Secondus’ court case puts PDP on tenterhooks
Barely one week to the October 30 national convention of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), an increasing level of anxiety and tension is being generated within and outside the national secretariat of the opposition party.
The question on the lips of many members at every party function or gathering is the possibility of holding the convention in the face of a pending court case involving the suspended national chairman, Uche Secondus and the party.
As members express worries on a daily basis, the leadership of the party has continued to emphasise that the convention will hold. To this effect, the word ‘sacrosanct’ is constantly being used by party leaders to describe the October 30 date of the convention.
Even in the face of many unresolved issues, the Governors’ forum, which is the most influential power bloc in the party, has consistently assured of a hitch-free convention where new set of National Working Committee (NWC) members would be elected.
At an emergency meeting last Wednesday to resolve threats to the consensus arrangement, Chairman of the Forum and Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwual reiterated that arrangement has almost been concluded for “a hitch-free, successful, free and fair convention for the PDP coming up on the 30th and 31st of this month.”
“We are optimistic that PDP is going to come out more united from this convention and much more ready to provide the desired platform upon which many Nigerians can realise their aspirations. We shall continue to deepen our democracy and work together as democrats for a greater Nigeria,” he stated.
The chairman of the convention planning committee and governor of Adamawa state, Ahmadu Umaru Fintiri, in a bid to reduce the tension arising from a pending court case between the party and Secondus, had declared that Secondus’ matter is no longer relevant as all efforts are now geared towards holding a successful convention.
Following his suspension through a subsisting order of the River State High Court, supported by another Federal High Court order in Calabar, Secondus had last month approached the Appeal Court for an order to reinstate him as the national chairman of the PDP until the expiration of his tenure on December 9, 2021.
He specifically asked the appeal court to affirm that his four-year tenure ends on December 9, 2021. He also asked the appellate court to quash the orders of the two high courts that restrained him from parading himself as the national chairman of the party.
Secondus also asked the court to nullify his suspension, insisting that Section 59(3) of the PDP constitution clearly stated that the ward or the state executive committee of any state has no powers to suspend any national officer of the party.
Prompted by the unresolved crisis between Secondus and his estranged godfather and Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) adopted a political approach towards resolving the matter.
It resolved to conduct a national convention to elect fresh NWC members in October, some five weeks to the end of the tenure of the current NWC. The decision was seen by Secondus and his sympathisers as an attempt to prematurely terminate the life of the Secondus-led NWC. This was why Secondus refused to convene a NEC meeting sought by NEC in August, a decision many party watchers believe made the resort to litigation by Secondus’ traducers inevitable.
But as anxiety grows as to what could become the fate of the convention should the Appeal Court uphold Secondus’ prayers, political observers are considering options out of the conundrum and possibilities.
Some believe that should the prayers of Secondus be upheld, all actions, (including the conduct of the convention) taken from the time of his suspension till date will be a nullity.
Those with contrary opinion were quick to draw attention to a written permission given to the acting chairman, Yemi Akinwonmi by Secondus to preside over the meeting of NEC that ordered the holding of the convention, saying it could validate the convention and even prevent Secondus from being reinstated. Those with this school of thought opine that by that letter, Secondus had traded off his mandate.
The letter, dated August 28, 2021, and addressed to Yemi Akinwonmi, the Deputy Chairman (South) of PDP reads: “I hereby request you to preside over the National Executive Committee meeting of the Party, taking place today, 28th August, 2021 at 12 noon, in my absence.”
Still on the likelihood of a reinstatement of Secondus, his supporters and loyalists had argued that the grounds on which the court granted his suspension was out of tune with the Constitution of the party.
In one of the statements released by Secondus’ media adviser, Ike Abonyi, it was pointed out that section 47(1) of the Constitution of the PDP did not empower the ward executive of the party to suspend a national officer.
He cited article 59(3) of the PDP constitution, which states that only the National Executive Committee, NEC of the party can discipline the National Chairman or any other National officer of the party.
