Legal challenges lay ahead of ruling All Progressives Congress, writes Bolaji Adebiyi

Except remedial steps are taken, the ruling All Progressives Congress’ impending February 26 Extraordinary Convention in Abuja and its outcome may face legal challenges with grave implications for its candidates in the immediate future elections.

The danger ahead lies around the outstanding shaky legal basis of the Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee as well as its continuing disregard for clear provisions of the party’s constitution. Should these perceived infractions be successfully challenged in court, as they certainly would be by those aggrieved by the outcomes of the convention and impending primaries, the party might find itself in a hot pot of stew.

Apart from dormant suits challenging the convening of the June 25, 2020, National Executive Committee meeting that birthed the CECPC, the caretakers have continued to progress in what several legal minds call a comedy of errors that may leave several of its candidates in the impending 2023 general elections stranded. Notwithstanding the procedural errors cited in its convening, the NEC dissolved the NWC, proceeded to constitute the caretaker committee under the chairmanship of Mai Mala Buni, the governor of Yobe State, and gave it the specific assignments of reconciling warring factions and organising an extraordinary convention within six months.

Upon the completion of the six-month tenure and without a progress report itemising its accomplishment, the NEC on December 8, 2020, extended the committee’s tenure by another six months even without a clear road map on how its assignments would be attained. Rather than apply itself to the delivery of its twin mandate, the committee embarked on what turned out to be an open-ended revalidation and registration of members. Sensing that the caretakers were intent on perpetuating themselves in office, party stakeholders began to agitate for the winding down of the committee whose extra tenure came to an end on June 25, 2021, without any plan to implement its primary plan of organising an extraordinary convention.

Under intense pressure to leave, the committee rather than call an NEC meeting to report the progress of its work went to the Presidential Villa in Abuja to obtain an extension of tenure from President Muhammadu Buhari. This act obviously complicated the wobbly legal status of the caretakers as there is nothing in the party’s constitution that allows the president to assume the powers of NEC. The basis of the committee is section 13(3)(VI) of the APC constitution, which empowers NEC to “Create, elect and appoint any committee it may deem necessary, desirable or expedient, and assign to them such powers and functions as it may deem fit and proper.” It follows, therefore, that its reporting authority is the NEC, not the president, as there is nothing in the section that gives any role to him beyond being a member of the executive committee.

This obvious act of impunity further infuriated agitating stakeholders whose fears that the caretakers were bent on perpetuating themselves had become justified. The president would soon come on the side of the agitators when he made it clear that no further extension would be tolerated, asking the committee to roll up its sleeves and deliver on its primary assignment of delivering the extraordinary convention.

Despite the presidential intervention, the caretakers continued to play games, refusing to roll out a plan for the convention until late last year when it gave a nebulous February 2023 date. It would take another round of vociferous agitations by stakeholders, including the party’s governors with hints of legal actions to force the committee to announce the February 26 date but not without another audacious affront on the party’s constitution.

Following the announcement of uncertain date in February for the convention, Salihu Lookman, the vocal director-general of the Progressive Governors’ Forum, demanded a meeting of the NEC to review and approve the committee’s plan as stipulated by section 13 (4)(V) of the party’s constitution. It took the committee exactly a month after to respond to his demand. The NEC, James Akpanudoedehe, its secretary, responded rather arrogantly but falsely, has donated its powers to the convention committee.

Yet, whereas section 13(3)(VI) of the constitution empowers the NEC to create and assign it responsibilities, section 13(4)(V) mandates the committee to, “Propose to the National Executive Committee, party electoral regulations to govern the conduct of elections to all party offices at every level and to govern the procedure for selecting party candidates for elective offices….”

If the committee remains in doubt that its responsibilities do not go beyond making recommendations to NEC, section 13(4)(VII) should clear the doubt. It states that the NWC, which it stands in for, shall have “power to make standing orders for the approval of National Executive Committee or the Board of Trustees.”

Meanwhile, Article 25 (1) (l) of the constitution puts all doubts at rest when it states, “The National Convention of the party shall be held once in two years at a date, venue and time to be recommended by the National Working Committee (NWC) and approved by the National Executive Committee (NEC) subject to giving of the statutory notices to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and at least, 14 days notice given to members eligible to attend.”

Assuming but not conceding that NEC indeed donated these powers to the committee as claimed by Akpanudoedehe, that resolution is at best defective or lapsed on June 25, 2021, being the expiration of the six-month tenure extension granted it on December 8, 2020. To the extent that it did not go back to its reporting authority for a renewal of its mandate at the end of its tenure, the committee appears to be operating in an error of an illusory indefinite transfer of power that is essentially legally defective.

Luckily for the APC, it has a litany of senior lawyers, including Yemi Osinbajo, vice president of Nigeria, who is both a professor of Law and a senior advocate, to help it make a sense of the clear and present danger of the committee’s intransigence over the simple matter of abiding by the provision of the party’s constitution. As lawyers would say, it is better to be surplus to the requirement of the law. So, precisely what will the committee lose if it submits its plans to the NEC for ratification?

Adebiyi, the managing editor of THISDAY Newspapers, writes from thisdaylive.com