APC state chairmen’s gambit amid Buni committee’s baggage
Is the Mai Mala Buni-led All Progressives Congress (APC) National Caretaker and Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (NCECPC) a product of illicit parentage? Does that doubtful parentage dispose it to the current manifestations of licentious and devious behaviours? The recent vote of confidence passed on Buni’s NCECPC, instead of cementing the widening cracks within the fold of the governing party, unwittingly exposed the illegality they sought to paper over.
When on June 25, 2020 the National Executive Committee’s (NEC) virtual meeting of APC, presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari, dissolved the party’s National Working Committee (NWC), the action was received with mixed reactions.
While a cross section of party stakeholders, particularly those incensed at the leadership style of the immediate past national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, welcomed the NWC’s sack, others, including some state governors elected on the APC platform, felt the need for a long drawn cataclysm had been sown. Those who faulted the establishment of the caretaker committee raised some constitutional issues about the venue of the meeting, notice of meeting and the manner of swearing-in of members.
Buni was sworn into office by the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, just as President Buhari, in his remarks at the occasion, pleaded with party members to withdraw issues in courts and stop further litigation. But given the internal fissures within the party, most APC faithful, especially those from the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) legacy party, kicked, saying that the dissolution of the NWC was part of a discreet plot to hijack the party structure preparatory to the 2023 general election cycle.
As the subdued murmurs within the party continued, it became apparent that President Buhari’s poor political leadership skills opened the way for some ambitious state governors to have their way in the unconstitutional sacking of an elected NWC.
A former state governor in the party regretted that Buhari succumbed to blackmail, stressing that as leader of the party, Buhari should not have supported the dissolution of NWC. The source contended that since the leadership crisis revolved around the purported suspension of Oshiomhole, “what NEC should have done was to get the advice of the APC legal officer on the interpretation of the party’s constitution as it relates to succession.”
He alleged that some leaders of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), who had always plotted the hijack of APC, saw the disagreement between Oshiomhole and Governor Godwin Obaseki over the control of Edo State chapter as opportunity to carry out their nefarious plan.
It is perhaps this alleged hijack of party structure that has also elicited the current disputation over the issue of zoning the chairmanship and whether the tenure of the caretaker committee does not breach the mandate of the South-South geopolitical zone that it was allotted to.
SUFFICIENTLY citing of the various violations of the APC constitution, some party chieftains rebuffed President Buhari’s admonition of the cessation of further judicial recourse and have approached the court over the dissolution of the party’s NWC. A member of the Lagos State chapter, Mr. Lateef Arigbaruwo, who instituted a matter at the Federal High Court, Lagos, contended that the meeting where the working committee was dissolved and a caretaker put in place was illegal.
In his suit No. FHC/L/CS/789/2020, which has Chief Victor Giadom, APC NEC and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as respondents, Arigbaruwo prayed the court to stop the Buni committee from performing the functions of the NWC.
According to the motion on notice, the plaintiff “seeks an order of the court setting aside all the decisions taken at the NEC meeting, which he deemed as illegal on the grounds that it was conveyed on June 24 and held on June 25, contrary to Article 25 of APC constitution.”
Although attempts were made to breathe down the neck of Arigbaruwo and arm-twist him into jettisoning the matter in court, he refused to budge even when it was being interpreted as coming from the defunct ACN caucus fragment in APC.
While Arigbarugo’s suit remains pending, another APC stalwart, Mr. Kalu Kalu Agu, approached an Abuja Federal High Court, seeking an order barring Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu from participating in penultimate Saturday’s gubernatorial election in Ondo State. Unlike Arigbaruwo’s suit, Agu wants the court to also stop two other APC candidates from participating in Senatorial bye-elections in Lagos East and Imo North Senatorial Districts.
However, like the previous matter at the Lagos Federal High Court, Agu joined APC and INEC as respondents, insisting that Akeredolu, Tokunbo Abiru and Frank Ibezim, were not properly fielded in accordance with the party’s constitution, which is lodged with INEC.
Agu prayed the court for an order excluding the respondents from the elections pending the determination of the substantive suit challenging the dissolution of the APC NWC by the party’s NEC. He contended that APC, as being managed by a caretaker committee instead of an elected NWC, violates the party’s constitution, stressing that Buni and his colleagues are strangers to the offices they occupy as far as the constitution is concerned.
The suit No FHC/ABJ/CS/736/2020, which was filed on October 9, 2020, stated that apart from the Caretaker Committee chairman, who is also Governor of Yobe State, Buni, others listed as 1st to 14th respondents include, Isiaka Oyebola, Ken Nnamani, Stella Okorete, Governor Sani Bello, Dr. James Lalu, Senator Abubakar Yusuf, Hon. Akinyemi Olaide, David Leon, Professor Tahir Mamman, Ismail Ahmed and Senator Akpan Udoedehe, respectively.
