Buni NWC: Confusion In APC Over Judicial Pronouncement - Mc Ebisco

Buni NWC: Confusion in APC Over Judicial Pronouncement

There is uneasy calm within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the cause of this is a recent court judgment that disqualified Governor Gboyega Oyetola, as the APC candidate in the July 2022 governorship election in the state because Buni, who submitted his name to INEC, violated the provisions of Section 183 of the Constitution and Section 82(3) of the Electoral Act 2022.

Oyetola in the said election was the incumbent governor and the candidate of the APC . He lost the election to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Senator Ademola Adeleke.

Oyetola is currently at the Election Petition Tribunal to challenge Adeleke’s victory in the election. But the process of recovering his alleged mandate was dampened by a court judgement that annulled his candidature.

The PDP, Nigeria’s main opposition party, as a follow up to the judgement has also approached a Federal High Court in Abuja, seeking the disqualification of Bola Tinubu and all candidates of the APC for the 2023 general election.

The PDP also asked the court to sack all the members of the National Working Committee (NWC) of the APC.

The Abdullahi Adamu-led NWC took over the affairs of APC after the party’s national convention in March this year.

It would be recalled that the Supreme Court first raised the alarm in its judgement which it delivered on July 27,2021 in a suit filed by Eyitayo Jegede, the candidate of the PDP in the Ondo 2020 governorship election against the victory of Rotimi Akeredolu of the APC, which came with a split margin of 4 to 3.

The majority judgment of the Supreme Court was silent on the implications of Buni being joined in the case, but the minority judgment presented by Justice Mary Odili made it very clear that Buni functioning as APC Caretaker Committee chairman and at the same time serving as executive governor of a state was a violation of the Constitution.

Section 183 expressly states that: “The Governor shall not, during the period he holds office, hold any other executive office or paid employment in any capacity whatsoever.”

After the judgement, some lawyers in the APC, who saw the danger in keeping the Buni-led interim leadership in office, called for an end to Buni’s reign. One of them is the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, who suggested that for the party to avoid grave danger, the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party should meet and reconstitute the Caretaker Committee to exclude, not only Buni, but also anyone holding any executive position in any government establishment as stipulated in Article 17 of the APC Constitution.

Alternatively, Keyamo noted, the Board of Trustees of the party, which includes President Muhammadu Buhari, should be activated to organise a national convention in line with Article 13 of the APC Constitution, where it is given such powers.

Also, an Abuja-based lawyer, Dr Kayode Ajulo, had on July 31, 2021, while reacting to the pronouncement of the Supreme Court on the Ondo 2020 election, in which governor Akeredolu escaped being sacked as governor by the whiskers, had warned the APC of unforeseen circumstances if Gov Buni continued as the chairman of the Caretaker Committee of the party.

In a statement titled, ‘Why Mai Bala Buni should step down ’ in 2021 Ajulo had said, “Without prejudice to the ratio decidendi of the majority decision of the court , it is imperative to state pressistimo and very clearly, too, that with the unanimous position of the Apex Court that it appears the actions of the APC in permitting a sitting governor as its interim chairman is in violation of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, it is my sincere view that the Interim Chairman of the APC should immediately step down. My humble but cosmic review of the judgement comes with an indication that the Governor of Yobe State, Mai Mala Buni, has to vacate his seat, as the chairman of the APC with immediate effect.”

However, all the warnings were rebuffed as the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), countered their positions.

Malami expressed the opinion that the draftsmen of the Constitution would not have considered the position Buni held as an elective position due to its meritless nature.

Malami, stating his point in a 20-point argument against the decision reached by the Supreme Court, described the interpretation of the 1999 Constitution as “stretched.”

He said: “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.”

Malami’s position was further given backing by a Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, which struck out a suit challenging the competence of the Buni-led Caretaker Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee of the APC.

Justice Pheobe Msuen Ayua held that the action was non-justiciable and incurably incompetent, noting that the substratum of the matter bordered on the internal affairs of the ruling APC.

However in a suit which disqualified Oyetola, Justice Emeka Nwite of the Federal High Court, Abuja nullified the nomination of Governor Oyetola and his Deputy, Benedict Alabi, as candidates of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the just concluded governorship election in Osun State.

The suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/468/2022, has former Acting Chairman of the APC and Governor of Yobe State, Mai Mala Buni and four others as defendants.

Justice Nwite in his judgement held that the nomination of Oyetola and his deputy was unlawful and unconstitutional because Buni, who submitted their names to INEC, violated the provisions of Section 183 of the Constitution and Section 82(3) of the Electoral Act 2022.

