APC In jeopardy With The Supreme Court judgment

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The recent judgment of the Supreme Court on the suit filed by the candidate of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) in the last governorship election in Ondo State, Eyitayo Jegede (SAN), challenging the victory of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu  has put the congresses of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the future of elections it may contest in doubt. Unless something is done by the stakeholders, the governing party may wake up, after working for the victory, to find out that it has lost everything due to an error of judgment

The Minority judgment of the Supreme Court regarding the legality of the Mai Mala Buni-led Caretaker Committee and Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee has brought the party into public discourse. The apex court only dismissed the application by the PDP candidate, Eyitayo Jegede (SAN), on the ground that he and his party did not join Buni in the petition challenging the election of Rotimi Akeredolu as governor of Ondo State. The implication of this is that in future election petitions, Buni and the caretaker committee will be joined. This is why the legality of the Buni-led committee has suddenly become an issue.

 

The genesis:

When the Adams Oshiomhole-led national leadership of the party was dissolved and the caretaker committee put in place, the mandate was simple: organise a national convention that will throw up a new National Working Committee (NWC) for the party within six months. By setting up the Buni-led committee, the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) may have considered the provisions of Article 13.3(vi) which empowered it to “create, elect and appoint any committee it may deem necessary, desirable or expedient and assign to them such powers and functions as it may deem fit and proper”.

But, the party may have forgotten the provisions of Article 17 (iv), which states that “no officer in any organ of the party shall hold executive position or office in government concurrently”, as well as the provisions of Section 183 of the 1999 Constitution as amended which disqualifies a governor from holding two positions at the same time. The section states that “the governor shall not, during the period when he holds office, hold any other executive office or paid employment in any capacity whatsoever”.

Although legal experts have expressed divergent views about the judgment, it is obvious that it will no doubt play a vital role in future engagements of the party. While the party’s lead counsel, Niyi Akintola (SAN) believes that the judgment of the apex court will have no bearing on the party because “it is a minority judgment”. But, Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo believes that the party needs to be careful not to have a repeat of the Zamfara scenario when the party lost the entire seat it won in the last general elections to the PDP. Keyamo believes that if Buni had been joined in the suit, the story may have been different today, as the party could have lost Ondo State to the PDP.

Import of judgment:

Akintola, while dismissing the minority judgment, said: “A minority judgment remains what it is, a minority judgment. It has no efficacy. It has no value. The only value a minority judgment has is for academic purposes and research. You cannot even cite it as an authority. Our adjectival law and jurisprudence do not allow for any efficacy to be attributed to minority judgment.”

But, Akintola appears to have ignored the majority judgment that Buni was not joined in the suit by the PDP candidate, as well as the provisions of Section 183 of the constitution. He said: “Our judiciary has matured over the years and those of us who practice law, not ‘media lawyers’ will know that no value is attributed to minority judgment. So, what happened yesterday (last Wednesday) is not strange. So, all the noise and hullabaloo is nothing. Why should anybody in his or her right senses be attaching too much importance to something that should be in the realm of academic discourse? For those of us in the legal profession, you cannot even go to court and cite it.”

The leadership that will emerge from the ward congresses which kicked off last Saturday will be responsible for the election of local government leaders and delegates to the party’s National Convention. But, the legality of that is now in question. With the party going ahead with the congresses which will form the basis for the emergence of the national leadership of the party which will be responsible for the nomination and fielding of candidates for future elections, there are fears that the party may be heading for self-destruction, hence suggestions by some party members that the Buni-led leadership should immediately give way. But, the Caretaker committee has insisted on going ahead with the congresses, even when there are discordant tunes from some of the states.

Weapon for litigants:

The caretaker committee has also insisted that the consensus option be adopted in the election of ward executives and delegates to other congresses, even when many stakeholders prefer to conduct elections. For example, Elders of the party in Akwa Ibom state insisted that they be allowed to choose their leaders through an election and not consensus. Even though the party wanted to avoid rancour in the choice of leadership, it is evident that what the party wants to avoid may be staring them in the face at the end of the day.

