The National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Senator Iyorchia Ayu, who stepped aside from his position on Tuesday, is set to fight his suspension by a Benue State High Court, Makurdi on Monday.
Ayu’s Special Assistant on Communication, Simon Imobo-tswam, disclosed this to our correspondent shortly after the party announced the appointment of the Deputy National Chairman, (North), Umar Damagum Ayu as the acting national chairman.
He said Ayu would challenge the suspension order in court.
The Igorov ward executive committee in the Gboko Local Government Area of Benue State had on Sunday suspended Ayu for alleged anti-party activities and for failing to pay his membership dues.
In the aftermath of the suspension, the Benue State court restrained Ayu from parading himself as the chairman of the party following a suit filed by a former aide to the state governor, Conrad Utaan.
Ayu and the PDP were listed as the first and second respondents, respectively.
The case has been adjourned till April 17 for a hearing.
But his Special Assistant on Communication, in response to a question from The PUNCH, confirmed his principal’s plan to challenge the court order legally.
When asked if his embattled principal would challenge the court order barring him from parading himself as the PDP national chairman, Imobo-tswam simply said “yes” without entertaining further questions.
He however added that the PDP “has said everything concerning the issue. So, there is no need to say more.”
Damagum, in a brief interview with journalists in Abuja, explained that he was taking over the party leadership in an acting capacity “to fulfil all righteousness.”
He said, “We are here to fulfil all righteousness. We have a court order restraining our national chairman and we are law-abiding. I will be here with you in an acting capacity pending the determination of the court.
‘’I want to use this opportunity to enjoin you to give me the cooperation we all used to have with you. I will have a meeting immediately after this session with the NWC (National Working Committee) to review what is happening in the party.”
In solidarity with Ayu, PDP stakeholders from his Igyorev ward protested at the party secretariat on Tuesday.
They expressed support for the suspended chairman and further passed a confidence vote in him.
Addressing journalists, a ward executive member, Stephen Shimahile, said “We categorically disclaim and disassociate ourselves from the purported letter of vote of no confidence and suspension of Senator Iyorchial Ayu as a member of PDP in Igyorov Council Ward of the Gboko Local Government Area of Benue State dated the 24th day of March 2023 circulating in the media
“The executive committee members have never discussed in any of our meetings prior to election or post-2023 general election about the conduct of the national chairman in line with chapter 10 section 57 of the party’s Constitution 2017 as amended.
“The executive committee members have stated clearly that they have no knowledge of the letter and have not authorised anybody whatsoever to generate such mischievous letter on behalf of the executive committee.’’
He claimed the signatures on the letter were forged, stressing that no member of the PDP executive committee of the Igyorov council ward signed it or caused it to be signed on his or her behalf.
“The names of the executive committee members are wrongly written and spelt which showed the desperation of the mischief-makers,” he stated.
The spokesman for the PDP Presidential Campaign Council, Dino Melaye argued that Ayu’s decision to obey the court order was a testament to the party’s belief in the supremacy of the law.
While noting that Ayu reserved the right to seek legal redress, the former lawmaker who represented Kogi West Senatorial District at the National Assembly, warned the Governor Nyesom Wike-led Integrity Group not to be too fast in celebrating because “Ayu did not resign; he only stepped aside in obedience of a court order.”
He continued, “Ayu has the right to seek legal redress and I am sure that is an option he would explore. Ayu did not resign; he only stepped aside. He will bounce back and for the G-5 governors, we tell them not to rejoice yet because the music has just started.
“This is no celebration time for them. By this move, the party and the chairman have both demonstrated that they are law-abiding. Whether the ex parte order was well procured, purchased or induced, Ayu decided to obey it as a law-abiding citizen. There is no point in taking the laws into our hands.’’
Speaking further, Melaye noted, “While this crisis lasted, Governor Wike kept repeating that he and his group wanted the chairmanship of the party to go to the South but in compliance with the constitution of the party, the position has remained in the North. Now, has this helped their cause?”
In the same vein, a member of the PDP National Executive Committee, Timothy Osadolor told The PUNCH that anyone ruling out the chances of Ayu returning to the office “does not know the stuff he is made of.”
According to him, “Ayu will be back. It is not a question of if but when. As I said a few days ago, the suspension from his ward is null and void because the constitution of the party is clear on the matter.
“Only a committee set up by the NEC of the PDP can suspend a national officer of the party. Ayu will prove this in court. He merely stepped aside to show them in court that they lack the power to sanction him as they are trying to do.”
On the way forward for the party, Osadolor who doubles as the Deputy National Youth Leader of the PDP said, “It is important that we put aside all pettiness and work in the interest of the party. But some privileged individuals who became what they are today courtesy of the PDP platform want to destroy the party.”
A member of the PDP Board of Trustees and former deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, Austin Opara said that given the turn of events, Ayu was left with no choice but to obey the order of the court.
