- I remain the chairman, Sheriff tells court
Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
There was confusion in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) wednesday following the decision of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the party to take over its leadership pending the resolution of the leadership crisis rocking the party.
The PDP has been enmeshed in deep crisis which led to the closure of the party’s secretariat from May 22 to May 30 when it was re-opened on the orders of the Inspector General of Police (IG), Solomon Arase.
The decision by the BoT to take over the affairs of the party followed the failure of the parties to the disputes to withdraw their pending court cases.
Part of the resolutions reached at the stakeholders’ peace meeting comprising governors, National Assembly members, BoT members and aggrieved party stakeholders was that all the instituted cases against the party should be withdrawn.
The BoT Chairman, Senator Walid Jibrin, who addressed the workers at the party’s secretariat yesterday, said the board was the only legal body of the party now that has not been encumbered by any court order.
“Nobody has taken the BoT to court. Today the BoT remains the only legal body now in the whole set up and that is why we are here to play our role. We are here to perform our duty according to PDP constitution, hoping that our problems will soon be resolved,” he said.
Jibrin said the board would operate from the board room, adding: “We are not going to takeover anybody’s office.”
The BoT chairman came to the meeting in company of the Secretary of the board, Ambassador Ojo Maduekwe; former Deputy Senate President, Senator Ibrahim Mantu; former Senate Majority Leader, Senator Stella Omu, among others.
Jibril explained that the sealing off of the national secretariat by the Nigeria Police was to protect and safeguard the party’s property.
He described the problem of the party as temporary, which would be overcome soon, adding that the BoT had reached out to those involved in the crisis with the aim of resolving it.
According to him, “We have gone very far to resolve this matter, we are making contacts and consultations and we are not here to blame anybody, but to resolve the problem.
Commenting on the forthcoming Edo State gubernatorial election and the process that would lead to selection of PDP standard bearer and how the party would meet INEC timetable.”
Jubrin said: “I want to assure Nigerians that we are putting head together with our lawyers, which will not last long, so be rest assured that everything will be in order.
“We the BoT have been asked under the constitution of the party to be in charge of the assets and the liabilities of the PDP generally. It is in that respect that the IG having considered the importance of our constitution and having considered the importance of the staff of the PDP headquarters here, that this place be open and not only be opened but is entrusted in the hand of the BoT.
“PDP will never die, we are only on sabbatical and once the sabbatical is over, we are going to take over our leadership, we are going back in 2019.”
On his part, Maduekwe, however, said the board has decided to oversee the affairs of the party to prevent a vacuum in the face of conflicting court orders.
“We are giving members opportunity to withdraw all cases in court so that PDP can rebrand,” he said.
Meanwhile, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff has told the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt that he remains the party’s chairman.
He described the Caretaker Committee headed by Senator Ahmed Makarfi as a group of “usurpers” and “contraption” that was set up in defiance of valid court orders.
According to the certified court processes made available to journalists in Lagos through his lawyer, Ajibola Oluyede, Sheriff is praying the court to hold that only he can preside over a convention or meeting where party leaders could be chosen.
PDP sued Sherriff, Prof Adewale Oladipo (who was PDP National Secretary), the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), IG and the Department of State Services (DSS) before Justice I. Liman.
The judge had restrained Sherriff and Oladipo from parading themselves as the chairman, secretary or members of the National Executive Committee or National Working Committee (NWC) of the PDP until the suit is determined.
But, Sheriff and Oladipo, in a motion on notice dated May 27, said those who sued them in PDP’s name lack “the authority and locus” to institute the suit on the party’s behalf.
They are also praying the court to discharge the ex-parte order restraining them from holding their office.
According to them, Justice Liman made the order on May 24, which is 12 days after Justice Ibrahim Buba of the court’s Lagos Division had restrained the party from conducting elections into offices of national chairman, national secretary and national auditor.
Sheriff and Oladipo are praying the court to hold that by a combined reading of the Section 223 of the 1999 Constitution and Articles 33(1) (a) and 35(1) of the PDP Constitution, only they are empowered to chair and preside over the party’s convention and all meetings through which available national offices can be filled.
They said: “The illegal contraption they call ‘caretaker committee’” was set up in violation of three different orders made by different judges of the court in suits numbered FHC/ABJ/CS/1443/2016, FHC/L/CS/613/2016 and FHC/L/CS/637/2016.
“The so-called caretaker committee or any other person acting under its authority is an aberration under the PDP Constitution and was constituted in breach of the mandatory provisions of Section 223 and 224 of the 1999 Constitution and has no capacity to institute this action in the name of the PDP,” said Sheriff and Oladipo.
They urged the court to dismiss the suit filed against them for being an abuse of court process.
“In our humble submission, in view of the fact that persons behind the institution of this action were appointed in defiance of valid orders of this court, this action is tainted with illegality and it is trite that no cause of action can be founded on illegality,” they said.
According to them, PDP is a corporate entity and can only be “invoked” by the National Executive Committee, of which they (Sheriff and Oladipo) are principal officers.
“In the instant case, however, it is clear that this action cannot be for the corporate interest of the PDP when the officers of the National Executive Committee are being sued as defendants in this action, by which the usurpers are seeking to validate their illegitimate claim to power.
“This suit cannot, therefore, be sustained in the name of the PDP…We humbly urge this court to reject the plan of these lawless individuals to cause confusion and thereby benefit from their illegality, by dismissing this action,” they prayed.
According to Sheriff and Oladipo, the PDP NWC, which is still under their control, did not instruct anyone to file the action on the party’s behalf.
They said only the NWC is responsible for the day-to-day administration of the PDP and has the authority to institute or instruct anyone to file a suit in the party’s name.
“The NWC of the PDP did not authorise or delegate the authority to institute this instant suit.
“In a desperate bid to confer authority upon themselves, to invoke the corporate personality of the PDP, the individuals, namely Senators Ahmed Makarfi and Ben Obi, who instituted this instant action in the name of the PDP committed several illegalities in order to establish the illegal contraption they call the ‘caretaker committee’, which they believe entitles them to invoke the corporate personality of the PDP,” they said.
They accused the plaintiffs of “conspiratorial and criminal contempt of the court by devising means of defeating the purpose and intendment of the interlocutory injunction made by Justice Ibrahim Buba.”
But, the party instead appointed the caretaker committee in Port Harcourt.
Sheriff and Oladipo are praying the court to dismiss the suit for being an “illegality” and vacate all order made.