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Supreme Court judgment: APC’s brushes with disaster

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The recent Supreme Court judgment, which saved the mandate of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu and his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), came as a sudden blow on the fabric of the federal governing party.

Coupled together as a mega political party to challenge the dominance of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), it was also an amalgamation of former self-governing, but relatively small platforms. But, the coming of APC blazed a new trail in Nigeria’s multi-party presidential democracy.

While the party professed to change the way politics and governance were pursued in the country, it failed to reflect the change on the character and mannerism of its apostles. And that was the basis of the international contradictions that would become its albatross four years after.

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As has been seen, last Wednesday’s ruling on the appeal filed by the PDP’s candidate in the Ondo State governorship election, Eyitayo Jegede; during which three out of the seven justices on the panel observed that Governor Mai Mala Buni’s stay in office as APC Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC), revived the insincerity that surrounded the party’s formation.

Not that alone, the apex court ruling, which bordered more on political considerations of the issues than the legal and logical imperatives of the electoral contestation, further exposed the fault lines among the many contending power blocks seeking ascendancy and control of the party.

The fact that the formation of the party was very superficial was all too evident to all, such that the former Special Adviser to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, Dr. Doyin Okupe, declared that the party would flounder at birth.

Rallying a multiplicity of otherwise fringe parties around the singular agenda of removing PDP and Jonathan from office, did not convince sceptics that the APC amalgam was built to last beyond the tenure of its electoral mascot, General Muhammadu Buhari (Retd).

But, as the hurried conglomerate succeeded in achieving its one-point agenda in the 2015 general election, the incomplete metamorphosis began to haunt it. Perhaps a quick rehash of the many failing points of APC’s fabrication would help to show that the faux pas of imposing an incumbent state governor as the head of an interim management committee of a political party was actually APC’s efforts to run away from reality.

Senior (Insincere) Partners
NO matter how leaders of the governing party try to hide the fact, APC was actually the product of an understanding between forces in control of Action of Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and Congress for Progressive Change (CPC).

Having survived as opposition from the powerful political onslaughts and schemes of the party in power – PDP- former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, decided to put into action suggestions from his former Sokoto State counterpart, Alhaji Attahiru Bafarawa.

Bafarawa had disclosed that while he was doing a course in the United States, Tinubu visited US as part of guests to the inauguration of Barack Obama as first black President of US. Bafarawa explained that after exchanging pleasantries and analysing the historical change of baton in the world’s greatest democracy, he told Tinubu that unless opposition parties came together in Nigeria, it would be hard to dislodge PDP.

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The mission to merge or strike political understanding among the major opposition parties was initiated by Tinubu towards the buildup to the 2011 general election, but disagreement over the former Lagos State governor’s offer for a repeat of the Muslim/Muslim ticket that propelled Chief M.K. O Abiola and Ambassador Babagana Kingibe to victory in the 1993 presidential election botched the move.

[FILES] Mai Mala Buni. Photo: TWITTER/BUNIMEDIA

It was that initial failure that threw up Buhari/Bakare presidential ticket in that election year 2011, which ended on an unsuccessful as sources disclosed that PDP cashed in on the broken talks between ACN and CPC to court the support of the Lagos strong man.

Piqued by PDP and Jonathan’s perceived default in the political understanding that gave PDP the upper hand against the Buhari/Bakare ticket on CPC, the former Lagos State governor revived the merger talks, this time resolving that PDP must be uprooted from the Presidency.

Tinubu’s political arithmetic, which purports that with Buhari’s near constant harvest of 12million votes in successive presidential polls, the vote haul from Southwest bloc would propel the amalgam, instead of the loose arrangement that was experimented in 2011, into sure electoral triumph.

Although the issue of Muslim/Muslim ticket was broached once again, the motion was defeated by Buhari’s observation that the religious sensibilities of the country at that time, especially with the murderous campaign by Boko Haram terrorists, carried the day.

