Ondo: It’s Time for Appeal Court to Act

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Who is the authentic governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in Ondo State? This is one question the Court of Appeal must urgently resolve to avoid a breakdown of law and order in the Sunshine state, writes Davidson Iriekpen

Except the Court of Appeal urgently steps in and urgently resolves the impasse about who the authentic Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship candidate is in Ondo State between Eyitayo Jegede and Jimoh Ibrahim, the state will soon witness the kind of breakdown of law and order capable of threatening the November 26 election.

While Jegede belongs to the Ahmed Makarfi faction of the party, Ibrahim is in the Ali Modu Sheriff camp. The two factions have since May been enmeshed in a supremacy battle over who is the authentic leader of the party.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) by virtue of the judgment of Justice Abdullahi Liman of the Federal High in Port Harcourt on July 4, 2016, had recognised Jegede as the candidate of the PDP for the election. The commission has sent its representatives to monitor and supervise the primary election that produced Jegede. It was also on the basis of this judgment that INEC recognised Mr. Osagie Ize-Iyamu as the governorship candidate of the PDP for the Edo State governorship which held last month

However, on October 14, Justice Okon Abang of the Abuja division of the Federal High Court altered the equation, when he ordered the commission to accept Ibrahim as the candidate of the party.

In his ruling on an application filed by the Chairman and Secretary of the PDP in Ondo State, Biyi Poroye and Ademola Genty and others in Osun and Oyo respectively, Abang, typically, held that INEC has no reason to reject the candidate submitted to it by the plaintiffs.
The said application was for the enforcement of a June 29, 2016 judgment of the court affirming Poroye, Genty and others, who emerged from the May 10, 2016 congresses of the party in the South-west, as the authentic leaders of the party in the Ondo, Ekiti, Oyo, Osun, Ogun and Lagos States.

In the June 29 judgment, Justice Abang further ordered INEC to only accept the name of the candidate sent by the Pororye and Genty-led executive committee as the actual candidate of the party for the forthcoming governorship election in Ondo State.

The applicants had applied to the court for themselves and on behalf of the Ondo State executive committee of the PDP, stating that the post-judgment application was informed by INEC’s refusal to accept their candidate, as directed by the court in its June 29 judgment.

It was their contention that the electoral body was aware that the judgment of the court relates to five other states, where the general election would hold in 2019 and is in good position to understand the implications of the judgment for Ondo State, where elections would hold in 2016, but chose to ignore the obvious implication.

In addition, they also stated that INEC was also aware that the judgment was predicated upon the May 19, 2016 letter of the National Working Committee (NWC) of the PDP, which was addressed to it (INEC), confirming to it that Pororye and Genty are leaders of the authentic state Executive Committee of the party in Ondo State.

In his ruling that threw Ondo into crisis, Abang held that INEC was without any reason not to accept the candidate submitted to INEC by the plaintiffs. He noted that not only did INEC participate in the proceedings leading to the June 29 judgment; it was not on record that the judgment has been appealed.

The judge, who also noted that since INEC did not contest the case and appeal the judgment, wondered why it chose not to obey it.

Abang therefore ordered INEC to, “accept and process for the purpose of its functions and activities in the organisation and conduct of the Ondo State governorship election only the nomination of Ibrahim, who emerged from the primary election conducted by the 1st and 2nd plaintiffs/applicants, as candidate of the 2nd defendant (PDP) in the said Ondo governorship election.”

He also ordered INEC to “reject and jettison any other nomination from (s) submitted to it by any other person(s) apart from the 1st and 2nd plaintiffs/applicants, indicating that no other person, apart from Jimoh Ibrahim Folorunso, is the candidate of the 2nd defendant for the Ondo State governorship election.”

