By Ismail Omipidan
The desire of every politician is to stay on top of his game. Like every politician, it was the desire of Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, otherwise known as SAS, to lead the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the 2019 general elections. SAS nursed the dream. He made vague reference to it in some of his press interviews.
He was appointed national chairman in February 2016. Sadly, with the Supreme Court’s judgment last Wednesday, which not only sacked him but described him as a politician who “displayed infantile desperation to cling to office at all cost”, SAS may as well bid Wadata House, headquarters of the PDP, Abuja, farewell, and may have to turn to Borno, for another opportunity to revive his political career.
With the Supreme Court’s verdict, which affirmed Senator Ahmed Makarfi as the leader of the party, the “real PDP members,” in the words of Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, appears to have carried the day.
But how they conduct their affairs in the next three months, beginning with their National Caucus meeting this night, Monday, July 17, 2017, leading into its convention, which may likely come up in October, would determine whether or not the party has learnt any lesson from the crisis that almost sent it into political oblivion.
How it got into the mess
Historically, no national chairman of the PDP ever served out his four-year tenure. The only one that came close was Dr. Ahmadu Ali. He came in 2005, first in acting capacity to replace Chief Audu Ogbeh, in January 2005 and by March of the same year, he was elected substantive chairman. He left office in 2008, whereas his tenure ought to have lasted till 2009. Ironically too, no chairman has ever challenged the party’s authority to remove him, the way SAS did, until last Wednesday when the party heaved a sigh of relief.
Interestingly, in the 19 years existence of the party, it has produced about 15 chairmen, both acting and substantive ones.
Sheriff, like two previous chairmen of the party, came in as a joiner; yet, beat two other founding members of the party to emerge chairman, after the 2015 polls that saw to the exit of the party’s erstwhile “Game Changer,” Alhaji Adamu Muazu.
According to one of the National Executive Council (NEC), members, who spoke to Daily Sun in confidence, on the day NEC voted Sheriff as the acting chairman, he and several other NEC members had no idea that Sheriff was in the race.
“It was when we got to the hall that we were told that the former Borno State governor was in the race,” revealed.
With 69 votes, Sheriff beat four other aspirants to clinch the acting chairmanship position, amid protest from other party stakeholders, who were opposed to his emergence. In spite of his ratification by the organs of the party, critical stakeholders, including former ministers, led by Tanimu Turaki, SAN, and other leaders, were vehemently opposed to his emergence.
And barely a week after his emergence, a group, known as PDP Rescue Group, which comprises notable leaders of the party, most of whom were foundation members, described Sheriff’s emergence as a “disappointment to the PDP.”
The group, comprising former president of the Senate, Adolphus Wabara, former governor of old Gongola State, Ambassador Wilberforce Juta, and former deputy governor of Sokoto State, Mukhtar Shagari, among others, said the party at the time needed someone with an “impeccable character,” adding that “the current leadership crisis is a challenge to every Nigerian. By acts of error of judgment as being witnessed now, PDP is denying Nigeria of a strong opposition party that is badly needed if Nigeria’s democracy is to be strengthened and all tendencies towards civilian dictatorship checked.
“The crisis must challenge all party members to action to halt the party from further drift. The plan of PDP Rescue Group is to mobilise party members and leaders to help attain this noble goal,” Juta, who had read the text of the group’s position, said.
The group went further: “We are upset by the decision of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party in appointing Senator Ali Modu Sheriff as the new national chairman of the party. We are convinced that this decision by the NEC is against the will and wish of the generality of faithful members, adding that “We know for a fact the North-East zonal wing, having been directed by the National Caucus of the party to forward nominees from the zone, did not nominate Senator Sheriff for the position of national chairman.
“In the interest of the PDP and the country, Sheriff should do the needful by stepping down honourably as it is evident that party members nationwide overwhelmingly reject his imposition.”
But Sheriff did not heed the call. He, however, did not also antagonise the group. He instead sued for peace. And after all the controversies and media war, a peace deal was reached, which saw the critical stakeholders of the party, agreeing that Sheriff would spend just three months, organise convention, and leave in May, 2016.
Sheriff, Daily Sun learnt, agreed to the peace deal and, in fact, even said so at different fora that he would neither seek the chairmanship of the party nor stay a day beyond the three months deal, secured for him.
However, shortly before the convention, Sheriff, again, with the backing of governors Ayodele Fayose and Nyesom Wike of Ekiti and Rivers states respectively, began plotting to run for the chairmanship. And by the time the whistle for the convention proper was blown, he emerged the sole candidate for the contest.