However, Keyamo believes that the Supreme Court has successfully granted all those that will be aggrieved from the conduct of the congresses a weapon to destroy the party by challenging the outcome in court based on the legal status of the Buni leadership. Rather than suspend the congresses and examine the decision of the Supreme Court judgment and its implications on the future of the party, the Buni-led leadership has decided to go ahead with it, ignoring complaints from members in some states that they were denied congress forms. The party is also talking tough relying on the decision of the party’s NEC that all those with cases in court should withdraw them. They are threatening to sanction anyone who will come up with a parallel congress or challenge the outcome in court.

Weapon for litigants:

The caretaker committee has also insisted that the consensus option be adopted in the election of ward executives and delegates to other congresses, even when many stakeholders prefer to conduct elections. For example, Elders of the party in Akwa Ibom state insisted that they be allowed to choose their leaders through an election and not consensus. Even though the party wanted to avoid rancour in the choice of leadership, it is evident that what the party wants to avoid may be staring them in the face at the end of the day.

However, Keyamo believes that the Supreme Court has successfully granted all those that will be aggrieved from the conduct of the congresses a weapon to destroy the party by challenging the outcome in court based on the legal status of the Buni leadership. Rather than suspend the congresses and examine the decision of the Supreme Court judgment and its implications on the future of the party, the Buni-led leadership has decided to go ahead with it, ignoring complaints from members in some states that they were denied congress forms. The party is also talking tough relying on the decision of the party’s NEC that all those with cases in court should withdraw them. They are threatening to sanction anyone who will come up with a parallel congress or challenge the outcome in court.

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National Coordinator of the Progressive Youth Movement, Princess Zahra Mustapha Audi is one of those who believe that the caretaker committee should step aside. She believes that going ahead with the congresses was a risk the party should not take. She said: “We are not prepared to take any chances anymore; we cannot keep playing this game with our party’s future, with our lives. Enough is enough. We believe that within the APC, we have capable hands, former leaders regardless of generational differences at this point who can manage the affairs of our party. Why must it be one individual or the other? We should not rush and go ahead with the congresses or convention or whatever else is going on. Let us follow the law because our party will not muscle or bribe the judiciary. At the same time, we should not expect favours from the judiciary, if we do not do the needful. So, it is for that reason that we are asking the entire caretaker committee to immediately step down and put people that can carry this party forward.”

No date for National Convention:

When the Oshiomhole-led NWC was dissolved in June 2020, the caretaker committee that was put in place and given the mandate to conduct a national convention within six months and give the party a new NWC. After six months, it was obvious that the Mai Mala Buni-led committee was not prepared to leave the stage, as there was no plan to conduct a convention. The excuse then was that the party needed to conclude the ongoing reconciliation drive and carry out a reregistration and new membership drive, which was not part of the initial mandate of the committee.

The mandate of the committee was thus extended by another six months. The expectation then was that it would conduct a national convention by the end of June 2021. June has come and gone, but there is no telling when the party will hold its national convention. This is in spite of the fact that a timetable for the conduct of its various congresses from the ward to the state level has been released. Indications from its national secretariat are that the party may be waiting for President Muhammadu Buhari to announce a date for the convention. The president had said recently in an interview on national television that the convention will hold soon. The committee’s secretary, Senator John Akpanduoehehe who has practically been saddled with the responsibility of running the party, was quoted as saying that President Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, state governors, and some critical stakeholders are the ones to determine a date for the convention.

Going by the party’s constitution, that responsibility is conferred on the party’s NEC. Incidentally, since after the December 2020 NEC meeting that extended the tenure of the caretaker committee, the body has not met and the national caucus has equally not been convened. All these give credence to arguments in some quarters that all organs of the party are practically dead. Elected organs of the party at all levels are also not functioning because they have been disbanded, to pave the way for caretaker committees that are currently running the party.

