•President, APC govs at odds on Oyegun at stormy NEC
•Party constitutes committee on tenure of exco
•The President, APC have spoken —Tinubu
By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor, Omeiza Ajayi and Dirisu Yakubu
ABUJA—The future of the Chief John Odigie-Oyegun-led National Working Committee, of the All Progressives Congress, APC, was set in uncertainty yesterday after President Muhammadu Buhari raised constitutional queries on the tenure extension plot for the party’s executives.
President Buhari’s assertions at a stormy closed-door session of the 5th National Executive Committee, NEC of the ruling party, compelled the setting up of a committee to review the motion adopted at the 4th NEC for the extension of the tenure of all executives of the party across all levels.
Sources at the meeting said security operatives had to rush in to ensure order as tempers flared over the issue that has lately polarised party chieftains.
The cloud over the party was further thickened by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, which slammed President Buhari for setting confusion in the party by interfering in its internal affairs of the party.
The uncertainty in the party evolved after some party leaders led by Asiwaju Bola Tinubu opposed the extension of the tenure of the executives as recommended at the 4th NEC last month. The Tinubu camp had been overwhelmed by the camp of the governors who pushed for retention of the executives on the claim that doing so would avoid crisis ahead of the 2019 general election.
Perhaps, comforted with the backing of the governors, Odigie-Oyegun had at the end of the National Caucus on Monday night, said talks about the disruption of the extension of his tenure had been set in history.
So as the NEC got underway yesterday, the national chairman set the agenda of the meeting on two major issues, to wit, the review of the party’s constitution and deliberation on the report on true federalism.
“We have two basic issues to conclude today. The first, of course, is the elaborate review of the party constitution, and then the second, the famous report, otherwise known as the report on true federalism which defines or interprets in clear terms the APC manifesto as it affects the future of this great nation. So, we have to get going, and I will yield the microphone to Mr. President for any statement he wishes to make”, Odigie-Oyegun had begun.
However, as soon as the president had the floor, he deviated from the two issues slated for discussion.
He said: “I think it is important for me to speak quickly on the contentious issue 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 the majority of 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 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) limit the tenure of elected officers to four years, renewable once by another election, the 1999 constitution of Nigeria (as amended) in section 223 also prescribes periodic elections for party executives at regular intervals which must not exceed four years.
“Furthermore, Article 31 of our great party 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. A caretaker committee cannot remedy this situation and cannot validly act in place of elected officers. Furthermore, I think if we deviate from the constitutional provisions, we might be endangering the fortunes of our party.
“If the tenure of our party executives can be legally faulted, then, it means that any nomination and primary election that they will conduct can also be faulted.
“This is not to talk of divisions that will arise and is already arising within the party when some of our members feel that they are being denied the right to aspire to executive positions or that internal democracy is not at play within the party.
“I am, therefore, of the firm view that it is better to follow strictly the dictates of our party and national constitutions, rather than put APC and its activities at grave risk. Fortunately, we have already approved a timetable for the holding of congresses and elections. I think these should be allowed to go forward and all efforts should now be geared towards making them a great success.
“I have to digress from my speech here to tell you, the NEC, that this does not preclude us from discussing this matter. The reason is this, we have so many SANs (senior advocates of Nigeria) including the one on my right (Osinbajo), and people have quoted the constitution of our party including that of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended and it has facilitated the decisions we have taken.
“The only thing I feel too strongly about is that we should not allow our party to be vulnerable and susceptible to the opposition by delaying us through the courts. Take note of this my statement, there are knowledgeable people sitting among you the governors and the party chairmen and among us here on the high table.
“Please, feel free to discuss and let us quickly, with the help of the Legal Adviser, who I think has the constitution of the party in his head and quickly clear issues that are raised. But I take time to listen to my legal advisers, constitutionally given to me in terms of the Ministry of Justice.
Multiple sources at the meeting, however, said the closed door session was stormy as many NEC members raised issues with the points raised by the president to the extent that some security details had to enter the hall to ensure that there was no security breach.
Many NEC members,Vanguard learnt, were upset with the president’s revision as they claimed that the president took them unawares having been part of the last NEC where the decision on tenure extension was taken. Some also muttered that the president did not reveal his intentions at the National Caucus that took place on Monday night as his intervention distracted from the two-point agenda as prepared by the NWC.
As a way to stave off more mutterings, Chief Odigie-Oyegun was said to have intervened and suggested the setting up of a very compact committee to revisit the issue.
At the post-NEC press briefing, spokesman of the party, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi and Kogi State Governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, also said a decision was taken to set up a small committee to review the issue.
