Ali Modu Sheriff
Grapples with new court cases
The hope of reviving a vibrant opposition party in the country ahead of the 2019 general elections is getting dimmer with the resurgence of court judgments that are further weakening the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Since the beginning of 2017, two different courts have given judgments in favour of the chairmen of state chapters of the PDP loyal to the Ali Modu Sheriff’s faction.
A weakened PDP means complete absence of opposition in Nigeria’s democracy, as no other party in the line-up possesses the muscle to benchmark the ruling APC. Nigerians will be stuck with the APC in the 2019 elections not necessarily on the basis of the sterling performance of the ruling party but for lack of choice.
The PDP chairman in Ekiti State and latest victim of the court judgments ousting chairmen loyal to Ahmed Makarfi’s faction, Mr. Gboyega Oguntuase, claimed that the verdict was a deliberate ploy to weaken the party in the state and prevent it from winning the 2018 governorship election.
“The judgment was based on judicial rascality and insanity, which would not dissuade us from winning the 2018 governorship election,” he however added.
The Makarfi-led faction of the party has argued that the failure of the courts to quickly adjudicate on the PDP leadership matters before them portends danger to the country’s democracy.
Makarfi said in an interview with The Guardian that though the courts should be allowed to decide on the leadership issue in the party at their convenient time, the matter is a serious one that has the potential of causing disturbances to larger parts of the country.
“Where you have some elements in the ruling party interfering in what is going on in an opposition party, may be in order to bring down genuine opposition, such can instigate ugly tendencies as we head towards local government elections.
“In an All Progressives Congress (APC)-controlled state, for example, they can use such a division to deny PDP the chance to legitimately field candidates and this will be the greatest disservice to democracy in the country. That is why I am telling the judiciary that the situation we are today is not just a simple party affair but linked to elections across the length and breadth of this country with unimaginable consequences if allowed to linger for too long,” he stated.
According to the Rivers State Chairman of the PDP, Felix Obuah, “Sheriff has created some kind of confusion but God will vindicate us. Anyone using him to destabilise PDP will not succeed.”
But the spokesman for Sheriff’s faction, Mr. Bernard Mikko dismissed the claim that the judiciary was causing confusion, stressing that rather, it was ‘hope rising’ for PDP and Nigerians. According to him, it is only when Makarfi and his group get unfavourable judgment that they complain, but when it favours them, the judiciary is good.
“The truth is that if the judgment is not in their favour they say judiciary is creating confusion and constituting a threat to the society. Why don’t they go to court and challenge the judgments?”
Mikko explained that the issues involved in the Kebbi and Ekiti states’ chapters of the party were purely matters in the states and have nothing to do with the national leadership crisis in the party.
To him, the only matter that affects the national leadership is before the Appeal Court in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. He said the Sheriff’s faction would win in Osun State the way they won in Kebbi and Ekiti.
“We are taking our party back to the people just like (Donald) Trump has taken America back to the Americans,” he told The Guardian.
Efforts to get the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, to comment on the implications of decimating opposition parties proved abortive, as the body claimed such comments would portray it as being partisan.
However, the Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere said it was unfortunate that Nigeria is currently under the control of those who never believed in the culture of opposition and that is the reason they have been doing everything to muzzle the opposition parties.
The Spokesman of Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, said: “The only remedy to the crisis confronting the nation’s democracy given the way the leadership of the APC is handling it is for the country to be restructured. With the way things are in Nigeria, democracy can never germinate on our soil unless we restructure it. The opposition parties must renew their strength to ensure the restructuring of the country.”
The PDP leadership struggle has left the courts in disarray of conflicting decisions. There were Federal high court orders sacking Sheriff and affirming the chairmanship of Makarfi. There have also been orders from the same Federal high court (though in a different division) upholding Sheriff’s chairmanship of the PDP and removing Makarfi as chairman. These orders have been contradictory and show that one court has been entertaining ‘appeals’ from a court of coordinate jurisdiction, which is an aberration.
The genesis of the crisis began when in May 12, 2016, Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court in Lagos restrained the PDP from holding elections into offices of the national chairman, national secretary, and national auditor pending the determination of a suit before him, but PDP went ahead and ‘appointed’ a caretaker committee with as Makarfi as chairman at the national convention held in Port Harcourt, Rivers state.
On May 24, Justice Buba sacked the Makarfi-led caretaker committee because it was appointed contrary to his May 12 restraining order. The same day, a Federal High Court restrained Sheriff from parading himself as PDP Chairman, thereby validating the convention and ordered INEC to recognize Makarfi as the valid chairman of the PDP.
However, on June 29, Justice Valentine Ashi of the FCT High Court in Abuja nullified Sheriff’s chairmanship on the grounds that the process that brought him in was illegal. Few days later, on July 4, Justice Mohammed Liman of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt affirmed Sheriff’s removal, stating that the May 21 convention was in order.
As a result, the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Ibrahim Auta, on July 8, directed all judges of the Federal High Court to stay clear of any matter concerning the PDP crisis pending the determination of appeals before the appellate court.
Despite the directive, Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court in Abuja on July 28 sacked Makarfi as PDP chairman on the grounds that the July 4 judgment of Justice Liman could not overrule the May 12 restraining order because both courts are of coordinate jurisdiction.
Another federal high court in Port Harcourt on August 16 presided over by Justice Watila affirmed the legitimacy of the Makarfi-led faction and ordered INEC, the Police Force, and all other relevant agencies to be present at the PDP Convention slated for August 17.
The same day, Justice Abang ordered that the PDP national convention should not hold. He equally ordered all relevant agencies to stay clear of the convention. But the convention held and extended the life of the Makarfi caretaker committee. The same day, an FCT High Court sacks Sheriff based on the June 29 order of the same court.
Most of these cases are on appeal, but when the conflict climaxed with the gubernatorial ticket for Ondo state, the Supreme Court struck out the interlocutory appeals filed by the Sheriff-led faction of the Ondo PDP, telling them to return to Appeal Court to consolidate and resolve all pending cases relating to the dispute.
It appears the cases at the lower courts are resurfacing and the appellate courts have no power to stop litigants from ventilating their grievances at the courts below. Irrespective of what the decision of the appellate courts would be, the cases at the lower courts would go on. And if any consolidation takes place, it is most likely to affect those already within the docket of the appellate court.