Onyebuchi Ezigbo writes that the removal of Sheriff as national chairman of PDP has set the stage for the return of peace to the party divided by faction and intrigue
Penultimate weekend’s decision by stakeholders of the Peoples Democratic Party to settle for an interim national leadership after removing Senator Ali Modu Sheriff as national chairman, along with the other members of the National Working Committee, has thrown up fresh challenges. Sheriff was removed from his position in a most dramatic manner, when governors of the party and other leaders held an emergency meeting at the Rivers State Governors Lodge in Port Harcourt. The meeting was, ostensibly, to chat the way forward following court orders restraining the party from holding an elective convention.
In place of the sacked Sheriff- led NWC, a new caretaker committee was appointed with Senator Ahmed Makarfi as acting national chairman and Senator Ben Obi as secretary. Other members of the committee were Senator Odion Ugbesia, Senator Abdul Ningi, Prince Dayo Adeyeye, Alhaja Aisha Aliyu, and Barrister Kabiru Usman.
Ironically, one of the governors that had given Sheriff the greatest backing, Ekiti State Governor Ayo Fayose, came out to justify his removal. Fayose said even though he was one of those who supported the former chairman, he had no option than to support his removal so as to forestall disintegration of the party.
“We cannot sacrifice the party for any individual,” Fayose stated. Special assistant to the governor on public communications, Lere Olayinka, in a statement issued in Ado-Ekiti, urged Sheriff to accept his removal in good faith and join others to build the party.
Fayose said in the statement, “I supported Senator Ali Modu Sheriff in good conscience. But when it became obvious that his continuous stay in office as the national chairman will jeopardise the collective interest of the party, I had no option than to support his removal. To me, the general interest of the party overrides that of any individual and there is no how I can stand in support of any plan to sacrifice the party for any individual.
“Anyone whose ambition threatens the collective interest of the party should be removed to save the party and that’s exactly what we have done. I, therefore, urge Senator Ali Modu Sheriff to accept the dissolution of the NWC and appointment of the Senator Ahmed Makarfi-led caretaker committee in good faith and cooperate with other well-meaning members of the party to reposition it so as to achieve the much needed electoral victory in 2019.”
Chairman of the 2016 PDP National Convention Planning Committee and Rivers State Governor, Mr. Nyesom Wike, who had also hitherto supported Sheriff, explained that the party had to let Sheriff go because his leadership was becoming a destabilising factor.
“This is destabilising the party and so we had to let him go. What is important is the party and not the individual. No sacrifice is too much for anyone to make as far as PDP is concerned,” Wike said.
Many, however, believe Sheriff’s removal fell short of the requirements of the PDP constitution. Among those who see the move as illegal are some elders of the party who have grouped under the umbrella of Concerned Stakeholders Group with top leaders, like the former Deputy Senate President, Ibrahim Mantu; former Minister of Information, Prof. Jerry Gana; former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Senator Bala Mohammed; and former Minister of Environment, Mr. John Odey.
The group, convened by Gana, which held a parallel national convention in Abuja while the PDP convention was going in Port Harcourt, issued a statement immediately the appointment of the caretaker committee was made to distance themselves from the arrangement. Though, they acknowledged that their group was the greatest beneficiaries of the dramatic turn of events, which according to Mantu had practically addressed most of their demands, the concerned PDP group said the Board of Trustees should be the ones to appoint the caretaker committee and that its composition should be expanded to accommodate other interests.
Speaking after a meeting held to appraise happenings at the convention in Port Harcourt, the chairman of the steering committee of the Concerned Stakeholders Group, Mantu, said there was no other body constitutionally mandated to take over the affairs of the party at such moment than the BoT.
Mantu stated, “There is a body that is constitutionally mandated to take over the affairs of the party. And that body is the conscience of the party called BOT. At this point in time, the only legal organ body constitutionally empowered to actually take over the affairs of the party is the BOT. After watching events at Port Harcourt convention, it has become necessary for us to react to some of the things we saw there. First and foremost, we want to thank our members throughout the nation for giving us support that has actually led us to achieve some of the goals we have set for ourselves.
