By Leo Sobechi (Deputy Politics Editor), Adamu Abuh (Abuja), Seye Olumide, Rotimi Agboluaje (Ibadan) and Ann Godwin (Port Harcourt)
• APC dazed, staggers from Supreme Court ruling on Ondo guber
• Omo-Agege, Enang, Ojudu, Etta, Keyamo, Abe cross words
Wednesday’s Supreme Court split decision that upheld the election of Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, as winner of the November 20, 2020 governorship poll, has thrown up confusion within the fold of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC), particularly the status of the party’s Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) led by Governor Mai Mala Buni of Yobe State.
Stakeholders of the party, including the Secretary, Senator John Akpanudoedehe, Hillard Etta, Festus Keyamo (SAN) and President Muhammadu Buhari’s senior advisers, Babafemi Ojodu and Ita Enang, among others, have reacted to the court’s observation that Buni’s headship of the interim management committee of the party was in violation of Nigeria’s Constitution.
As early as 7:30a.m. yesterday, the national secretariat of the party was buzzing with human and vehicular traffic, just as a sense of urgency mixed with quiet despondency descended on the members. Nobody died, but there was a shadowy sense of foreboding and inexplicable worry written all over the faces of early callers at the No. 40, Blantyre Street, Wuse 2 secretariat in Abuja.
Despite warnings, the APC, yesterday, said its July 31 ward congresses nationwide will hold as planned. The party, at a media briefing held in Abuja, told its members to ignore statements from some of the party leaders calling for the removal of the Buni-led caretaker committee.
Speaking to journalists about the slim victory from the apex court ruling, CECPC Secretary, Akpanudoedehe, faulted notions in some quarters that the court’s observations would affect the ward congresses scheduled to begin tomorrow.
While contending that the Supreme Court’s judgment had no bearing on the CECPC’s status and its membership, Akpanudoedehe urged party faithful and aspirants to disregard the speculations and come out en masse to participate in the ward congresses.
Alluding to the position canvassed by the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Mr. Keyamo, he explained that in politics, one can win or lose, stressing, “A lot of people have seen that they are in a disadvantaged position in their communities and wards. They want to vent their anger by misinforming the public.
“I want to assure them that the congresses would be fair and transparent. I advise them to go to their wards and be a party man and a politician who should expect to either win or lose. You can always re-strategise and not to destroy the party.
“On behalf of the caretaker committee, we stand firmly with the national chairman and declare our unalloyed loyalty to President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We will not be used to bring down the government of the APC. We will hold the congresses and we remain firm on it,” he stated.
A member of the dissolved National Working Committee of the party, Etta, regretted that in the hurry to do away with a properly constituted working committee, those who conspired to dismantle the leadership structure failed to take the constitutional provisions into consideration.
Etta, who disclosed that the court case challenging the dissolution of the APC NWC was still at the appellate stage, stated: “My take is that rather than the matter being resolved by the judiciary, it will save us more if we can find a political solution to it. I have been in politics for a long time and I know that judicial pronouncement does not make for political reconciliation.nullnull
“Though, I have not seen the court judgment but I have read some interventions from prominent party members and my summation is that the Anambra primaries have been impacted by that judgment.”
However, giving a legal perspective to the implication of the apex court’s findings on CECPC’s chairman, one of APC’s lead counsel, Chief Adeniyi Akintola (SAN), condemned as erroneous the impression that the Buni committee lacks the powers to conduct the party’s congresses.
Akintola, who led the legal team of Governor Akeredolu, maintained that the positions of the CECPC chairman and secretary are sacrosanct, as such “our members should entertain no fears at all. Our candidate in Anambra is also on a firm ground.”
He stated: “The decision of the tribunal upholding the right of any party member, including those holding party offices remain sacrosanct. That position was affirmed by the Court of Appeal. The same position was affirmed by the majority judgment of the Supreme Court. None of the four justices that gave the majority judgment had anything to say concerning the holding of party office concurrently with political offices.
“I was part of the legal team, in fact, number two in the hierarchy of the team of lawyers that defended our party and candidate, the Ondo governor. A minority judgment remains what it is, it has no efficacy. The only value a minority judgment has is for academic and research purposes. You can’t even cite it as an authority.”
But projecting into the future and the wider implications of the Supreme Court decision, Keyamo said there is no doubt that the ruling affects APC, stressing that the party must halt all preparation towards the conduct of the nationwide congresses forthwith.
While emphasising that he was merely doing his professional bit “to save our party from imminent danger in the light of the Supreme Court judgment,” the Minister of State for Labour noted that “to ignore this and do otherwise would be tantamount to playing with fire and the opposition would simply wait till our Presidential primaries in 2023 to disqualify our candidate and destroy the party.”
The Senior Advocate of Nigeria declared: “The Supreme Court by a narrow split decision today (4-3) held that Governor Akeredolu cannot be removed as governor of Ondo State.
