The Supreme Court will, today, finally lay to rest the leadership tussle in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as it decides who is the authentic leader of the party between Senators Ali Modu Sheriff and Ahmed Makarfi. The apex court, which had reserved judgement in the suit on May 22, had, on Monday evening, fixed today for judgement.
Though, the court had begun its annual vacation on Monday. The party had been embroiled in a leadership tussle for over one year between the Sheriff-led National Executive Council (NEC) and the Makarfi-led National Caretaker Committee (NCC). PDP leaders and members are now apprehensive over the likely outcome of the appeal filed at the Supreme Court by the National Caretaker Committee of the party.
As at last night, tension was very high in both camps of the PDP. Various sources who spoke with our correspondents expressed apprehension over the expected judgement. A very high ranking member of the Sheriff’s camp, who spoke to our correspondent under anonymity said: “There is tension everywhere. We are tensed up. Now is not the time to ask us about what our expectations are.
As I am talking to you now, they (Makarfi faction) are jubilating in Delta and Rivers states. They are saying that they have had their way. They are saying that they have been able to achieve victory. So, we are only waiting for the court to pronounce the judgement. We want to move on.”
Checks by New Telegraph correspondents in Rivers and Delta states did not reveal any advance celebration. However, inside Sheriff’s camp, some other senior figures, late last night, were in upbeat mood. They insisted that Sheriff would emerge as the authentic chairman of the party today.
The Makarfi camp also insisted that they were going to win. A leader in the camp told New Telegraph last night that PDP would bounce back to life if the Makarfi faction wins. “If Makarfi wins, that’s the resurrection of the PDP. But if Sheriff wins, then that is the beginning of another long journey,” he said.
But a former member of the Presidential Campaign Council of the party, Mr. Ken Okolugbo, told New Telegraph last night that whatever the outcome of the case today, the PDP would be stronger for it. He insisted that both the Sheriff and Makarfi factions of the party have seen the reality of the party dying and are now willing to work for its survival.
Okolugbo said: “If you look at the last senatorial election in Osun State, both factions worked together, not minding the crisis. PDP members now understand that the crisis has only diminished the party and the opposition in Nigeria. One thing that is certain is that no matter what happens, the PDP would come out stronger from this crisis. We have lost ground, but the truth is that between now and 2019, we would be able to rebuild the party.”
The pending Supreme Court judgement, which might be the final resolution of the over one-year leadership crisis, will determine the future of PDP, which has ruled Nigeria for 16 years.
Already, opinions are varied among members on how they would react after the apex court judgement. Majority of PDP members, including various organs of the party, have identified with the Makarfiled caretaker committee, although Sheriff claimed most of the governors are with him. Despite winning the victory at the Court of Appeal, the Sheriff faction is yet to win the support of most PDP members including the establishment staff.
The staff had, at a press conference, said they were not in a hurry to resume at the National Secretariat because their safety was not guaranteed. Instead, they had continued to report at the Wuse II temporary office used by the caretaker committee as its secretariat.
The leadership tussle had traversed from the Federal High Court where there was a conflicting judgement between an Abuja Division of the Federal High Court and the Port Harcourt Division. The Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt division had, in its judgement, validated the Sheriff faction as the authentic and recognised faction. However, not satisfied, the Makarfi faction approached the Supreme Court seeking to upturn the judgement of the Court of Appeal.
A five-man panel of Justices of the apex court, headed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, had reserved judgement after striking out an application that sought to abort hearing on the appeal that was lodged by the Makarfi-led faction of the party.
The appeal is challenging the February 7 verdict of the Port Harcourt Divi- sion of the Court of Appeal which declared Sheriff as the authentic National Chairman of the party. The appellants are praying the apex court to set aside the judgement and handover the leadership of the party to the Makarfi-led National Caretaker Committee. Meanwhile, Sheriff and his group failed to persuade the apex court not to hear the appeal.
