Following the judgement of the Court of Appeal that affirmed Senator Ali Modu Sheriff as the Acting Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, the Board of Trustees and the Senator Ahmed Makarfi-led faction of the party have appealed to PDP members not to defect to another political party.
The BoT, which is supporting the sacked National Caretaker Committee headed by Makarfi, assured the party members that the leadership tussle was being looked into and that the matter would be settled at the Supreme Court.
Also, Makarfi said even though the judgement was a temporary setback, party members should remain calm as they await the party’s next line of action.
Two of the three judges of the Appeal Court in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Justice B. G. Sanga and Justice A. A. Gumel, had, on Friday, while affirming Sheriff as the Acting Chairman of the PDP, nullified the Ahmed Makarfi-led National Executive Committee of the party. Justice T. S. Orji-Abadua, however, disagreed as she ruled against Sheriff, who is the first appellant in the matter.
At least, four lower courts of concurrent jurisdiction had given conflicting judgements on the controversy surrounding the leadership of PDP, a development that made one of the groups to take the matter to the Appeal Court.
Justice Sanga had, in his ruling, said the party did not comply with its constitution in removing the Sheriff-led executive of the PDP.
He added, “A vote of no confidence may be moved on any officer, but in doing that, a two-month notice shall be provided to the secretariat of the party, which shall also be circulated.
“The way the (Sheriff) executive was removed on May 21, 2016 showed that the party’s constitution was not complied with.”
While setting aside the judgement of a High Court delivered on July 4, 2016, Justice Sanga described the action of the PDP as an illegality and that the court would not close its eyes to it. He described the various judgements given by different courts of coordinate jurisdiction as an abuse of court processes, even as he annulled the National Convention held on May 21, 2016.
The judge also awarded the sum of N100,000 in favour of each appellant in the matter, saying, “the proceedings and other decisions taken on May 21, 2016 at the National Convention are hereby set aside.”
In his own ruling during the judgement that lasted about three hours, Justice Gumel upheld the lead judgement delivered by Justice Sanga, adding that the setting up of a caretaker committee by the National Convention on May 21, 2016 was illegal.
Gumel described the preliminary objection filed by the PDP as incompetent, adding that the Sheriff-led executive of the PDP could not be removed until August 2017, unless the party holds an election.
He submitted that the originating summons in the suit filed at the Federal High Court was overreaching and instructed that parties involved in the matter should maintain the status quo.
However, Justice Orji-Abadua, in his sharp dissenting judgement, stated that based on Article 33 (3) of the PDP constitution, Sheriff did not possess an overriding power to cancel the May 21, 2016 National Convention of the party.
She explained that Sheriff, who was leading the PDP in an acting capacity and took part in the screening before the National Convention of the party, erroneously absented himself from the event. She said the development made the PDP to align with the dictates of its constitution and established a caretaker committee.
Justice Orji-Abadua, however, stated that Article 47 of the PDP constitution did not make it compulsory for the PDP to pass a vote of no confidence before removing its officers. She upheld that there was nothing wrong in the decision of the National Convention of the PDP and therefore, awarded N100,000 cost in favour of the PDP.
Reacting to the judgement, the Deputy National Chairman of the Sheriff-led group, Dr. Cairo Ojugbo, expressed the need for reconciliation among members of the party, even as he described the Appeal Court ruling as a “No victor, no vanquished.”
Ojugbo said there was an agreement between the two factions not to appeal the outcome of the judgement, saying Sheriff had promised to abide by its outcome.
But the BoT chairman, Senator Walid Jubrin, in an interview with one of our correspondents in Abuja on Friday, maintained that the matter would be settled at the Supreme Court, while appealing to members to stay in the party.
He added, “I want to appeal to the people, our members, not to go. They should not move to another party. They should please stay put in the PDP.
“Those who are crying today will laugh. Those who are sad will laugh. Those who are disillusioned would be happy again. This matter will be resolved by the party itself and we are ready to go to any length to make sure that we remain united.
