- Â Makarfi takes over Wadata Plaza, declares no victor, no vanquished after verdict
- Â Jonathan calls on defectors to return
- Maiduguri residents celebrate ex-governorâ€™s ouster
It was celebration galore for the leadership of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Wednesday, following the Supreme Court ruling, which upheld the constitution of the Senator Ahmed Makarfi-led Caretaker Committee to lead the party, effectively slamming the door against the former National Chairman of the PDP, Senator Ali Modu-Sheriff.
The 14-month battle for the soul of the PDP led to the factionalisation of the party, thousands of defections to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), saw the party lose two crucial governorship elections in Edo and Ondo States, and deprived the country of a strong opposition to keep the APC on its toes.
The celebration was not just limited to the partyâ€™s chieftains, as residents of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State once governed by Sheriff, also celebrated his ouster as the chairman of the PDP.
With the victory, the Makarfi-led caretaker committee was able to take over the PDP national secretariat in Abuja.
The partyâ€™s secretariat had been sealed off for months by the police due to the leadership tussle between Makarfi and Sheriff.
But immediately after the ruling, jubilant supporters of the PDP stormed the partyâ€™s secretariat to rejoice over the verdict of the court.
The party faithful who trooped to the secretariat were particularly excited at the return of normalcy to the once vibrant premises, and chanted songs to celebrate the ruling in Makarfiâ€™s favour.
In its ruling Wednesday, the Supreme Court had declared the caretaker committee led by Makarfi as the organ that has the authority to direct the affairs of the PDP.
The court, in a unanimous judgment, set aside the judgment of the Port Harcourt Division of the Court of Appeal, which in a spilt decision â€Žgave victory to the Sheriff-led leadership of the party.
The Supreme Courtâ€™s decision finally resolved the multiplicity of cases filed by aggrieved party members in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt in their bid to take control of a party that lost power to the APC two years ago.
Delivering the lead judgment, Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour held that the appeal by the Makarfi group was meritorious and allowed.
Two other justices of the court, including the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen who presided, agreed with him and also awarded a cost of N250,000 against the respondents.
The court held that the national convention of the party that was held on May 21, 2016 in Port Harcourt was validly convened and was in line with the PDP constitution.
The court further held that the dissolution of the National Executive Committee (NEC) by the convention was in order since the national deputy chairman had presided, adding that the convention acted within the constitution of the party.
The court chided Sheriff for demonstrating what Justice Rhodes-Vivour described as â€œinfantile desperation to lead the partyâ€.
He said Sheriff was not within the category of an â€œunimpeachable leaderâ€ and that the partyâ€™s constitution did not make it mandatory to pass a vote of no confidence on Sheriff before removing him.
According to Justice Rhodes-Vivour, there was no clause in the constitution of the party that made it mandatory for Sheriff to be removed using a vote of no confidence.
While condemning the multiplicity of applications filed by Sheriff, Justice Rhodes-Vivour said: â€œHe demonstrated an infantile desperation to lead the PDP by filing almost 10 different applications in various courts. They shall forever gather dust in the judicial archives.â€
He further held that by virtue of the constitution of the PDP, members of the party must respect the proceedings of the partyâ€™s national convention.
â€œThe subject matter at issue is Articles 33; 35 and 47. There shall be a national convention. All members of the party shall be bound by the decisions of leaders from the national convention. Article 33 states the supremacy of the national convention.â€
He also held that the PDP constitution allows the deputy national leader of the party to stand in for his principal, adding that â€œwhen Sheriff abandoned the national convention in May 2016, the party asked his deputy to stand in for him, making his attendance noted at the conventionâ€.
The Supreme Court added that although the PDP constitution allows the party to remove the national leader after two years through a vote of no confidence, the word used to denote vote of no confidence was â€œmayâ€, which Justice Rhodes-Vivour interpreted, did not signify compulsory adherence.
He said: â€œâ€˜Mayâ€™ is not the same thing as â€˜shallâ€™,â€ therefore â€œa national officer could be removed without a vote of no confidence.â€
While recognising the enormous powers of the partyâ€™s national convention, Justice Rhodes-Vivour said the lower courts were wrong in declaring the conduct of the national convention illegal.
The judgment was received with wild jubilation by the PDP supporters of the Makarfi group who were present in the court.
In court were the governors of Ekiti and Rivers States, Ayodele Fayose and Nyesom Wike, a former Vice-Chairman of the PDP (South-west), Chief Bode George, the present occupant of the position in the faction, Chief Eddy Olafeso, and former Jigawa State governor, Sule Lamido.
