The Legal Conundrum

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Tobi Soniyi looks at the tangled web of litigations that PDP is caught in

Making sense out of the various judgements and rulings on the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party is a tough challenge for lawyers. It is even tougher for non-lawyers. It all started at the Federal High Court in Lagos where Ali Modu Sheriff, Prof. Wale Oladipo, and Alhaji Fatai Adeyanju as plaintiffs prayed the court for an interlocutory injunction restraining PDP from conducting any election into the offices of the national chairman, national secretary and national auditor, which they occupied, pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.

Comedy of Abuses
On May 12, the trial judge, Ibrahim Buba, granted the order as prayed.
But on Monday May 21, the faction opposed to Sherriff held a national convention in Port Harcourt where it dissolved the National Executive Committee led by Sherriff and in its place constituted a caretaker committee led by Ahmed Makarfi.
The question, which then arose, was whether the dissolution of the executive and the setting up of a caretaker committee violated the orders made by Buba? Not surprising, Sherriff’s faction said yes, the orders were violated, but the opposing group said no.

Those who set up the caretaker committee argued that the convention, being the supreme organ of the party, exercised its powers under section 12.88 of the PDP constitution by dissolving the National Working Committee and appointing some of its members as caretakers for the next 90 days to enable it pursue true reconciliation of its disputant members towards peaceful, amicable and political settlement of the disputes leading to the cases in court.

To strengthen their positions, Sherriff and other plaintiffs in Lagos on May 23 filed a motion on notice for the purpose of setting aside the national convention of the party held on May 21. “The suit came up on May 27, for the hearing of all pending applications, including motions for stay of proceeding/execution of the order of May 12, pending the appeal already filed against the suit; motion to set aside and/or vacate the order of May 12; motion for joinder of certain persons; motion on notice by way of notice of preliminary objection on ground of jurisdiction, among others.

On May 24, counsel to Sherriff and other plaintiffs, Mr. R. A. Oluyede, drew the attention of the court to the fact that the order dated May 12, 2016 had not been complied with and that PDP had gone ahead to conduct election into the offices of: national chairman, national secretary and national auditor.” In essence, the plaintiffs contended that Buba’s orders were flouted.

The caretaker committee said no and that it did not fill the three posts in line with the court orders. It stated that there was no order against setting up a caretaker committee.
The crisis took an embarrassing turn on that same day, May 24, when two Federal High Courts gave two contradictory rulings. While Buba in Lagos affirmed the interim chairmanship of Sheriff, another Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt ordered him and the NWC to stop parading themselves as leaders of the party.

In Lagos, Buba declared the caretaker committee illegal. He ordered the Inspector General of Police to ensure that the members of the committee do not take over the party’s national headquarters and that Sheriff remains the national chairman of the PDP. In Port Harcourt, Justice A. Liman gave judicial approval to the action of the Port Harcourt convention. Liman gave the order following an ex-parte motion filed by the party. The Inspector General of Police, Independent National Electoral Commission, and Department of State Security were joined in the motion. The court ordered Sheriff and Oladapo to stop holding themselves individually or collectively as chairman or secretary of the party.

The court directed them to stop parading themselves as national officers or members of the National Executive Committee or NWC as doing so would negate decisions reached at the national convention on May 21. It also restrained INEC from according or continuing to accord any recognition to the national chairman, secretary and all members of the NEC, NWC who were removed during the convention. It ordered INEC to recognise the national caretaker committee appointed by the convention as the executive authority of the party to conduct primaries for offices and submission of list of candidates to it.

The court restrained the Sheriff-led executive from receiving nominations or submitting names to INEC in any capacity pending the hearing and determination of the motion. It also ordered the NEC and NWC not to sign any documents in such capacities prior to their removal pending the determination of the motion.

Meanwhile, despite the fact that these two cases were pending in Lagos and Port Harcourt and, the fact, that an appeal had been filed against the Lagos court’s orders, Sherriff filed another case at the Abuja division of the Federal High Court, which was assigned to Justice Okon Abang. This decision expanded the crisis into an unprecedented embarrassment for the judiciary. Experts say the case assigned to Abang should have been consolidated with the one in Lagos to avoid an abuse of the process of the court.

Abang heard the case and found that the order made by Buba in Lagos remained subsisting. He consequently issued several orders, including stopping the second convention planned to take place in Port Harcourt last Wednesday.
But before then, in the case instituted in Abuja High Court by Joseph Jero against PDP, Justice Valentine Ashi had held that the amendment of the party’s constitution which allowed Sherrif and members of his executive to hold office was illegal. In a judgement delivered on June 29, the judge consequently nullified the amendment.

