In a judicial coup, court sacks Sheriff as PDP chairman

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Sheriff addressing the press at the PDP headquarters. Credit: The Guardian
Sheriff addressing the press at the PDP headquarters. Credit: The Guardian

The controversy surrounding the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) assumed a new twist yesterday, when an Abuja High Court sitting in Apo District of the Federal Capital Territory ordered the party’s factional Chairman, Ali Modu Sheriff, and other officers of the party to refrain from parading themselves in those capacities.

Justice Valentine Ashi of Court 29 issued an order restraining the individuals “currently parading themselves as the national officers of the PDP on the basis of the purported amendment to the PDP constitution effected at a special convention held in Abuja on December 10 and 11, 2014”.

By the amendment of 2014, effected on Article 47 Paragraph 6 of the PDP constitution, the party amended the provision which says in the event of a vacancy, the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) can appoint an acting chairman from the area or zone where the last occupant of the office comes from “pending when election is conducted” to reflect that where there is a vacancy, the acting chairman shall “serve the tenure of the officer”, who left before the expiration of the tenure.

Justice Ashi declared that the 2014 amendment to the PDP constitution was illegal on the grounds that the party did not comply with Section 66(2)(3) of its constitution by not serving the national secretary with a written copy of the proposed amendment two months before the convention, which the secretary was also required to circulate among state secretaries of the party a month before the convention.

The judge did not specifically mention Sheriff in his judgment, but ordered that those who became national officers of the party by virtue of the 2014 amendment to the PDP constitution, which the court has declared unlawful, should cease to parade themselves in those capacities.

The judge emphasised the need for the party to strictly adhere to the provisions of its constitution, even as he held that the insertion of the clauses in Section 66(2) and (3) was to deepen democracy in the party and that they constituted conditions precedent that must be first fulfilled.

Having not fulfilled the requirements, the judge invalidated the emergence of Sheriff as the party’s chairman.

The judgment was on a suit filed by a PDP member from Irele Local Government Area of Ondo State, Joseph Jero, against the PDP. It was marked: FCT/HC/CV/1867/2016 and had the PDP as the sole defendant.

The plaintiff, Jero, had invoked the jurisdiction of the court to interpret Sections 221(d) and 223 (1)(a) of the Nigerian Constitution, Article 47(6) of the PDP constitution as well as Section 85(3) of the Electoral Act with regards to the appointment of a caretaker or chairman of the party.

The judge held that the process leading to the amendment of Article 47(6) of the party’s constitution did not comply with the provisions in section 66(2) and (3) of its constitution.

Justice Ashi dismissed the argument by lawyers to the PDP, including Okere Kingdom to the effect that the appointment of the party’s chairman was the internal affair of the party which the court should not dabble into.

The judge held that although the issue was the internal affair of the party, the court had jurisdiction to determine whether the party complied with its own constitution and regulations.

After a thorough analysis of submissions by parties and evidence presented, Justice Ashi ordered that “the purported amendment of Article 47, Rule 6 of the PDP constitution, 2012, at a Special Convention held on Wednesday and Thursday, 10 and 11 December, 2014 was unconstitutional, null and ‎void, as there was no compliance with mandatory provision of Article 66 (2) and (3) of the same Constitution”.

“By reason of the above, the purported amendment of Article 47(6) introduced to PDP Constitution on the aforesaid dates, are hereby set aside.‎

“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,” he said.

‎The original section in the PDP constitution provided that in the case of a vacancy, the executive committee of the party either at ward, state or national level, should appoint ‎a caretaker or a chairman from the zone of the former holder of the office “pending the conduct of election”.

The amended provision stipulates that the appointed caretaker or chairman should hold office “to serve the term of the (previous) officer”.

‎The amendment was made by the party to validate the emergence of Adamu Mu’azu as the chairman of the party following the abrupt exit of his predecessor, Bamanga Tukur, in 2014 and to sustain the emergence of former President Goodluck Jonathan as the presidential candidate of the party.

Sheriff, a former governor of Borno State, became the party’s chairman by virtue of the 2014 amendment and being from the same zone as Mu’azu.

However, in a swift reaction, the former National Secretary of the PDP, Prof. Adewale Oladipo, disagreed with reports that the court had sacked Sheriff, saying that the ruling of the court had nothing to do with the election of the former Borno State governor as the national chairman.

