Chuks Okocha and Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja
Worried by the narrow escape of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), in retaining Ondo State and the broader implications of the pronouncement by the Supreme Court, particularly, as it relates to the position of the National Chairman of APC, Mai Mala Buni, President Muhammadu Buhari, from faraway London, had directed Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to take charge of the legal concerns and come up with a decision in the overall interest of the party.
Osinbajo, too, wasted no time in summoning a meeting of all the lawyers in the cabinet to deliberate on what to do as the congresses were just a day away, Saturday to be precise.
At the meeting, competent sources said, the consensus of opinions was that the party should pause the congresses slated for last Saturday before weighing other options. But only Malami objected, arguing that the exercise could go ahead, regardless.
Those in attendance at the meeting which held at the vice president’s office 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; Minister of State for Labour, Mr. Festus Keyamo; and 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.
After what allegedly turned out a heated debate, everyone at the meeting, THISDAY gathered, agreed that the first step to addressing the “elephant in the room” was to suspend the congresses, which unfortunately, held last weekend.
A majority of those in attendance, THISDAY was told, shared some of the argument that followed the Supreme Court judgment on Ondo and had contended that it was only logical to minimize the damage the APC might suffer in the final analysis, by first suspending the congresses and then, fashion out other possible options.
But Malami would have none of it. “He disagreed with the submissions of others and insisted that the congresses could go ahead.”
“The resolution reached was to suspend the congresses,” a source privy to the meeting stated.
While debate was still on, Osinbajo was said to have made effort to reach the President by phone to intimate him of developments but failed.
Having reached the decision to pause the congress, Osinbajo decided to call Governor Buni on the resolution to suspend to congresses scheduled for Saturday.
But to his shock, Buni flatly rejected his directive, insisting like Malami that the congresses would go ahead as planned. Malami and Buni belong to the CPC tendency of the APC.
It was a bemused Osinbajo, who watched helplessly as Buni refused to obey his directive to suspend the congresses.
According to sources, Malami and Buni’s hesitance to discard experts’ opinions despite glaring danger might have been because some people identified as cabal in the presidency did not want to lose their current hold on the party especially, that they were believed to have had a choice presidential candidate in mind, of which a change in the course of the party could undo.
The truth of the matter is that the APC is currently facing an existential threat as two major tendencies wrestle for control of the party. These tendencies as represented by the legacy parties that merged to form the ruling party – the Congress for Progressive Change and the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).
Indeed, there was said to be an understanding at inception that while the CPC, led by President Muhammadu Buhari, would control the government, how the party is run would be the prerogative of the ACN, a party led by Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Unfortunately, the fear of what might likely be in 2023 has begun dawn on and force the CPC tendency to not only renege on this understanding, but also doing all within its reach to completely take over the party and dominate the other tendencies especially, the ACN.
Therefore, while the PDP wing of the merger, led by the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, has since been relegated from exerting any form of control or accorded any sense of belonging especially, that his other allies had since returned to their former party, the PDP; the CPC tendency has literally taken over the party now and is desperately working to consolidate its hold ahead of the 2023 general election.
Thus, by going ahead with the congresses last weekend, despite concerns about the legal implications that option portended for the party, it demonstrates once again that it is willing to risk the existence of the party in pursuit of its narrow objective. The CPC tendency clearly seeks to plant his loyalists across the board and finally cut other tendencies to size even when its equity to the merger (states controlled pre-2015 polls) was the least, when compared to other legacy parties.
However, shedding more light on the Supreme Court judgment in a position paper, which appears in sync with Festus Keyamo’s position on the raging crisis, a former National Legal Adviser of the APC, Babatunde Ogala stated, “I have read suggestions by my brother silk, Festus Keyamo, SAN to the effect that the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Party as well as its Board of Trustees (BOT) should take charge of the affairs of the Party through a committee set up by either organ.
“This is a very wise proposition except that NEC alongside all other organs of the Party were purportedly dissolved at a meeting convened and presided over by Governor Mai Mala Buni. Sadly, the Notice for the NEC meeting was issued by the same tainted leadership of the party.
