Onyebuchi Ezigbo, in Abuja, examines the role of erstwhile PDP national chairman, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, in the party’s current leadership crisis
The Peoples Democratic Party has gone through many intra-party crises and survived them. The party has also witnessed the most excruciating political experience in the country’s history following the loss of the 2015 presidential election to an opposition party. Yet, it was able to pull itself together. But what is happening to the PDP currently is difficult to explain. Political observers are beginning to wonder how PDP can prove, “A house divided against itself can still stand and not fall.”
The party is at present under threat of losing the whole essence of being a political party, that is providing a platform for members to aspire and win elective offices in the country. The current leadership imbroglio has put the party in a precarious state and may deny its candidates the right to participate in the forthcoming governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states.
Circle of Agitation
What is most worrisome is the role being played by the ousted national chairman of the party, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, the former national secretary, and former national auditor in the whole saga. The trio have taken up issues against the Senator Ahmed Makaffi-led national caretaker committee appointed by the PDP at its national convention in Port Harcourt. The committee was formed after the dissolution of the National Working Committee, which Sheriff led.
Sheriff and his group had gone to a court in Lagos to secure an order restraining the party from conducting elections to the offices of national chairman, national secretary and national auditor at the last national convention held in Port Harcourt. In a similar vein, the mainstream PDP stakeholders had also gone to a court in Port Harcourt to obtain an order restraining Sheriff from parading himself as the national chairman. The matter got to a point where Sheriff could no longer hold back his comeback bid. He led his loyalists to storm the national secretariat of the PDP in Abuja to declare himself chairman, thus, sparking a week-long orgy of protests and counter protests by his supporters and pro-Makarfi groups.
It took the intervention of the Nigeria Police and other security agencies to bring calm to the place by shutting it down temporarily. But the fight still raged on even outside the party’s secretariat. Sheriff and his allies are still putting everything in their arsenal in the struggle to retain the leadership of the opposition party. At the same time, Makarfi and his committee are trying to consolidate their hold on the party by aligning with its key organs, the PDP governors forum, Board of Trustees, and the National Assembly Caucus.
Battle Shifts to Edo
The next stage of the conflict has shifted to Edo State where PDP is expected to produce a candidate for the forthcoming governorship election scheduled for September 10. Just as the team appointed by the Makarfi-led caretaker committee to organise the ad hoc congresses and governorship primary for Edo State were concluding its assignment, Sheriff threw a bombshell, issuing a statement declaring it illegal and writing the Independent National Electoral Commission.
In the primary election organised by the Makarfi team, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu was returned as the PDP flag-bearer for the Edo State governorship election.
But Sheriff and his group declared the governorship primaries in Edo State as illegal and a contraption of an illegal caretaker committee. He called on PDP members nationwide, especially in Edo State, to disregard the primary election. In a letter addressed to the chairman of INEC, signed by Sheriff and the ousted national secretary, Prof. Wale Oladipo, the group urged INEC not to give legitimacy to what happened in Edo and said the party was going to conduct a proper primary in the state.
Sheriff scheduled another congress for Edo State to run from June 23-June29. Quoting sections of the PDP constitution, Sheriff said he was acting following the resignation of five members of the NWC and in accordance with the provisions of sections 39(2), 42 (2), 43 (2), 44 (2) and 47 (6) of the 2012 PDP constitution, as amended. According to Sheriff, the newly appointed officers are Mr. Okey Nnadozie (Acting National Organising Secretary), Mr. Alonge-Niyi Dennis (Acting National Youth Leader), Mrs. Hannatu Ullam (Acting National Women Leader) and Barrister Bashir Maidugu (Acting National Legal Adviser).
However, the PDP national caretaker committee described as an unnecessary distraction the decision of the Sheriff team to organise another governorship primaries for Edo State, Secretary of the committee, Senator Ben Obi, said the PDP governorship primaries in Edo State had met all the requirements needed for their exercise, including having representation by INEC. Obi said PDP members and Nigerians generally who watched the primary election beamed live on television could attest to the transparent nature of the process.
Regarding the issue of legitimacy, Obi said the PDP caretaker committee enjoyed the support and loyalty of all the organs of the party, including all the state chapters of the party. He added that there was no way Sheriff could carry out his threat and conduct congresses and primary election in Edo State without dealing with the state branches of the party, which, incidentally, took part in the conduct of governorship primary.
