SDP leadership crisis: Court slates March 22 to rule on motion challenging jurisdiction

Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu of a Federal High Court, Abuja will on March 22, 2021, decide whether her court has jurisdiction to entertain a suit seeking for the determination of the authentic leadership of the Social Democratic Party (SDP).

Justice Ijeoma announced the date for ruling on Tuesday shortly after taken submissions on the notice of preliminary objections filed by INEC and four other respondents in the suit.

The suit filed by Chief Supo Shonibare and 11 others is seeking the recognition of the Olu Falae-led National Executive Committee (NEC) as the authentic leadership of the SDP as against the Professor Tunde Adeniran’s faction.

According to the plaintiffs in the suit numbered, FHA/A/ABJ/CS/1358/2019, they were elected at the party’s national convention on March 9, 2016, for a period of four years but were displaced sometime in 2018 by the Adeniran faction on claims that they were appointed at the party’s 2018 national convention.

Shonibare, who claimed to be the Acting National Chairman of the party, following the resignation of the National Chairman, Chief Olu Falae, in 2019, insisted that there was no election of party officials in 2018.

This development let to the legal action to resolve the leadership issue.

Respondents in the suit include Professor Adeniran, Shehu Gaban, Emeka Atuma, Prof. Rufai Alkali, Marian Tolopari, Dr Junaid Mohammed, Senator Ebenezer Ikeyina, Senator Erin Henshaw, David Umah, Stanley Nnanka, Joseph Achile, and INEC, who are first to twelfth defendants respectively.

At the proceedings of December 7, 2020, the court had adjourned to January 19 for hearing in the objections filed by INEC, 1st, 2nd, 4th, 9th and 11th defendants to the suit.

The 1st, 2nd, 4th, 9th and 11th defendants in arguing the motion urged the court to dismiss the suit on the grounds that it is a waste of time and an abuse of court’s process because the issues brought before the court have been resolved by the Supreme Court last year, in a judgment which declared former Cross River State Governor, Donald Duke as the candidate of the SDP in the 2019 presidential election.

Their lawyer, Mr Peter Nwantu argued that hearing the suit will amount to sitting on appeal on the judgments of both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.

INEC’s lawyer, Mr Dimas Emmanuel, argued that the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the suit because it has become statute-barred, adding that the court lacks the jurisdiction to entertain intra-party matters.

Responding to the two objections, counsel to the plaintiffs, Mr Tani Molajo (SAN) told the court that the objections by the defendants were misconceived because the issues brought before the court was quite different from what the apex court had resolved.

According to Molajo, the issue resolved by both the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court has nothing to do with the party’s leadership but the rotation of the presidential ticket among zones in the country.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer further argued that certain paragraphs in the affidavit in support of the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 9th and 11th defendants were in breach of the evidence act making the preliminary objection incompetent.

He, therefore, urged the court to dismiss the objections and proceed to hear the substantive suit.

Justice Ojukwu, however, announced that she will deliver her ruling on the objections March 22, 2021.

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