Sheriff was not made a party in that case. It was just against the PDP. Relying on the judgement by Ashi, another member of the party, Danladi Ayuba, who said he was seeking to be the party youth leader, went back to an Abuja High Court where he filed a case against Sheriff.

Justice Nwamaka Ogbonnaya, who heard the case, ruled in his favour and held that Sheriff was illegally parading himself as chairman of the party. The court told Sheriff to stop parading himself as chairman and to also stop acting on behalf of the party as chairman.

‘Forum Shopping’
A lawyer based in Lagos, Mr John Oloyede, has tried to identify the issues in the PDP conundrum. First, he stated that it was unfortunate for the judiciary to allow politicians to mess up the institution.
Oloyede said, “On this occasion, I feel sad to say that the judiciary has not performed. The court is a let-down. It is a big disappointment. We are getting to a point when ordinary people would elect to appear in court. The courts are setting bad precedent capable of eroding their jurisdiction.”

Secondly, he noted that there was a forum shopping, as the litigants shuttled from one location to another in search of a favourable judge. He said there was no need for further orders after Ashi had removed the basis upon which Sheriff was appointed. “After filing an appeal, why did Sheriff go back to Justice Abang?‎” Oloyede asked. He answered the poser thus: “The judicial process is so straightforward. It is a gross abuse of court for Sheriff after appealing to go back to FHC.”
Apart from forum shopping, that is seeking a court where one can get a favourable order, which in itself amounts to abuse of the court process, Oloyede identified disregard for appellate court and disrespect to fellow judges as some of the issues thrown up by the PDP cases.

He said, “All the judges are aware of what is going on in other courts, they should have restrained themselves.‎”
The Nigerian Bar Association, Oloyede said, was also not showing the required leadership. It takes two to tango. He contended that if lawyers advised their clients properly, this ugly situation would not have arisen. In his view, since these cases were filed by lawyers, the association could have issued‎ a stern warning to its members.

According to Oloyede, “We, lawyers, play a big role in the problem the judiciary is facing now. We are not telling our clients the truth. We are not advising our clients appropriately.

“NBA should step in and stop this madness. Everything does not have to go to the National Judicial Council. I believe we can solve this. The new NBA president should address this squarely.

“Before we blame the NJC, we lawyers should talk to ourselves. If a client knows that he will not get a lawyer who will help him to ridicule the judiciary, he will behave appropriately.”
Oloyede also wondered why judges elected to sit till 6pm to hear political cases while other cases that were of national importance were not given similar attention.

“A judge is supposed to be impartial, but what we have seen so far in this PDP has shown that the judges are political.”
Oloyede believes all these should not have happened if the parties had followed the normal judicial procedure by filing an appeal and waiting for the appellate court to resolve the issues therein.

Definite Advantage
On who is on a strong legal footing among the parties, another lawyer, Mr Uchena Nnadi, said he strongly believed that the Port Harcourt convention was sustained legally and remained binding.
According to him, every decision taken in Port Harcourt is valid. He believed that Sheriff was standing on nothing saying that the decision of the Abuja High Court had settled the matter.

The lawyer was also of the opinion that the orders of Buba were not violated when the caretaker committee was set up in Port Harcourt because the national convention of the party remained the superior organ of the party. He further argued that events had overtaken the orders given by Buba

Nnadi said, “Sheriff s relying on orders from Buba and Abang. Orders made within a case cannot overrule final judgement. There is a difference between judgement and order. Makarfi has judgements from Liman in Port Harcourt, Justices Ashi and Ogbonanya in Abuja.”

He called on the NJC to intervene to save the judiciary from the show of shame and also appealed to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court to consolidate such cases in the future.

Nnadi advised the parties to wait for appellate courts to resolve the matters finally.
He maintained that the police were wrong. The Makarfi caretaker committee has a valid judgement but the police elevated an order made in the course of a hearing above a final judgement, Nnadi said.

The publicity secretary of the PDP in Lagos, Mr Taofik Gani, who is also a lawyer, ‎ provided a political angle to the equation. He pointed out that despite been aware of orders made by Buba restraining the party from filling the posts of national chairman, national secretary and national auditor of the party, Sheriff came to Port Harcourt for the first convention. He argued that if there was contempt, then Sheriff too was a contemnor.

Gani also argued that Sheriff had shot himself in the foot “because he is holding on to an appointment. His appointment has not even been ratified. It is subject to ratification.
“We have not disobeyed the order of Justice Buba. We turned the convention to a non-elective convention. Assuming we disobeyed that order, Sheriff himself would be in contempt because he came to Port Harcourt for the convention.”