By IKECHUKWU NNOCHIRI & HENRY UMORU, Abuja
It was a sad day in the camp of the Alhaji Kawu Baraje led faction of the Peoples Democratic Party, nPDP, yesterday, as a Federal High Court in Abuja declared its activities illegal, just as it ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to only recognize the Alhaji Bamanga Tukur led national officers of the party.
Reacting to the development, the Abubakar Kawu Baraje led group also vowed to pursue its case to a logical conclusion even to the Supreme Court, just as it said it will continue to use the party’s flag, symbol and colours as bonafide members of PDP.
In a judgment delivered yesterday, Justice Elvis Chukwu, specifically ordered Baraje, Dr. Jaja Sam Jaja, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, to forthwith, desist from parading themselves as national officers of the PDP.
Basking in the euphoria of the judgement, the National Chairman of PDP, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur immediately warned the Abubakar Kawu Baraje- led nPDP which has in its fold former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, aggrieved Governor Sule Lamido of Jigawa; Abdulfatah Ahmed of Kwara; Aliyu Babangida of Niger; Aliyu Magatakarda Wamakko of Sokoto state; Musa Rabiu Kwankwaso of Kano; Murtala Nyako of Adamawa and Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State, among others to stop making utterances, issuing press statements, holding meetings or be treated as impostors and criminals.
According to the national leadership of PDP, with the receipt of the Judgment of the Federal High Court which upheld the Alhaji Bamanga Tukur-led National Working Committee as the authentic one, the Tukur- led PDP remains the only recognised PDP.
The PDP however warned that with this development, the Abubakar Kawu Baraje- led New PDP must not rear its head again or be crushed.
In a statement signed yesterday by PDP national Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh, the party said, “For the avoidance of doubt, the ruling of the court in this regard is absolutely clear, direct and unambiguous. The PDP has only one duly elected National Executive Committee under the National Chairmanship of Alhaji Bamanga Tukur.
”We wish therefore to state with all emphasis that any group of persons parading themselves as leaders of this organ of our party are impostors and must be treated as criminals by all and sundry.
”Henceforth, the leadership of the PDP will no longer tolerate or condone any meeting, utterances, press statements and/or activities whatsoever under the name, flag and colour of the PDP by any unauthorized person or group(s) under any guise.
”As a law abiding party, the PDP remained calm in the face of the unwarranted attacks of the last few months. Our leaders chose the path of caution and decorum but our reconciliatory moves and offer of olive branch were treated with the highest disdain and viewed as signs of weakness.
”The National Working Committee has therefore directed that the name, colour, flag and the provisions of constitution of our party must be held sacrosanct by our members. The PDP has adequate internal mechanism for resolution of disagreements and members are advised to express their grievances through such.
In its own statement, the Baraje-led nPDP National Publicity Secretary, Eze Chukwuemeka Eze, said: “Let us reiterate that we will see this issue to a logical conclusion, including going to the Supreme Court, if necessary, to ensure that a non-member of our party does not continue to lord it over us as our National Chairman. Alhaji Bamanga Tukur and his loyalists should, therefore, not celebrate yet as any such celebration would be short-lived as we are more than ever determined to show him the way out of the exalted position he is illegally occupying.
”We meanwhile insist that we have every right to continue using the PDP flag, symbol and colours, as we are bonafide members of the party and thus entitled to use them”.
The group also called for a holistic investigation into alleged plot to kidnap Governor Chibuike Amaechi of RiversState, warning that with the experience of Senator Chris Ngige as governor of AnambraState then, the matter as reported in the media must not be swept under th carpet.
It would be recalled that prior to the judgement, the defendants, hitherto declared themselves as executive officers of a splinter group of the party popularly referred to as the ‘nPDP’.
Whereas Baraje and Jaja acted as the Chairman and Deputy National Chairman of the ‘rebel’ group, Oyinlola, served as their National Secretary. The group equally opened a parallel national secretariat of the nPDP in Abuja.
Dissatisfied with the action, Tukur, alongside all the national officers that emerged from the controversial special convention of the party held on August 31, filed a suit where it listed all the key players in the nPDP as defendants.
Equally joined as a defendant in the suit was the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
Deciding on the matter yesterday, Justice Chukwu, restrained the defendants from operating or opening a parallel National, State, Local Government Area and Ward Secretariat of the party in any part of the country, adding that they should henceforth, refrain from interfering with the duties and functions of all the PDP national officers that emerged via the special congress of the party held at the Eagle Square in Abuja on August 31.
