ABUJA, Nigeria — On Tuesday, August 16, Justice Okon Abang, a Federal High Court judge in Abuja, ruled that the national convention of the Nigerian opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party, must not happen. His judgement restricts the party’s convergence in the oil rich city of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, scheduled for the following day, August 17.
He warned the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that is the country’s electoral umpire, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, to disregard the convention. The ruling also urged the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, to enforce the order.
This latest order contradicts, and somewhat challenges, an earlier judgement on an identical case delivered by a similar Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt. The Presiding Judge, Justice Mohammed Liman, in his July 4th judgement, had declared that the May 21st national convention of PDP was legally constituted, and its decisions constitutional.
Confused about verdicts from two different courts, commenting on Tuesday’s directive by Justice Okon Abang, a staff of INEC stated: “We have just been told that we should not be at the convention on the order of Justice Abang. Yet, another court in Port Harcourt said we must be there. These are the same courts with the same powers under the same President, because the Federal High Court in the country is headed by a President. Are these judges reading different laws or constitutions? Can’t the President of the Federal High Court call his men to order?”
Wadata House, situated in Abuja, the national secretariat of Peoples Democratic Party, is always attractive to members, in what is obtainable in other political parties: influence, patronage, resource control, and the attendant political stature accrued to each office has seen the once self-acclaimed most populous party in Africa, PDP, experience bifurcation into weaker caucuses and splits into factions in an attempt to slug it out for power.
This split and ensuing legal battle within the party is between two broad factions, the Ahmed Makarfi led Caretaker Committee, and the embattled Ali Modu Sheriff group.
The former has a Southern majority backing and was a product of the May 21st national convention. The latter, a defector, was made acting-National Chairman of the party in early 2016. Allegations of sponsoring the deadly Boko Haram sect made against Modu Sherrif, and constitutes for his little bit of baggage, resulted in disassociation and public denial from fellow party members.
However, neither have a popular mandate to steer the leadership of the party, hence the re-scheduled August 17th national convention is intended to produce a fresh set of party stewards.
In the early morning of Wednesday, August 17, the convention failed to hold, terminated not surprisingly due to the latest Abuja court pronouncement. Government House, the seat of the administration in host Rivers State, was reportedly blocked from entry. The event venue, the stadium of former Sharks Football Club, Port Harcourt, now Rivers United FC, was sealed.
In an on-the-spot situation report from the Special Assistant on Media to a Southwest delegate that I spoke with, nearby hotels to the convention ground were raided; surveillance helicopters were sighted hovering around the city, and men of the Federal Special Tasks Force were deployed from Abuja to the venue. All of these were overseen by state security operatives under the disparaging eyes and aid of the Nigeria Police Force, in what they may have considered to be carrying out their constitutional duties.
A resolution had been reached by the PDP; during a joint emergency meeting that was held later in the afternoon by the party’s National Executive Committee comprising the Board of Trustees, the Caretaker Committee, its National Assembly members and Governors which resulted in the Ahmed Makarfi-led National Committee being re-installed with an extended stewardship for the next 12 months.
Adedayo Osho is a Political Scientist and Journalist. Twitter: @Jahpolitical