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Nigeria: Supreme Court Judgment in Ondo Governorship Sets Off Another Legal Crisis in APC

With the congresses of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) slated to commence this weekend, Wednesday’s Supreme Court ruling in the Ondo State governorship election, which upheld the victory of

Rotimi Akeredolu

With the congresses of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) slated to commence this weekend, Wednesday’s Supreme Court ruling in the Ondo State governorship election, which upheld the victory of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN, might have inadvertently set off another round of crisis in the party.

Akeredolu’s victory, which rested on a split judgment of four against three out of the seven justices on the election panel, had managed to scale through because the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) failed to join Buni in the matter.

The PDP candidate in the election, Eyitayo Jegede, apparently not satisfied with the appeal court judgment in the petition, had approached the apex court to upturn the decision of the appellate court and declare him and the PDP winner on grounds that Akeredolu was not validly nominated as candidate of the APC in the said election.

His prayer was hinged on the fact that the acting National Chairman of the APC and Yobe State Governor, Mai Mala Buni, was the one, who forwarded Akeredolu’s name to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as candidate of the APC in the October 20, 2020 poll.

Buni, it would be recalled, was appointed in acting capacity by the National Working Committee (NWC) of the APC in May last year, after the sack of then National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole.

But the petitioners in their appeal had argued that Buni, according to section 183 of the constitution and article 17(4) of the APC, could not function both as governor and acting chairman of the APC concurrently.

To that extent, the PDP and its candidate submitted that Akeredolu’s nomination breached the law and as such, his election should be nullified.

Unfortunately for the PDP, while four of the justices held that the appeal of Jegede and his party was incompetent, because it did not include Buni as a party, the remaining three Justices held that it was not necessary to join Buni since the APC was already made a party to the suit.

Thus, in the majority decision delivered by Justice Emmanuel Agim, the apex court 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.

In his judgment, which further dismissed the appeal, Justice Inyang Okoro, also held that the allegations made against Buni were grievous and so should have been made a party to explain his side.

This position was equally canvassed by Justices Mohammed Garuba and Mohammed Abubakar.

But in their dissenting judgment, Justice Mary Peter-Odili, who presided as well as Justices Ejembi Eko and Ibrahim Saulawa, held that since the APC was already a party to the suit, it was not necessary to join Buni.

According to Peter-Odili, Buni was just an agent while APC was the principal, insisting thatthe case of the appellants had merit and the appeal should be allowed.

She contended that Akeredolu’s election should have been nullified, while the appellants declared winner of the October 20, 2020 governorship poll.

Eko, on his part, maintained that Buni violated the Constitution, when as a sitting governor, still acted as Chairman of the APC by submitting Akeredolu’s name to INEC for purposes of the governorship poll.

Their disagreement notwithstanding, all the Justices dismissed the cross appeals filed by INEC and the APC for being academic.

But after studying the judgment of the Supreme Court, the Minister of State for Labour and member of the APC, Mr. Festus Keyamo, SAN, in a leaked memo to the party leadership, said the APC must be wary of the dire consequences of the judgment especially, as it looked forward to its congresses and national convention.

It is also why the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has advised the Buni to resign from his position as the National Caretaker Committee Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), because it contravened a constitutional provision, which made his continuous stay illegal.

Sharing the PDP position, a former National Secretary of the Labour Party and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Kayode Ajuko, also said the judgment was enough indication that the chairman of the APC should resign from office immediately

That nonetheless, President Muhammadu Buhari, has reacted to the Supreme Court judgment and said the decision had brightened the chances of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in future polls in the country.

Also, Governor Akeredolu thanked the judiciary for not yielding to any influence, even as he dedicated the election petition success to God.

The ruling APC has also hailed the decision of the apex court as being in tune with popular vote.

Similarly, the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Sanwo-Olu and the PDP candidate in the Ondo election, Jegede, have also congratulated Akeredolu over his Supreme Court victory.