There was a temporary snag. With the 2011 experience at the back of their minds, some of the stakeholders expressed the need to appease Tinubu. The former Lagos State governor was said to have told Buhari that I have been a Senator, a governor, what remains is the Presidency. Sources disclosed that it was at that point that Tinubu was promised that if Buhari wins the Presidency, it would then be the turn of Lagos (Tinubu) to take over and re-enact the magic of the Babatunde Fashola years.

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However, shortly after the election was won and lost, some parties to the merger talks started displaying evasive manoeuvres. First, the pre-national Assembly inauguration conference of the new governing party failed to hold, leading to the surprise emergence of former Kwara State governor and Senator representing Kwara Central District, Dr. Bukola Saraki, as President of Senate.

Although the election of Saraki as Senate President and Yakubu Dogara as Speaker of the House of Representatives brought a new dimension to the internal power play within APC, the cold shoulder being given to the ACN (Southwest) wing of the merged parties remained apparent.

Efforts were made to subtly douse the creeping feeling of marginalisation by the Southwest caucus through prodigious federal appointments. But, the silent murmurs against CPC and the northern flank of the governing party continued.

Recalls were made of the warp and woof that attended the Kogi State governorship election, wherein Alhaji Yahaya Bello, was excavated from the party primary to supplant Hon. James Faleke, on the Audu/Faleke governorship ticket, after the demise of the APC candidate, Prince Abubakar Audu midway into the collation of results.

Barely two years into the administration, the internal discontent within the party exacerbated. Out of the sheer mistrust among the component parties, APC failed to hold a mini convention during which it would have filled vacancies in the National Working Committee (NWC) occasioned by the exit of former occupants after their appointment into the Federal cabinet.

Alhaji Lai Mohammed and Babachir David Lawal, the former APC spokesman and Deputy National chairman (Northeast) respectively, were the most prominent. Attempts by the Progressives Governors to assist the party organise the midterm convention, when funding was blamed for the foot-dragging, also met a brick wall.

While the infighting and mind games continued, the nPDP camp regressed back to PDP. By then, the national chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, had began to bear the brunt of the apparent ineffectiveness of the NWC to drive the change promised by the party before the 2015 poll.

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A letter from Tinubu, accusing Oyegun of trying to stand against progress of the party, shortly after President Buhari announced him (Tinubu) as head of adhoc reconciliation set tongues wagging that APC was tottering.

Although Oyegun claimed that he would not respond to issues raised by the Lagos State governor in his petition until after the Edo and Ondo governorship polls, it was obvious that Oyegun’s days as chairman were numbered.

True to expectation, while on an official visit to commission some projects in Edo State, President Buhari commended Governor Adams Oshimhole for the marvellous projects his administration had initiated and completed in the state. The President pleaded with Edo people to allow Oshiomhole to come to the centre, stressing that the Federal Government had work for him to do.

Even before President Buhari could round off the commissioning of some projects in Benin, the word had gone round that Oshiomhole was on his way to becoming the next national chairman of APC. And so it turned out to be.

Was it an imposition? Aspirants like Clement Ebiri and Prof. Oserhiemen Osunbor, were advised to step down to pave the way for a less rancorous convention.

However, some stakeholders said that it was a consensus choice, after due consideration that the party needed a strong character to square up to PDP in the 2019 presidential poll. Oyegun was dismissed as being more of a pacifist, even as others claimed that after taking the slot of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), it was the turn of ACN to be on the steering wheel.

One year into the office as chairman, Oshiomhole led the party to another presidential victory. But, his utterances, including claims that he would not tolerate the excesses of Buhari’s ministers and insistence that APC’s control of the National Assembly should not pander to inclusion of the opposition, peeved a lot of stakeholders.

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Oshiomhole was accused of being very mercurial more than conciliatory, in the management of intraparty affairs. His hold on the party, which started shaking in the build up to the 2019 poll, continued to slip. He was accused of favouring those loyal to Tinubu, especially state governors in the adoption of direct or indirect primary method of candidate selection of the election.

Against the background of those secret sins, the bold attempt by Oshiomhole to apply the direct governorship primary to deny his home state governor, Godwin Obaseki, the APC ticket led to his suspension by the Etsako ward 10 executives.

