The recent judgment of the Court of Appeal affirming Senator Ali Modu Sheriff as the National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has sent the combatants in the factions back to the trenches. Assistant Editor GBADE OGUNWALE reports.
There seems to be no end to in sight the leadership crisis in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The recent judgment by the Port Harcourt Division of the Court of Appeal has rekindled the animosity within the fold. By the strength of the appellate court’s ruling and in the eyes of the law, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff is the national chairman of the PDP. But, the National Caretaker Committee, led by Senator Ahmed Makarfi, has initiated the process of challenging the ruling of the appellate court at the Supreme Court.
Although the Appeal Court has given the crown to Sheriff, Makarfi is still holding on to the PDP crowd. While Sheriff has only a handful of followers on his side, Makarfi has all the critical organs and party stakeholders lining up behind him. At a stakeholders meeting convened by the Makarfi camp on last week, the governors, the National Assembly caucus, the league of ex ministers, the Board of Trustees and prominent chieftains were present. They took turns to express their opposition to Sheriff’s headship of the party. According to them, the former Borno State governor is not a fit and proper person to lead the PDP. In a communique issues after the meeting, they unanimously agreed to challenge the decision of the Court of Appeal at the Supreme Court.
But, Sheriff is not leaving things to chances. Shortly after the verdict, he had visited to former military President, Ibrahim Babangida at his Minna hilltop mansion. Former Governor of Niger State Babangida Aliyu, accompanied Sheriff on the visit. Although details of the meeting with General Babangida were not made public, it was apparent that Sheriff went on an endorsement mission. While the Makarfi camp was still meeting to protest against his leadership, Sheriff was having yet another consultation with former President Goodluck Jonathan in Abuja. Like the meeting with Babangida, details of the consultation with Jonathan were also not made public.
However, Jonathan kept addressing Sheriff as “my chairman” after the meeting, a gesture many have interpreted to be a tacit endorsement of Sheriff by the former President. But, Jonathan has come out to deny endorsing Sheriff as the party chair. In a reaction by his media aide, Ikechukwu Eze, the ex President said addressing Sheriff as “my chairman” did not translate to endorsement of the former Borno governor.
“The issue of endorsement never came up in the course of the visit, not at the closed door meeting with Sheriff nor during the former President’s interview with newsmen”, the statement said. He accused the media of infusing mischief in their report, stressing that he welcomed Sheriff to his house in line with a mediation role he was playing towards undying and strengthening the PDP. According to the statement, the ex president opened his doors to Sheriff upon the latter’s request, just as he had earlier done to the Makarfi-led caretaker committee members. It added that the former President was prepared to broker more talks until the issues in the leadership of the PDP were finally resolved. The statement added, “Indeed, it may interest you to know that after meeting with Sheriff, the former President also met with Senator Ahmed Makarfi, leader of the PDP Caretaker Committee, and the party’s Board of Trustees chairman, Senator Walid Jubril, later in the evening”. It emphasised that as a peace-loving leader of the party, the former President’s interest was to help reposition the PDP to enable it play a constructive role in the affairs of the nation, in view of the imperative of deepening the nation’s democracy. It stated further, “I wish to let those spinning this falsehood know that it just doesn’t add up to fly a contrived banner of endorsement in one breath, and in another, concede that the former President explained his commitment in meeting with different interest groups, towards resolving the differences in the party”.
Those that accompanied Sheriff on the visit included a former Political Adviser Ahmed Gulak; Sheriff’s Deputy Dr. Cairo Ojougboh; National Secretray Prof Wale Oladipo and National Auditor Adewole Adyanju among others. Speaking after the meeting, Jonathan declared that there was no division within the PDP and that the differences among the camps would be addressed by elders of the party.
Apparently ruffled by the warm reception accorded Sheriff by Jonathan, a group of ex cabinet ministers that served under Jonathan decided to also visit the ex president. Led by a former Special Duties Minister, Taminu Turaki, the ex ministers also met with Jonathan behind closed doors for more than two hours. Addressing newsmen after the meeting, Turaki said they exchanged fruitful ideas on the way forward with the ex president regarding the crisis in the party. Turaki canvassed understanding by parties to the crisis, adding that internal mediation process was ongoing.
According to him, leaders and elders of the party are alive to their responsibilities and the need to forge ahead. Stating that the crisis in the PDP was not new, Turaki said reconciliation moves would be going hand-in-hand with the cross appeal initiated at the Supreme Court by the Makarfi camp.
“Even after the Supreme Court must have given its verdict, we will still sit together to explore reconciliation options”, Turaki stated. The ex minister also hinted that the group would meet with other stakeholders, including Sheriff in the days ahead. Asked to give highlight of the ex ministers’ meeting with Jonathan, Turaki said the ex president himself would issue a statement to that effect. Other ex ministers that joined Turaki at the meeting with Jonathan included Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, Senator Bala Mohammed, Mr. Osita Chidoka, Mr. John Odey, Alhaji Ibrahim Shekarau, Alhaji Aminu Wali among others.
