Last month, the National Executive Committee of the ruling All Progressives Congress, (APC) extended the tenure of the national and state officers. Controversies had since been trailing the development, but President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday sounded the death knell of the extension, even though the NEC seemed to remain recalcitrant, writes OLAJIDE OMOJOLOMOJU
On February 27, the National Executive Committee of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) by fiat, extended the tenure of all executive officers of the party across all levels by one year.
By that extension, which by all indications did not go down well with many members of the party across the country, all elected party executives will remain in office till after the 2019 general elections.
Many party stalwarts have at different fora spoken against the extension, condemning it.
Many even see it as a fall out of the cold war between the party’s national chairman and national leader, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun and Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu respectively.
Tinubu, had prior to the extension saga, written an open letter to Odigie-Oyegun, accusing him of undermining the reconciliation process of his national reconciliation committee by his actions and utterances.
First to react to and condemn the tenure extension was the Lagos State chapter of the APC, which rejected the tenure elongation.
The Lagos APC after a consultative from, shortly after the elongation decision, said it rejected the tenure extension because “it was against the country and the party’s constitution.”
Speaking on behalf of the Lagos APC, the Lagos State Central senatorial district leader, Chief Tajudeen Olusi, said, “We have taken reports of the state APC chairman in respect of the NEC meeting held in Abuja.
“We have also had the privilege of receiving great reports from our leader from the reconciliation committee.
“We have considered the issue of extension of tenure and we are of the firm belief that the decision is a breach of the constitution of our party and of the country.
“We are against the elongation of tenure. We shall continue to make our decision known to the party and to the President.”
Quoting copiously from Section 223 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, to buttress his arguments, Olusi said the section, specifically “states that the constitution and rules of a political party shall provide for the periodical election on a democratic basis of the principal officers and members of the executive committee or other governing body of the political party; and ensure that the members of the executive committee or other governing body of the political party reflect the federal character of Nigeria.”
He added, “For the purposes of this section, the election of the officers or members of the executive committee of a political party shall be deemed to be periodical only if it is made at regular intervals not exceeding four years.
“In extending the tenure, the APC National Executive Committee had relied on Article 13.3 (ii) of its constitution which states that the NEC can discharge the functions of the convention in a period of emergency.
“But the provision in Article 13.3 (ii) is not limitless and open-ended. It is a responsibility restricted by the same constitution, which provides exclusively under Article 30 (i) that: ‘This Constitution and Schedules hereto can be amended only by the National Convention of the party’.
Olusi said that the party’s constitution provides the processes for constitution amendment, which he said had not been met before the extension was granted.
Also, a forum of young stakeholders in the APC had also declared the tenure elongation of the party’s executives at all levels as illegal, saying that the power to elongate executives’ tenure does not rest with the NEC, but with the convention.
Addressing a press conference after a closed door meeting in Abuja, the forum’s spokesperson, Martyrs Obekpa, warned the NEC against any form of illegality and breach of the party’s constitution.
Obekpa said, “The youths stand with what our constitution says.
“We do not want illegality in this party. We want to stand by all that we have worked and voted for in this constitution. “Sneaking in any illegality will not be acceptable to the youths.
“By our party constitution, the power for tenure elongation does not rest with the NEC. The power rests in the convention and the party belongs to everybody.”
Some members had even gone to court to seek the intervention of the judiciary.
Specifically, an APC member in Imo State, Okere Uzochukwu, urged the Federal High Court in Abuja to declare the extension of the tenure of the National Working Committee, NWC, by its NEC, illegal and unconstitutional.
Uzochukwu made the request in a suit he filed through his lawyer, Nnamdi Okere, and which also has the APC and the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) as respondents.
The plaintiff also argued that the APC’s national convention “never and did not meet to delegate and has not delegated any of its powers to the National Executive Committee, to warrant the unconstitutional tenure extension.”
Tuesday’s NEC meeting was widely said to have as one of the agenda disciplinary measure against members who had gone to court over party affairs without exploring the internal mechanism of the party at conflict resolution.
But in a surprise move, President Muhammadu Buhari, in his opening remarks, sounded the death knell of the tenure extension, when he reiterated that it was not in consonance with the party’s and the nation’s extant laws.
Of great significance was the fact that President Buhari’s opening remarks at the NEC meeting was all about the tenure extension and the negative effect it would have on the APC psyche.