However, dissecting the judgment and its implications in what turned out a leaked memo to the APC leadership, Keyamo said, “The Supreme Court by a narrow split decision today (4-3) held that GOV. AKEREDOLU cannot be removed as Governor of Ondo State. The little technical point that saved Gov AKEREDOLU was that Jegede failed to join GOV. Mai Mala Buni in the suit.

“Jegede was challenging the competence of Gov. Mai Mala 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.

“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 includes any subsequent election matter in any part of this country and all the APC “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. We are lucky the Supreme Court has just given us a great and useful hint to save our Party just before the beginning of our Congresses. We cannot gamble with this delicate issue. The time to act is NOW.

“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 Gov. Mai Mala Buni to organise the congresses has been called to question by the Supreme Court.

“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.

“Under Article 25 of the APC Constitution, it is the National Chairman OR TWO-THIRDS OF MEMBERS OF NEC that can Summon a NEC meeting. Since we cannot vouch for the legality of any NEC meeting summoned by MAI MALA now, the safest is to get TWO-THIRDS of NEC members to sign an invitation to summon a NEC meeting, where the CECPC would be reconstituted and our Party would be safe.

“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.

“Above are my humble and respectful suggestions to save our Party from imminent danger in the light of the Supreme Court judgment today. 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.

“I have done my professional bit to the Party. I can do no more.”

On its part, the PDP, which advised Buni to resign from his position as the National Caretaker Committee Chairman of the APC, also called on Nigerians to use the opportunity of the ongoing Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) by INEC and the party’s membership registration to vote out the APC government in 2023.

PDP maintained that his best bet was to resign as the acting national chairman of APC as section 183 of the 1999 constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court in the Ondo State governorship election has declared the position illegal.

National Publicity Secretary of PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan, who spoke on the matter, however, said the APC government had brought poverty to the country, with soaring pricesof food stuff hitting the roof.

Specifically addressing the Supreme Court judgment that validated the election of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo state, the PDP said, “We insist that the process that led to the emergence of Governor Akeredolu was and remains a violation of the APC constitution as well as the 1999 constitution.

“Section 183 of the 1999 constitution states that no governor should hold any other position in any capacity apart from the office of the governor. As you know, this was the major ground upon which we went to the Supreme Court.”

Ajuko, in a statement, said, “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’re saddled with the day to day running of the party and the continuous stay of the Governor 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 warned.

INEC had declared APC and Akeredolu winner of the Ondo Governorship Election held on October 20, 2020 having won majority of votes cast at the poll.

But, the petitioners had claimed that his election should be nullified since he was not lawfully nominated.

The Ondo State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, led by Justice Umar Abubakar-led struck out the petition for lacking jurisdiction in the matter.

“Issues raised therein in this petition are settled issue of internal affairs and management of a political party on which this tribunal has no jurisdiction,”Abubakar held.

Abubakar, who delivered the judgment via zoom, therefore, upheld the reelection ofAkeredolu.

Similarly, the Court of Appeal panel presided over by Justice Theresa Orji-Abadua, upheld the judgment of the tribunal and dismissed the appeal for lacking merit.

President Muhammadu Buhari, who formally reacted to the Supreme Court judgement affirming the re-election of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State, said the ruling has brightened the chances of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in future polls in the country.

The President, in a release Wednesday by his Media Adviser, Femi Adesina, noted that the Supreme Court judgement, preceded by that of the Court of Appeal, further bolstered the strength and reach of the APC, and its bright chances of consolidation in coming elections.

He, therefore, called on the opposition to sheathe the sword, work for the development of Ondo State, and wished the government and people a prosperous future.

Buhari also joined members of the APC in felicitating with Akeredolu over the Supreme Court judgement, and urged the governor, and all elected leaders of the party, to always place the people first in their consideration of development programmes and projects, affirming that the popularity of the APC would continue to depend on performance and acceptance by the electorate.

He extolled Akeredolu for assiduously working for the development of the state, with reforms that have continued to attract the goodwill of investors, and his insistence that education, health and security take priority.

Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu has dedicated his victory at the Supreme Court to God, while at the same time thanking the judiciary for not yielding to influence of any sort.

He also appreciated his legal team, the Independent National Electoral Commission and his party, the APC.

“I have every reason to thank God and appreciate the judiciary for not yielding to any influence. We can still be proud of our judiciary. The glory of this election petition success is to God Almighty.

“I want to thank the legal team that has represented us. My team, led by Chief Akin Olujimi and other wonderful lawyers for their wonderful work.

“We thank the INEC team, Charles Edosanwa, SAN; APC team, Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, Sola Oke and other eminent lawyers,” he said

The Governor said with the judgement of the apex court, the legal tussle had been laid to rest, stressing that it was time to work more for the people.

The All Progressives Congress (APC) has hailed the Supreme Court decision upholding the victory of the Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu in the last governorship election.

National Secretary of the Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee of the party, Senator John Akpanudoedehe, in a statement issued Wednesday said Akeredolu’s administration was now poised to redouble the tempo of quality service delivery.

His words: “Fondly and popularly referred to as ‘Aketi’, the Governor Akeredolu administration is now poised to redouble the tempo of quality service delivery and consolidate its giant strides in the critical areas of education, healthcare delivery, infrastructure development, security, youth empowerment and industrialisation.

“For many residents of the Sunshine State, who joked that Akeredolu has turned the state into a busy construction site, it rings true for a man who is truly passionate about the development of his independent-minded, enlightened and progressive people and state.”

He noted that Akeredolu had followed up his people-oriented policies with several other developmental initiatives, which were returning the state to its deserved status and consolidating on the landmark and progressive legacies of the late Chief Michael Adekunle Ajasin, the first civilian governor of the state.

Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has said the split judgment by the Supreme Court on the flawed nomination of the Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, showed that there was merit in its appeal against his election.

The party noted that the majority judgement as presented by the Supreme Court did not address the impunity in the action of the Yobe State Governor, Mai Mala Buni, in functioning as the Chairman of the APC while at the same time holding office as a sitting governor, contrary to the provisions of section 183 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) as well as the constitution of the APC.

According to a statement by the National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan, the PDP said the fact that three justices out of the seven-man panel upheld itsposition on the illegality of Akeredolu’s nomination confirmed his candidacy as cancerous and a brazen violation of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) as well as the constitution of the APC.

“It is noteworthy that the judgement did not disagree with our position that Mai Mala Buni as Governor of Yobe State cannot function as National Chairman of a political party and nominate a candidate for election to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

“While our party restates its utmost respect for the institution of the judiciary, especially the Supreme Court, the PDP had expected the Apex Court to stand up as the conscience of our nation by halting the absurdities and impunities being entrench in the political firmament by the APC,” the PDP said.

Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu has congratulated his Ondo State counterpart, Mr Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN) on his Supreme Court victory, which upheld his victory in the October 10, 2020 governorship election.

Governor Sanwo-Olu, who was the Chairman of the All Progressives Congress Committee on the Ondo State gubernatorial election, also congratulated President Muhammadu Buhari, the national leadership of the All Progressives Congress, as well as members of the party in Ondo and across the country on the victory.

Sanwo-Olu, in a statement, signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Gboyega Akosile, described the Supreme Court ruling as a “validation of the people’s mandate”, saying the election results announced by INEC were evident that Governor Akeredolu was validly elected by Ondo people.

“As democrats, we must submit ourselves to the tenets of democracy, which include post-election litigation. Today’s judgement has put paid to all insinuations and doubts about the resounding victory of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu.

“I, therefore, call on all lovers of democracy, especially the people of Ondo State to come together for a continuation of good governance and the developmental process of Ondo, started by Governor Akeredolu from his first term of office.

“On behalf of the people and government of Lagos State, I congratulate my brother, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, on his victory at the Supreme Court.” Sanwo-Olu said.

Deji Elumoye, Chuks Okocha, Adedayo Akinwale, Alex Enumah in Abuja and James Sowole in Akure