In this report, JONATHAN NDA-ISAIAH delves into the controversy trailing the Supreme Court’s minority judgment on Ondo governorship poll, which triggered legal interpretations among stakeholders of the governing APC on the the legality or otherwise of the Governor Mai Mala Buni-led caretaker committee.
Supreme Court’s minority judgment on Wednesday, which disagreed with the majority judgement that ratified the victory of Ondo State governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, has thrown up fresh controversy over the legitimacy of the Governor Mai Mala Buni-led All Progressives Congress (APC) national caretaker chairman, with the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) asking the APC chairman to resign.
Justices Peter-Odili, Ejembi Eko and Ibrahim Saulawa declared in the dissenting judgement said Buni violated the Constitution, when as a sitting governor, still acted as Chairman of the APC by submitting Akeredolu’s name to INEC for purposes of the governorship poll.
Following the pronouncement, the PDP had described the split decision of the Supreme Court as a pronouncement that Governor Buni cannot continue to lead the APC as caretaker committee chairman. The party’s national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said it is an aberration for Buni to serve as Yobe State governor and chairman of the APC at the same time.
“That is totally an aberration of the doctrine and dictates as established in the APC Constitution as well as the 1999 Constitution as amended. We insist that the process that led to the emergence of Governor Akeredolu was, and remains a violation of the APC Constitution as well as the 1999 Constitution,” PDP stated.
But moving in defence of Buni, the APC and some party stakeholders have said there is no cause for alarm because the constitutional issues raised in the minority judgment on the legality or otherwise of the Buni-led caretaker committee does not in any way stop the committee from discharging its duty.
Counsel to APC, Chief Niyi Akintola (SAN), told journalists at the party headquarters in Abuja that there was nowhere in judgement of the majority where the efficacy of the office of the national caretaker committee chairman was questioned. He said it was surprising that people were giving much attention to the judgement of the minority, which he said was of no value.
Akintola faulted the position of the minister of State, Labour and Productivity, Festus Keyamo (SAN), who called for the immediate dissolution of the committee before it proceeds on the congresses and nation convention of the party.
He stated that Keyamo’s position has no basis in law, assuring party members that no election conducted by Buni as national chairman would be void on the grounds that he (Buni) signed any document.
He said, “You begin to wonder where they get their interpretations from. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak to some of these colleagues and in fairness to them, they claim that they knew nothing about it; that they just based their comments on sentiments and what they heard on the social media. Of course, for those of us who practice the profession, we don’t practice it on the pages of newspapers, television and social media. No. We ply our trade in the courtroom and that is the function of a serious lawyer.”
Weighing in, the deputy president of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege, said no law bars a governor from carrying out party assignment. In his legal opinion on the judgment of the Supreme Court in the Jegede versus Akeredolu case, he expressed surprise that the judgment that dismissed the appeal initiated by Jegede is been misinterpreted by mischief makers for obviously nefarious intentions.
Omo-Agege said, “There is no law under our legal jurisprudence that bars or prohibits a Governor who is a member of a political party and won elections under the political party from carrying out specific assignments on-behalf of his party. How this will amount to holding an ‘Executive office’ is beyond every stretch of human comprehension.”
“Without much ado, it is important to state that the majority decision of the Supreme Court in Jegede’s case, emphatically dismissed the appeal and did not consider the issue of the provisions of Section 183 of the 1999 Constitution, neither did the majority decision make any comments on the competence of Governor Mai Mala Bumi as the Chairman of the APC Caretaker Committee.
“The appeal was dismissed on the ground of competence or lack thereof for the non-joinder of a necessary party to the suit at the lower court. It is therefore disingenuous, unsound and mischievous to attempt to misinform the reading public of what was not the ratio decidendi of the judgment of the court.”
Noting that it was necessary to proceed to clear the gross misconception of the provisions of section 183 of the 1999 Constitution raised some salient questions. He said, “From the explicit provision of Section 183 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), it is absolutely impossible and untenable to argue that the provisions of Section 183 bars a Governor from being a Chairman or member of a Caretaker Committee set up by his or her political party. More so, the position of the Chairman of a Caretaker Committee cannot by any sense of imagination, logic or simple common sense be classified as a being a salaried Executive office.”
Jumping into the arena, the attorney-general of the federation and minister of justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), disagreed with the view of Keyamo, noting that Keyamo’s view is not the position of the law. He pointed out that Buni’s appointment was not irregular on the ground that APC can possibly appoint any of its members in compliance with the party’s Constitution which empowers the NEC of the party to appoint any member into any committee, give such committee any name and empower it as may deem fit.
