Nigeria: Despite Legal Questions, APC Begins Congresses Tomorrow

The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is going on with the process to elect its new leaders commencing from the Ward level, tomorrow, at a time the legality of its Caretaker/Extraordinary National Convention Planning Committee has been called to question following Wednesday's split judgment at the Supreme Court, which gave victory to the Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu.

The pronouncement by three of the seven Supreme Court justices against the competence of the committee led by the Yobe State Governor, Mai Mala Buni, sparked a frenzy among party stakeholders with some members calling on the governor to step aside in order to "save the party" from a possible big fall.

Daily Trust had yesterday reported how the Minister of State for Labour, Festus Keyamo (SAN) cautioned the APC to suspend the scheduled congresses, saying the exercise may end up as futile if challenged before a court.

Two aides of President Muhammadu Buhari, Senator Babafemi Ojudu (Special Adviser on Political Matters) and Senator Ita Enang (Senior Special Assistant to the President on Niger Delta Affairs), yesterday said the party should heed the warning by the apex court justices to avoid having short-lived victory that could be upturned in court.

But some key party members and lawyers, including Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege, said the Buni committee is legitimate and cannot be affected by any court judgment now, or in the future.

The APC Caretaker Committee was constituted in June 2020, sequel to the dissolution of the Adams Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee (NWC) over alleged abuse of office.

Congresses hold tomorrow

But Secretary of the APC Caretaker Committee, Sen. John James Akpanudoedehe in a statement yesterday said ward congresses will start tomorrow.

The APC scribe said the clarification is against the backdrop of personal opinions being expressed by some individuals on the status of the committee and its capacity to conduct the congresses.

He said, "To this end, Ward Congress Committees of the party have already been inaugurated and delegated with the responsibility of conducting, supervising, monitoring the scheduled Ward Congresses.

"While it is not our intention to join issues with these commentators, the Supreme Court's Wednesday judgement affirming the election victory of the Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN) had no bearing on the CECPC's status and its membership.

"Party members and aspirants should therefore come out en masse and peacefully to participate in the ward congresses, come Saturday."

Buni-led committee should be dissolved - Buhari's aides

In their joint statement, Ojudu and Enang said the judgement appeared to have "swept the carpet of legality off the committee, rendering it illegal, null, void and of no legal capacity to undertake any action on behalf and in the name of the party".

They said it has also brought to question the legality of all the actions taken by the Buni-committee since inception.

Part of the statement reads; "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 as, 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 reasoning 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 the legal capacity to do what it ought to do.

"That the team also recommend 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 and expect it to stand."

Buni should give way for acting chair - Okorie

Similarly, a former Presidential Candidate, Chief Chekwas Okorie, who spoke with our correspondent yesterday said Buni should step aside to pave the way for an acting national chairman to emerge for the purpose of conducting the congresses.

Chief Okorie, who is a chieftain of the APC said, "The Supreme Court judgement on Akeredolu is an eye-opener to the party, especially to the National Executive Committee (NEC) which approved the constitution of the caretaker committee.

"For those who think the national convention should come first, they don't understand what the convention is all about. You can't have delegates to the convention who have not been elected from the ward to the state level. How do you appoint delegates to the convention when everything is mixed up?

"So I will suggest the chairman of the caretaker committee should take advantage of this to step down. If he steps down, the most senior member of the committee should take over as acting chairman. This will solve the problem of going to court against those who may have emerged at the congresses. This is what can be done immediately.

"My suggestion is for the chairman of the caretaker committee to honourably and in the interest of the party, step down to pave the way for another person who is not encumbered to take over his place."

'Convention should come first'

But Special Adviser to Borno State Governor on Trade and Investment, Barr Bashir Maidugu, told Daily Trust in a telephone chat that the national convention should be held first, to elect NWC members who should then conduct congresses ahead of the 2023 polls.

Barr Maidugu, a former national legal adviser of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said, "In my own opinion, the convention should come first to adopt the new constitution. Then the new National Working Committee (NWC) should conduct the ward, local government and state congresses. Once this is done, all legal lacuna will be taken care of."

Congresses should go on as planned - Jalo

A chieftain of the party and former deputy national publicity secretary of the PDP, Barr Abdullahi Jalo, said, "Congresses should go ahead and party members who are aggrieved should go to court and let's hear their reasons for going to court."

But a chieftain of the APC from the South-West, Chief Jackson Lekan Ojo, said, "My best advice as a good party man is for Buni to step down now and let the NEC nominate a planning committee for the congresses.

"When that is done, the NWC will emerge and conduct the ward, local government and state congresses.

"But if Mai Mala Buni conducts congresses to elect officials at different levels, it will later be nullified and before you know it, the APC will not have a presidential candidate, House of Representatives and Senate candidates among others for the 2023 general election.

"Many people have said if Governor Buni loves APC, as a result of that judgement, he should step down immediately and the caretaker committee should be dissolved immediately. But I think they believe in illegality because they are the ruling party and they can do anything".

Contacted for a reaction, a stalwart of the APC in Zamfara State, Senator Kabiru Marafa, said there are two solutions to the logjam.

Marafa called for the immediate scrapping of the Buni led Committee.

He said the ruling party can return to the path of constitutionality using either of what he tagged as, "the top-bottom or bottom-top approach."

The top-bottom approach, according to Marafa is that, "APC as a platform should be reversed to the point where the problem started (where the courts sacked Comrade Adams Oshiomhole), reinstate all the illegally sacked structures at all levels and allow one of the deputy national chairmen to act as national chairman."

"The reinstated NWC will then be charged to organise a national convention within three months to elect new national officers," he added.

He said the new national officers will in turn conduct fresh congresses at ward, local government and state levels.

On the bottom-top approach, Marafa, a governorship aspirant on the platform of the party in 2019, said all the sacked executives of the party at all levels should be reinstated.

"Afterwards, one of the deputy national chairmen should be asked to act as national chairman and to within three months organise ward, local government and state congresses. This should be followed by a national convention to elect new national officers for our party," he said.

Lawyers differ

Niyi Akintola SAN, who represented Governor Akeredolu said the majority decision was the right decision.

Also, Deputy Senate President Ovie Omo-Agege, who is also a lawyer, has contended that there is no law under Nigeria's legal jurisprudence that bars or prohibits a governor, who is a member of a political party and won elections under the political party, from carrying out specific assignments on behalf of his party.

He said the argument that the governor's position amounts to holding an Executive office "is beyond every stretch of human comprehension."

"In the light of the foregoing exposition, it is humbly and firmly stated that Section 183 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) only bars a governor from holding executive positions like being a minister or any other executive positions for which he shall be paid for. It does not by any scintilla of imagination, render the appointment of Governor Buni as APC Caretaker Committee Chairman, incompetent and will not in any way, affect the legality or competence of the APC scheduled congresses," he said.

In the same vein, Dele Aiku (SAN) said the judgement cannot impair the ward, local council and state congresses.

Aiku said the APC Director of Legal had told the elections petition tribunal that Gov Buni was not drawing a salary from the party and was never occupying the office of the national chairman of the party. That he only existed in caretaker capacity by virtue of the constitution of the APC, which empowers the NEC to appoint any committee, give it any name and give it any power as it may deem fit and this was the basis of setting up the caretaker committee.

Buni's media aide, Mamman Mohammed, declined comment when contacted for this story last night.

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