After a long legal tussle, which dragged the erstwhile ruling party in Nigeria, the Peoples Democratic Party in the mud, throwing it into disarray, the Supreme Court on Wednesday delivered a judgement that led to the removal of Ali Modu Sheriff as the National Chairman of the PDP and thereby resolving the leadership crisis and restoring order in the party.
A five-man panel of the apex court, led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, reinstated the Makarfi-led National Caretaker Committee, which was earlier sacked by the majority verdict of the Port Harcourt Division of the Court of Appeal on February 17, 2017.
The Court of Appeal judgement had recognised Sheriff as the authentic National Chairman of the party after nullifying the national convention of the party, which had earlier removed the ex-governor of Borno State in Port Harcourt on May 21, 2016.
However, the Supreme Court’s judgment has put to rest the legal battle for the control of the party, the fallout of the political crisis which has been rocking the party since it lost the 2015 presidential election.
Reading the lead judgment of the apex court on Wednesday, Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour formulated two issues for determination and both were resolved against Sheriff.
The judgment, which was based on the interpretation of the relevant provisions of the PDP’s constitution, also awarded the cost of N250,000 against Sheriff.
Justice Rhodes-Vivour descended heavily on Sheriff, whom the apex court adjudged to be filing multiplicity of suits in his desperation to cling to office after being removed by the resolution of the national convention of the party held in Port Harcourt on May 21, 2016.
The apex court upheld the judgment of Justice Mohammed Liman of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, delivered on July 4, 2016, and the subsequent dissenting decision of a member of the three-man panel of the Port Harcourt Division of the Court of Appeal, which both validated the removal of Sheriff as the National Chairman at the party’s national convention held on May 21, 2016.
Justice Rhodes-Vivour held that the majority judgment of the two of the members of the panel of the Port Harcourt Division of the Court of Appeal, delivered on February 17, 2017, was perverse.
The apex court held that the suit filed by the Makarfi faction before the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, was not an abuse of court process as wrongly held by the majority judgment which formed the decision of the Court of Appeal.
On the second issue, which it also resolved against Sheriff, the apex court held that the national convention of the PDP held on May 21, 2016, was rightly and constitutionally convened.
It held that going by the provisions of the PDP constitution, it was right for the PDP Deputy National Chairman to preside over the convention after Sheriff abandoned the convention and attempted to call it off.
It held that the convention acted rightly and not in breach of any aspect of the PDP’s constitution by setting up the Makarfi-led National Caretaker Committee.
Justice Rhodes-Vivour ruled, “When the first respondent (Sheriff) abandoned the convention, the PDP Deputy National Chairman presided over the convention in accordance with Article 35(2)(b) of the Constitution of the PDP.
“Furthermore, the Court of Appeal was wrong for its findings and came to a perverse conclusion after examining only Article 47(d) of the PDP constitution. It should also have examined other articles.
“It is also to be noted that the motion for the removal of the National Working Committee was brought pursuant to provisions of Article 33(5)(d) of the PDP constitution.”
He therefore held that all the resolutions passed and adopted at the convention, sacking the NEC and the NWC of the party, were valid.
Justice Rhodes-Vivour ruled, “There is merit in this appeal. The appeal is allowed. The judgment of the trial court, which was affirmed by the dissenting judgment of the Court of Appeal, is affirmed by this court. Cost of N250,000 is awarded against the first respondent (Sheriff).”
He advised the heads of various courts, which have the duty of assigning cases to judges under them, to be wary of antics of mischievous politicians who file multiplicity of cases.
The apex court Justice advised the heads of court to ensure that cases of similar subject matters were heard by the same judge.
Rhodes-Vivour added, “Trial judges must also be on the lookout and refrain from receiving cases when aware that a brother judge is handling a similar matter.”
Justice Rhodes-Vivour noted that many of the suits filed by Sherfiff had been abandoned and would continue to gather dust in judicial archive.
He held, “The respondents (Sheriff group) and their allies filed over 10 suits. The Court of Appeal has this to say; ‘the first appellant’, I agree, ‘displayed an infantile desperation to cling to office at all cost’.
“The first respondent has unpalatable desire to cling on to office.
“That desire was deployed relentlessly by filing over 10 suits. Most of which have been abandoned. They shall forever gather dust in judicial archive.”
Earlier in the judgment, Justice Rhodes-Vivour dismissed the preliminary objection filed by Sheriff.
Sheriff had contended in the motion, which the Supreme Court ruled as lacking in merit, that the appeal by the Makarfi faction was invalid on the basis it was filed in the name of the PDP, which he (Makarfi) was no longer in control of after the February 17, 2017 judgment of the Court of Appeal.
Other members of the panel, who also consented to the lead judgment, were Justices Onnoghen, Tanko Muhammad, Kayode Ariwoola and Dattijo Muhammad.
While Makarfi was at the Supreme Court with a large retinue of loyalists, Sheriff was absent.
The only notable personality of the Sheriff group present in court on Wednesday was the Deputy National Chairman of the faction, Cairo Ojougboh.
The roll of the party’s big names on Makarfi’s side, who attended the proceedings, were Fayose and Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike.
Also present were a former Vice-Chairman of the party (South-West), Chief Bode George; and the present occupant of the position in the faction, Chief Eddy Olafeso; a former National Publicity Secretary of the party, Chief Olisa Metuh; a former Minister of Education, Prof. Tunde Adeniran; and a former Governor of Kano State, Ibrahim Shekarau.