Wednesday’s Supreme Court judgement in the Ondo State governorship election might have opened the pandora’s box within the All Progressives Congress (APC) and exposed the ruling party to a bleak political future.
If legal experts’ analyses of the judgment are anything to ponder, then, the fate that befell the APC in Zamfara State after the 2019 elections would be a child’s play by the time the consequences of their current choices began to manifest before and after the 2023 polls.
Even more, stakeholders are currently divided over the matter with the party congresses still going ahead as scheduled. While a majority of party members were convinced the situation portended serious crisis for the party, a few others were of the view that the party was on the right path.
In its split judgment of four against three by the seven member-panel, which sat on the Ondo governorship election petition, the Supreme Court had contended that the reason it did not sack Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of the state, was because the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its governorship candidate in the October 10, 2020 election, Eyitayo Jegede, failed to join the National Chairman of the party’s Caretaker Committee and Governor of Yobe State, Mai Mala Buni, even when the issues revolved around him.
Expectedly, this development had immediately divided the stakeholders in the APC over Buni’s continued stay, both as national chairman of the party and governor of Yobe State.
Section 183 of the 1999 constitution unequivocally forbids a sitting governor from combining his office with any other job, both as executive positions, same as Article 17 (iv)of the APC constitution.
Interestingly, this aspect of the judgement, though simplified by the Supreme Court justices, has since ruffled feathers in the APC as it has the capacity to also affect the party in the forthcoming November 6 governorship election in Anambra State as well as the ward congresses of the party expected to commence Saturday nationwide.
For instance, the fate of Senator Andy Uba, candidate of the APC is currently uncertain as the party, as was the case in Zamfara, might be unable to field any candidate for the election.
And despite the party’s seeming attempt to brush off the grave implications of the judgment, top echelons of the APC are worried of the potential minefield it has set itself up against.
The majority decision of the Supreme Court delivered by Justice Emmanuel Agim, clearly held that the failure of the appellants to include Buni as a party was fatal to their case, because all the issues in the appeal revolved around Buni and ought to have been made a party.
Although Justice Mary Odili, in a dissenting minority verdict, upheld Jegede’s appeal that the nomination of Akeredolu, which was signed by Buni was not valid under Section 183 of the 1999 Constitution.
Thus, many of APC’s big wigs couldn’t believe how close they came to losing Ondo to the PDP and that the only saving grace was that, the appellant – either by providence or commission – failed to include Buni as a party in the suit.
Already, the APC in Zamfara State has taken the party to court asking it to declare as illegal, the fact that Buni has continued to combine the two of offices of governor and national chairman being executive positions, adding that it contravened both the constitution of APC and the country, the 1999 constitution as amended.
It was against this backdrop, that some aides of President Muhammadu Buhari called for the sack of the national caretaker committee of the party and a suspension of tomorrow’s congresses in the immediate.
Soon after the judgement, Minister of State for Labour, Festus Keyamo (SAN), was the first to advise the APC to halt all preparations and conduct of congresses nationwide forthwith, having analysed the implications of the judgment.
“The planned congresses across the country slated for this weekend must immediately be suspended, because it will be an exercise in futility as analysed above. The competence of Governor Mai Mala Buni to organise the congresses has been called to question by the Supreme Court.
“The NEC of the party can urgently meet and consider and reconstitute the CECPC to exclude, not only Governor Buni, but anyone holding any executive position in any government establishment as stipulated in Article 17 of the APC Constitution,” Keyamo said.
Apart from Keyamo, two senior officials in the presidency, the Special Adviser to the President on Political Matters, Senator Babafemi Ojudu and Senior Special Assistant to the President on Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Ita Enang have also joined the call for the Buni committee to be disbanded.
Ojudu and Enang, in a joint statement, also said the judgement appeared to have swept the carpet of legality off the committee, rendering it illegal, null, void and of no legal capacity to undertake any action on behalf and in the name of the party.
They said it has also brought to question, the legality of all the actions taken by the Buni-committee since inception.
“Accordingly, in view of the impending ward, local government, states and zonal congresses and indeed the national convention (which the CECPC was primarily set up to do), it is our view that the ward and other congresses scheduled for July 31, 2021 be paused, suspended and put on hold pending the determination of the legal status of the CECPC to undertake all the activities it so far has, and indeed jurisdiction to conduct the congresses and convention.
“That the party carefully and dispassionately cause her team of legal experts to review, appraise and give considered opinion on the import of the majority and in extreme particular the reasonings 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.
