DARE ADEKANMBI, MOSES ALAO and YEJIDE GBENGA-OGUNDARE look at the new twist in the leadership palaver in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the light of the Abuja High Court judgment which nullified the amendment done to the party’s constitution in 2014 and upon which Senator Ali Modu Sheriff emerged acting national chairman.
THE Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), from February when the appointment of Senator Ali Modu Sheriff was ratified by the national caucus of the party as acting national chairman, has remained in the intensive care unit, awaiting surgeon’s blades to have its overgrown tumour removed. The party, which ought to be strategising for Edo and Ondo state governorship elections, has had its time and resources eaten away in the ensuing supremacy tussle.
The latest in the party, since its series of post-election traumas, is the judgment delivered by Justice Valentine Ashi of Abuja High Court of June 29. The judge invalidated the amendment done to the constitution of the party at its special convention of December 10 and 11, 2014, upon which the certain national officers of the party have been elected and appointed.
Amended at the 2014 convention were articles 33 sub-section 1 and 47 Rule 6 of the party’s constitution. While the amended Article 33 sub 1 makes all ex-governors of the party automatic members of the National Executive Council (NEC), Article 47 Rule 6 empowers NEC to appoint a replacement to a vacant national office with such replacement serving out the tenure of the last occupant. The amendment of Article 47 was done to foreclose those challenging the emergence of Adamu Mu’azu, who replaced Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, who was forced to resign following the plethora of crises in the party under his watch.
Chairman of the convention electoral committee at that time and former Senate president, Senator Ken Nnamani, who supervised the ratification of the amendment, had declared the constitution amended upon the endorsement of the amendments by 2,691 out of the 2,672 delegates at the convention.
Forms which requested the delegates to ratify the alterations had been circulated at the convention venue. The then governor of Benue State, Gabriel Suswam, moved the motion seeking the amendments, and same was seconded by the then Minister of State for Power, Mohammed Wakil.
But Justice Ashi, in a suit marked FCT/HC/CV/1867/2016 and brought before him by a chieftain of the party from Ondo State, Mr Joseph Jero, ruled that the amendment was null and void, having been done in violation of Sections 66 (2) and (3). Section 66 sub-sections 1-3 entitled ‘Amendments’ state as follows:
66 (1) The party shall have the power to amend this constitution, save that no amendment of the constitution shall be valid unless made by a motion Page 80 of 85 passed by two-thirds majority of members present and voting at the National Convention.
(2) The Notice of the proposed amendment to the constitution shall be given to the National Secretary, at least two months before the date of the National Convention and the notice, which shall be in writing, shall contain a clear statement of the amendment sought and the reasons for the amendment.
(3) The Secretary upon receipt of the notice shall cause it to be circulated to the state branches of the party for publication at least one month before the date of the National Convention.
Since the motion was only circulated at the convention venue in contravention of the express provisions of sections 66 (2) and (3), the court set aside the 2014 amendments to the PDP constitution and ruled that: “All persons, individuals, officers, servants or agents of PDP parading themselves as the national officers of the PDP, pursuant to the purported constitution, which has now been nullified, are hereby restrained from further parading themselves in these capacities.”
The judgment, which appears to have substantially weakened the foundations upon which Sheriff has continued to lay claim to the stool since his ouster at the May 21 Port Harcourt convention, has been commended by the national caretaker committee of the party led by Senator Ahmed Makarfi. But Sheriff’s camp, speaking through its national secretary, Professor Adewale Oladipo, has since refuted the sack of Sheriff and others from offices by the judgment.
Was the suit by Jero a judicial ambush?
Analysts agree that the suit, which little was known about prior to the judgment, was a master stroke against Sheriff and his camp by those who have declared overwhelming support for the Makarfi committee. It will be recalled that the PDP governors, the party’s National Caucus, Board of Trustees (BoT) and others have openly endorsed the Makarfi-led committee.
Prior to the May 21 convention, Sheriff and senator representing Ogun East in Ogun State, Buruji Kashamu, were said to have perfected legal fireworks to stop nay-Sayers to Sheriff’s emergence. The landmine was said to have gone off when a Federal High Court in Lagos barred the PDP from electing chairman, national secretary and auditor at the convention. Realising the damage done by the restraining order, Sheriff denied being part of the claimants in the suit that led to the order. In a letter to the court that issued the order, Sheriff claimed the party was also impersonated, explaining that nobody was ever authorised to file any suit on his behalf and for the party. Investigation of the claim has yet to be made known.
