ENUGU 2015: PDP's legal quagmire and the anxiety within

By The Citizen

Has the People's Democratic Party (PDP) found itself in a precarious situation; circumstances it certainly didn't bargain for as it is faced with a political and legal confusion that is threatening to cripple its 2015 dreams in Enugu State? Emotions are shifty in an atmosphere that is foreboding, as party primaries loom. An uncertainty holds sway with the party dazed by a flurry of legal shots and a web of intrigues.

Two contending situations, various unanswered questions have led to the growing list of court cases. The first problem is the November 1 delegates' congress to elect the three-man delegates in the 260 wards of the state. The second is the debate over the authentic chairman of the state party after the resignation of Chief Vita Abba. One question: Is Abba's deputy, Elder David Aja or Ikeje Asogwa, who emerged through a process, the chairman? Another question: Was there a PDP congress in Enugu on November 1? Who calls the shot in Enugu PDP?

After several behind-the-scenes and open interventions, grandstanding, maneuvering and high stake meetings in Abuja failed to answer the questions, the protagonists or antagonists have rushed to various courts of choice to seek answers. The legal mix has only raised more questions. The fear of losing out is palpable; tough talk in public become heaved sighs of desperation and shaking of heads in private.

The prompting to approach the courts started four days after the delegates congress as speculated discussions went on in Abuja between the state Governor Sullivan Chime, the PDP upper echelon, and the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu's camp on the acceptability or otherwise of the delegates' list submitted by Aja. With plans already afoot for another congress on Thursday November 7, a Federal High Court in Abuja, on Wednesday, November 5, granted an interim injunction, restraining the PDP and its principal agents from receiving any other result of the November 1, ward delegates' election of the party other than the names submitted by the acting Chairman of the party, Aja and the Electoral Committee of the party.

This case was supposedly filed by the Ekweremadu camp to forestall any plan to negotiate their delegates' list away. Justice A.F.A Ademola gave the injunction, following the suit filed by Mr Orji Chinenye Godwin, Chiefs C.C. Akalusi and Orji C. Orji against the PDP and its principal officers including the National Chairman, the National Secretary and the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC).

Justice Ademola's interim injunction restrained the defendants, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice. The hearing of the substantive case was fixed for Friday November 7.

With news of a negotiated truce brokered by President Goodluck Jonathan swirling in Enugu, the Chime camp hit back. On November 7, Justice A. R. Ozoemenam of the Enugu High Court, granted an interim injunction restraining Aja from parading himself as the Acting Chairman of the state PDP, with the implied recognition of Asogwa as state party chairman. Reports however indicated that some officials of the party like the State Publicity Secretary, Dr. Okey Eze were unaware of the court order.

On Tuesday November 18, a Federal High Court in Abuja restored Aja as the Chairman of the state PDP, pending the appointment of another chairman. The presiding judge, Justice E. S. Chukwu, delivering judgment in the suit filed by Aja on October 27, 2014, granted the reliefs sought by the plaintiff. The defendants in the suit were PDP, Alhaji Adamu Muazu, INEC, Asogwa and Steve Oruruo, the Secretary of the State Party.

The court declared that following the resignation of Abba as the Chairman of the State PDP, Aja as the deputy, 'is entitled to act as Chairman of the said Chapter of the 1st Defendant pending the appointment of another Chairman from the area Vita Abba hails from.'

Aja had asked the court to determine: 'Whether having regard to the provisions of Sections 35, 45(2) and (4), and 47(5) and (6) of the Constitution of the PDP 2012 (as amended), following the resignation of Vita Abba as the Chairman of the Enugu State Chapter of the 1st Defendant, the Plaintiff (who is the Vice Chairman) is entitled to act as Chairman pending the appointment of another Chairman from the area Abba hails from.

