August 01, (THEWILL) – For millions of members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC),who joined the party during the prolonged membership registration and validation exercise under the leadership of the party’s Caretaker/
The Supreme Court’s judgement of Wednesday, July, 28, 2021, which validated the election of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State has brought a fresh challenge to the ruling party as to whether it should continue to put the running of its affairs in the hands of a caretaker committee led by Buni or not.
In the judgement, the Supreme Court judges were said to have raised objection to a sitting governor presiding over a party affair.
APC stakeholders are, however, divided as to whether the party under the caretaker committee led by Buni, is not stubbornly digging its own grave by its continued stay in office and running its affairs.
THEWILL investigation shows that the leadership of the APC had for the past four months suspected the looming problem as to the legality of Buni as a sitting governor to continue running the affairs of the party, but chose to ignore it until the apex court’s ruling which brought it down home. Politics of 2023, according to findings has gained the upper hand and swept any legal or constitutional consideration out of reckoning. For one, many party chieftain are eyeing elective positions in in their states in 2023, while some others are battling godfathers that have been standing against their interest and ambitions.
The reactions within the party that have attended the apex court ruling, for example, is eye-opening. Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo Agege, who has vehemently supported the status quo in the party over the court ruling will not brook any force that challenges his perceived leadership of the party in the south-south, particularly in his Delta State. He would do everything to be in the good books of Governor Buni, a source said.
So too is General Secretary of the party, Senator John Akpnudodehe who is battling for control of the party in Akwa Ibom with Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio as well as Governor Buni, who enjoys an unquestioned hold over the party by virtue of his leadership of the interim committee and his closeness to leader off the party, President Muhammad Buhari.
The Supreme Court by a split decision of 4-3 saved Akeredolu’s job and this was sequel to the suit brought before it by Mr Eyitayo Jegede, the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) candidate in last year’s Ondo State Governorship Election.
Jegede was challenging the eligibility of Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN) on the grounds that his nomination letter was signed by Governor Buni at the helm of the CECPC.
The CECPC replaced the Adams Oshiomhole – led National Working Committee of the party after it was dissolved at an emergency meeting of the National Executive Committee’ meeting of the party in May, 2020.
Jegede contended, “The governor shall not, during the period when he holds office, hold any other executive office or paid employment in any capacity whatsoever.”
When THEWILL sought the legal and constitutional opinions of lawyers, the verdict was clear. They affirmed in unison that Constitutional provision is unambiguously definitive and contrary to the ruling party’s decision to appoint a serving governor as its caretaker committee’s chairman.
“This judgement is clear. The decision of the APC to go ahead with the congresses without the removal or stepping aside of Buni will be a clear violation of the Nigerian Constitution. It will also be a violation of their internal constitution, too.” seasoned lawyer, Kayode Ajulo, told THEWILL in an interview.
When reminded that the party had in a statement released last Thursday said it would go ahead with the scheduled ward congress, he replied with an adage: “Yoruba people say a dog that will get missing will not heed hunter’s warning.”
He added: “Festus Keyamo, who is their chief marketer during the 2019 election, has warned them. Equally, two special advisers to the President, Senator Babafemi Ojudu and Ita Enang, have also warned them.
“What the Supreme Court did on Wednesday was not a hint, but a caution and the better for them if they heed the caution.”
Also speaking with THEWILL, Femi Falana, SAN, cited other areas of the Constitution and the Electoral Act to make his case. According to him, both documents show that the constitution of APC Caretaker Committee under Governor Buni is unlawful.
He said: “Section 223 of the Constitution provides that every political party shall be headed by democratically elected members. They shall provide for periodic election on democratic basis for party excos. So it is clear that those that have not been democratically elected cannot run political parties. It is not for sole administrators or Ministers to run political parties.”
He argued that political parties cannot be run by undemocratically elected members and claims to be a political party.
“Even Section 85 of the Electoral Act,” Mr Falana continues, “is clear on the issue. It advised that the exco of the governing body of the party shall be held in a democratic manner which allows members to vote for the leadership of the party. So, to have an exco of a party, there must be an election.”
