By Kunle Olasanmi, Chibuzo Ukaibe, Andrew ESSIEN,
The leadership tussle which rocked the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for about two years was finally put to rest yesterday by the Supreme Court.
Citing infantile desperation which led him to forum shop from one court to the other, the highest court in the land sacked Senator Ali Modu-Sheriff as the national chairman of the major opposition party in the country.
The apex court also affirmed the appointment of Senator Ahmed Markafi as the chairman of the national caretaker committee of the party.
In a unanimous judgment, the apex court reinstated Makarfi, who was earlier sacked by the Port Harcourt division of the Court of Appeal.
Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour, who read the lead judgment, written by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, held that contrary to the majority judgment of the Port Harcourt division of the appellate court, the suit filed by Makarfi faction before the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt was not an abuse of court process.
The apex court also held that the national convention of the PDP held on May 21, 2016, rightly and constitutionally removed Sheriff.
It said the convention acted rightly and was not in breach of any aspect of the PDP constitution by setting up the Makarfi-led national caretaker committee.
Giving reasons why Sheriff cannot be PDP national chairman, their lordships accused him of engaging in forum shopping, saying he “displayed infantile desperation to cling to office at all cost.
”It is on record that Sheriff in his fatal desire to perpetuate himself in office had filed 10 cases in one year, some of which he abandoned and it will remain in the shelves and gather dust forever”, the court added.
The court warned politicians to desist from this action which, according to them, is capable of dragging the name of the judiciary in the mud.
The apex court awarded the cost of N250,000 against Sheriff and other respondents in the matter.
Not satisfied, the apex court also warned heads of courts to be careful in assigning cases with similar nature and content to different judges, saying they should rather assign such to a single judge to handle.
“This court frowns at the habit of assigning cases filed by politicians with the same subject matter to different judges”, Justice Rhodes-Vivour
The five-member panel of the apex court unanimously agreed to the lead judgment by Justice Rhodes-Vivour. Other members of the panel are, Justices Onnoghen, Tanko Muhammad, Kayode Ariwoola and Dattijo Muhammad.
The apex court also warned judges to decline handling suits that they are aware that some of their colleagues are already handling.
The Court of Appeal sitting in Port Harcourt had affirmed Ali Modu-Sheriff, former governor of Borno State, as the authentic national chairman of the party.
The court had in a split judgment decided that Sheriff was the chairman of the PDP, thereby, setting aside the legitimacy given to Makarfi last year by a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
The two Senators had been embroiled in various litigation in Port Harcourt, Lagos, and Abuja courts, obtaining conflicting judgments over who becomes the party’s chairman at the national level.
At the beginning of the crisis, the two factions of the party had publicly agreed to abide by the decision of the court, though this did not happened and from indications, the Makarfi faction might be heading to the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, Ahmed Makarfi was present at the Supreme Court yesterday with a retinue of loyalists of his faction, including Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State and Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, while Sheriff was absent from court.
Shortly after the judgment, a professor of law and Head of Commercial law at the Nigerian institute of Advanced Legal Studies, Paul Idornigie (SAN) said the protracted crises in the PDP cost them victory at the Ondo and Edo election. According to him, “maybe, the PDP would have won the Ondo and Edo governorship election if the crises had not rocked the party”.
Also, the executive director, Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), Barrister Clement Nwankwo, hailed the Supreme Court for the judgement, saying the apex court has restored opposition in the country.
“I hail the Supreme Court for this judgement. It has restored the position of opposition in the country”, he said
Verdict Victory For Democracy
Meanwhile, there was wild jubilation at the national secretariat of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) as the Sen Ahmed Makarfi-led leadership stormed the premises to celebrate the affirmation of their leadership by the Supreme Court yesterday.
Shortly after the judgment was delivered, party members led by Sen Ahmed Makarfi converged at the national secretariat of the party as early as 9:50am where they danced and sang.
Not even the heavy presence of security operatives at the premises could deter them from expressing joy.
Addressing party faithful at the party premises, Makarfi who thanked party members for keeping faith with his leadership explained that the victory was not just for PDP but the vibrancy of the opposition and democracy.
He said, “We must appreciate the judiciary. We never lost faith in them. This judgement is not just for PDP but for democracy. This victory is not just for PDP, it’s for democracy. This affirms the powers of political parties.
“This affirms the powers of convention of all political parties. The battle we fought was not a battle for PDP alone. It was a battle for democracy, it was a battle for supremacy of party men and women to decide their destiny. And it’s a battle to do away with dictatorship in political parties and this will never repeat itself”.
Declaring that there is no victor no vanquished as a result of the court judgment, he nonetheless noted that the reconciliation that will be reached would come with a caveat.
He said, “We are open to reconciliation but for us, reconciliation does not mean we will take what belongs to Mr A and give it to Mr B. We will do reconciliation based on equity, equality and value. You cannot get what you didn’t earn.
He said they will be ready to reconcile with any person that meets these caveats.
He cautioned party members not to insult members of the other camp, noting that there might be areas they can all work together for the good of the party.
He added that Nigerians were waiting for this judgment and that the eagle has landed, even as he said that there will be series of consultations in the space of three days, after which there will be a larger meeting to fix dates for caucus meeting, Board of Trustees (BOT).
“And I assure you that those who have been waiting for this judgement were not just PDP. The whole of Nigeria today was waiting for this judgement. And the eagle has landed”, he stated.
