The plaintiffs, through their lawyer, Barr. Samuel E. Irabor, asked the court to declare the 13-man caretaker committee illegal, and to nullify all activities so far presided over by it including the recently conducted ward congresses.
They contended that the committee falls short of the statutorily required 24 members that must be spread across not less than two-thirds of Nigeria’s 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
In the suit marked, FHC/ABJ/CS/938/2021, the plaintiffs added that the headship of the caretaker committee by a sitting governor holding dual executive offices is prohibited by Section 183 of the Nigerian constitution and Article 17(4) of the APC constitution.
It is also the contention of the plaintiffs that Nigeria’s Attorney General, Abubakar Malami, lacked the legal backing to administer oath of office to Mr Buni as caretaker chairman of the party.
The plaintiffs argued that only the National Working Committee of the party could constitute a Caretaker Committee as provided under Article 13(4)(xvi) of the APC Constitution.
Listed as co-defendant in the originating summon registered as Suit No: FHC/ABJ/CS/938/2021, are the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and others.
The row over the status of the Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) of the All Progressives Congress (APC) has for a while threatened the fragile peace within the ruling party.
While disgruntled factions of the APC hold that there is a flaw in having Governor Mai Mala Buni remain as Chairman of the CECPC, others argue that there is no constitutional breach in having a serving governor lead the party at the moment.
In a recent communique aimed at making clear its position on the controversy over the legality of the CECPC and that of its chairman, the APC stated that “on both issues, we will state the position and decision of the Supreme Court only. The decision here is the majority judgment of the Supreme Court which is now the Law.
“The decision and judgment was read and concurred to by the justices who were in the majority. Any other statements in their various additional contributions by the justices complement the lead judgment.
“It is therefore right to say that the issues and ratio in the lead judgment reflect the views of the majority. The minority judgment, although important as it is, is not the judgment of the court.”
The statement further notes that the Supreme Court in its judgment affirmed the legality of the CECPC, adding: “the court stated that the NEC under Article 13 (3) IV of the APC constitution has power to create, elect and appoint a committee and endow it with powers and functions. It drew a parallel with Article 33(3) of PDP constitution (2012) with similar powers granted to its National Convention which in turn appointed a National Caretaker in 2016, which the Supreme Court ruled legal in Sheriff VS PDP.
“On the status of the Acting National Chairman, His Excellency, Mai Mala Buni, the Supreme Court held that he was appointed only in acting capacity, on temporary basis to carry out and fill in the seat of the National Chairman, pending the election of new officers.
“The Apex Court also held that Mai Mala Buni’s position as Acting Chairman of the Caretaker and Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee is not contrary to the provision of Section 183 of the CFRN because the appointment, ad-hoc, is on a temporary basis which is not akin to Executive office or paid employment as envisaged by Section 183 of the CFRN.”
The latest court suit came barely three weeks after a minority judgement of the Supreme court which questioned the eligibility of Mai Mala Buni, as the CECPC chairman triggered flurry of legal opinions, interpretations as well as implications of the judgement on the fortune of the ruling party in future elections.
Interestingly, the plaintiffs action is in defiance of a directive issued by the National Executive Committee of the APC at its emergency meeting of December 8, 2020, in which it directed all members who have instituted one case or the other against the party in a law court to withdraw such and further warned others not to sue the party until all internal mechanism for conflict resolution are completely exhausted.
The APC leadership vowed to dish out maximum punishment to offenders in accordance with its constitutional provisions.
Similarly, the national leadership of the party, in a statement issued on July 30, 2021, had threatened to wield the big stick on any of its members who takes the party to court without first exhausting all available internal mechanism of reconciliation to address their grievances.
Recall that APC NEC had at its December 8 emergency meeting expelled former National Vice Chairman, South-South, Hilliard Eta, for challenging the dissolution of the immediate past National Working Committee, NWC, by the National Executive Committee, NEC, in the courts against party directives.
Chief Etta, and some other members of the dissolved National Working Committee, NWC, of the party, had approached a Federal High Court in Abuja, to ask for the nullification of the June 25, 2020 APC NEC meeting which dissolved the NWC.
The questions being asked now is whether or not the 100 aggrieved members who defied the party’s warning to institute a court suit would suffer a similar fate to Chief Hilliard Eta.
Answering questions from journalists in this regard on behalf of the party, APC chieftain, Chief Patrick Obahiagbon, alluded that that the party’s constitution dictated that punishment for erring members can only be initiated from the ward, local government to the State before the national headquarters can sanction such members.
Obahiagbon said, “The APC has party Constitution and the party Constitution is quite clear on issues that has to do with the necessity of members of this political party to exhaust all domestic remedies. As to what the sanction would be, for any member of this party who has fallen short of respecting the party Constitution not only with regards to taking the CECPC to Court. The constitutional provision to the effect that disciplinary sanctions will have to start from the Ward of such members. Disciplinary actions will have to go to the local government, states before it comes to the National Secretariat.
“So the CECPC will not by itself discipline any member of the political party that has not been (sanctioned) from Ward, local government, state and to National Secretariat. But all I can tell you is that when all such activities have passed through the democratic rigours and get to the National Secretariat, this CECPC under the able leadership of Governor Mai-Mala Buni, he will not shake in his responsibility, his constitutional onus probandi, will dispense justice to all manners of men without fear or favour and in a very transparent modus.”
The only organ of the party that can unilaterally sanction erring members is the NEC which is presently unconstituted as it was dissolved at its last meeting.
As it stands, no one knows what will become the fate of these members or what the reaction of the party to the litigation would be.
The party, however, seem unperturbed or distracted by the development as it has directed that its local government congress go ahead as scheduled.
In a notice of guidelines and schedule of events released by the party last week, the APC fixed its local government congress for Saturday 4th September, 2021 while sales of forms has commenced with immediate effect.
According to the notice signed by the CECPC Secretary, Sen. John James Akpanudoedehe, Purchase of Forms for Ward, Local Government/Area Councils and State Congresses will hold between18th August to 28th August, 2021.
Screening of Aspirants to LGA Party Positions will hold between 31st August to 2nd September, 2021.
Local government Congresses proper including election of 3-Man delegates to the National Convention will hold on 4th September, 2021.
According to the party, appeals Arising from the LGA Congresses will be heard between 6th to 11th September, 2021.