Barely five days after the defection of five of its governors to the All Progressives Congress (APC), the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is plotting a secret legal battle to declare the seats of the governors vacant.
Also, the party yesterday hired a 10-man team of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) to file a case at the Federal High Court on Monday on why the governors should step aside.
But the five governors said they are ready for the battle against the PDP.
Those affected are Governors Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers), Rabiu Kwankwaso (Kano), Aliyu Wammako (Sokoto), Murtala Nyako (Adamawa) and Abdulfatai Ahmed (Kwara).
Although there were arguments on whether to include Governors Sule Lamido and Aliyu Babangida in view of their comments and body language, the idea was shelved at the last minute.
Investigation by our correspondent revealed that the recourse to court was the outcome of tripartite marathon meetings of the PDP leadership, some selected elders of the party and some forces in the presidency between Wednesday and Thursday.
It was learnt that at the wee hours of the night on Thursday the party, the three groups agreed that there are sufficient legal grounds to move against the governors.
According to findings, two issues were isolated at the secret meetings to back up PDP moves to unseat the affected governors.
The issues are the Supreme Court judgment on Amaechi vs PDP and Section 221 of the 1999 Constitution.
Section 221 says: “No association, other than a political party, shall canvass for votes for any candidate at any election or contribute to the funds of any political party or to the funds of any political party or to the election expenses of any candidate at an election.”
A PDP top source said: “If you go through the decision of the Supreme Court in Amaechi vs PDP, it was expressly declared that parties are voted for at election and not individuals.
“The position of the PDP is that since the governors have defected to the APC, they can no longer hold our party’s governorship mandate in trust. They have to step aside.
“This is a major constitutional test for the country, and we are ready to pursue it to the logical conclusion.”
As part of the secret plot, it was gathered that the PDP might invoke “case stated” principle during the hearing of its application by asking for interpretations from the higher courts to guide the Federal High Court.
“With the interpretation of Section 221 of the 1999 Constitution and other interpretations from the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, the fate of the governors would have been sealed from the lower court,” an other source added.
As at press time, however, the party has decided to hire a 10-man team of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) which would be led by Chief Alex Iziyon (SAN) who is more or less the counsel to the President.
Others already engaged are Phebian Ajogu (SAN), Austin Alegeh (SAN) and a northern constitutional lawyer said to be familiar with winning such a case.
The list of seven others was kept under wraps last night because they are yet to extract commitment from them.
Some of the lawyers met between 9am and 11am yesterday after which they went to stamp some evidence at the National Library.
But surprisingly, the counsel to the PDP, Mr. J. K. Gadzama (SAN), is not among the lawyers because of what a source described as “his hands are full” in view of many cases involving the party, especially that of the National Secretary of the PDP, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola.
It was learnt that during one of the sessions, a PDP chieftain suggested the hiring of a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. J. B. Daodu (SAN) to lend weight to the legal battle.
It could not be immediately ascertained whether Daodu would accept the offer or not.
Meanwhile, investigation by our correspondent confirmed that the five governors have got wind of the plot and they have launched a counter-legal attack.
One of the governors, who spoke in confidence, said: “We know what they are capable of doing, and we are a step ahead of them. We will meet in court. It shows how desperate and mean the PDP could be.
“We have also studied the relevant provisions of the 1999 Constitution before we opted to merge the New PDP with the APC.
“Sections 188 and 189 of the 1999 Constitution are explicit on how a governor can vacate his seat.
“A governor can be removed by reason of death, resignation, impeachment, permanent incapacity or removal in accordance with Section 188 or 189 of this Constitution.”
Section 188 says in part: “The Governor or Deputy Governor of a state may be removed from office in accordance with the provisions of this section.
“Whenever a notice of any allegation in writing signed by not less than one-third members of the members of the House of Assembly is (a) presented to the Speaker of the House of Assembly of the state; (b) stating the holder of such office is guilty of gross misconduct in the performance of the functions of his office, detailed particulars of which shall be specified.
Section 189 reads in part: “The Governor or Deputy Governor of a state shall cease to hold office if (a) by a resolution passed by two-thirds majority of all members of the Executive Council of the state, it is declared that the Governor or Deputy Governor is incapable of discharging the functions of his office; and (b) the declaration in paragraph (a) of this sub-section is verified, after such medical examination as may be necessary, by a medical panel established under subsection (4) of this section in its report to the Speaker of the House of Assembly.”
The governor said if the PDP believes in the rule of law, why did it keep quiet when governors were defecting to it.
He added: “Let them remove the moth in their eyes before heading for court. Did the Governor of Abia, Theodore Orji, not defect from the PPA to the PDP to earn his second term ticket? Did Orji step aside?
“He who goes to equity must do so with clean hands. Tell the PDP to practise what it is purportedly claiming to preach. Ex-Governor Ikedi Ohakim also defected from the PPA to the PDP and heaven did not fall. Even one of the die-hard loyalists of the President at present, Governor Isa Yuguda, moved from the ANPP to the PDP which was considered a good thing.