By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor, Simon Ebegbulem, Gabriel Enogholase and Omeiza Ajayi
…As mutterings continue over Buhari’s backtrack
..Buhari has no power to reverse NEC decision, APC tells court
LAGOS—Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, the immediate past governor of Edo State, has emerged as the leading candidate to replace chairman of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun.
His emergence is despite strong political pitches by leading South East members of the party for the position to be zoned to the region for inclusiveness.
Yesterday, the APC said President Muhammadu Buhari’s view cannot change the decision of the National Executive Committee, NEC, of the party on the claim that the President is just one person with one vote.
Meanwhile, the disruption of the tenure extension scheme for the serving executives has continued to generate reactions with party insiders fuming that the prospect of fresh internal elections just months away from the general election could instigate crisis.
The assertions were, however, fully set aside by Edo State chapter of the party which praised the President’s decision as a step in the right direction. Odigie-Oyegun and Oshiomhole are both former governors of Edo State.
Oshiomhole’s frontline position, Vanguard learned yesterday, followed his reconciliation with Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, national leader of the party whose strident opposition to the tenure extension scheme for the Odigie-Oyegun-led executive helped to turn it into uncertainty.
Ironically, Oshiomhole and Tinubu were at opposite ends four years ago when Odigie-Oyegun emerged as national chairman of the then just emerging party. At that time, Oshiomhole was fully supportive of the aspiration of Chief Tom Ikimi to be national chairman, a move that was itself truncated by Tinubu who successfully pushed forward Odigie-Oyegun for the position.
Ikimi walked away from the party after a public spat with Tinubu, following the election of Odigie-Oyegun as national chairman.
Oshiomhole’s candidacy is being helped by the fact that Odigie-Oyegun is unlikely to contest the position on account of age. The national chairman who is 79, had seen the prospects of a one-year extension as a fitting anchor for him to leave public service at 80 next year.
“He has not told me, but I doubt it very seriously,” a close associate of Odigie-Oyegun said yesterday.
The Buhari advice
However, one challenge against the Oshiomhole candidacy, Vanguard learned, could be the muttering by party members on how President Muhammadu Buhari shocked members of the National Executive Committee, NEC, of the party by backtracking from the NEC resolution last February on the extension.
The motion for the adoption of tenure extension, party insiders grumbled during the NEC last Tuesday, was carried by 104 votes with only four votes against. Remarkably, many governors who are known to be supportive of Buhari are backing Odigie-Oyegun.
Party operatives and officials were also peeved by the fact that the President who was present at the February NEC did not speak against the move. They were further crossed by the fact that the President was mute on the issue at the national caucus on the eve of the NEC meeting.
The protests against the President’s stance on the extension of tenure, Vanguard learned, was what caused presidential body guards to storm the meeting as they felt that the mutterings were getting out of hand.
The chief whip of the House of Representatives, Alhassan Doguwa, had particularly challenged the NEC to wholly adopt the President’s decision, an assertion that caused many NEC members to shout at him, forcing the body guards to enter the meeting.
It was at that point that Odigie-Oyegun called for the composition of a compact committee to review the situation.
“We must ensure decorum and respect the views of members, whether we agree with it or not. The President is in our midst, we all should respect that,” a source quoted Odigie-Oyegun as saying.
Another source present at the NEC said: “We attended the National Caucus meeting at the Presidential Villa on Monday night, and he (President) gave us no notice or inkling of his decision to go against the decision on the tenure extension.
“This is not how you treat party leaders. In fact, this is at the crux of many of the problems we face in our party – no consultations and unilateral decisions. Truly, the President has taken us for granted.”
EDO APC backs Buhari
The mutterings nonetheless, Edo State chapter of the party has thrown its weight behind President Buhari’s stance on the election of new executives across the board.
The chairman of the state chapter of the party, Mr. Anslem Ojezua, told Vanguard, yesterday, that President Buhari has saved the party from constitutional crisis which would have destroyed the party if he had allowed the one year extension granted to members of the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party to stay.
“It was a statement that was timely and justified. By that statement alone, the President has enhanced the profile of our party and saved us the disgrace that was imminent in implementation of that unconstitutional proposal.
“In the past two years, we have had a number of people from other parties joining our party. Now, these people are joining with the hope that they will be fully integrated into the party. One of the ways that this integration takes place is in the participation in these congresses.
“And in some cases, some of them are free to aspire and hold offices. By implementing this proposal, you would have shut those out, at least, for another one year and perhaps, another four years.
“The most important thing which is fundamental is that our constitution as a party does not permit it. But the President has even taken it beyond that to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which is the most important law in our land and that law expressly forbids any body holding an office in a political party being there for more than four years without an election.”
Buhari has no power to change NEC decision —APC
The APC’s stance that President Buhari’s decision cannot change the collective decision of the NEC was declared by the party’s lawyer at the Federal High Court, Abuja, which is hearing the suit filed against the tenure extension of the party executives.
It came as the party challenged the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court to hear the suit.
The party further queried the decision of the court to grant accelerated hearing to the legal action initiated on March 8 by four of its members who told the court that they were aspiring to run for leadership positions upon expiration of the current term of executives of the APC at various levels.
However, the plaintiffs- Ademorin Kuye from Lagos State; Sani Mayanchi from Zamfara State and currently the Publicity Secretary of the party in the state; Are Mutiu, also from Lagos State, and Machu Tokwat from Kaduna State, maintained that the action of the APC NEC was illegal.
Aside Odigie-Oyegun, others that the plaintiffs, in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/237/2018, urged the court to compel to vacate their positions at the expiration of their current tenure, are officials of the party at the national, state, local government area, and ward level across the country.
At the resumed proceeding on the case yesterday, counsel to the plaintiffs, Mr. Jubrin Okutekpa, SAN, notified the court that President Muhammadu Buhari had at the National Executive Council meeting of the APC in Abuja on Tuesday, conceded that the tenure elongation was unconstitutional.
He said there was need for the court to expedite hearing on the suit so as to promptly reverse the illegal tenure extension condemned by President Buhari.
However, APC, through its lawyer, Mr. Joseph Daudu, SAN, urged the court to discountenance the submission which it said was misconceived.
APC told the court that President Buhari was entitled to his personal views, saying he is an ordinary member of the party like others.
Daudu, SAN, said: “As far as President Buhari’s views are concerned, it carries no weight until the party meets and decides and deliberates on it. As far as the party is concerned, he is an ordinary member like others.”
He said the party was in line with Order 7 Rule 1 of the Federal High Court Civil Procedure Rules, entitled to 30 days from the date the suit was filed, to enter its defence.
APC insisted that the suit raised serious constitutional issues, saying “for the interest of fair hearing, we are still within time to file our processes.”
Similarly, Odigie-Oyegun, who is also a defendant in the suit, through his lawyer, Chief Akin Olujimi, SAN, aligned himself with the position of the party, even as he opposed the abridgement of time for hearing of the suit.
On his part, the National Organising Secretary of the party Osita Izunaso who is also a defendant challenged his inclusion in the matter.
Izunaso, through his lawyer, Mr. James Onoja, SAN, further contended that he was not properly served with the court processes which he said was dumped at the APC secretariat.
Meantime, INEC’s lawyer, Mr. Idris Yakubu, told the court that the commission also raised a preliminary objection against the suit.
In a bench ruling, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba said the court would adopt a procedure that would guarantee fair and expeditious hearing of the matter.
He ordered all the parties to file and exchange their processes before April 16.