Omoniyi Salaudeen and Daniel Kanu
The protracted crisis rocking the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) took a new twist on Thursday following the dissolution of Adams Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee (NWC) by the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party.
The emergency meeting of the highest organ of the party was at the instance of President Muhammadu Buhari in an effort to reconcile the warring factions. And as part of the measures to lay to rest the acrimony arising from the recent judgment of the Court of Appeal, which suspended Oshiomhole as the national chairman, the party stakeholders resolved to sack the NWC, constitute a caretaker committee to be headed by the Governor of Borno State, Maimala Buni, and approved the conduct of the primary election in Edo State, among other things.
With this development, it appears the acrimony arising from the suspension of Adams Oshiomhole has been laid to rest, as the NEC has directed all parties involved in the power contest to withdraw forthwith all litigations concerning the matter.
While examining the crisis in relation to the scenario in Edo State, which snowballed into power squabbles at the national level of the party, some legal luminaries, who spoke to Sunday Sun on the issue, expressed divergent views on the role of the judiciary in the stability of political system in the country.
The Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-corruption, Prof Itse Sagay (SAN), in an interview with Sunday Sun, described the intervention of the judiciary in internal affairs of political parties as an embarrassment to the legal profession.
He said: “The recent involvement and pronouncement of the judiciary, particularly in the Edo State matter both in PDP and APC’s internal squabbles has been very embarrassing to anybody who has respect for the judiciary. The courts have become so partisan that you can just get any order from anybody at any time to suit your purpose. It is not just embarrassing; it is devastating to many of us who have been observing the judiciary for decades.”
He also punctured the arguments of those who support judicial intervention in order to forestall the aggrieved people from resorting to self-help, querying the rationale behind giving conflicting orders on the same subject matter by the same court of coordinate jurisdiction.
“You have different actions on the same issue at the same level. Is that how to conduct a civilized judicial system? If a person brings an action and gets an order, the next thing is to go on appeal. But we have a situation where this one goes to Epoma today, another one goes to Port Harcourt, or Abuja, getting conflicting orders on the same issue and at same level of judiciary. Is that the only way to do it to avoid chaos? That is most shameful and embarrassing,” Sagay fumed.
Similarly, a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Ikeja branch, Ebun Adegoruwa (SAN), didn’t spare the judiciary for issuing conflicting orders on party matters.
His words: “By now, it is fairly settled that the judiciary is to checkmate the excesses of citizens and organizations. However, I believe the judiciary should be careful in dabbling with the internal affairs of political parties, especially matters relating to primary elections and the choice of candidates. Under the constitution, a political party is a legal entity and it has a choice to make as to who should represent it. To the extent of the recent inconsistent order of injunctions, it is now a sign that the judiciary is going beyond the call of duty. It is really giving a bad name to the judiciary and it is dragging us into the arena of conflict.
“I think that the Chief Justice of Nigeria and various heads of the courts should urgently look into the scenario we are witnessing currently where an interim injunction is granted on the same subject matter in Port Harcourt, lifted in Benin, granted in Jos, and lifted again in Abuja. It is making the judiciary a laughing stock. It is giving the impression that the judiciary as an institution is available for the highest bidders.”
However, Chief Ladi Rotimi Williams (SAN) was mild in his submission: “My own view has always been that our judiciary should have no business with party political differences. It is not justifiable. It should be left for the machinery of political parties to resolve their differences in one way or the other.”
On the contrary, however, Yusuf Ali (SAN) maintained that the judiciary had done creditably well in ensuring the stability of the political system, blaming politicians for their do-or-die attitude, which would have resulted to chaos without court restraints.
He argued: “Quite honestly, the judiciary has gone a long way as an active player in the scenario to stabilize the political system. I am not sure whether the number of cases that came out of primaries of political parties is not more than the number of petitions that came up after the general elections. That also speaks volumes about the do-or-die attitude our politicians and the winner takes all syndrome. If the court had not been given that jurisdiction, it is possible people will take law into their hand, which will lead to the breakdown of law and order. I think to that extent, people can go to court rather than taking to self-help.”
He explained that Section 87 of the Electoral Act as amended gives the judiciary the powers to intervene in party matters. “As a general rule, the judiciary will not look into the internal workings of political parties. But there are some specific cases, which give the judiciary a role to play in the affairs of parties like primary elections. Before 2011 or thereabout, there was no provision that gave the court authority to look into how parties elected those who would represent them at general elections. But the Electoral Act was amended and Section 87 was introduced, which now says anybody who is aggrieved about primaries of political parties can approach the court. If such provision does not exist, the court wouldn’t have had the authority or power to interfere in the internal affairs of political parties,” he added.
The Lagos State Publicity Secretary of the APC, Seye Oladejo, in a quick response, joined the legal experts in cautioning the judiciary from undue interference in party matters, insisting that internal conflict resolution mechanism is always there to settle members’ differences.
“For me, I regard the interference of the judiciary in party affairs as an aberration. There are internal mechanisms to settle disputes in the party. And those internal mechanisms are always available for party members to exhaust to the fullest before taking intra-party conflicts to the judiciary. A situation where you have orders and counter-orders, to say the least, is embarrassing. I want to admonish all politicians, leaders and followers as the case may be to endeavour to always exhaust mechanism available at the party level before seeking further help in the judiciary. It is an aberration and I don’t think it is the best for the party,” he declared.
The crisis in the APC came to a head on Tuesday last week when the Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja upheld the suspension of the party’s National Chairman, Comrade Oshiomhole, by the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory.
While 17 members of the NWC loyal to Oshiomhole swiftly appointed the immediate past governor of Oyo State, the late Senator Abiola Ajimobi, as acting chairman, the Mr Victor Giadom faction, in a counter move, declared himself as the acting chairman. He backed his action with the judgment of the FCT high court, which in March gave him an order to be the acting national chairman.
Afraid that the power squabbles could lead to a breakdown of law and order, the police moved in and sealed off the national secretariat of the party. With the dissolution of the NWC on the order of the President, some party members are optimistic that the crisis would be a thing of the past.
A former Senate leader and chieftain of the APC in Cross Rivers State, Senator Victor Ndoma Egba (SAN) enjoined party members to give peace a chance so as not to fall victim of the mistakes of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
“Any political party without occasional crisis is a dead party. A living party must have crisis, must have contestations and must have issues. But what makes it a political party is the mechanism for resolving issues. APC has the opportunity of leaning from the mistakes PDP made in the run up to the 2015 general elections,” he admonished.