Mr. Kehinde Ogunwumiju, SAN, counsel to the PDP, had in the suit dated April 7, urged the court to void the nomination of Governor Oyetola and his deputy as the duly nominated candidates of the APC on the grounds that the action of Buni breached the law.

However, Ogunwumiju’s submission was opposed by Oyetola’s lawyer, Mr. Kunle Adegoke, SAN, who urged the court to dismiss the suit for being incompetent and lacking in merit.

According to Oyetola’s lawyer, the Plaintiff did not have the locus to commence the legal action against the defendants, since it was not a member of the APC and more so, the issue of nomination was an internal matter of political parties.

Oyetola, in addition, argued that the suit was statute-barred; hence the court should dismiss it.

In his judgement, Justice Nwite agreed with the submissions of the Plaintiff’s counsel and declared as null and voids the nomination of Oyetola and Alabi by the APC.

The court also held that Governor Buni acted in contravention of the provision of Section 183 of the Constitution when he held dual executive positions as the Governor of Yobe State and the Chairman of the National Caretaker Committee of APC.

The court held that the steps or decisions taken by Buni, including forwarding the names of Oyetola and Alabi to INEC, amounted to a nullity in law.

Recall that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), had declared the candidate of the PDP, Senator Ademola Adeleke, winner of the July 16, 2022 governorship election, having scored the highest number of votes cast at the polls.

With Nwite’s judgment and its current subsisting nature, all actions taken by Buni while in office as APC Caretaker Chairman Stand invalidated.

The actions taken by the Buni-led committee included the signing of the nomination of Ekiti governor-elect, Abiodun Oyebanji, as APC candidate for the June 18, 2022 governorship election in the state; the nominations of candidates for other legislative polls; the amendment of the party’s constitution which was ratified at the convention and the conduct of the party’s elective national convention, which gave birth to the current National Working Committee (NWC) led by Senator Abdulahi Adamu, among others.

The biggest threat posed by the ruling to the APC and which is causing disquiet in the party is the possible disqualification of all its candidates for the 2023 elections, including the presidential ticket of Senator Bola Tinubu and Kashim Shettima, considering that Adamu’s NWC conducted the primaries.

It is argued that once the NWC is invalidated by the reason of Buni’s involvement, all actions of the NWC would be deemed null and void.

It is based on this premise that PDP is contesting the legality of the process that produced the party’s national officers and all APC candidates in the 2023 general election.

Consequently, the PDP is praying the court to void the APC NWC as well as all candidates produced by the party for the 2023 general election on the claim that they were produced in breach of the 1999 Constitution, the party’s Constitution and Electoral Act 2022.

The case file has been assigned to Inyang Ekwo, a federal high court judge. Ekwo has fixed November 22 for mention of the suit with an order that all the 53 persons listed by PDP as defendants be served with hearing notices in their respective locations.

APC presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu; the party’s vice-presidential candidate, Kashim Shettima, as well as governorship candidates, their running mates, Senatorial and House of Representatives candidates were listed as defendants in the suit.

In a related development, the Federal High Court has constituted a special task force of judges to swiftly hear and determine all pre-election cases before it.

Chief Judge of the Federal Court, Justice John Terhemba Tsoho, who constituted the task force, said it became necessary to designate a team of judges following the large volume of pre-election suits that have flooded the court.

The Assistant Director, Information of the Federal High Court, Catherine Oby Christopher, in a statement had also said a circular issued by the Chief Judge asked judges who are members of the task force to suspend all regular cases in their respective courts, due to the urgency of the electoral cases, which are time-bound.

The statement said: “In view of the large volume of pre-election cases filed so far, with the imminent attendant risk of lapsing, it has become necessary to constitute a task force to speedily dispose of the matters, particularly in those judicial divisions with a glut of them.”

Tsoho further stated that the judges would have four weeks to dispose of the pre-election cases.

In his reaction to the judgement, which nullified Oyetola‘s candidacy, Dr Kayode Ajulo in a statement, expressed fear that Tinubu and other candidates of the party may face a similar fate.

He said “It is a plague that could have been avoided if only they took my position on the governor Buni’s chairmanship misadventures seriously. But the judgment has vindicated me”.

Ajulo foretold that if the apex court goes along with the decision of the High Court judgement , the current National Executive of the APC led by Adamu Abdullahi will also be swept out.

“If the Supreme Court upheld the judgment, the party’s presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu, and other APC candidates for every elective position will have no business in participating in the 2023 General Election.

“Can one put something on nothing and expect it to stand. Unless some strategic steps are quickly taken, invalidation of the party’s executives and candidates across all levels will be a great disaster to the APC and could mark its total collapse. This development is a stern warning to politicians to henceforth have regards for law and reasoned thoughts,” he said.