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The Supreme court of Nigeria on Wednesday set the country’s political space agog and particularly thrown the camp of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, into disarray, following its judgment on the Ondo State governorship election petition between Gov Rotimi Akeredolu of APC and Eyitayo Jegede of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP.
The Apex Court had by a narrow split decision of four justices against three held that though Gov Rotimi Akeredolu cannot be removed as Governor of Ondo State, but a dissenting minority judgment held that the APC erred in making a sitting governor its national chairman in contravention of section 183 of 1999 constitution as amended.
According to analysts, what saved Gov Akeredolu and the APC was that Jegede failed to join Gov Mai Mala Buni in the suit. In other words, had Buni been joined in the suit, the APC would have lost Ondo State to the PDP, and every action taken by the committee would have been deemed illegal, null, and void.
They stressed that perhaps, Jegede’s lawyers were smart enough to know that as a sitting governor, Buni enjoys immunity and can’t be sued. However, others believe Buni does not enjoy any such immunity as he only enjoys immunity from criminal prosecution.
Jegede, the candidate of the PDP in the disputed 2020 governorship election in Ondo State, had challenged the competence of Gov. Mai Mala Buni as a sitting Governor to run the affairs of the APC as Chairman of the Caretaker Committee. He contended that this is against Section 183 of the 1999 Constitution which states that a sitting Governor shall not, during the period when he holds office, hold any other executive office or paid employment in any capacity whatsoever.
This judgment immediately sparked chains of reactions from both members of the APC and members of the opposition parties.
 
First to react was the Minister of State Labour and Chieftain of the APC, Barr. Festus Keyamo, who noted with emphasis that the implication of the Supreme court judgment as it affects the APC is that the party must halt all preparations and conduct of congresses nationwide forthwith.
 
Keyamo warned that any other person affected by the actions of the Buni-led Committee would henceforth not fail to join him in any subsequent case in court, and these might  include any subsequent election matter in any part of this country and all the APC Congresses that are about to hold.
The Labour Minister revealed that the Supreme Court has just weaponized all those that would be aggrieved by the APC Congresses to proceed to court to challenge the competence of the Buni-led CECPC to organize the Congresses and National Convention, adding that the judiciary will subsequently destroy the entire structure of the Party from bottom to top.
In his suggestions to save the party from the brink of total collapse, the Senior Advocate advised his party to immediately suspend the planned Congresses across the country slated for this weekend must immediately because it will be an exercise in futility as analyzed above given that the competence of Gov. Mai Mala Buni to organize the congresses has been called to question by the Supreme Court.
 
Secondly, Keyamo advised that the NEC of the Party should urgently meet and consider and reconstitute the CECPC to exclude, not only Gov. Buni but anyone holding ANY executive position in any government establishment as stipulated in Article 17 of the APC Constitution.
 
Similarly, a constitutional lawyer and also a chieftain of the APC, Barr. Kayode Ajulo, in his reaction, asked Gov. Mai Mala Buni to immediately step down as the national chairman of the party.
 
 
Ajulo held that it is incontrovertible that the continuous stay of the Governor as Chief Executive Officer of the All Progressives Congress runs contrary to the provision of the Constitution and as such may be an albatross on the party, as all he had done before would be null and void, including the nomination of candidates within the period of his so-called Leadership of the party.
 
 
He added that whichever way this issue is being tilted, permitting a Governor of a State to hold another executive office may create cravings in some Governors to become the State Chairman of their Political Parties as being recently tinkered by some of them.
 