Sheriff Keeps Mum
When contacted, former national chairman of the PDP, Sen Ali Modu Sheriff, said he has no comment.
According to his former deputy chairman, Dr Cairo Ojuogboh, “we have no comment for now”.
It was however learnt that Sheriff and his group would have a meeting later yesterday.
Jonathan Preaches Unity
Following the resolution of the leadership crisis rocking the PDP by the Supreme Court, former President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday called on all party members who left to return to their natural home and build the party.
The former president, while noting that there are no winners and losers in the wake of the court verdict, however, urged Makarfi’s leadership not to see victory as meant for a section of the party but as a moral victory of constitutionality over arbitrariness.
Reacting to the Supreme Court verdict over the party’s leadership crisis on his twitter handle, @GEJonathan, the former president said “As I congratulate the Ahmed Makarfi led Caretaker Committee, I strongly urge them not to see this as a victory of a section of the party.
“I believe in our jurists. We may have issues with some individuals but the Nigerian judiciary deserves respect and commendation. Today’s verdict is a judgment where there are no winners or losers. It is a verdict that will bring our party together.
“As I congratulate the Ahmed Makarfi led Caretaker Committee, I strongly urge them not to see this as a victory of a section of the party but as a moral victory of constitutionality over arbitrariness. Thus, they must take inspiration from General Yakubu Gowon and declare a ‘no victor and no vanquished policy’.
“I hereby call on all those who left the party because of its leadership issues to return to their natural home and build the PDP. The PDP is an inclusive vehicle not an exclusive one. We see Nigerians as human beings deserving of the rule of law, separation of powers and a free market economy that provides a level playing ground for all”.
Judgement Inconsequential To Us – APC
The All Progressives Congress (APC) has said that the Supreme Court ruling that threw out Senator Ali Modi Sheriff and confirmed Ahmed Makarfi as the Peoples Democratic Party chairman has no direct consequence on the ruling party and so it needed no reaction.
The APC spokesman, Bolaji Abdullahi, who said this when contacted to get the party’s reaction yesterday added that it will be wrong to allude that the unity of the opposition party will pose any threat to the ruling party.
Abdullahi said, “There ought not to be no reaction from us since APC was not a party to the legal suit. Whichever way you want to look at it, the ruling has no direct consequence on APC whichever faction the pendulum swing to.
“It will be wrong to say that the unity of PDP is a threat to APC. If anybody is thinking that PDP is now a threat to APC, it is not true and has nothing to do with us, especially as we have nothing to do with the case”.
Also, the newly appointed national vice chairman, northeast, Comrade Mustapha Salihu, while reacting to the Supreme Court judgment, said that whether Makarfi or Ali Madu Shariff as the PDP chair, the APC is not threatened by anybody.
He added that the PDP failed when they had the opportunity in government, hence the party was looking at the institution.
“Makarfi or Ali Madu Sheriff is no threat to us. We are looking at the institution and not the person. This is an institution that institutionalized corruption, an institution that could not handle the security of the nation”.
It Will Position PDP For Return In 2019 – Govs, Ex-ministers
Meanwhile, speaking on behalf of the governors, Ekiti State governor, Ayo Fayose, said that the judgment of the Supreme Court has placed the party in good stead to return to power in 2019.
He also declared that PDP will make maximum its resurgence, noting that power was dormant under the APC.
He further lampooned the ruling party for being unable to sustain the power given to them, saying “today is a new dawn for Nigeria and governance will take its rightful place under our leadership”.
The governor noted that they will not fight Sheriff and his loyalists. “We won’t fight them. We just come back together so that we can celebrate 2019 together”, he said.
PDP governors assured the Makarfi-led leadership of their full corporation, noting that “where we need to speak we will speak, where we need to spend money we will spend”.
They however pleaded for unity under the Makarfi leadership and cautioned against suspicion within the party.
Speaking also, deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who spoke on behalf of PDP lawmakers, said the judgment ushers in a new dawn of peace, reconciliation, and recovery for the party.
Ekweremadu said it was a no victor and no vanquished situation for individual party members, but rather a collective victory for the entire party faithful and the nation’s democracy.
He said, “I am happy that the Supreme Court has brought this protracted leadership tussle to an end today. There is no victor and there is no vanquished, but a collective victory for our party and the nation’s democracy.
“No democracy can prosper in the absence of a virile opposition or under the extreme hardship Nigerians have faced over the past two years. Citizens deserve a viable alternative”.
Some of the party stalwarts present at Wadata Plaza were governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose; deputy Senate President, Sen Ike Ekweremadu; Prof Jerry Gana; Sule Lamido; Femi Fani-Kayode; Ibrahim Shekarau; Inna Ciroma; Liyel Imoke. However governor of Rivers State, Nyesom wike was present at the court.
Former ministers forum, on their part, described the judgement as “one of the most celebrated cases of our time”, adding that it was in tandem with the wishes of party members.
Speaking with journalists after their meeting in Abuja yesterday, chairman of the forum and a former minister for special duties, Tanimu Kabir Turaki, thanked the Supreme Court for the judgement, saying it has established itself as being able to rise to any challenge in critical times.
“The judgement is hope for democracy. The Opposition will continue to survive. Without opposition government won’t be able to sit up and do the work that is expected of them”.
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