Mallam Bolaji giving details of the resolution of the meeting said: “The president was gracious enough to say well, this is my thinking, but I still want to subject it to debate by NEC.
“So, members of NEC thanked the president for still throwing the issue to them for a debate. Of course, we had a situation because after the last NEC meeting, some members went to court on this issue and so any issue that is in court, becomes subjudice to discuss and so that also presented its own complications.
“So, the NEC decided to set up a small committee to advise the party on this matter. At the moment, there is no decision taken. So, the decision of NEC still stands from the last meeting. There is a technical committee that is looking at the matter. That position may change tomorrow, but for now, it still stands. When that committee submits its report, it means NEC will still meet to either consider it or reaffirm its earlier position”, he said.
On his part, Gov. Bello said the last decision was not to elongate the tenure of the party executives but that the NEC only tried to avert the likelihood of having chaotic congresses and primaries in the lead to the general election. “What we said was to allow them to continue to act for one year, and it does not negate any provision of our constitution,” he added.
The President has spoken —Tinubu
National leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu who was absent at the national caucus because of engagements preceding his birthday tomorrow, was quick to welcome the president’s stance as a good gesture to the principle of internal democracy.
In a statement entitled “The president has spoken: the APC stands for internal democracy,” he said: “In the clear, straightforward manner that is his mode of expression and that befits the moment, President Buhari affirmed our party remains faithful to the principles of internal democracy and the rule of law.
“President Buhari’s action saves the party from serious legal turmoil. If the elongations were deemed illegal then all subsequent party actions, including the nomination of all of our candidates for elective offices, might also be of questionable legality.
“Such a predicament would constitute an unnecessary and mortal blow to the party and its role in promoting progressive governance to Nigeria.
“Moreover, President Buhari has affirmed for all to see that our party is one 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 February 27 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. His action will also serve to strengthen the party by allowing party members, including incumbents, to seek to contribute to the party by vying for executive offices as they see fit.
“His action will go far in advancing the process of internal reconciliation that is now underway. It is a time for the party to move forward and begin to plan and organize 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.
“Again, this is a good day for the APC and democratic political practice in Nigeria. We shun the politics of old to move toward a new and better way of governing ourselves and this nation.”
Earlier yesterday, Tinubu’s spokesman, Mr. Tunde Rahman had traced the former Lagos State governor’s absence at the national caucus on Monday night to preparations for his birthday tomorrow.
Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, who is also chairman of the forum of APC governors styled as the Progressive Governors Forum, said the president’s intervention should not be seen as a victory or defeat for any tendency in the party.
The governor commended the president for showing astute leadership in the party when it was most needed.
He also commended Chief John Oyegun-led EXCO of the Party for leading the Party from nothing to something great and noted that the Political history of the nation would be fair to them when it will be written.
APC and chaos in Nigeria — PDP
The PDP, however, said the confusion in the APC was a clear reflection of the chaos and disorderliness that is the hallmark of its government.
The party said the flip-flops by President Buhari and his interferences in the internal running of the party, further exposed the raging impunity, primitive impositions and other undemocratic tendencies in the APC.
PDP National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, in a statement, yesterday, said it was clear that the APC went into a chaotic mode following the renewed interest of Nigerians in the rebranded PDP.
“The confusion in the APC also directly explains why our country has been in shambles in the last three years. There is no way a party which cannot conduct its affairs in a democratic norm will be able to function in government.
“We are, therefore, not surprised that President Buhari went back to his party’s NEC and ordered members to reverse earlier decisions, which they had claimed conformed with the provisions of their constitution.
“It is amazing that a party, which boasts of belonging to the progressive bent, does not even understand its own rules or the applications thereof. In one breath, the party sought the elongation of tenure for its officials and then in another breath it reversed itself.
“Nigerians are no longer at a loss as to the reasons for failure of governance, policy summersaults and gross incompetence that have brought our nation to its knees in the last three years.
“Our takeaway in all these is that the APC is a complete disaster and we urge all democrats still trapped in this sinking ship to immediately exit and join other good-spirited Nigerians in the rebranded and repositioned PDP to make life better for our people.”
The publicity secretary of the APC in Lagos, Mr. Joe Igbokwe, however, welcomed the president’s decision saying: “It is in order because the elongation violates Section 223 of the 1999 Constitution. It may put a clog in the wheel of progress of our party, so it is better we do the right thing. You also know that some people have been taken to court.”
Comrade Joseph Ambakaderimo, Convener, South-South Reawakening Group, SSRG responding to the development also welcomed the president’s intervention, saying:
“It is good for the image of the party. At least commonsense and the rule of law have prevailed. We can’t go on every time breaking laws to govern ourselves and expect not to be ridiculed by outsiders.”