There are strong indications that members of the Federal Executive Council who have declared their intention to contest the 2023 presidential election may appear before the All Progressives Congress screening committee with copies of their letters of resignation and acknowledgement.
Party sources stated that this might form part of the additional stipulations the aspirants were expected to comply with.
The development was sequel to the directive by President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday that all members of his cabinet vying for elective offices must step down on or Monday.
Buhari on Wednesday finally bowed to pressure when he called the ministers to resign following persistent calls by eminent lawyers and other Nigerians, who argued that their continued stay in office amounted to a conflict of interest.
The order came at the end of the Federal Executive Council meeting which he presided over at the Council Chambers of the State House, Abuja.
But an APC chieftain told The PUNCH that aspirants might be asked to produce their letters of resignation and acknowledgement copies during their screening.
He said several appointees and aides had been rushing to the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation to submit letters of resignation and collect acknowledgement letters.
The chieftain, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “From all indications, the party will ask appointees to come with resignation letters and letters of acknowledgement. All those who refuse to resign will just be setting themselves up for disqualification.
“At this point, it will be safe for anyone who is an appointee to just resign whether you are a minister or not. I am sure the APC will be issuing a statement anytime from now on the matter.”
The APC National Publicity Secretary, Felix Morka, could not be reached for comment on Wednesday, as he refused to attend to one of our correspondents who visited his office to clarify the issue.
The Minister of information, Lai Mohammed, who disclosed the presidential directive to the cabinet members shortly after the FEC meeting, however, said he could not speak on the fate of other political appointees who were also vying for positions but were non-cabinet members.
Buhari’s directive came after he received the resignation letter of the Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, who had tendered it on Tuesday.
Buhari was said to have commended Nwajiuba and asked other cabinet members to follow suit and resign immediately.
However, the immediate resignation order was modified to Monday by the Information Minister who met the President privately to clarify the deadline.
Cabinet members affected include the Ministers of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi; Niger Delta, Godswill Akpabio; Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige.
Others include the Minister of State Mines and Steel, Uche Ogar, who is contesting for the Abia State APC governorship ticket, and the Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen, who declared her intention to contest for the senatorial seat in Plateau State.Also affected is the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, SAN, who is running for the governorship of Kebbi State.
Announcing Buhari’s directive, Mohammed said, “The mandate I have from the President is to announce that all members of the Federal Executive Council contesting for elective office must resign their ministerial cabinet appointments on or before Monday, May 16, 2022.”
When asked if the directive affected the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, who is vying for the Presidency, the Information Minister, said “the Vice President was elected, he was not appointed.”
On the fate of other political appointees, non-cabinet members who are also contesting but have not resigned, Mohammed said the directive might be extended to them.
He explained, “As of this moment, the mandate I have is for members of the Federal Executive Council. Subsequently, it might affect other political appointees but that will be made known.
“If there is going to be any amendment or any inclusion, you will be informed in due course,” he said.
SGF to issue circular on Emefiele, other appointees
Nonetheless, a top source within the presidency revealed that a circular might be issued within the next 24 hours from the Office of the Secretary to Government of the Federation, directing all other political appointees in the various electoral races to resign.
At the time of Buhari’s announcement, only Malami, Onu and Ogar were the affected ministers contesting for electoral offices physically present at the council meeting while the rest joined virtually.
A few hours after the directive, the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Ogbonnaya Onu, and Godswill Akpabio (Niger Delta) tendered their resignation letters to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha.
Onu, who on May 6 declared for the presidency under the ruling party, was said to have visited the SGF office where he dropped his letter around 5 pm.
The Niger Delta minister, in a statement by his media aide, Jackson Udom, stated, “Our attention has been drawn to mischievously written news stories making the rounds by paid agents of some politicians, that the leading presidential aspirant, Senator Godswill Akpabio, has purportedly withdrawn from the presidential race. This is a joke carried too far.
“This is certainly the handiwork of those who are scared of contesting against Senator Godswill Akpabio.
“Senator Akpabio has resigned his appointment as Minister, Niger Delta Affairs Ministry and will soon submit his nomination form at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, in line with his party’s guidelines”, the statement by Udom said.
On his part, the media aide to the AGF, Jibrilu Gwandu, kept mum on the resignation plans of his principal, when contacted.
It was gathered that Nwajiuba submitted his resignation letter on April 28, 2022, after accepting to run for the presidency under the APC.
“The President actually approved of his resignation upon resumption from the Eid break May 3rd before he travelled to Abidjan. The minister continued his work since the president has not announced his resignation officially as protocol demands. The President announced his resignation today (Wednesday) at FEC before giving the order,” the source added.
An official said other cabinet members were expected to present their resignation letters in the next few days and ahead of the APC candidates screening starting May 13 with the screening of the House of Assembly aspirants.
