The composition of the delegates that will elect the presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress on June 6, 2022 remains a subject of controversy as a Federal High Court in Kano State, on Friday, ruled that Section 84 of the Electoral Act did not prevent statutory delegates from voting.
The National Assembly had last month amended Section 84(8) of the Electoral Act to permit automatic or statutory delegates to vote in primaries. This is based on the interpretation that Section 84(8) only permits elected delegates from taking part in primaries. But the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), refused to sign the amendment.
Subsection 8, which is subsisting, reads, “A political party that adopts the system of indirect primaries for the choice of its candidate shall clearly outline in its constitution and rule the procedure for the democratic election of delegates to vote at the convention, congress or meeting.”
Statutory delegates, whom the amendment was seeking to include in the Electoral Act, include persons holding executive positions in the party and members of the party elected into public offices.
For the APC, the statutory delegates include the President, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, sitting and former National Assembly members, serving and former governors and their deputies, National Working Committee members, state party chairmen and secretaries, local government chairmen, their deputies, councillors and party chairmen in the 774 local government areas.
But in a suit marked FHC/KN/CS/137/2022 instituted by an ex-lawmaker, Senator Mas’Ud Doguwa; and two others, Habibu Sani and Biliyaminu Shinkafi, the plaintiffs in an originating summons asked the court to determine if Section 84(8) of the Act actually bars statutory delegates from voting.
Those listed as respondents in the suit are the Senate President, the National Chairman of the APC, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Independent National Electoral Commission.
Delivering judgment in the suit, Justice Abdullahi Liman stated, “That Section 84(8) cannot be interpreted to have excluded statutory delegates from voting at the convention, congress or meeting by virtue of Section 223 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Article 20(iv)(c) of the All Progressives Congress constitution, which allow statutory delegates to vote at convention, congress or meeting.”
Already, the APC has elected three delegates each from the 774 local government areas in the country and the six area councils in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, bringing the total to 2,340 delegates.
This arrangement is believed to have put some strategic states like Lagos at a disadvantage as it has only 20 LGAs and will be entitled to just 60 delegates, while a state like Kano, which has 44 LGAs, will be entitled to 132 delegates.
Should the statutory delegates be allowed to vote, the number of delegates is expected to increase to about 7, 800 with Lagos State being in the top four alongside Kano, Katsina and Osun states.
Attempts to get a response from the APC proved abortive as its National Chairman, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, neither responded to calls nor a text message sent to him on Friday.
We’re yet to get court judgment – INEC
Meanwhile, INEC said on Friday that it had yet to receive any court judgment.
Kayode Oyekanmi, the spokesperson for the INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, told one of our correspondents in an interview that he was not aware of the judgment.
“If the court gave the judgment today (Friday), I’m not sure it has reached our headquarters. If it gets there, it will be processed normally. INEC complies with court judgments. Note that primary is the business of political parties. What INEC does is to monitor the process and ensure that they comply with extant laws; the Electoral Act and the constitution.”
Panel silent on 10 disqualified aspirants
In the meantime, the party’s presidential screening committee submitted its report on Friday.
The Chairman of the committee, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, who submitted the report to the APC National Chairman, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, said only 13 out of the 23 aspirants who presented themselves for screening were shortlisted.
Oyegun, who is a former national chairman of the party, said, “The basic constitutional qualification for you to aspire to be a President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is simple and straightforward. And on that basis, every single aspirant that presented themselves qualified, because it was basic and simple.
He stated, “But we are a governing party and we are keen on continuing the process and replacing, at the proper time, our President with yet another member of the party. So, the ability to lead, background, experience, understanding of the Nigerian situation, ideas as to how issues, difficulties and problems can be addressed, and how the country can be moved forward, became a critical consideration.
“It is on that basis – who are you, what have you achieved, what is your understanding of the nation and what you think you can contribute to move the nation forward – it was on the basis of that that we made our final shortlist.
“I don’t want to list the names. I’m going to leave that to you. But we have a shortlist, which brought the number severely down to 13. We could have cut it a little shorter, but we wanted a pedigree of younger elements to surface, for them to be seen, for them to be noticed, and who knows? We hand them over to the party and it is for the party to decide who the preferred candidate will be.”
Oyegun said the screening committee engaged all the aspirants on the issue of consensus and that 99 per cent of them agreed to it except one aspirant, who said he would only accept if he emerged as the consensus candidate.
The committee chairman stated while submitting the report, “One part I need to emphasise is that we engaged every aspirant on the issue of consensus and it is a pleasant surprise that 98 to 99 per cent agreed that the party is supreme. And that whatever the party finally decides, with proper consultation, they are likely to accept.
“We had only one exception who said, ‘Yes, I will accept consensus so long as it is built on me’. I think it is a point that needs to be emphasised. So, that gives you a lot of leeway in the days and hours ahead to trim down even more drastically. But finally, we think we should not be afraid of a contested primary if anybody insists on the contest.”
