Since the validation of the election of Ondo State Governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, by the Supreme Court, issues arising from the judgment have put the All Progressives Congress (APC) on the edge. In this piece, YUSUF ALLI, MANAGING EDITOR, NORTHERN OPERATION examines the implications of what analysts are describing as a ‘legal time bomb’ for the ruling party in the run-up to 2023.*
Despite attempts to downplay of legal undercurrents triggered by Wednesday’s validation of the election of Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State, the Caretaker/Extraordinary National Convention Planning Committee of the All Progressives Congress (APC) knows the party is in a tinder box.
The panic mode at the National Secretariat and the summoning of an emergency meeting of the 20-man APC Governors Forum on Friday in Abuja, exposed challenge facing hawks and moderates in the party.
Although the apex court’s judgment was 4-3 in favour of Akeredolu, all the seven judges agreed that the APC was in violation of Article 17(iv) of its constitution and Section 183 of the 1999 Constitution by appointing a sitting governor, Mai Mala Buni (Yobe State) as chairman of its caretaker committee.
The same Buni, whose appointment is now under scrutiny, signed the nomination/ sponsorship letter of Akeredolu. Article 17 (iv) says: “No officer in any organ of the party shall hold executive office in government concurrently.” Section 183 of the nation’s constitution reads: “The governor shall not, during the period when he holds office, hold any other executive office or paid employment in any capacity whatsoever.”
The narrow escape window for APC and Akeredolu had to do with the fact that Buni was not joined as defendant in the suit. Even the four justices of the Supreme Court, who ruled in favour of Akeredolu, implied that the scale of justice was in favour of the governor because of the need to uphold the “principle of fair hearing.”
It was a technical judgment which contending forces in APC have subjected to different interpretations. But most of the comments were laced with political imputations rather than legal reality. The commentators have forgotten, in the words of Charles Dickens and Lord Denning, that the law is an ass.
The issues in the judgment were as follows: APC allegedly violated Article 17(iv) of its constitution; Buni is not constitutionally qualified to lead APC; the nomination/ sponsorship of Akeredolu by Buni was illegal by virtue of Section 183 of the 1999 Constitution; the PDP candidate failed to join Buni in the suit as he only dragged APC to court; Akeredolu ought to win based on fair hearing because Buni was not a party to the case as chairman of the APC Caretaker Committee.
In the minority judgment, Justice Mary Odili said APC was lawless and wrong to ask Buni to act on its behalf in signing the nomination/sponsorship letter of its candidates in Ondo by virtue section 183 of 1999 Constitution and Article 17(4) of the APC constitution, the party should live by the consequences of its lawlessness.
She said: “I do not agree with the majority judgment. Article 17(4) of its constitution has provided for how its affairs should be managed and what offices its members can occupy at a time.
“This Article draws strength from Section 183 of the 1999 Constitution. Therefore when the second respondent (APC) put up a person not qualified to author its nomination by virtue of the provision of Article 17(4) of its constitution and Section183 of the 1999 Constitution to do so. Therefore, that document has no validity, and thereby void,” she said.
Odili held that the implication was the nomination and candidacy of Akeredolu and his deputy was a nullity. She stated that the person, who ought to be declared winner of the election” is the first appellant (Jegede).
In what appeared like an opening for further legal battle against Buni and APC, she said “since the APC for which Buni acted was a party in the case, there was no need to include him as a party.”
*HOW APC SLIPPED INTO LEGAL HURDLES*
The problem of the party began when the use of might took over the rule of law. Some suspicious rulings were obtained from court to frustrate Oshiomhole and his team until it backfired at the NEC meeting of June 25, 2020 when House of Representatives Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, told the court-installed Acting National Chairman of the party, Victor Giadom, he could no longer preside over the session at the Presidential Villa after the NWC had been dissolved.
Before the Villa meeting, there were conflicting rulings by the Federal High Court, the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, the Rivers State High Court and the Lagos High Court.
Beyond the Supreme Court judgment, APC is locked in more legal knots because of the rushed decision of its NEC meeting. Some lawyers have argued that the setting up of a Caretaker Committee was an aberration because the party’s constitution does not recognize such an emergency contraption.
A highly-placed source said: “The inauguration of the Buni Committee has created more legal bottlenecks for APC. We have a lot of unresolved legal issues which can invalidate any plan towards the successful prosecution of the 2023 campaign.
“For instance, Article 18 of the APC Constitution allows only the establishment of Standing and Ad Hoc Committees, not a Caretaker Committee – and the Standing/Ad Hoc committees are restricted to Finance, Publicity, Screening/ Selection.