According to a new timetable released by Suleiman Argungu, the National Organising Secretary of the party, screening for presidential, governorship, Senate and House of Representatives aspirants will take place on May 14.
Your action belated could have saved nation from drama, SANs berate Buhari
Some Senior Advocates of Nigeria have described the directives of the president to political appointees as belated.
The SANs in separate interviews said if the decision had come earlier, it could have limited the number of people contesting elections in the party.
Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN, said the political appointees had caused confusion in the polity with their political ambitions.
He said, “It is belated; the president has acted belatedly. He should not have allowed his appointees to cause confusion and tension in the land for this long and I have been praying since I heard the news that somebody will not say it is fake news in the evening.
“Because this regime when someone says good morning, you have to go and check. So we pray that it will be correct. If it is so, it is the only good thing that this regime has done in recent times but it is coming belatedly. So you think the Nigerians took pressure on the president that is why he took this decision.”
Another SAN, Ifedayo Adedipe, said the late directive emboldened ministers to purchase the presidential nomination forms pegged at N100mn.
He said, “The decision is the right decision but belated. However, it is better late than never. His timely intervention would have saved us from the charade of every Dick and Harry in his cabinet purchasing the N100m form.
“They did this without any fear that they would be picked up and asked to give an account of where they got the money from. The standard set by this administration in public probity is low. How did a serving minister raise N100m? Is it from his estacode, allowances or salaries? That the forms were bought by the groups is not convincing.”
Lekan Ojo said the directive by the president was most welcome, noting that it coincided with the wishes and aspirations of many Nigerians regarding the need for political appointees to resign if they wanted to seek elective positions.
He said, “You cannot claim to be a minister; today you’re in Ibadan, tomorrow in Akwa Ibom to meet this or that. What that means clearly is that you’ve abandoned your ministerial duties.
“If you want to exercise your right to contest, you should be able to do away with whatever benefits or appointments you’re enjoying because there is no way you can devote your time. None of those ministers can tell us he or she devotes his time to the side of the ministerial duties.”
Buhari bows to pressure
Although while signing the new electoral bill, the President urged the National Assembly to delete Section 84 (12) on the grounds that it violates the constitutional rights of the appointees, the lawmakers ignored the request.
The section prohibits political appointees from contesting in parties’ primaries without resigning.
However, a Federal High Court in Umahia Abia State while ruling on a suit filed by Nduka Edede, declared the section illegal and ordered the Attorney-General of the Federation to delete it from the electoral act.
But the Court of Appeal in Abuja on Wednesday set aside the judgment of the Umahia court and at the same time ruled that the section was unconstitutional.
There has been mass resignation of political appointees in states contesting parties’ primaries in compliance with the controversial section but Buhari’s ministers insisted that they were not affected by the law.
It was earlier reported that the Presidency and the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation were passing the buck over the refusal of ministers and other appointees contesting primaries to resign.
While sources in the Presidency stated that it was the duty of the SFG to issue a memo directing the ministers to resign, the SGF officials insisted that they were awaiting the presidential directive.
In states, governors in compliance with the section ordered appointees contesting elections to resign.
In Lagos State, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, on April 23 according to a circular issued by the State’s Head of Service, Hakeem Muri-Okunola, ordered all appointees and civil servants eyeing elections to resign.
At least, 13 commissioners on April 27 resigned their appointments in Sokoto State ahead of the primary elections in accordance with the Electoral Act, bringing the total number of commissioners that had resigned in order to contest elections to over 60 across the 36 states.
But the FEC members, including the Minister of Niger Delta, Godswill Akpabio, insisted that they would not resign, saying no law mandated them to do so.
Warning such ministers, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, in an interview with the London Service of Channels Television on April 27, said they ran the risk of being disqualified.
He stated, “The risk they run at the end of it all is if the court does find that the National Assembly was well within its rights to make such a provision that you are contesting an election while still a political appointee, then you are on a very serious risk of having your election bid annulled.”
Also, some senior advocates, including Femi Falana, who supported the National Assembly and faulted the Umahia court judgment, called for the resignation of the ministers.
On Tuesday, 32 civil society organisations called on the President to immediately sack and investigate all ministers and political appointees that had bought nomination forms without resigning their current positions.
The CSOs include the Centre for Democracy and Development, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, Yiaga Africa, Centre for Information Technology and Development, Zero-Corruption Coalition, Partners on Electoral Reform, Alliance for Credible Elections and Tax Justice and Governance Platform among others.
Speaking on behalf of the organisations on Tuesday in Abuja, CISLAC Executive Director, Auwal Rafsanjani, specifically said the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele and Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami did not have the moral capacity to continue in office.