But the convention did not eventually hold, as Sheriff, apparently sensing that the rug might be pulled off his feet, following the decision by his two major backers to withdraw their support at the eleventh hour, hurriedly called off the convention. The withdrawal of support, it was learnt was occasioned by sudden realisation that Sheriff could not be “trusted.”
Although Sheriff called off the convention, the other stakeholders went ahead with the convention, and appointed a caretaker committee, led by Senator Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi. Since then, the party never knew peace, until last Wednesday.
The unresolved issues before Supreme Court’s verdict
Ironically, even Sheriff’s position as chairman of the party, needed to be ratified by a convention of the party, since he came in by appointment, not through election. However, no convention was held since his appointment as acting chairman. Also, since Muazu, was appointed in 2014, to complete Alhaji Bamanga Tukur’s tenure, which ought to have ended in 2016, and since Sheriff was appointed to complete Muazu’s tenure too, technically, Sheriff’s tenure, ought to have ended by 2106, regardless of how he came in. But Sheriff refused.
Besides, the FCT High Court, presided over by Justice Valentine Ashi, had in June 2016, nullified the amended PDP constitution, a provision, which incidentally was what the party leaders had relied on to appoint both Muazu and Sheriff, into the chairmanship position, in an acting capacity. Daily Sun gathered that till date, the judgment is yet to be challenged by Sheriff. And by implication, the said judgment renders invalid the decision reached at the 68th NEC meeting of the party, where Sheriff emerged as acting chairman.
On his part, Sheriff, while explaining how he emerged the national chairman of the party, said: “If you don’t understand the organs of the party, there is nothing like former ministers’ forum. In any case, they were not the ones that brought me in as national chairman. I became national chairman through due process. The NEC met and through voting, I got about 69 votes. There were four other aspirants. I am in touch with the governors, making consultations on how to hold credible convention and elect new officers of the party.
“As the national chairman, I have not called for any meeting. I am making consultations; I will only call for a meeting after the consultations. I have said that there is no sacrifice that is too big to make for the party. I want to believe that at my level, I can’t make statements that cannot be justified. I always act within the rule of law. As of today, since the judgment, I have spoken to seven governors, members of BoT and their views tally with mine. You can’t step down without a convention. The sacrifice I am talking about making is that I don’t intend to run the tenure prescribed for me.”
Sheriff was reacting to calls by PDP stakeholders on him to step aside, even after he was declared the authentic national chairman by a Court of Appeal, in February, this year.
The fears, the concern
While the crisis lasted, many PDP stalwarts believed strongly that the ruling All Progressives Congress Party (APC) may have infiltrated its rank, thereby fuelling the crisis within the PDP to its advantage. And those who hold this view are quick to point out how police disrupted the party’s convention in Port Harcourt, sealed off the party’s secretariat and as well as the the International Conference Centre, where the Makarfi-led group was billed to hold an emergency meeting, after the Appeal Court verdict, to buttress their position.
The Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, while bemoaning the sealing off of their meeting venue, described the development as the “manipulation of vital institutions of democracy and radical decline of democratic freedoms in Nigeria.”
Insisting that their group remains the real PDP, Ekweremadu said the solidarity of all key organs and bodies of the party, towards the Makarfi-led PDP National Caretaker Committee, despite the recent judgment of the Court of Appeal on the party’s leadership tussle, showed that “it is not the hood that makes the monk.”
Speaking during the PDP National Stakeholders meeting, which later held at the Ekiti State Governor’s Lodge, Asokoro, Abuja, the deputy president of the Senate, said: “We are aware that all the institutions of democracy are being manipulated and harassed in this country. The National Assembly and the press are not left out. The INEC has been captured and now a part of the APC. Our judiciary is being insulted and assaulted every day. Their houses are being attacked very late at night and the judges are being harassed. So, we are not surprised at what we are seeing today (sealing of meeting venue). But what remains is for us to remain resolute.
“If you look around this room, you will see a lot of people who are being harassed, persecuted, and taken to court. What is their offence? They claim they allegedly received stolen property, yet nobody has been arraigned for the actual stealing. As a lawyer, I know that if you are being arraigned for receiving stolen property, you must first of all arraign the man who stole the property. That is not so in our own case. Is that democracy?
“We have heard there was a judgment in Port Harcourt. Now, those who benefitted from the judgment, where are they? Are they with our former ministers? Are they with our National Assembly members? Are they with our governors? Which organs of the party are they with or are with them? The truth is that it is not the hood that makes the monk. I therefore call on all PDP faithful to remain strong as the party would work with Nigerians to restore true democracy and hope to our people. I believe that with determination and sticking together, we will triumph and Nigeria will be better for it.”
From all indications, impunity and imposition of candidates for elective positions for party and other offices, appear to be PDP’s greatest undoing. Will it stop? It seems only time will tell.