The resolve of the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party to conduct its national convention last Saturday in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, leading to the removal of the embattled Senator Alli Modu Sheriff as the National Chairman, was a reflection of the undercurrents within the party. Ernest Chinwo, Shola Oyeyipo and Segun James write on the intrigues that led to the outcome
Considering the acrimonies that have been in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) since former Borno State governor, Senator Alli Modu Sheriff was named as the acting national chairman of the party, many watchers already knew that the last weekend convention of the party held at Port Harcourt was going to be characterised by machinations geared towards ousting the chairman.
So, it was not surprising when that after the convention Sheriff lost his position as the national chairman to former governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Ahmad Markarfi, who now heads a seven national caretaker committee set up by the convention to see to the affairs of the party for the next 90 days.
The road to the crisis rocking the party began when Sheriff, in defiance to his promise when he was offered the position of acting national chairman, decided to contest to become the substantive chairman. Though his decision enjoyed the support of the governors of the party, it was rejected by the South-west chapter of the party headed by Chief Olabode George, a former Deputy National Chairman of the party, who believes that it is the turn of the geopolitical zone to produce the national chairman.
During a chat with THISDAY some weeks before the convention, George had warned that the only way to avoid crisis in the party, so as not to have a parallel convention was for the leadership of the party not to jettison the agreed sharing formula as evinced by the founding fathers of the party. He said where that happens; the South-west must be guaranteed the presidential ticket of the party in the coming election in the spirit of equity and fair play.
His argument was that going by the existing arrangement in the party and in line with the Senator Ike Ewerenmadu committee’s report that the presidential ticket of the party moves to the North in 2019 while the chairmanship moves South, if Sheriff insisted on retaining the position, it would scuttle the arrangement.
According to George, anything contrary to the existing arrangement would not be acceptable to the South-west members who are already feeling alienated with the ways of things in the party. He therefore stressed that it would only be fair that the presidential ticket moves to the South as enshrined in the party’s constitution or otherwise, the southwest may reconsider their continued membership of the party.
Some of the South-west leaders that are in agreement with George’s position included former governor of Ogun State, Chief Gbenga Daniel; former deputy governor of Osun state, Erelu Obada; former minister, Chief Ebenezer Babatope; Senator Bode Olajumoke, Senator Femi Kila, Prof. Taoreed Adedoja, former House of Representatives Leader, Hon. Mulikat Akande-Adeola; Oloye Jumoke Akinjide; Dr. Doyin Okupe, Hon. Tajudeen Agoro and others.
The PDP leaders, while saying that the Yoruba people would no longer tolerate nor accept the role of subservient player in the party, called on the Yoruba people to stand firm and reassert themselves as they must not allow anybody to treat them as orphans within the PDP. They denounced the Senator Buruji Kashamu-led group, which said the South-west was not interested in the national chairmanship of the PDP.
Explaining the root cause of the grievance in the South-west PDP and why the leaders from the zone stood firmly against Sheriff’s chairmanship, George noted that: “The party was founded on a tripod of justice, fairness and equity. This was the founding fathers’ principles to position the party. The moment we deviated from it, the PDP became an unstable platform. Some of us after the last election looked at what happened and felt it was not the best. We realised the party was given a bloody blow, but we were not knocked out completely.
“So, we have been looking at all the suppositions in respect of what happened to the PDP during the last election. The organs of the party like the party caucus, the Board of Trustees (BoT) and National Executive Committee (NEC) went into action to discover what happened and prevent another episode. When the former National Chairman of the party, Adamu Mu’azu, left, the party was wobbling after we lost the election.
“Uche Secondus became acting chairman because he was deputy to Mu’azu. And because of the structure and the way the party was conceptualised, the founding fathers devised a means where all stakeholders will have sense of belonging. They did this knowing full well that the Nigerian constitution does not reckon with zoning, but in their wisdom, they worked out a formula that recognised the geo-political zones. There are six positions which include the President, Vice President, Senate President, Speaker, Secretary to the government and national chairman. So, each zone will take one position. It means three positions will go to the north and three to the south. That is the zoning concept. So, there cannot be disagreement because at the end of the day, each zone will take something home.
“I was at a meeting, where I represented the South-west at the national caucus. Mu’azu had resigned. There were complaints and that Secondus could no longer perpetuate himself as the acting National Chairman because the position belonged to the North-east. They were told to bring somebody and eventually Ahmed Gulak went to court on the issue and it became legal tussle. Somehow, Sheriff who also came from the zone, begged us to allow him to step in, in order to douse the tension. He had been in the All Nigerian People Party (ANPP), fighting the PDP people throughout his membership of the ANPP.
