For the second time, the Peoples Democratic Party failed to hold an elective national convention in Port Harcourt, no thanks to court orders. Ernest Chinwo, in Port Harcourt, reports
Wednesday, August 17 was obviously the climax of the crisis rocking the Peoples Democratic Party, which prides itself on being the biggest party in Africa. For the second time, the party was stopped from holding an elective national convention in Port Harcourt.
On May 21, when delegates converged on Port Harcourt for the national convention, it took an Abuja high court to scuttle the election, when then national chairman of the party, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, surreptitiously obtained an order restraining the convention from holding elections.
But the convention went ahead to dissolve the National Working Committee of the party and set up a seven-member national caretaker committee led by Senator Ahmed Markarfi.
Although Sheriff dismissed the outcome of the convention as illegal, the Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt on July 4 declared the convention legal and its outcome binding on members of the party.
Obviously anticipating that the rescheduled convention of Wednesday, August 17, would also have problems, the caretaker committee approached the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt and within a space of six days got three orders to enforce the July 4 judgement of the court to ensure an uninterrupted convention.
First was on August 11 when the court presided over by Justice Ibrahim Watila, ruling on a motion ex-parte, ordered the police, Department of State Security, and the Independent National Electoral Commission not to interfere in the August 17 national convention of the party. The suit no: FHC/PH/CS/585/2016 was brought before the court by Senator Ben Obi (Plaintiff) on behalf of the National Convention Planning Committee of the PDP against the Inspector General of Police, the Commissioner of police, the DSS, the state director of the DSS, and INEC. Watila, also ordered the police and the DSS to provide security while INEC would monitor the convention. The motion was filed by Wori N. Wori on behalf of Ben Obi relying on a 34-paragragh affidavit deposed to by Felix Obuah.
The second was on August 15, when the same judge in an interlocutory order reaffirmed his earlier order mandating the police and the DSS to provide security and INEC to monitor the convention.
Thirdly, on August 16, in his judgement on the same suit no: FHC/PH/CS/585/2016, Watila declared that the National Caretaker Committee of the PDP was the executive authority in all matters concerning the party and that the August 17 national convention of PDP scheduled for Port Harcourt was in line with the July 4 judgement of the court, which validated the May 21 national convention of the party.
The judgment reiterated the earlier orders of the court mandating the police and the DSS to provide security and INEC to monitor the process.
A mild drama played out in the court when as the judge was about to deliver his judgement. A lawyer, who gave his name as T. A. Damiari, rose to get the attention of the court that he represented a party seeking to be joined in the suit. But the judge said he had not seen any process to that effect and would go on to deliver the judgement.
When Damiari insisted on being joined, Watila ordered the lawyer to sit down as he would not entertain any attempt to ridicule his court.
“Please sit down. You cannot arrest my judgement. This is not a kangaroo court. Neither am I a politician,” Watila said.
But there was yet another hurdle for the Makarfi-led PDP on its way to the national convention. Justice Okon Abang of the Abuja High Court, Tuesday evening, in an interlocutory order, ruled that the convention should not hold and also ordered the Inspector General of Police to enforce his ruling.
While the screening of candidates for the various positions and preparations at the Sharks Stadium venue of the convention had been concluded even with the assistance of police and other security operatives on Tuesday night, delegates woke up Wednesday morning to see that the venue had been sealed off by the police and DSS.
As early as 6am, police and operatives of the DSS moved vans, armoured personnel carriers and other vehicles to barricade all access to the Sharks Stadium venue of the convention. At the entrance to the stadium, stern looking armed security personnel barred delegates, journalists and even security personnel from entering the stadium.
Policemen who had on Tuesday evening assisted members of the party to arrange the venue turned hostile and threatened to deal with their “friends” of yesterday.
But the police denied sealing off the venue. Addressing journalists, the Rivers State Commissioner of Police, Mr Francis Odesanya, said the police did not seal off the stadium.
Odesanya said the police were only acting in compliance with a court order to provide security for the safety of lives and property.
When asked which of the court orders he was complying with, he simply said, “We are only obeying a court order. It is not my duty to interpret court orders. You people are journalists and you got the court orders too. You are in a position to interpret the orders.”
He also refused to reveal when the police got the order to seal off the venue of the convention, as the police authorities had disclosed earlier that they were yet to get the order, as at 11pm Tuesday night.
Odesanya said, “Our actions are in line with the court order. It is not relevant when we got to the venue. The police have been there; we are always everywhere. We are always providing security everywhere. That is our primary assignment; to make sure that everywhere within the state is secured.
“Police did not seal off anywhere. We are merely providing security and ensuring that there is peace, security and order.”
Ekiti State Governor Ayo Fayose alleged that he was placed under house arrest by the police while in Port Harcourt. The governor, who was not sighted at any venue in Port Harcourt, said he was not at the convention venue because he was placed under house arrest at the Old Presidential Lodge, Rivers State Government House, where he lodged.
Fayose’s special adviser on social media, Lere Olayinka, said the governor was prevented from moving out as the gate to the Old Presidential Lodge was blocked by an armoured personnel carrier. He said all entreaties to allow Fayose to step out to attend the convention were rebuffed by the security personnel.
But reacting to the allegations, Odesanya said it was unfair to make such allegations against the police. He noted that there were other dignitaries lodged at the same venue and wondered how it was possible for others to leave the Presidential Lodge while Fayose could not.
“That cannot be true. It is not to my knowledge. How did the other excellences get out of the lodge,” the police commissioner queried.
Faced with a situation where they could not have access to the venue of the convention, the leadership of the party decided to move the convention to the Rivers State secretariat of the party along Aba Road.
In a commando-like style, Makarfi declared the convention open and through a motion moved by Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu and seconded by the former Minister of Women Affairs, Hajia Zainab Maina, the convention approved the extension of the tenure of the national caretaker committee by 12 months and also increased its membership from seven to 13.
The convention had earlier adopted a motion moved by the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, Leo Ogor, and seconded by chairman of the Federal Capital Territory chapter of PDP, Alhaji Yusuf Suleiman, to amend the agenda of the convention and step down the issue of election.
At the convention, Makarfi inaugurated the National Executive Committee of the party. Performing the inauguration at the Government House, Port Harcourt, Makarfi said the NEC included the PDP governors, National Assembly Caucus, Board of Trustees, National Caucus, 36 state PDP chairmen and national officers of the party.
He said the National Caretaker Committee members would cease to be NEC members once national officers were elected.
Despite the hiccups, the chairman of the National Convention Planning Committee and Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, said the convention was successful. He, however, accused the All Progressives Congress of being responsible for the actions of the police and also berated the security agencies for trying to scuttle democracy. “All the vehicles used by the police to invade the Sharks Stadium were bought by my administration. All the armoured personnel carriers they used were serviced by my administration. What happened was unfortunate,” Wike lamented.
He berated the security agencies for refusing to obey the judgement of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt whereas parties to the suit were directed to provide security for the national convention.
The governor also frowned on the situation where, according to him, a particular judge handles all suits involving the PDP in Abuja.
Wike said the calibre of persons who attended the convention was an indication that the party was still “strong with quality members who are ever ready to make sacrifices.”
The leaders of PDP who attended the convention in Port Harcourt said the party had moved on. But whether or not they have really moved on will be seen in developments within the party in the weeks ahead.