In weighing in on the submission of Keyamo and Ajulo, some analysts were of the opinion that Keyamo said what he said because he is an aggrieved party having lost relevance in Delta politics to the Omo-Agege flank.
The analysts added that as a SAN, Keyamo knew well that Justices and lawyers don’t cite minority judgments in any case.
Others are of the view that whether Keyamo is aggrieved or not, the points he made in his submission could not be wished away as this will certainly be the beginning of trouble water in the ruling party.
Without any doubt, this development signposted an imminent legal clog to the success of the party’s congresses and national convention leading to the 2023 general elections.
But the party in its immediate reaction dismissed the supreme court minority judgment while insisting there was no going back on the State Congresses as scheduled.
The APC Thursday vowed to go ahead with the conduct of its State congresses scheduled for July 31, 2021, despite legal concerns by some members of the party.
Addressing a press conference Thursday at the national secretariat of APC,  Chief Niyi Akintola SAN, described the minority judgment as a mere academic exercise with no relevance in legal jurisprudence.
Akintola, who is also a chieftain of the APC, alongside the national secretary, Sen. John James Akpanudoedehe, said the minority judgment is of no legal value as it cannot be cited in any case in court and can only remain in the realm of academic discourse.
He argued that the election petition tribunal had ruled that holding of party positions does not contravene section 183 of the constitution as being claimed by the petitioner and that position was what was upheld by the appeal and supreme courts respectively.
Akintola said, “A minority judgment remains what it is. It has no efficacy, value. The only value a minority judgment has is for academic purposes and research. You can’t even cite it as an authority. Our jurisprudence doesn’t allow for any efficacy to be attributed to a minority judgment.
“So what happened yesterday is not strange so all the noise and hullabaloo baffles one. Why should anybody in his or her right senses be attaching so much importance to something that should be in the realm of academic discourse? For those of us in the legal profession, you can’t even go to court and cite it.”
” I told our client yesterday, Buni and the Secretary not to be intimidated by anybody. Our party remains firm, the Congresses of the party will go on as scheduled on Saturday. By the grace of God everything that has been put in place will come to fruition. You can imagine the kind of confusion that the country would have been thrown into if the judgment of yesterday had gone the other way. It would have meant that everything that we have been doing as a party will have come to naught.
“There is nowhere in the judgment of the majority where the efficacy of the Office of our National Chairman was questioned. If anything, what happened was that the judgment of the Tribunal that says that the holding of party position doesn’t contravene section 183 of the Constitution still stands. That was the judgment that was given by the Tribunal and upheld by the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court. I don’t know why people are attributing so much to the judgment of the minority. It is of no value.”
Also speaking, APC national secretary, John James Akpanudoudehe insisted the congresses will go on as scheduled.
He said, ” I want to assure them, the Congresses will be fair,  transparent and I will advise them to go into their wards and be a party man and not to destroy the party. At this point in time, on behalf of the Caretaker Committee, we stand firmly with the National Chairman and we declare our unalloyed loyalty to him and the President.”
On the question of who can convene the National Executive Committee meeting of the APC given that the organ of the party has been dissolved at its last emergency meeting in December 2020, Keyamo said, “Under Article 25 of the APC Constitution, it is the National Chairman OR TWO-THIRDS OF MEMBERS OF NEC that can Summon an NEC meeting. Since we cannot vouch for the legality of any NEC meeting summoned by MAI MALA now, the safest is to get TWO-THIRDS of NEC members to sign an Invitation to summon an NEC meeting where the CECPC would be reconstituted and our Party would be safe.
 
Alternatively, he suggested that the Board of Trustees of the Party, which includes Mr. President, can be activated to organise a National Convention in line with Article 13 of the APC Constitution where it is given such powers. Those powers can be delegated at the meeting to a Committee in line with the APC Constitution which will run the Party and plan the Convention. The new Exco can then plan for Congresses.
 
The unfolding development has however brought many stalwarts of the party into a face-off with one another leading to confusion as the party is divided between those calling for the immediate dissolution of the Buni Caretaker committee and those against it.
 
