APC and dangling swords over Buni’s CECPC
The governing All Progressives Congress (APC) last Saturday went ahead to conduct its scheduled local government congresses across the federation, including Delta State, where the State High Court had earlier slammed a restraining order on the party against the conduct of the congresses.
In what came as a resurrection of recent controversy over the validity of the party’s Caretaker and Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) the Delta State High Court restrained the committee and its chairman, Governor Mai Mala Buni of Yobe State from parading themselves as representatives of the party’s leadership.
Many party faithful and Nigerians saw the voiding of the appointment of Governor Mai Mala Buni as the chairman of APC’s CECPC as a fresh warning shot for the party.
Although the court’s course list specified that the interlocutory injunction was in respect of conducting the congresses in Delta State, party stalwarts thought the APC national leadership would pause the system to examine the import of the judicial intervention. But, the process went ahead, even as parallel congresses and violence characterised the exercise in many locations.
The legality of Buni’s headship of the CECPC, as well as its membership by two other incumbent state governors, have continued to stick out as a sore thumb after the Supreme Court determined the governorship litigation between the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which candidate in the Ondo gubernatorial poll, Eyitayo Jegede, challenged the election of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu.
Moreover, ever since the National Executive Committee of the party sacked the Comrade Adams Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee (NWC), the fate of APC has continued to oscillate between sure-fire constitutional provisions and institutional conjectures. The doubtful state of affairs of the governing party was accentuated last July, when the Supreme Court ruled on the governorship election appeal filed by Eyitayo Jegede SAN, and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), against Governor Rotimi Akeredolu and APC.
In a 4-3 divided judgment, the panel of Justices of the apex court affirmed Governor Akeredolu’s election as winner of the November 2020 gubernatorial poll of Ondo, even as the minority judgment invalidated the governor’s return based on the substantive issue of technical breaches in his nomination process.
The three justices that differed from the majority judgment were Justice Mary Peter-Odili, Justice Ejembi Eko and Justice Muhammed Saulawa. In their minority judgment, which was read by Justice Peter-Odili, the three justices rejected the stance of their brother justices.
They noted that by Article 17(4) of its constitution, APC laid down modalities on how the party’s affairs should be managed, particularly what offices its members could occupy at a time.
“I do not agree with the majority judgment. This Article (17(4)) draws strength from Section 183 of the 1999 Constitution. Therefore, when the second respondent- that is APC- put up a person not qualified to author its nomination by virtue of the provision of Article 1z(4) of its constitution and Section183 of the 1999 Constitution to do so, that document has no validity, and thereby void,” Justice Peter-Odili declared.
Clash of SANS
NO sooner had the apex court ruling come into public domain than the dissenting judgment took the shine off the majority ruling, which cemented Akeredolu’s second term in office as governor of Ondo State. However, while, some APC leaders and Ondo voters rejoiced at the triumph of Aketi, other stakeholders of the governing party expressed alarm at the narrow escape by both APC and its candidate in the governorship poll, Chief Akeredolu.
PDP expressed relief that the dissenting judgment validated its conviction that APC violated the nation’s grund norm and displayed impunity in the management of party politics in the country.
Yet, while the opposition was revelling in its ‘victory in defeat,’ another senior lawyer, Mr. Festus Keyamo, used the opportunity to sound a note of warning to his party men and women, saying that they should retrace their steps to avoid a worse future outcome.
Providing legal perspectives to the Minority ruling, Keyamo SAN, who is also the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, urged APC not to gamble with the delicate issues raised by the three Justices in their dissenting judgment.
Asserting that the appointment and retention of Governor Buni and other governors in the CECPC poses grave consequences for the ruling party, Keyamo said unless redressed, the inferences provides a window for future litigations that can destroy APC “from top to bottom.”
Keyamo had warned: “We cannot gamble with this delicate issue. The time to act is now…The little technical point that saved Governor Akeredolu was that Jegede failed to join 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 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.”
In a counter narrative, however, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, contended that the fact that Buni and others were holding an ad hoc office for which they were not drawing salaries vitiates the import of the minority judgment.
The AGF explained that there was no evidence that Buni and other members of the CECPC were occupying party positions contemplated by either the APC Constitution or the Nigerian Constitution 1999 as amended.
Being the chief law officer of the federation, Malami had thrashed the depositions of his fellow SAN, Keyamo, and indeed, other lawyers in APC, who sided with the spirit of the inferential conclusions of the minority apex Justices.
Elated by the AGF’s assertions that the Supreme Court judgment did not interrogate the legality of all the actions taken by the Buni-led CECPC, a member of the committee, Prof. Mamman Tahir, told journalists in Abuja that Malami assured that Buni’s stay in office was legal, and would not nullify the congresses.
He stated: “Our congresses are on course. This committee is working closely with the Attorney General of the Federation and he has offered advice that we are on good ground and we are comfortable with that position. So, our programmes will continue to roll on in the normal course of things.
“This party believes so much in grassroots politics, grassroots democracy; that is the strength of the party. I call on all members to come out tomorrow and elect leaders of their choice at the Ward level before the party moves to the next stage of the democratisation process.”
As such, spurred by the AGF’s position, APC went ahead with its planned ward congresses, which outcome the CECPC secretary, Senator John Akpanudoedehe, described as necessary for the party’s unity.
It was obvious that partisan consideration coloured the appreciation of the import of the apex court’s observations, because despite the fact that election petitions are sui generis, the fact that Buni was not joined remained the saving grace.
There was also the element of ego and political contestations within APC, because some chieftains of the governing party saw the concerted and bandwagon support for the minority judgment as an attempt to reverse through the backdoor the sacking of Oshiomhole-led NWC. Others also saw the arguments against Buni as attempt to rubbish the legal advice of the AGF, which rationalised the establishment of the CECPC and the composition of its leadership and membership.
But, the push and pull took another dimension recently, when the Delta State High Court sacked Buni and the CECPC, but also ordered them to stop parading as officers of the party pending the determination of a substantive suit before the court.
Ruling on a motion ex parte, the presiding Judge, Justice Onome Marshal Umukoro, also ordered APC to suspend yesterday’s local government congress in the state.
Deputy state chairman of the party, Olorogun Elvis Ayomanor, and other APC officials dragged the state chapter of the party to court, faulting the outcome the last Ward Congress in the state.
Although the party went ahead with the planned local government congress across the country, the Delta High Court injunction seems to validate Keyamo’s warning that APC risked its existence on the altar of judicial interpretation.
Could the Delta ruling serve as an eye opener to the possible crisis of litigations that could assail APC’s plans to harmonise its structure in preparation for the 2023 poll? How these legal challenges would affect the forthcoming national convention of the party would be of special interest to watchers of APC politics.