APC And Impunity Of Arrogant Power, By Dr. Muiz Banire (SAN)
Active political seasons are here again among political parties as we warm up in preparation for elections in 2023. While most States of the federation await 2023 to elect all political office holders, impunity in our political landscape, which has seen itself as a permanent occupant of our land, has changed the fortunes of some States, so that their own governorship elections come at times other than the general election.
Examples are Kogi, Osun, Anambra, Ekiti and Ondo. Thus, while other States are preparing for 2023, the above-named States have obligations to prepare for elections at other times than what is applicable to others.
A political party that has an obligation to meet the democratic requirement of populating its offices with elected representatives is All Progressives Congress (APC), whose congresses are purportedly on-going to elect officials of the party.
This situation has pushed the party to the edge of a precipice as its customs and traditions do not seem to align with its constitution and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as far as internal democracy is concerned. Now that it is imperative to carry out congress to elect its officials, the question that has been seeking an answer is whether the Caretaker Committee of Governor Mai Mala Buni of Yobe State, presiding over the affairs of APC, is a lawful body?.
Further to that is the query whether any act carried out by such a Caretaker Committee is lawful in view of the fact that its existence may be ultimately declared illegal. The cause of all these agitations is the Supreme Court’s judgment handed down last week in the election appeal of Eyitayo Jegede v. Oluwarotimi Akeredolu in which the Appellant challenged the validity of the election of the Respondent on a ground, inter alia, that the nomination of the Respondent as governor of Ondo State was invalid due to the fact that same was not done under the supervision of democratically elected Executives of APC as decreed by the Constitutions of the country and the party.
While the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, provides in Section 183 thereof that “The governor shall not, during the period when he holds office, hold any other executive office or paid employment in any capacity whatsoever”, the Attorney-General of the Federation decreed in a supposed opinion that the APC should proceed to conduct its congress holding three days after the Supreme Court judgment on July 31, 2021.
One would expect that the provision of the constitution of APC in Article 17(iv) “No officer in any organ of the party shall hold executive position office in government concurrently,” shall be a signal for APC to exercise caution in proceeding to hold its congresses last Saturday. It is baffling that the party rather went ahead, dismissing the possibility of the Supreme Court coming to a conclusion invalidating the leadership of the Mai Mala Buni’s executive committee, which might affect acts carried out during his leadership of the party. It is impunity of this nature that has been characterizing the activities of the party and which has been affecting its fortunes. Examples of what happened in Rivers in 2015, Zamfara in 2019 and Edo in 2020 are still too fresh for any sane people to forget in a hurry. But he whom the gods would kill, they first make mad.
The party is gravitating towards internal explosion, which I have warned about several times in the past. While national and “international” godfathers of the party keep on dictating what happens at the apex of the party, local demigods do not feel they should be displaced by sanity and internal democracy as to allow popular opinions of the members to prevail. That does not even seem to be conceivable to them, more so that they had appropriated huge sums for the purpose of the congresses of which they have shared a larger part anyway. Why are they going to return the money if the congresses were to be halted simply because some justices of the Supreme Court expressed what the powers-that-be think is mere opinion and not binding orders? Is it not better for them to go ahead, waste the money appropriated and, if the court nullifies the congresses as having been conducted under an illegal leadership, then it would be an opportunity to redo the congresses and appropriate another tranche of funds to swell the pockets of the leaders?
The most unfortunate aspect of it is that the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, if the legal opinion in circulation truly emanated from him, has taken up the position of Legal Adviser of the ruling party, forgetting that the Constitution did not make him an Adviser of a political party but rather the Legal Officer of the government of the federation. It is sad that when wisdom dictates counsel to arrogance, it shrugs off sense and continues with impunity.
Right now, APC has purportedly held congresses in thousands of wards across the federation of Nigeria. The said congresses were allegedly conducted under the auspices of a Caretaker Committee presided over by a serving governor and aided by other governors from other states. The process is not free from acrimony and bitter politics, as members in some states insist on election being democratically conducted to elect their leaders, while incumbent powers in those states insist on imposing leaders of the party by what they tag “consensus.”
