Party’s govs, BoT, caretaker c’ttee to meet over discord
Davidson Iriekpen in Lagos, Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt and Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
The leadership crisis in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) got messier yesterday when two Federal High Courts in Lagos and Port Harcourt, respectively gave conflicting orders sacking and according recognition to the Senator Ahmed Makarfi-led National Caretaker Committee appointed by the 2016 national convention of the party last Saturday in Port Harcourt.
In a verdict issued by Justice A.M. Liman, the Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to recognise the Makarfi-led committee of the PDP and granted leave to the party to issue as “concurrent” the originating summons and other processes in the suit for service on the defendants/respondents outside the jurisdiction of the court in Abuja.
The court also restrained Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, Professor Adewole Oladipo and other sacked members of the National Working Committee (NWC) and National Executive Committee (NEC) from parading themselves as officials of the PDP.
The suit filed by the PDP has as defendants the former acting National Chairman, Sheriff; Professor Oladipo (sued as themselves and as representing national officers), INEC, Inspector General of Police (IG) and the State Security Services (SSS).
The court further ruled that: “Senator Ali Modu Sheriff and Professor Adewole Oladipo, the members of the National Executive Committee and members of the National Working Committee of the PDP who were removed from office by the National Convention of the PDP which held on Saturday, the 21st Day of May 2016 in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, be and are hereby restrained from parading/holding out or continuing to hold themselves out either individually or collectively as the chairman, secretary or national officer or member of the National Executive Committee or National Working Committee of the PDP.
“Nor do anything howsoever to negate or frustrate the decisions reached at the said convention, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.”
The court restrained INEC from accepting and considering nominations, names or documents submitted, signed or endorsed by Sheriff, Oladipo and any other sacked member of the sacked NWC.
Liman also ordered Sheriff, Oladipo and their sacked colleagues not to sign or endorse documents in such capacities as they were prior to their removal, pending the hearing or determination of the notion on notice.
Commenting on the court order, the Chairman, PDP Convention Screening Committee and Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Rivers State, Emmanuel Aguma (SAN), said the PDP sought the interim orders pending the hearing on the motion on notice and those interim orders were granted.
He explained: “Essentially, the gist of the interim orders can be summarised as follows: One, that the removed national officers should not parade in that office or parade themselves as officers of the party (PDP); Two, that the national PDP National Working Committee (NWC) and the National Executive Council (NEC) should not function as organs of the party, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.
“And similar to that was the recognition of the caretaker committee constitutionally set up at the convention and the caretaker committee was empowered to conduct primaries, if need be, within this interim period and to submit any such candidate to INEC. And INEC was restrained from receiving any document in any manner however, dealing with the removed officers.
“As it were, what the order has done was to preserve the gains, albeit temporarily, of the convention and to try and move the party forward so that the party would know how it can stabilise itself.”
Court Sacks Makarfi C’ttee
However, as the court in Port Harcourt gave its order, another court of concurrent jurisdiction in Lagos sacked the seven-man interim committee led by Senator Makarfi.
Other members of the committee are a former aide to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, Senator Ben Obi (national secretary), Senator Odion Ugbesie, Senator Abdul Ningi, Mr. Kabir Usman, Mr. Dayo Adeyeye and Alhaja Aisha Aliyu.
Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court, Lagos, held that the committee was appointed in violation of an order he made on May 12.
He had barred the party from conducting elections into offices of the national chairman, national secretary and national auditor pending the hearing and determination of the suit.
The judge had also restrained INEC from monitoring the election.
Justice Buba directed the IG Solomon Arase to enforce the order.
The plaintiffs — Sheriff, Oladipo and National Auditor, Alhaji Fatai Adeyanju – had 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.
Justice Buba said he would not allow his order to be violated without consequence, adding that he had an obligation to ensure his directives were obeyed. “No court can make an order in vain,” he held.
Oladipo and Adeyanju’s lawyer, Ajibola Oluyede, informed Justice Buba about an application filed yesterday in which he prayed the court to invoke its disciplinary powers.
