The PDP Crisis in Retrospect

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‎Will the judgment of the Supreme Court finally lay to rest the convoluted leadership crisis that threatened to destroy the Peoples Democratic Party, Tobi Soniyi searches for the answer

Finally the much awaited judgment of the Supreme Court ‎on the seemingly irreconcilable dispute between members of the Peoples Democratic Party loyal to Ali Modu Sheriff and Ahmed Makarfi had been delivered.

While the winning side was quick to declare no victor, no vanquished, the reality however, is that the victors know themselves. So also, those who lost know the implication of losing.

The party’s governorship candidate in Lagos in 2015, Jimi Agbaje while reacting to the judgment said, “With the delivery of the Supreme Court judgement, it is now time to put our house in order. There is no victor, no vanquished. For the love of Nigeria and democracy, PDP must remain united and strong. God help us.”‎

A former Director General of News Agency of Nigeria, Akin Osuntokun‎ described the judgment as “the triumph of decency over pure unadulterated crookedness and criminality”.

According to him, the Ali modu sheriff phenomenon represents the worst tendency of the corrupt and unconscionable Nigerian political system.

He said: “It is an opportunity for the PDP to pick its broken pieces and give meaning to Nigerian politics as a viable multi party system‎.”

The Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, said the judgment ushered in a new dawn of peace, reconciliation, and recovery for the party.

He said: “I 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 nation’s democracy. No 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.

“The 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 them on their toes.

“Importantly, I call on our party leadership and elders to immediately initiate an all-inclusive peace, reconciliation, and rebuilding process to reunite everybody under the big umbrella and reinvigorate the biggest party in Africa to bounce back to the rescue of the suffering masses of Nigeria come 2019”.

While many party loyalists accepted the fact that the judgment presented them with a unique opportunity to come together and rebuild the party, the challenge, however, is whether the winners will be magnanimous enough to accommodate those who lost.

Making sense out of the various judgments and rulings which culminated in the Supreme Court’s judgment is a tough challenge for lawyers. It is even tougher for non lawyers.

It all started at the Federal High Court in Lagos where ‎Sheriff, Prof. Wale Oladipo and Alhaji Fatai Adeyanju as plaintiffs prayed the court for an interlocutory injunction restraining PDP from conducting any election into the offices of the National Chairman, National Secretary and National Auditor, which they occupied, pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.

‎ On May 12, the trial judge, Ibrahim Buba granted the order as prayed. On Monday May 21, the faction opposed to Sheriff held ‎a national convention in Port Harcourt where it dissolved the National Executives led by Sheriff and in its place constituted a caretaker committee led by Makarfi.

‎The question which then arose was whether the dissolution of the exco and the setting up of a caretaker committee violated the orders made by Justice Buba. While the Sheriff’s faction said yes, the orders were violated, the opposing group said no. Those who set up the caretaker committee argued that the convention being the supreme organ of the party exercised its powers under section 12.88 of the PDP Constitution by dissolving the National Working Committee and appointing some of its members as caretakers committee for the next ninety (90) days, to enable it pursue true reconciliation among its members and ensure a peaceful, amicable and political settlement of the disputes leading to the cases in court.‎

To strengthen their positions, Sheriff and other plaintiffs in Lagos‎ on Monday May 23, 2016 filed a motion on notice for the purpose of setting aside the national convention of the party held on Saturday May 21, 2016. ‎

The suit came up Friday May 27, 2016 for the hearing of all pending applications, including Motions for Stay of Proceeding/Execution of the Order of May 12, 2016 pending the appeal already filed against the suit; Motion to Set-Aside and/or Vacate the order of May 12, 2016; Motion for joinder of certain persons; Motion on Notice by way of Notice of Preliminary Objection on ground of jurisdiction, among others.

On Tuesday May 24, 2016 counsel to Sheriff and others plaintiffs, Mr. R. A. Oluyede drew the attention of the court to the fact that the order dated May 12, 2016 had not been complied with and that PDP had gone ahead to conduct election into the offices of:

National Chairman, National Secretary and National Auditor‎. In essence, the plaintiffs contended that Justice Buba’s orders were flouted.

The caretaker committee said no and that it did not fill the three posts in line with the court orders . It stated that there was no order against setting up a caretaker committee.

The crisis took an embarrassing turn on that same day, ‎ May 24, when two federal high courts gave two contradictory rulings.