In a statement yesterday, Oladipo, who along with Sheriff, is battling to retain his positions, said: “Our attention has been drawn to reports circulating in the media that a Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court has ousted the National Chairman of the PDP, Sen. Ali-Modu Sheriff.

“This is completely false and a clear misrepresentation of the ruling of the court as it never gave any ruling ousting the national chairman.

“For the avoidance of doubt, the court only heard and delivered judgment on a matter concerning certain amendments in the PDP Constitution, which has nothing to do with the election of Senator Ali Modu Sheriff as the national chairman or even that of his predecessor, Alhaji Adamu Mu’azu.

“Senator Modu Sheriff was duly elected as the national chairman of the PDP. He still holds office as the national chairman and has not been removed by any court.

“We therefore urge those misleading the media and the unsuspecting public to desist from such. The media are also urged to always crosscheck their facts before going to press.”

The party, on the other hand, adopted a more conciliatory stance, as its National Caretaker Committee called on Sheriff and other aggrieved members to stop their recalcitrant acts and embrace dialogue as a means of resolving their grievances.

Speaking to journalists yesterday after the court ruling in Abuja, the Secretary of the Caretaker Committee, Senator Ben Obi, said the party expected more positive judicial pronouncements in the weeks ahead.

According to him, the committee believes that rebuilding the party needs every useful hand and will welcome those aggrieved members to submit to dialogue and to cooperate with the Makarfi-led committee in charting the way forward for the party.

“We expect more positive court rulings in the days ahead in favour of our party‎. It is time for them to face the truth and retrace their steps,” he said.

On whether the committee was ready to welcome Sheriff and others back, he said: “We believe that all hands should be on deck to chart the way forward. Given that we believe that the truth must be upheld, we want all hands on deck and to always do the right thing at all time.”

The court ruling notwithstanding, the PDP faction led by Sheriff went ahead with the Edo PDP primary for the selection of a candidate to contest the governorship election in the state in September.

At the end of the primary, Mr. Matthew Iduoriyekemwen emerged yesterday as the governorship candidate of the congress held by the Sheriff-led faction of the party in Edo State.

Iduoriyekemwen scored a total of 481 votes after another contestant, Ehiozuwa Johnson Agbonayinma, stepped down for him.

Following the latest primary, the Edo State PDP now parades two candidates for the September 10, 2016 governorship election.

Earlier, the Ahmed Makarfi-led faction of the PDP held its governorship primary, which threw up Pastor Ize Iyamu as the candidate of the party.

Announcing the result, the chairman of the factional electoral panel, Alhaji Ahmed Gulak, announced a delegate list of 677. He said 576 delegates were actually accredited, 21 invalid votes were recorded while the winner got 481 votes.

Announcing the outcome of the primary, he said: “By the power conferred on me as the electoral chairman and the constitution of our great party, Matthew Aigbuenze Iduoriyekemwen is hereby returned as the candidate of the party for the September 10, 2016 governorship election in Edo State having scored a total of 481 votes.”

In his acceptance speech, Iduoriyekemwen described his victory as the beginning of change in Edo.

The victor expressed his appreciation to the Sheriff-led leadership of the PDP for coming to conduct the primary and thanked them for not going back to the same problem of lack of internal democracy which he said crippled the party.

Earlier while stepping down, Agbinayinma, the member representing Egor/Ikpoba-Okha federal constituency, said he decided to step down to join Iduoriyekemwen in his quest to rebuild the state.

According to him, “How we can make Edo State a better place is what matters and I want to join hands to build the state. In the last primary election, I saw impunity taking place.

“After much consultation, I decided to present myself for this primary election because it is the only authentic primary given the court judgment recognising Ali Modu Sheriff as the national chairman of our party, PDP.

“But I am stepping aside for my friend and brother in the interest of the party and Edo State. Vote and support Matthew Aigbohueze Iduoriyekemwen.”

In his remarks, the factional deputy national chairman of PDP, Dr. Cairo Ojougboh, commended the security agencies present for the stringent measures they took to ensure that only genuine delegates participated in the governorship primary.

Ojougboh, who led a delegation of party officials, appealed to the leadership of the party to rally round the Sheriff-led PDP, stating: “Modu Sheriff is the authentic national chairman of PDP.” (Thisday)

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