BY VICTORIA IKEANO
Members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Nasarawa state on both sides of the divide following the crisis that rocked it in the aftermath of its ward and local government congresses to return the Francis-Orogu-led executive for a final tenure of additional four years have hailed the appointment of the party’s North central zone caretaker committee chairman, Hon. Theophillus Dakas Shan to oversee affairs of the state by the national headquarters in Abuja. Nasarawa Eye interviewed a cross section of the party’s chieftains on phone, among them the erstwhile chairman who has now stepped aside following this decision, his predecessor Hon. Yohanna Ilya, Senator Solomon Ewuga, Hon. Mohammed Onawo and Barrister Musa Elayo. They, like other rank and file members spoken to, all welcomed the new development. They opined that it would make for reconciliation of warring factions and enable the party present a united front for the political battles ahead. It would be recalled that following the ward and local government congresses election in March, some aggrieved members wrote petitions against it and challenged it in court. Some others were suspended as a result, among them foundation members of the party in Nasarawa State and some of these persons in turn challenged their suspension in court.
On May, 28, an Akwanga High Court presided over by Justice Mustapha Ramat ruled that the Congresses held on March 7 and March 22, were null and void. It also declared the Caretaker Committee chaired by Hon. Orogu illegal. Recall that as a result of inability of Nasarawa state and north central zone PDP to conduct the state and zonal congresses before expiration of their four year tenure on May 10, the national headquarters extended the Excos’ tenure by three months and designated them State and Zonal Caretaker Committees. The party said at the time that the appointments were to avoid a vacuum and in line with its constitution. Altogether, 22 other state chapters in similar positions enjoyed same extension as did the six national vice chairmen and zonal working committee members whose tenures expired by mid-May. The former chairman, Hon. Orogu had challenged the Akwanga Court’s verdict at an Appeal court in Makurdi and also asked the Akwanga court to stay action on its judgment pending outcome of his appeal. It was on this basis that Orogu continued in office, arguing further that he was appointed Caretaker committee chairman by his party’s national working committee, not a court and that there could not be a vacuum in leadership of Nasarawa PDP.
Hon. Shan’s appointment letter signed by the party’s National Organising Secretary, Col. Austin Akobundu (rtd) with reference number PDP/DOM/GF.2/VOL1A/20/096(B) read: “This is to formally inform you that the National Working Committee (NWC) of our great party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has directed that you and your zonal working Committee (ZWC) should perform your constitutional duty of overseeing the activities of the Nasarawa State chapter of our party until further notice pursuant to Section 26(2)(a)&(b) of our party’s Constitution (2017 as amended) and any other function(s) that may be assigned to you by the National Executive Committee (NEC) through the National Working Committee (NWC)”. The North Central Zonal Caretaker Committee chairman’s first assignment was conduct of primary election for the forthcoming Nasarawa Central state constituency bye-election.
Contacted for his comments on the new development, a former deputy governor of the state, Senator Solomon Ewuga said that his stance had always been that the law should take its course, describing take over of Nasarawa PDP activities by the Zonal caretaker committee on the instructions of the national secretariat as appropriate. He added that he and other suspended members who had gotten an injunction of the court are in support of the ongoing reconciliation process “because we want the party to move forward”. Barrister Musa Elayo, a foundation member of the party remarked, “Now we can start reconciliation and the process of re-inventing the party”. Elayo had insisted that only the party’s national headquarters could resolve the crisis in Nasarawa PDP.
Hon. Yohanna Ilya who handed the chairmanship baton to Orogu in 2016 also welcomed the new development. He gave kudos to the party’s national headquarters for the decision while urging the new caretaker committee chairman and his team to be fair in all their dealings as well as “put things right”. He was asked by this correspondent if there is no discrepancy in the fact that in appointing both Orogu and Shan as state and zonal caretaker committee chairmen respectively the NWC had said it was in line with the party’s constitution and now it is also saying its appointment of the zonal caretaker committee to run affairs of the Nasarawa state PDP is in accordance with the same constitution. Ilya replied that the Nigerian constitution supersedes the party’s constitution.
In his own comments, Hon. Mohammed Onawo a former two-term Speaker of the State House of Assembly and also immediate past House of Representatives member stated that the party’s national working committee acted within its constitutional rights and in good faith in order “to bring life to Nasarawa PDP” and avoid the Zamfara and Rivers experience. He wished Hon. Shan and his zonal caretaker committee members success while urging them to avoid past mistakes. He also advised the ousted Nasarawa state caretaker committee members to accept the decision in good faith, adding, “now is the time for consensus building, for the party to see the light of the day”.
The man at the centre of it all, Hon. Orogu told this correspondent, “This is a decision of the national headquarters, it is aware of all that is happening here; the national headquarters came to the state and conducted elections into the ward and local government congresses; some individuals made a case out of it and then went to court, at end of the day there was an outcome from a judge, to most of us in the party and most Nigerians it was a bad judgement but we have no choice than to respect it; so the party in the state decided to go to appeal, while we were in appeal, so many activities of the party seemed to be suffering because of the legal activities that may arise from some of the activities that we intend to carry out, especially as it affects elections and other activities like the bye-election; so at this point the national headquarters having known very well that we are in appeal and knowing that the party must continue its own activities even though everybody regrets the unfortunate judgement and realizing that the party must be conscious of the situation decided to ask a superior body which is the zonal office which statutory responsibility is to supervise and oversee the activities in the zone to step in and take care of some administrative activities pending further directives, which is in order”.
He continued, “For me and the party officials in the state we are completely loyal to the national headquarters and the position they took to ensure that the bad intention of this judgement did not affect the state party because the intention of that judgement is to cripple the state PDP; if not if one or two local governments have issues it is expected that you address only those two cases, you cannot come and disarm the whole state structure, it has never happened in the whole country. The issue of Zamfara that some people are alluding to does not arise because there the state took over the job of the national headquarters to conduct election which is why it was bad, but in our case it was the national headquarters that did their job and some individuals who claim to be members of the party decided to go and do what they did because if you are a member of the party you cannot do anything that is injurious to the party .. but whatever it is, we have accepted it in good faith we have gone on appeal and the national headquarters realizing that there should not be any room for any litigation in the future have directed that the zonal officers who are also caretaker by right (you know their tenure also expired like ours) oversee the state activities and we welcome it because it is the best thing to be done as far as administration is concerned so that the party is not robbed by this judgement”
Asked about the implications of this development, a legal practitioner told Nasarawa Eye that the appointment of the North central zonal caretaker committee officers to oversee the state PDP “renders useless Orogu’s pending motion before the court in Akwanga; Orogu and his State Working committee cease to be recognized or act for the party in Nasarawa state”. He added that the following may likely follow in due course, “lifting of suspensions on members, appointment of caretaker committees for wards and local governments, conduct of wards, local governments and state congresses, withdrawal of court cases by members”. However, Orogu replying to a question from this correspondent maintained that the party’s appeal against nullification of the ward and local government congress elections will continue pending its outcome and that of the on-going reconciliation meetings. He called on Nasarawa state PDP members to remain calm and steadfast in the party “as our current challenges are not greater than the forces that bind us together as a big family”.