Belatedly, President Muhammadu Buhari has directed all political appointees seeking to contest elective offices to resign before May 16, 2022. This should have happened sooner, particularly after the National Assembly turned down his request to amend the Electoral Act 2022 and remove section 84 (12), which has not only become subject of litigation eliciting a controversial federal high court ruling.
The ruling exposed the willingness of the courts to disregard due process. It is also, in our view, a clear abuse of office by the Attorney General of the Federation who put his personal interest above that of the nation. Section 84(12) of the Electoral Act provides that, “No political appointee at any level shall be a voting delegate or be voted for at the convention or congress of any political party for the purpose of the nomination of candidates for any election.”
We are also of the opinion that this undue influence over the courts and the electoral process, is exactly why political appointees with ambitions beyond 2023 should not remain while campaigning for their party’s tickets. The reluctance of the president to take a stand put virtually everyone in a difficult position. The courts, the party and even the Head of Service was forced to come out and categorically state that civil servants seeking to participate in political activities had to resign. At least one appointee had already dragged the Independent National Electoral Commission to court. It was only a matter of time before the INEC would be forced to disqualify candidates from the general election or ignore the section of the Electoral Act demanding the resignation of political appointees before party primaries and wait for the final judgement of the Supreme Court.
The case filed in court has, however, taken another twist as the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal set aside the judgment of Justice Evelyn Anyadike of a High Court in Umuahia, which had voided Section 84(12) of the Electoral Act 2022.
A three-member panel of the Court of Appeal headed by Justice Hamma Akawu Barka, held that the High Court in Umuahia had no jurisdiction to have entertained the case because the plaintiff, Nduka Edede, lacked the locus standi to have filed the suit in the first place.
Yet, Court of Appeal, against all expectations of most legal experts, went on to determine the appeal on merit ruling that Section 84(12) was unconstitutional because it violated Section 42 (1)(a) of the constitution and denied a class of Nigerian citizens their right to participate in election. This should not be a reason for the president to rescind his decision, that is unless there is nothing left for his government to achieve and he no longer needs his ministers and heads of agencies to concentrate on issues of governance. The president still has a whole year left in office. He shouldn’t spend it campaigning for a possible successor. In fact, if need be, the president should dissolve his entire cabinet and appoint ministers who can concentrate on fulfilling the mandate given by the Nigerian people in 2019.
And if President Buhari is unwilling to go that far, it is our opinion that he should at least support his party and see to it that ministers and other political appointees resign before party primaries or drop their ambitions. The ruling All Progressives Congress, led by Sen. Abdullahi Adamu, had taken a stand that political appointees would have to resign or would not participate in the primaries as either delegate or contestants. The reality was that their position was always going to be difficult to enforce without the backing of the president. But things have now changed after the president reportedly called for the resignations of all those seeking elective offices.
Media reports suggest a good number of these appointees have abandoned their official duties and are in the states lobbying delegates or traveling across the country in the case of those with presidential aspirations. This is a win-win scenario for the office holder, but it is bad for the average Nigerian citizen who is being asked to forget the immediate challenges and look instead to 2023 for solutions.
We are persuaded to argue that the government appointees should not have waited for a presidential directive before doing the needful – which is vacating their offices to avoid a clash of interest. It is disheartening that these appointees needed to wait to be reminded that it is immoral to use state funds to run for office. There is no other reason why they intended to keep their offices while canvassing for votes.