By Omeiza Ajayi
In January this year, Sunday Vanguard had exclusively exposed plans by some strategists to get stakeholders of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, to agree to a tenure extension for members of its National Working Committee, NWC. Although, the party denied any such plan at the time, the issue began to gain some traction weeks after the report.
The proposal was actually the brainchild of some powerful pro-Buhari forces within the ruling party, even before the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, announced its time-table for the 2019 general elections. In the timetable and schedule of activities, the election management body fixed the conduct of party primaries for between August 18, 2018 to October 7, 2018.
In line with the provisions of Article 17(i) of the APC Constitution, the tenure of all officers elected into ward, local government, state and national organs of the Party will be expiring in the second quarter of 2018, precisely in June, a development that would leave the conduct of the primaries to either an interim executive or the new executives.
“Sponsors of the tenure elongation proposal reasoned that putting in place an interim executive to conduct the party’s primaries may be counter-productive and disrupt strategic plans by powerful interests in the party to present the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari as the APC’s flag-bearer for the 2019 presidential election”, volunteered a top party source who spoke off record at the time.
According to him, the sponsors also reason that an interim executive could be hijacked by well-known contending forces within the APC who could frustrate the bid to return President Buhari.
APC State Chairmen Sought 2-Year Tenure Extension for selves, NWC
Hours to the 4th National Executive Committee, NEC, meeting of the party which held on February 27, the Forum of APC State Chairmen passed a vote of confidence on the Chief John Oyegun-led NWC of the party, and asked for a two-year tenure extension for themselves and the NWC to enable them concentrate on the forthcoming general elections.
“The forum, after dissections and thorough appraisal of the APC-led Government, hereby unanimously pass a vote of confidence on our dear President Muhammadu Buhari, the National Chairman of our great party Chief John Odigie-Oyegun and other leaders of our great party for their numerous achievements despite the challenges so far experienced in our dear country. We also urge Mr. President to present himself for second tenure come 2019”, the forum noted in its communique last night in Abuja.
The forum also resolved as follows; “That we support His Excellency Senator Bola Tinubu-led peace and reconciliation committee and urge the committee to expedite action in reconciling members of the party. The forum also calls on all the members of our great party to give maximum support to the committee to achieve sustainable peace in the party
“In view of the short period between the time available for the proposed party congresses and INEC published time-table for conduct of party primaries and general elections, the forum resolved that the tenure of the present officers of the party at all levels be extended by 2 years to avert challenges in the party”, the Forum stated in it’s communiqué which was signed by about 31 state chairmen who attended the meeting among who was the chairman of the forum, Chief Henry Ajomale of Lagos state.
How NEC voted for Tenure Elongation
At its meeting of February 27, NEC almost unanimously approved a one-year tenure extension for the NWC as well as all other structures of the party at the state and local government levels.
At the meeting which was attended by President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo national assembly leaders and state governors, NEC said the proximity of the end of tenure of the NWC to the elections made the extension imperative.
INEC has scheduled National Elections for February 2019. The election management body in its recently announced time-table for the general elections also fixed the conduct of party primaries for August 18, 2018 to October 7, 2018, when the names of candidates would have been submitted. If the administrative cadre of the party is reconstituted in June 2018, then only about two months will be available for the it to organize congresses nationwide and the National Convention to choose state and national candidates including the presidential candidate as well as design strategy, manifesto and other programmes for the general elections.
Furthermore, primaries to pick candidates for Ekiti and Osun States governorship elections as well as the campaign for the elections will attract the attention of the party executives. Manifesto drafting, constitution review and membership mobilisation are critical items on the agenda of the party executives.
Coupled with the crisis the bedevilling party in many states and the listed activities of the party this year and the available time, NEC found it unwise to embark on a wholesale replacement of the executive cadre of the party at all levels at a time so close to the general election.
Consequently, when the issue was put to a vote, 104 NEC members voted in support while four voted against the extension in spite of the legal advice of Prof. Osinbajo that the decision, though popular, was legally deficient.
At a post-NEC media briefing, Kogi State governor, in company of other governors and party officials, disclosed that the NEC meeting decided to extend Chief John Odigie- Oyegun led NWC, relying on Article 13 of the party’s constitution.
Bello said: “At the end of the National Executive Council meeting today, a major decision was taken in line with the constitution of our party. We are all aware that the tenure of the current NWC and the executive members of this party both elected and appointed comes to an end June this year.
“Considering the time left for the party to conduct all the Congresses and Convention and considering that our leader, Sen. Tinubu has been charged with the responsibility of reconciling all aggrieved members of our party, we cannot afford to approach the general elections with more disputes and crises.
“So, relying on Article 13 of our Constitution, which empowers the NEC to carry out the functions of the convention, the NEC has decided to extend the tenure of the current NWC and other executive committees at various levels for another 12 months, starting from June 30th.”
Where the President Got it Wrong
But barely a month later at the 5th NEC meeting of the party, the President attempted a reversal of the decision of NEC. Relying on what he said was legal advice from the Ministry of Justice, the President described the earlier decision of the NEC on tenure elongation as illegal.
Of the 14 organs of the party, the National Convention is the highest decision making organ. It follows therefore that where the NEC does not reverse itself on a decision, it is only the National Convention, and not the president, that can reverse the decision of NEC.
Having stated his own position, the President had set the tone for conversation when he said his decision did not preclude NEC from further discussing the matter. Buhari said the party’s legal adviser would shed more light on the issue but when called upon to do so, Dr Muiz Banire, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, differed when he said there was no extension but only a proposal, a view shared by Gov. Yahaya Bello.
Banire, faulted and tacitly dismissed constitutional queries raised by the President on the grounds that the extension did not confer substantive status on Party Executives as they will only serve in acting capacities for 12 months. He said NEC derived its powers to make the decision from Section 13.3 of the Party’s constitution.
A party source quoted Banire as submitting that the President’s decision on the tenure extension was sub judice, as the matter was already before the courts.
The Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN on his part also reportedly adopted Banire’s legal position, reminding the President of the logistical and political exigencies that informed NEC’s decision to extend the tenure of Party Executives by 12 months.
The prompt intervention of the national chairman who proposed the setting up of a committee to review NECs previous decision saved the President from further backlash. Sunday Vanguard understands that the Terms of Reference of the committee are currently being drafted with a view to having the committee swing into action as soon as practicable.
Go and start farming, Frank tells Oyegun
The president has gotten support from some unusual quarters.
Suspended Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the party, Comrade Timi Frank, who had been at loggerheads with Chief Odigie-Oyegun had asked the chairman to “honourably resign his position to embrace farming in his home town instead of politics.”
Comrade Frank, while urging his party to learn how to run party administration from the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, also challenged the NWC to tell the world if President Buhari is no longer the leader of APC.”
On his part, the new state chairman of the party in Abia state, Dr. Emmanuel Ndukwe, said the President’s decision to reject the decision of the National Executive Council NEC on tenure extension for the current executive at all levels, was the best, adding that such will strengthen the party.
While commenting on the President’s speech shortly after the NEC meeting, Ndukwe said: “I am a Buharist, the President is a law-abiding citizen and as a law-abiding citizen, we work with the party’s constitution and there is never a place where it was mentioned that a tenure can be extended. So, I gladly accept and very happy that we are going to conduct our congresses, especially in Abia State where I have taken over”.