In the writ filed on his behalf by his counsel, Mr. Ukpai Ukairo, Agu claims that the nomination of candidates for an election by law ought to be by no other person than the party’s chairman and secretary.
He declared: “There is no lawful provision for a Caretaker Committee to run the affairs of a political party at all including the 2nd defendant,” adding that INEC did not receive any notice of primary election for the selection of APC’s candidates in the governorship election in Ondo as well as the Senatorial bye-elections in Lagos and Imo States duly “signed by the national chairman and secretary of the 2nd defendant/respondent.”
Agu, who described himself as APC Youth Leader in Abia State, asserted that as at the time the caretaker committee was inaugurated by the NEC, the party’s NWC had barely spent two years from its four years in office. On his locus on the matter, the plaintiff contended that it was his civic duty to ensure the application and obedience to the provisions of the 1999 Constitution and that his party, the APC, does not “lose its status as a political party due to non-registration of its national officers with INEC.
“Article 17(iv) of the APC Constitution provides that no officer in any organ of the party shall hold executive office in government,” he affirmed, remarking that the chairman of the committee is a serving governor and the committee is made up of unelected persons.
Alluding to the six months’ tenure of the caretaker committee, the plaintiff filed an affidavit of urgency praying the court to give expeditious hearing to the suit, so that the conduct of a national convention for the election of NWC does not render his suit an academic exercise.
Among other prayers, Agu is seeking an order of court restraining INEC from placing the APC in the ballot for any of its elections, “or where already placed from ascribing any vote to the APC in so far as the names and particulars of any such candidate was submitted to INEC by or under the hands and signatures of the 3rd to 14th respondents.”
BUT while the legal queries about APC NCECPC’s constitutionality continue in court, a chieftain of the party, Mr. Osita Okechukwu, in a statement, canvassed for the extension of the lifespan of the Buni committee by one year.
Although Okechukwu is not a member of the caretaker committee, he took umbrage at a 14-day ultimatum issued by concerned APC members to the Buni committee to roll out a plan for December 2020 national convention. Okechukwu, who is also the Director General of Voice of Nigeria (VON), insisted that reconciliation of the various contending issues and forces within the party is more pressing than the convention.
His word: “A cursory glance at the damage done to the soul of our great party, beginning from our victory in 2015, to, regrettably, the culture of impunity which bedeviled our 2018 primaries, to say the least, is unprecedented.
“Accordingly, the Buni Committee requires deep introspection to gather the pieces, reconcile the various warlords and tendencies. If it takes six or 12 months, one may not mind so as to achieve substantial cohesion before the crucial 2023 general elections.”
He rejected the Concerned APC members’ contention that it would be counterproductive to extend the tenure of Buni committee, stressing, “ask them: what’s the main terms of reference of the Buni committee? For me, it is reconciliation! Reconciliation! Reconciliation! Reconciliation is the main ingredient in forging a united front in line with our symbol, the broom.
“Without which the second terms of reference, which is the national convention will definitely produce a factional national chairman, who in turn will produce a keg-legged presidential candidate. Lets avoid such sordid scenario as much as possible.
“Thirdly, it is important that they conclude biometric party registration. What we have today is slip-card and no one can, on a fingertip, tell us our numbers. By the time they conclude biometric registration, we will know our exact number and exact demographic membership. This will help in 2023 general elections.
“I personally can’t factor the true reason behind Alhaji Abdullahi Dauda’s Concerned APC members preference for a December 2020 National Convention to genuine reconciliation of gravely fractured party before convention?”
As if in an effort to stave off the growing frustrations posed by the caretaker committee, particularly the underhand plots to alter the zoning arrangement of elective positions in the party, chairmen of the party’s 36 state and FCT chapters, passed a vote of confidence on the Caretaker/Extra-Ordinary National Convention Planning Committee. The confidence vote came during a parley between them and the Buni committee, which was ostensibly aimed at canvassing for the possible elongation of the committee’s term.
At the parley held at the APC’s National Secretariat in Abuja, Mr. Ali Bukar Dalori, who doubles as APC’s Chairman in Borno State and Chairman, Forum of APC Chairmen, moved the vote of confidence motion, which was seconded by Abba Yaro, Chairman of the APC in Benue State, before it was unanimously Okayed.
The party may have succeeded in doing some patchwork, but how it dribbles the law, particularly extant provisions of its constitution, would tell in its staying power. The ghosts of division, which seem to have been exorcised, may likely return in certain ways during the convention.
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