APGA constitutionality and Stella Oduah
As in other parts of the world, the art of politics in Nigeria peculiarly entails a lot of frenetic horse trading, pernicious intrigues, venal shenanigans and playing to the gallery.
Political actors often throw every devious weapon into the game to win. Politicians turn into deadly, back-stabbing enemies of one another.
Self-preservation is a norm, but the selfish propensity for power grabbing through unscrupulous circumvention of party laws and constitutionality can be a destructive adventure.
It is unacceptable because when the chips are down, the end doesn’t always justify the means.
As the 2019 general elections in Nigeria approach with heightening pressure, there has been a corresponding flurry of increased political activities across the land. Wherever you look, the air is thickening with Nigerian-style politicking.
All this is expected. So, it is no less different in the South East where political players of different persuasions are already shuffling and reshuffling their partisan interests, ambitions and alliances to slug it out in subsequent primaries and elections.
In all this scenario, the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) stands as an attractive darling political party that Igbo politicians would naturally gravitate to, among other parties.
The reason is not far-fetched. Since its early days, APGA prides itself as a party of Ndigbo, which attracts the best crop of Igbo leaders to represent them at the helm of affairs in terms of political offices at state and federal levels.
APGA holds its own leverage in the South East, just as Action Congress (formerly Alliance for Democracy) once bestrode the South West as a regional party, now morphed into national APC with its assumption of power at the centre.
Although APGA has undergone its own throes of evolution complications since its early years, the party has also produced exceptional contemporary leaders to justify its political relevance and pre-eminence.
We can still remember the former Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State, who was once chairman of Fidelity Bank and is a successful businessman by all standards. Obi epitomizes the virtues of integrity, incorruptibility and excellence in governance.
After eight years of leadership in Anambra State as an APGA governor, he handed over to Willie Obiano, a former banker and an astute administrator, who is still in APGA till today.
On his own right, Governor Willie Obiano has run Anambra State so excellently that he was elected for a second term in office in a rare landslide victory that saw the party win across the 21 local government areas in the state.
It was also to his credit that APGA keeps attracting the best crop of Ndi Igbos such as former CBN Governor Charles Soludo and former MD of Diamond Bank, Alex Otti in Abia State, among others, to aspire to govern their states.
However, the recent moves by some vested interests to hastily draft Senator Stella Oduah from PDP to All Progressive Grand Alliance through the back door, to later seek an elective candidacy, is an unwelcome development.
It would not only serve to create an avoidable internal democracy crisis and tarnish the image of the party but will also discredit the sterling record of Governor Willie Obiano who has worked tirelessly to build a party of men and women with integrity and character.
Now, cross-carpeting is not a crime. The defection of members from one party to another has always been rampant in Nigerian politics. So, nobody is saying that any politician, Senator Oduah inclusive, has no right to join APGA or aspire to an elective office on the platform of APGA.
No one is saying members cannot defect from one party to another, as allowed by some sections of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution. But as much as APGA is free to open its arms to welcome all, the admission of new party members should follow an established due process sanctioned by party constitutionality.
The truth is that the frenzy of political realignments for 2019 should not obfuscate the imperative of party constitutionality. And neither should the clout of any politician, no matter how powerful, well-connected or wealthy, override the party supremacy.
The constitution of APGA should be the supreme guide for fair play and must rank above personal interest and scheming for electoral power.
The problem is that when desperadoes are allowed into a system, they would work hard to undermine the system with their narcissistic indulgences.
A leopard cannot change its spots, so the proverbial maxim goes. The same thesis applies to desperate politicians who change parties like they change clothes, not for a matter of noble principles, but for the pursuit of untoward sinister agenda. Let us put the proposition of due process and supremacy of party constitutionality in proper context by leveraging a precedent.
In the warm-up to 2014 Governorship elections in Anambra State, the former CBN Governor and erstwhile governorship aspirant, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, came to join APGA from PDP on the eve of the Anambra State primary election in 2014 to contest against Willie Obiano.
But Prof. Soludo was disqualified for not meeting the constitutional provision on the number of years required for an aspirant to be a registered party member to be eligible to stand for election, “Article 24:8(b) No member of the party shall be eligible to seek nomination as a candidate of the party in any election unless such a member has been a financial member of the party for a period of not less than 18 Months.”
The respected professor did not take offence and did not try to subvert the party constitution through any backdoor manipulation or manoeuvring. Instead, Soludo towed the line of party constitutionality, suspended his gubernatorial ambition and is probably awaiting the right time to contest again.
In the light of the foregoing precedent so enumerated, APGA has to ensure that the party’s due process and constitutionality are upheld with respect to new members just joining the party in less than a year to the 2019 general elections.
New members can join the party, but as in the case of Soludo, should not be allowed to seek and contest elective offices on the platform of APGA until the right timeframe prescribed by the party constitution is reached.
This will ensure internal democracy is sustained while the equality of all party members under the constitution is guaranteed. But besides the party constitutionality of APGA, her eligibility also has a big moral question hanging over it.
This is an area where the party leadership needs to be cautious so as not to be entrapped and scandalised by the morass of a politician with grave moral baggage.
This is a woman whose tenure as a former Minister of Aviation was marked by corruption allegations which have turned into on-going court cases still being prosecuted by the EFCC, right from the scandalous armoured BMW cars purchase to suspicious billions of Naira traced to her housemaid’s bank accounts.
By the way, it is constitutional that those seeking political office must first ensure that corruption charges against them are disposed of or acquitted.
For according to the sections 182 and 66 of the 1999 Constitution, candidates vying for governorships and National Assembly seats are barred if they have been indicted for embezzlement or fraud by a Judicial Commission of Inquiry or an Administrative Panel of Inquiry or a Tribunal set up under the Tribunals of Inquiry Act…or any other law by the Federal or State Government which indictment has been accepted by the Federal or State Government respectively.
So, the desperation of interested politicians to join APGA must not be allowed to becloud our sense of integrity or overturn the party’s constitutional supremacy.
The dangers will be very destabilising and a party like APGA cannot afford the crisis that will ensue. We don’t need a political baggage now. These words are more than enough for the wise.
• Okafor is a legal practitioner, lives in Lagos.
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