OPINION: Issues arising from PDP national convention in Port Harcourt -By Senator Ibrahim M. Ida
Even before it began, the 2016 PDP National Convention, which was held on Saturday May 21, 2016, had generated a lot of interests. There were some people that were confident that it was going to hold peacefully. There were others who had reservations on the choice of Port Harcourt as the venue for the event, because of the resurgence of militancy in the creeks of Niger Delta. There were yet many others, including some founding members of the party, who had very serious reservations about the then leadership of the party. Those in the latter category threatened to (and in the end they did) hold a parallel convention in Abuja. Then, there was the greatest threat of them all in the form of two court decisions – one from Lagos and the other from Abuja – ordering the convention not to hold elections to fill specific offices of the National Working Committee because they will not be vacant by the time of the convention. Because of all these, the party ended up with two non-elective conventions – Port Harcourt and Abuja. Interestingly enough, while the Port Harcourt convention ended up removing the Senator Ali Modu Sheriff-led NWC and replacing it with a National Caretaker Committee, the Abuja convention went no further than to elect an interim leadership for the Group that arranged it.
Implications of judgments on the tenure of the erstwhile NWC and the planned elections to replace them.
The controversy arose because the Federal High Court in Lagos had made a ruling that at the 2016 National Convention, there should be no elections for the offices of the National Chairman, National Secretary, and the National Auditor. The reason being that these offices would not be vacant until in 2018.
The FCT High Court, on the other hand, made a declaration that at the 2016 National Convention, the party should not conduct elections for all the national offices, except that of the National Financial Secretary. The reason being that all the offices, except that of the National Financial Secretary, will not be vacant until 2018. The office of the National Financial Secretary will be vacant by the day of the Convention that is May 21, 2016.
The two judgments show that the common factor in them was the elections of national officers. These were the common issues in contention. It is pertinent to point out that nowhere in the two judgments was the holding of the convention, per se, an issue.
Indeed, INEC was aware of one of the judgments, because the commission wrote to the party to say that in view of the judgment of the Federal High Court, Lagos, the commission would not monitor the elections of the three national officers mentioned therein; that is to say, the offices of National Chairman, National Secretary and the National Auditor. The commission was, however, prepared to monitor elections for the remaining offices.
By stepping down all the items on the convention programme relating to the election of new national officers, therefore, the holding of the National Convention in Port Harcourt was definitely legitimate, the stepping down of items on the programme that related to elections was appropriate, and the holding of the other items on the agenda was also in order.
Composition of national convention and provision of the party constitution.
The constitution of the party (as amended in 2012) provides that the national convention should be composed of: The National Chairman of the party (who shall chair) and other members of NEC; members of zonal Working Committees, state party, secretaries, women and youth leaders (including FCT); party chairmen of LGAs, one national delegate from the 774 LGAs in the country, (including FCT); elected local government chairmen. Most of these were present at the Port Harcourt convention.
The second issue to consider is that the constitution stipulates that a quorum of national convention shall be 2/3 of its membership and a simple majority shall pass any motion. The convention is also empowered to determine its own procedure (33 (6) and (9)). All these were met.
Thirdly, the constitution also clearly provides that a national convention is to be convened by the National Executive Committee of the party and is to be summoned and presided over by the National Chairman of the party (Section 35(i)). In the absence of the National Chairman, the Deputy National Chairman (Section 35(3)(b)) can deputise and accordingly preside over the national convention.
From the foregoing, it is a fact that the composition of the national convention has been clearly stated in the party’s constitution and from the list of the delegates that were accredited at the Port Harcourt national convention; the attendance prescription to meet the quorum requirement was more than adequately met.
It was quite evident that all the requirements of the party constitution and the provisions of the extant Electoral Act had been met. The requirement for prior approvals for the gathering had also been met.
Sheriff’s press conference and suspension of convention.
By the provision of Section 31(2), it is the NEC of the party that has the power to convene a national convention and it is the same body that also appoints the convention organizing committee.
Given that the National Chairman does not have the power to convene, but only to summon a national convention, and given the legal definition of the terms “convene” and “summon”, it should be obvious that a chairman does not have the power to suspend or stop a national convention on his own volition. Once the event has been convened and a chairman summoned it, he cannot stop it even if he wants to. Only the convener (in this case the NEC of the party) can stop it. Senator Sheriff was, therefore, wrong to attempt to stop the convention at the time he did.
Removal of the NWC and the appointment of a National Caretaker Committee.
Chapter 4 (Part X) and Chapter 6 of the party constitution provides for the removal of national officers of the party. While the provision in Chapter 6, Section 47(3) deals with a removal through failure of the affected officer to win a vote of confidence, ultimately leading to his or her removal, Section 33 5 (b), on the other hand, specifically empowers the national convention to have and exercise authority to elect or remove (emphasis mine) any, or the whole, of the national officers of the party. There is no stipulation made that the national convention should give reason(s) for deciding to remove an officer or officers.
On the question of the appointment of the National Caretaker Committee to oversee the affairs of the party in the absence of a functional National Working Committee, Section 33 (5)(e) specifically empowers the national convention to: “appoint such committee as it may deem necessary, desirable or expedient and assign to them such powers and functions as it may deem fit.”
In the light of this, it is clear that the national convention held in Port Harcourt, having been legally constituted and with the required quorum in attendance, was absolutely within its constitutional powers when it passed resolutions dissolving the National Working Committee and removing its individual members from office.
On the appointment of the Caretaker Committee, the wordings of Section 33 (5)(e) clearly foresaw a situation whereby circumstances may arise to make the appointment of a committee necessary, desirable, expedient or even all the three situations arising together.
How does the party handle conflicting judgments on the tenure of Senator Sheriff-led NWC?
It has been reported that a division of the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt had issued an order restraining Senator Sheriff and Professor Wale Oladapo and other members of the dissolved NWC from parading themselves as the national leaders of the party. The court affirmed the legitimacy of the Senator Makarfi-led National Caretaker Committee as the authentic national leadership of the party. On virtually the same day, a division of the same court in Lagos declared the Senator Makarfi-led National Caretaker Committee illegal. The court further declared that the Sheriff’s NWC remained the authentic leadership of the party.
It is a settled doctrine of law that where courts of co-ordinate jurisdiction, whether on the basis of different arguments or otherwise on a question of law, give two conflicting judgments, it is most appropriate that the matter be referred to a higher court for resolution rather than to leave the two conflicting judgments to operate, thereby creating confusion.
There is also another doctrine that once there is a subsisting court order, you do not, and cannot disobey it simply because you think or believe it is wrong. The best you can do is to appeal against what you believe is wrong, and it is the Court of Appeal that can give a clear direction.
As I have pointed out, all the objections made against the decisions at the Port Harcourt convention are not out of any sound legal basis, but out of vanity and personal political interests.
Naturally, it is something to be expected that any party convention will leave behind it grumblings and disagreements, especially given the type of decisions taken at the Port Harcourt convention. The most disturbing thing is that the way things stand, at a time the party is beset with multitude of problems and many internal disputes that needed to be settled quickly, with the two conflicting court judgments subsisting, the party has no legally instituted leadership to handle these issues. This is because both the Makarfi-led committee, appointed at the Port Harcourt convention, and the Senator Sheriff-led NWC have been declared illegal in one court judgment or another.
In that regard, my humble suggestion is that we give a liberal interpretation of the constitutional functions of the Board of Trustees and allow that body to take over to the time a higher court decides which of the two conflicting judgments is right.
Senator Ida CON is the Dan Majen Katsina
(Culled from Daily trust)