Onyebuchi Ezigbo looks at the twists and turns of the PDP crisis

The uncertainty over the legitimate leadership of the former ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party, has continued nearly one month after the party’s ill-fated national convention in Port Harcourt. Since the National Caretaker Committee headed by former Governor of Kaduna State, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, was appointed at the convention, things have never settled for the party. Makarfi and his committee has continued with consultations and have not been able to really function at the national secretariat of the party.

Insistence
The ousted national chairman, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, has also continued to lay claim to the headship of the party. The latest of such challenge came when Sheriff and his two allies, the former national secretary, Professor Wale Oladipo, and former national auditor, Alhaji Adewole Adeyanju, stormed the national secretariat of the PDP and forced their way to occupy their offices, insisting that they are still the authentic leaders of the party. While addressing a press conference inside the party’s NWC Hall, Sheriff said he was back on the national chairmanship seat following a Lagos High Court order and that his tenure will run till 2018.

Sherrif drove to the party’s headquarters at Wadata Plaza in Wuse as early as 7am Monday morning in a long convoy with hundreds of his supporters. He attempted to gain entry into the premises but was stopped by men of the Nigeria Police. The embattled former governor of Borno State made two further attempts to gain access to his office at the Wadatta Plaza and the party’s Office Annex known as Legacy House in Maitama but it was only his third attempt that paid off.

It was about 11.58am, when Sheriff came back to meet with the leader of the police team that an order was issued for the PDP gates to be opened. The police asked Sheriff to first disperse his army of supporters before he could be allowed to enter the premises. Following a directive from the police authorities and after a mild drama between Sheriff’s aides and the security personnel over the continued blockade at the gate, a Divisional Police Officer stepped forward and ordered the policemen to throw the gate open. Sheriff finally gained entry into the party’s national secretariat to address journalists about 1.23pm.

Subsisting Mandate
When asked to respond to views by many party leaders that his coming as chairman had further divided the party and created more crisis, Sheriff said he never campaigned to be the PDP chairman. He said he was persuaded by the PDP national caucus to take up the job. Looking infuriated, Sheriff said having staked his reputation to work for PDP, “Nobody has the right to rubbish me or stain my long-standing political record.

“The National Secretary, Prof. Wale Oladipo, is here with me. He knows that both the NWC members and all the PDP governors begged me to come to become chairman. All the NWC, BoT and governor’s forum supported my being chairman and when it came to voting, I got 69 votes to emerge the winner over other contenders.”

While commenting on the processes that led to his sack during the last convention, Sheriff said he was not part of what happened at the convention ground in Port Harcourt, adding that he and members of the NWC met at a hotel to formally postpone the convention in deference to a court order. He quoted a Lagos court ruling which barred the party from conducting election for the three positions, the chairman, secretary and national auditor during the convention.
According to Sheriff, since he as the national chairman did not approved of the convention, anything arising from it remained null and void. He said it was public knowledge that there was an order by the Federal High Court in Lagos declaring him as the authentic national chairman of PDP.

Sheriff stated, “I have kept away from taking steps that could jeopardise the law following an ex parte order from the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, which had given a contradictory order restraining me from operating as the chairman of our party, notwithstanding some further orders from the Federal High Court Lagos, specifically directing the inspector General of Police to provide me with adequate security to enable me carry out my duties.”

Now that the ex parte order given in Port Harcourt has since elapsed on June 9 and has not been renewed, Sheriff said he had come fully armed with all the necessary court orders to resume as the national chairman, as directed by the court.
He said, “We have to this effect served the necessary court orders on the Independent National Electoral Commission, which is the impartial arbiter in matters like this; the police, as custodians of the law, and we will make same available to you gentlemen of the press, so that you can make informed analysis of the issues involved.”