On the contentious Section 183 of the 1999 Constitution that PDP’s Jegede quoted in his case against Governor Akeredolu, Falana said.
“As an elected governor, your business is to govern the state for which you were elected. Governorship is a full-time job, you are in the business of running a state. You can’t take over a party, abandon state affairs and be going round the country conducting party affairs.”
REAL SOURCE OF FEAR
These legal and constitutional implications are the sources of real fears that the naysayers think may come to haunt the party stemmed from the actions taken by the party exco under Buni which they consider legally binding and subject to litigation.
According to Keyamo, Babafemi, Enang and Ajulo, the minority judgment of the Supreme Court has cast a big question on the legality and competence of the CENCPC.
According to Ojudu and Enang, “A cursory reading of the Minority judgment, we submit, appears to have swept the carpet of legality off the CECPC rendering it illegal, null, void and of no legal capacity to undertake any action on behalf and in the name of the party. It has also brought to question the legality of ALL the actions taken by her since inception.”
For Keyamo: “Any other person affected by the actions of the Buni-led committee will henceforth not fail to join him in any subsequent case in court. These include any subsequent election matter in any part of this country and all the APC congresses that are about to hold. The Supreme Court has just weaponised all those that would be aggrieved by the APC Congresses to proceed to court to Challenge the competence of the Buni-led CECPC to organise the Congresses and National Convention. The judiciary will subsequently destroy the entire structure of the Party from bottom to top.
The conduct and actions of the CECPC that would run foul of the law included the conduct of a new membership registration and validation exercise, which was vehemently opposed by former Chairman, Chief Bisi Akande, who criticized the Committee for exceeding its mandate and embarking on “an exercise in futility” ; the signing of nomination papers for APC candidates in the by-elections in 2020 and 2021 and the admission and waiver granted three PDP governors that defected to the APC along with other chieftains, which included three House of Representatives members, two Senators among others.
Under the life of the Buni led CECPC, the party has supervised and won some by-elections in 2020 and 2021 in the following Federal and State Constituencies: Imo North Senatorial Constituency, Kafin Hausa State Constituency in Jigawa State, the Gwaram Federal Constituency in Jigawa State and Sabon-Gari State Constituency in Kaduna State.
While these electoral victories have exceeded their legal limits for litigation, other actions that Keyamo and Adult think could mar the party’s chances in next general elections i include Thursday, 29th July, inauguration of APC congress committees for the state chapters for the July 31 ward congresses, which in the words of the secretary, Akpanudoedehe, who inaugurated them on behalf of the chairman, “ is to rebuild and reposition process of our party, our ward congresses to produce the ward executive committees and the delegates at that level.”
Confirming the fears of the naysayers, Falana said with the clear positions of Section 223 of the 1999 Constitution and Section 85 of the Electoral Act, actions taken by the Governor Buni committee can be subject to litigation.
He said; “Every illegal action is subject to litigation from the point of the law. It is either we are prepared to run a democracy or not.”
FALLOUT OF STAKEHOLDERS MEETING TO SAVE PARTY
Alarmed at the turn of events, stakeholders and ranking members of the party held different meetings in Abuja on Friday to wade into the controversy. One of the meetings involved more than six ranking Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SAN, who are members of the party. A source disclosed to THEWILL that the meeting was summoned by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo fellowing a phone call by President Muhammadu Buhari from London, with Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, Minister for Works and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola, Keyamo, Tahir and Governor Akeredolu in attendance. The other meetings involved governors elected on the platform of the APC. The meetings by the party SANs which was at the behest of President Muhammadu Buhari, ended rancorous. While Osinbajo was said to have insisted that the Congresses be postponed based on Buhari’s instructions to make room for wider consultation, Malami overruled him, insisting that the Congresses must go on. According to the source, Malami disclosed that the Supreme Court ruling did not invalidate governor Buni’s’ position as party Chairman and so the decision of the party should not be guided fearfully by what the party may do tomorrow.
