Group Politics Editor, EZEOCHA NZEH, writes on the raging crisis in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), over the legality and continued stay in office by Governor Mai Mala Buni of Yobe state as Chairman of the party’s Caretaker and Extra Ordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC), after the Supreme Court judgement on the Ondo state governorship election case, and asks if Governor Buni can weather the gathering storm
There is no doubt that Governor Mai Mala Buni of Yobe state, who doubles as chairman of the ruling All progressives Congress (APC) Caretaker and Extra Ordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) is currently at the middle of the raging controversy in the ruling party
Yes, Governor Buni, also a two time former National secretary of the party is in the eyes of the storm
The APC has not known any peace since July 27, when a Supreme Court victory for the party and Ondo state Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, which ordinarily would have elicited celebration, rather turned out a costly one that has thrown the ruling party into a deepening crisis
The situation has been necessitated by the Supreme Court judgement on the Ondo State governorship election petition that was instituted last year by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and its candidate, Eyitayo Jegede SAN. The Ondo State governorship election that was conducted last year November was won by the APC and its candidate Governor Rotimi Akeredolu.
However, the PDP and its candidate had approached the courts with different claims against the victory of APC and its candidate. The opposition party and its candidate had lost at both the Tribunal and Appeal Courts and until last week when the Supreme Court gave its judgment, affirming the election of Governor Akeredolu turned out to reawaken aggrieved nerves within the relatively peaceful ruling party.
The Supreme Court ruling which came with a split margin of 4 to 3 has no doubt led to the celebration of the minority judgement , more than that of the majority with the legality of the Governor Mai Mala Buni seating as the caretaker committee head being under heated legal scrutiny
Though the majority judgement of the Supreme Court was silent on the implications of Buni being joined in the case, the minority judgement which was present by Justice Mary Odili was made it very clear that Governor Buni, functioning as APC Caretaker Committee chairman and at the same time serving as executive governor of a state is a violation of Article 183 of the Nigerian Constitution, which forbids an individual from holding two executive positions at the same time.
The supreme court judgement, which was given at a period when the party was concluding it’s arrangements for the conduct of its Ward congresses, which would kick start the process that would let Governor Buni and his Caretaker team to give way to the party’s elected substantive National Working Committee (NWC), was however interpreted to mean a rejection of the caretaker committee as constituted by the APC NEC in June 2020
The much celebrated minority report seems to have put “a question mark” on any decision taken by the Mai Buni led caretaker committee so far.
Unfortunately for the party and Buni, some senior learned members of the party saw the margin of defeat of APC as a warning to the party.
First to throw the salvo over the judgement was a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and a serving Minister in the APC government. The Minister of State for Labour, Festus Keyamo SAN.
Keyamo from his interpretation of the Supreme Court judgment, called on the APC to postpone its already scheduled Ward congress, while it begins to work out a detailed plan to replace the embattled Caretaker Committee chairman. Noting that every apex court ruling is taken as a law in a country, the APC Minitssster warned that the party would live to regret its acts if it allows Governor Mai Mala Buni to remain in office as CECPC chairman that would oversee the conduct of the APC congresses
Moments after Keyamo’s salvo was fired, leading party stakeholders like Presidential aides, Ita Enang, Babafemi Ojudu, as well as Kayode Ajulo, joined on the same path and position
A former legal adviser of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Muiz Banire (SAN), who also joined in the call by Keyamo and others, warned that the party’s congresses may lead to internal implosion of the party.
Banire, who spoke in a television interview, said the latest development surrounding the legality of the National Caretaker Committee headed by Governor Mai Mala Buni of Yobe State is not good for the party.
He faulted the decision of the Buni committee to proceed with the ongoing congresses when the Supreme Court ruling on the Ondo governorship election is not clear about the legality or otherwise of the committee.
He said: “My view is that what is going on is reckless, to say the least. My expectation is that the congresses should have been postponed for several reasons.
“Nobody has seen the official judgement of the court as of today. By tomorrow the certified true copy will be realised for people to digest them and now be able to make informed decisions and opinions.
“And in such circumstances, why would they proceed? Why are they in a hurry to do something which eventually might end up being calamitous because if eventually it is the truth that the apex court came to conclusion, unanimously for that matter that Governor Buni ought not to have signed any of the nomination papers of Governor Akeredolu.
“The same thing will be applied to the congress they are doing because the letter of notification to INEC was signed equally by Governor Buni.
“If the foundation is lacking, certainly you won’t build anything on it. So, at the end of the day, the whole exercise would be a nullity. It is a complete waste of everybody’s time.”Banire lamented, even as he also faulted the authenticity of the party’s just concluded registration and re validation exercise.
The argument by these stakeholders was that had Buni been joined in the Ondo guber suit, the story may have been different today as the APC would have lost Ondo State to the PDP,
Speaking in the same vein, the APC Progressive Youths Movement (PYM), youth wing of the ruling called on Governor Buni to put the interest of the party first and resign his position at the CECPC to save APC from future legal disgrace that could trail the congresses and convention
“We cannot keep playing this game with our party, with our future, with our lives. Enough is enough. We believe that within the APC, we have capable hands, former leaders regardless of generational differences who can manage the affairs of our party. Why must it be one individual?
“It is selfish for us to expect a sitting governor who has several issues to manage in his state, considering the insecurity in the country, to also man a party like the APC. Governor Buni is doing his best but as a party we are unfair. We should not rush into Congresses or convention. Let us follow the law because our party is not one that will muscle or bribe the judiciary”, leader of the Progressive Youth Movement, Princess Zahra Mustapha Audu, had warned.