“So, as it is, anybody can contest the authority and existence of the Caretaker Committee. They saw it coming at the NEC meeting of last year when they mandated Oshiomhole and members of the former National Working Committee (NWC) not to go to court against Buni’s team.
Article 18(I and ii) says: “The National Executive Committee (NEC) shall have power to set up Standing Committee(s) and where necessary, Ad Hoc Committees.
“Pursuant to Article 17(i), the party shall have the following Standing Committee(s) and an Ad Hoc Committee(s) among others whose membership shall be proposed by the National Executive Committee and ratified by the Board of Trustees.
It was also learnt that the extension of the six-month tenure of the Buni Caretaker Committee has no legal basis because the National Executive Committee (NEC) has also dissolved itself. Yet, Buni’s team has spent over one year in office.
Another source added: “As it is today, the Buni Caretaker Committee is legally vulnerable because its mandate has no constitutional or lawful backing. Nobody or organ gave the committee any extension beyond the six months by NEC. They are staying in office ad infinitum.
“Even though the committee is claiming that President Muhammadu Buhari extended its tenure, legally speaking, the constitution only recognizes organs and not persons. The authority of the party does not rest with the governors or the president. No individual has unilateral authority.
“Even without the dissenting judgment of the Supreme Court, APC is in a state of ruin or complete meltdown because the tenure of the Caretaker Committee has expired.”
*THE JOURNEY INTO ARMAGEDDON*
Analysts argue that the APC crisis is self-inflicted as a result of power struggle in the party. Immediately after the 2019 poll, some governors, leaders/members of the party wanted to take over the structure from the forebears of legacy parties which formed it. The jostle for the soul of party then started in earnest ahead of 2023 general election.
The scheming for the next poll precipitated the war against a former National Chairman of the party, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, whose fight against the status quo made him vulnerable. The forces cashed in on the crisis of confidence between him and Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, to hatch and perfect the script for his ouster.
The plot against Oshiomhole sailed through with the support of some aggrieved members of the NWC namely, a former Deputy National Chairman, Sen. Lawal Shuaib, Mustapha Salihu (erstwhile National Vice Chairman, North-East) and a former Deputy National Secretary, Victor Giadom. Supported by the powers-that-be, these three leaders, who were purportedly seeking a new order in APC, led the insurrection and created instability in the party. At the end, there was convergence to remove Oshiomhole.
The bitter politics which hastily led to the sack of the Oshiomhole-led NWC on June 25, 2020 gave birth to the Buni Caretaker Committee.
The new forces in the party include Buni, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister for Justice, Mallam Abubakar Malami (SAN) who gave the legal cover to effect the change in APC; Ekiti State Governor and chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF), Dr. Kayode Fayemi; Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi; former Ogun State Governor, Ibikunle Amosun; Governors Nasir el-Rufai, Yahaya Bello, Atiku Bagudu, Abubakar Badaru, Simon Lalong, Akeredolu and Obaseki (when he was in APC).
Others are President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan and the Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege.
They were joined by powerful leaders from the ‘Mafia House’ on Lobito Crescent in Abuja (the strategic thinking redoubt of core Buhari loyalists). Some members of the coterie include remnants of what used to be known as the Kaduna Mafia, the old CPC Caucus and retired security chiefs. Also in this axis is Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, who desires to dictate the pace in 2023 in Adamawa State.
The new power bloc earned the confidence of President Muhammadu Buhari who bought into the anti-Oshiomhole project after the former APC national chairman failed to read his body language to concede the second term ticket to Obaseki on the platform of the party. Reading the president’s disposition, some of the new forces secured the backing of the presidency and security apparatchik to neutralize Oshiomhole and defeat APC during the governorship poll in Edo State.
Findings confirmed that the new forces (mostly confidants of the President) have been using the instruments of government to neutralize all their opponents. They crush all enemies within and without as occasioned by the removal of Ibrahim Magu as the chairman of EFCC under the suspicion that he has been caged by the old order in APC.
The recent quizzing of former Nasarawa State Governor, Umaru Tanko Al-Makura and his wife, by the anti-graft agency is also believed to be linked to the intrigues. He is aspiring to be the next APC national chairman. He may have no choice than to lower the tempo of his ambition.
It was learnt that the new power bloc is having an upper hand because of Buhari’s style of always telling any group to “adhere to the Rule of Law.”
