By Jimitota Onoyume, Henry Umoru, Ben Agande, Charles Kumolu, Luka Binnniyat and Joseph Erunke.
THE crisis in the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP worsened yesterday after the Court of Appeal sitting in Port Harcourt sacked the Senator Ahmed Makarfi led National Caretaker Committee which enjoys the support of the mainstream of the party and its organs.
The Appellate Court by a 2-1 majority affirmed that the party offended its own constitution in the way and manner it sacked the Senator Ali Modu Sheriff led executive and in the disobedience of court orders against the holding of the May 21 Port- Harcourt Convention. The court asked that the party should return to the status quo.
Yesterday’s decision followed the earlier judgments by the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt that endorsed the action of the Port-Harcourt convention in enthroning Senator Makarfi and members of his National Caretaker Committee. The judgment given by Justice Mohammed Liman also specifically barred Senator Sheriff from parading himself as the national chairman of the party.
Sheriff had upon that judgment appealed the decision to the Court of Appeal which last November after hearing the briefs from the counsels to the two parties reserved judgment which was given yesterday. The lead judgment was supported by Justices Bitrus Sanga and Abubakar Muhammed.
Justice Abadua Orji in her minority judgment, however, differed saying that the National Convention being the highest organ of the party was sufficiently empow- ered to take the decisions in the best interest of the party adding that Sheriff having presented himself for screening at the national constitution could not turn around to abort the process.
Justice Sanga who read the lead judgment yesterday said:
“The way the executive of the party was removed on May 21, it is clear that the provisions of the party’s constitution were not followed. The appellants were not put on notice. The court will not close its eyes against illegality. Because of the failure of the party to follow its constitution, obey court orders the caretaker committee constituted is therefore, a nullity.
Parties are to maintain the status quo. By the party’s constitution, a vote of no confidence can be moved on any officer but two months notice shall be provided to the secretariat which shall be circulated,” an action the court said the party failed to do.
He also flayed the conflicting judgments from the trial courts of concurrent jurisdiction on the same issues and questions, saying, “it is an abuse of court process when courts of the same jurisdiction are faced with the same issues and questions.”
The judges then awarded N100,000 in favour of the appellants. Justice Orji in her minority judgment insisted that the national convention of the party was the highest organ of the party and that its decisions should be sacrosanct.
She said since Senator Sheriff turned himself for screening for the convention of the party in Port Harcourt he could not have turned round to suddenly postpone the exercise, stressing that he misconstrued his powers as acting National Chairman of the party.
According to her, Senator Sheriff deliberately absented himself from the May convention and that his duties at that convention were suitably carried out by the Deputy National Chairman of the party. While upholding the outcome of the May 21 national convention she awarded N100,000 in favour of the respondents.
Justice Sanga later told the court that the certified true copy of the judgment would be ready before next Tuesday. Among prominent party chieftains who were in court to witness the proceedings were Chief Raymond Dokpesi, Prince Dayo Adeyeye, spokesman of the Makarfi faction, Chief Emma Ogidi, National Vice Chairman, South-South of Markarfi’s faction and Dr. Cairo Ojugboh, deputy national chairman of the Sheriff faction.
Reacting immediately after the judgment, spokesman of the Makarfi led mainstream, Prince Adeyeye said they would appeal the judgment affirming that they would remain in office unless countermanded by the orders of the Supreme Court.
“We are appealing to the Supreme Court, so the status quo remains. The status quo simply means that two of us remain until Supreme Court rules. When an Appeal Court sacked Governor Nyesom Wike, he remained in office until the Supreme Court ruled. So Markarfi is still National Chairman of our party, “ he said.
On his part, Dr. Cairo Ojuogboh who spoke for the Sheriff’s faction of the party said the judgment simply nullified the existence of the Markafi’s action and pronounced Sheriff as national chairman of the party. According to him, “ it was two to one. The statuesque is that Sheriff remains Chairman of the party. It is two against one.”, he said.
Varied reactions of disapproval yesterday trailed the decision of the Court of Appeal in Port-Harcourt to recognise the Senator Ali Modu Sheriff led national executive of the party.
The party’s major organs including the Governors Forum, the Board of Trustees and the members of the national caucus with near unanimity opposed the judgment with all demanding for an appeal to the Supreme Court. In an extreme reaction,
former minister Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode, however, described the judgment as the work of the Muhammadu Buhari administration and called on party members to form another party and abandon the PDP carcass for Sheriff. However, in an exception, the Deputy National Chairman of the Sheriff, faction, Dr. Cairo Ojuogboh said the victory for Sheriff was an opportunity for the two factions to negotiate.
Among those who reacted yesterday were Senator Ahmed Sheriff, the chairman of the national caretaker committee, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, the highest elected political office holder in the PDP, Senator Walid Jibrin, the chairman of the BoT, Governor Ayodele Fayose, the chairman of the PDP Governors Forum and some serving and former National Assembly members.
Reacting yesterday, Senator Makarfi said the party’s stakeholders would meet in Abuja next week to ponder its next step.
Speaking to journalists at his residence in Kaduna, he said:
“We have utmost respect for the judiciary. So we are not going to take the laws into our hands. We might not agree with the
judgment, but there is a process and procedure if you did not agree with something that you follow.
“As an individual, I cannot decide for the party until the party stakeholders meet and take a definite decision.