From convention grounds and party offices, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leaders have moved their legitimacy battle to the court room. The crisis was yesterday deepened by the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos and Port Harcourt, which gave conflicting rulings on the status of the party’s leadership.
After last weekend’s parallel conventions in Port Harcourt and Abuja, three people have been claiming the leadership of the troubled former ruling party. They are: Senator Ahmed Makarfi, the caretaker chairman appointed in Port Harcourt, Prof. Jerry Gana, the Interim chairman picked in Abuja and Alhaji Ali Modu Sheriff, who was removed by the governors.
In Lagos, Justice Ibrahim Buba declared the Makarfi-led caretaker panel a nullity.
He declared Shefiff as the authentic chair and ordered the police to enforce the order.
In Port Harcourt, Justice A.M. Liman stopped Sheriff from parading himself as the chairman and directed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to recognise the Makarfi-led caretaker committee.
Justice Buba held that the Sherrif-led executive should remain in office until the suit is determined. He ordered the police to ensure that the order is enforced.
The committee, headed by a former governor of Kaduna State, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, was appointed last Saturday following the party’s shelved convention.
Members are Senator Ben Obi (national secretary), Sen. Odion Ugbesie, Sen. Abdul Ningi, Mr. Kabir Usman, Mr. Dayo Adeyeye and Alhaja Aisha Aliyu.
Justice Buba held that the committee was appointed in violation of an order he made on May 12.
He had barred the party from conducting elections into offices of PDP national chairman, national secretary and national auditor, pending the hearing and determination of the suit.
The judge had also restrained INEC from monitoring the election.
The plaintiffs – Sheriff, National Secretary Prof. Wale Oladipo and National Auditor Alhaji Fatai Adeyanju – prayed the court for an interlocutory injunction restraining PDP from conducting any election into the offices of the National Chairman, National Secretary and National Auditor, which they occupied, pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.
Justice Buba said he would not allow his order to be violated without consequences, adding that he had an obligation to ensure his directives were obeyed.
“No court can make an order in vain,” he held.
Oladipo’s and Adeyanju’s lawyer, Ajibola Oluyede, told Justice Buba about an application filed yesterday in which he prayed the court to invoke its disciplinary powers. He said: “Certain steps were taken to remove the plaintiffs from their office, notwithstanding your lordship’s interlocutory injunction which restrained the respondents from taking such steps.
“The steps were taken over the weekend to remove them and it was during the pendency of this action. It is for that reason that we were constrained to file this application. We seek your lordship’s disciplinary jurisdiction to bring back matters to the status quo based on the order of May 12.”
Justice Buba said although Oluyede’s application was not ripe for hearing, he was bound to protect the court’s sanctity against violation of its orders.
He said to ignore the flouting of a court order was to invite anarchy.
He quoted Section 287 (3) of the 1999 Constitution, which says: “The decisions of the Federal High Court, a High Court and of all other courts established by this Constitution shall be enforced in any part of the federation by all authorities and persons, and by other courts of law with subordinate jurisdiction to that of the Federal High Court, a High Court and those other courts, respectively.”
The judge added: “Therefore, the Inspector-General of Police is directed to enforce the orders of this court until the order is set aside or all the applications before the court are disposed of.
“Because of the nature of this matter, being political, time is hereby abridged for the hearing of all applications,” he said.
The judge warned the Makarfi-led committee “not to act in that capacity in defiance of this order”.
Before the ruling, there was a scene as two lawyers, Ahmed Raji (SAN) and Godswill Morakpor, were locked in a heated argument over who, between them, was authorised to represent the PDP. Both announced appearance for the party.
Raji said: “There was no attempt to change counsel. I am the counsel on record for the second defendant (PDP). The new caretaker committee has re-validated my appointment. This is the letter,” he said, handing the letter to Justice Buba.
But, Morakpor said he was the one authorised to represent PDP, not Raji.
He said: “Today is like a nightmare to me. I never envisaged a situation where I would be dragging a client with a senior member of the Bar. We have filed a notice of change of counsel and served same on the learned SAN.”
Raji, however, claimed he was not served with an application for change of counsel for PDP. The court’s bailiff was sent for, and he confirmed that he indeed served Raji with the application at his office.
Justice Buba held that Morakpor is the recognised counsel for PDP, adding that both lawyers could not appear for the same client.
Justice Buba said: “Granted, Mr Raji (SAN) is the former counsel on record, but the filing of notice of change of counsel and service of same has legal consequences. This court is one of record. The court can only grant Mr Morakpor audience. There is no room for response under Order 9 of the rules of this court,” Justice Buba held.
He adjourned the hearing till Friday.