Notwithstanding, members of the new power bloc succeeded in sharing positions within the Caretaker/Extraordinary National Convention Planning Committee with El-Rufai leading the campaign for the choice of Buni as chairman. The National Secretary position was conceded to Amaechi, whose yeoman’s coordination led to the election and re-election of Buhari. The minister’s choice was John James Akpanudoedehe
Some of other members of the committee are the Governor of Niger State, Abubakar Sani Bello; Governor of Osun State, Adegboyega Oyetola (symbolic appeasement of the Chief Bisi Akande-Asiwaju Bola Tinubu axis); former President of the Senate, Chief Ken Nnamani; David Lyon (produced by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Mr. Timipreye Sylva); Stella Okotete; Prof. Tahir Mamman; Sen. Abubakar Yusuf (representing the Senate); Akinremi Olaide (representing the House of Representatives); James Lalu (nominated by Lalong); Ismail Ahmed and Abba Ari.
On the choice of Buni, a source said: “The power bloc opted for him based on the strong recommendation of el-Rufai. Apart from that, the Yobe governor in all his political life has been a product of providence. He is amenable, does not rock the boat and likes party politics more than the gubernatorial suite.”
*WHY THE BATTLE FOR APC’S SOUL HAS BEEN JOINED*
With the looming exit of Buhari from power in 2023, there will be a big vacuum which all leaders are aspiring to fill or take advantage of to reposition themselves. The situation is more tasking for APC because age might not allow the president to be actively engaged in party politics. All he has been calling for is a party leadership structure from the bottom to the top.
The defunct Congress for Progressives Change (CPC) elements led by el-Rufai and Malami felt they had been shortchanged in the party and are determined to take over APC. Some leaders of this tendency also assume they are now strong enough to build bridges without the merger components of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), New PDP, former All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and APGA.
As a matter of fact, the real battle in APC is between leaders of the former ACN and the CPC elements who work in cahoots with remnants of PDP. Notwithstanding the presidency in its kitty, the CPC group has been saying that ACN has produced three chairmen in succession including Chief Bisi Akande, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun (a graft of ANPP and ACN) and Oshiomhole. Believing it has 12 million die-hard Buhari voters tied down, this wing thinks it is more of the bride to woo than the suitor
Besides controlling the party structure in their various states, members of the new power bloc want to remain relevant after Buhari’s tenure by aspiring to some offices. For instance, the AGF and Minister of Justice, Malami is thought to be interested in becoming the next governor of Kebbi State. At the behest of some influential leaders, a kind of accord was said to have been struck between him and Bagudu to make the succession possible.
For his part, ex-Governor Ibikunle Amosun is battling to regain the party structure he lost in 2019. It was gathered that if he succeeds in upstaging Governor Dapo Abiodun, he will be able to foster his presidential ambition. Amosun does not hide his ambition to be Nigeria’s next president but his headache is reclaiming his base.
The same presidential aspiration has been traced to Fayemi who has not publicly admitted or denied such plans. A source said: “It is obligatory for him to be interested in the party structure game now not only to produce his successor but to protect his either presidential or vice presidential dream. Otherwise, he might go into political oblivion because he is completing his two terms in office in 2022.
“The only snag is whether his new political associates will keep faith with him. Being a student of strategic studies, he will know how to float,” an APC insider said.
For Amaechi, he is aiming higher to be President or Vice President depending on where the power pendulum swings. Having lost Rivers State to intra-party squabbles/rebellion and to Governor Nyesom Wike in 2019, he is using the new power bloc to purge the state party by weeding out recalcitrant members.
Though el-Rufai has declared that he is not interested in becoming Nigeria’s president in 2023, he has not foreclosed being a godfather and what destiny will attract to him. “El-Rufai is like an open page. He does not mind being a kingmaker. That is why he is a proponent of merit,” a source added.
Concerning Bagudu, Badaru, Lalong, Yahaya Bello and others, they may aspire to go to the Senate and they believe the power bloc can be of help.
Regarding Ovie Omo-Agege, he is in the forefront of the repossession of the party structure because he is seeing a clearer coast to become the next governor of Delta State.
It will only take the grace of God for the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, to stop the gubernatorial ambition of his erstwhile political foe, John James Akpanudoedehe, who is now the secretary of APC Caretaker Committee. Akpanudoedehe may use the ongoing ward congress to install his loyalists.
A source said: “Akpabio will have no choice than to swallow his pride either to tolerate Akpanudoedehe who he made a political wreck in the past or he can eat his vomit by returning to Governor Emmanuel Udom in PDP to checkmate him. “
Another reason for scrambling for the party structure is the alleged plan by some to ‘cut some political leaders to size.’
*WAY OUT FOR THE RULING PARTY*
There are many options but the cleavages in the party have made the leaders to distrust each other. Those aiming to take over the structure of the party don’t mind the risk involved in retaining the Buni leadership and they are ready to brave the odds in the court.
