The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has urged a court to sack Governor Mai Mala Buni of Yobe State for taking up another executive position as the caretaker chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
In the suit filed at the Federal High Court in Abuja on Thursday, the PDP argues that combining the governor’s office with another executive position is a constitutional violation.
The Yobe State governor’s office and that of the deputy governor, Idi Gubana, have therefore become vacant after Mr Buni took up the APC appointment, the PDP said.
The opposition party asked that its governorship candidate in the 2019 election, Umar Damagum, and his running mate, Baba Aji, should be sworn in as replacements for Mr Buni and his deputy.
Channels Television posted copies of some pages of the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/885/2021 on its website on Thursday.
The court document shows the PDP, along with Messrs Damagum and Aji, as the plaintiffs who jointly instituted the suit.
Mr Buni, the Yobe State deputy governor, Mr Gubana, the APC, and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) were sued as the defendants in the suit.
The governor was appointed the chairman of the APC’s Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) in June 2020 following the crisis that led to the exit of the party’s former chairman, Adams Oshiomhole.
Plaintiffs latch on to Supreme Court judgment
The plaintiffs, relying on section 183 of the Nigerian constitution and a recent judgement of the Supreme Court, urged the trial court to determine if Mr Buni “who is the governor of Yobe State and caretaker committee chairman” of the APC “has not ceased to hold the office of the governor of Yobe State”.
The apex court’s judgement cited by the plaintiffs was delivered on July 28, 2021 on an appeal regarding the last governorship election in Ondo State.
PDP’s governorship candidate in the Ondo State election, Eyitayo Jegede, had filed the appeal to challenge Governor Rotimi Akeredolu’s victory at the October 2020 poll.
Mr Jegede rested his case on the argument that Mr Akeredolu was not a proper governorship candidate in the election because his nomination was supervised by Mr Buni said to be illegally doubling as the APC chairman and the Governor of Yobe State.
He asked that Mr Akeredolu’s nomination be nullified as it breached section 183 of the constitution and article 17(4) of the APC constitution, which according to him, prohibit such combination of executive positions.
Mr Akeredolu, who opposed the case, won the legal battle by a whisker with a 4-to-3 split decision of the Supreme Court panel ruling in his favour on technical grounds.
The majority decision favouring Mr Akeredolu dismissed Mr Jegede’s case, saying it was incompetent as a result of the failure to join Mr Buni, against whom weighty allegations were levelled, as a party to the case.
But the minority decision upheld Mr Jedgede’s argument and nullified Mr Akeredolu’s election, explaining that Mr Buni breached constitution when as a sitting governor, he acted as chairman of the APC by submitting Mr Akeredolu’s name to INEC for the governorship election.
Contrary to the majority judgment, it also ruled that the case was not rendered incompetent by the non-joinder of Mr Buni.
With the APC already joined, Mr Buni, who was merely acting as its agent, needed not be joined, the minority judgement explained further.
Some legal voices within the APC, including the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, warned that the judgment held an uncertain future for the APC if Mr Buni was not immediately removed as the leader of the party.
Latching on to the judgement, however, the PDP said Mr Buni is not fit to continue to hold the office of the Yobe State governor after accepting to be and stepping into the APC chairmanship position.
Citing section 187(2) of the Nigerian constitution, the PDP argues that the Yobe State deputy governor could not lawfully remain in office “upon the cessation of the 1st defendant’s (Mr Buni’s) occupation of the Yobe State governor’s office”.
The section 187(2) of the constitution treats the nomination of the governorship and the deputy governorship candidates as an indivisible entity on issues relating to qualification for election, tenure of office, disqualifications, among others.
Among other prayers, the plaintiffs, through their legal team led by Emeka Etiaba, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, urged the court to declare that Mr Buni’s actions of taking up the appointment as the caretaker committee chairman of the APC “while he remains the governor of Yobe State are wrongful, null and void”.
They also seek an order “directing the Chief Judge of Yobe State or any other relevant judge in his absence to immediately swear in the 2nd and 3rd plaintiffs as governor and deputy governor, the offices having become vacant”.
Meanwhile, the APC reacted to the suit describing it as “misplaced and frivolous court action” on Thursday.
In a statement signed by the national secretary of its caretaker committee, John Akpanudoedehe, the party said “the PDP leadership is obviously executing a desperate and poorly-scripted propaganda plot aimed at deflecting attention from the crisis of confidence the failed opposition party faces”.
“The PDP are ignominious rabblerousers and have no locus to take any action on the internal affairs of the APC.
“The Supreme Court has already affirmed the status and legality of the CECPC and that is all there is to it,” the APC said.
It said further that the PDP lacked the locus standi (legal right) to sue concerning its internal affairs, imploring the court to took “punitive measures” against such act of “abuse of court processes” against the PDP.
“We are confident that the Judiciary will apply these measures fully,” the party added.
The APC and the other defendants sued will still have to file their defence against the suit in court.
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