The Supreme Court has affirmed the status of Ahmed Makarfi as the authentic Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party following his appeal brought to the apex court.
This ruling was handed down on Wednesday in Abuja, laying to rest the long and complicated legal battle surrounding the PDP leadership.
Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour who read the lead verdict validated the PDP National Convention held in Port Harcourt on May 21, 2016, where the Sheriff-led National Executive Committee was dissolved. He said the convention was not conducted in disobedience to any court order.
Also, the apex court accused Sheriff of engaging in forum shopping, saying he “displayed infantile desperation to cling to office at all cost”. Consequently, it awarded a cost of N200, 000 each, against Sheriff and Prof. Wale Oladipo who acted as National Secretary of the party under him.
The now-resolved supremacy battle between Sheriff and Makarfi assumed full scale following the party action during its national convention in Port Harcourt on May 21, 2016, sacking Sheriff and replacing him with a caretaker chairman, former Kaduna State Governor, Senator Ahmed Makarfi. This action was barely three weeks after Sheriff emerged as chairman of the party.
The avalanche of court rulings which came to define the dispute started on May 12, 2016 with Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court in Lagos, when he had on May 12, 2016 delivered a ruling restraining the PDP from holding elections into offices of the National Chairman, National Secretary, and National Auditor pending the determination of a suit before him.
While PDP went ahead on May 21, 2016 to appoint Makarfi chairman of the party and also filled other positions in its leadership, Justice Buba in a later ruling sacked the Makarfi-led caretaker committee because it was appointed contrary to his May 12, 2016 restraining order.
What followed was an extensive and sometimes dramatic legal battle. In this battle, both Makarfi and Sheriff enjoyed a fair share of favourable rulings by different courts.
However, on May 24, 2016 a Federal High Court siting in Port Harcourt, apparently overruled Justice Buba’s order and restrained Sheriff from parading himself as PDP chairman, validated the party convention and ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to recognise Makarfi as the valid chairman of the party.
Again, on June 29, 2016 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.
On July 4, 2015, Justice Mohammed Liman of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt further affirmed Sheriff’s removal, stating that the May 21, 2016 convention was in order.
All judges of the Federal High Court on July 8, 2016 were directed by Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Ibrahim Auta, to stay clear of any matter concerning the PDP crisis pending the determination of appeals before the appellate court.
But on July 28, 2016, after a stay of execution or an order vacating the unfavourable High Court ruling was granted, Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court in Abuja sacked Makarfi as PDP chairman on the grounds that the July 4 judgment of Judge Liman could not overrule the May 12 restraining order because both courts are of coordinate jurisdiction.
In another judgment by Justice Watila of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt on August 16, 2016, the court 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.
A later judgment on the same case and on the same date – August 16— by Justice Okon Abang ordered that the national convention of the PDP should not hold. He equally ordered all relevant agencies to stay clear of the convention.
On August 17, the venue of the convention was sealed off by security agencies, though the convention still held but in another venue. During the meeting, the tenure of the Makarfi caretaker committee was extended.
The crisis and legal battles continued as the party headed to the appeal.
However, the party received a heavy knock after the judgment of the Appeal Court siting in Port Harcourt on Thursday February 16, 2017, declared Ali Sheriff as the authentic national chairman of the party.
In a split decision, two out of the three-member panel of justices of the appellate court sided with Sheriff and ruled that it was illegal to replace him with the Makarfi-led caretaker committee.
Sheriff had been variously accused by members of the Makarfi-led PDP of working with President Buhari and the APC to sabotage the PDP. They premised this accusation on the fact that before joining PDP in July 2014, Sheriff was a member of the APC. They further pointed to the fact that he was also in the same party with President Muhammadu Buhari— the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP)— under which platform Buhari contested for presidency in 2003 and 2007.
Those who insist that Sheriff is working with APC to destroy PDP cite how he also worked with former President Obasanjo to destroy ANPP as an opposition party. While nobody has been able to prove how Sheriff destroyed his former party, ANPP, it remains a matter of concern that majority of Borno ANPP senators under Sheriff’s government supported the alleged Third Term project of former President Obasanjo.
Now that this long and complicated legal challenge has been finally resolved by the Supreme Court, the PDP is faced with the equally important challenge of resolving its political disputes and forging a united front if it will succeed in being an effective opposition and position itself for return to power at the national level anytime soon.
The lack of credible, reasoned and sustained challenge of the Buhari administration by the major opposition party has remained a source of concern for many stakeholders who have observed that no democracy can thrive without an organized and vibrant opposition.
It is hoped that the PDP will recognize the enormous responsibility it has as the leading opposition party in Africa’s most populous nation and live up to the challenge.
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