“Therefore, it is my view that the meeting may not have been properly convened in the eyes of the law and its resolution(s) may have been void ab initio. This gives a leeway for the NEC to resume its duties and convene meetings immediately where it will decide the future of the party.
“The Board of Trustees of the Party was never and has still not been constituted till date. So, in effect, the Party does not have a BOT that could convene even a meeting of the BOT, talk more of convening a National Convention or indeed any statutory meeting of the Party.
“The reinstatement of the dissolved National Working Committee (NWC) without the erstwhile Chairman, who was suspended from office by Order of a court of competent jurisdiction should be seriously considered in other to cloak the impending Ward, Local Government Area and State Congresses as well as National Convention with the imprint of legality.
“Many of the NWC members have since moved on to better things and would be reluctant to return to their positions but this is the hard decision we must all take for the sake of saving our dear party,” Ogala maintained.
Ogala, who was not physically present at the meeting, continued: “It is my opinion, that in this moment, there is no place for parochial grandstanding. Just as the former NWC accepted their dissolution without much hassle, it is time for the current Caretaker Committee to sacrifice for the posterity of APC.
“The fate of APC is at stake in that all successes, victories and triumphs gained by the party will continue to hang on a very thin thread in the face of the progressive attitude of our courts on election and political matters.”
He contended that the decision of the Supreme Court had opened the flood gates for endless litigation challenging every action and decision of the APC leadership as presently constituted.
“In closing,” Ogala said, “I acknowledge the Supreme Court for its decision and specifically note the hint the Court gave to us to clean our acts and come into the bounds of legality before the worse happens at the forthcoming general election.
Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), last night, said the ward congress conducted by the APC amounted to a nullity, given the pronouncement of the Supreme Court, which invalidated the Buni-led national executive.
The PDP, therefore, vilified Buni and other APC leaders for deceiving innocent Nigerians and cajoling them to participate in the needless exercise, which ended in violent crisis and avoidable deaths, when they knew it was all in futility.
But the leadership of the APC , while dismissing the PDP as no interpreter of the law, has asked it to keep its “baseless comments” on APC leadership to itself, saying it was aimed at distracting attention from its depleting fortunes and rudderless leadership, which has led its members and leaders abandoning the party.
According to a statement by the National Publicity Secretary of the opposition party, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan said, it was indeed callous that the leaders of the APC, despite knowing that any process conducted by the Buni-led national executive, whose legal status, in the face of section 183 of the 1999 Constitution and Article 17(4) of the APC constitution, has been queried by the Supreme Court, could extort from their innocent followers and subject them to a fraudulent exercise that is a nullity.
“While Section 183 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) bars a sitting governor from holding any other office while serving as state governor, Article 17(4) of the APC constitution clearly states that ‘no officer in any organ of the party shall hold executive position office in government concurrently,” he said.
The PDP explained that the implication was that with Buni as chairman, the APC has no valid national executive and as such any congress or any other statutory process conducted by the APC under this circumstance remained a nullity.
“Our party, therefore, counsels those who participated in the ridiculous drama called APC ward congress to know that they have been viciously scammed. They should not worsen their situation by allowing the deceptive APC leaders to further set them against one another in bloody clashes for a party that has technically gone defunct,” the PDP said.
But the National Secretary of the Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee, Senator John Akpanudoedehe, in a statement issued yesterday said, instead of being humbled by the defeat of the recent Supreme Court judgement on the Ondo Governorship election, the PDP has turned itself to an interpreter of law.
“The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is an old, lonely, toothless and hungry Hyena wandering aimlessly in the jungle of political wilderness. Nigerians are fully aware of its antecedents and will never take it seriously no matter how much empty noise it makes.
“We note how arrogantly the PDP has become an interpreter of the laws of the nation by ignorant comments on the recent Supreme Court judgement, which affirmed the election victory of the Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN, and dismissed the PDP’s case on the grounds that it was incompetent,” he said.
Akpanudoedehe noted that the PDP had reached the end of its political road and Nigerians would never trust it again with the governance of this country.