At a point during the discussions, Osinbajo was said to have stood up to say he was acting on behalf of President Buhari but Malami stock to his guns, insisting that he would only differ if Osinbajo gets a formal letter from the President addressed to him, Malami and Buni.
The governors meeting was even more divisive, THEWILL learnt. Some of them were said to have approached Buni and asked him to save the party by stepping down and nominate somebody for the Chairmanship position.
“Surprisingly, our Yobe counterpart, Governor Buni bluntly refused to heed our plea to step down,” said the confidential source, adding that they took to that position because some of the governors learnt that “the apex court justices took their split decision to nudge our party on a good course. This was a window we felt we could seize to put the party on proper footing. The way it is, we are opening our flanks to PDP and this is sad.”
The insistence of the party on it old course of action is already throwing up litigations, especially by those who feel short changed by the party over exclusion from the coming Congresses.
Apart from Ajulo and other major stakeholders of the APC, have been calling on the party to halt further activities and embark on soul searching, the list for an against has been growing by the day.
Apart from Keyamo, who was also the party’s spokesperson during the 2019 general elections, presidential aides and Mr Babafemi Ojudu, Special Adviser to the President On Political Matters and Senator Ita Enang, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Niger Delta Affairs, Dr Muiz Banire, former Legal Adviser of the party, has added his voice to the naysayers. Collectively, they have called on the Buni-led leadership to step down and prevent the party from imploding through omission and commission, following the court ruling, ahead of the 2023 polls.
Those opposed to them, and who are urging the party to continue with the Congresses are Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo Agege and Senator Magnus Abe, who have jointly said the court ruling does not affect the party. As Omo-Agege puts it, “There is no law under our legal jurisprudence that bars or prohibits a Governor who is a member of a political party and won elections under the political party from carrying out specific assignments on-behalf of his party. How this will amount to holding an Executive office is beyond every stretch of human comprehension.
“In the light of the foregoing exposition, it is humbly and firmly stated that Section 183 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) only bars a Governor from holding Executive positions like being a Minister, or any other executive positions for which he shall be paid for. It does not by any scintilla of imagination, render the appointment of Governor Bumi as APC Caretaker Committee Chairman incompetent and will not in anyway, affect the legality or competence of the APC scheduled Congresses.”
Secretary of the party, Senator John Akpanudoedehe was dismissive of opposing views, interpreting the opposing views as politically motivated.
“If you are a politician, be a politician. In politics, you either win or lose. And you can always reactivate what will happen to you in the future. All that was said were personal opinions. We are going to conduct the congresses.
“A lot of people have seen that they are in a disadvantaged position in their communities, in their wards and they want to vent their anger by misinforming the public. All that you are hearing is because of the congresses, Akpanudoedehe said.
In the meantime, the rival PDP has taken to mocking the APC. On Friday, National Publicity Secretary, Mr Kola Ologbodiyan, in a statement, titled the “Supreme Court Ruling: APC Now Invalid, Carries Burden of “Let Buyer Beware,” said that Nigerians and the international community should beware that the All Progressives Congress (APC) has become technically invalidated and now lacks the statutory structure to operate as a political party in our country. This is given the pronouncement of the Supreme Court which clearly pointed to the nullity of APC’s subsistence and activities as a political party for having a sitting governor as its chairman in total violation of section 183 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) as well as the provisions of Article 17(4) of the APC constitution.
A further interpretation of the pronouncement of the Supreme Court showed that all activities of the APC under Mai Mala Buni, including nomination of candidates for elections, agreements, official decision reached, establishment of committees for statutory activities as well as its planned ward, local government and states congresses now hang loosely on the threat of invalidity.
According to the PDP, the fate of the APC as a defunct party is already sealed and the party cannot come out of this self-inflicted quagmire even if it engages in the drama of appointing a new National Chairman in place of Mai Mala Buni. This is because the APC has become statutorily vacuous, without a valid National Working Committee, without a valid National Executive Committee (NEC) and without a valid Board of Trustees (BoT) to legally initiate or carry out any official function including convoking any platform for the administration of the party. It is the end of the road for the APC.”