Accept me as PDP leader, Makarfi tells Sheriff
In the last two months, conflicting judgments by courts of coordinate jurisdiction have become the norm in the leading opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which was once an influential political party in Nigeria.
The party has continued to search for stability since May 21 when its spine was torn apart during a national convention of the opposition party in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
It was a day the PDP governors parted ways with the embattled chairman, Sen Ali Modu Sheriff, and endorsed Senator Ahmed Makarfi-led caretaker committee to steer the mantle of leadership for three months, with a mandate to organize a fresh national convention to produce new set of leaders for the once powerful PDP.
Since then, PDP stalwarts have transformed court rooms into a beehive of activities, showcasing various claims in search of legitimacy.
Sheriff, who was brought in to complete the tenure of Adamu Mua’zu which expired in May this year, had refused to stop his quest to lead the PDP, insisting that the constitution of the PDP must be respected.
A Lagos court ruling, which declared him as the authentic chairman of the party, emboldened his quest as he continued to parade himself as the real “Sheriff” of Wadata House.
In fact, Sheriff declared the governorship primary election in Edo State that produced Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu as illegal and subsequently constituted an ad hoc delegates committee led by a former deputy governor of Oyo State, Alhaji Hazeem Gbolarumi, to conduct a fresh one.
Police, however, sealed the venue of his primary election.
Elsewhere, a Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court sitting in Apo, however, was reported to have set aside the amendment of the PDP Constitution.
The presiding judge, Justice Valentine Ashi, in his ruling, declared all actions carried out with the said constitution as illegal.
The following day, another FCT High Court presided over by Justice Husseini Baba dismissed a suit filed by Sheriff seeking to be declared PDP chairman, describing him as a busy body.
The judge struck out the case after majority of the former National Working Committee (NWC) members who Sheriff joined as coplaintiff denied him in court, stating that they were not party to his bid to reinstate himself into office.
But about the same time, Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to recognise the governorship candidates from the Ali Modu Sheriff’s faction.
The court also ordered INEC not to receive any list from any other person regarding the Edo and Ondo governorship primaries, except Sheriff’s.
Justice Abang also said “reject and ignore any activity including primary elections/ congresses for the nomination of candidates for the gubernatorial elections in Edo and Ondo states, purportedly conducted on behalf of the 2nd defendant (PDP) by any other persons or group of persons other than the Sheriff group.”
Just as the dust from the two courts in Abuja was settling down, a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, presided over by Justice Abdullahi Liman, on Monday, upheld the removal of Senator Sheriff as the PDP national chairman.
The court also declared that the May 21, 2016 national convention of the PDP was duly constituted and the decisions taken were valid.
Justice Liman affirmed that the dissolution of the National Working Committee (NWC) and the National Executive Committee (NEC) by the convention were valid.
In his judgment on the suit filed by the PDP against Sen Sheriff and others, Justice Liman declared that the appointment of the caretaker committee of the PDP, headed by a former governor of Kaduna State, Senator Makarfi, to oversee the affairs of the party was legal and in line with the provisions of the PDP Constitution, saying that Article 31 (1) of the PDP Constitution vested the powers to convene a national convention on the NEC of the party.
The court held that pursuant to the constitution of the party, the former national chairman (Sheriff) had no powers to unilaterally postpone the properly constituted national convention on a day all delegates had converged on Port Harcourt, the host city.
But in a swift reaction, the embattled Sheriff described the Port Harcourt judgment as “Judicial coup d’état” insisting that as a law abiding politician, he will proceed to the Appeal Court for clear interpretation.
Sheriff, who addressed a press conference in Abuja after the verdict, said that the order of the Federal High Court, sitting in Abuja, which authenticated his position as chairman subsisted, pointing out that the court’s order cannot be set aside by a court of equal jurisdiction.
He said that only the Court of Appeal can upturn the ruling of a high court, adding: “We disagree with that judgment completely. We’ve asked our lawyers to immediately file an appeal and also ask the same Federal High Court for stay of execution because there are three orders before his (judge’s) own, which are of the same coordinate jurisdiction.
“Unless and until the Court of Appeal, which is a higher court, makes a pronouncement contrary to what we have, I still remain the chairman.
“The court that gave judgment in Abuja, last week, and the Federal High Court in Lagos and the Port Harcourt court have same competent jurisdiction,” said Sheriff.
Ahead of the Port Harcourt convention, a Federal High Court in Lagos, presided over by Justice I.N. Buba, had on May 20, a day to the convention that produced the Makarfi-led caretaker committee, restrained the PDP from conducting elections into the offices of national chairman, national secretary and national auditor of the party.
Before then, an Abuja High Court, had on May 19, directed that there should be no election for 18 offices, including that of the deputy national chairman, national treasurer, legal adviser, deputy legal adviser, deputy national treasurer, deputy national auditor, youth leader, deputy youth leader, national organising secretary, deputy national organising secretary, national women leader, deputy national women leader, deputy financial secretary and deputy national secretary.
But reacting to Monday’s judgment, Makarfi, who voiced delight, appealed to Sheriff and his followers to join him with a view to moving the party forward.
Now that the centre can no longer hold in the PDP, analysts believe that the party will remain in comatose unless the courts and the political class retrace their steps.