Although he did not mention the aspirant who did not subscribe to the idea of consensus, many political analysts believed it could be a national leader of the party and former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, whose camp had said repeatedly that he would prefer an open contest.
Consensus: Tinubu, Osinbajo, Fayemi to hold final meeting
The APC presidential aspirants from the South-West are expected to hold a final meeting in Abuja today (Saturday) to decide on the way forward, Saturday PUNCH can confirm.
The seven presidential aspirants from the South-West are Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo; APC stalwart, Bola Tinubu; Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State; former Ogun State governor, Ibikunle Amosun; Deputy Majority Leader of the Senate, Ajayi Boroffice; a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole; and fiery Lagos cleric, Pastor Tunde Bakare.
Also expected at the meeting are governors Babajide Sanwo-Olu (Lagos), Dapo Abiodun (Ogun), Gboyega Oyetola (Osun) and Rotimi Akeredolu (Ondo). Some ministers of South-West extraction are also expected to attend the parley.
Saturday PUNCH learnt that the meeting would hold at the Abuja home of a former governor of Ogun State, Chief Olusegun Osoba, around 8pm.
Impeccable sources told our correspondent that the discussion would border on South-West unity and reach a possible consensus.
One of the aspirants, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “We will all be meeting at Chief Osoba’s home by 8pm in Abuja. Everyone is expected to be present. We will all sit together and discuss the need to ensure that the South-West gets the ticket.
“However, all of us will be asked to be truthful with one another and see who among us has the best chance of winning the primary. Then if anyone is willing to step down to boost the chances of the South-West, then this will be encouraged.”
Saturday PUNCH gathered on Friday that intense lobbying by some northern governors to ensure that the APC gives its presidential ticket to a northerner had unsettled the South-West bloc of the party.
This was said to have caused Tinubu’s outburst at a meeting with Ogun State delegates on Thursday, where he insisted that the APC must give its ticket to a Yoruba man and that he must be the favoured candidate.
Okorocha, Ohaneye, Onu, other S’East aspirants in closed-door meeting
Presidential aspirants from the South-East had an emergency meeting on Friday to deliberate on a consensus aspirant for the region.
The frontline aspirants from the region are Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi; a former Minister of State for Education, Emeka Nwajiuba; former Imo State Governor, Senator Rochas Okorocha; the only APC female in the race, Mrs Uju Ken-Ohanenye; former Senate President, Ken Nnamani; former Minister of Science and Technology, Ogbonnaya Onu; and Ikeobasi Mokelu.
Although their last meeting took place at the Maitama home of Okorocha days before his house was raided by operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the venue of their Friday meeting was unknown.
A source had told The PUNCH that just as the South-West leaders, the Igbo aspirants had resolved to consider throwing their weight behind one of their own ahead of the convention. The source disclosed that all the presidential hopefuls in the region were meeting almost on a daily basis.
Ohaneye confirmed the report in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents on Friday.
Asked if the South-East aspirants agreed on any form of consensus yet, she stated that it would form the highlight of their meeting by evening. “That is actually what we are doing today (Friday). We are looking at getting a consensus representative,” she said.
When reminded that politicians like Imo State Governor, Hope Uzodimma, and Orji Uzor Kalu had thrown their weight behind Lawan, she insisted that they were not at the forefront of the campaign.
“We are talking about APC aspirants. Those people you mentioned are not. We are focusing only on the South-East aspirants. On what grounds are they standing for the South-East?”
Buhari to meet aspirants, reveal preferred candidate Sunday
Meanwhile, the President was said to be planning a trip to Ghana today (Saturday), without resolving the consensus crisis rocking the party.
A top government official told one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity that the President would return to the country later in the day.
Nevertheless, the President, who returned from Spain on Friday afternoon, is expected to meet with the aspirants on Saturday night or Sunday.
“The President is expected to travel to Ghana tomorrow (today). After that, he is expected to meet with the aspirants and thereafter reveal his preferred candidate for the party’s ticket,” the source added.
Osinbajo best-prepared aspirant, will emerge APC candidate – Aide
The Senior Special Assistant to the Vice-President on Media and Publicity, Mr Laolu Akande, has said Osinbajo will win the party’s ticket irrespective of the primary method adopted by the party.
According to Akande, the vice-president was best prepared for the job and had distinguished himself from other aspirants.
In an interview on a radio programme, Have Your Say, broadcast on the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria and monitored by Saturday PUNCH, Akande said, “Whichever option the party chooses to adopt, the vice-president has clearly distinguished himself, not only by the heart and commitment he has for the Nigerian people but also by the experience and capacity that he has gained and demonstrated so far. The vice-president has shown that he is the best fit for the job.”