Last week’s ruling (March 28) by an Akwanga High Court presided over by Justice Mustapha Ramat annulling the Nasarawa state PDP ward and local government congresses held in March, deepened the crisis within the party. It came just a few weeks after the party’s National Working Committee extended by three months, the tenure of the state executive. This followed its inability to conclude the state congress before expiration of its four-year tenure that ended on May 10 due to the coronavirus pandemic which put a hold on political gatherings and activities at state and national levels. It was learnt that 21 other state chapters of the PDP enjoyed similar extension for same reasons. The erstwhile state chairman who is now designated like others in same boat, ‘Caretaker Committee Chairman’, Hon. Francis Orogu, told this writer that it was done to avoid a vacuum and in line with the party’s constitution.But it was not without misgivings. While his supporters hailed the decision, his opponents were dissatisfied.
A scheduled press briefing by Orogu at the party’s secretariat to comment on the court order had to be relocated to his personal house because some aggrieved members shut the gate and stood firm outside it to prevent entrance. The chairman and his team later stormed the secretariat with policemen. Denouncing the judgment, Orogu said, “Justice Mustapha Ramat deliberately ignored a clear case of forgery even when the authors of the genuine document swore to an affidavit in his own court disowning the purported Appeal Panel Report he (Justice Mustapha Ramat) did not only relied upon to grant all reliefs sought by the plaintiffs but also gave judgment on issues that were not before his court. A clear case in reference is the said dissolution of the state PDP caretaker committee… Secondly, the judge is said to have decided to discharge and acquit authors of the forged document who are presently undergoing criminal investigation with the Nigeria Police in Lafia, Nasarawa state, to mention but a few”.
Continuing, Orogu stressing that he was not deterred by the ruling, said that the state caretaker committee viewed it as “an attempt to disorganise the party in the state which has been the primary intention of the sponsors of this unnecessary stage-managed crisis”. He urged “genuine and honest members not only to remain calm but to be vigilant on the activities of fifth columnists among us who are well known”. Reacting to Orogu’s comments, Barrister Musa Elayo, a former minister and House of Representatives member, stated, “Is this how to react to a court judgment? You see, if you are going on Appeal you are going before a court … and you may also appear before the same court seeking for some reliefs. When I read his press statement, I felt sorry for our party… The court is not an organ of the party. It only operates if a party approaches it asking for some reliefs. So, you need not take on it … After all, the court can only give judgment for one party against the other… and it can go either way… So, if it does not favour you, you go on Appeal… but not to castigate the judge. And to say you will not obey the judgment… There are consequences for disobeying court orders”.In his reaction, Hon. Mohammed Onawo, former Speaker of the state House of Assembly and House of Representatives who was also the running mate to the party’s flag bearer in the 2019 governorship election (Hon. David Ombugadu), said in a telephone chat with this writer, “I think Orogu’s reaction to the judgement is based on ignorance. If he knows the tenets of the law, there was a court order that says status quo should remain and anything that is done after that should be a nullity and that is exactly what the court affirmed because anything that is done after the court order was issued is definitely a nullity and so the constitution of a caretaker committee is a nullity. So, the court has not done anything that it is not supposed to do. Let him go back and consult his lawyers so they can tell him the true position of things”. Senator Solomon Ewuga, another former minister and first deputy governor of Nasarawa state, simply remarked, “Let us work with the law”. Orogu reiterated that the court has no powers to remove the caretaker committee members because it is appointed by the party’s national executive in accordance with PDP’s constitution. He intimated that the party would appeal against the ruling.At the centre of the Nasarawa PDP crisis is the ward and local government congresses which some aggrieved party members are disputing and for which they apparently got a court order for its discontinuance. There was a paid radio announcement to that effect. However, the party’s Public Relations Officer, Hon. Muhammad Umar Bala, intimated that the party did not receive any restraining order from any court, adding that the congresses which was by consensus had been concluded in all 13 local government councils except Wamba and Kokona. Elayo said that though they all agreed on the consensus mode, affirmations should be done at the ward levels as stipulated by the constitution, not at the state secretariat. According to him, should this list of delegates and executives from the ward and local governments be allowed to stand, it would cost the party dearly. “This is because these executives and delegates will form the organs that will nominate our candidates for the state and national elections … if we should win any of these elections and it is challenged in court, we stand the risk of losing them… That was what happened to APC in Zamfara state”, he explained.Orogu maintained that there is no comparison between what happened in Zamfara and Nasarawa state’s congresses. “The whole world knows that the primaries in Zamfara was conducted solely by the then governor without any input from the national headquarters or INEC. In our case the congresses were conducted by an independent, electoral panel from the party’s Abuja, headquarters and INEC was present. The consensus list was approved, affirmed, whatever you want to call it, at the ward levels, it was signed by all those who should sign it at that level including by those whom you mentioned, after having given their consent and it was this report that both the electoral panel and INEC had. There was even an Appeal panel in which I appeared”. He said the congresses followed all due processes, guidelines and the party constitution and gave it a pass mark of 99.9 per cent.
On the suspension of three foundation members of the party,for “anti-party” activities, this writer asked the chairman why he singled out only those three for suspension and not all of the 25 people that wrote petitions against the congresses, he replied that their petition was the basis for some members going to court, insisting that it was a case of the hand of Jacob, the voice of Saul. It is against the party’s constitution for members to take it to court. The three suspended “foundation members”, namely, Ewuga, Elayo and Onawo are not among the plaintiffs in the court case. Asked again why the party did not suspend any of those whose names appear as plaintiffs in the suit but picked on the trio only, Orogu answered that it was like asking why thieves who plied a certain road today were caught and not those of them that plied the same route yesterday. It was gathered that efforts are being made by some PDP national assembly members to resolve the crisis amicably. Observers opine that PDP in the state should put its house in order to enable it effectively play the role of an opposition party which is keeping the ruling party in check through constructive criticism.
Ikeano, a journalist, writes from Lafia via [email protected]08033077519