A few days ago, the Supreme Court of Nigeria delivered a 4:3 majority judgment in the appeal filed by PDP’s candidate Jegede, SAN, against APC’s candidate Akeredolu, SAN over the last Governorship elections in Ondo State. Mr. Jegede and his party had asked the apex Court to nullify Akeredolu’s candidacy on grounds that the nomination of the latter was void by virtue of violation of section 183 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 by APC in having appointed Governor Buni , a serving Governor, to hold office as the Chairman of the National Caretaker Committee of the APC. The Supreme however declined Mr. Jegede’s request holding that Mr. Jegede had failed to make the said Governor Buni a party to the suit; you can’t shave a man’s hair behind his back, the Supreme Court must have told Mr. Jegede. Controversy has, since the judgment, broken out regarding the “the effect on APC, of a serving Governor holding or occupying the position of APC’s National Caretaker Committee Chairman against the backdrop of the provisions of s. 183 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 which provides that “The governor shall not, during the period when he holds office, hold any other executive office or paid employment in any capacity whatsoever”.
I have read the opening salvo (the legal opinion) by Hon Minister Festus Keyamo (SAN, Notary Public) as well as the comeback (a counter-opinion) by the respected Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation (HAGF), Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN, Life Bencher). I respectfully consider each and both opinions to be well-considered, very illuminating, but especially thought-provoking. Further, I presume that each of the two legal opinions was given in an attempt to try to resolve a perceived crisis in the ruling party, All Progressives Congress (APC), arising from the said judgment of the supreme court. However, a careful reading of Festus Keyamo’s salvo and the respected HAGF’s response, has, rather than resolving the matter as anticipated, thrown up some further and more critical questions, the resolution of which (I humbly suggest) is at the root of any resolution to the entire hullabaloo crises (if any):
- Is the legal status of the Chairmanship of APC’s National Caretaker Committee exactly similar/synonymous with the legal status of the Chairmanship of an association like the Nigerian Governors’ Forum or of the Progressive Governors’ Forum, as suggested by the HAGF? This question is critical considering that APC is a full-fledged legal person (juristic person of fully legal capacity) recognized by law as such, unlike the other two. Besides, occupation of the position of the Chairmanship of the National Caretaker Committee of the APC is exactly corteminous with occupation of the office of the National Chairman of the party. The occupation of the office of the National Chairman of the APC is a full-time employment as opposed to occupation of the office of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum or of the Progressive Governors Forum which is not a full-time employment.
- Is the election, selection, appointment or employment as the National Chairman or Chairman of the National Caretaker Committee of the APC not in the form of a full-time, executive, salaried employment? If yes, then does it make any difference that the person currently occupying that office elects (of his own volition) to not collect salaries? In other words, does the revelation (referred to by the HAGF in his rejoinder) that Governor Buni as the Chairman of APC’s National Caretaker Committee, doesn’t currently collect any salaries, diminish the legal status of that office as a full-time, executive, salary-paying/salaried office? Recall that in 2015, each of President Buhari and VeePee Prof Osinbajo had written the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, undertaking to forgo 50 percent of their respective annual salaries (see: “Buhari, Osinbajo take 50% pay cut”, Premium Times, 10 July 2015). Even if the duo had undertaken to forgo their entire salaries, would that have adversely affected the full-time, salary-paying/salaried nature/status of their offices?
- Although I agree with the HAGF that the Supreme Court (in the Arakunrin Akeredolu case), tje majority decision, did not resolve on merit the question whether or not section 183 CFRN 1999 was violated by Governor Buni’s current occupation of the office APC’s National Caretaker Committee Chairman, yet one question refuses to go away: should APC not prefer to err on the side of caution and wisdom, instead of acting as if there were no unresolved legal issues raised, and the resolution of which could ultimately go either way, which then might leave hanging in the balance, the fate or legality of actions being taken by the great party under Gov. Bunmi as caretaker Chairman? Example, what if, just what if, APC is ultimately taken to the law on these issues and the same issues are resolved by the judicature against Governor Buni’s occupation of that office, what would be the fate of decisions previously taken by the party under his leadership?