He, however, got a shocker which his biggest set of backers, the party’s Governors’ Forum had kept under wrap for him, in the early hours of the convention. At about 4:00 a.m., Sheriff was disappointed when the governors and other stakeholders unveiled what they considered the items that should be on the cards as the business of the convention. The governors hinged the decision on the restraining order and the need to bring the estranged leaders at the Abuja parallel convention under the same umbrella to forestall a repeat of the New PDP scenario that shattered the party in the past.
A devastated Sheriff, it was gathered, begged the governors to rescind the decision, pledging not to disappoint them. Unknown to him, the governor had seen through his decoy. It was learnt that Sheriff had deliberately refrained from tampering with the party’s structure in the 12 states where PDP has governors. But in the remaining 24 states, he was accused of installing those who will do his bidding and help him realise his touted presidential ambition in 2019, so much so that he could discountenance the support of the 12 governors to be whatever he wants to be. The clandestine plan got the governors upset and they consequently withdrew support from Sheriff.
Lawyers dissect the judgment, party men speak
Lagos-based human rights lawyer, Mr Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, said: “We cannot dance around the import of the court which invalidated the amendments made to the PDP constitution, which is that as of now, there is no amendment to the constitution of the PDP. If officers were appointed for the party in furtherance of the amendment that has now been invalidated, such appointment is also void and of no effect in law. This is because we cannot put something on nothing and expect it to stand.”
“The concomitant effect of all these is that Senator Sherrif, and others in his mould, who all emerged upon the said amendment, automatically cease to hold any position in the PDP by virtue of the judgment of court which has more or less removed the rug from under their feet. We cannot dance around the judgment to be employing semantics to cause confusion within the judiciary. In particular, there is an urgent need to caution the PDP and all its members to stop ridiculing the judiciary with frivolous suit, all leading to conflicts and needless controversies.”
A former chairman of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Ikeja branch, Mr Dave Ajetomobi, spoke in the same vein. “Anything done pursuant to the provisions of the amended sections has to die with the invalidated sections, except there are saving sections which nevertheless save such act done under the annulled sections,” he said.
Acting National Youth Leader of the Sheriff-led faction, Mr Alonge Dennis, described the crisis rocking the party as unfortunate, noting that the party, which is expected to provide a viable opposition to the ruling party, has been enmeshed in a web of crises. He contended that though they were willing and waiting for the crises to be resolved, no one has consulted them, just as he stressed the need for every member of the party to be carried along.
“It is in our interest that PDP should move forward. As party members, it is our interest that all the crises in the party be resolved. But our position is that we should sit at a roundtable to discuss these issues holistically so that everybody will be happy at the end of the day. We are ready to make sacrifice, but the sacrifice will be meaningless where we’re not carried along. That’s our position. As of today, it is just the governors’ forum, the national caucus, Board of Trustees and the Senator Ahmed Makarfi-led caretaker committee that are meeting here and there but, nobody has consulted the complainants. We have court judgment that still recognises us as national officers of the party.”
But a member of the PDP Reconciliation and Zoning Committees and 2015 governorship candidate of the party in Oyo State, Senator Teslim Folarin, said the crisis in the party is “democracy in action,” noting, however, that the party was at a great risk of not being able to win elections if the crisis continues.
“There is a crisis at the national level of the party; there is no question about that. But again, it is democracy in action. If you look at the structure of the PDP in the past, because we have the president who is a central figure; a father figure, people automatically deferred to him. You may not like him or respect him, but you have to play by his rule because he is the president. So, there was orderliness then.
“But now, there is no president. There are 12 governors who are going in different directions and the other stakeholders are not united. This is akin to the problem we have in the PDP in Oyo State in the last four years, when there was no central figure. But the good thing is that the crisis shows that there is something in the PDP that is worth fighting for. If the party is worthless, people will not fight.
“What I can assure you is that in the coming weeks, we will achieve true reconciliation. We have been working very hard. We need everybody. All of them are our friends. Senator Ahmed Makarfi and Senator Ben Obi were in the Senate with me; Senator Ningi was also in the National Assembly with me and Prince Dayo Adeyeye is also a friend. Senator Sheriff is also a friend, though he was in the Senate at different time from us; but I can tell you that we are working round-the-clock to achieve true reconciliation and once we do that, this visionless All Progressives Congress (APC) government can start packing its loads,” Folarin said.
On the implication of the litany of court cases over the leadership crisis for effort to bring all factions together, Folarin said: “It is true; the manner in which members have been using the court could affect reconciliation efforts. But there is no standing committee doing all the works; leaders of the party are all talking to one another. One of the things we are impressing on one another is that even if you gain victory in the courts, it will not translate into votes. If you control the party structure and you don’t win elections, what is the point? So, for us to be able to win elections, we all have to come together. It is as simple as that; let us forget all these courts, courts. Let us all sit down and be civil; if we sit down with calm heads, we will make progress and believe me, that will happen.”