PDP Pre-convention Tussle: Sheriff versus Ex-ministers

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Onyebuchi Ezigbo looks at the disagreement between the national chairman of Peoples Democratic Party and some major stakeholders of the party

The current battle of wits between the national chairman of Peoples Democratic Party, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, and those opposed to him, mainly ministers in the previous PDP administration, is threatening to destroy the party that once prided itself on being Africa’s biggest party. The disagreement is over the propriety or otherwise of going ahead with national convention. Ever since the emergence of Sheriff as the national chairman, some PDP chieftains have severally voiced their disdain for his tenure. Most of them have argued that the party will surfer enormous image problems arising from Sheriff’s controversial political record.

Sheriff, a two- time governor of Borno State, is still receiving bashing for his alleged poor handling of the security risk posed by the Islamic sect, Boko Haram. Apparently, another crime which Sheriff might have committed was that he journeyed variously from the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party to the All Progressives Congress before landing the top job at the PDP.

But what has really surprised all those opposed to Sheriff’ is how the Borno State-born politician has continued to secure the backing of the majority of the PDP state governors and key party organs, like the National Working Committee, National Caucus, Board of Trustees, and the National Executive Committee. As part of efforts to appease aggrieved party stakeholders, the national caucus of the party agreed to give Sheriff a three-month lifeline to enable him organise credible congresses that would lead to the national congress. However, Sheriff has continued to wax strong, while consolidating on his support base nationwide. Part of the grouse his opponents have against him is that the national chairman is alleged to be harbouring a sinister motive of retaining his seat even after the national convention.

Concerned Party Stakeholders
A number of groups have sprung up to agitate against Sheriff’s alleged plot to remain in office beyond the national convention. They have been holding a series of clandestine meetings to thwart the plan. On Thursday last week, things took a new dimension when a group known as concerned Party Stakeholders met in Abuja and appointed a 21-member steering committee to take over the management of the affairs of the party. Rising from their meeting held at the Nicon Luxury Hotel in Abuja, the Concerned Stakeholders made up of mainly former ministers in the past PDP administration, said following widespread disenchantment and in order to stop the party from further slide into confusion, “the leaders of the party from the six geopolitical zones hereby announce a 21-day member steering committee to manage the affairs of the PDP”.

In a communiqué issued at the end of its deliberations and jointly signed by former Deputy Senate President, Senator Ibrahim Mantu, Prof. Tunde Adeniran and Chief Raymond Dokpesi, the group said the committee was to work closely with members of the BoT till such a time that a proper, lawfully organised national convention of the party would be held to usher in a new leadership of the party. The group said the committee will immediately put in place a national reconciliation committee to reconcile all previously aggrieved party members.

The communiqué read, “We the founding fathers, stakeholders and leaders of the party from all the 6 Geopolitical zones hereby announce a 21 member steering committee to manage the affairs of the PDP, and work intimately with our respected members of BOT who are the conscience of the party till such a time that a proper, lawfully organised national convention of the party, where a new authentic leadership of the party will be duly elected in accordance to the provisions of our party constitution and guidelines.”

The group contended that at the expiration of the tenure of the members of the NWC on March 24, a national convention to elect the new executives ought to have taken place or a caretaker committee put in place to run the affairs of the party till a convention was held. They also described the extension of the tenure of the national chairman and other members of the NWC by the NEC as an illegality and “therefore untenable and contrary to the provisions of our party constitution, which gives such powers only to the national convention of the party.”

They maintained, “We condemn the attempt by the illegal NWC of the party to amend the constitution of the party in order to muzzle and control the BoT and thereby subject the BoT to the villains and caprices of the NWC.”

The chairman of the group, Mantu, said the group was made up of people determined not to allow party to be buried by the undertakers. “Our common goal is that we are united in the desire to rescue our party from the hands of the undertakers who have taken over the party,” they stated.