According to Obi, “I think you all saw how peaceful our governorship primaries in Edo State were and how the INEC people were handed over the results. You also saw the INEC staff clearly displaying the results. I want to say that the leadership of the PDP is not distracted by the mucky water politics. We have decided to remain focused, being a political party with a lot of experience. Not when all the organs of the party are working with you and then you want to succumb to unnecessary distraction.
“Let Sheriff go and conduct his own congresses and primaries. At least to do that he must dealt with the leadership of the party in Edo State. You must also produce your own candidate. Edo State has a party structure that is not factionalised. He knows these facts.”
The Makarfi-led PDP appeared unruffled by the threat made by Sheriff to hold a parallel primary election in Edo State. The party on Wednesday issued a statement congratulating its flag-bearer for the forthcoming Edo State governorship election, Ize-Iyamu, describing the primary election as free, fair and credible.
In a statement signed by a member of the PDP National Caretaker Committee, Prince Dayo Adeyeye, the party described the exercise as “victory for those who cherish freedom of choice depicting the democratic culture of the PDP. It is indeed a triumph of a popular candidate and victory for democracy.
“The outcome of the election in Edo State, which is one of the best elections so far in Nigeria, has proved to the opposition in the state that the PDP is a one united house built on the principle of delivering power to the people and the sustenance of our democracy at all levels, irrespective of our various differences.
“The leadership of the party under the chairmanship of Senator Ahmed Makarfi has commended the electoral committee led by governor of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi, and all the leaders and members of the party in Edo State, especially, the delegates and other aspirants that participated in the poll and assured them of the support of the national headquarters to bring positive change to the people of the state through the forthcoming election.” Although both parties in the PDP crisis had pledged during a meeting with the Inspector General of Police to make peace, there seems to be no progress being made in that direction, at least for now.
Sheriff has suffered a series of setbacks in his attempt to hang on to power. For instance, Justice Husseini Baba of the FCT High Court had dismissed a suit he filled seeking to affirm him as the national chairman of PDP. The judge while striking out the case described Sheriff as busy body after majority of the former NWC members that Sheriff joined as plaintiffs denied him in court, saying they are not part to the suit.
Another Federal High Court in Apo, Abuja, presided over by Justice Valentine Ashi also delivered a judgement sacking all national officers of the party, including Sheriff, who assumed office on the basis of the amendment of Article 46 (7) of the party’s constitution, which has been declared illegal.
But Sheriff received favourable rulings from an Abuja Federal High Court and a Federal High Court in Lagos, all courts of coordinate jurisdiction. He has rejected the other rulings of the courts, insisting that there is no room for a caretaker committee and that he still remains the valid national chairman of the party.
However, the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, in its judgement last week, not only upheld the validity of the convention in Port Harcourt but also stated that the national caretaker committee headed by SMakarfi was the authentic national leadership of the PDP.
The faceoff between the Makarfi leadership and Sheriff’s group may hurt PDP seriously at the polls in Edo and Ondo states if they are not amicably resolved in time.
One of the Sheriff’s staunches supporters and former South-south national vice chairman of PDP, Dr. Cairo Ojougboh, said they were ready to end the dispute if the party allowed Sheriff to hold a fresh convention. He said Sheriff was not insisting on holding on to the chairmanship position, but felt he should not be disgraced out of office the way it was done at the national convention in Port Harcourt.
Makarfi has asked Sheriff and other aggrieved members to embrace dialogue as a means of addressing their grievances. He said there was no winner or loser in the matter.
“I am indeed happy with the judgement on the one hand, but also sad that it had to come to this. For me there should be no winner or loser on this matter. I am still calling on Senator Ali Modu Sheriff and his followers to join us so that we accommodate one another and indeed all other groups in a just, fair and equitable matter with a view to moving the party forward,” Makarfi said after the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt, ruling.
Similarly, while speaking to journalists on Wednesday against the background of the court ruling in Abuja, which nullified the appointment of Sheriff as the national of PDP, Obi said the party expected more positive judicial pronouncements in the weeks ahead. According to him, the committee believes that rebuilding the party needs every useful hand and will welcome those aggrieved members’ decision to submit to dialogue and cooperate with the Makarfi- led committee in chatting the way forward for the party.
With the seemingly reconciliatory tones from both sides, it is very likely that the combatants in the current PDP crisis may soon approach the dialogue table in the coming weeks to possibly put an end to their dispute.