Two aides to President Muhammadu Buhari which include Special Adviser to the President On Political Matters, Sen BABAFEMI OJUDU, and Senior Special Assistant to the President, Niger Delta Affairs, Sen ITA ENANG are currently pitched against Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege on the matter.
In a statement jointly signed by both presidential aides in reaction to the fresh wounds opened by the Supreme court judgment on the Ondo State governorship election, Sen Babafemi Ojodu and Ita Enang asked APC to pause all pending activities currently being undertaken by the governor Mai Mala Buni-led caretaker committee in order to appraise its legality so as to avoid irreparable damages for the party in the future.
The duo noted that the minority judgment has rendered the caretaker committee illegal, null, and void, and lacks capacity to undertake any action on behalf and in the name of the party.
They said, “It has long been in contention whether unelected officers of a political party can exercise the powers of party vested in the Chairman and officers of the Party who ought, by Party’s Constitution to be elected at a duly convened convention of the Party at the National level and congresses at State and other levels.
“A cursory reading of the Minority judgment, we submit, appears to have swept the carpet of legality off the CECPC  rendering it illegal, null, void, and of no legal capacity to undertake any action on behalf and in the name of the Party.
“It has also brought to question the legality of  ALL the actions taken by her since inception.
Accordingly, in view of the impending Ward, Local Government, States, and Zonal Congresses and indeed the  National Convention (which the CECPC was primarily set up to do), it is our view:
i. That the Ward and other Congresses scheduled for July 31, 2021, be paused, suspended, and put on hold pending the determination of the legal Status of the CECPC to undertake all the activities it so far has, and indeed jurisdiction to conduct the congresses and CONVENTION.
ii. That the Party carefully and dispassionately Cause her team of legal experts to review, appraise and give considered opinion on the import of the Majority and in extreme particular the reasonings in the Minority judgment of the Supreme Court as to the legal Status of the CECPC to proceed further with any activity in the name of the party or otherwise.”
On his part, Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, dismissed the interpretation of the supreme court judgment by some quarters calling for the dissolution of the caretaker committee, saying the party committed no infringement of the law in appointing Buni as caretaker committee chairman.
Omo-Agege said, “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.”
He added that “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.
“In the light of the foregoing exposition, it is humbly and firmly stated that Section 183 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) only bars a Governor from holding Executive positions like being a Minister, or any other executive positions for which he shall be paid for. It does not by any scintilla of imagination, render the appointment of Governor Bumi as APC Caretaker Committee Chairman incompetent and will not in any way, affect the legality or competence of the APC scheduled Congresses.”
 
 
On his part, another chieftain of the party, Comrade Okpokwu Ogenyi, Convener of Forum of Concerned APC Members, also called for the immediate resignation of Gov. Mai Mala Buni as the caretaker chairman of APC.
In a letter addressed to Buni and copied President Muhammadu Buhari, Comrade Okpokwu said, “We write as concerned APC Members to officially draw your attention towards the judgment of the Supreme Court of Nigeria on Wednesday 28th July 2021 between Mr. Eyitayo Jegede vs Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State.
 
“The constitutional Court held that your leadership of our Party is illegal inline with Article 17 subsection 4 of the Constitution of the All Progressives Congress, APC which relies on section 183 of the 1999 constitution as amended. The law forbids a serving Governor and other executive officeholders from occupying the office of the National Chairman of any Political Party at the same time. 
 
“It could be recalled that you came into power through the doctrine of necessity to organize National Convention within six months and handover leadership of our Party to a legitimate executive. 
 
“We advise you immediately resign your appointment as Chairman, APC Caretaker /Convention Extraordinary Committee alongside other executive officers who are members of the Caretaker/Convention Extraordinary Committee of our great Party with immediate effect or holt the proposed Ward Congresses slated for Saturday, 31st July 2021 and instead, organize a National Convention within two weeks to usher in a new leadership of our Party.”
 
 
Given all that has transpired in the last 24 hours, there is no doubt that the APC might be working on timely landmines that may explode any moment from now. Like the PDP did in 2014 prior to the 2015 general elections which it lost woefully, the APC according to analysts is on a course of self-destruction.
Apparently, the PDP is lurking in the winds as the favorite beneficiary waiting for the imminent implosion of the ruling party.
Given that this game of wit within the ruling party that has been set in motion will be crazy as these guys will fight dirty and use everything to fight themselves, there are certainly interesting times ahead in the few days to come before the 2023 general elections.


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