Sherriff Inches Closer to Retaining Seat, But Opposition Mounts

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With its national convention just weeks away, Onyebuchi Ezigbo writes on the unfolding development in PDP

After weeks of controversy and intriguing battle for the soul of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the party’s National Executive Committee meeting on Wednesday finally approved the zoning format as submitted by the zoning committee headed by the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Udom Emmanuel.

Interestingly, the incumbent national chairman Senator Ali Modu Sheriff appeared to have won the battle of wits over the zoning of the chairmanship slot as the report of the committee zoning the seat to the North East successfully scaled through the NEC meeting on Thursday. Speaking to journalists on the outcome of the meeting, Sheriff said that the NEC had approved the report of the zoning and convention committees’ reports with a unanimous vote. Sheriff said that the chairmanship seat had been zoned to the North East by the NEC without any dissenting voice.

“The NEC meeting has adopted the report of the zoning committee 100% without any dissenting voice. It approved the zoning of the post of National Chairman to the North East”. Apart from the contentious chairmanship position, the approved zoning format ceded more slots to the South-South zone apparently to appease the zone whose son, former President Goodluck Jonathan, lost out in the 2015 presidential race.

Details of the report of the Zoning committee as presented by the governor of Akwa Ibom State showed that the post of the National Chairman has been zoned to the North-East. Apart from the chairman’s seat, the position of the Deputy National Auditor was also zoned to the North east. South-South retained the Deputy National Chairman slot as well as the Deputy National Legal Adviser, National Treasurer and Deputy National Woman Leader. The South West got the slots of the National Secretary, National Auditor and National Publicity Secretary while the North Central is to produce the Deputy National Secretary, National Financial Secretary, Deputy National Publicity Secretary and Deputy National Organizing Secretary.

Similarly the party zoned the positions of National Legal Adviser, National Woman Leader, Deputy National Treasurer and Deputy National Youth Leader to the North-West. The positions zoned to the South East include, National Organizing Secretary, National Youth Leader and Deputy National Financial Secretary.

However, the atmosphere at the poorly attended NEC meeting painted a picture that all may not be well with the opposition party after all. Most of those who spoke at the opening of the NEC meeting were all calling for truce and for those who may have disagreed with the decisions reached at the NEC meeting to sheathe their sword and remain in the party. Although Sheriff could not immediately confirm if he is interested in retaining the job which has fueled opposition within his party, political pundits see the zoning of the chairmanship seat to his zone, North east, as a direct allocation to him. Sheriff told journalists who confronted him shortly after the party’s NEC meeting that the issue was a personal decision for him to make and that he had not yet made up his mind on it. An obviously elated Sheriff had expressed satisfaction at the turn of events, especially the recent outing of the party during a rally in Jigawa State, describing it as a sign of things to come. He said : “We are telling all Nigerians that what happened in Jigwa state is just the beginning and that we are going to organize similar rallies in all the states of the federation”,

But the first sign that the zoning may not have gone down well with all the stakeholders came when the Deputy Senate President and one of those believed to hold neutral views on the party affairs, Senator Ike Ekerenmadu, pleaded with aggrieved party members to accept to bury their differences in the interest of the party’s progress and survival. While addressing the NEC meeting, Senator Ekwerenmadu urged party members not to dwell on their differences but to resolve it amicably and be ready to move ahead as one family.” As our national convention approaches, it is expected that there will be disagreements. The important thing is that when we have these disagreements, we will quickly resolve them and move ahead that is the resilience that PDP is known for. So I like to appeal to our party men and women that if there are issues where we have differences, We must find a way of resolving these differences in the best interest of our party. PDP is the only party in Nigeria where we can say belongs to everybody and to nobody. So that is important for us to know so that we will all keep faith with this party that belongs to all of us.

“The time is now for us to make sacrifices and to show compromise so that the party will remain strong. It is also a time for us to show alternative for what is going on in the country presently so that Nigerians can trust us again with governance in 2019 and the responsibility for this belongs to all of us.

“I also want to commend our governors for what they are doing in their respective states. We believe their performance will be the symbol for which the PDP will use to tell Nigerians that it can do it much better again. I hope that the schedule for the congresses will be religiously adhered to ahead of the national convention”. Another speaker during the opening ceremony of the NEC meeting and the Deputy chairman of the PDP Governors Forum, Governor Ibrahim Dankwambo of Gombe state, rightly anticipated that meaning could be read from the absence of some his colleagues at the meeting and tried to correct the impression, by assuring that the governors are on the same page with the party. Dankwambo said despite the absence of some of governors of the party at the NEC meeting, the forum is still in agreement with the position reached at the NEC meeting .

Speaking in a similar tone, the Acting chairman of the BoT, Senator Walid Jibril, urged members of the party who may be aggrieved at the decisions of the party not to leave the party. Jibril who said that he had to defy all odds to attend the meeting straight from the hospital after being discharged because of his love for the party and it’s quest for survival. He explained that the exclusion of the BoT meeting before the NEC meeting was not deliberate adding that the meeting of the board will still be convened at an opportune time.

“None of us that are founding members of the PDP will ever leave the PDP and we believe PDP will never die. We will continue to be in the PDP whatever the mistakes are, we will stay here and correct it and make progress. Leaving PDP is not the answer and I like to appeal to everyone that intends to leave PDP to stop that”.

