President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday stunned the National Executive Council (NEC), the highest organ of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), declaring illegal and unconstitutional the tenure elongation granted to the party’s national chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, and other National Working Committee (NWC) members.
But the NEC has disagreed with the President, stating that the tenure extension stands until a review of the decision.
The APC NEC had, on February 27, 2018, granted Oyegun, NWC and state executives, one-year tenure extension with effect from June 2018.
Oyegun had told journalists on Monday night after the National Caucus meeting of the APC at the Presidential Villa that the call for his removal by some members of the party is now history.
Asked about those calling for his removal, Oyegun had said: “Ah, can’t we move forward? That belongs to history.”
But Buhari, who attended the February meeting, made a U-turn on the contentious tenure extension which is tearing apart the ruling party.
The President stated that there is no basis for tenure elongation of party executives in APC constitution and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
He said the ruling party will be threading on a dangerous path with tenure elongation which might endanger the fortunes of the APC.
His words: “I think it is important for me to speak quickly on the contentious issue of the tenure of our national and state executive officers. As we all know, a motion was moved at the last NEC meeting of February 27, 2018, to the effect that when the tenure of the current executives expire in June this year, they should be allowed to continue for one year.
“This motion was duly carried by a majority of members present at the last NEC meeting, even though some of our party members have since spoken up very vehemently against it. Others have even taken the matter to court.
“On my own part, I have taken some 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.
“While the APC Constitution, in Article 17(1) and 13.2(B), limits the tenure of elected officers to four years, renewable once by another election, the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended), in section 223, also prescribes periodic elections for party executives at regular intervals, which must not exceed four years.
“Furthermore, Article 31 of our 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.
“In this circumstance, what is expected of us is to conduct fresh elections once the tenure of the current executives approaches its end. A Caretaker Committee cannot remedy this situation, and cannot validly act in place of elected officers.”
The President warned of the dire consequences of tenure elongation for party executives.
He said: “Furthermore, I think if we deviate from the constitutional provisions, we might be endangering the fortunes of our party. If the tenure of our party executives can be legally faulted, then it means that any nominations and primary elections that they may conduct can also be faulted.
“This is not to talk of divisions that would arise, and is already arising within the party, when some of our members feel that they are being denied the right to aspire to executive positions, or that internal democracy is not at play within the party.
“I am, therefore, of the firm view that it is better to follow strictly the dictates of our party and national constitutions, rather than put APC and its activities at grave risk.”
Buhari stated that the process for electing new party executives should be put in place.
“Fortunately, we have already approved a timetable for the holding of congresses and elections. I think these should be allowed to go forward and all efforts should now be geared towards making them a great success,” he said.
The president, therefore, tasked members at the meeting to feel free to discuss the issue with facts to reflect on.
“All well and good, I don’t feel too strongly about it; the only thing I feel too strongly about is that we should not allow our party to be vulnerable to and susceptible to the opposition.
“They can delay or divide us further within the party when they quote appropriate portion of the party´s Constitution and of the country.
“I took time to listen to my legal advisers, constitutionally given to me in terms of Ministry of Justice. Our decision is contrary to both party and constitutional provisions.
“Please bring to me facts. I don’t want narratives and so on. Bring facts and we 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 said.
But addressing the media after the meeting, the APC National Publicity Secretary, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, said that the NEC agreed to set up a technical committee to deliberate on the process of reviewing the tenure elongation decision as the matter is still pending in court.
Abdullahi, however, maintained that the NEC’s decision still stands, pending the determination of the job of the committee.
He said: “Members of NEC thanked the President for his concerns, despite the fact that they have held a position. Of course, we had situations, remember that some people went to court after the decision was taken at the last NEC meeting and you know that discussing any issue that is already in court will be subjudice. That also presented its own complications. So, NEC decided to set up a small team to advise the party on this matter.
“At the moment, there is no decision taken. So, the position of NEC still stands. There is a technical committee that is looking at the issue. That position may change tomorrow.”
Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello, described the issue as a family matter which will be settled in the interest of the party.
Bello argued that the 5th NEC’s decision did not negate any provision of the party’s constitution or the Constitution of the Federal Republic.
The governor stressed that the decision was taken in the interest of the party, to avert possible crisis that may arise after party primaries ahead of the 2019 elections.
“Let me quickly make it clear that we are not discussing a matter that is already in court. It is a family matter between brothers and sisters. So we have to sit down and address it, with a view of solving the problem,” Bello said.
Abdullahi had, on Monday, told New Telegraph that NEC won’t revisit the issue of tenure elongation given to the NWC members.
He gave the agenda of the meeting to include APC True Federalism report and constitutional amendment.