Legality of AGF inaugurating new APC leadership questioned

Abubakar Malami [Source - The Guardian, Nigeria]
Abubakar Malami [Source - The Guardian, Nigeria]

Nigeria’s Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, on Thursday, swore-in members of the caretaker and convention planning committee of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), an act some observers say violates the party’s constitution.

But the minister defended his action in a statement by his spokesperson on Saturday, according to TheCable.

APC had, on Thursday, held a meeting of its National Executive Committee (NEC) at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, with President Muhammadu Buhari in attendance. Other members of the body joined virtually from across the country.

The NEC is the principal executive body and highest decision-making body of the party, after the National Convention.

In one its resolutions, the meeting sacked members of the National Working Committee (NWC) in a bid to stem the leadership crisis in the party.

The meeting then constituted a 13-member caretaker committee, with Yobe State Governor Mala Buni as chairman, and the members were immediately sworn in by Mr Malami.

Although a member of the party, the minister is not a member of the party’s NWC, with some observers saying he is therefore not eligible for the role going by the constitution of the party.

Article 29 of the APC constitution (2014 as amended) stipulates how the party officer or officers should be sworn into office(s).

It states: “Every Officer elected or appointed as an officer of the Party shall subscribe to the Oath of Office as provided in Schedule II to this Constitution before an appropriate Principal Officer of the Party as may be approved by the National Working Committee.”

This seeming breach of the party’s constitution by the justice minister is one of the arguments opponents have cited against the controversial APC NEC meeting.

The ousted 18 members of the NWC had called the NEC meeting illegal and initially rejected its outcome, indicating they would challenge it in court.

“Article 25(B) of the Constitution of the APC is explicit that only the National Chairman or the National Working Committee (NWC) is given the prerogative of summoning meetings of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Party either for statutory quarterly meetings or for emergency meetings. The same provision of the constitution makes it compulsory for a notice of a minimum of 14 days in respect statutory quarterly meetings and seven days in respect of an emergency meeting,” the Hilliard Eta-led NWC said in a statement shortly after the NEC meeting.

Although they said they would consult with their allies and lawyers to determine their next action, the ousted NWC members are believed to have accepted their fate.

Defending his action in a statement on Saturday by Umar Gwandu, his spokesperson, the AGF said it is not out of place for him to administer oath of office on anyone, whether at the federal level, political or to private individuals.

“Entrenchment of democracy and democratic culture is not only a desirable responsibility, but a constitutional one regard being had to the constitutional provisions and the demand for sustenance of democracy in the country,” he said.

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“The office of the attorney general exercises dual functions inclusive of that of minister of justice which is a political and advisory function. Administration of justice is one of such functions

“A federation is an embodiment of the governance inclusive of the executive, legislature, and Judiciary with a possible expansion to accommodate private, corporate and associated entities.

“Within that context, it will not be out of place for an attorney general of the federation to administer an oath on any one inclusive of leadership of any political party whether he belongs to it or not.”

Experts views

Inibehe Effiong, a lawyer, in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES, said Mr Malami committed serial infractions by administering the oath of office on the APC officials.

“I see that as an abuse of office because the Attorney General is not a private legal practitioner. The implication is that he cannot afford to use his position as a legal practitioner to do whatever he wants. He cannot act outside the purvey of his responsibility and functions as the chief legal officer to the government of the federation,” Mr Effiong reiterated.

Mr Effiong cited the code of conduct for public officers which states that “a public officer shall not put himself in a position where his personal interest conflicts with his duties and responsibilities.”

His argument aligned with the position taken by the opposition People Democratic Party (PDP) in it official statement on Friday.

The party had accused Mr Malami and the ruling APC for “using official facilities of FEC chamber to administer oath of office to a functionary of a political party, in total disregard to his oath of office, the code of conduct prohibitions under the 5th Schedule and extant public service rules.”

Mr Effiong said going by the provision of Article 29 of the APC constitution, the oath he administered is “null and void.”

But Tunji Abayomi, a lawyer and former senatorial aspirant of the APC, said what happened at the Presidential Villa, on Thursday, was an “abnormal situation” which the party constitution does not envisage and provide for.

He said since “Principal officer is not defined and the national working committee is not in existence, Article 29 cannot be invoked. The prescription of the constitution is in a normal situation but we are in an abnormal situation. In a normal situation where the National Working Committee is in existence, then you follow that.”

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