The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), will not force any of his ministers and other aides, who have political ambitions, to quit their jobs, Sunday PUNCH has learnt.
Rather, the President believes that the decision to quit his cabinet should be left for the individuals, claiming that the controversial provision in the Electoral Act demanding that such political appointees should resign had been overturned by the court.
Sunday PUNCH recalls that there had been pressure on the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, to resign following his declaration to contest the position of the President on the platform of the All Progressives Congress.
Apart from Amaechi, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, is also believed to be nursing a presidential ambition.
Ngige is set to declare his ambition on Tuesday.
The labour minister said he had consulted with both “mortal and immortal people” and would disclose his position on the presidency after Easter Monday.
He gave the hint at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, while responding to the request of members of a pressure group, the South-East Progressive Forum, who stormed the airport to demand that he should join the race.
There are also suppositions that the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, is nursing presidential ambition.
Unconfirmed sources also claimed that the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), and the Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, were also nursing governorship ambitions.
On Saturday, the APC said all its members presently holding political appointments and seeking participation in its forthcoming primaries must quit their positions in line with the controversial provisions of the Electoral Act.
Section 84(12) of the Electoral Act 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.”
But a Presidency source said there was no way the party’s claim could be relied on based on the pronouncement of the Federal High Court in Umuahia, Abia State, which nullified the contentious section of the amended Electoral Act.
Delivering judgment on the suit challenging the constitutionality of the provision, Justice Evelyn Anyadike had held that the section was “unconstitutional, invalid, illegal, null, void and of no effect whatsoever.”
The judge held that the provision was in conflict with the constitution and “ought to be struck down as it cannot stand when it is in violation of the clear provisions of the constitution.”
The judge, therefore, ordered the AGF to “forthwith delete the said subsection 12 of Section 84 from the body of the Electoral Act, 2022.”
Though the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party, has appealed the judgment, the appellate court has yet to make any pronouncement on the issue.
The Court of Appeal panel, led by Justice Rita Pemu, merely granted leave to the PDP to file an appeal against the high court judgment before adjourning the case till May 4.
Nevertheless, the Presidency said it would be wrong for either the ruling party or anyone to begin to interpret what the appellate court had not spoken on.
The APC National Publicity Secretary, Felix Morka, argued that the Electoral Act did not impose any timeline for ministers to resign.
He noted, “Nobody is refusing to comply; the Electoral Act does not impose any timeline by which ministers should resign. It says they should resign before and stipulates no deadline.
“The position of the party is that these gentlemen will do the right thing and resign before the convention. That is the language of the Electoral Act and we are not adding anything or taking anything away from the Electoral Act.”
Asked what the party would do if they fail to resign, he said, “I don’t think there is any need for speculation as to whether they will refuse. If they refuse, when that time comes, we will cross the bridge. For now, it is unnecessary.”
The source was responding to a statement credited to Morka, who said on Friday that the party would ensure that all political appointees wishing to contest the 2023 elections would comply with Section 84 (12) of the Electoral Act.
“The position of the party is consistent with the Electoral Act. We are allowing our affected members, who may have the intention of contesting the primaries, to comply with the Electoral Act as provided,” Morka said in an interview with journalists.
According to him, the party will simply follow the Electoral Act.
He stated, “For any member of the party, who is in an appointive position, we will expect such an individual to resign before our primaries.
“We are hopeful that they will comply at the right time and we are going to ensure that anyone seeking our ticket will not breach the Electoral Act.”
Asked how soon those appointees were expected to turn in their resignation letters, Morka said, “The Electoral Act, however, does not stipulate the time frame by which individuals should resign their appointments before the primaries. But we shall ensure that the party complies with the law.”
But the Presidency source, who spoke with our correspondent on condition of anonymity because he was not cleared to officially speak on it, insisted that the President, whom he said believed in the rule of law, had decided to allow the pronouncement of the high court to guide him in the matter.
He said, “The law is very clear. The judiciary has spoken on the matter. The President cannot change that. Whatever the court has decided will guide him.
“Has there been any other court pronouncement on the issue? As we speak, has the Court of Appeal stopped the implementation of the judgment of the high court? The answer is no.
