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Electoral Act: Three ministers resign, others in a fix

By Leo Sobechi (Deputy Politics Editor), Terhemba Daka, Ameh Ochojila, Sodiq Omolaoye, Joke Falaju, Matthew Ogune (Abuja) and Opeyemi Babalola (Lagos)
12 May 2022   |   4:32 am
There were more questions than answers over the controversial Section 84(12) of the Electoral Act 2022, as the Court of Appeal in Abuja, yesterday, voided the ruling of a high court that nullified the controversial Section.

• A’Court knocks lower court on Section 84 (12) • Akpabio, Onu, media aide obey Buhari’s directive, resign
• Education junior minister resigned April 28 • Ngige: I will consult my constituency before I resign
• Late resignation may hurt ministers’ ambition, stirs up legal debate over 30-day ultimatum before primaries
• Reps align with Senate, amend Electoral Act for statutory delegates
• Senate adjourns sitting to allow lawmakers participate in party primaries
• Why INEC will keep rejecting parties’ request for extension of deadline for primaries – REC Igini

There were more questions than answers over the controversial Section 84(12) of the Electoral Act 2022, as the Court of Appeal in Abuja, yesterday, voided the ruling of a high court that nullified the controversial Section.

Although the appellate court, essentially, validated the controversial law, it said it would have ruled otherwise if the main suit was properly brought before it. The law bars political appointees from seeking elective public office or voting as delegates in a party primary unless they resign their positions.

Delivering its judgment, a three-member panel of the appellate court headed by Justice Hamma Barka, held that the Federal High Court, Umuahia, lacked jurisdiction to have adjudicated the suit.

The appellate court further said the plaintiff, Nduka Edede, lacked the legal standing to have filed the case. The panel also held that Edede did not establish any cause of action that would have given the grounds to approach the court over the matter.

Consequently, the Appeal Court struck out the case marked: FHC/UM/CS/26/2022, which Edede lodged before the Federal High Court in Umuahia. The judgment was on the appeal marked: CA/OW/87/2022 and was filed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Recall that President Muhammadu Buhari, while signing the amended bill into law in February 2022, urged the parliament to expunge Clause 84(12) of the Act.

The Court of Appeal said if it were to decide the case on its merit, the provision is unconstitutional because it is in conflict with Section 42(1)(a) of the Constitution. The court said the controversial clause denied a class of Nigerians their right to participate in elections.

Justice Barka, who read the lead judgment, said: “I agree with the appellant that from Edede’s affidavit in support of the originating summons, no discernible personal interest linking the first respondent has been shown. To that end, I am in full agreement with the counsel to the appellant also that the first respondent, in this circumstance, lacked the requisite locus standi to have initiated the action before the lower court and robbed the court the jurisdiction to entertain the suit.

“In short, all I have been saying is that owing to the fact that the first respondent lacked the locus standi to sue, there being no right of action to institute same, the lower court has no jurisdiction to have entertained the suit and thereby laboured in vain. The resultant effect is that the action before the lower court is liable to be struck out and it is accordingly struck out,” Justice Barka said.

The court then proceeded to determine the case on its merit and held that the provision is unconstitutional because it violates Section 42 (1)(a) of the Constitution and denied a class of citizens their right to participate in election.

Justice Barka said: “It is my view that the provision of Section 84(12) of the Electoral Act 2022, specifically, targets political appointees and disqualified them from voting delegates or from being voted for at convention or congress of any political party for the purpose of the nomination of candidates for any election.  

“This provision does not disqualify any other class of people. It is my view that political appointees fit into the term: community, in Section 42(1)(a) of the Constitution as members of that group share the same job, and therefore, the same political interest.” 

Other members of the panel: Justices U.E. Ekanem and Mohammed Mustapha agreed with the lead judgment.

MOMENTS after the verdict of the appellate court, President Buhari ordered every member of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) with ambition to contest elective offices to resign on or before Monday, May 16.
  
Although the President exempted Vice President Yemi Osinbajo from the directive on account of his membership of the cabinet by virtue of election, those affected are Ministers of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi; Niger Delta, Godswill Akpabio; Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige; Science, Technology and Innovation, Ogbonnaya Onu; Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Slyva and Minister of State for Education, Emeka Nwajiuba; who have joined the presidential race on the platform of the All Progressive Congress (APC).

Others are Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, seeking to vie for the governorship of Kebbi State; Minister of State for Mines and Steel, Uche Ogar, who is interested in running for governorship in Cross Rivers State and the Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen, who declared her ambition to contest for the senatorial seat in Plateau State.

IT was an ultimatum with a quiet qualification. Yet, it was a development he announced almost a year ago. President Buhari’s order on all his ministers eyeing elective positions to quit within the next five days comes as the final phase of the gradual cabinet reshuffle he announced last year.
 
Recall that on September 1, 2021, when the President dropped two ministers in a minor cabinet reshuffle, he explained that the process would be continuous, stressing that the action was in line with the “tradition of subjecting our projects and programmes implementation to independent and critical self-review.”
   