Also in court were a former National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Chief Olisa Metuh; former Minister of Education, Prof. Tunde Adeniran; a former governor of Kano State and former Minister of Education, Ibrahim Shekarau; Senator Ben Obi, founder of African Independent Television, Chief Raymond Dokpesi; Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Dayo Adeyeye; former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Emeka Ihedioha; and a former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Tom Ikimi.
As if he knew that the judgment would go against him, Sherrif was not in court. The Deputy National Chairman of his faction, Cairo Ojougboh, was the only bigwig on Sheriffâ€™s side sighted in court.
Jonathan, Makarfi React
Reacting to the ruling in its favour, the caretaker committee immediately declared that there was no victor, no vanquished, but a collective victory for the party, with Makarfi stating that efforts would be made to enthrone a true and genuine reconciliation process that would be based on fairness, justice and legality.
Ojougboh, however, said that he had no comment to make yet until his side of the party meets to review the ruling.
Speaking to a crowd of supporters who gathered at the Wadata Plaza National Secretariat of the PDP Wednesday, Makarfi said the reconciliation process would not translate to denying people positions that are legally theirs.
He said: â€œI am happy that the Supreme Court has brought this protracted leadership tussle to an end today. There is no victor and there is no vanquished, but a collective victory for our party and the nationâ€™s democracy.
â€œNo democracy can prosper in the absence of a virile opposition or under the extreme hardship Nigerians have faced over the past two years. Citizens deserve a viable alternative.â€
Makarfi, who led a team of party leaders including Professor Jerry Gana, Fayose, Lamido, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu and many others from the Supreme Court premises straight to the Wadata Plaza, added: â€œThis victory is not just for PDP, itâ€™s for democracy. This affirms the powers of political parties. This affirms the powers of conventions of all political parties.
â€œWe are open to reconciliation. But for us, reconciliation does not mean we will take what belongs to Mr. A and give it to Mr. B. We will do the reconciliation based on equity and justice. You cannot get what you did not earn.
â€œThe battle we fought was not a battle for PDP alone. It was a battle for democracy, it was a battle for the supremacy of party men and women to decide their destiny.
â€œAnd it was a battle to do away with dictatorship in political parties and this will never repeat itself.â€
Makarfi also said that there will be a series of consultations in the space of three days, after which a larger meeting will be held to fix dates for the Caucus and Board of Trustees (BOT) meetings.
Also commenting on the Supreme Court judgment, former President Goodluck Jonathan echoed the position of the Makarfi-led committee, saying there was no victor, no vanquished after the ruling.
In a Facebook post, the former president said: â€œI thank God for this day of justice and may God bless Nigeria.
â€œTodayâ€™s verdict is a judgment where there are no winners or losers. It is a verdict that will bring our party together. We should all thank the Supreme Court of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
â€œI believe in our jurists. We may have issues with some individuals but the Nigerian judiciary deserves our respect and commendation. They have served this country well.
â€œI congratulate my political party, the Peoples Democratic Party, on the successful resolution of its leadership crisis by the Supreme Court of Nigeria.â€
While urging truce and forgiveness for those that may have taken disagreeable positions, Jonathan noted that the PDP, which gave Nigeria the largest economy in Africa, is a party whose heart is large enough to find a place for all Nigerians.
â€œThe PDP is an inclusive vehicle, not an exclusive one. We see Nigerians as human beings deserving of the rule of law, separation of powers and a free market economy that provides a level playing field for all.
â€œAs a senior member of the party, I hereby call on all those who left the party because of its leadership issues to return to their natural home and build the PDP.
â€œThus, they must take inspiration from General Yakubu Gowon and declare a no victor and no vanquished.
â€œAs I congratulate the Ahmed Makarfi-led caretaker committee, I want to strongly urge them not to see this as a victory of a section of the party, but as a moral victory of constitutionality over arbitrariness,â€ he added.
Govs, Obi, Ekweremadu, Others Hail Victory
In addition, several governors, former governors, and serving and former legislators of the PDP who had stood firmly behind Makarfiâ€™s committee fell over themselves Wednesday to hail the verdict of the Supreme Court.
In his reaction, the Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu lauded the judgment, describing it as a development that has ushered in a new dawn of peace, reconciliation, and recovery for the party.
In a statement issued in reaction to the judgment, Ekweremadu called for reconciliation in the party, saying that the victory was a collective one for the entire party faithful and the nationâ€™s democracy.
