From Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
There was confusion at the headquarters of the All Progressives Congress (APC) over the judgment of the Supreme Court on the Ondo State governorship election as it concerns the legality of the party’s national chairman, Governor Mai Mala Buni, to continue to lead the ruling party.
While the APC Progressive Youth Movement insists that the Buni-led Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee should resign, the duo of National Secretary, Sen John James Akpanudeudehe and party’s lawyer, Micheal Adeniyi Akintola, SAN, assured party members preparing for this weekend’s Ward Congresses that the disputed position of the party chairman will not affect the exercise.
Addressing newsmen earlier on Thursday morning at the party’s headquarters in Abuja, both Akpanudeudehe and Akintola frowned at the controversy the judgement has generated, especially from those they described as media lawyers misinterpreting the Supreme Court judgement.
Akintola had specifically argued that since the legality of Governor Buni’s position in the party has been resolved at both the Ondo Election Tribunal and the Appeal Court, the minority ruling at the Apex Court is inconsequential and can only be cited as an academic exercise.
On his side, the party’s chief scribe, Akpanudeudehe described the warnings from the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, as a personal opinion that does not have any impact on the activities of the ruling party.
Reacting specifically to the statement from Keyamo, Akintola said: ‘When I was inundated with several calls concerning that statement by my learned brother, Festus Keyamo, I sent a message to him, asking: “Is this from you?” Because it is not every message you read on social media or newspaper that you ascribe credibility to. Unfortunately, he has not responded to it because one, during the old days when we were in the trenches as progressives, he was one of us. I must give that to him.
‘That was why I sent the message to him because I know for a fact that he was not part of the legal team. He was not in court and I never saw him throughout the proceedings whether at the tribunal, court of appeal or the Supreme Court. As a matter of fact, the case was heard virtually at the Court of Appeal.
‘He was not a member of our legal team and that was why I tried to find out from him if the statement was from him. He is a junior colleague and as his senior, I owe him that duty to find out whether what was attributed to him was correct. Unfortunately, he has not deemed it necessary to reply.
‘And there was another lawyer who also made a statement and I asked that one and he confessed he was not seized of the fact of what he was commenting on and I rebuked him for doing that, for commenting on an issue he knew nothing about,’ he said.
On Buni’s position, he said: ‘All I have said are not my personal opinion but based on court records because I was part of the entire process. The position of the National Chairman of our party and the secretary are sacrosanct and our members should not be scared.
‘The tribunal had gone further after considering the preliminary objection to consider the case on its merit and held emphatically that Governor Buni has not contravened the provision of Section 183 of the constitution. That holding party position has not violated the constitution.
‘That the mere fact that you are a governor does not necessarily mean that you cannot be given an assignment by your political party. After all, you became a governor on the platform of a political party. That was the reasoning of the tribunal. The merit of the case centred on nomination and sponsorship only.
‘Now, the matter went on Appeal and I was also part of the legal team and the decision of the tribunal was affirmed by the Court of Appeal which means that decision that says that the holding of party position does not contravene Section 183 still subsists.
‘Our candidate in Anambra is on terra firma, a firm ground. The decision of the tribunal upholding the right of any party member including those holding elective positions to hold party offices remains sacrosanct and that position was affirmed by the Court of Appeal and also affirmed by the majority judgment of the Supreme Court.
‘In fact, none of the Justices who gave the majority judgment had anything to say on the holding of party positions concurrently with political offices even though the Apex Court has the right to go into an issue without looking at the merit unlike the lower courts,’ he quipped.
In his own reaction, the party’s chief scribe said: ‘I am sure you are aware that after the judgment by the Supreme Court on Ondo, there have been a lot of personal opinions interpreting the judgment. But as a party, we have invited one of the very senior counsels who was part of the case from the beginning to brief the media. We have not conducted the congresses.
‘Maybe a lot of people have seen that they are in a disadvantaged position in their communities and they want to vent their anger by misinforming the public. All what you are hearing is because of the congresses. I want to assure them that congresses will be fair, transparent and I advise them to go into their wards and be party men.
‘As a politician, you either lose or win. And when you lose, you dust yourself and restrategise. If is not to destroy the party by misinforming the general public. On behalf of the Caretaker Committee, we stand firmly with the National Chairman and we declare our unalloyed loyalty to him and to the president of the federal republic of Nigeria. Our party is strong and will continue to be so.
‘This chairman has been able to lift the party from the woods into the skyline that is recognised all over the world. So, we will not dance to the beatings of the PDP. We will not be used to bring down the government of the APC. So, I want to assure the members of this party to be loyal to the party and we will hold the congresses as scheduled and we are firm about what we are doing,’ he said.
On Keyamo, Akpanudeudehe said: ‘We are not going to be personal. It was his personal opinion. He is my good friend. I am not a lawyer and people are bound to interpret the law the way they like. I will consider it to be his personal opinion.’
Equally briefing reporter after, leader of the Progressive Youth Movement Princess Zahra Mustapha Audu said: ‘We have patiently watched to get the party’s reaction to the Supreme Court judgment on Wednesday which we narrowly escaped losing. We congratulate Gov. Akeredolu of Ondo state who is an exceptional governor. We would have lost that state but for God.
‘However, we are not prepared to take any chances anymore. We cannot keep playing this game with or party, with our future, with our lives. Enough is enough. We believe that within the APC, we have capable hands, former leaders regardless of generational differences at this point in time who can manage the affairs of our party. Why must it be one individual or the other?
‘At this point in time, I think it is a bit selfish for us to expect a sitting governor who has several issues to manage in his state considering the fact that we have a lot of insecurity in the country, to also man a party like the APC. I do not think we are being fair to him. Governor Buni is doing his best but as a party we are unfair. We have people who are not doing anything who can do handle this party and protect it.
‘We should not rush and go ahead with the congresses or convention or whatever else is going on. Let us follow the law because our party is not one that will muscle or bribe the judiciary. Do, we should not expect favours from the judiciary if we do not do the needful. So, it is for that reason that we are asking the entire Caretaker Committee to immediately step down and put people that can carry this party forward,’ she insisted.
Her husband, Mustapha Audu, apart from demanding a thorough audit of the party’s account since the assumption of office by the Caretaker Committee, appealed for the freezing of the account.