• APC sets up c’ttee to review position
• Tinubu hails president, says party stands for internal democracy
• PDP: Ruling party suffering from imposition, impunity

Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja

Citing the Nigerian Constitution and the constitution of the All Progressives Congress (APC), President Muhammadu Buhari Tuesday shocked his party members when he raised objections to the plan to extend the tenure of elected and appointed executives of the ruling party at all levels, including its National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, by one year, possibly saving the party from the series of lawsuits that would have arisen from the extra year handed the executives.

Rising from its meeting last month, the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the APC said that it had extended the tenure of its national leadership and that of its state executive committees in breach of the party’s constitution.

The constitution of the party makes no provision for the extension of its executives’ tenure. The Nigerian Constitution also prescribes periodic elections for party executives at regular intervals not exceeding four years.
The decision would have required an amendment to the APC constitution, which can only be carried out by the National Convention of the party.

However, Buhari, who addressed the NEC meeting of the APC held at the party’s national headquarters in Abuja Tuesday, said extending the tenure of the officials would contravene the country’s constitution and that of the party.
Instead, he recommended that a convention should be organised at the expiration of the tenure of the current party leadership to elect new officials.

He said while Article 17(1) and 13.2 (b) of the APC constitution limits the tenure of elected officers to four years, renewable once by another election, Section 223 of the Nigerian Constitution also prescribes periodic elections for party executives at regular intervals, which must not exceed four years.
On the adoption of a caretaker committee to manage the affairs of the party, Buhari also said a caretaker committee cannot remedy the situation and cannot validly act in place of elected officers.

“I hope we will take the opportunity of this gathering to resolve outstanding issues and consolidate on our plans towards making APC the strongest defender of the interest of our people.
“In particular, I think it is important for me to speak quickly on the contentious issues of the tenure of our national and state executive officers.

“As we all know a motion was moved at 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.
“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,” he said.

He also pointed out that Article 31 of the 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.

According to the president, what was expected of the APC is to conduct fresh elections once the tenure of the current executives approaches its end.

Buhari, whose position evidently jolted top leaders of the party present at the meeting, including 20 governors and several lawmakers, cautioned the party not to commit actions that would further divide the party and “give the opposition the opportunity to truncate APC’s victory in the 2019 elections”.

While drawing the attention of the party to the dangers in allowing the disagreement over the tenure extension to fester, the president said it might lead to an endless legal tussle and would most likely divide the party ahead of the next year’s elections.

“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 executives can be legally faulted, then it means any nomination and a primary election that they will conduct can also be faulted.
“That is not to talk of the defeats that will arise and is already arising within the party with some of our members feeling that they are being denied the right to aspire to executive positions, or internal democracy is not at play within the party.

“I am therefore of the firm belief that it is better to follow strictly the dictates of our party and national constitutions rather than put the APC and its activities at grave risk.
“Fortunately, we have approved a timetable for the order of congresses and the elections. I think this should be allowed to go forward and all efforts should now be geared towards making them a great success.

“I have to digress from the speech here to tell you, the NEC, that it does not preclude us from discussing this matter. The reason is this, we have so many instances including the one sitting by my right, people have quoted the constitution of our party including that of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and it has facilitated the decisions we have taken.
“All well and good, I don’t feel too strongly, the only thing I feel too strongly about is that we should not allow our party to be vulnerable to the opposition.

“They can delay or divide us further within the party when they quote appropriate portions of the party’s constitution and of the country. 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 this and let us quickly, with the help of the legal adviser, whom I think has the constitution of the party in his head, quickly clear issues that are raised,” he said.
The president, however, noted that he had taken time to listen to his legal advisers, constitutionally given to him through the Ministry of Justice, adding: “Our decision, therefore, is contrary to both the party and the constitutional provisions.”

He then charged those present to bring to him facts to the contrary, saying: “I don’t want narratives and so on.”
“Please, bring facts and we will reflect and discuss them here and now, and proceed to accept whatever we feel should be done. Let us be prepared to face the opposition either in the court or on the pages of newspapers to make sure that our programmes are not disrupted by court actions,” he stressed.

