Media report, to the effect that the presidency and the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation passed the buck over the refusal of ministers, ambassadors and aides to the president to resign ahead of the governorship and presidential primaries of the All Progressives Congress (APC) which commence on May 25, is quite worrisome.
A senior official at the presidency said that the SGF, Boss Mustapha, ought to have issued a circular stating the deadline on when appointees of President Muhammadu Buhari should resign. The official noted that across the 36 states, the secretaries to the state governments are the ones issuing circulars and guidelines for appointees seeking elective office.
“It is not our job in the presidency to ask anyone to resign. It is the job of the SGF to do so. So, you should direct your inquiries to the SGF. Please do not write my name inside your paper because I don’t want to be drawn into this controversial issue,” the official said.
However, an aide to the SGF said that as an appointee of the president himself, it was not the job of Mustapha to issue such a directive unless he was ordered by the president to do so.
“I’m sure you know the job of a secretary. A secretary cannot issue any directive without the express approval of the president. So, unless the president orders that we issue a circular asking appointees running for office to resign, we cannot unilaterally do so. This is standard practice. Please this is strictly off record,” said a top aide to the SGF.
Buhari had while signing the electoral bill on February 25, 2022, expressed reservations over Section 84(12) of the Act which mandates all political appointees seeking elective office to resign ahead of any party primary they plan to participate in.
The president had insisted that the provision was at variance with the constitution, and specifically asked Senate President Ahmad Lawan and Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila to ensure that the section in question was deleted. He subsequently wrote to the National Assembly requesting the amendment. The president’s request was, however, rejected.
Meanwhile, APC has said that all its members currently holding political appointments and seeking participation in the party’s forthcoming primaries must quit their positions. According to the party, the move is in line with the provisions of the Electoral Act.
Section 84 (12) of the Act stipulates that political appointees, including ministers, commissioners and special advisers should quit to be eligible to participate either as delegates or contestants at the convention of their political parties.
APC National Publicity Secretary, Barrister Felix Morka, said the party would ensure that all political appointees wishing to contest the 2023 elections comply with Section 84 (12) of the Electoral Act.
Asked how soon those appointees were expected to turn in their letters, Morka said, “The Electoral Act however does not stipulate the time frame by which individuals should resign their appointments before the primary. But we shall ensure the party complies with the law.”
By the provisions of the Act, political appointees such as the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi; Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami; Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige; Minister of State for Education, Emeka Nwajiuba; Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio; Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva, among others who reportedly linked to presidential and governorship ambitions, must resign from their various offices if they want to contest in 2023.
It does appear that Section 84 (12) of the Electoral Act which requires political appointees seeking elective offices to resign before party primaries failed to take into cognisance that governance, as pertains such appointees, will virtually grind to halt, if the primaries are scheduled within a long span of time from the declaration of interest.
For instance, if a minister declares interest to contest for the presidency on March 10, and the party primaries are scheduled to hold on May 28, it means that the minister has over two months to remain in office. The implication here is that governance will take a back seat as his presidential ambition will require wide consultations and alignment of forces, which necessitate traversing the length and breadth of the federation. The question then arises as to when and how the minister will perform his statutory administrative functions.
Flowing from this analogy, which is presently playing out in the APC-led federal government, it is practically impossible for political appointees seeking elective offices, with the attendant busy and complex schedules as well as intrigues and horse trading, to effectively discharge their official duties.
Amaechi and Ngige are pointers to the fact that political appointees seeking elective offices can be seriously distracted and should to resign as soon as they declare their intention to contest. The two ministers have actually abdicated their responsibilities as exemplified in the March 28, 2022, Abuja-Kaduna train attack and the ongoing strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
We, therefore, advise that, notwithstanding the lacuna in the Electoral Act, Mr President has a moral responsibility to order his appointees seeking elective offices to resign as soon as they declare their intention. Governors Adegboyega Oyetola of Osun state and Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano state as well as some of their counterparts have already taken this honourable and desirable path.