Relying on the above judgment, INEC last Thursday named Ibrahim as the candidate of the PDP for the governorship election. Ibrahim’s name was posted on an INEC notice board in Akure as well as on the commission’s website. As soon as the electoral umpire made the announcement, protest broke out in Akure, the state capital

This decision by the commission surprised many observers moreso as the commission did not monitor nor supervise the primary that produced Ibrahim. Moreover, many pundits wondered why the judgment should affect Jegede, who was not a party in the suit. This, many them of feel, should have made the commission to appeal the verdict before taking a position.
To know that it was Abang that delivered the judgment again did not surprise many members of the party. Today, they hold him responsible for the crises rocking the party. So far, he has granted a number of orders that have added to the confusion in the party.

Apart from the series of controversial orders he has delivered to stop the party’s national convention, Abang has also acted in a manner largely suspected to be on mission to kill the PDP by granting many orders, recognising Sheriff remained the authentic national chairman of the PDP against the orders of similar courts of the same jurisdiction asking Sheriff to step down.
His bias and judicial blunder came to the fore when he sat on appeal on a judgment delivered by a similar court of concurrent jurisdiction presided over by Justice Liman of the Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt.

As a way of permanently resolving the legal crises plaguing the PDP, Justice Liman had in a judgment delivered on July 4, declared that the May 21 national convention of the party, where the Makarfi-led National Caretaker Committee was inaugurated was valid, stating that its decisions did not violate any known law or the constitution of the party. He also affirmed that the appointment of the caretaker committee by the national convention of the PDP to oversee its affairs was legal and in line with the provisions of the party’s constitution. He therefore dismissed all the grounds of defence put up by Sheriff.

Liman said Article 31 (1) of the PDP constitution vested the powers to convene a national convention on the national executive committee of the party and held that pursuant to the constitution of the party, Sheriff had no powers to unilaterally postpone the properly constituted national convention on a day all delegates had converged on Port Harcourt, the host city.

The judge described the action of Sheriff as “most unconscionable”, pointing out that the former acting national chairman participated in all the processes leading to the national convention, only to make a U-turn at the final minute after he was screened and disqualified.
The court ruled that after Sheriff was disqualified following his screening, the only option that was left to him was to have gone to the venue of the national convention to seek the opinion of delegates whether they were prepared to go on with the convention or not.
According to him, the absence of Sheriff at the convention did not visibly affect the process as his powers were not usurped. He declared that under Article 35 (b) of the PDP constitution, in the absence of the chairman, the deputy chairman was empowered to preside over the national convention.

He further argued that in line with Article 33 (2) of the PDP constitution, the national convention of the party is supreme and can exercise the powers to dissolve the national working committee and the national executive committee of the party.

But Justice Abang, who has concurrent powers with Justice Liman, rather than respect the judgment, sat as superior court and sacrilegiously used interlocutory order to debase the verdict by holding that the purported convention held in Port Harcourt on May 20 was in violation of two court orders of the Lagos Division of the Federal High Court, which barred the PDP and INEC from holding the convention. He barred the Makarfi-led caretaker committee from exercising any authority or taking any decision on behalf of the PDP on account of being an illegal body.

Abang took a swipe at the Makarfi-led group for going to Port Harcourt to obtain a favourable judgment from a division of the Federal High Court, which is a court of co-ordinate jurisdiction to that of Lagos. With what was generally termed judicial impunity, he reprimanded his colleague in the Port Harcourt division for recognising the Makarfi-led caretaker committee, saying it was unlawful, illegal and has no foundation in law to stand.

This is why it is believed that until the Court of Appeal resolves the crisis once and for all, it will continue to tear the party apart. The first sign to quickly resolve the matter was seen when the appellate court in Abuja last reserved ruling on a motion seeking to commence action against affirmation of Sheriff as Acting National Chairman of PDP.

Makarfi and Ben Obi are seeking leave to appeal the June 29 decision of the Federal High Court that affirmed Sheriff as chairman. Justice Hanatu Sanke deferred the ruling after counsel to parties adopted their written addresses. The two applicants, who are chairman and secretary of the caretaker committee of the party respectively, had sought for leave to be allowed to appeal against the decision of the lower court. They are also seeking an extension of time to file the appeal against the decision of Abang.

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