The President said, “In particular, I think it is important for me to speak quickly on the contentious issue of the tenure of our National and State Executive Officers.
“As we all know, a motion was moved at the last NEC meeting of February 27, to the effect that when the tenure of the current executives expire in June this year, they should be allowed to continue for one year.”
The President added that even though some party members have spoken up “vehemently” against it, the motion “was duly carried by a majority of members present at the last NEC meeting.”
The President added, “Others have even taken the matter to court.
“On my own part, I have taken some time to review and seek advice on the resolution. And what I found is that it contravenes both our party Constitution and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“While the APC Constitution, in 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 prescribes periodic elections for party executives at regular intervals, which must not exceed four years.
“Furthermore, Article 31 of our party’s constitution provides that any principal officer wishing to re-contest or contest for another post, must resign from his current post at least one month before the election.”
Buhari said that under the circumstances, what is expected of the party is the conduct of fresh election the moment the tenure of the present executives approaches expiration.
He added that even the constitution of a caretaker committee cannot remedy the situation “and cannot validly act in place of elected officers.”
To finally put the issue beyond controversy, the President said, “Furthermore, I think if we deviate from the constitutional provisions, we might be endangering the fortunes of our party. If the tenure of our party executives can be legally faulted, then it means that any nominations and primary elections that they may conduct, can also be faulted.
“This is not to talk of divisions that would arise, and is already arising within the party, when some of our members feel that they are being denied the right to aspire to executive positions, or that internal democracy is not at play within the party.
“I am therefore of the firm view 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 risk.
“Fortunately, we have already approved a timetable for the holding of congresses and elections.
“I think these should be allowed to go forward and all efforts should now be geared towards making them a great success.”
Reacting to the new development, Tinubu threw his weight behaviour and the President’s stance.
In a statement he personally signed, and tilted: ‘The President Has Spoken: The APC Stands For Internal Democracy’, Tinubu praised the President for not beating about the bush in the tenure elongation saga.
Tinubu said, “In the clear, straightforward manner that is his mode of expression, and that befits the moment, President Buhari has affirmed that our party remains faithful to the principles of internal democracy and the rule of law.
“In his address to the March 27 NEC meeting, President Buhari stated that talk of extension or elongation of the tenures of national and state party executive officers was improper.
“The President declared that any such moves would contravene both the nation’s and party’s constitutions.
“Additionally, he stated that the designation of existing officers as caretaker committees also violated constitutional requirements.”
Tinubu said President Buhari’s action has saved the APC from serious legal turmoil, adding that “if the elongations were deemed illegal, then all subsequent party actions, including the nomination of all of our candidates for elective offices, might also be of questionable legality.” The APC National Leader averred that such a predicament would constitute an unnecessary and mortal blow to the party and its role in promoting progressive governance to Nigeria.
He added, “Moreover, President Buhari has affirmed for all to see that our party is one based on the rule of law, coupled with a firm adherence to internal democracy.
“While it would have been easy to allow the ill-conceived motion of 27 February to stand, President Buhari showed principle and courage by steering the party back to its original and correct path.
“The President has spoken. Today is a good day for those who cherish democracy and legality. His action will also serve to strengthen the party by allowing party members, including present incumbents, to seek to contribute to the party by vying for executive offices as they see fit.
“His action will go far in advancing the process of internal reconciliation that is now underway. It is a time for the party to move forward and begin to plan and organise the needed congresses according to the existing timetables.
“After all, a party bearing the name All Progressives Congress should be the last party to resist holding congresses in which all its people have a fair say and fair chance to aspire to any position in the party for which they are qualified to hold.
“Again, this is a good day for the APC and democratic political practice in Nigeria. We shun the politics of old to move toward a new and better way of governing ourselves and this nation.”
But even then, the APC has insisted that the tenure extension still stands, despite the President’s stance against the saga.
The party, speaking through its National Publicity Secretary, Bolaji Abdullahi, said that President Buhari’s rejection of the tenure extension of the party’s NWC, led by its chairman, Odigie-Oyegun, has not changed the status quo, adding that the extension still stands.
Abdullahi said that the President only expressed his personal opinion, which cannot be said to be position of the NEC.
He said until the NEC reverses itself, the extension remains.
With this development, it seems the battle line is drawn and we need to wait to see who blinks first in the saga.