In a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, President Buhari had declared: “These significant review steps have helped to identify and strengthen weak areas, close gaps, build cohesion and synergy in governance, manage the economy and improve the delivery of public good to Nigerians. I wish to reiterate once more, that this process shall be continuous.”
   
The two ministers felled by that presidential hammer were Mohammed Sabo Nanono (Agriculture and Rural Development) and Sale Mamman (Power).
   
While the President disclosed yesterday that the Minister of State for Education, Emeka Nwajiuba, had put in his resignation on April 28, he urged others that have purchased nomination forms to do the needful or approach him for clarifications if they felt otherwise.
   
However, Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who disclosed that the President’s decision was announced to them during the FEC meeting, held back on the implication of the development on the fate of governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele.

  
“I do not have the mandate to talk on the fate of other political appointees, who are also vying for elective positions, but are not members of the cabinet,” the Information Minister declared.
  
A close Presidency source told The Guardian that the President took the decision to set up a new team that would assist his administration “in finishing strong without distractions.”
   
He remarked that the position of the National Assembly that Ministers would not vote during the APC primaries encouraged the President to show the affected ministers the way out of his cabinet.

The implication of this Presidential directive is that Ministers and political appointees who did not resign before now, may not be cleared by the APC screening committee as they have failed to comply with the Article 3(L) of the party’s guidelines, which directs that all political appointees with political ambition resign their offices 30 days to the party primaries and national convention.

Confirming this development Mr. Paul Odili, Special Assistant to the former Minister of State for Education, Nwajiuba, said: “The Minister, on accepting the nomination form on April 27 bought for him by his supporters led by an umbrella group, Project Nigeria, wrote the President on April 28 informing him that having accepted the nomination by his supporters to contest the office of the president on the party’s platform, he would like to disengage from office to enable him concentrate on his campaign and to avoid any conflict of interest.

“I can tell you Mr. President immediately accepted his letter of resignation. The President approved his resignation upon resumption from the Eid break on May 3, and then travelled out. Nwajiuba left the announcement for the President to do as protocol demands. The President actually announced that resignation today (Wednesday) at FEC before giving the order.”

This leaves Nwajiuba as the only member of the cabinet qualified to contest the presidential primary election as he is not caught in the 30-day caveat. This has stirred up legal debate, especially with the Court of Appeal ruling yesterday.

Nwajiuba had during an event to present him with the APC nomination and expression of interest forms in Abuja, said he won’t resign his position until 30 days to the election. He stated that the section 82 of the Electoral Act is not binding on him, rather he was following the guidelines as stipulated by the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria.

He made reference to Ekiti State governor, Kayode Fayemi, whom, he said, resigned his position as Minister of Solid Minerals four years ago after he had won the APC ticket at the primary elections before he informed the President and FEC members that he was leaving for Ekiti.

FOLLOWING the President’s directive, the Minister of Science and Technology, Ogbonnaya Onu, resigned last night. This was confirmed by highly reliable sources within the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and the Ministry of Science and Technology.

“The Minister was at the office of the SGF to drop his resignation. That was expected, seeing as the President asked that they all should resign,” the source said. Onu had on May 6, declared for the presidency.

ALSO, Niger Delta Affairs Minister, Akpabio, has resigned in line with President Buhari’s directive. Personal Assistant to the Minister on Media, Jackson Udom, confirmed his resignation. He said: “The Minister has resigned. He has submitted his resignation letter to the SGF. We are waiting for him at the ICC, where he is coming to submit his nomination form.”

In a statement, Udom said: “Our attention has been drawn to mischievously written news stories making the rounds by paid agents of some politicians, that the leading presidential aspirant, Senator Godswill Akpabio, has purportedly withdrawn from the presidential race. This is a joke carried too far.

“This is certainly the handiwork of those who are scared of contesting against Akpabio. He has resigned his appointment as Minister, Niger Delta Affairs Ministry and will soon submit his nomination form at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, in line with his party’s guidelines.

“For those behind this lies and falsehood, we advise that they should learn to live with the reality, that Senator Akpabio is fully in the race, not only for the APC ticket, but to emerge the next democratically elected President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

He had, last week, while appearing on Channels TV’s Politics Today, said the Section 84(12) was nonexistent as a court in Abia had rendered it unconstitutional.

In the same vein, Personal Assistant to President Buhari on New Media and Digital Communications, Bashir Ahmad, has also resigned his appointment following his principal’s directive. Ahmad, who picked the House of Representatives nomination and expression of interest forms, is seeking to represent Gaya, Ajingi and Albasu, Kano State, in the Lower Chamber.

Checks on Wednesday evening showed that Ahmad had removed the bio ‘Personal Assistant on New Media to @MBuhari, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria’ from his profile on Twitter. He now claims to be ‘Digital Communication Enthusiast’. Ahmad is to challenge the incumbent occupier of the seat, Mahmoud Abdullahi Gaya, who is also of the ruling APC.