He said: “Certain steps were taken to remove the plaintiffs from their office notwithstanding your Lordship’s interlocutory injunction which restrained the respondents from taking such steps.
“The steps were taken over the weekend to remove them and it was during the pendency of this action. It is for that reason that we were constrained to file this application.
“We seek your Lordship’s disciplinary jurisdiction to bring back matters to the status quo based on the order of May 12.”
Justice Buba said although Oluyede’s application was not ripe for hearing, he was bound to protect the court’s sanctity against violation of its orders. He said to flout a court order is to invite anarchy.
He quoted Section 287(3) of the constitution, which states: “The decisions of the Federal High Court, a High Court and of all other courts established by this Constitution shall be enforced in any part of the federation by all authorities and persons, and by other courts of law with subordinate jurisdiction to that of the Federal High Court, a High Court and those other courts, respectively.”
The judge added: “Therefore, the Inspector-General of Police is directed to enforce the orders of this court until the order is set aside or all the applications before the court are disposed of.
“Because of the nature of this matter being political, time is hereby abridged for the hearing of all applications,” he said.
The judge warned the Makarfi-led committee “not to act in that capacity in defiance of this order”.
Confusion over PDP Legal Representation
Before the ruling, there was some mild drama as two lawyers, Ahmed Raji (SAN) and Godswill Morakpor, were locked in a heated argument over who, between them, was authorised to represent PDP. Both had announced their appearance for the PDP.
Raji said: “There was no attempt to change counsel. I am the counsel on record for the second defendant (PDP). The new caretaker committee has revalidated my appointment. This is the letter,” he said, handing the letter to Justice Buba.
But Morakpor said he was the one authorised to represent PDP, not Raji.
He said: “Today is like a nightmare to me. I never envisaged a situation where I would be dragging a client with a senior member of the bar. We have filed a notice of change of counsel and served on the learned SAN.”
Raji claimed he was not served with an application for change of counsel for PDP.
Then the court’s bailiff was sent for and he confirmed that he indeed had served Raji with the application at his office.
Ruling, Justice Buba held that Morakpor was the recognised counsel for PDP.
PDP Governors, Others Meet
Reacting to the worsening crisis, critical stakeholders in the main opposition party comprising its governors, members of the Board of Trustees (BoT) and party elders agreed to meet before the end of the week to reconcile the differences threatening to tear the PDP apart.
The planned stakeholders’ meeting came just as the caretaker committee appointed to run the affairs of the PDP, yesterday started to reach out to aggrieved party leaders, particularly members of the BoT.
The committee headed by Makarfi sent emissaries to the leadership of the BoT and the Concerned Stakeholders Group led by Prof. Jerry Gana seeking for a meeting on how to arrive at a common ground for the return of peace in the opposition party.
A former Minister of Environment and a prominent member of the Concerned Stakeholders Group, Mr. John Odey, who spoke on the latest development about the crisis in the party, said that the only option left for leaders of the party was for them to pursue genuine dialogue as a means of resolving the face-off.
He said there was every likelihood that a meeting of key organs of the party, governors, elders and the National Assembly caucus would be convened this week to chart a way forward.
He said that though his group had been invited for dialogue by the Makarfi-led committee, what was required now is for a peace meeting to be brokered under the auspices of the BoT.
“Party leaders will be engaging in a crucial meeting this week with the governors, members of the BoT and other elders of the party to ensure that the differences are sorted out so that we can forge ahead,” he said.
Regarding the call for dialogue, Odey said the concerned elders of the party had held the view that things should be done properly and the Makarfi-led caretaker committee must subject itself to the authority of the BoT which is the only organ recognised by the party’s constitution under the present circumstances to navigate PDP out of the crisis.
According to him, there was also the need to expand the composition of the caretaker committee to include other stakeholders who had worked tirelessly for the stability of the party.
Meanwhile, a party source said the caretaker committee decided to suspend its earlier plan to hold a press conference to kick-start its operations due to the two conflicting court orders issued yesterday in Port Harcourt and Lagos over the sack of Sheriff.
In the same vein, the premises of the national secretariat of the PDP remained under lock and key yesterday.