'Whether having regard to the provisions of Sections 24, 35(1) and 45 of the Constitution of the PDP 2012 (as amended), and following the resignation of Abba, as the Chairman of the Enugu State Chapter of the 1st Defendant, any meeting of the State Executive Committee of the Enugu State Chapter, 1st Defendant can be validly held without the Plaintiff in his capacity as Acting Chairman, summoning the meeting on his own, or at the request of two thirds of the members of the State Executive Committee of the Enugu State Chapter of the 1st Defendant.

'Whether having regard to the provisions of sections 35(1) and 45 of the Constitution of the PDP 2012 (as amended), and following the resignation of Vita Abba, as the Chairman of the Enugu State Chapter of the 1st Defendant, the Plaintiff as Acting Chairman, is the proper person to preside over meetings of the State Executive Committee of the Enugu State Chapter of the 1st Defendant for the purpose of exercising the powers of the State Executive Committee set out under the said Constitution pending the appointment of another Chairman from the area Abba hails from.'

Justice Chukwu ordered that 'the 4th Defendant (Asogwa) is not entitled to hold himself out or perform the function of the Chairman of the Enugu State Chapter of the 1st Defendant not having been validly appointed.' He also ordered the setting aside of all acts performed by Asogwa purporting to act or carry out the functions of the Chairman of the state party.

On November 12, the confusion took a new turn when counsel to the national leadership of the party told a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja that the ward congress did not hold. His position was contained in an affidavit and a written address filed in the party's defence to a suit brought by three persons claiming to be suing on behalf of 'themselves and all delegates elected on the 1st of November, 2014 at the ward congress held in Enugu,' in which they asked the court to prevent the PDP from changing the 'result of the congress.'

The party, in its counter affidavit filed by Fredrick C. Olisa, a counsel in the chambers of its solicitors, A.A Ibrahim and Co, stated that while 'there have been allegations and counter allegations in respect of the ward congress in Enugu,' it had not accepted any list of ad-hoc delgates from the contending parties since 'the National Working Committee (NWC) is addressing the issue.'

The twist became more intriguing on November 18, when in an amended affidavit in response to the originating summons in the case filed in a Federal High Court, Abuja, by the delegates elected at that congress, to safeguard the result of the congress, Frederick C. Olisa overrode his earlier submission and held that there was congress in Enugu as reported by the Electoral Panel sent to conduct the congress.

He related that as of November 12, 2014 when he filed his earlier claim that there was no congress, he was not properly briefed, partly because the report of the congress was still being compiled and analyzed by the office the National Organizing Secretary. He further claimed that he was misled at the time of filing his earlier affidavit by a supervisor in the department of Organisation and Mobilization into believing that there was no congress, but who as it had turned out, did not have credible information.

His credible information was contained in a table prepared by the National Organising Secretary, Abubakar Mustafa, providing details where congresses were held to elect the ad-hoc delegates on November 1, 2014, in 34 states including Enugu.

Meanwhile, as both camps were in court seeking to outwit the other, the party on November 10 conducted the local government congress, where 17 ad-hoc delegates from the 17 Councils emerged. The leader of the Election Committee, Gabe Igboko, said that the committee monitored the councils while the exercise lasted, and adjudged the exercise as 'peaceful,' and that 'there was no problem with the Enugu chapter of the party.' According to him, the committee would submit the list of those who emerged during the exercise.

Steps in Enugu State Chief Judge, Umezulike
With the Ekweremadu camp pitching its legal tent in Abuja, Chime's camp held the legal turf in Enugu, with the judiciary in both divisions locked in a bemusing contrariness. Soon after a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja restrained the leadership of the party from tampering with the result of the November 1, 2014 ward congress conducted by the Aja-led State Executive Committee, a opposite ruling was reeled out in Enugu. Said a lawyer close to the case in Enugu: 'they are in Abuja where they claim the power is, while we are in on ground Enugu where the incidents took place. The courts are of equal jurisdiction, which makes it the more interesting.'