â€œNo democracy can prosper in the absence of a virile opposition or under the extreme hardship Nigerians have faced over the past two years. Citizens deserve a viable alternative,â€ Ekweremadu said.
â€œThe ruling party has indeed profited from the prolonged power contest, not just in terms of defections, but also in the unchallenged degeneration of democratic values, rule of law, electoral practice, and the economy because the PDP has been too distracted to keep APC on its toes.
â€œBut it is heartwarming that calm is returning after the storm. I salute millions of our party faithful and Nigerians who stood firm to weather the storm for their courage and loyalty, and sincerely appeal to those who left for one reason or the other to return to our big political family,â€ Ekweremadu added.
He called on the leaders and elders of the party to immediately initiate an all-inclusive peace, reconciliation, and rebuilding process to reunite members under one umbrella.
Similarly, the former President of the Senate and member of the PDP BoT, Senator David Mark, expressed happiness that the leadership tussle which had assailed the party was over.
He, however, noted that the legal battles could have been averted if some power brokers in the party had heeded â€œwise counselâ€.
â€œThe disagreement between both sides of the divide was a needed elixir for the unity of the party to face the challenges ahead. Now we know the authentic leader of our party.
â€œIt is no longer in doubt that PDP still has the credible and defined road map for the socio-political and economic recovery of our nation,â€ Mark said.
â€œWith this development, the change is truly on course,â€ he added.
He urged those who lost the case to stay and ensure that the party is moved forward.
The PDP caucus in the Senate said the judgment was a victory not just for the Makarfi-led executive, but for Nigeriaâ€™s democracy.
The caucus had collectively maintained its support for Makarfi.
Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio, briefing newsmen Wednesday, said the victory was a monumental event due to the seeming intractable nature of the tussle.
Flanked by members of the caucus, Akpabio said Nigerians now have a vibrant alternative that would â€œchange the changeâ€.
â€œIt was not unexpected in view of the fact that we believed strongly that the Supreme Court is a court of justice and that God is a God of justice and that justice was going to prevail.
â€œBut on our part, we do not want to lose any member and so we are describing that victory as no victor, no vanquish,â€ he said.
Akpabio added that no member who backed the Sheriff faction would be penalised and urged them not to leave the party.
â€œIt was a family quarrel and therefore the blood remains the same, the blood of the PDP remains in the veins of both sides and therefore we are saying we must come back together as a family and we have indeed come back together as a family.
â€œWe are calling on all those who went on exile in the course of the struggle, in the course of the seeming problem of the chairmanship tussle, to return home, the doors are open,â€ Akpabio added.
Former Anambra State governor, Mr. Peter Obi, expressed great joy over the judgment, saying the Almighty God had used the Supreme Court to heal the wounds of the PDP family.
He noted that the judgment would usher in an effective and capable opposition that would contribute meaningfully to governance and bring Nigeria out of the present recession and contain the various agitations in the country.
He further appealed to all party members to remain united as one family.
Former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Emeka Ihedioha, also said: â€œThis is a victory for and triumph of democracy. It is a celebration of the enthronement of light over the forces of darkness. Long live Nigeria.â€
On his part, Wike declared the judgment of the Supreme Court as a victory for democracy, adding that the nation would now have a viable opposition.
Wike said: â€œThis judgment shows that there will be opposition in Nigeria. I am very happy. Rivers people are very happy because we have no other party aside the PDP.”
The governor was of the view that the PDP would emerge from the crisis stronger, because all stakeholders would work hard to rebuild the party.
He urged Sheriff and his supporters to keep their word and work with other stakeholders in the interest of the party.
The governor disclosed that the former PDP chairman had called him last week to assure him that he would respect whatever decision reached by the Supreme Court.
â€œI urge them to keep their word. All of us will work together to re-position the party. The party will go back to the drawing board to move ahead,â€ Wike said.
He added: â€œI donâ€™t see any reason why Sheriff will not be a part of the party. He spoke to me last week that whatever the situation he will remain in the party.â€
The Rivers State chapter of the PDP also hailed the victory and said it was confident it would usher in a new era of growth for the party.
In a statement issued in Port Harcourt Wednesday, the state chairman of the PDP, Felix Obuah, described the judgment as heart-warming and a step in the right direction.
He called on members of the party to work for the unity, peace and corporate existence of the party, using the judgment of the Supreme Court as an instrument of strength.
He stated that the judgment has ushered the party into a new dawn, stressing that the PDP would benefit more as a united party.
