Last Tuesday, President Muhammadu Buhari foreclosed the possibility of a tenure extension hitherto given to both the National Working Committee (NWC) and state executives of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC). ANDREW ESSIEN looks at the implications of this latest move as the party moves towards 2019.
March 27, 2018 will not be forgotten in a hurry as President Muhammadu Buhari in his usual frankness shocked the National Executive Committee (NEC) members of his party when he openly made an about-turn on an otherwise settled issue of the tenure extension that was granted to the NWC members and the state executives in the previous NEC meeting on February 27, 2018.
It will be recalled that the NEC at the February meeting attended by President Buhari, had approved an extension of tenure for the Chief John Odigie Oyegun-led National Working Committee and state executive committees of the party for another one year with effect from June 30, 2018 which meant that the current leadership of the party as currently constituted and at various levels will have to stay put until after the 2019 general elections, a development which infuriated some members of the party.
It is a known fact that the party’s leadership had been cracked along interest lines before now even as President Buhari had sought to ameliorate the situation by constituting the peace and reconciliation committee headed by Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who has been having a topsy-turvy relationship with the national chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun.
Many had wondered how the Asiwaju-led reconciliation committee would even begin to work when he had expressed his desire to see a change in the leadership of the party. He even released a letter alleging that Chief Oyegun was frustrating his peace moves, the second in the series.
By the time the party had reached the first NEC meeting in the year, many were indeed surprised to see the overwhelming endorsement for a tenure extension for him and other elected leaders of the party. Expectedly, many had insinuated that that the move was a vote against Asiwaju and to give the speculations a semblance of truth, the peace and reconciliation moves went into a slow mode even as nothing was heard about it thereafter.
Political analysts however posit that subterranean and clandestine high wired meetings were ongoing in view of the controversies generated by the tenure extension at the previous NEC meeting. It was therefore not surprising that Asiwaju Tinubu and his staunchest political ally yet, chief Bisi Akande were conspicuously absent at the last Caucus meeting at the presidential villa on Monday.
What is surprising now is President Buhari’s declaration at the NEC meeting that after due consultations, the tenure extension that was approved for the NWC members and the state executives was against the constitution of the party even as he said that going against it will further widen the cracks within the rank and file of the party.
The President, who apparently took the NEC members unawares by his sudden u-turn, declared that the tenure extension was unconstitutional even as he called for a speedy resolution of the outstanding issues so as to make the party a strong fighting force that will best suit the populace.
While quoting extant laws of the party as stated in Articles 17(1) and 13.2 (b), President Buhari further warned that doing anything untoward as regards the extension, will be giving the opposition a loophole with which to attack the party.
President Buhari said: “I am delighted to once again welcome you to this National Executive Committee meeting of our great party. As we usually do, I hope we will take the opportunity of this gathering to resolve outstanding issues, and consolidate on our plans towards making APC the strongest defender of the interest of our people.”
“In particular, I think it is important for me to speak quickly on the contentious issues of the tenure of our national and state executive officers. As we all know a motion was moved in the last National Executive Committee meeting of February 27 to the effect that when the tenure of the current executives expires in June this year, they should be allowed to continue for one year.
“This motion was duly carried by the majority of members present at the last NEC meeting, even though some of our party members have since spoken up vehemently against it, others have even taken the matter to court,” he said.
While expressing his opinion, the President said: “On my own part, I have taken time to review and seek advice on the resolution and what I found is that, it contravenes both our party’s constitution and the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
“While the APC constitution is article 17(1) and 13.2 (b) limits the tenure of elected officers to four years, renewable once by another election, the 1999 constitution of Nigeria (as amended) in section 223 also prescribed periodic election for party executives at regular intervals which must not exceed four years.
“Further more, article 31 of our great party’s constitution provides that any principal officer wishing to recontest , or contest for another post, must resign from his current post at least one month before the election. In this circumstance, what is expected of us, is to conduct fresh elections once the tenure of the current executives approaches its end,” he added.
While warning against the implications of a caretaker committee at the helms of affairs of the party, President Buhari also noted that “a caretaker committee cannot remedy this situation and cannot validly act in place of elected officers.”
“Furthermore, I think if we deviate from the constitution and provisions, we might be endangering the fortunes of our party.
“If the tenure of our party executive can be legally faulted, then, it means the any nomination and primary election that they will conduct can also be faulted.
“This is not to talk of divisions that will arise and it is already arising within the party when some of our members feeling that they are being denied the rights to aspire to executive positions or the internal democracy is not at play within the party.
“I am therefore of the firm beliefs that it is better to follow strictly the dictates of our party and national constitutions rather than put the APC and its activities at grave risks.
“Fortunately, we have approved a timetable for the order of congresses and the elections. I think this should be allowed to go forward and all efforts should now be geared towards making them a great success.
“I have to digress from speech here to tell you, the NEC, that it does not preclude us as from discussing this matter. The reason is this, we have so many instances including the one sitting by my right, people have quoted the constitution of our party including that of Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended and it has facilitated the decisions we have taken.
“All well and good, I don’t feel too strongly, the only thing I feel too strongly about is that we should not allow our party to be vulnerable to and susceptible to the opposition. They can delay or divide us further within the party when they quote appropriate portion of the party
.constitution and of the country. Take note of this my statement, there are knowledgeable people sitting among you the governors and the party chairmen and among us here on the high table,” the President said.
While reacting to the development, the new state chairman of APC in Abia state, Dr. Emmanuel Ndukwe, said that President Buhari’s decision to reject the unilateral decision of the NEC on tenure extension for the current party executives at all levels, was the best, adding that such will strengthen the party.
Ndukwe, who was attending the NEC meeting for the first time after taking over as the party chairman in Abia state, described President Buhari as a law-abiding citizen who believes in working in accordance with the party’s constitution.
Ndukwe said: “I am a Buharist, the president is a law-abiding citizen and as a law-abiding citizen, we work with party’s constitution and there is never a place where it was mentioned that a tenure can be extended. So, I gladly accept and very happy that we are going to conduct our congresses, especially in Abia State where I have taken over.”
“I use this opportunity to call on all the people that have been sidelined previously from participating in party activities to mobilise and come in and participate in the congress and they can install whoever they want.
“All what we want is openness. The era of moneybags coming in, using their money to influence important issues is over. Let them come in and mobilise people in the grassroots. There is no need running away, let them come in build the party,” he said.
Speaking on the implications of President Buhari’s decision, Ndukwe said: “All those who call themselves stakeholders and they don’t come home, this is the opportunity for them to come home, mobilise for the party and make the party stronger in Abia state than it has been. So, I am calling everybody, we are going to run open government.”
“The doors are open quite unlike what has been happening in the past. All the people that they are feeling they have been excluded from participating in party activities; this is an opportunity to come, prove their popularity and mobilise to work for APC because APC must take over Abia state in the general election in 2019,” he added.
The questions on the minds of political onlookers is that did the NEC members not study and get proper interpretation of their party’s constitution before they forayed into the tenure extension exercise? Wasn’t the president aware of the process at the caucus before it was brought up as an agenda for debate at the NEC, where he would have sought for proper guidance before this sudden U-turn? Are they aware of the likely backlash should the NEC move to override the President?
These are serious times and the stakes are even higher than it has ever been. The timely resolution of this debacle will be of great interest.