APPEAL COURT JUDGMENT ON PLATEAU PDP:  A Legal solution to a political problem?

By Taye Obateru

THE Court of Appeal sitting in Jos on Friday last week (November 19, 2010) affirmed the decision of a Jos High Court which earlier ruled that the dissolution of the Professor Dakum Shown-led Plateau State Executive of the PDP and subsequent setting up of a Caretaker Committee by the party’s National Working Committee was illegal, null and void.

The question on many lips is; will this bring the protracted crisis within the party in the state to an end?
The unanimous decision of the Court of Appeal was no doubt a boost to the political camp of Governor Jonah Jang of Plateau State which had repeatedly protested the dissolution of the state executive committee of the party.

The initial judgment of the Jos High Court presided over by Justice Mohammed Sirajo was celebrated enthusiastically by the camp, but rather than provide the needed respite, the national leadership of the party appeared to have struck to its gun that internal party matters should not be taken to court.

Three separate appeals were filed on the judgment which were consolidated by the court. One was by the former National Chairman of the party, Prince Vincent Ogulafor, another by Chairman of the Caretaker Committee Chief Habu King Shuluwa constituted by the Ogbulafor leadership while the third was filed by the party.

Delivering the lead judgment in the appeals, Justice Monica Longban Mesmen threw out all the grounds of appeal for lack of merit.

Among others, the court threw out the argument that the matter was an internal matter of the PDP over which the courts had no jurisdiction pointing out that the party’s constitution clearly stated that it was a legal entity which could sue and be sued. It agreed with the trial court that the fundamental human right of Shown and his executive to fair hearing was breached in dissolving them without giving them ample opportunity to state their side. It advised politicians to uphold the tenets of the rule of law as this would best serve the interest of democracy.

It may be recalled that following the emergence of a parallel executive of the party led by Chief Emmanuel Mangni who had many prominent politicians from the state backing him, and futile efforts by the national leadership of the party to reconcile them, the National Working Committee (NWC) dissolved the two executive committees and set up a caretaker committee.

The Jang group which felt undermined by the development and which saw the national leadership as unduly dancing to the tune of the other group decided to challenge the action in court. It took some time but victory came at last.

The ruling of the appeal court was therefore like the icing on a cake for the group.

As expected, the judgment was well received by the Jang camp because it vindicated their earlier position that the dissolution of the executive was wrong. Coming at this time when arrangements for the conduct of primaries were in the offing, the judgment further strengthens the hands of the executive believed to be loyal to the governor in the handling of the primaries.

Reacting to the judgment, Shown who resigned his chairmanship position following his appointment as a Special Adviser by Governor Jang welcomed it and commended the judiciary. “We should please forget everything, come and build Plateau State. People are tired, I am glad and I congratulate the judiciary for standing very firm”.

On whether the judgment was not an indictment on PDP national leadership he said: “This decision was taken by very few people and I am glad these people are still our leaders. I still have faith in the PDP. But some people can take wrong decisions and I am happy that the judges have clearly stated what they should have done.

I hope it will help them. We should not lose faith in PDP. I hope they will learn from what these people have said to them.”

Also reacting to development at a press conference, the new Chairman of the party who was appointed on November 3, following Shown’s resignation, Dr. Haruna Dabin said it laid to rest any iota of doubt on the legitimacy of the state executive of the party. According to him, with the judgment , “the last surviving vestige that tended to polarize the membership of our party and which shed a shadow of doubt over the legitimacy of this state executive committee of the party has finally been laid to rest.”

Dabin advised members to “now fall in line and avoid any acts that would polarize the membership and leadership of the party again.” He waxed proverbial saying “suffice is to say that when the village market is empty, even the “scavengers” would not remain there when darkness falls, because the business f that market is over and everybody has returned home.”

Despite the euphoria however, political observers within and outside the state have been wondering if the legal solution as represented by the judgment  was the solution to what is essentially a political problem. A political scientist, Celestine Odeh who claimed to be conversant with the case told Vanguard last weekend that he viewed the problem within the Plateau PDP as more of a political problem to which a political and not a legal solution must be found.

“It will be sheer hypocrisy or political naivety for anyone to pretend that the problem of Plateau PDP can be solved by a mere court judgment.

You and I know the story and any solution that does not bring the two sides to an amicable solution might prove costly for the party in the coming elections. Another important point is that no national leadership of a party would ignore the caliber of politicians in the other group which has a former national chairman of the party, former governors and ministers and even the deputy governor in its fold. It will be politically suicidal to do so”, he said.

Odey believes that the initial effort of the national leadership of the party to get the two factions to harmonize by jointly constituting the executive of the party would serve the party better.

A former minister and Senatorial aspirant in the state, Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki Nakande had in an interview with newsmen last week said only the holding of fresh congresses would resolve the problem of the party in the state.

He said holding fresh congresses would put paid to allegations that the congress which produced the Dakum Shown led executive was not free and fair and challenged Governor Jang to put his touted popularity to test by submitting to a fresh congress. “In fact, I feel Jang should be expelled from the party because he has flouted all the party’s directives on this issue”, he declared.

Former governor of the state, Ambassador Fidelis Tapgun who was a member of the Caretaker Committee now declared illegal, had told Vanguard in an interview sometime back that the problem was an internal party matter which legalism would not solve. He argued then that the national leadership of the party which in its wisdom opted for the caretaker committee option properly reviewed the situation and insisted that resort to court was anti party.

A different perspective to the matter is the listing of Plateau by INEC among the eight states it wanted fresh congresses of the PDP conducted because it did not deem the ones which produced the current executive committees credible. It is unclear as yet, if the court judgment would sway INEC to change its mind or if it would make good its threat not to recognize candidates that emerge from primaries conducted by unrecognized executive committees.

If like Dabin said at his press conference, the NWC of the party “had resolved to stand by the position of the rule of law, wherein the state executive committee had obtained judgment  from the High Court in Jos”, the judgment  of the court of appeal would no doubt strengthen its hands to act in that regard. For now the answers rest in the bosom of time.

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