When the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party reappointed Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike as the chairman of the August 17 National Convention Planning Committee, the party obviously wanted a strong and dedicated political strategist with the right skills to weather the storm of the ruling party’s anti-democratic antics. The PDP leaders knew ab initio that it would take the political skills of a tested political horse to ensure the success of the repeat national convention.
A few days to the convention, it became quite clear that there was a deliberate plot by the powers that be to scuttle the event in Port Harcourt. As preparations reached fever pitch, the judicial struggle over the propriety or otherwise of the convention came to the fore.
The Federal High Court in Port Harcourt in Suit Number FHC/PH/CS/585/2016, between Senator Ben Obi for himself and other members of the National Planning Committee of PDP, and the Inspector-general of Police, the Commissioner of Police, Rivers State, State Security Service, and the Independent National Electoral Commission, ordered the police, DSS and INEC to participate in the August 17 convention. He declared, “It is necessary for the defendants to carry out their respective functions at the 17th August, 2016”.
The court further declared that its judgement of July 4 remained valid until it is set aside by a higher court, which in this case is the Court of Appeal.
On the other hand, another Federal High Court in Abuja, presided over by Justice Okon Abang gave an interlocutory injunction asking the Inspector-general of Police not to provide security for the August 17 national convention.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Dejo Lamikanra, explained that regarding the PDP conflict, there was only one judgement–that delivered by Justice Liman of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, which validated the May 21 national convention of the party and gave life to the National Caretaker Committee of the PDP under the leadership of Senator Ahmed Makarfi.
Lamikanra noted that the interlocutory injunction by Abang was inferior to the judgement and therefore could not be placed above the considered judgement of a court.
In a similar vein, the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt, through its judgement on the originating summons filed by the secretary of the caretaker committee on August 16, reaffirmed that the national caretaker committee was the only organ with executive powers at present in the PDP.
Therefore, there was no controversy as to the body that had the legal backing to conduct the activities of the PDP. It was clear that until the Court of Appeal decided otherwise, the Makarfi-led PDP caretaker committee was in legal control of the party.
The Board of Trustees of PDP declared its support for the conduct of the national convention in Port Harcourt. Speaking during a solidarity visit on Wike at the Government House, Port Harcourt, a day before the convention, chairman of the BoT, Senator Walid Jibrin, said board members at their pre-convention meeting endorsed the contributions of the governor for the repositioning of the party.
The BoT held that the appointment of the governor as the chairman of the National Convention Planning Committee was commendable, as it had helped to set up a worthwhile convention. Jibrin said all the leaders of the PDP were in Rivers State for the national convention.
Head of publicity of the caretaker committee, Dayo Adeyeye, on the eve of the national convention announced that the convention would go ahead on the strength of Justice Ibrahim Watila’s judgement of August 16. A statement by Adeyeye read: “Our attention has been drawn once again to another act of judicial recklessness by the Honourable Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Okon Abang, of the purported suspension of the PDP national convention holding in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, on Wednesday the 17 of August 2016.
“We wish to however state that a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, has earlier in the day given a comprehensive order wherein the Honourable Judge specifically ordered the PDP to proceed with the convention as scheduled without hindrance. Indeed, his lordship while giving the order mandated all relevant agencies, including the police, DSS and INEC to cooperate with the party in organising a hitch free national convention.
“You may also wish to note that the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, gave an interlocutory order while Justice Okon Abang, Abuja, gave an interim order. The order of Port Harcourt is clearly superior and earlier in time to the interim order given by Justice Okon Abang. In the light of the above, The Peoples Democratic Party as a law abiding party is obeying the order of the Port Harcourt Federal High Court until set aside by any competent court.
“In view of the above, the 2016 repeat national convention of the Peoples Democratic Party will continue as scheduled as we welcome all delegates, party leaders, other critical stakeholders, INEC monitoring team and other friends of PDP to Port Harcourt, Rivers State, while wishing all our members and supporters a successful national convention.”