He said, ‘’Therefore, it is shocking that the interpretation of Section 183 of the 1999 Constitution, in light of the above-quoted decision of the Supreme Court, could be stretched in some quarters to state that chairmanship of an ad-hoc committee duly constituted by the National Executive Committee of a registered political party (by a registered member of the Party) could constitute paid employment or an executive position as envisaged under Section 183 of the Constitution.
‘’It remains to be seen how a Governor functioning in an ad-hoc capacity as mandated/delegated by his political party can be construed as ‘’holding any executive office or paid employment’’ as envisaged by the drafters of our Constitution.
‘’To further show the meritless nature of the position under review, assuming without conceding that the argument is right, then, it will equally be contrary to the spirit and intent of Section 183 of the Constitution for any sitting Governor to be Chairman of say the Governors’ Forum, Chairman of the Progressive Governors Forum, or any other similar body. This, in my humble view, can definitely not be the intention of the drafters of the 1999 Constitution.
‘’The appointment of Gov. Mala Buni in the circumstances is not irregular and the possibility of any member of the Party to be so appointed is in compliance with the APC Constitution which empowers the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Party to appoint any Member into any Committee, give such Committee any name and empower it as the NEC may deem fit.
‘’However, it remains to be seen how the Court will hold that an ad-hoc caretaker committee chairman exercising the powers of, and subject to the supervision and control of NEC and the Convention of his Party, is occupying an executive position.”
Lending his voice from New York, Bawa said, “Therefore, section 183 of the constitution of Nigeria and Article 17 (iv) refer to these positions. Positions that are tenured for four years and subject to re-election. The Caretaker committee positions are however not tenured for four years with option of re-election; they are positions in caretaker capacities for the sole aim of organizing the convention and other ancillary matters.
“With respect to the judgment of the supreme Court it does not apply here and cannot be used to sustain argument against the caretaker committee or Gov. Mai. Buni. That’s why Festus Keyamo scored an own goal.”
In the same vein, some APC stakeholders have argued that Governor Buni has never hidden the fact that his occupation of the position was not permanent but a child of necessity borne out of the crisis that engulfed the party before the 2019 general election and even beyond.
They took a swipe at the PDP for calling on the APC chairman to resign, saying the opposition was merely taking advantage of the minority judgement of the Supreme Court to push back on the decimation of the party since the emergence of Buni as national caretaker committee chairman. They noted that nationwide there are gale of defections of PDP faithful to the APC due to the stability of the party and the transparent manner with which the party is run under Buni’s leadership.
A top APC official who did not want his name in print because he was authorised to speak on the matter noted that apart from Cross River State governor, Ebonyi State governor and Zamfara State governor that dumped the PDP, more PDP governors are expected to move to APC before the 2023 general polls.
He said that the PDP had been so rattled to the extent that the PDP Governors Forum met and alleged that the APC are poaching them, using underhand tactics to arm-twist them to join the governing party. He dismissed the allegation as laughable.
Another chieftain of the APC who spoke on condition of anonymity cautioned those joining forces with the opposition to stampede Buni out of office to think again before talking, saying the hasty utterances from certain persons were unnecessary and uncalled for.
He recalled that Buni has done greatly in repositioning the party, including, reconciliation of the aggrieved members of the party including those that had left for other parties by setting up a reconciliation team.
“The National Caretaker Committee was able to resolve the crises in some state chapters of the party like Zamfara, Rivers, Bayelsa and Cross River, which seemed impossible under Adams Oshiomhole-led NWC. This effort at resolving internal conflicts at various chapters has, however paid off with members’ desire in compliance with the party resolution to withdraw and terminate all ongoing litigations that involved the party.
“The caretaker committee embarked on a nationwide APC membership registration, revalidation and register exercise which is also meant to increase the party’s membership and support base nationwide; The APC now has over 40 million registered members,” he stated
Another official of the party said the comment by the opposition smacks of total hatred for the Yobe governor because of the kind of reorganization going on in APC ahead of 2023 He said, “The Buni-led caretaker committee also saw reasons to review APC’s law book which a high-level committee was already working, though it is yet to submit its reports; constitution of a recently-inaugurated tripartite Executive/Legislative/APC consultative committee which is to ensure synergy, good governance and accelerated implementation of the Next Level agenda.