Genesis of the crisis:
The crisis was triggered by inertia at the level of leadership, shortly after the party lost its grip on political power at the centre at the 2015 general election. Following the resounding defeat at the poll, pressure intense pressure by a vocal segment of party stakeholders forced the then party chairman, Alhaji Adamu Mu’azu to resign in May 2015.
The then Deputy National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus was then made to act as chairman, pending the election of another substantive chairman from the same geopolitical zone Mu’azu hailed from. While the party’s prescribed a period of six months for the Acting Chairman, the party leadership failed to tow the line. This led to restiveness among interested chieftains from Mu’azu’s North East zone.
Long after the expiation Secondus’ acting tenure, Ahmed Gulak mobilised his supporters and invaded the party secretariat to take over the leadership. The ensuing crisis forced the leadership to appoint a substantive chairman from the North East, to complete Mu’azu’s truncated tenure. Sheriff was not one of the five aspirants that jostled for the position. Curiously, his name came up at the last minute and the party’s governors, led by Governors Ayo Fayose (Ekiti) and Nyesom Wike (Rivers) decided to impose Sheriff as chairman. In a swift reaction, all the critical party organs, including the BoT, the league of ex Ministers and party elders, had mobilised and united against the choice of Sheriff. The disagreements dragged for several days, but the governors eventually had their way. Sheriff was installed national chairman amid protestations by key stakeholders.
As soon as he was made chairman, ex Borno governor started his political brinkmanship aimed at consolidating his position. With the active backing from Fayose and Wike, Sheriff was primed to become substantive chairman, to remain in office for another four years. Pronto, preparations were made to hold a convention in Port Harcourt, primarily to “coronate” Sheriff as chairman. And by tradition, Sheriff was billed to preside over the convention.
At this point, a stakeholders group, headed by a former Information Minister, Prof Jerry Gana threatened to convene a parallel convention to counter the proposed one in Port Harcourt. The Gana group, comprising a good number of prominent party chieftains and ex ministers, made good their threat by assembling in Abuja for a parallel convention, to hold simultaneously with the proposed one in Port Harcourt.
Apparently scared by the prospects of having a divided house, the organisers of the Port Harcourt convention called off the exercise. They removed Sheriff as chairman right at the botched convention ground. In his place, they had empaneled a Caretaker Committee to run the affairs of the party, pending the election of a substantive chairman. The seven-man panel was headed by Makarfi.
But Sheriff, would have none of it, as he continued to insist that he remained the party chair. The ding-dong affair led to a litany of court cases initiated by the two camps, seeking to consolidate their hold on the party. The governors, the Bot, ex Ministers, the National Assembly caucus and other leaders of the party, took sides with the Makarfi camp. But Sheriff continued to fight on, employing every tactic in the books to outsmart his opponents.
The case against Sheriff:
The major issue with Sheriff is mistrust. They party organs and stakeholders are agreed in their opinion that Sheriff cannot be trusted with the leadership of the party. According to them, the ex Borno Governor has a history of betraying his political party in the past. They cited the role he played while he was a financier of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) in opposition. As a chieftain of the ANPP, Sheriff had worked for the PDP against the interest of the ANPP at every election cycle since 2003. Accordingly, they have come to the conclusion that he would do the same against the interest of the PDP in the 2019 general elections. But with the judgment of the appellate court, Sheriff remained chairman, whether his opponents like it or not. And until the cross appeal filed by the Makarfi camp is decided, the PDP must learn to face the reality of having Sheriff as National Chairman.
Sheriff’s confidence building drive:
In a bid to build and shore up confidence among key stakeholders, Sheriff has initiated consultations across the various zones and among key elders of the party. Part of the move was his recent civil to the homes of Gen. Bababangida and former President Jonathan.
Reacting to the various remarks by the Makarfi camp, the party chair said he would not join issues with anybody, stressing that the constitution of the party does not recognise caretaker committee. His words, “There is only one PDP and there is only one national chairman. A group of people has the right to sit and discuss as only a group of people but not as PDP. If I go down to their level to exchange words with them, then I would not be different from them.
He added: “We don’t have anything like caretaker committee in our party. As father of the party, I will make sure everybody is united. I will make sure that everybody gets what they want in PDP. By the time I finished my convention, Nigerians will know that we mean well for the party”. But does Sheriff mean well for the PDP as he claims, or is he out to destroy the party as alleged by his antagonists? The answer lies in the belly of time. For now, Sheriff is holding tight to the crown, while Makarfi is pulling the crowd.