The crack in the presidency over the chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Yobe State Governor, Mai Mala Buni, has widened as Vice President Professor Yemi Osinbajo maintained his position on the legality of the panel, Daily Trust gathered.
President Muhammadu Buhari, who is in London, had directed Osinbajo to take charge of the legal concerns being expressed by stakeholders following the split judgement of the Supreme on the Ondo governorship election.
Three out of the seven justices of the apex court had punctured the legality of Buni chairing the committee, while the four in the lead judgement upheld the election of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu.
Osinbajo had last weekend met with lawyers serving in the cabinet, where he reportedly advised against last Saturday’s ward congresses of the party. But the caretaker committee went ahead with it. Aside the issue of the ward congresses, it was also gathered that there were suggestions that the three governors – Buni, Gboyega Oyetola (Osun) and Abubakar Sani Bello (Niger) – serving in the caretaker committee should excuse themselves.
An aide of the vice president told Daily Trust Saturday that his boss had not shifted his position on the committee.
“He took an informed position after analysing the Supreme Court judgement on the Ondo governorship election. He has not changed that position.
“The vice president was very clear that we should all avoid legal trap and address the main issue raised, which is against the country’s constitution and section 17 of our party’s constitution,” he said.
Also, a minister, while speaking on the matter, said most of the lawyers in the cabinet threw their weight behind the position canvassed by Osinbajo, with the exception of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami.
He said, “We have two main camps in the cabinet now: those of us supporting the position of the vice president and the Malami side. We are all awaiting the arrival of the president next week.
“We are hoping that the president, as a promoter of the rule of law, would end this logjam when he arrives. Our attention was not on the legality of governors serving in the party until the apex court drawn our attention to it. With this development, should we not amend our ways?”
Malami had in his legal opinion on the matter argued in defence of the status quo, urging the party not to give in to “speculative and unsubstantiated fear” regarding the status of Buni as the caretaker chairman.
Daily Trust reports that the disagreement among governors who are members of the party on the matter has been resolved with a statement by their chairman and Kebbi State governor, Atiku Bagudu, backing Buni-committee.
Bagudu, in a statement on Thursday, argued that the judgement of the Supreme Court on the Ondo State governorship had resolved all issues surrounding the caretaker committee and its composition.
“Governor Buni was appointed in acting capacity, on a temporary basis to carry out and fill in the seat of the national chairman of the party pending the election of a new national chairman.
“This has settled conclusively that the APC caretaker committee and its composition is not in conflict with the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and is consistent with provisions of the constitution of the APC,” he said.
Speaking on the governors’ position, a presidential aide said some of the governors that were against Buni made a u-turn when they were offered the party’s structures in their states.
“They all agreed to support Buni, irrespective of the legal issues being raised because they have been promised the party’s structures in their respective states. But what they don’t know is that they are building the structures on nothing,” he said.
What Supreme Court said on Yobe governor
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 held.
The apex court’s main decision further held that the issue of the constitutionality of Buni as the caretaker committee chairman of the APC is not within the jurisdiction of the state election tribunal where the petition was commenced, expected to hear and determine petition as to whether any person has been validly elected to the office of the governor or deputy governor.
As a corollary to its finding that Article 13.3(vi) that the APC “National Executive Committee has power to create, elect and appoint any committee it may deem necessary, desirable or expedient and assign to them such powers and functions as it may deem proper,” the apex court further held that being a voluntary organisation, the question of who should hold offices in the party cannot be entertained by any court.
“Those are non-justiceable questions. Courts have no jurisdiction over the internal affairs of a political party except where a statute expressly gives a court jurisdiction to deal with any internal affairs of a political party,” he said.
But the dissenting judgement of Justice Mary Odili, which was read by Justice Ejembi Eko, allowed the appeal and dismissed the Akeredolu and APC cross appeals and declared Jegede and the PDP winners of the governorship election.
The dissenting justices declared that the non-joinder of Governor Buni would not occasion any substantial miscarriage of justice, adding that his principal, the APC, was already joined in the matter, thus, in view of his constitutional immunity in section 308, his joinder would rather occasion injustice to the appellants (Jegede and PDP).
“On the principle of vicarious responsibility, I find it rather bizarre, spurious or preposterous, the contention that the non-joinder of Mai Mala Buni, the governor Yobe State, whose immunity, under section 308 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, insulates him and prohibits his joinder in any civil proceedings during his period in office as governor; had vitiated the petition; even when his appointor/principal had been made a party,” he said.
On the majority verdict that the choices of the APC NEC were an internal affair of the party, and therefore, non-justiceable, the dissenting justices declared that the appellants, who were seeking to protect the constitution from being contravened, have the locus standi to appear in court over the matter.
“It is an issue raising the violation or contravention of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. On this ground I will not hesitate to dismiss offhand, the contention that the appellants lack the locus standi or reasonable cause of action on which to found their petition because Section 1(1) of the constitution provides, inter alia that the ‘Constitution is supreme and its provisions shall have binding force on all authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria,’” Eko said.
The dissenting justices held that the APC did not cross-appeal the adverse findings of the lower courts that it appointed Governor Buni as the national chairman of the Caretaker/Extra Ordinary Convention Committee to perform the executive functions of the national chairman.
“The law is settled, that a specific adverse finding of fact or decision not appealed remains subsisting, conclusive and binding on the parties, including the party adversely affected by it,” he said.