“So, for him to now come up to take the biggest prize of the party, the people were very angry about it. The BoT rejected the whole idea behind the choice of Sheriff; I have never seen such an expression of anger before. We now said let listen to Sheriff, he made a brilliant and very persuasive comment. He promised to sign out on May 21.
“He said he will go with his colleagues and would draw a time table to that effect. In fact, he told us that all the members of the working committee have accepted to go after May 21. That they would set up the committee that would run the convention. We finally agreed and begged the people to consider him for the position, in order to get over the bridge. We agreed that the party was in a very precarious situation, that if we go under, there will be no other voice to counter government. Government cannot be right all the time, we must have alternative voice,” George explained.
He was particularly disconcerted about the position of some persons in the South-west who rejected the position of the National Chairman from coming to the zone, arguing that bringing the position back to the zone in 2018, just some few months to the general election will not augur well.
“Looking at it in the medical way, the chairman is to midwife the presidential candidate, and the midwife being the new born baby would not be in effective position to produce the presidential candidate, if the chairman and presidential candidate should be produced the same year.
“I was so angry when I heard that the Yoruba have rejected the chairmanship of the party. I was one of the people that traversed the length and breadth of the country, trying to convinced people on the need to build a solid party. But, I am surprised that some people from the South-west, who came from nowhere, are saying that Yoruba people don’t want chairman. That is sacrilegious; it’s like a cultural betrayal. How can you say that we don’t want it? Apart from our position, that we deserve the chairmanship, all other zones had produced the chairman of the party.
“I cannot rationalise why they are against it. It is cultural treason. In those days, it is an act of betrayal. If they had thought deeply, that it is something that will affect the people, they would not have such mind set. Their action is sacrilegious and could not have been given the desired thought before they decided on it. I have always made this statement; in politics we disagree but must never be disagreeable. Once it gets to that point of disagreeable, it means we have come to the point of no return,” he lamented.
This position heralded the beginning of the crisis that has now consumed the national chairman. It was not only the South-west that was against Sheriff. A number of cases were instituted by some aggrieved members of the party to stop the convention from holding.
Fixing the Problem
The Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike and his Ekiti State counterpart, Ayo Fayose were some of the strong forces behind Sheriff’s emergence as the new chairman of the PDP and they are obviously aware that their action was the reason for the protests in the party with some notable members threatening mass defection if his proponents are adamant to have him as chairman of the party.
Not oblivious of the looming crisis that will follow any attempt to perpetuate Sheriff in office; his supporters averted what could bring about a break-up in the party by edging Sheriff out as part of ongoing reconciliatory arrangement.
The decision to ease-off Senator Sheriff was arrived at during a meeting convened by the PDP leadership caucus at the government House in Port Harcourt to discuss the way forward, and in his place it was decided that someone who will command respect and loyalty of most party stakeholders in the country be made the chairman instead. This was what led to the emergence of Makarfi as the new caretaker chairman while another astute politician from Anambra State, Senator Ben Obi was chosen as the Secretary.
The two of them are to operate in acting capacity for the next three months pending the convening of a harmonised national convention.
The Story of the Convention
Sheriff saw it coming. He had earlier in the day called off the convention at a press briefing he held at the Le Meridien Hotel, Port Harcourt, citing court orders restraining the party from proceeding with the convention as reason. He addressed the press after the heated meeting that lasted several hours at the Government House, Port Harcourt where the 12 PDP governors, members of the National Assembly, members of the National Working Committee and elders of the party were present.
It was at the meeting that stakeholders asked Sheriff to step down as acting national chairman of the party but he disagreed, insisting that he had till 2018 to preside over the affairs of the party. The meeting was therefore deadlocked at about 2.30pm, leading to his press briefing and exit from the state.
Addressing journalists, Sheriff: “If we proceed with the convention we will be charged for contempt of court, so as a responsible party, we have to respect the court orders. We will reconvene as soon as we are able to dispense with the court cases,” he said.
“We have been meeting since morning. We had challenges of series of court cases. We have decided to abandon election into Chairman, Secretary and Auditor. We have suspended the convention. We had three different cases in Abuja and Lagos. INEC also said they will not supervise the election. We will be contravening the court and we will be charged for contempt of court. We went to court, but we were denied permission. We will do it as soon as we get them (the court orders) vacated. We have told all delegates to go home. There is no space for election,” he said before leaving left Port Harcourt.