Opara, a former ally of the Rivers State governor, added that the embattled chairman might find his way back to the office if the order against him was vacated by the court.
NEC to meet
Meanwhile, the highest decision-making body of the party, NEC, is expected to convene “as soon as it becomes feasible” to deliberate on issues thrown up by the turn of events in the past two days.
The Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Ibrahim Abdullahi confirmed this to our correspondent on Tuesday.
Abdullahi said, “A NEC meeting will be held as soon as it becomes feasible. It is in the works, but we have not fixed a date for it yet.”
Also speaking on the latest development in the party, the Vice Chairman, PDP, Abia State, Abraham Amah assured the crisis would be resolved by the National Working Committee, the National Executive Committee and the court.
Amah, who is also the acting state Publicity Secretary of the party, in an interview with The PUNCH, stated, “For us, this is a developing story. We have noted the suspension of the national chairman by his own ward which is a very serious development and we have also noted the order of a Benue State High Court sitting at Makurdi which had also suspended the chairman and restrained him from acting as the national chairman.
In his reaction, the Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, asked Ayu to come to terms with the reality that his ‘’calamitous reign has come to an end.’’
The governor also dismissed Ayu’s claim that only the NEC could suspend him.
He spoke during the inauguration of phase one of the Trans-Kalabari Road on Tuesday, performed by Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State.
Wike declared that the embattled party chief could not reap from the party by presiding over its affairs, where he had not sown or secured any electoral victory for it.
He stated, “Ayu said nobody can suspend him but today, he has packed out from the national office. We have an acting chairman. I told him he will go whether you like it or not, he will go.”
Wike explained the court had in a previous case nullified the sections of the PDP constitution that bestowed powers only on NEC to suspend the party’s national officers.
He added, “Those lawyers telling you that the ward has no power to suspend you, that it’s only the National Executive Council, then you don’t understand what is happening. When you came, it was the ward that suspended (Uche) Secondus, and you went and took office, didn’t you?”
“So, is it now that you know that it is only NEC that can suspend you? Let me tell you since they’ve not told you: The court has struck off that section of our constitution that says it’s only the NEC that can suspend (chairman). The PDP did not even appeal the judgment.
“So, forget it, you are gone. You are wasting your time. We are ready for the battle. I am not from Benue, but I have interest and that interest is that Ayu must go,” the governor said.
He pointed out that Ayu’s suspension by his ward executive showed he was not a formidable force and respected political leader.
Pointing the way forward for the party, the Director of Publicity and Communications of the Rivers State PDP Campaign Council, Chief Ogbonna Nwuke, said the PDP leadership must urgently convene a meeting to address the burning issues that set the party backwards under Ayu.
Asked if the party in the state is satisfied with another Northerner stepping into Ayu’s office, albeit in an acting capacity, the former Rivers State Commissioner for Information and Communications said, “Ab initio, the issue about a Northern chairman for the party was not a major concern. What made it a concern was that the party produced a candidate from the North against the run of play, against the basic principles of the party constitution.
“So, it is a good thing that Ayu is gone. We don’t believe that he stepped aside. His time was up and not even his friends could save him. Ayu is gone and gone for good.”
On whether the party in the state would have preferred a Southerner to step in as Ayu’s replacement, he said, “In terms of underlying principles pertaining to zoning, one will easily perhaps say if we were to take away the presidential candidate from the equation, then it will be the turn of the North to produce the chairman because the last chairman was from the South-South, Uche Secondus.’’
For Chief Olabode George, a former deputy national chairman of the party, where the acting chairman hails from is immaterial. He noted that it was not yet time to clamour for a southerner as the party’s national chairman.
He said, “It is not yet time to start saying this is from the north, this is from the south. You see, the election is over and we are in court. We are going to do a proper postmortem analysis of what happened pre-election, during the election and post-election.
‘’That’s the only way this party will survive. I’m pleading that all sides should wait for the court to make its decision on who actually won the presidential election. Whether we win or lose, we must have a postmortem analysis. So, it doesn’t matter where the acting chairman comes from.’’
In a related development, Conrad Utaan, the plaintiff in the suit against Ayu said what the party leader did was the right step.
Utaan said that there was nothing special in complying with the court order, saying, “he has no option left for him.’’
The former aide to the Benue State governor said the suspended chairman had done more damage to the opposition party than any other person since its formation in 1998.
He stated, “Ayu has done the right thing; we have not known him as a man of honour. But he is being proactive to take this step (of stepping aside). It’s the right thing for a democrat to do to respect the order of the court until April 17 when we shall meet in court.
“The truth of the matter is that Ayu has led the party to its worst outing since 1998. One expected him to have left the office as it’s done in other climes if you lead a party to such a disastrous election; you allow a new person to come on board.’’