First three most senior Justices of the Supreme Court together with the sixth and seventh in hierarchy made-up of 5-man panel had on July 12, 2017 without firing a shot, but rather with a stroke of pen diffused ethno-political tension ravaging the nation.
Like a great physician, the jurists simply removed the tumor causing cholera, migraine headache, ankle pains and severe weakness in our ethno-political cycles when they sacked Ali Modu Sheriff as the National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); leading to sigh of relief in the nation.
Unknown to the nation, the so-called ‘’secession agitations’ and ‘’quit notices’’ were largely borne out of the lack of political space for some people to ventilate their feelings, begin to muddle-through or immerse themselves in preparation for the next general elections.
Sheriff who was invited by some PDP stakeholders in view of his presumed ‘’financial and political clout’’ to lead the party, no sooner than later was alleged to have been hijacked by ‘’enemies’’, and at worst assumed a PDP-one-chance-car platform that even his political associates and sponsors no longer wished to be identified with, rather they began to denounce and dissociating from him. All of a sudden, the nation became sick just as the President, Muhammadu Buhari was sick; and unlike President Buhari whose sickness was diagonalizable, no one could tell of causes for such a sudden and acute ethno-political sickness. Worst still, neither the nation was at good and human frame of mind to provide succor to President Buhari nor vice versa.
Equipped with moral compass, bedrock of legal principles and vision, the 5-man panel led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justices Walter Nkanu Onnoghen, alongsides with Justices Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, Olukayode Ariwoola and Musa Dattijo Muhammad unanimously held that the Ahmed Markafi-led National Working Committee (NWC) of the PDP is the true leadership organ of the party.
These special breeds sojourning in alcove status buildings within serene setting, but ably armed with age of entry goodly determined by length of journey in life, just like the freshness in a river tumbling down the hill gathers minerals and alluvial deposits; seems the same with these privileged few revered jurists amasses wisdom, temperance, patience and shrewdness; who curiously live within the people but not stained by the society.
Because Sheriff and his co-travelers used the court orders, like barracuda or ‘’kurungu’’ fishes, to turn political waters muddy or pollute political spaces, Justice Rhodes-Vivour who read the lead judgement accused Sheriff of engaging in forum shopping, saying he “displayed infantile desperation to cling to office at all cost”.
This saga began on May 12, 2016 when Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court in Lagos issued an injunction barring the PDP from conducting elections into the offices of the National Chairman, National Secretary and National Auditor pending the determination of a suit seeking to protect tenure of the applicants to that court in a suit filed by the then National Chairman of the party, Ali Modu Sheriff, the National Secretary, Prof. Adewale Oladipo and the National Auditor, Mr Fatai Adeyanju asking the court to stop the national convention pending the determination of their substantive suit.
The three national officers had claimed in the suit that their tenures of offices were yet to elapse thus resulting in the court subsequently granting an order of interlocutory injunction as requested by the trio, while further restricting the PDP from conducting any election into the offices of the national chairman, national secretary and national auditor pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.
Notwithstanding, the PDP went ahead with the convention and elected a caretaker committee. However, Justice Buba on May 23, 2016 sacked the Senator Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi-led PDP caretaker committee, declaring his newly constituted interim committee, as invalid and illegal. He directed the then Inspector general of police, Solomon Arase, to enforce his order and to ensure that the Makarfi’s committee does not take over the party’s national headquarters and that Ali Modu sheriff remains the national chairman of PDP.
On the same day, in Port Harcourt, Justice Abdullahi Liman gave a contrary judgment that now seemed to give the approval to the action of the (hitherto discredited) Port Harcourt convention. He gave the order following an exparte motion filed by the members of the Makarfi led faction of PDP. Justice Liman directed Sheriff-led committee to desist from parading themselves as national officer or member of the national executive committee or national working committee as doing so would negate decisions reached at the national convention of May 21. He also restrained INEC from according or continuing to accord any recognition to the national chairman, secretary and all the members of the NEC, NWC, who were removed during the convention. Furthermore, the jurist also ordered INEC to recognize the new interim national caretaker committee appointed by the convention as the executive authority of the party to conduct primaries for the officers and the submission of the list of candidates to it.
Justice Liman restrained the Sheriff-led executive from receiving the nominations or submitting names to the INEC in any capacity pending the hearing and determination of the motion. He further ordered the NEC and NWC not to sign any documents in such capacities prior to their removal pending the determination of the motion.
However, on May 20, 2016, in yet another twist, a High court in Abuja stopped the party from conducting elections in 18 national officers’ positions at its May 2016 convention scheduled for Port Harcourt, Rivers state. The court further stopped election into the offices of the national secretary and national auditor of the party.
Delivering judgments in suit No. FCT/HC/CV/1443/2016, Justice A. B. Mohammed of the high court of the Federal capital territory (FCT) held that the tenure of the national secretary and national auditor of the party would expire by December 2018 while the remaining officers’ tenure would expire by August 30, 2017 with the exception of the national financial secretary and chairman whose offices are vacant.
May 24: Two federal high courts in Lagos and Port Harcourt respectively gave conflicting orders either sacking or contrarily according recognition to the senator Ahmed Makarfi-led National caretaker committee appointed by the 2016 national convention of the party in port Harcourt. In a verdict issued by Justice A.M. Liman, the Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt ordered INEC to recognize the Makarfi-led committee of the PDP and granted leave to the party to issue as “concurrent” the originating summons and other processes in the suit for service on the defendants/respondents outside the jurisdiction of the court in Abuja. The court also restrained Sheriff, Oladipo and other sacked members of NWC and NEC from parading themselves as officials of the PDP.