The little technical point that saved Governor Akeredolu was that (Eyitayo) Jegede failed to join Governor Mai Mala Buni in the suit.
Jegede was challenging the competence of Buni as an incumbent governor to run the affairs of the APC as chairman of 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. Therefore, 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.”
Keyamo called for the immediate suspension of the planned congresses across the country, contending that it would amount to an exercise in futility as the competence of Governor Buni to organise the congresses has been called to question by the Supreme Court.
Suggesting remedial steps the party could take to move forward and avoid the grave danger that lurk ahead, Keyamo stated: “Firstly, the NEC of the party can urgently meet and consider and reconstitute the CECPC to exclude, not only Gov. Buni, but anyone holding any executive position in any government establishment as stipulated in Article 17 of the APC Constitution.
“Alternatively, the Board of Trustees of the Party, which includes Mr. President, can be activated to organise a national convention in line with Article 13 of the APC Constitution, where it is given such powers. Those powers can be delegated at the meeting to a committee in line with the APC Constitution, which will run the party and plan the convention. The new Exco can then plan for congresses.”
Former federal lawmaker, Magnus Abe, has criticised the position of Keyamo, saying his opinion will lead to ‘self-immolation’. In a statement he personally signed yesterday, the lawmaker, who is a board member of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), expressed surprise over Keyamo’s stance on the matter, especially his insistence that the APC must immediately halt all preparations for the forthcoming congresses and disband the planning committee.
According to Abe, most members of the APC accepted the reality of the CECPC as a decision of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party with President Buhari as leader of the party in attendance. Abe explained that ironically, Keyamo was one of the legal minds whose stand swayed the President in support of the CECPC option as the only means to save the party from imminent self-destruction at the time.
He argued that almost every convention committee or caretaker committee of every political party that is privileged to have a governor in its fold has been chaired by a governor, adding that almost every primary that produced every governorship candidate has been chaired by a governor.
He pointed out that a decision by the Supreme Court that chairmanship of a committee constituted by NEC for a particular purpose can constitute an executive position or paid employment as envisaged by the constitution must be a matter of evidence.
Abe added that there are documents and other materials pertaining to Buni and the absence of his remuneration, insisting that other activities will be evidence before any judicial proceedings.
Abe advised party leaders to give full support to the CECPC to conclude its assignment and usher in a new elected executive for the party.
Deputy President of the Senate, Omo-Agege, Enang and Ojudu presented different perspectives on the legality of Governor Buni’s headship of the caretaker committee. Omo-Agege said the Caretaker Committee was duly constituted by APC NEC and given a specific mandate to put necessary measures in place to conduct a seamless elective national convention of the party.
He contended that Section 183 of the Constitution 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 Buni as APC Caretaker Committee chairman incompetent and will not in anyway, affect the legality or competence of the APC scheduled congresses.”
BUT Ojudu and Enang, advanced contrary views and called for the suspension of the ward and other congresses pending the determination of the legal status of the CECPC to administer the party. The duo, who are special aides to the leader of the party, President Buhari, enjoined the party to
“commission legal experts to review, appraise and give considered opinion on the import of the majority judgment and in extreme particular, the reasoning in the minority judgment of the Supreme Court as to the legal status of the CECPC to proceed further with any activity in the name of the party or otherwise.”
Also, a former National Secretary of Labour Party (LP), Mr. Kayode Ajulo, has warned the ruling party about the future legal implications and dangers of retaining Mala-Buni to supervise the party’s primaries ahead of the 2023 elections.
According to him, “my humble but cosmic review of the judgment comes with an indication that the Governor of Yobe State, Mai Mala Buni, has to with immediate effect, vacate his seat, as the Chairman of APC.
“As a one time national secretary of Labour Party, national chairman and national secretary are the soul of the party, they are saddled with the day-to-day running of the party and the continuous stay of Mala-Buni as Chief Executive Officer of APC runs contrary to provision of the Constitution and as such may be an albatross on the party soon, as all he had done before would be null and void, including nomination of candidates within the period of his so-called leadership of the party.”
Ajulo’s position tallied with that of President, Yoruba Ronu Leadership Forum, Mr. Akin Malaolu, who flayed the party for bringing on board Mala-Buni in the first instance, which according to him was a flagrant disobedience to the party’s Constitution and the 1999 Constitution.
The immediate past Minister of Communication and chieftain of APC in Oyo State, Barrister Adebayo Shittu, yesterday, cautioned his party against going ahead with the Saturday ward congresses. This is also as a former Speaker of the Oyo State House of Assembly and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Akin Oniginde, urged the party and its chairman, Mala Mai Buni, to review his action.
Shittu said: “I want to congratulate the entire membership of the APC throughout the country, firstly on the victory of Akeredolu in Ondo State. But more importantly, we must congratulate ourselves that we have been guided away from the precipice from which we were if that judgment had not come up to say that Buni cannot be Chairman of APC.