By Babatunde Ogala SAN
In this moment of grave legal uncertainty regarding the fate and future of our political party; the All Progressives Congress (APC), it is incumbent on me just like all other leaders and administrators in our party as well as a legal minds to proffer solutions that are altruistic, non-self-serving and ultimately capable of preserving the sanctity of the APC. It is upon this premise that I write.
I must confess that I have not seen the Judgment and my opinion is premised upon reports, snippets and listening to counsel in the matter speak to the media.
The decision of the Supreme Court in JEGEDE V AKEREDOLU in SC/481/21 was a victory for Arakunrin Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN the incumbent Governor of Ondo State and I congratulate him and the people of Ondo State for this great victory as another 4 years of phenomenal work is guaranteed.
However, in granting His Excellency Arakunrin Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN victory, the learned Justices of the Supreme Court had to touch on the question of whether the office and powers of National Chairman can be exercised by Governor Mai Mala Buni who is the sitting Governor of Yobe State?
In response to this question, it would seem that the seven Justices of the apex court were not unanimous in viewing the nomination of His Excellency Arakurin Akeredolu by Governor Mai Mala Buni acting as National Chairman of APC as a violation of Section 183 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As Amended) and Article 17(iv) of the APC Constitution. However, the Court seemed divided as to how to treat this violation. Three Justices agreed that it contaminated the nomination process whilst four other Justices did not seem to have pronounced on same but rather dismissed the Appeal on other grounds.
This creates a legal quagmire for APC in respect of all elections and actions carried out by the Governor of Yobe State in his acting capacity as Chairman as there seem not to be a clear position of the Apex Court on same. A close reading of Section 183 of the 1999 Constitution provides a basis for the attitude of the Supreme Court. It 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”.
Just in case this Section of the Constitution is not self-explanatory enough for anyone, the minority in the apex court cleared any ambiguity when it relied on Article 17(4) of the APC Constitution which provides thus:
“No officer in any organ of the Party shall hold executive position office in government concurrently”.
These provisions were not directly pronounced on by the majority decision of the Supreme Court and that creates a bigger problem in view of the minority decision which extensively discussed this point and resolved same against the APC. It is safe to conclude that the judicial attitude of the apex Court is that APC would be dealt a fatal blow should Governor Mai Mala Buni remain at the helms of affairs of the APC and he is joined in a future suit.
Therefore, in response to the well publicized opinion of my brother silk Chief Niyi Akintola, SAN the apex Court gave the APC both a hint and a wink at the same time. The minority decision backed by the majority’s action of not ruling otherwise on this point sends a strong message which we cannot ignore.
Without equivocation, the law is not on the side of perpetuating serving Governors including Governor Mai Mala Buni in the leadership of the Caretaker Extra-Ordinary Convention Planning Committee. So what do we do as a party?
I have read suggestions by my brother silk, Festus Keyamo, SAN to the effect that the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Party as well as its Board of Trustees (BOT) should take charge of the affairs of the Party through a committee set up by either organ. This is a very wise proposition except that NEC alongside all other organs of the Party were purportedly dissolved at a meeting convened and presided over by Governor Mai Mala Buni. Sadly, the Notice for the NEC meeting was issued by the same tainted leadership of the party.
Therefore, it is my view that the meeting may not have been properly convened in the eyes of the law and its resolution(s) may have been void ab initio. This gives a leeway for the NEC to resume its duties and convene meetings immediately where it will decide the future of the party.
The Board of Trustees of the Party was never and has still not been constituted till date. So in effect, the Party does not have a BOT that could convene even a meeting of the BOT, talk more of convening a National Convention or indeed any statutory meeting of the Party.
The reinstatement of the dissolved National Working Committee (NWC) without the erstwhile Chairman who was suspended from office by Order of a court of competent jurisdiction should be seriously considered in other to cloak the impending Ward, Local Government Area and State Congresses as well as National Convention with the imprint of legality. Many of the NWC members have since moved on to better things and would be reluctant to return to their positions but this is the hard decision we must all take for the sake of saving our dear party.
It is my opinion, that in this moment, there is no place for parochial ground-standing. Just as the former NWC accepted their dissolution without much hassle, it is time for the current Caretaker Committee to sacrifice for the posterity of APC.
The fate of APC is at stake in that all successes, victories and triumphs gained by the party will continue to hang on a very thin thread in the face of the progressive attitude of our courts on election and political matters.
Meanwhile, the decision of the Supreme Court has opened the flood gates for endless litigation challenging every action and decision of the APC leadership as presently constituted.
In closing, I acknowledge the Supreme Court for its’ decision and specifically note the hint the Court gave to us to clean our acts and come into the bounds of legality before the worse happens at the forthcoming general elections.
Babatunde OGALA, SAN is the immediate Past National Legal Adviser, All Progressives Congress