While Justice Buba in Lagos affirmed the interim chairmanship of Sheriff, another Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt ordered him and the National Working Committee to stop parading themselves as leaders of the party.

In Lagos, Buba declared the caretaker committee illegal. He ordered the Inspector General of Police to stop members of the committee from taking over the party’s national headquarters and that Sheriff remained the national chairman of the PDP.

In Port Harcourt, Justice A. Liman gave judicial approval to the action of the Port Harcourt convention. Liman gave the order following an ex-parte motion filed by the party. The Inspector General of Police, Independent National Electoral Commission and Department of State Security were joined in the motion.

The court ordered Sheriff and Adewale Oladapo to stop holding themselves out individually or collectively as chairman or secretary of the ‎party.

The court directed them to stop parading themselves as national officer or member of the National Executive Committee or NWC as doing so would negate decisions reached at the national convention on May 21.

It also restrained INEC from according or continuing to accord any recognition to the National Chairman, Secretary and all members of the NEC, NWC who were removed during the convention.

It ordered INEC to recognise the National Caretaker Committee appointed by the convention as the executive authority of the party to conduct primaries for offices and submission of list of candidates to it.

The court also restrained the Sheriff faction from receiving nominations or submitting names to INEC in any capacity pending the hearing and determination of the motion.

It also ordered NEC and NWC not to sign any documents in such capacities prior to their removal pending the determination of the motion.

Meanwhile, despite the fact that these two cases were pending in Lagos and Port Harcourt and the fact that an appeal had been filed against the Lagos court’s orders, Sheriff filed another case at the Abuja division of the Federal High Court which was assigned to Justice Okon Abang. This decision snowballed the crisis into an unprecedented embarrassment for the judiciary. The case assigned to Abang should have been consolidated with the one in Lagos to avoid an abuse of the process of the court.

Abang heard the case and found that the order made by Buba in Lagos remained subsisting. He consequently issued several orders including stopping the second convention planned to take place in Port Harcourt last Wednesday, 17th of August.

The police latched on to the ruling by Justice Abang and ignored the ‎final judgment of Justice Liman in Port Harcourt.

But before then, in the case instituted in Abuja High Court by one Joseph Jero against PDP at the Abuja High Court, Justice Valentine Ashi had ‎held the amendment of the party constitution which allowed Sheriff and members of his exco to hold office was illegal. In a judgment delivered on June 29, 2016, the judge consequently nullified the amendment. Sheriff was not made a party in that case. It was just against the PDP.

‎Relying on the judgment by Justice Ashi, another member of the party, Danladi Ayuba, who said he was seeking to be the party youth leader, went back to an Abuja High Court where he filed a case against Sheriff.Justice Nwamaka Ogbonnaya who heard the case found in his favour and held that Sheriff was illegally parading himself as chairman of the party.

The court told Sheriff o stop parading himself as chairman and to also stop acting on behalf of the party as chairman.

While we are quick to blame politicians for their inability to manage their affairs, one can not but remember the ignoble role played by some judges which aggravated the dispute. Some of the judges failed to exercise discretion and behaved as if they were at war with one another.

On the day two federal high judges gave contradictory orders on the matter, a lawyer based in Lagos, ‎Mr John Oloyede said it was unfortunate for the judiciary to allow politicians to mess up the institution.

He said: “On this occasion, I feel sad to say that the judiciary has not performed. The court is a let down. It is a big disappointment. We are getting to a point when ordinary people would elect to appear in court. The courts are setting bad precedent capable of eroding their jurisdiction.”

Secondly, he noted that there was a forum shopping as the litigants shuttled from location to another in search of a favourable judge. He said that there was no need for further orders after Justice Ashi had removed the basis upon which Sheriff was appointed.

“After filing an appeal, why did Sheriff go back to Justice Abang?‎” He asked.

He answered the poser thus: “The judicial process is so straightforward. It is a gross abuse of court for Sheriff, after appealing to go back to FHC.”

Apart from forum shopping, that is seeking a for a court where one can get a favourable order, which in itself amounts to abuse of the court process, Oloyede identified disregard for appellate court and disrespect to fellow judges as some of the issues thrown up by the PDP cases.

He said: “All the judges are aware of what is going on in other courts, they should have restrained themselves.‎”

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While we are quick to blame politicians for their inability to manage their affairs, one can not but remember the ignoble role played by some judges