Fayose, in his reaction, described the verdict as a victory for democracy and for Nigerians who â€œhave been suffering under APCâ€™s misruleâ€.
He said in a statement: â€œWith todayâ€™s judgment, PDP can now play its role as the opposition party and prepare to take over power in 2019.â€
Fayose called on genuine members of the party to come together for its repositioning, repackaging and strengthening.
The governor, who maintained that there would be no victor, no vanquished after the ruling, added: â€œThe ultimate winner is democracy which cannot survive without a virile opposition and the entire people of Nigeria who are already yearning for a return of the PDP, having been short-changed by the APC.â€
He also hailed the judiciary â€œfor rising to the occasion at a time the ruling APC was almost succeeding in its plot to turn Nigeria to a one party stateâ€.
The PDP Former Ministersâ€™ Forum also described the judgment as â€œone of the most celebrated cases of our timeâ€, adding that it was in tandem with the wishes of party members.
Speaking to newsmen after their meeting in Abuja Wednesday, chairman of the forum and former Minister for Special Duties, Tanimu Kabir Turaki, thanked the Supreme Court for the judgment, saying it had established itself as being able to rise to any challenge in critical times.
â€œThe judgment is hope for democracy. The opposition will continue to survive. Without the opposition, government wonâ€™t be able to sit up and do the work that is expected of it.
â€œWe urge the committee to make the necessary arrangement to consolidate the gains. Bring all members back to the fold. In our last press briefing, we said no matter the outcome of the judgment there will be no winner, no loser,â€ the forum said.
On what advice they would give to Sheriff, the forum advised the former chairman of the PDP to abide by his word to accept the verdict of the Supreme Court and work with other party members to usher in a new dawn for the PDP.
Olisa Metuh called on the PDP to invite Jonathan to assist in navigating the waters. â€œIndeed, his advice, goodwill, experience and democratic credentials are needed now, more than ever before, to help the party navigate through this very important period in its history.
Maiduguri Residents Celebrate
Interestingly, residents of Maiduguri also celebrated the sacking of the former governor of Borno State by the Supreme Court.
When news of Sheriffâ€™s removal filtered into the town, it became the issue of discussion in public gatherings.
At the popular Monday Market, many of the traders, apparently happy with the decision of the Supreme Court, gathered in groups discussing the verdict.
One of the traders, Bashir Marte, who spoke to THISDAY, said: â€œThis is a long expected decision and we are really happy about this. Sheriff supporters have been threatening fire and brimstone as the next political season comes close.
â€œAnd we know that the state is going to be in trouble with their desperation, the trouble they caused with Boko Haram we are still with it to date, and that could be childâ€™s play had he remained the PDP chairman by 2019 general election, as he would have wanted to win at all cost to prove a point.â€
Another respondent Bashir Ibrahim said: â€œNow is the time for the PDP to wake up from the grave and truly fight as a political party.
â€œAfter the 2015 elections, PDP was dead but when Sheriff was made the chairman of the party he put a nail in the coffin of the party and was about to push it into the grave.
â€œBut with the decision of the Supreme Court, PDP can be taken from the grave by sincere party men and brought back to life. Perhaps it can still give the ruling APC a run for its money during the next election season.â€
The atmosphere at the state secretariat was no different, as many civil servants were seen in groups discussing the verdict of the Supreme Court.
Many of them said that Borno State was the greatest beneficiary of the courtâ€™s verdict, as the blow to Sheriff would give the ruling party in the state (APC) an edge as it prepares for 2019.
A political analyst, Bukar Mustapha, said: â€œIt is a devastating blow to Sheriffâ€™s attempt to hold firm to the leadership of the party and with the courtâ€™s verdict now not in his favour, it is like the cookie has crumbled for his followers who have to go back to the drawing board and do another political arithmetic.
â€œMark you, if Sheriff chooses to stay in the party, he will definitely be more of an outsider because right from the outset, the Makarfi faction felt Sheriff was a mole and his continued stay will further plunge the party into troubled waters.
â€œIn his home state of Borno, it is a fatal blow for the Sheriff camp in its bid to take control of the state.
Already, itâ€™s a mixture of sadness for loyalists of Sheriff and that of joy for those of the ruling party in the state because if Sheriff had won at the court, then the intensity of the rivalry would have been unprecedented.â€
He, however, added that Sheriff should not be dismissed just yet for â€œhe is a very crafty politician, so letâ€™s keep our fingers crossed because you never can tell what he would be up to nextâ€.