To further cripple activities of the splinter group, Justice Chukwu, who relied on the provisions of sections 222 and 223 of the 1999 constitution, section 80 of the Electoral Act and section 49 of the PDP Constitution, held that the defendants, having failed to participate or be elected at the said PDP special convention, lacked the legal right to represent the party in any capacity.
While dismissing preliminary objections filed against the suit by the defendants, the court, maintained that in line with provisions of the sections, the nPDP, “cannot claim the status of a valid political party in Nigeria”, noting that for any group to function as a political party, “it must have the addresses of its national officers documented and registered with the INEC.”
Consequently, the court barred INEC from, “recognizing or dealing with the defendants, their privies, staff, representatives or lawyers, as national officers of the PDP, under whatever name or acronym”.
The court had earlier held that in view of section 251 of the 1999 constitution, it has the jurisdiction to entertain the suit.
According to the Judge, “The cause of action of the plaintiff as endorsed in the Writ of Summons, determines the jurisdiction of the court to entertain a particular suit. From all intent and purpose, there is a cause of action before the court that needs a redress.
“The form of commencement of an action does not make it irrelevant, what is important is the justice of the case.
“It is equally trite that cases are won by concrete evidence and not by written addresses of counsel. Cases are never decided by addresses but by credible evidence. I hold that the material facts or material averments in address of the plaintiffs were not controverted by the defendants.
“Evidence before me has shown that there was a special congress of the PDP held and monitored by the INEC on August 31. It is obvious that the plaintiffs have proved that they are entitled to the reliefs sought in their Originating Summons.
“I am not in doubt that matters bothering on internal affairs of a political party are non justiceable. However, does the instant case fall within the purview of domestic affair of a party? My answer is in the negative. It can never qualify as an internal affair of a political party as individual rights have been infringed upon.
“In line with section 251(1) of the constitution, this court has jurisdiction to entertain this suit. I have no doubt in my mind that the preliminary objections ought to fail and I so hold.”
More so, the court which said it was satisfied that the suit was competent, further waved aside the argument of the defendants that individual members of the Tukur-led executives of the party, not being “juristic personalities” under the law, ought not to have sued in their personal capacities, but the offices they purportedly won.
The court held that the plaintiffs could sue in their individual names and collectively, even as it dismissed contention of the defendants that the suit amounted to an abuse of court process in view of a similar suit they said was filed on the same subject matter before a High Court in Lagos state.
The court noted that whereas the case in Lagos, relates to a congress that was purportedly held by members of the nPDP at the Shehu Yar’Adua Centre Abuja on August 30 through which the Baraje -led group allegedly emerged as national officers of the party, the instant case, bothered on the congress held on August 31 which produced the Tukur -led officers of the party.
The court said there was a reasonable cause of action against INEC in the case before it considering that the election that brought the Tukur-led executives into power was duly monitored by the electoral body.
Basically, the defendants had argued that the suit was incurably incompetent as it was commenced via an Originating Summons instead of Writ of Summons.
It was their contention that in view of the controversial nature of the case, the court ought to have entered pleadings of all the parties and listen to oral testimony of witnesses, to enable it to ascertain the validity of the election that produced the Tukur -led group of the party.
The defendants maintained that the plaintiffs failed to produce the register of voters that participated in the said election, the result sheet, or documents to show that the plaintiffs stood and won the election, adding that, “the court being a court of record should not rely on speculation. The plaintiffs cannot claim victory in vacuum.”
The defendants told the court that after key stakeholders of the party uncovered a subterranean plot to skew the congress in favour of anointed candidates under Tukur’s umbrella, they promptly organized a special congress where they said Baraje and others were unanimously elected to pilot the affairs of the party.
They further told the court that a resolution was passed on August 30, removing Tukur as the National Chairman of the PDP.
However, Justice Chukwu stressed that the said resolution was not tendered as evidence before the court, saying “the court cannot act with a mere speculation.”
Meanwhile, the defendants, yesterday, vowed to appeal the ruling, insisting that the said congress that brought the Tukur led faction of the party was invalid.
Counsel to the defendants, Chief Ahmed Raji, SAN, who spoke to Vanguard shortly after the judgment yesterday, said his client would study the verdict properly with a view to deciding on their next line of action.