With the tempo rising in Abuja, and time running out, the Chime camp moved to the Enugu High Court, where the state Chief Judge, Justice Innocent Umezuruike issued an order barring PDP from accepting results or any list from Enugu purporting to be the delegates elected during the Ward and Council congresses pending the hearing and determination of the matter. Ruling on a suit filed by one Charles Okafor challenging the validity of the outcome of the contested congress, Umezulike also ordered an accelerated hearing of the substantive suit, citing the urgency of the matter.

He further granted the plaintiff seven days within which to file his statement of claim, serve on the PDP as defendant, and granted PDP, the defendant 14 days to file its statement of defence and serve on the plaintiff. The Chief Judge adjourned the matter till December 8, 2014 for definite hearing. This date is looking ominous.

Claims, counter claims and posers
The Aja-led executive of the PDP claimed that the ward congress was conducted 'peacefully,' proceeded to publish the names of the three-man delegates elected during the congresses and submitted same to Abuja

The Enugu PDP under Asogwa, countered, saying that congress never held in Enugu due to the non-arrival of members of the electoral panel and materials from Abuja on the scheduled date.

The legal adviser of the National PDP in two conflicting affidavits claimed in one that first, that 'there was no ward congresses held in Enugu on November 1, 2014.' In his second submission, he admitted that, 'as of November 12, 2014, I was not properly briefed partly because the report of the congress was still being compiled and analyzed by the office the National Organizing Secretary.'

On the issue, Chime noted that 'the PDP in the State stood in unison against the attempt by some people to fake the exercise and will continue to insist that the proper thing be done.'

Who is the chairman of the state party? Aja claims to be chairman via provisions of Sections 35, 45(2) and (4), and 47(5) and (6) of the Constitution of the PDP 2012 (as amended). One court in Abuja says Yes and another court in Enugu says No.

Asogwa claims chairmanship via an appointment by the State Executive Committee empowered by the provisions of Section 47 (6) of the party constitution, which states: 'Where a vacancy occurs in any of the offices of the Party, the Executive Committee at the appropriate level shall appoint another person from the area or zone where the officer originated from, pending the conduct of election to fill the vacancy.' Asogwa is from the same area as Abba. The tussle drew the attention of the NWC, which gave the state party two weeks to elect another chairman. Rather than wait for two weeks, the state party called an extraordinary SEC meeting, citing Section 24 (4) of the party constitution. The meeting reaffirmed the earlier appointment of Asogwa. Justice Chukwu had ordered that Asogwa was not entitled to hold himself out or perform the function of the Chairman of the Enugu PDP not having been validly appointed.'

Why the dispute over the ward congress? From all indications, the national PDP has a record of a congress conducted by Aja, who was supposed to have acted as chairman as at when the congress was conducted. Did the Chime camp participate in the Council Congress where national delegates were elected by the three-man delegates? If they did, is it an acceptance of the ward congress of November 1?

Why does the December 8 date set by Umezulike to hear the substantive case imply? Has Umezulike's order 'mortgaged the future of PDP in Enugu?

One of Chime's associates, a lawyer, who pleaded anonymity said: 'Any false step by PDP will lead to a situation where it will not have any candidates in the 2015 election. If they field candidates and win, with the various courts cases, someone can go to court and quash the victory. The implication of the present set up is that there will not be primaries until after December 8.'

Rumours of bail out and defection
Umezulike's ruling might have raised two questions on the political and legal stalemate. Does the December 8 date presuppose that the PDP will not hold primaries? Is Chime planning to dump the PDP, in the event that the PDP is hampered by a court case to conduct its primaries?

Hon Emeka Aneke, who claims to be speaking on behalf of the body of Ward Delegates and a member of the three-man Ward Delegates from om Umuabi Ward in Udi Council said: 'We (the elected Ward Delegates) take exceptions to this gross abuse of court processes by the Enugu State Chief Judge. The matter is a subject of litigation at a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, which had granted an injunction restraining the PDP and its principal agents from receiving any other result of the November 1 Ward Delegates election of the party other than the names submitted by the acting Chairman of the party, Elder David Aja and the Electoral Committee of the party.'

