The post-election crisis rocking the Peoples Democratic Party took a new turn on Monday as a Benue State High Court, Makurdi, restrained Senator Iyorchia Ayu from parading himself as the national chairman of the party.

The restraining order marked the resumption of the hostility between a group backing the PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar and five governors who refused to campaign for him during the 2023 electioneering.

The court ruling came barely 24 hours after the executive of Ayu’s Igyorov Ward in the Gboko Local Government Area of Benue State suspended the PDP chairman for alleged anti-party activities.

Ayu’s suspension came four days after the National Working Committee of the PDP suspended former governors Ayo Fayose (Ekiti), Ibrahim Shema (Katsina), Chimaroke Nnamani (Enugu) and a former Senate President, Anyim Pius, and others for alleged anti-party activities.

The party leadership also referred the Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, to its disciplinary committee for the same offence.

Ortom is a member of the G-5 governors comprising governors Nyesom Wike (Rivers), Seyi Makinde (Oyo), Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia) and Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu) who are insisting on the removal of Ayu to address the lopsidedness in the leadership of the party which they alleged was skewed in favour of the North.

Announcing Ayu’s suspension on Sunday, the Ward Secretary, Mr Vangeryina Dooyum, who spoke on behalf of the Ward Chairman, Kashi Philip, explained that the party chairman worked against the party in the just concluded elections.

Dooyum, who read a statement signed by 12 out of the 17 ward executive members, stated, “It is on record that he has also failed to pay his annual subscription fees as provided under Section 8 (9) of the Constitution of the PDP, 2017 (As amended).

“Further investigation also revealed that he did not vote during the governorship and state assembly elections held on March 18, 2023.

“It was also discovered that most of his closest allies worked for the opposition party, the All Progressives Congress and hence, the abysmal performance of the PDP in Igyorov Ward.

“Because of the foregoing, we hereby pass a vote of no confidence in Dr Iyorchia Ayu and suspend him as a member of our party with immediate effect. The suspension takes effect from March 24, 2023.”

But reacting to his suspension on Monday, the embattled chairman declared that the PDP constitution expressly prohibited any organ of the party or executive committee at the ward, state or national level to take any disciplinary measure against any member of the National Executive Committee, arguing that only the NEC could suspend him.

Ayu faults action

Ayu in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Communications, Simon Imobo-Tswam, described the announcement of his suspension as mischief, drama and propaganda, adding that it was an exercise in futility “that is derivable from gross ignorance and desperation.”

It read, “But more than this, the so-called suspension letter was written by an illiterate beforehand, and only given to the coerced members to sign somewhere in Makurdi. “

The crisis in the main opposition party began immediately after its presidential primary was won by former vice president Atiku Abubakar.

The G-5 and the Southern bloc of the party had insisted on the removal of Ayu to address the lopsidedness in the leadership of the party which they alleged was tilted in favour of the North.

However, despite several reconciliation meetings between the aggrieved governors and Atiku in Port Harcourt, Abuja and London, United Kingdom, the party could not resolve the crisis as the PDP flag bearer objected to their demand.

Consequently, the G-5 and the southern bloc of the PDP refused to participate in Atiku’s presidential campaign or support his aspiration.

The ex-vice president subsequently lost the February 25 presidential election to the All Progressives Congress candidate, Bola Tinubu.

But in the latest twist to the festering crisis in the party which ruled the nation from 1999 to 2015, Justice Wilfred Kpochi of the Benue High Court granted an interim injunction restraining Ayu from parading himself as the PDP chairman pending the determination of the substantive suit.

The presiding judge handed down the order in suit No. MHC/85/2023, filed by a former aide to the Benue State governor, Conrad Utaan.

Ayu and the PDP were listed as the first and second respondents, respectively.

The plaintiff prayed the court to among others, grant, “An order of interim injunction restraining the 1st defendant, Senator, Dr Iyorchia Ayu from parading himself as the National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, having lost membership of the party, pending the hearing and determination of Motion on Notice already filed.”

The application, supported by a 15-paragraph affidavit, contained three exhibits which included the applicant’s membership card of the PDP, receipts for dues and a vote of no confidence passed in Ayu by the Igyorov council ward.

