From Ndubuisi Orji Abuja
the lingering crisis over the chairmanship of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) came to a head yesterday when the Supreme Court sacked Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, as the National Chairman of the party. It declared Senator Ahmed Makarfi, Chairman, National Caretaker Committee of the party, as its authentic helmsman. Sheriff, a former governor of Borno State and Makarfi, a former governor of Kaduna State, had been at loggerheads over the leadership of the opposition party, since June 21, 2016.
The apex court’s decision followed an appeal filed by the caretaker committee, challenging the majority judgment of the Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt Division, that affirmed Sheriff “as the authentic” national chairman of the party.
At the Appeal Court, Justice Bitrus Sanga in the lead judgment delivered on February 17 had posited that the PDP did not follow the provisions of Article 47(3) of its Constitution in the removal of the Sheriff-led National Working Committee. Consequently, the court declared their sack a nullity.
Begining of crisis
Crisis broke out in the PDP in May last year after the party’s National Convention sacked the NWC, led by Sheriff. The NWC was replaced by caretaker committee under the chairmanship of Makarfi, a former governor of Kaduna State.
After the Makarfi- led caretaker committee challenged the judgement of the appellate court, Sheriff had tried albeit unsuccessfully to scuttle the appeal.
In a motion filed before the Court by his counsel, Akinlolu Olujinmi (SAN) , the PDP leader had contended that the Caretaker Committee was not competent to institute any suit in the name of the PDP, as it is only him and his NWC that is recognised by law to act on behalf of the party in line with the appeal court judgment.
However, the motion was thrown out by the Supreme Court. Thereafter, both camps were given opportunity to address the court, after which the court reserved its judgment.
Today’s judgment is expected to resolve the crisis rocking the PDP after series of efforts by party leaders, including former President Goodluck Jonathan, to proffer a political solution to the impasse failed.
The battle through the courts
Since the crisis broke out last year; both camps have traversed various courts in the country in search of judicial pronouncement to validate their respective position. Prior to the May 21, 2016 PDP convention, which was held in Port Harcourt , Professor Wale Oladipo and Alhaji Fatai Adeyanju, national secretary and auditor respectively, had obtained an injunction from a Federal High Court in Lagos presided by Justice Ibrahim Buba, to restrain the party from conducting any election into the offices of national chairman, secretary and auditor, pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.
Few days after the convention, the former Borno State governor filed a motion before the Federal High Court, Lagos to declare the May 21 PDP convention null and void.
According to the PDP chairman, the convention was done in contravention of an earlier order of the court made on May 12. Justice Buba agreed with him and declared the caretaker committee illegal.
Same week, loyalists of the caretaker committee obtained an order from the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt restraining Sheriff and other members of the dissolved NWC from parading themselves as leaders of the party.
However, on June 29, Justice Valentiine Ashi of Abuja High Court, voided the 2014 amendment of the PDP constitution on the grounds that it did not comply with Section 66(2)(3) of its constitution, noting that Sheriff was never chairman of the party ab-initio.
From there, it became confusion galore, when on July 28, a Federal High Court in Abuja, presided by Justice Okon Abang in its ruling, in a suit brought before him by Sheriff, declared the former Borno State governor as the authentic leader of the opposition party.
This is after the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, presided over by Justice Mohammed Liman, had on July 4, 2016 validated the outcome of the May 21, 2016 convention.
Abang in his ruling maintained that the Port Harcourt convention where the PDP National chairman was sacked was a nullity.
According to him, “the Lagos Division made orders on May 12 and 20, forbidding the PDP from removing the Sheriff-led Caretaker Committee. That order is still subsisting. The convention was unlawfully held and the Caretaker Committee was unlawfully and illegally appointed and could not take any legal decision for the PDP in view of the subsisting order of the Lagos Division of this court.
“ If the Makarfi-led Caretaker Committee, as apostles of impunity, missed their way to the Port- Harcourt division of this court, that court could not have conveniently assumed jurisdiction to set aside the earlier decision of the Lagos Division. I hold that the Port Harcourt division of this court cannot make an order to neutralise the potency of the Lagos Division of this court dated 12 and 20 May”.
By August 17, 2016 another High
Court sitting in Abuja, presided by Justice Nwamaka Ogbonnaya reaffirmed Sheriff’s removal. The judge said the judgment of Justice Ashi which nullified his appointment was still subsisting as not been set aside by a superior court.
Delivering its judgement yesterday, a three-man panel of the Supreme Court, presided over by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, castigated Sheriff, for his “infantile desperation to lead the party.”
A member of the panel, Rhodes Vivour, who read the judgement said Mr. Sheriff was not within the category of an ‘unimpeachable leader’, adding that his removal did not necessarily have to go through a vote of no confidence.
Major implications of Supreme Court judgement
The Supreme Court judgement will have far reaching implications for not only the PDP, but for party politics in the country in general. It will have serious consequences for the PDP in particular and opposition politics in general, as the nation itches close to the next general election.
Interestingly all the gladiators in the crisis had promised to abide by whatever judgment the Court comes up with.
The PDP Governors Forum after a recent meeting in Abuja said they would remain committed to the party, irrespective of where the pendulum of justice swings.
Ekiti State Governor and chairman of the Forum, Ayo Fayose, had told journalists that “We are hopeful that the outcome of the court will further unite the party. There will be no winner, there will be no vanquished. We believe in the PDP and we believe in the tomorrow of this party.”
Similarly, the PDP Ministers’ Forum, which comprises ministers who served in the PDP administration, has also pledged to accept the apex court’s judgment in good faith.
The leader of the ex-Ministers’ Forum, Taminu Turaki, said they would remain with the PDP irrespective of the outcome of the judgment of the Supreme court in the party’s leadership tussle.
On his part, Sheriff had also pledged to accept the apex court’s judgment in good faith whether or not he was the victor. The party chairman, who spoke through his deputy, Cairo Ojougboh, had expressed hopes that the judgment would herald the birth of a new PDP.
However, now that the Supreme Court has eventually given its verdict, it will not be surprising if any of the parties reneges on that promise, given the bad blood the crisis had generated. Although it is expected that the judgment will bring to an end the 14 months leadership crisis that has crippled the opposition party, it may not necessarily end the crisis in the party.
In the heat of the crisis earlier in the year, spokesman of the caretaker committee, Prince Dayo Adeyeye, had threatened that the committee would dust up the judgment of Justice Ashi, in the event that Supreme Court rules in favour of the former Borno State