Despite the wild insinuations on his loyalty, Chime had never said anything contrary to the fact that Enugu is a 'one party state,' where 'there is no opposition or any other party,' a state where 'the people are in the PDP with their soul, spirit and body.' His mega rally at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium to show his support for the reelection of President Goodluck Jonathan was the climax of his display of his loyalty both for the president and the party.

Midweek, the 'Enugu State PDP Delegates' Forum' in a petition, 'Team Chime: The mole exposed!!' dated November 15, 2014 to the PDP national chairman, Muazu, and signed by the chairman, Anieke and secretary Frank Anioma, alleged that Chime was set to decamp with his team.

The petition, which called for the dissolution of the State Executive and a caretaker committee constituted, insisted that, 'the infamous injunction and various subterranean moves seeking to undermine the Acting Chairman of the PDP in the State, Aja, from carrying out his legitimate duties is a clear manifestation that 'Team Chime' is indeed on a mission against PDP.' The petition alleged that the governor was working to ensure that PDP does not present candidates for the 2015 elections, while scheming to field candidates in another party.

Addressing stakeholders in Enugu, Chime, perhaps in response to the speculations around his defection, reiterated that 'the party remained the only viable vehicle to elective offices in the state. Anyone who chooses to leave the party was seeking his own retirement from politics.' According to him, the seeming crisis in the state party stems in the refusal of some prominent party members seeking elective offices to 'comply with earlier agreements reached, for their own selfish ends. We have always, through consultation, chosen those to fly our flags at elections. And because we've always consulted widely, we usually triumphed. The PDP Enugu State chapter will triumph again in the 2015 elections.

'I have no personal squabbles with anyone contrary to the impression our detractors tried to use the media to create. My crime is that I am insisting that people respect decisions and agreements reached. We had this understanding of live and let live and we will do all we can to sustain it, no amount of intimidation can change it.

'We must be allowed to choose our leaders. In the face of unwarranted provocation and abuses from these persons, all we offer them are our prayers. Our collective decision is that the right thing be done and I will take this decision to wherever we are called. This is not the time for anyone to intimidate or cow our people.'

It is certainly a time to recollect the scenario in 1999 when former governor, Senator Jim Nwobodo and Senator Fidel Okoro, dumped the PDP to win the senatorial election in the Alliance for Democracy (AD). Their defection arose from a contest between the then PDP National Secretary, Dr Okwesilieze Nwodo and Nwobodo, over the control of the state party and the nomination of the governorship candidate. While Nwobodo wanted Chimaroke Nnamani, Nwodo preferred Nweke Gbazuagu; the party was divided but Nwobodo won.

An enraged Nwodo ensured that the duo didn't get the party's senatorial tickets. Undeterred, they joined AD, and relished the chance to show they were in control of the state. With the then state chairman of the PDP, Charles Egumgbe, who is now the chairman of the Enugu Movement for the reelection of Jonathan (EMJ) in the state, in their corner, they won, and later returned to the PDP.

Has Chime envisaged this scenario? If he doesn't decamp will he and his camp participate in the November 29 primaries? If they don't participate and decamp, will he draft people like Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, who has received the endorsement as the gubernatorial candidate of the PDP to dump the party?

A few people believe that, 'Chime is not going anywhere. Like Ekweremadu, he is an establishment man; they can't survive outside PDP. Which party would any of them, or in this case, Chime, go to? He is only desperately trying to find his way out of a situation he unwittingly created and right now he is seeing enemies everywhere.'

Meanwhile, the anxiety and confusion could be considered as unfounded because of the provisions of the Electoral Act 2010. In section 87, the Nomination of Candidates by Parties, Subsection 11 states: 'Nothing in this section shall empower the Courts to stop the holding of primaries or general election under this Act pending the determination of the suit.' The Guardian