“That option, including painful ones be recommended to perfect the party leadership in the eyes of the law with legal capacity to do what it ought to do. That the team also recommend measures to perfect matters in respect of pending elections and matters to rescue challenged pending processes.
“That Time being of the essence, very limited timelines be set for each of the proposed steps. One cannot put something on nothing and expect it to stand.
“Finally, this being a Supreme Court judgement, we should be thankful that it has come very early that it will guide our Party to victory in 2023 as we mind carefully the legal Status of our systems, guiding us on avoidable actions as we approach the 2023 tape to brace successfully,” the statement read.
But the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo Agege, has objected to the position of the aides of the president and others.
In his legal opinion, he said, “Wednesday 28th, July, 2021, the Supreme Court delivered its judgment dismissing the appeal initiated by Eyitayo Jegede against the election of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu. Surprisingly, mischief-makers for obviously nefarious intensions, resort to misinterpret the said judgment vis-a-vis the purport of section 183 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), as it affects the APC Congresses scheduled for Saturday.
“Without much ado, it is important to state that the majority decision of the Supreme Court in Jegede’s case, emphatically dismissed the appeal and did not consider the issue of the provisions of Section 183 of the 1999 Constitution, neither did the majority decision make any comments on the competence of Governor Mai Mala Buni as the Chairman of the APC Caretaker Committee. The appeal was dismissed on the ground of competence or lack thereof for the non-joinder of a necessary party to the suit at the lower court.
“It is, therefore, disingenuous, unsound and mischievous to attempt to misinform the reading public of what was not the ratio decidendi of the judgment of the court. Even if the apex court had considered the provisions of Section 183 of the 1999 Constitution, the majority panel would still have dismissed the appeal.
“Having established the above point, it is necessary to proceed to clear the gross misconception of the provisions of section 183 of the 1999 Constitution.
“The sole question that begs for consideration is whether the appointment of Governor Mai Mala Buni as the APC Caretaker Committee Chairman offends the provisions of Section 183 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended)?
“In answering the above question, it is pertinent to reproduce the provisions of Section 183 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) as follows: the governor shall not, during the period when he holds office, hold any other executive office or paid employment in any capacity whatsoever.
“In view of the foregoing constitutional provisions, the question becomes: Is the appointment of a Governor to Chair a Caretaker Committee of his political party, same not being an ‘Executive Office’ in respect of which he is to be paid remuneration, incompetent?
“Can it be said that a State Governor, who is the Chairman of the Governors Forum of Nigeria is occupying an “Executive office”? Can it also be argued that the President cannot be appointed as the Chairman of Africa Union?
“From the explicit provision of Section 183 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), it is absolutely impossible and untenable to argue that the provisions of Section 183 bars a Governor from being a Chairman or member of a Caretaker Committee set up by his or her political party.
“More so, the position of the Chairman of a Caretaker Committee cannot by any sense of imagination, logic or simple common sense be classified as a being a salaried Executive office.
“It is important at this point to restate the fact, that the Caretaker Committee was duly constituted by the NEC of the party and given a specific mandate to put necessary measures in place to conduct a seamless elective National Convention.
“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 Buni as APC Caretaker Committee Chairman incompetent and will not in anyway, affect the legality or competence of the APC scheduled Congresses.” Omo Agege stated
For the record, however, Article 17 (iv) of the APC constitution is clear and states that no official of the party shall at same time hold any executive position in any government institution.
Therefore, the argument that being party chairman is not an executive position may not apply here in the case of the APC constitution, which states clearly that, “no official of this party can hold any position in any government institution.”
In other words, even if supporters of Buni were interpreting Nigeria’s constitution upside down, they cannot do the same to the party’s constitution, which states that no official of its shall hold any position in any government. That, of course, is considered clear enough.
By implication, if the APC goes ahead and holds the congresses, it might turn out an effort in futility.
Unfortunately, the first casualty of this poor choice by the APC might be the party’s candidate in the Anambra State governorship election, Senator Andy Uba.
While some members have conceded Uba’s fate to time, others, who were convinced about the position of the law in the case have concluded that the APC has no candidate in the Anambra election.
“Let’s forget it, we are only wasting our time. The Supreme Court has spoken, so, what do we want again? All what Senator Ovie Omo-Agege is saying is rubbish,” a top member of the party and government, held last night.
Chuks Okocha in Abuja