Ondo PDP crisis: Legal fireworks begins at Appeal Court

•Poroye, others asked for setting aside of panel

LEGAL fireworks began at the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division, in the appeals emanating from the leadership crisis rocking Ondo State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), between the Senator Ali Modu Sheriff-led faction and the Senator Ahmed Makarfi-led caretaker committee of the party.

The Justice Ibrahim Salauwa-led three-member panel, which took over from Justice Jummai Hannatu Sankey’s panel, which disqualified itself over allegations of bias, adjourned proceedings till Monday for parties to move their applications.

At the proceedings on Monday, Bela Nwufor, representing Biyi Poroye of Sheriff faction, asked that the new panel constituted by the president of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, to hear all appeals emanating from the state chapter of the PDP be disbanded, on the ground that it lacked the jurisdiction to hear the appeals.

Nwufor, in a motion dated November 3, 2016, which he filed on behalf of his client, prayed the court for an order setting aside the administrative decision of the Appeal Court president setting up a special panel, while asking that all the files in the appeal be returned to the registry of the court for due process to be followed in constituting a panel to hear the appeal.

He said the panel, sitting at the Court of Appeal, had the power to set aside the administrative decision if it contravened the constitutional rights of the applicants.

He also told the panel that appeal court president set up the new panel after receiving a request in that direction from Eyitayo Jegede, who won the primaries of the Ondo PDP under the Makarfi-led caretaker committee.

According to Nwufor, it was a well settled law that the rules of natural justice, enshrined in section 36 (1) of the constitution, applied equally to a court decision as well as administrative decision, adding also that Jegede made a representation to the president of the appellate court (PCA) for a special panel to hear his motion and his request was granted.

“The PCA, acting administratively, ought to have, upon the receipt of the presentation by Jegede, called for our own representation and the absence of this amounts to violation of our rights to fair hearing,” he argued.

He then asked the court to set aside the decision, having breached the rule of fair hearing and asked that all the case files be returned to the registry of the court for due process to be followed in setting up the special panel.

Earlier in his submission, counsel for Jegede, Chief Wole Olanikpekun, had sought leave of court to appeal the judgment of Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, delivered on June 29, 2016.

Olanipekun argued that the counter motion of the respondents was attacking the administrative decision of the PCA, who is not joined as a party in the matter.

In his submissions, counsel for the Senator Sheriff-led faction of the PDP, Godswill Mrakpor, told the court that neither the application by Jegede nor the motion filed by Nwufor were ripe for hearing.

Meanwhile, members of state executive of the PDP loyal to Sheriff in six South-West states, led by Biyi Poroye, factional chairman of the Ondo PDP, have asked the Court of Appeal  to reverse the decision by Justice Bulkachuwa to constitute a fresh panel to hear appeal relating to the dispute.

In a motion filed by Mrakpo, they also asked the court to disband the panel comprising of Justices Ibrahim Salauwa, Ignatius Igwe Aguba and George Mbaba, allegedly set up in breach of the applicant’ right to fair hearing.

Poroye and others equally prayed the court to order the return of the case files relating to the appeals and the application for leave to appeal as an interested party (against the decision of the Federal High Court of October 14, 2016 in suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/395/2016), filed by Jegede.

They argued that not only did the President of the Court of Appeal act without hearing from them, the case, being a pre-election matter, did not warrant any urgency to require the constitution of a special panel.

They added that those who filed the appeals against the June 29 and October 14, 2016 decisions of Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja, were not parties in the cases leading to the decisions.

The applicants also argued that no orders were made against any of them (those behind the new appeals), adding that they (the applicants), who were plaintiffs in the suits, were not informed when the president of the Court of Appeal acted solely on the request by the appellants to constitute the panel on the grounds of urgency.

They have also filed a motion before the Supreme Court seeking a stay of all proceedings before the Court of Appeal.

The motion, filed by two members of the party, Benson Akingboye and Ehiozuwa Agbonayiwa, particularly sought stay of  “all further proceedings and further hearing in CA/ABJ/402A/2016 filed on behalf of the PDP by a lawyer engaged by the Ahmed Makarfi-led faction of the party’s leadership.”

The court, however, reserved rulings in the applications as hearing of the appeals continues today.