However, in the early hours of August 17, security agents, acting on orders from above, invaded the Sharks Stadium, venue of the PDP national convention. Numbering over 500, they chased out all delegates and party officials who were gathered at the venue and waiting for the convention to kick off. Armed to the teeth with armoured personnel carriers and sophisticated weapons, they also blocked all routes to the stadium.
The police high command claimed that they were obeying an interlocutory injunction from Abang. With the benefit of hindsight, Nigerians now know the value of Abang’s judgements.
The Court of Appeal has made very fundamental pronouncements on Abang. Following the action by the security agencies, all the organs of the PDP met at the Government House, Port Harcourt, where they took far reaching decisions. The principal decision being that the PDP must defend the nation’s democracy. They resolved to go ahead with the convention.
The process of the successful PDP national convention started with the inauguration of the National Executive Committee of the party by the National Caretaker Committee chairman, Makarfi, at the Government House, Port Harcourt. Performing the inauguration on Wednesday, Makarfi said the NEC included the PDP governors, National Assembly Caucus, BoT, National Caucus, 36 state PDP chairmen, and national officers of the party.
The PDP national convention approved the extension of the tenure of the National Caretaker Committee led by Makarfi by 12 months. The motion for the extension was moved by Deputy Senate President Ike Ekeremadu and seconded by the former Minister of Women Affairs, Hajia Zainab Maina.
The chairman of the National Convention Planning Committee, Wike, put the question for the extension of the lifespan of the committee to vote, and it was unanimously approved.
The National Caretaker Committee was expanded to have a membership of 13 persons. The convention further directed that no member of the current National Caretaker Committee will contest elections whenever it was held.
The national convention had earlier adopted a motion moved by the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, Leo Ogor, to amend the agenda of the convention and step down the issue of election.
Party leaders in separate goodwill messages at the convention condemned the federal government for entrenching political impunity in the polity, saying it is a threat to democracy.
In his acceptance speech, Makarfi assured that the party would continue to forge ahead.
The August 17 national convention attracted thousands of PDP faithful from the 36 states of the federation and Abuja. The population far exceeded the number that attended the May 21 national convention.
In attendance were the 12 PDP governors, several former governors, senators, House of Representatives members, House of Assembly members, former ministers, BoT members, 36 state PDP chairmen, and party elders.
From the list of leaders and delegates that participated in the convention, it was clear that Senator Ali Modu Sheriff was being used by external forces to distract the party. The former acting national chairman has no founding member or leader of the PDP with him.
It is instructive to note that before the amendment of the agenda of the national convention to remove election of party officers, 57 candidates had been screened for the voting process.
One point that cannot be ignored in any post-convention analysis is the peaceful nature of Port Harcourt and Rivers State. Over 100,000 Nigerians directly and indirectly connected to the convention converged on the state without any incident. Even the illegal actions of security agencies did not provoke the people, as they insisted on maintaining peace so that democracy could thrive.
Wike stated that the successful conduct of the August 17 national convention of PDP flowed from the commitment of all bona-fide members to reposition it in the interest of the country. The governor said in an interview that the calibre of members who graced the convention proved that the party had moved on after the unnecessary crisis generated by Sheriff.
Wike said, “The calibre of persons who attended the national convention is an indication that the PDP remains strong with quality members who are ever ready to make sacrifices…We are happy that the party has moved on.”
He noted that the PDP was a law-abiding party, which did not struggle with the security agencies after they invaded the initial venue of the national convention. He said the party leaders and delegates simply moved to another location for a successful national convention.
The resolve of the PDP leaders to go ahead with the convention, despite the display of impunity by the powers that be, is a victory for democracy and the rule of law. It proves that no level of deployment of the agents of state violence can stop the PDP from working towards the deepening of democracy, with the ultimate goal of changing the change in 2019.
The successful national convention further proves that the leaders and members of the PDP are determined to stake their resources in defence of democracy, which they have groomed since 1999. After all, Nigeria is enjoying its longest spell of democracy, courtesy the PDP.