Granting the prayer, Kpochi stated, “Upon hearing Mr MT Assoh of learned counsel ably move the application and upon a dispassionate consideration of the facts placed before me in the pool of the affidavit evidence, and, again upon the consideration of the issues distilled in the written address by MT Assoh of learned counsel, it is my candid view that this is a proper case to grant the interim injunction as craved.

Court bars Ayu

“Consequently, this application is hereby granted in terms of relief captured in the motion papers as herein before reproduced. It is so ordered.’’

The case was adjourned till April 17 for a hearing.

The applicant in the case,  Utaan, has explained the reasons he decided to drag Ayu to court.

Speaking with journalists at the Government House, Makurdi on Monday, Utaan said that he decided to obtain the order following the abysmal performance of the party in the state.

Utaan said that he expected the national chairman to have stepped aside since he could not lead the party to victory in the state.

Utaan who is a former aide t Ortom on Social Investment, said, “I have just obtained an order signed by Justice W Puchi of the Makurdi High Court about a matter that I took before the court between, the former Chairman of our Party, Senator Iyorchia Ayu,  the PDP and me.

“I am sure you are aware of the facts of the matter as it concerns us here in Benue. We naturally expected because of the performance that we have just recorded as a party in Benue, Ayu, as it is done in saner climes, should step aside honourably because he wasn’t able to lead the party to victory, and allow the party to move on without him.

“Unfortunately, he has refused to show or display that kind of honour and I thought it wise to approach the court to see how to agree with the position of his ward which only 24 hours ago,  suspended him from the party.

“We expect that you cannot be the national chairman of a party that you are not a member of.

“Fortunately for us as a party, Iyorchia Ayu is no longer a member of the Peoples Democratic Party as declared by his ward and under normal circumstances, he has no reason whatsoever to continue as the national chairman of our party.’’

But the PDP expressed its readiness to interrogate the sequence of events leading to Ayu’s suspension at a meeting of its National Working Committee as soon as it gets the court order barring Ayu from functioning as the party chairman.

Speaking in a telephone chat with our correspondent on Monday, the National Publicity Secretary of the party, Debo Ologunagba said, “It is when we see the court order that we can react. We will react appropriately when we get the order.

“When we get the details of the court order, the National Working Committee of the party will consider it and we will make our decision known to Nigerians.”

In his comment, the spokesman for the PDP Presidential Campaign Council, Charles Aniagwu, described the court order against Ayu as unfortunate.

This is even as he blamed  Wike for the crisis rocking the PDP in Benue State.

He said, “It is unfortunate that persons that were given positions of authority and people thrown by God into national limelight through the PDP are the ones taking steps to destroy the party.

“Governor Wike is writing his history and over time, that history will not be kind to him. They are trying to destroy the party believing that they are strong men today because they are in power.

‘’They want to break and set on fire the ladder they used in climbing up, forgetting that there are many people who would have taken advantage of that ladder not only to climb at the individual level but also for doing something that all of us will be proud of.

“They think they are fighting one man but that is far from it. We need a country with a strong opposition but if you destroy a very strong political party just because of your selfish interest, you will realize that to a large extent, you have undermined our development as a nation.”

He called on all those fuelling the crisis in the PDP to retrace their steps in the interest of democracy.

Also,  a member of the PDP National Executive Committee and Deputy National Youth Leader of the party, Timothy Osadolor said in line with the PDP Constitution, only a committee set up by NEC had the powers to sanction Ayu or any other national officer of the party.

Accordingly, he argued that “A court order relying on a suspension that is null and void ab initio is not proper.”

He continued, “Any action taken by a state chapter of our party that is inconsistent with the provisions of our constitution is null and void. I don’t want to speak about the court order but the PDP as a party is determined to do the right thing.

“Our chairman has fought many battles and he triumphed in all. We believe this is one such because anything built on nothing cannot stand. We cannot allow impunity to reign in the affairs of this party. Impunity is what has brought us here today because people you expect to uphold the values of the party are the ones trying to destroy the party.”