Secondus had equally argued and has even asked the court to uphold Section 47(1) of the PDP constitution, which stated that, “All National, Zonal, State, Local Government Area and Ward Officers of the party shall hold office for a term of four years and shall be eligible for re-election for another term and no more.”
However, his opponents cited section 8(9) of the PDP constitution and argued that Secondus’ suspension was valid because, according to them, his refusal to pay party monthly financial fees is a good and valid reason.
Section 8(9) of the Constitution of the party reads: “Members shall pay their monthly subscription fees at the Ward level, which must be reflected on their membership cards, and where a member consistently fails to pay his subscription fees for six months, such membership will be deemed to have lapsed.”
Defending the suspension, Rivers State PDP Chairman, Ambassador Desmond Akawor said that Secondus was ousted because of his refusal to pay his dues in the last four years.
He said: “On June 5, I wrote a letter to all wards that they should furnish us with the names of the party members that are dead and party members that have not paid their dues, including those that had defected for one reason or the other.
“Among the wards that responded was Ward 5 in Andoni. And it clearly showed that he (Secondus) had not paid his dues for the past four years. It is an offence in our party. For six consecutive months, if you have not paid your dues, your membership of the party is questionable. That issue was kept pending because we had to approach the national exco to present some of these issues.”
Akawor added: “In his presence, intervention took place and he agreed on all the words that were put down, only for him to go globetrotting the following week, going from Niger to Ota, to continue the course and saying that all that was agreed was no longer possible.
“In that case what do you do? He’s not ready to listen to the elders and equally not ready to look at the constitution of the party. The members had no option than to go to court and that was the only option. At the ward level, they set up a committee inviting him to come and defend those allegations. But he refused, so he remains suspended.”
The argument canvassed by Secondus was also faulted by another decision of the Rivers State High Court, which slammed a perpetual injunction restraining him from parading himself as a member Chairman of PDP.
In a September 10 decision, the Court declared the suspension of Prince Uche Secondus as a member of the PDP by the Ward 5 executive committee of the party in Ikuru town in Andoni local council of the state, as valid, stating that it still subsists.
Justice Okogbule Gbasam of the Degema Judicial Division vacation court sitting in Port Harcourt, ratified the suspension of Secondus while delivering judgment in suit No: PHC/2183/CS/2021 filed by Ibeawuchi Ernest Alex, Dennis Nna Amadi, Emmanuel Stephen and Umezirike Onucha (claimants) against Uche Secondus (1st defendant) and the PDP (2nd defendant).
The judge said after careful review of the submissions made by counsels of parties in the suit, he arrived at the conclusion that evidence presented by the claimants before the court clearly showed that Secondus was suspended by Ward 5 executive committee of the PDP in Ikuru town for anti-party activities on August 8, 2021, and that the Andoni local council office of the PDP wrote a letter of acceptance of the suspension on August 10.
He further explained that the claimants also provided evidence that the state chapter of PDP confirmed the suspension of Secondus on August 11, with a subsequent letter written to the Board of Trustees of the party on the August 13.
Justice Gbasam noted that the first defendant, who was represented by his counsel, Godfrey Uwalaka, never challenged his suspension by his ward.
According to him, the suit was not about the suspension of Secondus as national officer, but as a member of the PDP in his ward, which happens to be his root and foundation as a member.
The judge explained that Article 53 of the PDP clearly stated that any member suspended could not participate in the affairs of the party when on suspension.
He declared that by the virtue of Secondus’ suspension in his ward, he has lost the right to function as national chairman, declaring that any function carried out by him while under suspension was invalid.
The Judge declared that Article 59 (3) of the PDP constitution, which deals with discipline of national officers was null and void, as such officers could not be judges in their own case.
He therefore issued a consequential order declaring Article 59 (3) of the PDP constitution void, noting that it was inconsistent with Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.