The Supreme Court yesterday ruled against the factional leader of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Ali-Modu Sheriff in his application, challenging the competence of the appeal filed by his challenger, Ahmed Makarfi. Sheriff had prayed the apex court to refuse hearing the application filed by Makarfi, challenging the February 17 judgment of the Appeal Court in Port Harcourt, Rivers State which made him (Sheriff) leader of the PDP. He argued that the application by Makarfi was filed outside the period allowed by law.
For the PDP to be able to serve as a strong opposition to keep the government in power on its toes, the crisis rocking th e party should be resolved. This will facilitate reconciliation that will unite the party to perform its role in the nation’s democracy. Sheriff’s counsel, Akin Olujimi (SAN) said the application was an abuse of court process because Makarfi ought to have requested the leave of court before making the application. He therefore prayed the court to dismiss it. But Makarfi’s counsel, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), prayed the court to disregard Olujimi’s argument, describing it as baseless. In a short ruling, a five-member panel of the apex court led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen, dismissed Sheriff’s argument, saying the appeal was filed within the time limit. Justice Onnoghen held that Makarfi’s application was valid since it complied with the rules of the Supreme Court.He added that an application challenging a decision of a lower court ought to be filed within three months, following the ruling of the lower court, and this, he stated, was complied with by the appellants.Onnoghen therefore agreed with Olanipekun that the said judgment, having been delivered on February 17, and the notice of appeal filed at the Supreme Court on April 24, it met the appeal timeframe, thereby making it competent.
Meanwhile, the apex court has reserved judgment in the substantive suit on the lingering leadership crisis between the Sheriff-led NationalExecutive Council (NEC) and that of Markarfi. Thejudgement date will be communicated to parties involved in the suit.Yesterday’s hearing was originally scheduled for May 25 but was brought forward because of the need to attend to numerous pending matters before judges embark on their 2017 annual recess. During the hearing of the substantive appeal yesterday, the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) led by Sheriff as chairman and Prof. Wale Oladipo as the secretary argued that the Makarfi-led caretaker committee, having beendeclared illegal by the February 17 judgment of the Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt Division, lacked the powers to take decisions on behalf of the party, including initiating court proceedings inits name.
Olujimi therefore urged the court to dismiss the appeal by the Makarfi-led group on the ground that the faction no longer had the authority to initiate appeal in the name of the party, having lost such in the Port Harcourt judgment, which pronounced Sheriff as the authentic chairman of the PDP.The senior advocate further stated that the national legal adviser as well as the national secretary of the party, had in their separate motions, applied for withdrawal of the appeal as they were not keen in it and since the party cannot initiate a legal action against itself. Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), who represented PDP as aparty under the leadership of Sheriff, also argued that by reason of that judgment, Makarfi’s faction had lost every right and privilege to act on behalf of PDP. He stated that the decision of Makarfi-led committee to file an appeal in the name of PDP without its consent and authorisation violated theparty’s constitution.
Relying on the provisions of Chapter 5, Articles 35(1), 36(1) and 42(1) of the PDP Constitution, the Sheriff’s faction argued that the party, with a corporate personality, can only act through the principal national officers, whose powers and functions are stated in the constitution. Fagbemi argued that by the judgment of the Federal High Court in suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/464/2016, it is only the Sheriff NEC that can instruct lawyers for the party, and thereby urged the Supreme Court to dismiss the appeal.But Olanipekun urged the court to discountenance the arguments presented by Sheriff and proceed to hear Makarfi’s appeal in which he had asked the apex court to set aside the Appeal Court judgment of February 17.
In its reply argument dated May 15, the Makarfi group queried the legitimacy of the application filed by Sheriff and argued that it was not only strange but intended to frustrate the hearing of the main appeal. He maintained that until the Supreme Court, which is the highest in the land, pronounces which of the factions is the authentic group to lead the party, the Makarfi’s faction has the right to initiate an appeal. Justice Onnoghen adjournedthe matter to a date to be announced.