Remember, as I said elsewhere, that ‘consensus’ in the party connotes imposition. The consequence is that, in a large number of wards, the process was characterised by gunshots, violence and bloodshed. What the constitution of the party intends to avoid by encouraging consensus in producing leaders of the party has now become the inevitable consequence of a process fraught with irregularities, tyranny and dictatorship. The intention of the founding fathers of party politics in Nigeria in recommending consensus is to avoid discriminatory imposition, which could breed discontent within the party. Unfortunately, this has been the outcome of most of the purported party congresses of APC in recent times.
I can remember in 2018, when I quit service in the executive position of APC as National Legal Adviser and, ultimately, membership of the platform, we recommended turning the executives of the party to caretaker committees to avoid a situation where the party could descend into unnecessary acrimony as the general election was drawing nearer. Some self-seeking individuals insisted on having elections in order to kick out the John Oyegun-led executives. Yes. The so-called elections held and new executives emerged. It did not take two years before it was realised that the caretaker committee recommended by Banire would have prevented the crises of monumental proportions that the party was plunged into. Wise after the events!
They hurriedly dissolved the Executive Committee presided over by Adams Oshiomhole in an ignominious process and a Caretaker Committee was put in place. However, the culture of impunity and self-interest that had been the bane of the party did not allow it to see the constitutional loophole of appointing serving governors into the caretaker committee, which, ultimately, would be presiding over the affairs of the party and exercising executive powers and carrying out executive functions. The constitutional challenges have now arisen as the nomination of candidates carried out under the caretaker committee wrongly composed is being questioned. It is almost certain that the combination of Article 17(iv) of the APC constitution and Section 183 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria will invalidate the caretaker committee of my good friend, Governor Mai Mala Buni, and this might lead to nullification of candidate nominations carried out under such a caretaker executive.
Although several opinions have been expressed on the implication of the apex court’s judgment, to the extent that the official judgment is yet to be read by the commentators, I regard them as premature and speculative. However, in the midst of this cloud, it is reasonable to defer further steps premised on the questionable validity of the caretaker committee. The failure to do so, most likely, will result ultimately in wasteful congresses and resources in all ramifications.
It is trite constitutional rule that any act done at variance with the Constitution is a nullity. The Constitution of Nigeria is a jealous document that will not share the glory of its potency with any other law, organ of government or principality.
My personal experience of the Party as a body in the past is such that at least, it listens to well considered advice from its legal adviser before taking a step. Chief Bisi Akande, Chief John Oyegun, with whom I worked at different times, would not just pander to a self-seeking opinion from anyone but would exhaust its own internal research on the position of the Nigerian law as regards any step to be taken. It is disappointing that with mercantilism having taken over party affairs in this country, the ideological essence of party politics has taken flight.
What remains is mere façade of qualitative representation and good governance as often boasted of by APC which qualities are the logic behind party politics. The decision of the Supreme Court in Jegede v. Akeredolu has become a flash point for the consideration of whether a sitting President or Governor can at the same time occupy an executive position of a political party.
While we await an authoritative pronouncement on this issue, it is certain that missteps in APC have made this question important for determination and this will definitely feature either as a pre-election matter or as a qualification ground for presentation of election petition against the 2022 governorship in Osun, Ekiti and the general elections in 2023. It is high time APC retraced its step towards constitutionalism which is the spirit behind the making of constitutions.
Where a ruling party refuses to be governed in accordance with its own constitution and the supreme law of the land, it is certain that the nation cannot expect good governance under such a deceitful structure midwifing its democracy. It would have been better for the ruling party to avoid unnecessary chaos which may rob it of victories in the on-coming elections and may render the precious votes of the electorate to be wasted by court decisions. It is impunity of imposition that defeated the party in elections in some States in 2018 like Benue and even in Edo in 2019.
A political party that has experienced such nasty outing in Edo State in which its sitting Governor cross-carpeted to go and contest in an opposition party ought to have displayed more discretion. Where it fails to put its house in order and ensure sustenance of public confidence in its capacity to govern, it is clear that the future may not guarantee better days than it did for the Peoples’ Democratic Party in 2015.
As my mother (of blessed memory) used to say: “eni a wi fun, Oba je o gbo”, (May the counselled be amenable to good advice).
Dr. Muiz Banire, A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, A University Lecturer And A Former National Legal Adviser of APC