For those who are losing out in the power struggle at all levels, their suggestions are as varied as their differences. While the latter group claims to be working for the survival of the party, the new bloc does not trust their judgment.
A good example was what transpired on Friday at a session convened by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on the legal implications of the Supreme Court judgment. The meeting was at the instance of President Buhari who directed the Vice President to meet with all ministers who are lawyers in his cabinet.
The agenda focused on the judgment, Buni’s status and whether APC should proceed with yesterday’s ward congresses.
Osinbajo met with Malami, Minister of Works, Babatunde Fashola (SAN), Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo (SAN) and Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed.
A reliable source said: “At the meeting, majority spoke in the right direction and supported the suspension of the congresses in order to avoid any consequence on the party’s fortunes in 2023.
“They also favoured a proposal to ask Buni to step aside in the light of the judgment.
“But at the session, Malami stood his ground that Buni can remain in office to conduct all congresses. It was the AGF’s advice against others.
In spite of the fact that the President mandated the VP to take the right decision, the AGF had his way. It was a day the Yobe governor’s phone was unreachable to avoid any pressure from Osinbajo to halt the Ward Congress.
Sources say what played out at the meeting with the Vice President was “lack of trust” because with the exception of Keyamo, Osinbajo and others come from the same political family which the new power bloc is trying to checkmate. The VP, Fashola, Lai Mohammed are all products of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s political camp whose grip some members of the power bloc are out to whittle down or destroy.
From the Friday meeting where AGF Malami was adamant on his legal advice, it was crystal clear that ‘The Cabal’ has clipped the political wings of Osinbajo after an artificial wedge was created between him and Buhari when he was the Acting President.
The removal of a former Director-General of the Department of State Service (DSS), Lawal Musa Daura deepened the conspiracy as he was faulted for removing Daura without deferring to Buhari. If the APC’s Ogun structure is conceded to ex Amosun, the VP’s political coffin might be nailed. The only grace left for him is “the God factor” which ‘cabal’ members do not put into consideration.
The ‘Cabal’ reportedly had no respect for Keyamo’s warning because they see him as extending the frontiers of his cold war with Omo-Agege in Delta State. The party machinery in the state is already in the custody of the latter and that has put a lid on the political aspiration of the minister in 2023.
But Keyamo has argued that his warning was borne out of patriotism and the survival of the party. He said APC risked being destroyed “from top to bottom” by the judiciary, if it ignored what the Supreme Court justices said.
He stated: “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 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.”
“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 include 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 armed all those that would be aggrieved by the APC Congresses to proceed to court to challenge the competence of the Buni-led CECPC to
Keyamo offered some recipes as follows: “We cannot vouch for the legality of any NEC meeting called by Buni now. The safest is to get two-thirds of NEC members to sign an invitation to summon a NEC meeting.
“The alternative is for the Board of Trustees, which includes the President, to be activated to organize a national convention in line with Article 13 of the APC Constitution.”
A former National Secretary of the Labour Party (LP), Mr. Kayode Ajulo, said: “The provision of Section 183 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) is unambiguous to the effect that “The Governor shall not, during the period when he holds office, hold any other executive office or paid employment in any capacity whatsoever.”
“As a former National Secretary of Labour Party, I am quite aware and it is unassailable that the national chairman and the national secretary are the alter egos of a political party chartered with the day-to-day running of the party.
“It is, therefore, incontrovertible that the continuous stay of the governor as Chief Executive Officer of the All Progressives Congress runs contrary to the provision of the Constitution and as such may be an albatross on the party, as all he had done before would be null and void, including the nomination of candidates within the period of his so-called leadership of the party.”
In a joint statement, Special Adviser to the President on Political Matters., Mr. Babafemi Ojudu and the Senior Special Assistant to the President, Niger Delta Affairs, Sen. Ita Enang came up with five-point options.
They said: “Accordingly, in view of the impending Ward, Local Government, States and Zonal Congresses and indeed the National Convention (which the CECPC was primarily set up to do), it is our view:
That the Ward and other Congresses scheduled for July 31, 2021 be paused, suspended and put on hold pending the determination of the legal Status of the CECPC to undertake all the activities it so far has, and indeed jurisdiction to conduct the congresses and convention;
That the Party carefully and dispassionately Cause her team of legal experts to Review, appraise and give considered opinion on the import of the Majority and in extreme particular the reasonings in the Minority judgment of the Supreme Court as to the legal Status of the CECPC to proceed further with any activity in the name of the party or otherwise;
That options – including painful ones – be recommended to perfect the party leadership in the eyes of the Law with legal capacity to do what it ought to do;
That the Team also recommends measures to perfect matters in respect of pending elections and matters to rescue challenged pending processes;
That Time being of the essence very limited timelines be set for each of the proposed steps.
