Legal Nigeria

2023: Fresh concerns as court orders burden APC

by Dare Odufowokan

The political atmosphere within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is rife with tension as fresh concerns mount over the growing lists of court orders, seeking to restrain Governor Mai Mala Buni of Yobe State along with other members from acting or parading themselves as the party’s Caretaker/ Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee, CECPC, members until the determination of substantive suits before the court. 

WITH its eyes on the fast approaching 2023 general elections, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is currently battling to overturn about a dozen court orders and injunctions that threaten, not only the lifespan of the Governor Mai Mala Buni of Yobe State led Caretaker/ Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC), but also the legitimacy of all its actions and decisions, even after it might have leave office.

Party leaders and members, according to checks by The Nation, are bothered by pronouncements by some trial judges stopping the scheduled APC party congresses across the country. According to reliable party sources, there are fears within the party that the decision of some party chieftains to seek redress in court in matters that concern the APC may create problem for the party ahead of the 2023 general elections.

Speaking to our correspondent in Lagos on Thursday, a former member of the party’s zonal executive committee said “party leaders and other concerned stakeholders are watching the unfolding recourse to litigations by aggrieved party members with growing concerns. We are worried because we all know what such development, coming in the build up to a general election, can do to the chances of the party before, during and after the polls.”

He also expressed dismay that the growing court orders are coming in spite of threat by the party to expel any member that takes the APC to court. “Last year, in a bid to ensure that we are not caught in a web of restraining court orders like we had in the past, the party’s leadership passed a resolution that members who drag the party to court will be expelled. We’ve had people expelled in Kwara and one or two other states. I am surprised we are seeing all these again,” he lamented.

A member of the party’s legal team in Imo State, while speaking on the development, said while efforts are on to ensure that no legal landmine is left unattended to, the rate at which members now go to court across the country is alarming. “We must not go the way of the confused political parties. APC must not make some of the mistakes that cost us some states in 2019. The opposition knows they cannot win elections, they are waiting for our mistakes,” he warned.

But some chieftains of the party insist the party has left members with no option than to return to the courts. Accusing the current leadership and some state governors of trying to gag members of the party while imposing their will on the party, they warned that more litigation will still befall the APC unless the grievances of the majority party members across the country are addressed genuinely and conclusively.

A chieftain of the party in Bauchi State, Alhaji Sani Sanin Mallam, explaining why he and other aggrieved members of the APC in the state instituted an action against the party to seek redress in court, he said, “It is a matter of honour. With all due respect to our party leaders, the court was set up for people who feel cheated to seek redress. We members of the APC in Bauchi State feel cheated by supporters of the governor.

“The APC constitution says where there is no agreement for consensus members should be allowed to contest for positions in a free and transparent manner. We rejected the consensus arrangement but some people sat down somewhere, wrote out names and announced some persons as ward executives, this is not acceptable. As we speak, our lawyers have gone to court to challenge the action.” He added that in its own interest, the party will have to seek genuine reconciliation.

Kegs of gun powder?

Recall that the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, has warned the party of imminent legal issues if Buni remains its caretaker chairman. He warned that peace in APC may be truncated if the party went ahead with its planned congresses under the leadership of Buni. He gave the split decision of the Supreme Court to uphold Rotimi Akeredolu as Governor of Ondo State as his reason. He warned that certain technicality found therein in the judgement may encourage suits from APC members to question the legitimacy of the 13 month old interim leadership of the party before, during and after the congresses and national convention.

“The little technical point that saved Governor Akeredolu was that Jegede failed to Buni in the suit. Jegede was challenging the competence of Governor Buni as a sitting Governor to run the affairs of the APC as Chairman of the Caretaker Committee. He contends that this is against Section 183 of the 1999 Constitution which states that a sitting Governor shall not, during the period when he holds office, hold any other executive office or paid employment in any capacity whatsoever. In other words, had Buni been joined in the suit, the story may have been different today as we would have lost Ondo State to the PDP,” Keyamo noted.

In Bauchi, the suit being championed by Sanin Mallam and others The APC was filed at the Federal High Court, Abuja with suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/841/2021. The case is between Babaji Abdullahi and six others Versus the All Progressives Congress and five others. The plaintiffs are merely seeking to overturn the outcome of the ward congress held in the State but observers say victory for them will definitely make nonsense of the exercise in all other states.

“Most of the suits and court orders are actually very dangerous kegs of gun powders that can explode in the face of the ruling party anything sooner or later. If not carefully handled and ensured to have been properly foreclosed, I see a situation where the opposition can ride on the outcome or process of any of these legal landmines to injure the APC before, during or after the next general elections,” an observer said.

On Wednesday, a High Court sitting in Asaba, the Delta State capital, presided over by Justice Onome Umukoro, restrained Governor Buni from parading as Chairman of the APC Caretaker Committee until the determination of a substantive suit before the court. The court also stopped the scheduled APC local government congresses slated for October 4, 2021. But sources close to the leadership of the party said it resolved to go ahead with the congress.