Knowing very well that the tension has gone high as it gets set for the proposed congresses, the Caretaker Committee swung into action and deployed every available consultation and threat instrument, at least to have some reprieve
The caretaker committee secretary, Sen John James Akpanudoedehe, in a statement on the eve of the congress, warned that: “all activities or processes leading up to the congresses and thereafter, which do not have the approval of the CECPC are exercises in futility. This is to say that any purported parallel congress, parallel party organ and or parallel party office, is to say the least a nullity.”
He added: “For the avoidance of doubt, the party shall deploy the full weight of the law as stipulated in section 21 (D) of our party’s Constitution on any one who perpetrates such unlawful Act (s) and also on their sponsors.
“All persons who are affected by Article 31 of our Constitution should apply for waivers as stipulated under sub. Section 3 of the said Article 31, this is also clearly spelt out in the “Special provisions” of our guidelines,” the statement read.
As if that was not enough, the party equally reminded members of the implications of instituting legal action against the party, stressing: “All pending litigations instituted by members against the party should be withdrawn forthwith, and going forward, no member should institute matters against the party, without exhausting the Internal mechanism for conflict resolution, as enshrined in the party’s constitution.”
The party did not stop at that as it equally defended Governor Buni’s position in the party and why the proposed ward congresses must go on as planned. Dismissing the speculated implications the Supreme Court judgement may have on Governor Buni’s position, both the party’s lawyer, Michael Niyi Akintola (SAN) had advised that the ward congresses must go ahead.
His words: “the position of the National Chairman of our party and the secretary are sacrosanct and our members should not be scared. The Ondo governorship Election Tribunal had after considering the preliminary objection and the case on its merit held emphatically that Governor Buni has not contravened the provision of Section 183 of the constitution. That holding party position has not violated the constitution.”
Further validating Governor Buni’s position having any effect on the party, party chieftains like Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo – Agege, who had equally argued that since the position is ad-hoc, in addition to the fact that the Yobe State governor is not earning salary occupying the position of party’s chairmanship, he is not violating any law.
However, the morale booster, which Governor Buni and his team needed came from Attorney General and Minister for Justice, Abubakar Malami, as revealed by the CECPC member, Representing North East in the APC Caretaker Committee, Prof. Mamman Tahir (SAN), hence the party stood on firm decision to continue with Governor Buni as the party’s chairman and conduct the congresses.
According Tahir; “The business of the law is not about speculating what a court will decide in a particular dispute. We deal with what the court have presently decided on. That is the way the law operates. People can have fear on anything. And whatever decision anybody takes, it will always be subject to litigations.”
Armed with the support and assurances, the ward congresses finally got underway last weekend amidst endless controversies, and parallel congresses
Perhaps, the embattled Buni may have received the biggest support and boost, when his colleagues, governors elected on the APC platform publicly announced their unflinching support to his continued stay as the APC CECPC chairman
The support came last Thursday, when the APC governors declared that the Wednesday, July 28, 2021 ruling of the supreme court that affirmed the election of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo state, by extension validated the Governor Mai Mala Buni led Caretaker and Extra Ordinary Convention Planning Committee of the party
The APC governors in a statement issued by their chairman, Governor Atiku Abubakar Badaru, of Kebbi state, who cited some extractions from the supreme Court ruling to back their claims noted that the judgement which had split decisions did not in any way declare the caretaker committee as illegal, arguing that it however upheld the composition of the CECPC as a legal body constituted by the party to manage its affairs n caretakers basis
The governors’ position however followed the release of the written court judgement on Wednesday by the Court.
“We thank the Supreme Court for this landmark judgement, which among others have dealt conclusively with legality of the APC Caretaker and Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee, its composition and all its decisions. The Supreme Court upheld the finding of the Court of Appeal that the National Caretaker and Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee was set up to act on behalf of the National Executive Committee to temporarily carry out the function of the National Working Committee until new members were democratically elected.”
“The Supreme Court upheld further, the ruling of the Court of Appeal that “it is evident that the said Governor Mai Mala Buni was appointed only in an acting capacity on a temporary basis to temporarily carry out and fill in the seat of the National Chairman of the party pending the elections of new members.”
“The judgement has also settled the legality of the National Caretaker and Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee. The court has correctly ruled that in line with section 13.3 of the APC Constitution, the National Caretaker and Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee was constituted by the National Executive Council of the APC to act as the National Working Committee.
“Governor Mai Mala Buni was appointed in acting capacity, on a temporary basis to temporarily carry out and fill in the seat of the National Chairman of the party pending the election of new National Chairman. This has settled conclusively that the APC National Caretaker and Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee and its composition is not in conflict with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and is consistent with provisions of the Constitution of the APC,” the governors argued
The APC governors also extended their appreciations to the APC National Caretaker and Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee, for the commendable management of the affairs of the party, which has minimise distractions from the task of rebuilding the party, stressing that under the Committee, the Party has continued to be strengthened and attract more Nigerians.
Some stakeholders have also continued to interrogate the motive behind the outburst of Minister Keyamo and his likes, which came few days to the APC scheduled nationwide congresses
Why did it take them more than one year to raise their fingers against the CECPC which was inaugurated on June 25, 2020? Why did it take them to wait until after the Supreme Court split decision on Ondo state guber tussle, and few days to the commencement of the ward congresses to call for Governor Buni’s sack? Could it mean that Keyamo, Ita Enang, Ojudu, Banire and the other anti Buni proponents may have sensed the possibility of their losing the grip of the APC structure, beginning from the ward congresses in their various states, as the results of the just concluded congresses has proved?All these questions as well as other unfolding developments are still begging for answers as Governor Mai Mala Buni battles to weather the gathering storm