A Federal High Court siting in Abuja has nullified the national convention held by the Peoples Democratic Party on May 21 in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital.
It was at that convention that the National Working Committee of the party led by former Governor Ali Modu Sheriff was dissolved and a caretaker committee led by former Governor Ahmed Markarfi was constituted.
Mr. Sheriff, a former governor of Borno State, has since then been challenging his removal and has insisted that he remained the legitimate leader of Nigeria’s leading opposition party.
But ruling in a fresh case brought before his court on Thursday, Justice Okon Abang said the May 21 convention was illegal and that Mr. Makarfi’s committee was unlawfully constituted.
Justice Abang gave the ruling while determining the rightful counsel to represent the PDP in the new case.
Mr. Sheriff is asking the court to determine whether his replacement by Mr. Makarfi was lawful or an abuse of court orders.
The Lagos division of the Federal High Court had issued a court order restraining the PDP from conducting election into the offices of its national chairman, national secretary and national auditor.
The ruling by Justice Ibrahim Buba was made sequel to an application brought by Mr. Sheriff and his colleagues who occupied those positions.
The application had intended to prevent elections of new party leaders at the May 21 convention.
But on May 21, the PDP held its convention in Port Harcourt where Mr. Makarfi was appointed to lead a caretaker committee, a development that sparked a fresh round of crisis in the party, with Mr. Sheriff insisting that he remained the legitimate chairman of the fold.
The two contenders sent two different lawyers to Justice Abang’s court on Thursday, both claiming to represent the national chairman of the party.
The court listened to the two lawyers – Ferdinand Obi and Adeniyi Akintola — to enable it to determine who should be the legal representative of the PDP in the matter.
Giving his ruling, Mr. Abang ruled that in determining who should be the rightful counsel to the PDP, it was necessary to decide whether the caretaker committee led by Mr. Makarfi was rightly constituted or not.
“The convention was unlawfully held and the caretaker committee was unlawfully constituted,” the judge ruled.
“If the Markarfi-led faction, as an apostle of impunity, missed its way to the Port Harcourt division of the FHC, the court cannot be said to have acted within its legal jurisdiction in entertaining the matter,” Mr. Abang said.
He urged politicians to desist from creating confusion for judges.
Prior to his ruling, the counsel argued for over seven hours.
Mr. Obi, who represented the Makarfi faction, argued that it was illegal for the Deputy National Legal Adviser of the Sheriff faction , Bashir Maidugu, to file the suit and then also receive court processes on behalf of his faction.
“The plaintiff has no authority to receive documents for PDP, whom he has sued as the second defendant,” he said
He further cited a previous ruling by the Port Harcourt division of the Federal High Court, which ruled that the decisions taken at the May 21 convention were completely legal.
He added that the court held in that judgment that nothing in the decision of the convention amounted to an abuse of the law.
But responding, Mr. Akintola, who represented the Sheriff faction, said his client received the processes for the matter as part of his official responsibility as a legal officer representing the PDP.
“I submit that the plaintiff has power to act in plural capacity. He is a lawyer and the legal officer for the PDP,” Mr. Akintola said.
He added that the previous case cited by Mr. Obi did not make categorical statement as to who should represent the PDP, adding that the decision of his client to act in his statutory position should not amount to an abuse of law.
“We urge the court to hold that we are counsel for the PDP and that my learned brother should cease to appear for the PDP,” he said.
In his ruling, Justice Abang noted that there was an order restraining the party from conducting election into the offices of national chairman, national secretary and auditor pending the hearing and determination of a substantive suit at the Lagos decision of the Federal High Court.
“Where the court in Port Harcourt had no jurisdiction for entertaining such matters, a court of coordinate jurisdiction has legal prerogative to nullify the decision reached at the Port Harcourt division of the court,” he said.
Responding, Mr. Obi prayed the court for an adjournment, saying the issues raised were weighty and important for the determination of the matter.
“They should therefore not be resolved hastily,” he said.
Responding, Justice Abang said the May 21 convention was held despite the decision of the court, and that the Port Harcourt division wrongly assumed jurisdiction which led to the July 4 judgement that nullified the decision of the Lagos Division of the court.
He therefore ruled that the decision of Mr. Obi to ask for adjournment rather than respond to the question posed to him was not meritorious and therefore his prayer for adjournment refused.