Counter Protest
However, less than two days after Sheriff stormed the national secretariat of ‎PDP with his loyalists, aggrieved youths of the party also stormed the secretariat to sack him and his allies from their offices. The group operating under the aegis of PDP National Rebirth Group‎ and PDP Concerned Rescue Group invaded the party premises on Wednesday morning. They sealed off the party’s national headquarters and handed the keys over to the chairman of the (BoT, Senator Walid Jibrin. In what looked like the highpoint of over five hours of demonstration at the PDP headquarters by the protesting youths who threw their support behind the Makarfi-led National Caretaker Committee, all those that came with Sheriff to occupy the place were sacked. Also following allegations made by the Makarfi committee accusing the State Security Services of providing the ousted chairman, Sheriff, security to storm the PDP secretariat, the department promptly withdrew its men from the secretariat. Even the police presence was very light compared to when the security agents were deployed in the wake of the latest leadership crisis.

Though ‎Sheriff was not at the secretariat when the demonstrators arrived, Oladipo and Adeyanju, who were at the head office, barely escaped attack by the mob. There was a report that Sheriff had gone to Maiduguri to honour an invitation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in connection with PDP campaign funds. The protesting youths forced their way into the premises after moments of solidarity chants and went in search of Sheriff and others. They vowed to physically‎ drag out any of them found occupying any of the offices. It was in the process that security personnel posted to the PDP headquarters hurriedly whisked the former national secretary and nation auditor away through the back entrance.

The youths locked up the secretariat and sent for the chairman of the BoT. Walid arrived shortly after and was handed over the keys by ‎Comrade Franklyne Edede, leader of one of the groups who had earlier accused Sheriff of being hired to destroy PDP.

The groups, numbering over 200, had defied the early morning rain to arrive the PDP secretariat as early as 6. 30am. They carried placards with different inscriptions that read: “Sheriff is not a PDP member;” “Sheriff must Go;”‎ “Enough is Enough;” and “Makarfi is real,” among others.

There was also a counter group in support of Sheriff led by Comrade ‎Solomon Azobie. This group however, did not make much impact and had retreated soon after their arrival. One of the groups, the Concerned Rescue Group, had also joined the fray when in a press conference on Tuesday they gave the party leadership seven days to resolve the crisis in the party or they would take over the running of the affairs of the party.

Sheriff Camp Hits Back
Soon after the fracas at the secretariat, Oladipo issued a statement refuting reports that he was chased out of the head off of the party. He said he actually resumed duty at the party secretariat in the morning alongside Adeyanju. According to him, he witnessed the activities of some “miscreants” who invaded the party secretariat to cause trouble. He insisted that he left the office after he was done with his work.

Meanwhile, Sheriff has said the allegation by the Makarfi faction that he was being sponsored by APC and the presidency to destroy the opposition party was ridiculous and an attempt to cast him in bad light.

Sheriff said it was sad that at a press conference, “one Dayo Adeyeye, speaking on behalf of Makarfi,” alleged that he (Sheriff) was being sponsored by the presidency and APC, and that there was no court order granting him leave to operate his office. In a statement issued through his spokesman, Inuwa Bwala, the former governor said: “Ridiculous as it may sound, given the fact that right thinking Nigerians know that Makarfi and the cabal that have been sponsoring him are merely crying wolf, where there was none, having come face to face with the truth, law and reality, it is imperative to state some facts, for the records. Makarfi and his sponsors want to create the wrong impression that Sheriff is not reliable, whereas it is an open secret that Sheriff has given credible and honest leadership to his state, to Nigeria and to the PDP, even for the short period he has been in the saddle of leadership than Makarfi.

“Be that as it may, we wish to challenge Makarfi to name the date, venue and names of those in attendance at the so-called meeting Sheriff allegedly had with some governors from the APC. Again, how could Sheriff have been a stooge when he remains the only PDP stalwart that speaks out against the APC since the party lost the 2015 elections?”

National Caucus, BoT and the Governors’ Forum Meeting
A meeting of the national caucus, BoT and the PDP Governors’ Forum was convened Wednesday night in Abuja to try to find a lasting solution to the leadership problem. How the issues would play out remains unclear. But many fear that the current crisis may spell doom for PDP, especially, ahead of the imminent elections in Edo and Ondo states.