- NOW, AN APT ANALOGY: Section 868(1) of CAMA 2020 defines “director” to include ”any person occupying the position of director by whatever name called….” Is this not somewhat akin/similar to the position of the law with respect to the office of the National Chairman of a Political Party in Nigeria, such that anyone who occupies the office of the National Chairman of APC in whatever capacity or by whatever name called (including as “National Caretaker Committee Chairman”) would or could be treated as the APC National Chairman? If the office of the National Chairman is a full-time, salary-paying/salaried job, does the legal status diminish only because you now refer to the occupant of that office by another appellation, namely: “Chairman of the National Caretaker Committee”? Are the functions of a person holding both appellations not one and the same? See these: Gen. Sani Abacha was “Head of State”. General Babangida was “President”. Ernest Shonekan was “head of the Interim National Government”. Alhaji Tafawa Balewa was the “Prime Minister”. Is there any difference among these offices? Was each (by whatever name called) not the head of the government of the Federation? Was Ernest Shonekan in his capacity as the Head of the Interim National Government (ING) not the executive President of Nigeria with all the powers of the Head of government?
- OFFICE OF THE APC NATIONAL CHAIRMAN IS AN EXECUTIVE OFFICE: Article 14.1(i) of the APC Constitution provides that “The National Chairman shall be the Chief Executive, Accounting Officer and shall preside over the meetings of the National Executive Committee and the National Working Committee of the Party”. Article 18 establishes Standing Committees and Adhoc Committees for the party while Article 19 provides for the powers of the various standing and adhoc committees. Neither the National Working Committee (NWC) nor the National Caretaker Committee or the National Executive Committee (NEC) is listed in the Constitution of the APC as an “adhoc” or “standing” committee. Besides, the Chairman of the National Caretaker Committee exercises all the powers of the substantive National Chairman as set out in Article 14.1 of the APC Constitution. Another question that arises is this: is the Chairman of the National caretaker committee not in the same shoes as the National Chairman in terms of their legal status and powers? If anyone says that Governor Buni is currently not the Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), please, I pray, who else is? And if you agree he indeed is, then why not agree that he actually occupies the office of the national chairman, which is an executive position in the nature of a full-time employment, quite unlike the office of the Chairman of the Nigerian Governor’s Forum (NGF) or of the Progressive Governors Forum (PGF) or of the Old Boys’ Association of a School or of the Integrity Group (lol 🤣) in the National Assembly or of the Association of Attorneys-General in Nigeria or of ALGON or of the League of Speakers of State Houses of Assembly in Nigeria, etc.
- May I restate that I agree entirely with learned silk and Life Bencher Hon AGF Malami that the Supreme Court judgement (by the majority decision) did not make any pronouncements on the merit of the effect of section 183 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, on Gov Bunmi’s (caretaker) Chairmanship of the APC. On the other hand, I agree entirely with learned silk and Notary Public Festus KEYAMO that the issues raised in the affected Supreme Court judgment (although reportedly not yet determined with finality on their merit) are nevertheless so weighty as to put the ruling party on notice, that stakeholders in the party should make hay while the sun shines especially because a stitch in time saves nine while a word is enough for for the wise! Writer Ankala Subbarao captured it better: “A stitch in time saves at least nine lawsuits, but only if the patient goes to the doctor early!”
Please take note, for the avoidance of doubts, I am neither of the APC nor of the PDP nor indeed of any political party in Nigeria; the truth is, I am for none but for all. Mine is just a perfect case of a major stakeholder in the Nigerian Rule of Law Advocacy Club (RULAC) thinking aloud, albeit unsolicited. Besides, Satchel Paige had warned, “don’t pray when it rains if you didn’t make hare while the sun shines”. Ernest Agyemang Yeboah said, “If you take steps based on fantasies and illusions, you shall meet realities and remember the ‘had I known’ in sorrow” What’s more? The Holy Bible in Leviticus 26:20 has opened one’s eyes (like an advance warning) on what might happen if one fails to make a stitch in time: “Your strength will be spent uselessly, for your land will not yield its produce and the trees of the land will not yield their fruit. Put differently, in Jeremiah 4:30, the Bible says: “And you, O desolate one, what will you do? Although you dress in scarlet, Although you decorate yourself with ornaments of gold, Although you enlarge your eyes with paint, In vain you make yourself beautiful” I have said my own!
Long live us all. God help Nigeria!
Sylvester Udemezue (Udems)