By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor, Ben Agande, Jimitota Onuyeme & Ikechukwu Nnochiri
LAGOS—The race for the national chairmanship of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, was, last night, settling down to a three-man contest. This is just as influential governors of the party were trying to build a final consensus around one of the candidates.
The majority of the governors, Vanguard learned last night, were backing the aspiration of Mr. Jimi Agbaje, the 2015 governorship candidate of the party. Chief Bode George, erstwhile Deputy National Chairman of the party, was also said to have boosted his momentum with, at least, two governors said to be backing his aspiration.
Dr. Raymond Dokpesi, was, however, consolidating his aspiration with strong backing from Northern states where there are no PDP governors.
Meanwhile, the judicial battle between the mainstream of the party, as led by the Senator Ahmed Makarfi-led Caretaker Committee and the faction led by Senator Ali Modu Sheriff continued, yesterday, at federal high courts sitting in Abuja and Port-Harcourt.
The two courts with coordinate jurisdiction, just as yesterday, gave contradictory rulings on the issue. While the Port-Harcourt court affirmed that the convention should proceed with requisite monitoring by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and presence of security agencies; Justice Okon Abang, sitting in Abuja at about the same time, ruled that the convention should not hold. Justice Abang further ordered that committal proceedings should be served on the defendants should they refuse to heed his ruling.
Meanwhile, chairman of the Convention Planning Committee, Governor Nyesom Wike, late last night, said the convention would go ahead based on the fact that there was a judgment for it to proceed. He said the judgment was superior to the order given by Justice Abang in Abuja.
Port-Harcourt was, last night, abuzz with political activities with nearly all the PDP governors in town at press time. The governors, multiple sources told Vanguard were set to meet at press time to forge a consensus towards the election of a new executive.
How the govs will vote
Sources confirmed that a majority of the 12 governors were firmly in support of Agbaje becoming the new national chairman. Two of the governors, notably, Dr. Segun Mimiko of Ondo and Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa were said to be backing Chief George, while Dokpesi was riding on the strong support of PDP state chapters outside the influence of the governors.
The outcome of the governors’ meeting, it is believed, may prove pivotal to the outcome of the election, just as a similar meeting on the eve of the May 21 convention in Port-Harcourt turned the tide against Sheriff.
A total of 90 candidates are contesting for various positions in the convention with five vying for the position of national chairman. Besides Agbaje, George and Dokpesi; Prof. Tunde Adeniran from Ekiti and Prof. Adedoja Taoheed are also vying for the position zoned to the South and subsequently sub-zoned to the Southwest and later micro-zoned to the Lagos/Ogun State axis. However, Dokpesi from outside the Southwest has forged along with his campaign, while Adeniran and Adedoja both from the Southwest have also kicked against the micro-zoning of the office to the Lagos/Ogun axis.
Questions were being raised, last night, over the quest by a former member of the Caretaker Committee, Kabir Usman, a lawyer, to contest the position of National Publicity Secretary against an earlier pledge that members of the committee would not vie for any office today.
Mr. Kola Ologbondinyan, a former spokesman of the Senate President, David Mark, was believed to be riding on his mileage cultivated from the National Assembly to also position himself for the office of party spokesman.
Meantime, the judicial battle between the mainstream of the party, led by Senator Ahmed Makarfi and the former national chairman, Senator Sheriff continued unabated, yesterday, with contradictory judgments by the Port-Harcourt and Abuja divisions of the Federal High Court.
Delivering judgement, yesterday, on an originating summons filed by Senator Ben Obi and other members of the National Convention Planning Committee of the party, Justice Ibrahim Watila agreed with counsel to the plaintiff Oladijo Lamikanra, SAN, that the judgment delivered on July 4, 2016, by Justice Mohammad Liman of a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt upholding the convention of the party in March this year was still subsisting, stressing that it could only be vacated by a superior appellate court.
Continuing, he said the Police, Department of State Service, DSS, and the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, were duty bound to respect the subsisting judgment since the judgment was not vacated by any of the defendants.
He further said that since the defendants did not contest the originating summons when it was filed, it was binding on them also to appear at the convention to discharge their responsibilities.
Drama in court
There was a mild drama as the Judge rebuffed attempt by counsel to Sheriff, George Yemi to apply for his client to be joined in the suit, saying he came late.
George had stood up before the judgment was delivered to say that he did not get early notification of the case and that he came with his process.
Justice Watila said the process was not before him, describing the move by the counsel as an attempt to arrest his judgment.
“You can’t derail me. You can’t arrest this judgment. This is not a kangaroo court, and neither am I a politician,” Justice Watila said before proceeding to deliver his judgment.
George later told newsmen that he did not attempt to arrest the court, adding that he only wanted his process to be heard.
“We became aware of the matter, yesterday, (August 15). Our client briefed us to appear. We did not come to arrest the court”, he said.
Meanwhile, in Abuja, Justice Okon Abang gave an order of interlocutory injunction restraining the PDP, from conducting the convention until September 7.
Justice Abang in the order directed the party not to sponsor any candidate to be elected into any of its national offices, pending the determination of the suit filed by the Sheriff-led faction of the party.
The judge equally issued an order of interlocutory injunction restraining INEC, from monitoring the convention of the party scheduled to hold today.
He directed the Inspector General of Police to enforce the orders until all the applications pending before the court were disposed of.
Justice Abang asked the plaintiffs to issue and serve Form 48 on all the defendants, even as he vowed to take disciplinary measures against any of them that failed to comply with the orders.
“Failure to comply with the orders will attract disciplinary action against any of the parties, so far the plaintiffs know what to do,” Justice Abang added.
He subsequently adjourned the hearing on the substantive suit till September 7.
Makarfi-led group appeals
Meanwhile, the Makarfi-led mainstream of the party also disclosed that it had filed papers to appeal the order stopping the convention by Justice Abang. Counsel to the party told the judge that the party was also withdrawing the case from his court pending appeal, but the judge, however, affirmed that he was not served with the process as he rejected the submission of the party despite the fact that Sheriff’s counsel did not raise any objection to it.
About five governors on the platform of the party were sighted in Government House, Port Harcourt with the host governor and Chairman of the Convention Planning Committee, Governor Nyesom Wike.
Fielding questions, yesterday, Wike said the party was not violating any court judgment with the resolve to go ahead with the convention.
However, Senator Sheriff in a press conference in Abuja, yesterday, lampooned the judge in Port-Harcourt that gave the go-ahead for the convention and asked the National Judicial Council to investigate him.
Heavy presence of security men
At about 12 noon, yesterday, there was heavy deployment of Police patrol vehicles around the venue of the convention in a show of force.
Sharks Stadium, venue of the convention, last night, wore a colourful look.