Conversely, a concurrent jurisdiction in Lagos sacked the seven man interim committee led by Makarfi. Justice Buba of the federal high court in Lagos held that the committee was appointed in violation of an order he made on May 12. He barred the party from conducting elections into the offices of the chairman, secretary and auditor pending the hearing and determination of the suit.
June 29: Justice Valentine Ashi of an FCT high court sacked Ali Modu Sheriff from office by nullifying the 2014 PDP constitution amendment upon which sheriff seeking to affirm him as the chairman of the PDP. The judge struck out the case after majority of the former NWC members who sheriff joined as co-plaintiff denied him in court that they were not party to his latest bid to regain his chairmanship. The judge dismissed the suit.
July 4: the federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt declared May 21 National Convention of the PDP legal and that its decisions did not violate any known law or the constitution of the party. Delivering judgment on a suit brought before him by the National Caretaker Committee of the PDP, the presiding judge, Justice Liman, declared that the Port Harcourt national convention of the party was legally constituted and its decisions constitutional.
July 28: Justice Okon Abang of a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, in a ruling, affirmed Sheriff as the authentic national chairman of the party. The court further nullified the appointment of Makarfi as the party’s caretaker committee chairman while setting August 15 2016, for hearing of the application seeking to stop the August 17 national convention of the party.
However, Justice Abang again on Tuesday, 16 August 2016, reaffirmed his interim order to stopping the PDP from going ahead with its plan to conduct its national convention slated for Wednesday August 17. The judge on Tuesday 16 August 2016 turned the interim order into an interlocutory injunction that will subsist till the time the substantive suit is heard and determined. He adjourned the hearing of the case till September 7, and gave a stern warning to the chairman and secretary of INEC not to monitor the planned convention.
August 16, 2016: while justice Abang barred the convention from holding, justice Ibrahim Watila of a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt on the same day ruled that the party’s convention being organized by the Makarfi-led National caretaker committee should go on, ordering INEC, the Department of State Services (DSS) and the police to provide legal cover for the exercise. Justice Watila and Abang of the same federal high court delivered contradictory rulings with the same effect on the subject matter, on the same day.
Justice Watila in his ruling on 16 August 2016 declared that the national caretaker committee of the PDP is the executive authority in all matters concerning the party and that today’s national convention of the party in Port Harcourt is in line with the July 4 judgment of his court which validate the May 21 2016 national convention.
He therefore ordered the INEC to monitor the convention. He also ordered the inspector general of police, the Director General of DSS, the rivers state commissioner of police and the rivers state director of DSS to provide security at the convention.
Abang claimed that he was first assigned the case by the chief judge and as had jurisdiction and thereby gave orders that were conflicting.
He said that the Port Harcourt division could not make an order neutralizing the orders made by the Abuja division as a court of coordinate jurisdiction.
However, in two rulings on Wednesday August 17 in two different courts sitting in Abuja, the courts held the tenure of Sheriff as the acting national chairman of the PDP has no judicial backing.
In order to further muddy the waters, Justice Nwamaka Ogbonna of an FCT high court sitting in Kubwa, declared that Sheriff illegally paraded himself as chairman of the party and that he should stop.
The suit was filed by a contestant to the position of the youth leader in the aborted national convention, Danladi Ayuba, with sheriff as the sole defendant. When the case was mentioned, no counsel appeared for Sheriff.
In her judgment, justice Ogbonna said that based on the judgment of Justice Ashi of the same court which had sacked Sherifff on June 26, 2016, but which had not been appealed against at the court of appeal, all the actions taken so far since June 26 had become nullity.
At the end of the day 19 conflicting judgments and orders were in circulation relating to this matter further leading to confusion as to the propriety and legality of those orders and judgments.
However, Sheriff appealed against the judgement of Justice Mohammed Liman of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt delivered on July 4, 2016 at the Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt Division. And on February 17, 2017, Justices B.G.Sanga and A.A.Gumel gave lead judgement in a split decision of that court upheld the appeal of Sheriff-led committee, just as Justice T.S.Orji-Abadua in the 3-man panel upheld Justice Liman’s decision of July 4, 2016
Not satisfied, Makarfi group approached the Supreme Court on February 27, 2017 asking the apex court justices to discountenance Appeal Court decision and uphold the judgement delivered by Justice Liman on July 4, 2016.
On July 12, 2017, however, Supreme Court upheld that judgment of Justice Liman of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, Rivers State delivered on July 4, 2016, and the subsequent dissenting judgement of Justice T.S.Orji-Abadua, a member of the three-man panel of the Port Harcourt Division of the Court of Appeal, which both validated the removal of Sheriff as the National Chairman at the party’s national convention held on May 21, 2016.
Justice Rhodes-Vivour said “After examining the provisions of the PDP constitution, and the resolution passed and adopted at the national convention, this court is satisfied that the national convention acted constitutionally when it dissolved the National Executive Committee and the National Working Committee and appointed the Caretaker committee under article 33(5)(d) and (e) of the PDP constitution
“The stakes are very high in political battles. So, if allowed, political office seekers will not hesitate to file multiplicity of suits on the same subject matter hoping to get a favourable judgment from one court or the other.
The Supreme Court took time to read riot act on judicial officers who allowed themselves to be used to create perhaps the needless crisis in the PDP and in the country as a whole, when it said “Heads of court must by now be aware of this trend and stop this annoying practice of assigning cases of the same subject matter to different judges.
“This is unhealthy and renders the process completely useless, ending up making the judiciary a laughingstock. Trial judges must also be on the lookout and refrain from receiving cases when aware that a brother judge is handling a similar matter.”
Justice Rhodes-Vivour frowned at Sheriff’s conduct of filing many suits, which were abandoned and would continue to gather dust in judicial archive.
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