While Sheriff left Port Harcourt after his briefing, the 12 PDP governors, members of the National Assembly and other stakeholders headed straight to the Sharks Stadium venue of the convention and kicked off the programme, with Rivers State Governor who is also the the Chairman of the National Convention Committee, Nyesom Wike, in charge.
Through a motion moved by former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Chief Austin Opara, and seconded by another former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Emeka Ihedioha, the convention dissolved the national working committee of the party, effectively sacking Sheriff from leadership of the party.
The decision to dissolve the national working committee (NWC) of the party was one of the first issues handled at the convention and through voice vote, the convention set up a national caretaker committee following a motion by Senate Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio, which was seconded by Gombe State Governor, Dr. Ibrahim Hassan Dankwando.
The caretaker committee, which will be in office for not more than 90 days, is to conduct a proper convention for the party. Aside Makarfi and Obi as chairman and secretary, others in the committee are; Senator Odion Ogbesia, Senator Abdul Ningi, Kabiru Usman, Prince Dayo Adeyeye and Alhaja Aisha Aliyu will serve as members.
Another motion for the zoning of the party’s presidential candidate to the North in 2019 was moved by former Niger State Governor, Dr. Muhammed Babangida Aliyu and seconded by Delta State Governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa.
The Makarfi-led seven-man caretaker committee has three months to organise a new national convention to elect new national officers. The delegates however barred the committee members from contesting any position in the next convention.
Justifying the Convention
A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos had barred the convention from holding elections into the offices of National Chairman, Secretary and Auditor of the party in an order issued in a matter believed to have been brought before the court by Sherrif. Though he denied instituting the matter and was in Port Harcourt to participate in the convention.
Another court in Abuja also tried to stop the convention insisting that the elections should not be held into 16 offices except that of the chairman and one other and in addition to that, some founding fathers of the party, led by former Information Minister, Prof. Jerry Gana, decided that they would hold a parallel national convention in Abuja while the hierarchy of the party opted to go on with the national convention despite this opposition.
But on Friday night, Governor Wike had assured the people that the convention would go on as scheduled despite the court orders restraining the party from holding elections into some offices.
According to Wike who briefed journalists with Governors Dave Omahi, Okezie Ikpeazu and Udom Emmanuel of Ebonyi, Abia and Akwa Ibom states respectively as well as the Senate Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio, the party had filed an application for a stay of execution.
“You may have heard that there are some court judgments or orders; it is important to clarify it here. First of all, you heard that the part that was said to be purportedly given that the chairman of the party, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, was going to court to say that there should not be a convention in respect of the chairman position.
“I want to let you know that the chairman has clarified himself that it is not correct; that he never went to court. That how will he go to court? That some people had impersonated that he instructed them to go to court. And we believe him. He had written a letter to that effect to say that it was not correct.
“However, a court order is a court order. In consultation with our legal team, we have filed a motion for stay and appeal. Of course, it is clear that when you are challenging the decision of the court, it is clear that when it is a declarative judgment and the party takes steps instantly, by filing a motion for stay of execution and an appeal that party cannot be held to have disobeyed the court order. Therefore, assuming that there is a court order, we are challenging it. Even the court order was fraudulent because the judge may not have known that it was not the PDP chairman that came to court. So, we are not committing a contempt of court,” he opined.
He said further that: “You are also aware that there was also another judgment from an Abuja High Court. If we are not law-abiding, the court said there should be election for the position of the chairman and one other position, but the 16 NWC, there should not be election. These are courts of competent and coordinate jurisdiction.
“But again, as law-abiding party, we have taken all necessary steps to making sure that the right thing is done. We have also filed a stay of execution against that judgment and we have also filed an appeal. We did that so that they will not say we are trying to disobey order.”
He said there couldn’t be a parallel convention since all the party’s functionaries were in Port Harcourt and wondered who would be in Abuja to conduct the parallel convention, noting that every PDP governors, the Deputy Senate President, the Senate Minority Leader, House of Representatives Minority Leader and other notable members of the party were in Port Harcourt, including the chairman of the BoT.
The Crisis Still Lingers
While Makarfi plead for peace in his acceptance speech, calling on all aggrieved members of the party to sheath their swords and give peace a chance, there are no indication that the crisis in the party is about to abate. This because while the party leaders thought they had settled the lingering crisis by removing Sheriff, the Gana-led faction on the same day concluded its non-elective convention with a resolution to conduct an elective one soon.
There are also indications that the Sheriff camp may not just let go as they are likely to challenge the convention in court. So, it is right to say the last may not have been heard about the crisis that has not given room for the party to play its role as the most formidable opposition party to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).