- Rejects judgement, heads to Supreme Court
- Judiciary has murdered democracy, says Bode George
- Ekweremadu: No cause for alarm
By Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt, John Shiklam in Kaduna, Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja and Segun James in Lagos
Hope of an end to the crisis rocking the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) may have been dashed as the Court of Appeal sitting in Port Harcourt yesterday declared the May 21, 2016 National Convention of the party illegal and affirmed Senator Ali Modu Sheriff as National Chairman of the party.
In a swift reaction, the National Publicity Secretary of the Caretaker Committee of the PDP, Dayo Adeyeye, said the judgment was not only a disservice to the PDP but also to democracy in Nigeria, while the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu said there was no cause for alarm, adding: “Those dreaming about the death of the opposition in Nigeria will have to sleep much longer.”
In a split judgment, the Appeal Court held as illegal, null and void the setting up of the Caretaker Committee by the May 21, 2016 Port Harcourt convention of the party.
The embattled erstwhile PDP caretaker Chairman, Ali Modu Sheriff, had appealed the earlier judgment of July 4, 2016 by Justice Mohammed Liman, which upheld the outcome of the convention.
Liman had in the judgment declared the Port Harcourt convention as valid and legal and that Makarfi was the authentic chairman of the caretaker committee set by the convention.
But in yesterday’s judgment that lasted about four hours, two out of the three judges held that the removal of the National Working Committee and setting up of a caretaker Committee by the national convention of May 21, 2016, was illegal, ab initio.
Delivering the lead Judgement, Justice Bitrus Sanga, submitted that the PDP did not follow the provisions of Article 47(3) of its Constitution in the removal of the Sherrif-led working committee.
According to the judge, no vote of confidence was passed as provided by the said article, and the national working committee was not put on notice before their removal.
He stated that the lower court was in error when he said the appellant committed abuse of court process by postponing the PDP convention and awarded N100,000 cost in favour of the appellant.
Supporting the lead judgment, Justice Abubakar Gumel, who is also the presiding Justice, stated that the preliminary objection filed by the PDP was incompetent.
He further held that Sheriff and his executive cannot be removed until August 2017 except the party holds an election.
Gumel described the Originating Summons in the suit at the Federal high Court as overreaching, and ordered the parties to maintain status quo.
But in a dissenting judgement, Justice Theresa Orji-Abadua held that Sheriff was only appointed in acting capacity, pending election.
Justice Abadua, who is the only female Justice in the panel, said going by Article 33(3) of the PDP constitution, Sheriff does not possess overriding powers over the PDP National Executive Council and therefore, had no right to unilaterally cancel the May 21 convention.
She averred that the constitution of the PDP vested the power to convene the national convention on the National Executive of the party and not on the national chairman.
She therefore said Sheriff had no powers to “cancel, suspend or postpone” the national convention of the party.
She also said Sheriff erroneously and unwittingly absented himself from the May 21 National Convention after being screened, which prompted the party to invoke Article 31(1) of its constitution and set up a Caretaker committee.
“The fact that Sheriff took part in the screening exercise of the national convention means he took part in the process. He therefore cannot probate and reprobate at the same time,” she said.
She also held that Article 47 did not make it mandatory for the PDP to pass a vote of confidence before removing its officers and therefore upheld the outcome of the convention and the caretaker Committee. Abadua, also went further to award N100,000 cost in favour of the PDP.
The Publicity Secretary of the Caretaker Committee of the PDP said the judgment was not only a disservice to the PDP but also to democracy in Nigeria.
“We will definitely be in the Supreme Court on Tuesday to challenge this judgment and we are sure that we will get judgment and put to rest this whole drama. This was the same judge that gave judgment against Governor Nyesom Wike. He later got judgment at the Supreme Court. We are not surprised but justice will ultimately prevail,” Adeyeye said.
He accused the APC of working to destabilise the PDP, pointing out that they will remain the CTC until the Supreme Court decides otherwise.
Adeyeye added: “The judgement is a big disappointment. It is a travesty of justice. A miscarriage of justice and an attempt to destroy the PDP. The minority judgement is very sound in law, logic and fact. It gives us hope that we will have our day in the Supreme Court.
“Whereas the lead judgement left out the main issues and laboured unconvincingly to work to a preconceived answer, the minority judgement thrashed all the issues and upheld the judgement of the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt delivered by Liman J on July 4, 2016.
“We will certainly appeal to the Supreme Court. No reconciliatory effort will stop it. We need the Supreme Court to make a pronouncement on the issue once and for all.
