Oyetola’s Nullification Unsettles APC ahead of 2023 Polls

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As the All Progressives Congress prepares for campaigns for the 2023 elections, the recent judgment of the Federal High Court nullifying the nomination of Governor Adegboyega Oyetola as the party’s governorship candidate in the recent election in Osun State has unsettled the ruling party, writes Adedayo Akinwale

Though the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) may appear unfazed,  the recent judgment of a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja which nullified the nomination of Governor Isiaka Oyetola and his deputy, Benedict Alabi, as the party’s candidates for the 2022 Osun State governorship election should be a cause for concern.

Ruling on a suit filed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) challenging the nomination of Oyetola and Alabi, Justice Emeka Nwite agreed with the submission of the PDP that Governor Mai Mala Buni who submitted their names to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) violated the provisions of Section 183 of the Constitution and Section 82(3) of the Electoral Act 2022, when he held dual executive positions as the Governor of Yobe State and the Chairman of the National Caretaker Committee of APC. 

The court said the decisions taken by Governor Buni, including forwarding the names of Messrs Oyetola and Alabi to INEC, amounted to a nullity in law.

The Supreme Court was the first to sound the alarm bell when it delivered the judgment between Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of APC and Eyitayo Jegede of the PDP on July 27, 2021 which came with a split margin of 4 to 3. Though the majority judgment of the Supreme Court was silent on the implications of Buni being joined in the case, the minority judgment which was presented by Justice Mary Odili made it very clear that Buni functioning as APC Caretaker Committee chairman and at the same time serving as executive governor of a state was a violation of the Constitution.

Section 183 expressly states: “The Governor, shall not, during the period he holds office, hold any other executive office or paid employment in any capacity whatsoever.” 

Sensing dangers in keeping the Buni-led interim leadership in office, which could lead to legal storms that would ultimately affect the party’s chances in the 2023 general election, the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo had suggested that for the party to avoid grave danger, the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party should meet and reconstitute the Caretaker Committee  to exclude, not only Buni, but anyone holding any executive position in any government establishment as stipulated in Article 17 of the APC Constitution.

Alternatively, he said the Board of Trustees of the party, which includes President Muhammadu Buhari should be activated to organise a national convention in line with Article 13 of the APC Constitution, where it is given such powers. However, all his warnings fell on deaf ears as the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), countered his position.  Malami argued that the draftsmen of the Constitution would not have considered the position Buni held as an elective position due to its meritless nature.

Malami, who laid out his argument in a 20-point against the decision reached by the Supreme Court, described the interpretation of the 1999 Constitution as “stretched.”

He said: “To further show the meritless nature of the position under review, assuming without conceding that the argument is right, then, it will equally be contrary to the spirit and intent of Section 183 of the Constitution for any sitting Governor to be Chairman of say the Governors’ Forum, Chairman of the Progressive Governors Forum, or any other similar body. This, in my humble view, can definitely not be the intention of the drafters of the 1999 Constitution.”

 His views were further given impetus when a Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, struck out a suit challenging the competence of the Buni-led Caretaker Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee of the APC. Justice Pheobe Msuen Ayua held that the action was non-justiciable and incurably incompetent, noting that the substratum of the matter bordered on the internal affairs of the ruling APC.

With last week’s judgment and its current subsisting nature, all actions taken by Buni while in office as APC Caretaker Chairman stand invalidated.

For the record, the actions taken by the Buni-led committee included the signing of the nomination of Ekiti governor-elect, Abiodun Oyebanji, as APC candidate for the June 18, 2022 poll in the state; the nominations of candidates for other legislative polls; the amendment of the party’s constitution which was ratified at the convention and the conduct of the party’s elective national convention, which gave birth to the current National Working Committee (NWC) led by Senator Abdulahi Adamu, among others. 

The biggest threat posed by the ruling to the APC is the possible disqualification of all its candidates for the 2023 elections, including the presidential ticket of Senator Bola Tinubu and Kashim Shettima, considering that Adamu’s NWC conducted the primaries. Put succinctly, once the NWC is invalidated by the reason of Buni’s involvement, all actions of the NWC would be deemed null and void. 

But a former National Legal Adviser of the party, Babatunde Ogala (SAN), said he did not know how anyone might imagine that the convention would be affected by the judgement.

Ogala stated: “I do not know how this would affect the convention, where the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party sat down and fixed a date for its convention. I do not know how anyone might imagine, in the wildest imagination, that the convention would be affected because Mai Mala Buni attended as head of the Caretaker Committee. I stand to be corrected or educated on that, but I don’t know how.

“What is the correlation between Mai Mala Buni being the head of Interim Committee and participating in a convention that was called by the National Executive of the party or indeed even by any member of the party or by members of the party where the convention was properly convoked to the quorum and prescribed by the party’s Constitution.

“Let me also quickly say here that APC has two conventions, one in March that gave birth to the Abdulahi Adamu-led executive and the other in April that led to the emergence of the presidential candidate, which was the convention midwife by the National Working Committee of the party in accordance with the party’s Constitution.”

However, shedding more light on the issue while featuring on ‘The Good Morning Show’ on ARISE NEWS Channel, human rights lawyer, Mr. Liborous Oshoma, said if the judgment nullifying Oyetola’s nomination is sustained by the Supreme Court, it means that every decision taken by the Buni committee, including the congresses and convention organised by the committee amounted to nullity, which he said would put the ruling APC in a quagmire.

 The human right activist remarked that going by the ruling of Justice Nwite and by the provisions of the law, Buni never existed and any action taken by somebody that never existed amounted to nullity because it is illegal.

He explained: “Some persons also have argued that considering the fact that the primary that produced the APC presidential flag bearer was conducted by Adamu and that the matter being statute barred at this stage can no longer be questioned. But we should also remember that the issue was raised in a post-election matter in Akeredolu’s case. The judgment of the Supreme Court was that Buni was not a party in that matter. So now there is a clear reading to that section. If the other party, let’s say PDP or Labour party, decides to raise that issue after the election and maybe the Supreme Court sustains that position, then it might pose a big challenge for the APC.”

He argued: “The far- reaching implications are grave if this position is sustained. The warning of Festus Keyamo was not that the dissenting judgment was the position of the law, it was that it might be the position of the law in subsequent matters, even though no two cases are the same. And that is what has played out in the case of Oyetola today. 

“Remember that Buni also submitted the name of the Ekiti candidate to INEC and he organised the convention that produced Adamu. So, if the court sustains that position that Buni by all intents and purpose and by the provisions of Section 183 of the Constitution does not have the power to hold that position, on the ground  that he’s executive governor, he can no longer hold an executive position in another organisation, whether paid or unpaid, then it means that every action taken by him as the caretaker Committee Chair of the APC  amounts to a nullity. Every decision taken by him amounts to a nullity, including the Congress and convention that produce the current executive members of the APC.”

Aligning himself with the position of Oshoma, a legal practitioner and a chieftain of the party, Mr. Kayode Ajulo, said if the apex court upholds the decision of the high court, the current NWC of the party would have to go. 

“If the Supreme Court upheld the judgment, the party’s presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu, and other APC candidates for every elective position will have no business in participating in the 2023 general elections,” he said.

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