APC State Deputy Chairman, Olorogun Elvis Ayomanor and some other officials of the Delta APC had approached the court, challenging the outcome of the Ward Congress in the state. In an ex-parte application, the applicants, through their lead counsel, Daubry Richard, told the court to grant the seven- point reliefs sought, noting that going ahead with the September 4, Local Government Congress in Delta State, would cause more damage to his clients.

Principal among the reliefs sought by the applicants were; “An order of interim injunction of this court restraining the 2nd to 14th defendants/respondents from further acting or parading themselves as the members of the CECPC of the 1st defendant pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice already filed and served in the suit. Alternatively, an order of interim injunction of this court restraining the 2nd – 14th defendants/respondents from conducting the LG and State Congresses slated for September 4, 2021, or any other date, and other congresses of the 1st defendant in Delta State, pending the hearing and determination of the Motion on Notice already filed and served.

Few weeks back, a High Court in Ukwa Judicial Division at Aba and presided by Justice C. H Ahuchaogu, issued an order of interim injunction restraining the APC and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), by themselves, agents and privies from receiving, accepting and acting on the purported list of successful candidate for the APC ward Congresses in Abia State from the party’s committee on Abia ward congress.

This followed an exparte motion in a suit filed by two chieftains of the APC from Abia State, Davies Jumbo and Engr. John Nnah which sought the order of the court to restrain the APC National Caretaker Committee. The Respondents are, APC, Buni-led National Caretaker Executive Committee, INEC and the the Abia Chairman of the Caretaker Committee of the party, Donatus Nwankpa. The Court also restrained the respondents from conducting the local government and state congresses in Abia state pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.

Another chieftain of the APC, Barrister Kalu Agu Kalu, earlier asked a high court in Abuja for an order of perpetual injunction restraining the APC from going ahead with its planned congresses and the party’s national convention. Kalu, in the suit marked CV/1812/2021, dated July 29 and filed July 30, 2021, is also asking the court to declare as null and void any of the APC’s congresses and convention held under the current acting chairman of the APC’s caretaker committee, Mai Mala Buni.

The plaintiff claimed that Buni and others were never elected at any congress to run the affairs of the APC and that the party’s constitution does not allow any person who holds an executive position to occupy any position in any of its organs. In a -38 paragraph affidavit deposed to in support of the suit, the plaintiff stated that Buni “Is being sued solely in his capacity as the henchman of the usurpers of the functions of the organs and elected officers of the first defendant and as representing the other usurpers of the functions of the organs and elected officers of the first defendant.”

Kalu, who disclosed that he intends to contest for the position of National Legal Adviser of the APC during the party’s next convention said his interest would “be affected by a coñduct of a congress superintended by Buni who is a sitting Governor of Yobe State and also discharging the functions of the elected National Chairman and the National Working Committee of the first defendant.” The suit is still in court as we speak.

Growing concerns

In his ruling, Justice Umukoro granted seven days order of interim injunction restraining Buni and the CECPC from conducting the LG and State Congresses slated for September 4, 2021, or any other date, and other Congresses of the APC in Delta State, or parading as National Caretaker Committee of the party, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice already filed and served. Further hearing in the matter was adjourned till September 7, 2021.

The development is a source of worry to many party chieftains. Recalling that the aggrieved APC members premised their action on the fact that the 13-member Caretaker Committee fell short of the constitutionally required 24-member spread across not less than two-third of the 36 states and the FCT for any governing body of a political party, whether substantive or acting, as stipulated under Section 223(2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution (as altered), some observers warn that there is need to examine the demands and seek political solutions where possible.

“They are also contending that the headship of the Caretaker Committee by a sitting governor who by implication holds dual executive offices was prohibited by Section 183 of the 1999 Constitution and Article 17(4) of the APC Constitution, 2014 (as amended). According to them, by Article 13(4)(xvi) of the APC Constitution, 2014 (as amended) only the National Working Committee, NWC, rather than the National Executive Committee, NEC, of the party can constitute a Caretaker Committee in whatever form, nature or guise,” a party leader said.

“In some of the suits, aggrieved members are also contending that the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, SAN, who administered the oath of office on Governor Buni as Caretaker Chairman lacked the powers to do so under any provision of the APC Constitution, 2014 (as amended) as he was neither a member of the National Working Committee or even a member of NEC of APC. You can see why we are bothered with the developments,” he added.

Following the latest court order restraining its leadership, the APC has again cautioned its members against court cases, ahead of its Congresses and National Convention. Sen. James Akpanudohedehe, National Secretary, APC Caretaker and Extra-ordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) said this when he spoke with the party’s local government congresses committee on Thursday in Abuja. Akpanudoedehe said members who instituted legal action against the party would be severely sanctioned.

Announcing that the congresses will go on in spite of the court orders, he thanked the members for volunteering to serve the party at the time of renewal and re-engineering, saying they should go to their various states of primary assignment with confidence, dignity, commitment and pride.

“We also use this opportunity to reiterate the resolution of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of our party to severely sanction members and their sponsors who take the party to court,” he said. The APC scribe said the party’s leadership was determined to carry out to the latter the directive of President Muhammadu Buhari to rebuild the party from button up. He assured the committee members that their assignment, as well as the earlier nationwide Ward Congresses was legally protected, stressing that the party was on a solid ground.

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