Among the key leaders of the party that attended the NEC meeting were Governors of Enugu, Delta, Gombe, Akwa Ibom, Taraba, Ebonyi, Senate Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio, former Governors, state party chairmen and other stakeholders. Some of the absentee governors were, Governor of Bayelsa, Hon. Serieka Dickson, Ondo state Governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, Abia state Governor Ikpeazu and Ekiti state governor, Ayo Fayose.

Amendment of Party’s Constitution
The PDP NEC also considered and adopted the amendments made on its guidelines for the 2016 Congresses and National Convention affecting section 4.02 which stipulated specific timelines for purchases of forms for various offices, to now remain open and members can purchase form at any given time or period and contest any position of their choice.

Giving further update on the preparations for the May 21 PDP national convention, Sheriff said that the party’s NEC will meet again on May 11 to approve proposals for constitutional amendments ahead of the national convention. It is expected that the amendments being sought will follow from the recommendations of the Post Election Review Panel on the 2015 general election headed by the deputy senate president, which highlighted various aspects of reforms needed in the party.

The Controversy and Opposition That Trailed PDP Zoning Plan
Initial reaction to the leaked information on the proposal by the zoning committee to cede the chairmanship slot to the North east had sparked off controversy with those opposed to the plan demanding its reversal. The South West zone was initially decided on the matter with one group led by Senator Buruji declaring that the zone had no interest in the chairmanship position while another group of leaders of the party led by Chief Bode George insisted that South West had not occupied the position and as such should be considered.

Some of the agitated leaders of the party in the South-west threatened that they may have to reconsider their membership of the party if their request was not given proper consideration. This position of the Yorubas was made known through a former aide to President Goodluck Jonathan, Dr. Doyin Okupe, who issued a statement after their meeting on 21st of April in Lagos. Okupe took a swipe at Senator Buruji, who led some members of the party from South-west recently to pay a courtesy call on the party’s national chairman, describing him as impostor and traitor. It was at this visit that Sheriff was told that South-west PDP members were behind him to continue in office.

Okupe, in the statement pointed out that “within the last 18 years there have been 11 chairmen from five geopolitical zones. Only the Yoruba race from the South-west have been precluded from this exalted office”. He said: “There is an embarrassing falsehood being propagated by political charlatans from the South-west and some influential collaborators in the top echelon of the PDP.
The seed of this misrepresentation was sowed by a group of political clowns and court jesters under the leadership of Senator Buruji Kashamu, a political impostor who claims he is the leader of the party and the Yorubas in the South-west “.

“I want to state categorically here, without any fear of equivocation, that we the Yoruba’s from the South-west, desire and demand the post of the national chairman at the next convention of the party.”
Explaining further, Okupe listed the past chairmen of the party Saying they include Chief Solomon Lar, Chief Banabas Gemade, Chief Audu Ogbe, Prince Vincent Ogbolafor, Dr. Ezekwesili Nwodo, Alhaji Abubakar Baraje, Dr. Haliru Bello, Alhaji Bamangar Tukur, Alhaji Adamu Mu’azu, Prince Uche Secondus, and Sen. Ali Modu Sheriff. He said: “In the interest of fairness, equity and Justice, it is most compelling that the Yorubas of the South-west zone must be allowed to contest for this post at this coming national convention. Any attempt to do anything to the contrary, no matter the reason advanced cannot be acceptable. Failure for a Yoruba man to emerge as the national chairman can only mean two things.

That there is a pervasive and concealed hatred for the South-west in the PDP. Or that the PDP has very little or no regard for Yoruba interest as was envinced by the obvious cheating of the South-west from the position of the Speaker in 2011, which was never rectified nor compensated for the whole of four years. The sad implication of the above is that, regrettably, many of us from the South-west may have to reconsider our membership of this great party we have helped to nurture and supported through thick and thing, a party we have loved almost more than our very existence, and the party we have served with all our natural endowment, in victory and defeat”.

However, one of the main reasons for the agitation against the zoning of the chairmanship slot to the North east is the suspicion that there is an underground plot to use it to return Sheriff back to office during the May 21 National convention. These group which included the Forum of Former Ministers and Legislators in the party were advocating for the emergence of the new crop of national leadership of the party through a very transparent national convention. The PDP Ministers’ Forum led by the former Minister of Special Duties , Alhaji Kabiru Tanimu Turaki, until last week had remained vehement in their opposition to the retention of the present Sheriff-led leadership. Another group with dissenting voice is the PDP Rescue Group chaired by former Governor of old Gongola State, Amb. Wilberforce Juta, who was a contestant for the PDP chairmanship position.

The group had expressed doubt as to the fate of the party under a prolonged Sheriff leadership. But the array of opposition notwithstanding, the Sheriff-led PDP National Working Committee seemed to be undeterred and buoyed by the staunch support from most of the party’s governors who seem to bestow a lot of confidence on him. As at last count Sheriff enjoys the tacit support of most of the governors including those of Rivers, Ekiti, Gombe, Taraba, Enugu, Ebonyi, Akwa Ibom and Abia States with the exception of Ondo, Bayelsa and perhaps Cross River State who has not shown much interest in recent happenings within the party.

With the formal adoption of the report of the zoning format and distribution of party positions having been made, the stage is therefore set for an epic battle at the convention between forces in favour of retaining the status quo and those clamouring for reform and total leadership change at the Wadata Plaza. Where the pendulum would swing to would be clearer as events unfold in the coming days and weeks before the national convention scheduled for Port Harcourt, Rivers state capital.