“One cannot put something on nothing ànd expect it to stand. Finally, this being a Supreme Court judgement, we should be thankful that it has come very early that it will guide our Party to victory in 2023 as we mind carefully the legal Status of our systems, guiding us on avoidable actions as we approach the 2023 tape to brace successfully.
“As stakeholders, we deem it appropriate to offer our voices adding to reasonable offers thus far made.”
Niyi Akintola (SAN), lead counsel to Akeredolu said the minority judgment had no value. He argued: “Let me make this clear: this isn’t the first time we would be having minority judgments. A minority judgment has no value. You can’t cite it as an authority. It has no effect.
“In 2008, Abubakar Atiku versus Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, there was minority judgments given by Justice George Oguntade, Justice Walter Onnoghen and one other justice while Justice Niki Tobi delivered the majority judgment. So, there has always been precedence.
“There is no value attributed to minority judgment. So, what happened at the Supreme Court isn’t strange. So we are worried that some lawyers are attaching value to it.
“Section183, according to the justices wasn’t violated by Buni. That was the reasoning of the tribunal. The Court of Appeal even affirmed the election petition stance that Section 183 wasn’t breached.
“The Supreme Court upheld the position of Court of Appeal and the Election Petition Tribunal that Buni position as governor doesn’t contravene provisions of Section 183.
“The Congress can go on as scheduled. There was nowhere the majority judgments says Buni breached section 183. The minority judgment is of no value, it has no consequences.”
*REFUSAL TO STOP CONGRESSES AND CONSEQUENCES*
With the jettisoning of the advice of the Vice President to stop Ward Congress yesterday, it is obvious that APC is daring the law. It is seeking to slug it out in all courts up to the Supreme Court. Any legal battle has a 50-50 chance but the legal opinion of the AGF seems to have a higher risk.
The loss of Zamfara State in 2019 to PDP ought to have served as a lesson that the judiciary is not in the pocket of anyone.
The first consequence is the likelihood of a plethora of suits on the status of Buni which will destabilize and distract APC at all levels. In spite of a standing instruction to all leaders not to go to court against the party, some members will go ahead to protect their fundamental rights.
The more the party suspends or expels its members, the deeper it sinks into the abyss. Less than two years to a major election, APC cannot afford such an implosion. The main opposition PDP is waiting in the wings for a battle-to-the finish in the court.
All the key actors may lose out if the gains of APC in all the elections before and during 2023 general elections are nullified by the court. That may lead to the collapse of the ruling.
In the alternative, some members of the party may defect to others, especially PDP, which will give them automatic waiver to displace the APC from power.
*POSSIBLE THREATS TO ANAMBRA, EKITI AND OSUN GOVERNORSHIP ELECTIONS*
A top member of the party said: “From the look of things, Anambra is already in jeopardy. Some of us can see that Anambra is lost. The same scenario may affect Ekiti and Osun governorship elections.
A former ranking Senator said: “The wages of sin is death! Did the APC not curse itself when its own constitution was continually violated with impunity? Everything I wrote during and after his battle with Obaseki clearly showed that I had lost confidence in Oshiomhole. But if Oshiomhole must be removed, was there not a provision in the party’s constitution for who can act as Chairman?
“Alas, in a survivalist game of thrones, the crown became an end unto itself no matter how soiled it became in the process!
“It turns out that history, like power, is rarely totally in the control of humans. As Dame Patience would say, there is God o!
“The Supreme Court’s judgment is very significant; it has quite foreboding implications for the APC. Our party must avoid a repetition of the self-inflicted disaster in Zamfara. Akeredolu escaped by the whiskers just because Buni wasn’t joined! Pure luck! Even so, the decision was 4-3. Hair-thin close! Too close for comfort!!!
“The APC must have a properly constituted EXCO & NWC before the process leading to the Ekiti and Osun elections. Otherwise, we will be very vulnerable at post-election tribunal and subsequent appeals.
“A person (or party) once beaten must not be twice shy. He must be ten times shy! But when the gods would unseat a political party in Nigeria, they make its chieftains arrogant!”
*WILL BUHARI SAVE APC?*
The ball is in the court of President Buhari, who came in with the mantra of the Rule of Law, to save the APC from collapse. What does the party need? It is very simple: Respect for its constitution; putting in place a democratically elected National Working Committee; a functional structure with the bottom to the top approach advocated by the president; ending party cabals or cartels; ensuring a sense of belonging and a level-playing ground for all.
Buhari may not belong to anybody or group but he used a ladder to become president. His legacy is to protect the ladder from breaking.