But against the background of Ayu’s suspension, the Rivers State governor has declared that his fight against the party chieftain has just started.

He stated that it was unthinkable to allow any official who was unable to deliver his political unit, ward, local government or state to the PDP during the last general elections to preside over the party.

Wike stated these during the inauguration of the re-modelled Community Secondary School in Okoro-nu-Odo in the Obio-Akpor Local Government Area of the State, on Monday, performed by the governor of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi.

He said, “Ask them, those who want to be chairman of this party; what do you have to give to the party now?’’

G5 declares war

The governor claimed it was God who hardened Ayu’s heart not to vacate office when the G-5 governors and other party leaders demanded his resignation after Atiku’s emergence as the PDP presidential candidate.

If Ayu had resigned then, Wike argued that his loyalists who opposed the zoning of elective and appointive offices would have used thatas an excuse for the party’s abysmal performance in the recent elections.

According to him, it would be morally offensive for Ayu to remain as the PDP chairman after the catastrophic defeat of the party in his unit, ward, local government, state and at the national level.

The suspension of Ayu, he maintained, was the beginning of the fight to save the party.

“Those of you who are fighting that they have suspended him, you have not seen anything yet. The fight has started. Ayu, the fight has just started. If you know him, those of you who are close to him, tell him, Iyorchia Ayu, the fight has just started,’’ Wike said belligerently.

He insisted that other PDP-controlled states cannot sustain the party financially and tolerate the embattled chairman as their leader, noting that Ayu failed to strengthen the party in his home state of Benue which lost the March 18 governorship election to the All Progressives Congress.

“Will you preside over the one (Rivers PDP) I have secured victory for? Do you want to come and preside over this state (Rivers) so that we will begin to donate money to the party?

“You, bring your state to the party too so that your state (Benue) can contribute money to the national (level). If you don’t deliver your state, you can’t preside over us. You cannot,’’ he stressed.

 Wike further hinted that some persons within the party are supporting and encouraging Ayu to resist the suspension slammed on him, warning that such persons would be doing so to their detriment.

On its part,  the Rivers State chapter of the PDP  said Ayu’s suspension by his ward executive and the court order was nemesis at work.

The Director of Campaigns and Publicity, Rivers PDP Campaign Council, Chief Ogbonna Nwuke, said though Ayu deserved what he got, it was coming rather late.

He stated, “Nemesis has visited Ayu. Many of us at the party think that what is happening to Ayu is coming a bit too late. But, we are also grateful to God that the decision to suspend him has taken place.

“It shows how weak and vulnerable Ayu is. But above all, it proves a point that you can never escape evil that you do, because it lives after you.

“I think the PDP is better at this point because Ayu was plotting to further destabilise the party, particularly the areas where the party had won because of selfish reasons.”

Nwuke said that the court order confirmed Ayu’s suspension ‘’because he has lost the power to remain as the party’s national chairman.’’

“The point is that Ayu has received what I see as the Oshiomhole treatment. And obviously, perhaps rather than wait for him to go to court to salvage his supposed position, the court has rather asked him to go.’’

Reacting to the court order, a former deputy national chairman of the party, Chief Olabode George, said Ayu treated the party like his private company going by the recent suspension of some of its notable members.

George said he had warned Ayu to tread with caution on the crisis rocking the PDP to prevent the party from collapsing.

He said, “You see, we warned (him). Remember our meetings. I had a one-on-one meeting with Ayu in his house one night that ‘don’t start what you can’t finish’.

‘’You see, there are certain rules, the fundamentals that established the party by the founding fathers. I kept on saying ‘look, the way you are treading, you will be dividing the party and a divided house will be a defeated house.”

He lamented that the suspension meted out to some members of the party by the Ayu-led PDP shouldn’t have come while the party was still in court disputing the February 25 presidential election.

“This is not a private company. I’m pleading with them because that was how the ANPP (All Nigeria Peoples Party) went under. This ship will not go under.

“Let’s wait and allow the courts to finish whatever they are doing, then there will be a serious post-mortem analysis where you will now know who did this, who did that, who can be punished. He was in too much of a hurry, suspending people as if it was a private company,” he concluded.