However, indications from some state chapters suggest that the party is not free from the crisis that necessitated the setting up of caretaker committees. Many state chapters are currently enjoying the peace of the graveyard. For example, the Ekiti State chapter is enmeshed in a silent war between the faction loyal to the governor and the one led by Senator Babafemi Ojudu, which had led to the suspension and counter suspension of some members. Also, the Kwara State chapter is in the news once again. The statement credited to the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed that there will no congress until everybody is registered is a clear indication that all is not well. With former Senate President, Bukola Saraki restrategizing to stage a comeback, the APC must put its house in order in the chapter if it wants to retain its control of the state after the next general elections. The minister was also quoted as describing the state governor as a “one-chance” governor. One thing that is clear is the fact that only a few members gave a listening ear to the appeal made by President Buhari at 2020 NEC meeting to go back home and embrace reconciliation.

Director-General of Progressive Governors Forum (PGF), Salihu Lukman believes that the failure of the party leadership to conduct the national convention could be regarded as a betrayal of the trust of the president. Lukman’s warning that under no circumstances should the tenure of the caretaker committee be extended appears to have fallen on deaf ears. This is because the committee is currently enjoying a new lease of life, even without an official extension as was the case last December when the NEC gave it a new mandate. In a statement in Abuja, the PGF boss asked all party members and leaders to ensure that the caretaker committee is able to complete the task of organising a national convention where new party leaders would be elected.

But, he believes that despite the shortcomings, the APC still remains the bastion of democracy in the country. His words: “The APC is the only party where contestation is taking place and leaders recognise the challenges facing the party. If democracy is about contestation, with all its problems, the APC represents the hope for a democratic Nigeria. For that to become a reality, the APC must pass the litmus test. A strong pillar, which is the catalysing element for the party to be able to pass the litmus test, is the liberal leadership of President Buhari, based on which he doesn’t interfere in the management of the party. The caretaker committee must not abuse the president’s confidence by delaying the national convention. No party in Nigeria has the liberal atmosphere provided in the APC. Whether the APC will be able to pass the test will depend on the commitment of the caretaker committee to finish its assignment by June 2021. Even if it is able to complete the assignment, processes of internal negotiation to produce new leaders, the character and capacity of the new leadership, as well as the scope of membership participation during congresses and the national convention will be the determining factors of its conformity to democratic principles and progressive ideals.”

Need for ideological politics:

Similarly, the national coordinator of Progressive Patriots Initiative, Athanasius Okon believes that until the party returns to its original ideology, it will continue to be destabilized. Okon who was one of those who contested the Akwa Ibom APC primary for a seat in the House of Representatives in the last general elections is however worried about the gale of legal suit that the party is likely to contend with in the coming months. He is not sure if what is on the ground right now is the same APC that was formed in 2014 with the coming together of the legacy parties.

Okon said: “Are you sure the APC we laboured and worked for, which was formed formally in 2014, comprising genuine progressives, is still the same party today? I really doubt it. Even when we had interim administration under Chief Bisi Akande, I think we were better as a political platform than what we have today. The APC, today, has lost all its legal organs, including the NEC, to be qualified as a political party. What we have today certainly is for certain privileged people in the corridors of power.”

On the indefinite postponement of the national convention, Okon said: “How can you talk about the convention when the legal organs of the party are not there?  As far as I am concerned, this party is no longer progressive in any way. Where in the party constitution does it give the president the power to give directives to a political party, the power to set up a caretaker to run a party, and same power to determine their tenor?”

He is equally disappointment that the party has abandoned its campaign promises and is now wooing those it once brandished as predators, economic saboteurs, and people that ruined the country for 16 years. He asked, “Is it an achievement for the party and its members to go enlist and recruit governors, senators, and other stakeholders of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP)?”

