It was with mixed feelings that I received the news last Wednesday of the affirmation by the Supreme Court of the election of Rotimi Akeredolu as governor of Ondo state. Before the ruling, I had become quite apprehensive when the irregularity of having a sitting governor serving as the national chairman of a party was reportedly raised at the Court of Appeal.
I feared for Akeredolu's survival, bearing in mind that it was Governor Mala Buni of Yobe State who as interim national chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) presented Akeredolu to the electoral body as the candidate of the party. Now that it has all ended well for Akeredolu, I am happy for him for two reasons, one because he is my brother and fellow alumnus of the great Loyola College Ibadan and the other because the results of the elections did show clearly that the people of Ondo state preferred him.
Truly, there is ample merit in allowing the choice of the people to prevail instead of creating a Southwest Supreme Court Governor. Although it would have been a personal pain, I would have, as a political analyst, accepted the verdict if it had gone the other way, because the decision of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to make a sitting governor their interim chairman hardly resonates well with people including APC members.
A look at Section 183 of the Nigerian Constitution 1999, reveals that a state governor is not allowed, during the period when he holds office, to also hold any other executive office or paid employment in any capacity. This is why many people feel it was inappropriate for the APC to have made Governor Bala Buni to serve as its national chairman.
The fact that the said Section 183 of the constitution outlaws holding any other office “in whatever capacity” nullifies the argument that Buni was chosen only as an interim chairman and for a short period. To show that the APC was absolutely conscious of the real purport of the provision, she also introduced it in Article 17 of her own party constitution.
The arguments of the pro-establishment members of the party that interim chairmanship of a party is a mere assignment is only meant to bamboozle the public. That is the usual rationalization of a ruling party in Nigeria. Each time people queried activities of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) while it was in power, it was always able to mobilize some loquacious speakers to confuse everyone else. It is interesting that the APC has inherited the same trait.
Listening to several comments on television on the Akeredolu case, there are Nigerians who strongly believe that It would have been in order if the judiciary had penalized the APC as it did with the Zamfara governorship in 2019 when the same APC was sent packing for refusing to play the game of politics by its rules. They say the Judiciary ought to have stood with the people in deprecating political rascality in the polity.
This is why some analysts commended the 3 Justices of the Supreme Court that delivered the persuasive minority ruling in the case, for calling a spade by its name. It is certainly substantive that as many as 3 Justices were not convinced that APC has done well. The party needs to watch the borderline clearance instead of relying on her legal team that says the courts never queried the idea of a governor serving as a chairman. What about earlier reports that at the Court of Appeal, the failure to join Governor Buni in the suit was said to be the undoing of the petitioner? Why was it necessary for the petitioner to join the chairman who was a mere agent of the principal that was appropriately sued?
A new development that APC needs to worry about is that known party loyalists who are leaders of the party in their own rights have become anxious after the Supreme Court ruling. For example, Senators Ita Enang and BabafemiOjudu, both Presidential aides have appropriately drawn the party’s attention to the dangers ahead.
In fact, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, SAN, took time to present a well-considered position paper on the matter. There he drew attention to the ease with which the opposition and indeed some aggrieved APC members will in future exploit the anomaly of having a state governor serving as national chairman.
Interestingly, these party leaders who are being castigated for destabilizing the party believe they are the genuine saviours. On our part, we don’t think Keyamo and others are raising a non-existent alarm.
It is unfortunate that some of those urging the party to ignore Keyamo and others are lawyers; it is worse that they are accusing Keyamo of importing extraneous matters into the Supreme Court ruling. With due respect, the opinion expressed by Minister Keyamo is a redemptory early warning signal; if the APC does not follow it now, she might face a-not-too distant bitter regret. The point to be made is that the APC has cause to be alarmed at the development.
It is true that the majority ruling affirmed her party as the winner of the Ondo governorship election, just as the combined position of Governor/Chairman of the party was not supported. The other day when Senator Kabiru Marafa opined publicly that the continued chairmanship of the party by a governor was not in tandem with the party’s constitution, no one called him to order.
Someday an aggrieved party member who may find find cause to sue the party may join Buni, and the court will uphold the petition to the embarrassment of the party.
No one needs to be a lawyer to know that a governor cannot hold any other executive position. The rationale for this which is to ensure that a governor concentrates on governance and not to be unnecessarily distracted by other functions is self-explicit. It is for the same reason that governors enjoy the immunity clause in our constitution which protects them from litigation while in office.
According to the clause, no judicial proceedings shall be instituted or continued against a governor during his period of office; he can also neither be arrested nor compelled to appear in person before any court on any issue. APC members who feel there is nothing wrong with a governor serving also as their national chairman are unwittingly calling for the abrogation of Section 308 of our constitution which protects governors from being distracted through time wasting litigations. This is because it is nonsensical to constitutionally stop everyone from distracting governors are comfortable with self-distraction
If our constitution says a governor shall not hold any other executive post, there is no need to find convenient arguments to make a governor the chairman of a party. If the constitution says the media shall make government accountable to the people, as it did in its section 22, it is not in the public interest for those in government to repress the same media thereby making it impossible for anyone to make government accountable to the people.
If the constitution says the electoral body shall be completely in charge of elections, law makers empowered to make laws should not in the guise of lawmaking usurp the power of an independent electoral body that the constitution expressly says should not be supervised by any other person or authority. It is because these recognizable unambiguous provisions of our constitution are breached at will by the political class that some Nigerians have continued to believe that no constitution can work in our clime.