This week, the All Progressives Congress (APC) directed all political appointees interested in contesting the 2023 general elections to be ready to resign their positions in compliance with the new Electoral Act of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). According to the APC National Publicity Secretary, Barr Felix Morka: “The Ministers are members of the party. And the party is the ruling party. Now, both the Ministers, other appointees and the party’s leadership have excellent counsel and guidance. I am sure everyone involved intends to comply fully with the intendment and letters of the Electoral Act.” The language used by Felix Morka suggests he is aware this is a delicate situation for the party. The problem appears to be that too many top appointees of the party have shown a strong determination to stay on in their positions through the primaries and until a month before the elections. It appears clear that the President is with them on this issue.
While signing the electoral bill into law on February 25, President Buhari had called on the National Assembly to amend Section 84 of the Electoral Act which bars political appointees from voting at any convention, congress or primary of any political party. He argued that the Act was at variance with the Constitution. Section 84(10) of the Act specifically reads: “No political appointee at any level shall be a voting delegate or be voted for at the convention or congress of any political party for the purpose of the nomination of candidates for any election.” The provision further states that where a political party fails to comply with the provisions of this Act in the conduct of its primaries, its candidate for election shall not be included in the election for the particular position in issue. The political appointees the provision refers to include 43 ministers, special advisers, senior special assistants, special assistants and heads of government agencies. Commissioners and other political appointees at the state level are also affected. President Buhari had subsequently sent an executive bill to the National Assembly to amend the Act. The National Assembly however rejected the Bill in an unceremonious manner. This has been one issue on which the normally compliant National Assembly has rejected presidential directives.
The situation as it stands is that political appointees of the president who are interested in contesting for office would need to resign to be eligible to contest for party nomination. It is for that reason that that the APC is pushing them to resign to avoid disqualification of their aspirants. The party is still smarting from the Zamfara case in 2014. The matter of resignation is however not straight forward because many of the said aspirants are very powerful both within the party machine and in Government. They include the very powerful Abubakar Malami, Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation. Also included is Godwin Emefiele, Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) who had extended the role of his office beyond monetary policy and is directly funding governments, parastatals, farmers, the youth through empowerment programmes, industry and so on. A mega campaign of Emefiele for President has been on-going for months and there are indications that the campaign is very well funded. The money for the campaign might not be from the Central Bank coffers but no one should be blamed for thinking it might very well be from there. It is a situation in which appearance is more important than reality. Other APC aspirants that have been mentioned include Rotimi Amaechi, Minister of Transportation, Chris Ngige, Minister of Labour and Employment, Emeka Nwajiuba, Minister of State for Education, Godswill Akpabio, Minister of Niger Delta affairs, Timipre Sylva, Minister of state for petroleum resources, Babatunde Fashola, Minister for Works and Housing, Hadi Sirika, Minister of aviation, Isa Pantami, Minister for communications and digital economy, Sunday Dare, Minister of youth and sports development. In other words, the main stay of the cabinet is composed of aspirants.
It was in this context that on 18th March 2022, Justice Evelyn Anyadike of the Federal High Court, Umuahia delivered a judgement that Section 84 (12) of the Electoral Act was “unconstitutional, unlawful, illegal, null, void, and of no effect whatsoever,” and that it could not exist since it contradicted the Constitution’s unambiguous requirements. As a result, the court ordered the Attorney General of the Federation to “remove the said Subsection 12 of Section 84 from the body of the Electoral Act as soon as possible.” It was a strange decision as neither the National Assembly who made the law nor the Independent National Electoral Commission were joined in the suit. The National Assembly has decided to challenge the judgement. It was also odd that the Attorney-General, was asked to delete the relevant section as the normal practice would have been just to declare the said section null and void. In the House of Representatives, Sada Soli (APC, Katsina) had argued that the court judgement, directing the deletion of section 84 (12) was an attempt to encroach on the jurisdiction of the parliament in making laws: “It is an attempt to oust the jurisdiction of the parliament in making laws by directing an appointee of the executive to delete a law made by the National Assembly.
The issue is that throughout the 4th Republic, aspirants with political appointments at the Federal and State levels have always been asked to resign well before the primaries. President Buhari himself has issued such a directive to his political appointees to resign in 2015 and it is quite strange that this time round, he is very determined to keep them in office through the primaries. The reason of asking them to resign is straight forward. There will be no level field for contestants if some of them are holding powerful executive positions that they could use to get people to support them in expectation of a payoff or to punish those who seek to contest against them or their followers. It is therefore good practice to get aspirants to resign before the primaries. It appears however that at this time, the APC Juggernauts in executive positions are too powerful to resign before the primaries. What might be even more significant is that there is no sheriff in town to enforce the APC directive that they resign. Maybe there is and time will tell.