By Tope Templer Olaiya, Assistant Lagos City Editor
With the successful completion of the All Progressives Congress (APC) membership registration nationwide, though the total number of Nigerians captured during the recent exercise is still shrouded in secrecy, and the unveiling last week of the party’s roadmap, the stage is now set for the intense and fierce jostle for relevance ahead of its inaugural national convention billed for April 26.
Since the conclusion of the merger of dominant opposition parties – Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and a faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) last year, management of the party at the ward, local government, state and national levels had been on an interim arrangement.
In Lagos, one of the opposition’s legacy states, the emergence of a caucus group within the APC, named the Crusader Group, is drawing bad blood among party leaders and reigniting tension among existing caucuses in the defunct ACN, whose activities had before now been vetoed.
In 2006, during the dying days of the Bola Tinubu’s administration, because of problems the factions were creating in the party, an attempt was made to collapse all the groups, such as Justice Forum, Mandate, Mega and Asiwaju Unity Forum to work for the success of incumbent governor, Babatunde Fashola, ahead of the 2007 elections.
Since assuming office, Fashola has operated without the caucuses as much as possible, while trying to run a more efficient administration with less interference from politicians. However, the ambition of the Chief of Staff to Fashola, Mr. Mikhail Olanrewaju Babalola, to succeed his boss has been fingered as the force majeure behind this new group.
Inside sources revealed to The Guardian that despite repeated denials, the brainbox of the Crusaders is the interim chairman of the APC in Lagos, Chief Henry Ajomale.
“The Babalola mandate was given to Ajomale to organize and in doing so, he formed the Crusader Group. This group was launched at his own base, Oshodi-Isolo constituency, last year and members were recruited across the other local government areas in the state. Several people in Justice Forum, where Ajomale belonged to, also moved en mass to Crusader,” the source informed.
With this development, other groups are now at daggers drawn in the bid to resuscitate their activities. This scenario is, therefore, an irritant to the leadership of the party, as it is sending a wrong signal to other interests in the APC not from the defunct ACN.
Reports say there have been clandestine meetings of party stalwarts coming from CPC and ANPP in recent times to ensure they have a voice in the APC once a new leadership structure replaces the present interim arrangement.
“This is the latest challenge within the Lagos APC. Everybody is now meeting in groups and caucuses to start harmonizing their interests, which was ignited by the emergence of Crusader. Though we hear he has denied having anything to do with Crusader, plans are that he wants to push his son forward to run for House of Assembly in Isolo Constituency II,” another party source informed.
Factions and caucuses in party politics have proved very useful for influential members to negotiate for positions within the party but in the APC’s history, which trailed its Alliance for Democracy (AD), Action Congress (AC) and ACN days, managing the avalanche of interests in the party has been thorny.
The original faction between 1999 and 2003 was just Justice Forum. All other groups came after. In 2002, the leadership of the Justice Forum felt Tinubu was becoming too powerful and wanted to checkmate him by working against his second term. This was coupled with the intrigues playing out in the then Afenifere leadership.
This made the governor on the advise of his loyalists and late Mama Mogaji to set up another group that served as Bola Ahmed Tinubu Campaign Organization (BATCO). This later metamorphosed into Mandate Group. From 2003 to 2007, Mandate Group was dominant organ in party politics.
But in 2007, there was a change of guards. Though the Mandate spearheaded Fashola’s emergence, when he got into office, as a way of asserting himself, Fashola withered down the patronage and influence of the Mandate in government.
At the end of Fashola’s first term, majority of the Justice Forum leadership had become closer to the governor and wanted to use him to upstage the Mandate Group. This was the basis of urging Fashola to go for second term without Asiwaju Tinubu’s consent.
However, wise counsel prevailed and Commissioner for Works, Kadiri Hamzat’s father, Oba Olatunji Hamzat, was instrumental in mending the fence between Fashola and Tinubu.
As founder of Justice Forum, he was reported to have told his members that: “it was someone who brought this man to us, we cannot go ahead and endorse him without asking what has happen between him and the person who brought him to us.”
As a result, a rapprochement was reached between the governor and his godfather as the second ticket was given the green light.