“We maintain that this is a continuation of the attempt to kill the PDP and thereby destroy all opposition in Nigeria. The rebels in the Party who were favoured by the two justices of the Appeal Court today are snakes within the house working for the ruling party. The great conspiracy to silence the PDP is an assault on the Nigerian democracy. We are however determined to resist this onslaught to the very last. The struggle continues.”
Similarly, the chairman of the PDP’s Governors Forum and Ekiti Governor, Ayodele Fayose said that the party would challenge the Appeal Court ruling which he described as “nothing but a rape of our democracy.”
On his part, Deputy National Chairman of the Sheriff faction, Kairo Ojugbo described the judgment as “no victor, no vanquished” and called for a true reconciliation within the PDP in order to move the party forward.
He said his faction won 2-1 at the Court of Appeal and “it would form the basis of reconciliation in the party.”
Curious and apparently to pave the way for yesterday’s judgment, the Sheriff faction had last January withdrawn its petition against Appeal Court over alleged bias in the reinstatement of Eyitayo Jegede as the PDP candidate in the November 2016 Ondo State governorship election.
In a letter dated January 31, 2017 addressed to the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, Sheriff faction said: “We humbly apply to withdraw the said petition against the justices and regret any inconvenience same may have occasioned on all affected parties.”
The letter was signed by Prof. Wale Oladipo and Bashir Maidugu as PDP factional National Secretary and National Legal Adviser respectively.
Makarfi Faction Meets Monday
Addressing journalists at his residence in Kaduna yesterday, Ahmed Makarfi described the court judgment as a temporary setback and appealed to party members to remain calm and urged party members not to be disillusioned.
“We have utmost respect for the judiciary. So we are not going to take the laws into our hands. We might not agree with the judgment but there is a process and procedure if you did not agree with something,” he said.
According to him, the party will meet on Monday to take a decision on the judgment, adding that every person concerned had been notified for the meeting.
“We are going to recover from this very stronger. I call on party men and women to remain calm; we will get out of this sooner than later.
“A short while ago, the chairman of the governors (PDP) forum spoke on behalf of governors in Abuja and announced that they are heading to Supreme Court, they are entitled to say so.
“As chairman of caretaker committee, I will not take a unilateral decision. A meeting has been called and when we go for that meeting, whatever is the decision of the meeting, will be the decision of the party.
“What my personal opinion may be, I don’t want to say that; we will rather take it through the democratic process of discussing the issue at hand.
“We are not going to have one way of looking at this issue. The invincible and visible ways of approaching it will be looked into. But what I can assure PDP men and women and Nigerians is that no stone will be left unturned to make sure that vibrant opposition grows in Nigeria so that we enhance the development of democracy,” he said.
Judgment Has Murdered Democracy, Says Bode George
The Southwest national leader and former national deputy chairman of the party, Chief Olabode George yesterday said that with the judgment, the judiciary had finally sounded the death knee on democracy in the country.
George said that the chicken has finally come home to roost as the reality must have finally dawned on the members of the party who gave the leadership of the party to an unknown quantity because of their unbridled ambition.
He made it clear that while he was not going to leave the party for another as a lot of others are doing, instead he would simply take a back seat and watch from the sidelines as events unfold in the move towards 2019.
“I will take a back seat for now,” he insisted, even as he said that with the turn of events, the party needed prayers to survive.
George wondered how Sheriff, whom he said had refused to have a parley with other leaders of the party, would now lead the party.
“Let’s see how he is going to lead a fragmented party,” he opines.
George insisted that the judgment had made a mess of the constitution of the party which held that the national convention is supreme and its decision can only be reviewed by another convention.
“The decision of today (yesterday) will ricochet across the length and breadth of the country. The implication will only be realised many months from now.”
George who fell short of calling Sheriff a mole in the party who was out to destroy the PDP, cried that “we need prayers for PDP to survive.”
He stressed that a Sheriff leadership of the party was an aberration and an illegality, adding that: “I will never be part of anything that is illegal”
Ekweremadu: No Cause for Alarm
In his own reaction, the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, enjoined PDP faithfuls not to be anxious over the judgement, saying that there was no cause for alarm.
“I enjoin party faithfuls to remain steadfast as we will surely emerge stronger from the present challenges. Those dreaming about the death of the opposition in Nigeria will have to sleep much longer, and still wake up to meet us much stronger because a vibrant opposition is the beauty of democracy”.