“We were opposed to the zoning and, indeed, the zoning has been cancelled or set aside. We are also opposed to the convention taking place and the convention did not take place, courtesy of the court. Again, we were opposed to the way the congresses have been conducted, that, they fell short of our expectations. Now these congresses and conventions have been set aside.”
While commenting on the legal implications of decisions taken at the Port Harcourt convention, former Minister of National Planning, Taminu Turaki, who is a member of the Concerned Stakeholders Group said, “We have reviewed the happenings in Port Harcourt very carefully and the decisions that came out have clearly vindicated our positions, which were based on principle.” Taminu also supported Mantu’s call for the BoT to take over the party, saying, “In this situation, therefore, the BoT leadership must take up its responsibilities over the reins of the affairs of the party and bring all the members of our party back home for us to sit down and find a way forward as members of one family.”
Many of the party’s supporters and the secretariat staff were shocked when in the aftermath of the rancorous national convention of the PDP, the Nigeria Police on May 22 sealed off the premises of the party’s national secretariat. The police prevented human and vehicular movement in and out of the place.
Speaking on the events in the party, Odey said that the concerned stakeholders had nothing against Makarfi, stressing, however, that everyone needs to sit under the auspices of the BoT to chat a way forward for the party.
The leadership crisis in PDP got messier on Tuesday when two federal high courts in Lagos and Port Harcourt gave conflicting orders, respectively, sacking and according recognition to the Makarfi-led National Caretaker Committee. Justice A.M. Liman of the the Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission to recognise the Makarfi committee. The court also restrained Sheriff, Professor Adewole Oladipo, and other sacked members of the NWC and National Executive Committee from parading themselves as officials of the PDP. The suit filed by the PDP has as defendants the former acting national chairman, Sheriff, Oladipo (sued as themselves and as representing national officers), INEC, the Inspector General of Police, and the State Security Services.
But another court of concurrent jurisdiction in Lagos sacked the seven-man interim committee led by Makarfi. Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court, Lagos, held that the committee was appointed in violation of an order he made on May 12. He had barred the party from conducting elections into the offices of national chairman, national secretary, and national auditor pending the hearing and determination of the suit.
In spite of the on-going legal fireworks, political pundits have said that the dissolution of the Sheriff-led NWC at the Port Harcourt convention was a right step since the tenure of that leadership expired same day of the convention, May 21, as specified by the party’s NEC. They held that there was no controversy as to whether Sheriff’s tenure had ended or not since he had accepted to serve a three-month extension of tenure as directed by the NEC.
What has been a subject of debate, however, is whether the delegates and stakeholders at the Port Harcourt convention were right in the eyes of the law to have gone ahead to appoint a caretaker committee to administer the affairs of the party in the absence of Sheriff.
It is pertinent to consider some of the functions of the BoT. Under the PDP constitution, the BoT is expected to ensure, in the first instance, that the highest standards of morality are in place by acting as the conscience of the party. The board has powers to call to order any officer of the party whose conduct falls below the standard norms. In addition, the BoT is to ensure high morale among members of the party and ensure that the party enjoys a good image before the Nigerian populace. The PDP constitution also vests in the BoT all the assets of the party, saying it shall serve as the custodian of such assets, while at the same time acting as mediator in all disputes between the executive and legislative arms of government.
‘Last Man Standing’
From the foregoing, therefore, it might be right to say that the BoT, being the conscience of the party and custodian of its assets, is the body that should also be regarded as the last man standing for the party, especially in times of crisis like this. Some party bigwigs have suggested that the Makarfi committee should go into consultation with the leadership of the BoT with a view to convening a reconciliatory meeting of the national caucus of the party to arrive at an amicable settlement.
The caretaker committee has the support of party’s mainstream. Major financiers and stakeholders, such as the 12 PDP governors, National Assembly members, former governors, and other key leaders of the party, are behind the caretaker committee. Even the Gana group has said it has great respect for Makarfi due his integrity.
As things stand now, Sheriff’s ouster seems to have brought back unity among those in opposing camps of the PDP. The former governor of Borno State appears to have been left in the lurch. Most of his staunch backers are gradually abandoning him. Those who had been clamouring for his removal as chairman and those who felt short-changed at the recent congresses organised by the his leadership now appear to be on the same page. What, perhaps, may still be separating them is just a matter of form or nomenclature of the final peace process to return the party as one family.