Speaking to reporters after the NEC meeting, the National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, said the meeting resolved to set up a committee to review the position of the party on the tenure extension, adding that until the committee concludes its work, the party would maintain status quo.
“Members of NEC thanked the president for his graciousness. Of course, we had a situation, because we recall that after the last NEC and this decision was taken, some members felt aggrieved and they went to court.

“Of course you know that any issue that goes to court is sub-judicial. Then that also presented its own complications, so the NEC decided to set up a small team that will advise the party on the way forward.
“At the moment there is no decision taken. So, the position of NEC still stands from the last meeting. There is a technical committee at the moment that is looking at it. That position may change tomorrow but as it is today that is the position of NEC,” he said.

On the party’s report on federalism, Abdullahi said a committee between the executive, National Assembly and the party would be set up to look at the report of the Nasir el-Rufai-led committee set up by the party.
The earlier committee, headed by Kaduna State Governor, el-Rufai, had recommended, among others, the establishment of state police.

Abdullahi said the new committee to be established would review the report as quickly as possible and make recommendations that could enable the president to send fresh bills on the matter to the legislature.
“The second issue is the issue of true federalism. Various opinions were canvassed and then yesterday at the National Caucus meeting and NEC meeting today, it was agreed that a technical committee between the National Assembly, the executive and the party should be set up to look at the proposals point by point as quickly as possible to enable the president to transmit to the National Assembly bills for action,” he said.
The committee submitted its report last year to the party’s National Chairman, John Odigie-Oyegun, with 85 proposals for amendment.

“Having made the observation that those observations that were made should be incorporated into the draft constitution; therefore there was no motion taken to adopt the amended constitution.
“We believe that those amendments and proposals should first of all be updated in the amended constitution before a motion is taken for its adoption,” he explained.

But in giving context to the decision of the February NEC meeting, Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello, said the move by the party did not contravene any section of its constitution or that of the country, noting that the decision was taken to ensure that there is no vacuum when the tenure of the current leadership expires in June.

“NEC had resolved that when the tenure of the current NWC expires, they should continue to act for the next one year and that does not negate any aspect of our constitution or laws of the country, moreso, in view of the crises that may arise as a result of the primaries that will have to be held ahead of the next general election.

“So, the party felt it was better to retain the executives for the next one year to oversee the general election,” he said.
However, Abia State chairman of APC, Dr. Emmanuel Ndukwe, said Buhari’s rejection of the tenure extension for the current executives at all levels, was for the best, adding that such a step will strengthen the party.
Ndukwe urged all stakeholders to support the president’s decision so as to avert a crisis in the party.

Also speaking on the president’s objection to the tenure elongation, the National Leader of the APC, Chief Bola Tinubu, who was absent from the NEC meeting Tuesday because he had to attend engagements in Lagos linked to his birthday celebrations, said Buhari’s stance had saved the party from serious legal turmoil.

Commending the president, Tinubu said Buhari had in the “clear, straightforward manner that is his mode of expression and that befits the moment, affirmed that our party remains faithful to the principles of internal democracy and the rule of law”.

In a statement Tuesday, Tinubu said: “President Buhari’s action will save 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 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. His action 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.”

Tinubu noted that the president’s stance would go far in advancing the process of internal reconciliation that is now underway, adding: “It is a 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.

“Again, this is a good day for the APC and democratic political practice in Nigeria. We shun the politics of old to move towards a new and better way of governing ourselves and this nation.”
However, in its reaction to the outcome of Tuesday’s NEC meeting of the APC, the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said that the confusion in the ruling party’s NEC over the tenure of its leadership was a clear reflection of the chaos and disorderliness that is the hallmark of its government.

The party said the executive flip-flops by Buhari and his interference in the internal running of the APC had further exposed the raging impunity, primitive impositions and other undemocratic tendencies in the ruling party.

In a statement issued by PDP spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, the party said it was clear that the APC went into 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 accordance with democratic norms 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 the failure of governance, policy somersaults and gross incompetence that have brought our nation to its knees in the last three years.

“Our takeaway in all this 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,” it said.