Also supporting the move to oust Sheriff, a chieftain of the PDP, Chief Raymond Dokpesi, said the aim of the concerned party stakeholders was to ensure the restoration of sanity to the party by insisting that things should be done the right way. Dokpesi recounted several important milestones recorded by the country under the PDP administration, adding that the misfortune witnessed by the party in the last general election came when the party disregarded all its known norms and principles and indulged in imposition of candidates and impunity.

Co-chairman of the concerned party stakeholders and a former minister, Prof. Tunde Adeniran, said, “Sometimes I fell like crying when I see a party that was well regarded and respected suddenly hijacked by hoodlums and gangsters. We are not going to accept this. We have come to let you know that we will not sit by and allow things to continue to go wrong. But there is a lot of work to be done and we should be prepared for it.”

Among those that were at the concerned stakeholders meeting were Prof. ABC Nwosu, Jerry Gana, Dr. Doyin Okupe, Prof. Tunde Adeniran, Okwesilieze Nwodo, Ojo Maduekwe, Senator Ibrahim Mantu, Chief Bode George, Shehu Gabam, Mrs. Remi Adikwu, Ina Ciroma, Wilberforce Juta, Haliru Ndabawa, Senator Aniete Okon. Others were Prof. Suleiman Abubakar, Bala Mohammed, Esther Audu, Senator Ibok Essien, Grace Bent, Adamu Maina Waziri. Others like Chief Ebenezer Babatope, Jimibewon, Tunde Ogbeha, and Vincent Ogboloafor.

Unfazed
However, in his reaction to the move to unseat him, Sheriff described the meeting convened by Jerry Gana as an assemblage of self- styled leaders, which is unknown to the party. In response to the description of the current PDP leadership as gangsters and hoodlums by Gana and Adeniran, the national chairman labelled the group as mainly vagabonds who are of no significant value to the party. As a form of subtle threat, Sheriff vowed to take Gana to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to account for N500 million he allegedly took on behalf of the party. He said given his recent actions, there was no much value Gana could add to the repositioning efforts being pursued by the current PDP leadership.

Speaking to journalists at the national secretariat of the PDP in Abuja, Sheriff’s special assistant on media, Mr. Innua Bwala, accused Gana of collecting about N500 million from the bank on behalf of the party and for which the party has been dragged to the court. Bwala said his boss was not stepping down as chairman until the expiration of his mandate in May 21 and subject to the decision of the party members. He described those in Gana’s group as spent forces that are no longer reckoned with in contemporary politics in the Nigeria. According to him, it will be foolhardy for Sheriff to decide to use this crop of people who played roles that led to the defeat of the party in to rebuild the party.

He said one of the major tasks Sheriff was pursuing as the chairman of PDP was to ease-off those who want to use the party as platform to further their socio-economic interest.
Bwala stated, “Jerry Gana cannot add value to the repositioning of the PDP. He has never seen anything good in what the leadership of the party is doing to reposition the PDP. It is the same character that misled President Jonathan into failure at the polls. This is the same man that wrote to the chairman that he wants to submit the report of the finance committee which he headed and this is the same man that collected N500 million from Skye Bank on behalf of the party for which it has been dragged to court.

“Leaders of the party have prevailed on the chairman not to make this matter public to save him from public embarrassment but the chairman may have no option than to drag Prof. Jerry Gana to the EFCC to explain his role in obtaining the N500 million facility from Skye Bank on behalf of the party and let him explain what he did with the money. We have record of this and at the appropriate time and as the need arises, we will make them public.”

Bwala added, “Since the emergence of the Senator Sheriff, this is one man who has never seen anything good in what the chairman is doing to reposition the party and he has never offered one solution either. We know that they played some ignoble role to squander the fortunes of this party. This is the same characters that deceived former President Jonathan to fail the election. Unfortunately most of them still go round trying to plead with the chairman to give them one thing or the other and if the chairman declines it becomes an offence and they will take positions against him.

As a matter of fact Prof. Gana has written to the national chairman to allow him to nominate persons into some of the committees and to allow him perform certain functions in the party. Whether this requests were granted or not is immaterial for now, but that is why they are taken positions against the chairman.”
Time will tell how the issue will play out.