President Muhammadu Buhari and members of his cabinet seeking the ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for next year’s elections are currently weighing five options on whether the ministers should quit before the party’s primaries scheduled for the end of this month.
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Public pressure is mounting on the ministers to quit in line with the provisions of Section 84 (12) of the Electoral Act 2022 which prohibits public officers from participating in their party primaries either as voters or as candidates.
The affected ministers are Rotimi Amaechi (Transportation), Chris Ngige (Labour and Productivity), Abubakar Malami (Justice) and Emeka Nwajiuba (Minister of State for Education).
All of them, save Malami who wants to govern Kebbi State, are seeking the APC presidential ticket.
The section provides thus: “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 it is currently a subject of litigation at the Federal High Court Abuja where the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is praying the court to restrain the National Assembly from deleting the section from the Act allegedly at the instance of the President.
Besides, the Court of Appeal, Owerri Division has fixed May 10 for the hearing of the application of the National Assembly on the judgment of the Federal High Court, Umuahia which ordered deletion of Section 84 (12) of the Electoral Act.
Buhari sees the section as a contravention of the provisions of the 1999 Constitution.
The Nation gathered authoritatively yesterday that the presidency and the affected ministers first considered a legal advice which classified them as public officers under Part II of the Fifth Schedule to 1999 Constitution and offered a possible escape route.
But sources said they were not entirely comfortable with the legal advice especially the risk involved for them and the party in the event of the National Assembly winning the case at the Court of Appeal.
One of the possible consequences of that is that the court can void the election of a candidate that falls short of the provisions of the Electoral Act.
Some forces in the Presidency are understood to have worked out options under what sources called a Plan B to take care of the situation.
The options, contained in an advisory said to have been submitted to the President, are as follows:
Temporary withdrawal of service for a period by ministers/appointees
Ministers/other appointees may go on annual leave
Ministers/other appointees may apply for leave of absence
Ministers/appointees may take direct permission from President Buhari to contest for primaries
Waiting for the ruling of the Court of Appeal
The advisory suggests that “any public servant ready to contest any of our party’s primaries is free and encouraged to do so without resignation till main election. But if such officer feels his/her job will suffer he/she can do a withdrawal of service for a period or take a leave…annual or leave of absence from his direct boss, and in the case of HMs/Special Advisers/Assistants Mr President.”
A top source in government said: “The President and some ministers are aware of the agitation for their resignation before the primaries, but four fundamental issues have not been resolved.
“Part II of the Fifth Schedule to 1999 Constitution described ministers, commissioners and others as public officers for the purpose of the Code of Conduct. So, in the face of the law, they are not political appointees.
“Section 84(12) of the Electoral Act is before the Court of Appeal, and in line with the principle of fairness and equity, the right thing under the law is to maintain status quo ante bellum. It will amount to injustice to ask the ministers and other appointees to step aside.