It was that storm in a teacup that eventually turned into the typhoon that swept off the entire NWC on June 25, 2020, two years into their four-year mandate.

Supreme Court’s Dangling Axe
The foregoing provides a backcloth to understand the current hullabaloo over the Supreme Court’s judgment on the Ondo governorship election appealed filed by PDP and its standard bearer, dispute between PDP and its candidate, Eyitayo Jegede against APC and Governor Rotimi Akeredolu.

The matter at issue is whether Governor Buni’s headship of CECPC does not violate Section 183 of the 1999 Constitution as amended. The Apex court by a slim margin held that Governor Akeredolu cannot be removed for the singular reason that Buni was not joined in the suit by Jegede.

Although the court brought the legalistic aspect of the electoral contention, it also exacerbated the political infighting within APC. Because, while some stakeholders believe that the Oshiomhole-led NWC was removed to deny Tinubu’s hold on the party structure through the members and to ensure that presidency did not go to the South in 2023.

Former Deputy National Chairman (South) of the party in the sacked NWC, Chief Hillard Etta, told The Guardian that whatever anybody would say, the crisis in APC requires a political solution.

Recalling the powerplay between forces loyal to his camp and those supporting Chief Victor Giadom, who convened the National Executive Committee (NEC) that sacked the NWC, Etta stated: “We all have a lot of respect for our President. Nobody can speak with the President and continue with altercation. It behoves on the President to call his children together and begin to interact with them.

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“The President must call all his children as the leader of the party and then we will find a political solution to the problems. The President should not allow a few, who have premeditated agenda to destroy the party, to have his ears as against having all of us. Let it be a cacophony of positions in his presence. But, I believe that if he calls all of us together we will have solutions to whatever the issues on ground are.”

On the insinuations in certain quarters that the Oshiomhole-led NWC was sacked for its perceived allegiance to Tinubu, Etta explained that although not every member of the NWC was a Tinubu sympathiser, “there is no politician that does not have a political estimation of who he is supporting or intending to support.”

“So, whether you drive away Tinubu’s supporters or whether it was a reason the action was taken, because some people believe they are Tinubu’s supporters, then who is that person going against the constitution of the party supporting?

“You cannot destroy a party because your intention is to drive away the supporters of a particular person. In which case you may not even be able to determine whether it is true that this person is supporting that person.

“We were elected in a properly constituted convention. We stood elections as Nigerians and we had a four-year mandate, but someone cut it short unconstitutionally and illegally, because you feel ‘we are looking to dispense with the support of another person.’ It doesn’t make sense to me,” he remarked.

Amid the speculations and mutual distrust, President Buhari, as the leader of the party, was said to have tasked Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, a professor of Law, to liaise with other cabinet ministers with law background to examine the various perspectives to the apex court’s observations.

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Yet, at the meeting attended by the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami SAN; Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed; Works and Housing Minister, Fashola SAN; and (State) Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo SAN; the disparity of political perspectives played out.

While most of the voices tended towards erring on the path of caution, others saw the political booby trap and insisted that Buni’s headship of the committee was in order and that yesterday’s congresses should go ahead.

The point of departure was the understanding of intent of section 183 as it concerns Buni, who as an incumbent state governor, heads the CECPC. Does the fact that Buni does not earn a salary vitiate the fact that the office of CECPC, the equivalent of APC national chairman, is an executive office?

Being that the functions of the chairman of a political party is spelt out in the Constitution, under normal circumstances, would a state governor, while in office, apply to serve as national chairman of a political party?

The answer to the posers depends on what side of the political divides one belongs. Perhaps, he wanted his suggestion to come from the perspective of a professional rather than a former member of the ACN, Keyamo SAN argued that the party’s narrow escape in Ondo has weaponised opposition such that it could interrogate and set aside any election won by the party under Buni.

Keyamo

According to Keyamo, “Jegede was challenging the competence of Gov. Mai Mala 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.”

Keyamo reasoned that “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 Congresses that are about to hold.

“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.”