“So, what is the hue and cry about the matter? Why will we resort to self-help when we all know what the court has said? Should we do what we feel is right or wrong when the court has spoken? President Buhari cannot change the law or the pronouncement of the court. That is his position for now.”
APC presidential candidate zoned to South –Ngige
Speaking on his aspiration, Ngige said the APC had decided to pick its presidential candidate from the South.
He said, “Make no mistake about it. It is us in the southern part of Nigeria that the presidency is due for. It’s also true that of all the zones in the southern part of Nigeria, only the South-East zone has yet to produce the President.
“So, that gives much weight for the demand we are making now. Yes, in the PDP, they are dithering whether it will be the North or the South. In our own party as gentlemen, we have already agreed on the South.”
The former Anambra State governor explained that he decided to wait till after the Lenten season to ensure that he would have had spiritual consultation with God in order not to make mistakes about his presidential ambition.
Ngige stated, “On December 31, 2021, I told a group that after the spiritual season of Lent, I would talk; this is to enable me to consult with my God and angels and archangels. Easter is tomorrow and Easter is Resurrection Day. We shall rise with the resurrection and after Easter Monday, I will make a pronouncement on my journey to the Presidency.
“So, we have done the consultation with mortal and immortal people, and we are going to speak but make no mistake again; anything to be shared, even if they are seven, they should be shared equally. If you collect first, collect second and collect again without others collecting, that’s where the problem comes from.”
While commending the group for believing in him, Ngige said, “I am inviting you on Tuesday to Alor in Idemili South, that’s where I am going to unveil my intention for the Presidency.”
On the possibility of South-East aspirants presenting a consensus candidate, Ngige said, “The issue of consensus candidate has not arisen now. You have to wait until all the declarations have been made and when the expression of interest and nomination forms have been bought. That is the official first step on declaration.
“So, after the declaration of interest, the people will buy the forms and fill; some people will buy the forms for some people too, but that’s when the question of consensus will arise. So, when we get to that bridge, we will cross it.”
‘Ignore Ngige, party didn’t cede ticket to the South’
But the Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello, has dismissed Ngige’s claim that the APC will be fielding a southern candidate.
He said there was no such agreement or decision by the leaders of the party. Rather, he said Ngige was trying to tell his supporters what he felt would make them happy.
Bello, who is the only presidential candidate of the ruling party from the northern part of the country, spoke through the spokesperson of his media office, Mrs Yemi Kolapo.
Kolapo asked Nigerians and other members of the party to ignore Ngige.
She said, “There is no iota of truth in such a claim as made by the minister. The party did not say anything like that. Such a claim should be ignored.
“The National Executive Committee of the APC is meeting on Wednesday. After the meeting, the party will start selling forms. There are those who are afraid of the popularity of the governor, and they are doing so by claiming so many things. But I’m sure that the APC is interested in who is going to win the election for it. The person is Bello.”
Currently, no fewer than 10 states have directed cabinet members and other political appointees, who plan to contest in the 2023 polls, to resign despite the ongoing legal battle on the clause of the Electoral Act.
Consequently, commissioners and other appointees have begun turning in their resignation letters in Kaduna, Ogun, Plateau, Bayelsa, Ondo, Rivers, Delta, Imo and Akwa Ibom states, among others.
Federal political appointees include 43 ministers, special advisers, senior special assistants, special assistants and heads of government agencies.
However, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Prof Itse Sagay, said there was no need for political appointees to resign before party primaries since a Federal High Court had nullified Section 84(10) of the Electoral Act.
Sagay noted that the court was right to do so as the section contravened the provisions of the constitution, which only mandates public officers to resign 30 days to general elections.
He argued that as long as the court judgment had not been overturned, the current status of the law allowed appointees to contest without resigning.
The Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee, however, said it would be better for aspirants to resign ahead of the primaries to avoid any controversy.
He added, “Only one court has interpreted this law and has declared it null and void. So, as things stand, anyone who wants to contest does not need to resign ahead of the primaries. The constitution states that any public officer who wants to contest must resign 30 days to the main election. This Section 84 of the Electoral Act in itself is an attempt to amend the constitution.
“Until the current judgment is reversed by a higher court, the judgment stands. However, it is better for anyone willing to contest to resign now since you don’t know how the Supreme Court will rule.”