“Out of the three judges, one supported the Makarfi group. We have confidence in the judiciary. I want to appeal to our members to remain calm. Our party is consulting with various organs of the party on the next line of action.
“This judgement is not a threat, but it will put us together. All former leaders of the party like former President Goodluck Jonathan, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, and others are with us.”
He argued that the dissenting judgment by one of the three judges that sat on the appeal was an indication that the Makarfi faction could still get a favourable judgement at the highest court.
Judgement, a temporary setback – Makarfi
In the same vein, the embattled caretaker committee chairman, Makarfi, described the Appeal Court judgement as a temporary setback for the party, noting, however, that the party would overcome the setback politically and legally.
Makarfi, a former Governor of Kaduna State, told newsmen in Kaduna on Friday that he had utmost respect for the judiciary and that he would await his party’s next line of action. He said the party had done a lot of things to remain afloat since he took over as the leader of the caretaker committee.
The two-time senator also appealed to party members to remain calm, noting that “they should know we are in the opposition. We have to accept this temporary setback.”
“We will not allow opposition to be killed. We must strive to ensure that we survive for the sake of democracy and the country,” he added.
Meanwhile, the spokesperson for the Markafi-led PDP, Prince Dayo Adeyeye, has described the Appeal Court ruling as a disappointment and disservice to the PDP and the Nigerian democracy. He said the faction would take the matter to the Supreme Court and that the faction would remain the caretaker committee of the party until the Supreme Court takes a contrary decision.
He hailed the courage of Justice Orji-Abadua for dissenting from the ruling of the two other members of the Appeal Court panel, even as he accused the All Progressives Congress of plotting to destabilise the PDP.
Adeyeye said the Makarfi faction had hoped the judgement would help to restore law and order in the troubled party, while expressing hope that the setback would be corrected at the Supreme Court.
He added, “It was a disappointment, but we shall succeed at the Supreme Court. It is a victory that will not last. The minority is giving us hope and I can assure you that we will appeal. Surely, in the next few days, we shall tell our lawyers to proceed to the Supreme Court.”
Also, Counsel for Makarfi-led PDP, Mr. Oladejo Lamikanra (SAN) said even though the Appeal Court ruling was in favour of the appellant (Sheriff-led group), the Supreme Court might upturn or agree with the ruling of the Appeal Court.
I still regret bringing Sheriff – Fayose
Also speaking on the judgement, the Governor of Ekiti State, Mr. Ayodele Fayose, said he was still regretting the role he played in bringing Sheriff to lead the party.
Fayose, who spoke with journalists in Abuja in his capacity as the chairman of the PDP Governors Forum, said he backed out of the deal when he realised that Sheriff did not mean well for the party.
However, he said he was sure that the judgement would not stand.
Fayose said, “Several times I have regretted bringing sheriff, I still regret it, but I have reversed my action. I took responsibility and I must say that I took that decision with good heart.
“But the outcome of the Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt that reinstated Sheriff against the will of the people, is nothing but a rape on our democracy.
“If the people truly symbolises what a party is, then the machination of our detractors and the anti-democratic organs will not prevail at last.
“We commend the minority judgement of the court and we believe the truth will prevail. Thank God we have another opportunity to seek justice at the Supreme Court, which I believe will not be delayed or denied.
“The party will appeal the judgement as we believe in the ability of the judiciary to do justice, however, we plead with our members, leaders and supporters to calm down as we keep hope alive.
“If this is a price to pay to keep our democracy alive and opposition strengthened, we are prepared to go the whole hug.”
He added that the party organs would meet soon and take concrete steps and decisions on the way forward.
No cause for alarm over PDP, says Ekweremadu
The Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, urged PDP faithful not to be anxious over the ruling of the Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt, on the lingering party leadership tussle.
He stated this on Friday, in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media, Mr. Uche Anichukwu, while reacting to the judgement.
Ekweradu said, “There is no cause for alarm. The party leadership will meet as soon as possible to take a decision on the best way forward.
“I enjoin party faithful 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.”