The Akwa Ibom APC chieftain said the party will soon be overwhelmed with litigations. He said: “I can see them coming, especially the fall out of the proposed congresses, which has been so far hijacked by the powerful forces APC recruited from the PDP, after winning the 2015 general elections. The APC is now a party without a clear-cut ideology; it is for all comers, especially moneybags. Until the party is saddled with the progressive elements to run its affairs and government, there will be confusion. The only option left now for the APC is to stop opening its doors wide for every manner of politician, just because of money and the privileged positions they occupy.”

Lack of reward system:

Okon said the APC should rather concern itself with the promotion of the reward system, rather than abandoning its foot soldiers that laboured and toiled day and night to enthrone the so-called change. He dismissed the ongoing reconciliation within the party, describing it as a smokescreen. He said: “The APC was never genuinely involved in reconciliation. All I can see is a smokescreen exercise conducted by those without legal backing. If we are sincere, there is crisis in some major state chapters. The APC can only be serious in true reconciliation when those setting such committees are themselves not part of the crises in their various states.”

Like Okon, a growing number of members are not comfortable with the developments within the party. Many members are carried with the fact that the party is daily celebrating defections of members of the opposition PDP to the ruling party. Some have argued that allowing these former opposition figures to come into the APC would lead to another round of crisis at a time when the party should be making efforts to resolve the existing crisis. In states like Ebonyi, Cross River, and now Zamfara where the governors have joined the APC from the PDP, the new crisis will be about who takes charge of the leadership of the party in these states.

However, there are those who believe the pressures being mounted on the leadership of the party are partly responsible for the delay in the conduct of the national convention. For instance, the agitation over which part of the country will produce the party’s next presidential candidate is creating tension within the rank and file of the party. While many stakeholders are working against a possible imposition of candidates during the convention, it is evident that the part of the country that will produce the next chairman will not be in contention for the presidential slot. With almost all contenders for the chairmanship coming from the North, one of the groups within the party, the APC Legacy Awareness and Campaign (APCLAC) , led by Ismail Ahmed has warned that no member of the party would be allowed to take undue advantage of the legitimate aspirations of members for a responsive and representative government.

The group said: “Our leaders are not in denial and are responding to the challenges. Our party, the APC, is the only party in the country that has acknowledged its internal problems and has initiated processes of resolving them. Thanks to the leadership of President Buhari, the APC has been undergoing a deep-rooted rebuilding and repositioning process. New leadership will emerge at the end of this process.”

Committee focused to deliver:

Akpanudoedehe is not unaware of the feeling of party members. But, he dismisses claims that the committee was not willing to vacate office. He said: “We have never lied about our party activities and we simply have no reason to. The consultative party leadership style instituted by Governor Mai Mala Buni as Chairman of the Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) has institutionalised the APC as a party of processes and internal democracy. The CECPC is focused and is delivering its mandate to recover, rebuild and reposition the APC, as well as achieve peace-building, true reconciliation and to give a sense of belonging to every member of the party. You don’t expect us to come and lie; if we have to need to extend, we will go to the public and give them the reason to do that. The exercise has been extended. It is still a continuous exercise.”

Spoiling for a showdown:

Many party members are spoiling for a showdown with the caretaker committee, which they believe has overstayed its welcome. They want a new NWC put in place as soon as possible. But, a party source is of the view that the caretaker committee is eager to leave the stage, but was quick to add that forces within the Presidency, who are wary of the implosion that may arise from the convention, are the ones pushing forward the scheduled date for the convention. He said: “There is no consensus or official position on which zone will produce the presidential candidate in 2023. That’s a decision that could unsettle the party. In the absence of official pronouncements, the national convention will expose everything since a zone that produces the national chairman cannot produce the presidential candidate. So, in the absence of a national convention, the race for the presidential ticket is kept open.”

But, those who are conversant with developments in the party in the past have warned against a further delay of the election of the new NWC members, who will preside over the 2023 general elections. They warned that if the national officers are not elected on time and given enough time to settle down, the party may find itself in the same position it was in 2019.

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