The panel, in a ruling that was delivered by the CJN, granted the Makarfiled faction leave to challenge the Appeal Court verdict that recognised Sheriff as leader of the party. The CJN held that under Section 27 of the Supreme Court Rules, the appellants had a period of three months to appeal against the judgement.
The apex court held that the notice of appeal was properly filed in April, even as it deemed all the processes by the appellants as duly filed and served.
“We find merit in the application. Leave is hereby granted to the appellants to appeal on grounds of mixed laws and facts,” the CJN held.
Shortly after the ruling was delivered, the apex court entertained arguments from all the parties on the contentious leadership dispute in the PDP.
Whereas the appellants, through their counsel, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), prayed the apex court to allow the appeal and set-aside the appellate court judgment; the Sheriff-led group, through their counsel, Chief Akin Olujinmi (SAN), challenged the competence of the appeal which they said deserved to be struck out with substantial cost.
Likewise, the PDP under Sheriff, through its counsel, Prince Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), urged the apex court to dismiss or strike out the appeal on the premise that the appellants did not obtain the necessary authorisation of the party to file an appeal in its name.
“My lords, the cardinal issue for determination here is whether a party in whose name an appeal was filed has a right to withdraw such appeal?
“My lords, it is not about locus, but the right of person in whose name a case was filed to withdraw it,” Fagbemi submitted.
He drew attention of the court to a letter dated March 15, 2017, in which the Sheriff-led faction of the party applied to withdraw the appeal marked: SC/133/2017.
The faction which identified itself to the Supreme Court as PDP’s National Executive Committee (NEC), with Sheriff as Chairman and Prof. Wale Oladipo as Secretary, maintained that the Makarfi-led committee, having been declared illegal by the Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt, lacked the vires to take decisions for the party, including initiating court proceedings in its name.
In a written address he filed against the appeal, Sheriff insisted that in view of the subsisting verdict of the appellate court, he remained the authentic leader of the party.
He told the apex court that PDP under his leadership was comfortable with the appellate court’s verdict and had no intention to challenge it.
Besides, the Sheriff-led group contended that the decision of the Makarfi committee to file an appeal in the name of the PDP without authorisation, was not only illegal, but also in violation of the party’s constitution.
Relying on the provisions of Chapter 5, Articles 35(1), 36(1) and 42(1) of the PDP constitution, they argued that the party, with a corporate personality, could only act through the principal national officers, whose powers and functions are stated in the constitution.
The Sheriff faction referred to a May 18, 2016 judgement of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in suit No: FCT/HC/CV/1443/2016, ordering a return to status quo as at May 18, 2016 and the subsequent judgement of the Federal High Court in suit No: FHC/ABJ/CS/464/2016, to the effect that only the Sheriff NEC could instruct lawyers for the party, and urged the Supreme Court not to hear the appeal.
According to them, the Makarfi committee could only challenge the appellate court’s verdict as interested parties after they must have first secured leave of court to file an appeal.
They maintained that the suit should either be dismissed or struck out since the supposed appellants (Makarfi’s PDP) neither obtained leave of the Court of Appeal nor that of the Supreme Court before filing the appeal which is based on mixed law and facts.
In a counter argument, the Makarfi committee urged the court not to allow the respondents to frustrate hearing of the case on its merit.
The appellants argued that it was wrong for Sheriff and others, who had earlier briefed Olujinmi to represent them in the substantive appeal and had filed a respondents’ brief, in which they also made similar arguments in relation to the competence of the appeal, to again brief Fagbemi to ask the court not to hear the appeal at all but to strike it out.
Relying on Order 8 Rule 6 (1), (2) and (4) of the Supreme Court’s Rules, the Makarfi Committee faulted the March 15, 2017, letter of the Sheriff-led NEC applying to withdraw the appeal and the subsequent application for it to be struck out.
The appellants argued that since the appeal was not filed by Sheriff and others, they lacked the right to apply to withdraw it.
After listening to all the parties, the apex court panel said it would communicate the judgement date to all the parties.
Source: New Telegraph
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