BUT the Labour Minister, Ngige, has, however, disclosed that he would not resign pending clarifications as demanded by the President. Reacting to the directive, Ngige said he is not in a hurry to resign from his appointment and that he has to consult with President Buhari and his constituents before tendering any resignation letter.

According to him, Buhari gave a window for those that need clarifications on his pronouncement to meet him. “I have no reaction for now because the President said if anyone wants clarifications, the person should meet him.

“So, I have to consult him and consult my constituents, Anambra State because I am holding the office for the government and my constituents,” he said.

MEANWHILE, the House of Representatives, yesterday, passed an amendment to the Electoral Act 2022 to recognise statutory delegates at primaries, congresses, and conventions of political parties. The passage was in concurrence with the Senate, which had earlier on Tuesday held an emergency session to correct what the House called a “fundamental error.”

While political parties are close to conducting primaries to elect candidates for the 2023 general elections, the Act did not provide for members elected into public offices and executives of the parties, known as statutory delegates, to participate and vote in the conventions, congresses or meetings of parties.

Without provision by the law, President Buhari, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo (SAN); members of the National Assembly, governors and their deputies, members of the State Houses of Assembly, chairmen of local government areas, councillors, executives of political parties, amongst others, would have been disenfranchised.

Resuming from break on Tuesday, the Senate amended Section 84(8) of the Act, passing the first, second, and third reading at a sitting.
THE Senate, yesterday, adjourned sitting till June 7, to enable lawmakers participate fully in the Presidential, National Assembly, governorship, and state Houses of Assembly primaries.

The motion for adjournment was moved by the Senate Leader, Yahaya Abdullahi (Kebbi North) and seconded by the Deputy Minority Leader, Shuaibu Lau (Taraba North).

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), in a Timetable and Schedule of Activities for the 2023 General Elections released on February 26, directed political parties to conduct their primaries for the nomination of candidates from the April 4 to June 3.

Reacting to the motion, the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, explained that the decision to adjourn plenary was to enable lawmakers participate fully in activities and processes leading to the conduct of party primaries for the various elective positions ahead of the 2023 general elections.

He said, “Processing of forms for House of Representatives and Senate has started and we are expected to submit our completed forms tomorrow (Friday).

“And, of course, we have some of our colleagues here who are going for governorship seats of their states. “It is very important that we participate in the process that affects us directly, as well as those that do not affect us directly – that is the State Houses of Assembly, Governorship and Presidential.

“Consequently, we have to adjourn to enable us participate fully in all these activities because we are supposed to be active participants. So, I wish all of us the best of luck.

“For the Presidential candidates, we are four and we pray that one of us will emerge as the candidate of the ruling party.”

THE INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner, Akwa Ibom State, Mike Igini, yesterday hinted that the Commission will not accede to the demand by political parties seeking to extend deadline for conduct of primary elections. The REC said the commission has given ample time to parties to conduct their primaries based on the timetable and schedule of activities for the 2023 general elections earlier released.

Responding to journalists’ inquiry on why INEC was refusing the request of political parties for changes in the electoral timetable and schedule of activities, Igini maintained that the June 3 deadline was fixed and firm. He said the dates were arrived at based on the provisions of Sections 76, 116,132, 178 of the Constitution as well as the provision of Section 28 of the 2022 Electoral Act.

The 18 registered political parties, under the aegis of Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC), had appealed to INEC to extend deadline for conduct of primary elections. They noted that the Sallah holiday, forthcoming Ekiti and Osun states governorship elections and screening of an unprecedented large number of aspirants were issues that could hamper timely and strict compliance with the timetable.

Igini, however, wondered “why some of the parties chose almost the last few days to the end of the month of May for these all important activities when they know that submission deadline is June 3, 2022.”

He lamented that within the broad outline of the timetable issued, parties have been making changes and sending letters almost everyday shifting dates, venues and time for the conduct of their primaries.

He said: “As disruptive as these changes are to our internal workings, they are free to do so and these shifts have all been accommodated by the Commission to the extent that our staff now work during weekends.

“They are at liberty to make these changes that have been at huge cost to the Commission that deployed staff to various states from Abuja and within states. By the time they arrive, they get messages of postponement even sometimes on the way to venues. All these have endured and have been accommodated within the framework of the electoral timetable published.

“The only request the Commission has difficulty in accommodating is in respect of fundamental shift of dates of submission of names of candidates that emerged from primaries and conventions as contained in the fixed and firm timetable and schedule of activities.

“These dates are fixed and firmed as published and repeated severally in all interactions with political parties because they were arrived at based on the provisions of some sections of the Constitution as well as the provision of Section 28 of the 2022 Electoral Act.

“If I may observe and ask, why is it that political parties decided to leave out the whole of April that they should have commenced the conduct of primaries? Why is it that some of these parties chose almost the last few days to the end of May for these all important activities when they know that submission deadline is June 3?”