By Olusesan Laoye
It seems that the Vice President Professor Yemi Osinbajo is now in a Catch-22 situation over his stand on the recently held ward Congresses of the party following the judgment of the Supreme Court on the governorship election in Ondo State.
While that contest was chiefly between Ogbeni Rotimi Akeredolu of the All progressives Congress (APC) and Eyitayo Jegede of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), its reveberations have continued one year after, both in scale and scope.
The vice President, based on the touted flaws discovered in the judgment and the technicality which saved the APC, had opposed the conduct of the ward congresses that were recently held but he was opposed by some powerful people in the cabinet and the party, that insisted the congress should yet hold.
Despite the concerns over the legality of the congress, it was eventually held all over the states of the federation of Nigeria but was full of complaints, Protests and agitation by members and some leaders of the party who felt marginalized through the consensus arrangement adopted for the conduct of the congresses.
The ward congresses rather than uniting the party have therefore further widened the cracks and animosities between members and leaders, as there are claims that it is those said to have been favoured by the Mai Mala Buni Caretaker National Committee that arranged the Congresses and used it to whittle down the powers of some leaders in their states.
The crisis since the ward congress has heightened and it has further divided the party.
The main issue in contention which pitched Professor Osinbajo and others on his side against the other group led by the Attorney General of the Federation, Malami was the Supreme court judgement which raised issues over the legality of the Mai Mala Buni caretaker executive, which had signed Governor Akeredolu’s nomination form to contest the election.
One of the legs of Eyitayo Jegede’s Appeal was that the Governor of Yobe State, Buni had no right to sign Akeredolu’s form as the chairman of the APC because he was not entitled to hold two executives offices at the same time under the Nigerian constitution and the that of his party.
What actually saved the APC in that judgment was that technical ground that Jegede had failed to join Buni in the suit.
Had it been that he did that, Akeredolu’s election would have been nullified as it was actually sustained on the ground of a split judgement of 4 against 3 by the Supreme Court Justices.
But in order not to fall into the same trap going forward, Osinbajo, Festus Keyamo(SAN) Femi Ojudu and others did not therefore want the ward congresses held because it was Buni’s committee that organized it and the notion was that if the Congress is challenged in court, it would create a big problem for the APC.
Before the Vice President joined the league of those who wanted the congress put on hold for now it was the Minister of State, Labour, Festus Keyamo that had first publicly pointed out the legality challenge in the Buni controversy as regards the supreme court’s judgment on Akeredolu.
Keyamo (SAN), had warned of the legal implications of holding the exercise following the judgement of the Supreme Court on the appeal filed by the PDP candidate in the October 2020 governorship election in Ondo State, Eyitayo Jegede.
He argued that the little technical point that saved Gov Akeredolu was that Jegede failed to join Mai Mala Buni in the suit. Jegede was challenging the competence of Gov. Mai Mala Buni as a sitting Governor to run the affairs of the APC as Chairman of the Caretaker Committee.
Keyamo pointed out that Jegede had drew the attention of the court in his Appeal to the fact that it 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.”
In other words, Keyemi said, “had Buni been joined in the suit, the story may have been different today as we would have lost Ondo State to the PDP.”
Apart from the minister, the Special Adviser to the President on Political Matters, Babafemi Ojudu and the Special Assistant to the President on Niger Delta Affairs, Ita Enang, in a joint statement , also warned the party of the dire consequences should it go ahead with the congresses.
They argued that if the caretaker committee organised the congresses, it could lead to legal tussles which would affect the party in 2023.
Despite all these warnings,, the APC ignored them and went ahead saying that the trio were merely expressing their ‘personal opinions which would have little effect on the legitimacy of the party’s interim leadership.
According to the APC interim National Secretary, John Akpanudoedehe,”we stand with our National Chairman, we will go ahead with the congresses as planned.”
He added: ”The clarification is against the backdrop of personal opinions being expressed by some individuals on the status of the APC Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) and its capacity to conduct the Congresses.
“While it is not our intention to join issues with these commentators, the Supreme Court’s Wednesday judgement affirming the Election victory of the Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu SAN had no bearing on the CECPC’s status and its membership.”
Now that the congress has been held it has however not fully dispelled the scare created in the party as some members are not happy.
It has not only divided the party, it has also created a gulf in the Federal Executive Council as members are with different opinions on the Supreme Court judgment and the conduct of the ward congresses.
The issue was said to have been raised at the Federal executive council meeting where the Vice President Osinbajo held firmly to his stand that the party was not favoured legally by its holding the ward congress and subsequent elections under the present leadership of Buni at the party’s national secretariat in Abuja.
It was learnt that up till now, the vice president has not changed his position on the committee.
It was said that Professor Osinbajo took an informed position after analysing the Supreme Court judgement on the Ondo governorship election and his stand has remained the same.
Sources hinted that the vice president was very clear and told the council that the APC should do everything possible to avoid legal trap and address the main issue raised, which is against the country’s constitution and section 17 of the party’s constitution.
The source further hinted that some minister, especially those who were lawyers in the cabinet argued along the line of the position of Osinbajo, but it was only the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami. that held a contrary view.
Business hallmark also reliably learnt that right now the cabinet of President Muhammadu Buhari is sharply divided along two groups of Professor Osinbajo and Malami, while it would take the intervention of President Buhari to get the issue resolved. when he comes back. from London where he went to receive medical attention.
Malami was said to have supported that the status quo, be maintained and asked the party not to succumb to what he described as speculative and unsubstantiated fears concerning the status of Buni as the caretaker chairman.
The Supreme Court had in a split judgement on July 28 upheld the election of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State and dismissed the appeal of the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) candidate, Eyitayo Jegede for lack of “any scintilla of merit.”
Jegede and the PDP had challenged the October 10, 2020 governorship election and pegged their main relief on the ground that Governor Akeredolu and his deputy, Orimisan Aiyedatiwa, were not qualified to contest the election.
They contended that the signing of Akeredolu’s nomination certificate (exhibit P21) by the APC’s caretaker committee led by Governor Buni of Yobe State was invalid based on section 183 of the Nigerian constitution, 1999 and Article 17(iv) of the APC constitution.
Both the majority judgement of four justices and the minority judgement of three justices concurred that Governor Buni had violated section 183 of the constitution, which holds that, “The governor shall not, during the period when he holds office, hold any other executive office or paid employment in any capacity whatsoever,” as well as Article 17(iv) of the APC constitution, which holds that, “No officer in any organ of the party shall hold executive position in government concurrently.”
However, the majority judgement read by Justice Emmanuel Akomaye Agim submitted that the contention, being one with grave consequences for the governor involving the determination of the constitutional issue of his action, would be unfair to try in his absence.
“The fair trial of such issue in his absence without joining him as a party is impossible. There is no need to stress the point that he is a necessary party to the case because the issue upon which the appellants have predicated their case, namely, the invalidity of the said exhibit itself cannot be fairly, effectually and conclusively be determined without joining him as a party to the case,” Agim said.
In his reaction to the legality of Buni’s leadership of the party David Umahi, governor of Ebonyi state, has said the caretaker committee of the All Progressives Congress (APC) is constitutional.
A statement by Francis Nwaze, the governors Press Secretary “the governor while assessing the just concluded congresses in his state, said the caretaker arrangement put together by the party was in line with the party’s constitution.
”When that opinion was expressed, I had to go through the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the constitution of the party, as a section of the party’s constitution empowers the National Executive Committee to set up a caretaker committee and this caretaker committee is to do the job of any of the organs of the party where there is vacancy or vacancies.”