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Keyamo called for the suspension of the congresses, stressing that it would amount to “an exercise in futility as the competence of Gov. Mai Mala Buni to organise the congresses has been called to question by the Supreme Court.”

While warning of the ominous calamity that could befall APC in the event that it goes ahead to conduct the congresses under Buni, the senior lawyer reiterated: “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.”

But in what came as a strong counter, the AGF, Malami, who is from the CPC flank, discovered as follows: “The Supreme Court did not consider nor determine the justice of Section 183 of the 1999 Constitution vis-à-vis the peculiar case of the position of Buni as the chairman of our party’s CECPC.

“As the Supreme Court did not make any definite declaration or proclamation on Section 183 of the 1999 Constitution vis-à-vis the position of Buni as the chairman of our party’s CECPC, any speculative interpretations of the instant Supreme Court Judgment go to no issue and should be discountenanced.

“If the issue is submitted to the court for determination, same will be determined based on a proper construction of the relevant facts and review of evidence.”

The Minister of Justice said it became necessary to render his opinion to set the records straight “in view of the far-reaching views expressed by Mr. Keyamo (and others), on the future of our party under the leadership of Governor Mai Mala Buni, as the chairman of CECPC, as well as the continuance of the proposed congresses of the party.”

Malami maintained that “it remains to be seen how the court will hold that an ad-hoc caretaker committee chairman exercising the powers of, and subject to the supervision and control of NEC and the Convention of his Party, is occupying an executive position.”

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It would be recalled that the AGF’s position on the 2015 Kogi State governorship election impasse helped the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to navigate its way out of the peculiar logjam.

And just as happened during the wrangling between Oshiomhole and Governor Obaseki, when he was suspended, some stakeholders have gone to court to challenge the holding of the congresses, particularly Buni’s retention as chairman of CECPC.

Could this be interpreted as signs of impunity or obvious manifestation of the power play within the APC? Recall that President Buhari had pleaded party stakeholders not to allow their individual political aspiration lead to the destruction of APC after his tenure runs full course in 2023.

Litigation, Opposition
IN the suit marked CV/1812/2021 and dated July 29, 2021, a chieftain of the party, Mr. Kalu Agu Kalu, prayed an FCT High Court for “an order of perpetual injunction restraining the APC from going ahead with its planned Ward congress scheduled for Saturday July 31, as well as, subsequent Local Government, State, Zonal Congresses and the party’s National Convention.”

The plaintiff also asked the court to declare as null and void any of the APC’s Congresses and convention held under the current acting national chairman of the Caretaker Committee, Buni.

Filed on his behalf by Ukpai Ukairo, the plaintiff joined APC and Buni as first and second defendants respectively, even as he deposed to 38-paragraph affidavit in support of his claims.

On his locus standi in joining issues with the party, Agu said it is his ambition to contest the post of National Legal Adviser during the APC national convention, stressing that he could be affected by Buni’s position as chairman of CECPC that would conduct the convention.

MEANWHILE, the opposition PDP has weighed in on the matter, declaring that “with the recent Supreme Court ruling on the Ondo state gubernatorial election, the APC has become technically invalidated and now lacks the statutory structure to operate as a political party.”

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In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, PDP declared: “The Supreme Court clearly pointed to the nullity of APC’s subsistence and activities as a political party, for having a sitting governor, Governor Mai Mala Buni of Yobe State, as its chairman, in total violation of section 183 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) as well as the provisions of Article 17(4) of the APC constitution.

“A further interpretation of the pronouncement of the Supreme Court showed that all activities of the APC under Mai Mala Buni, including the nomination of candidates for elections, agreements, the official decision reached, the establishment of committees for statutory activities as well as its planned ward, local government and states congresses now hang loosely on the threat of invalidity.

“The fate of the APC as a defunct party is already sealed and the party cannot come out of this self-inflicted quagmire even if it engages in the drama of appointing a new national chairman in place of Mai Mala Buni.”

There is no doubt that ego issues, parochial considerations and 2023 presidential calculation have been thrown into the latest upheaval of Nigeria’s governing party. The last has not been heard on the matter, especially given the intrusion of litigation.

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