The Supreme Court, will today, commence hearing on the protracted leadership crisis rocking the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
A five-man panel of justices of the apex court, headed by Justice Musa Dattijo Mohammed, which earlier fixed May 25 to hear the matter, decided to bring the date forward, though no reason was adduced for the decision. Specifically, the case before the Supreme Court is an appeal challenging the judgment that declared Senator Ali Modu Sheriff as the authentic national chairman of the party. The appeal was lodged by the Senator Ahmed Markafi-led caretaker committee of the party which was sacked by the Port Harcourt Division of the Court of Appeal on February 7 Meanwhile, the Sheriff-led faction of the party has given reasons the apex court should not hear the said appeal marked: SC/133/2017.
The group, which identified itself to the Supreme Court as PDP’s National Executive Committee, NEC, with Sheriff as chairman and Prof. Wale Oladipo as secretary, maintained that the Makarfi-led committee, having been declared illegal by the Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt, lacked the vires to take decisions for the party, including initiating court proceedings in its name. In a written argument they filed for the appeal to be struck out, the Sheriff-led PDP insisted that Makarfi Committee did not obtain the necessary authorisation of the party to file an appeal in its name. In the written address he filed through a team of lawyers led by Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, Sheriff insisted that in view of the subsisting verdict of the appellate court, he remained the authentic leader of the party.
He told the apex court that PDP under his leadership was comfortable with the appellate court verdict and had no intention to challenge it. Besides, the Sheriff-led group contended that decision of the Makarfi committee to file an appeal in the name of the PDP without authorisation, was not only illegal but also in violation of the party’s constitution. Relying on the provisions of Chapter 5, Articles 35(1), 36(1) and 42(1) of the PDP constitution, they argued that the party, with a corporate personality, could only act through the principal national officers, whose powers and functions are stated in the constitution.
They referred to a May 18, 2016 judgment of the High Court of the Federal Capital territory (FCT) in suit No: FCT/HC/CV/1443/2016, ordering a return to status quo as at May 18, 2016 and the subsequent judgment of the Federal High Court in suit No: FHC/ABJ/CS/464/2016, to the effect that only the Sheriff NEC could instruct lawyers for the party, and urged the Supreme Court not to hear the appeal. According to them, the Makarfi Committee could only challenge the appellate court verdict as interested parties after they must have firstly secured leave of court to file an appeal.
They maintained that the suit should either be dismissed or struck out since the supposed appellants (Makarfi’s PDP) neither obtained leave of the Court of Appeal nor that of the Supreme Court before filing the appeal which is based on mixed law and facts. However, the appellants who are represented by a team of lawyers led by Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, wants the apex court to discountenance the Sheriff NEC’s arguments and proceed to hear the appeal on merit. In a counter argument, the Makarfi Committee, prayed the Supreme Court to set aside the Appeal Court judgment of February 17, accusing Sheriff and his group of making deliberate efforts to frustrate hearing of the pending appeal.
The appellants argued that it was wrong for Sheriff and others, who had briefed Chief Akin Olujinmi, SAN, to represent them in the substantive appeal and had filed a respondents’ brief, in which they also made similar arguments in relation to the competence of the appeal, to again brief Fagbemi, SAN, to ask the court not to hear the appeal but to strike it out. Relying on Order 8 Rule 6 (1), (2) and (4) of the Supreme Court’s Rules, the Makarfi Committee faulted the March 15, 2017, letter of the Sheriff-led NEC applying to withdraw the appeal and the subsequent application for it to be struck out. The appellants argued that since the appeal was not filed by Sheriff and others, they lacked the right to apply to withdraw it.