The battle for the 2023 elections seems to be taking shape in the All Progressives Congress (APC) as the power blocs are already testing the waters.
The verdict of the Supreme Court on the Ondo governorship election had thrown up fresh issues in the ruling party.
The apex court, had in a split decision of four-to-three, dismissed the appeal brought by Eyitayo Jedege, candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the October 10, 2020 governorship election.
The majority judgment of the seven-member panel, which was read by Justice Emmanuel Agim, said it found no reason to set aside the concurrent judgments of the Court of Appeal and the Ondo State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal, which had dismissed Jegede’s petition for lack of merit.
But Justice Mary Odili, in a dissenting minority verdict, upheld Jegede’s appeal that the nomination of Akeredolu, which was signed by Governor Mai Mala Buni of Yobe State, was not valid under Section 183 of the Nigerian Constitution, 1999.
“The governor shall not, during the period when he holds office, hold any other executive office or paid employment in any capacity whatsoever,” reads section 183.
Buni is chairman of the caretaker committee of the ruling party.
*Keyamo kicked against congresses*
Shortly after the judgement of the apex court, Festus Keyamo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and Minister of State for Labour, advised the party against going ahead with the congresses.
“The planned congresses across the country slated for this weekend must immediately be suspended because it will be an exercise in futility as analysed above. The competence of Gov. Mai Mala Buni to organise the congresses has been called to question by the Supreme Court,” Keyamo had said.
President Muhammadu Buhari, who was in UK when the verdict was delivered, had asked Osinbajo to weigh in.
Following the directive of the president, the Vice-President summoned a meeting of senior cabinet members, who are lawyers.
Among those who attended were the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami; Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola; Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed; and Minister of State for Labour, Mr. Festus Keyamo.
Professor Tahir Mamman, a former Director General of the Nigeria Law School and legal adviser/member of the Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee of the APC, was also in attendance.
*Different interpretations of the constitution*
At the meeting, Malami argued that Section 183 of the Constitution does not affect the position Buni is occupying in the party because he is not holding the office in executive capacity.
“The CECPC Chairmanship position currently held by H.E, Mai Mala Buni is ad-hoc and not an Executive position in the strict sense, in view of the fact that in his capacity as Chairman of CECPC, he is accountable and answerable to both the NEC and the National Convention of the Party. Furthermore, Governor Mala Buni also occupies the Office at the pleasure of both NEC and the National Convention and as such he cannot be said to be occupying an Executive position.”
“It therefore 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. Any argument that H.E., Buni may be holding an executive office or paid employment in the circumstances is simply a mischievous and unnecessary interpretation of the Judgment of the Supreme Court in the Ondo Gubernatorial Elections’ appeal which should not be countenanced as it has no basis in Law,” he had said.
Insiders said the meeting was divided along the lines of those who wanted the congress to hold and those who did not. The Vice-President had moved against the congresses on legal grounds, according to sources.
Osinbajo was said to have made efforts to halt the exercise in order to avoid another round of crisis for the party but in the end, the congresses took part in many states.
There were reports that Malami and Buni disregarded the directive of Osinbajo for the congresses not to hold but the Chairman of the caretaker committee denied doing so.
Speaking through Mamman Mohammed, Director-General of his Press and Media Affairs, Buni said he has a lot of respect for the Vice-President.
“Who said the directive of the Vice-President was disobeyed? Did the Vice-President issue any directive on that?”
“Governor Buni is a man that respects authority. Governor Buni is a man that has so much respect for the Vice-President and there is no way he would have disregarded his directive,” he told journalists.
*Malami also denied disobeying the directive of the Vice-President.*
“Congresses and the conduct thereof is a function of a political party and not the office of the Attorney-General. I’m not responsible for the implementation of directives relating to party administration as you rightly know. It does not therefore add up that I refused to obey directives over which I have no legal responsibility to execute.”
“The allegation does not represent the true position of things. I remain law abiding and whole heartedly abiding to presidential directives,” he told newsmen.
A key presidency source said: “Is Attorney General running the party? No. If that is the case, then, all those things are in realm of speculation.
“You should not forget that the party has its legal department running the affairs. It’s just to create enmity among various leaders in the party.”
However, the congresses threw up fresh rivalry in the party
In Ogun, the camps of Governor Dapo Abiodun and Senator Ibikunle Amosun, his predecessor, held parallel exercises.
In Osun, the camps of Governor Gboyega Oyetola and Rauf Aregbesola, his predecessor who is the incumbent minister of interior, squared off amid wild allegations.
It was also a chaotic atmosphere in Kwara where the camps of Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq and Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information, renewed hostilities and held parallel congresses.
The scenario was not so different in Kano where parallel congresses held in some areas, including Sharada ward, where Hon Shaba’an Sharada, a house of reps member and fierce critic of Governor Abdullahi Ganduje, is from.
Sharada ward is a stronghold of the APC. The party usually gets large votes from the area during elections.
On Monday, Hon Sharada led some of his supporters to the party secretariat in protest over the congresses.
In Imo, the congresses could not hold as the party chieftains who are not in the camp of Governor Hope Uzodinma got an injunction to stop the exercise.
*Different issues also arose in Lagos State.*
However, the exercise was successful in some parts of the country.
In a statement he issued after the congresses, Buni congratulated the party over what he described as the “successful and peaceful conduct of the ward Congress across the country”.
“I wish to congratulate us all for the peaceful and successful conduct of the ward Congress.”
“The massive turn out of members in the Congress reflects the success of the membership registration and revalidation exercise.
“It also reflects the unity and confidence of our members in the repositioned APC and its leadership” Buni said.