengthening its own internal democracy, should have nonetheless allowed a free and fair election.
They argued that Tinubu’s overbearing and direct influence in anointing party officials, which some analysts have argued in support of, suggests that he does not believe in the tenets of his party’s constitution and that he probably is worried about his influence that may have begun to diminish since some politicians defected from the PDP into the APC.
Although the APC may pretend not to be disturbed by the gale of defections of some of its highly placed members to the ruling PDP, including the recent withdrawal of membership by Ikimi, there’s no doubt that the opposition is troubled and unsettled. The cause of this is evident in the handling of how party officials continue to emerge, both from the states under the party’s control and the national leadership.
Defectors such as former governors of Sokoto and Kano States, Atahiru Bafarawa and Ibrahim Shekarau, both left the APC partly because state party structures were handed the incumbent governors who defected from the PDP, “without regards to original members.” The APC’s recent defector, Ikimi, argued that beyond the opposition’s disregard for “founding” state members of the party in favour of the defected PDP governors, the party’s constitution has also been abused by Tinubu. He claims that the APC’s national convention of June 13, 2014 was stage-managed and the emergence of the party’s national chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, and other national officers of the APC a sham.
Ikimi’s exit letter could be said to have further exposed the power play behind how the current opposition national leadership emerged and the reason behind their emergence. Ikimi claims that Tinubu singlehandedly appointed the national leadership just to remain relevant in the party.
It is said that Tinubu’s personality is that of a man who derives fulfilment from being in control. Ikimi on the other hand is a man that prides in being independent. Now, Ikimi had an ambition to become the national chairman of the APC. How possible was it going to be for Tinubu to put a leash on him as chairman? In his letter of withdrawal from opposition politics, Ikimi maintains this is where he and Tinubu couldn’t agree.
Tinubu’s supporters are however claiming that since he has “contributed” immensely to the emergency of the opposition APC, and the sustenance of the struggle for democracy since the June 12 era, then he’s earned not just the status of being regarded a leader of the opposition party but that he’s allowed to hold some level of influence over the emergence of party officials.
Dele Momodu argued this point in his THISDAY column: “It is said against him (Tinubu) that he imposes candidates on his party and is despotic and nepotistic. However, it is only fitting that someone who has deployed such huge and significant personal resources to the cause when others have shied from doing so should at least be allowed to influence the selection of those who would guide and lead that cause.”
In a March 26, 2013 interview with the Nation newspaper, Ikimi was asked the difference between the APC from PDP. “The APC will be a totally new party. The first draft of the Constitution and Manifesto has just been presented for our discussion and vetting. Among other things, the Constitution will establish an acceptable level of party supremacy; will ensure the creation of a broad-based political party whose membership will cut across all strata of our society permitting equality of membership of all.”
Those who side with Ikimi believe the above is not evident in today’s APC. They believe that what many of the supporters of Tinubu are doing when they suggest that his contribution to opposition politics entitles him to singlehandedly appointing party officials is to promote dictatorship. They said with time, if proper primaries are not conducted in the APC, then the party would be hitting itself below the belt.
One of the initial selling points of the APC was its promise to encourage internal party democracy that promotes transparency during its congresses and conventions for interested Nigerians to aspire to positions in the party.
Members argued that the enthronement of discipline in the country must commence from political parties. If this cannot be guaranteed in the present APC, there ceases to be opposition politics in Nigeria. Eventually, the battle is beyond Ikimi and Tinubu, but involves anyone who lays claim to being a progressive in defending the idea and ensuring that in every party, whether in the ruling PDP or opposition APC, that party constitutions are obeyed in the election of party officials for the purpose of strengthening democracy.