The decision of President Muhammadu Buhari to reverse the tenure elongation earlier granted the national and state chairmen of the All Progressives Congress (APC) by its National Executive Committee (NEC) has further raised questions of whether the party can survive its next congresses before the 2019 election. HEAD POLITICS, MUMINI ABDULKAREEM writes on the issue?
President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday shocked members of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and indeed the nation when he rejected the tenure elongation earlier granted the national officers of the party at state and national levels. Although the issue was not among the topic listed for discussion, the president used the occasion to convey his thoughts about the issue and called on the party to do the needful to avoid unnecessary litigations.
Since the shocking decision, many political pundits have described the ensuing period, which is expected to lead to the party’s congresses in June as a “litmus test” era with fears of whether the APC will not suffer implosion in the days ahead owing to the numerous crises rocking the party across the country.
However, will the APC be able to conduct a hitch-free congress and national convention in the midst of sharp dissension within its fold and if it fails the test, how will the party be able to manage the huge crisis that will follow less than a year to the all important presidential elections in February next year? Better still, will the APC not suffer the same fate experienced by the opposition PDP that led to its disastrous defeat during the 2015 election? These and many other questions have been raised by analysts; however, and how the party will respond to these in the days ahead will be very interesting to see going forward.
According to the President at the now famous 5th NEC meeting of the APC on Tuesday in Abuja, members of the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party wishing to retain their positions or aspire for another should resign and re-contest in line with the party’s constitution.
Buhari went ahead to fault the earlier decision of the party’s NEC (which he had earlier supported few days back) to grant one year extension to party executives at all levels, citing a breach of relevant sections of the party’s constitution, as well as the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), as a reason for his action.
Buhari asked the party’s NEC to rescind its earlier decision so as not to give the opposition the grounds on which to reap from the crisis, which is likely to result from the constitutional breaches, adding that his position was informed by the legal advice he received from the Ministry of Justice.
Buhari said, “I think it is important for me to speak on the contentious issues of the tenure of our national and state executive officers. As we all know, a motion was moved in the last National Executive Committee meeting of February 27 to the effect that when the tenure of the current executives expires in June this year, they should be allowed to continue for one year.
“This motion was duly carried by majority of the members present at the last NEC meeting, even though some of our party members have since spoken up vehemently against it; others have even taken the matter to court. On my own part, I have taken time to review and seek advice on the resolution and what I found is that it contravenes both our party’s constitution and the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“While the APC constitution in Article 17(1) and 13.2 (b) limits the tenure of elected officers to four years, renewable once by another election, the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended) in Section 223 proscribes periodic elections for party executives at regular intervals which must not exceed four years. Furthermore, Article 31 of our great party’s constitution provides that any principal officer wishing to re-contest, or contest for another post, must resign from his current post at least one month before the election. In this circumstance, what is expected of us is to conduct fresh elections once the tenure of the current executives approaches its end. I think if we deviate from the constitution and provisions, we might be endangering the fortunes of our party. If the tenure of our party executive can be legally faulted, then, it means any nomination and primary election that they will conduct can also be faulted”, Buhari submitted.
He warned that even “a caretaker committee cannot remedy this situation and cannot validly act in place of elected officers”. Since the President made the statement, diverse reactions have trailed the action with insinuations that it will open up another rounds of crises in the party.
Responding to the issue, the party through its spokesperson, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi said the NEC has set up a small technical committee to advise the party on the matter, adding that the committee is expected to submit its recommendations on or before the close of the week. Abdullahi further said while appearing on NTA on Wednesday that the position of NEC is not about the retention of Oyegun but that since the president has commissioned the national leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu to go into the states and reconcile aggrieved members, it would be worse than anything to still permit the decision to go into congresses across the state which has the potential of undermining the process of setting up the Tinubu committee in the first place.
However, Tinubu himself and his supporters didn’t see it the NEC way. While responding to the issue of the extension, Tinubu, who praised the President for being clear and straightforward, noted that President Buhari had confirmed that APC is a party that is based on the rule of law coupled with a firm adherence to internal democracy.
“While it would have been easy to allow the ill-conceived motion of 27 February to stand, President Buhari showed principle and courage by steering the party back to its original and correct path. The President has spoken. Today is a good day for those who cherish democracy and legality. The decision will also serve to strengthen the party by allowing party members, including present incumbents, to seek to contribute to the party by vying for executive offices as they see fit and help in advancing the process of internal reconciliation that is now underway in the APC. It is now time for the party to move forward and begin to plan and organise the needed congresses according to the existing timetables. After all, a party bearing the name All Progressives Congress should be the last party to resist holding congresses in which all its people have a fair say and fair chance to aspire to any position in the party for which they are qualified to hold”, he added.
In his response to the matter, the outspoken senator representing Kaduna Central, Shehu Sani said the President Buhari’s action not only saved the party from an impending disaster and the possibility of the opposition taking the party to the cleaners, he has further saved the party from possibility of loosing out in fielding a presidential candidate.
“We can literally say that President Buhari saved the party from an ill-fated flight. He was able to exorcise a demon that was planted and growing in the womb of the party by some persons for their own selfish interest. He was misinformed to have accepted the extension in the first instance and now he saw the light and reversed.
“If we go along with that extension and then someone from the opposition party goes to court after all the processes of congresses and primaries have been done, we may end up without a presidential candidate, governorship candidates and without candidates at all legislative arms of government”, he submitted.
Ironically, Oyegun support base back home was among the first to antagonise and question the endorsement of their kingsman. The party chairman in the state, Mr. Anselm Ojezua, described President Buhari’s call as justified and democratic, adding that elongation issue was not even the case at the NEC meeting in the first place.
Already, there are talks of whether President Buhari can unilaterally take such a decision quoting Article 13 of the party’s constitution that the president cannot override the decision of the NEC rather only the National Convention can.
As things stand now, it appears Oyegun might have lost this one to Tinubu and his camp after many spirited attempt to stay afloat as chairman of the party. But how this fresh round of crisis will further impact on the fragility of the party that has polarised party leaders and governors along political lines remains to be seen.
Announcing the extension at the end of the NEC meeting then, Kogi State Governor Yahaya Bello had said that the extension was to give the Tinubu-led reconciliation committee time to do its job appropriately.
Relying on same Article 13 of the party’s constitution and citing the examples of Ekiti and Osun States where the congresses were postponed because of fear of internal party divisions that might derail the electoral fortunes of the APC in both states. Bello stressed that the tenure had to be extended in order to avoid a formal convention/congresses that could potentially plunge the party into crisis close to 2019 elections.
But the chairman of the Governor’s Forum (NGF), Governor AbdulAziz Yari reiterated that only the party’s NEC can decide on the matter. According to the Zamfara state Governor in a statement issued Tuesday night, the decision reached at the NEC meeting was a “mere expression of interest”, adding that it is only at the National Convention of the APC that a constitutional amendment can be carried out to extend the tenures of the executives.
While the APC constitution provides for a four-year tenure for its executives, the current excos were elected in June 2014 for a four-year mandate, which is expected to lapse on June 30, 2018.
“Article 30 of the APC constitution states that the ‘constitution and the schedules hereto can be amended only by the National Convention of the party. The process of amending the constitution is also expressly provided in Article 30 sub-section 2. What was done today (Tuesday) was only an expression of a desire to extend the tenure of the Chief Oyegun-led national executive.”