Ojuogboh: Why Peace Deal with Sheriff Failed

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Since the Peoples Democratic Party lost out in the 2015 presidential election, the party has been in the news for all the bad reasons. In this interview with Onyebuchi Ezigbo, one of the key allies of embattled Senator Ali Modu Sheriff and former National Vice Chairman of the PDP, South-south, Dr. Cairo Ojuogboh, spoke on the stalemated peace efforts and why the issues cannot be resolved in the courts

PDP has been embroiled in a prolonged leadership crisis leading to several court cases, why can’t people like you find a better means of resolving the disagreement?
Well, like I have always said, I am a soldier of truth. Apart from being a Catholic, the only organisation I belong to is soldiers of truth and in everything I do, I believe in the truth and I speak the truth. You see what happened in PDP is most unfortunate. Most of the chairmen that were removed from office were removed at the instance of the governors because they didn’t want the chairman anymore.

During Obasanjo’s, that was exactly what they did. They would complain and complain and forced the president to ask for a change of the chairman. It happened to Solomon Lar, it happened to Audu Ogbe, it happened to Gemade, it happened to Tukur and also happened to Mu’azu but this time around, it was the governors, who went and sourced Sheriff, but little did they know that Sheriff wouldn’t behave like the other chairmen that were forced out of office.

They thought Sheriff would do their bidding. It turned out that Sheriff wouldn’t do so. Of course, the NEC of the party gave Sheriff three months to organise congresses, step down and go. The governors got around and formed a zoning committee and asked Sheriff to continue. They were the ones who now approached Sheriff and told Sheriff that he should continue in office. They specifically zoned the position of chairman to Sheriff in the North East.
The North East caucus of the party had the North East congress and said it was Sheriff they wanted. So, they went to Port Harcourt and of course, by that time we knew that, we wouldn’t take part. I was at the Abuja parallel convention because I told them that I would no longer be party to impunity. At the Port Harcourt convention, they disagreed because Sheriff told them he wanted to revisit the places we have difficulties during the state congresses so that we could return the party to the people.

But the governors said ‘look we don’t have time to tell us what we to do. We brought you here and so you must do our bidding’ and he said no. Then stories started flying that Sheriff wanted to transmute from chairman of party to presidential candidate. Sheriff said, look, he never told anybody but they started to make wild allegation and as God would have it, Sheriff said he never said so. In fact, one man came up, Dokpesi, and said Sheriff promised to make him Vice President and Sheriff explained that Dokpesi came up and said he wanted to contest the chairmanship of the party and he told Dokpesi, ‘look, why in a hurry?

You relax I will contest this chairmanship and God-willing, during my tenure when the time for zoning comes, Vice Presidency would be zoned to the South so that you can now pair with someone from the North since the party has already zoned the presidency to the North so that you can become the vice president. Never a time did Sheriff say that he wanted to become the president.
Before this time, 17 members of the National Working Committee went to court and got a judgment and that judgment, I am telling you about till today hasn’t been vacated that their tenure will end in 2018 in a Federal High Court there in Abuja. Then Justice Bubaje in Lagos gave two orders. First, that the position of National Chairman, National Auditor and National Secretary shouldn’t be contested and INEC shouldn’t monitor it. That was the first case.

They went to Port Harcourt, fumbled with the convention and the convention didn’t hold. Instead of going to Lagos to vacate that order, they went to shop for judgment in Port Harcourt High Court and that is how this whole thing started and that is what Justice Abagan has said. He said they missed their way to Port Harcourt that they would have come back to Lagos to Justice Bubaje to vacate the order instead of going to justice Limah, that Justice Liman had no jurisdiction over that matter and he cited examples.
It didn’t end there, when they saw that they couldn’t have their way, they now went to another Judge to get another judgment and of course, these things are becoming very messy and this is the impunity that people are trying to fight in the party. So, you can see that at all the times, Sheriff has obeyed the court orders. Sheriff has not in any way violated any court order.

But those who justified the Port Harcourt convention said they didn’t disobey the ruling by Justice Bubaje because he said they should not hold elections for three national offices and not that the convention should not go on. How do you address that?
It is unfortunate that they speak that way. They know what they are doing. They are telling lies and Justice Abang made it very clear that Justice Bubaje in Lagos said ‘do not tamper with the position of National Chairman and so on; don’t change them’. What they did was, they removed them from office and then, they brought in a caretaker committee. But that is not what the court said they should do.

It said don’t remove them. What is the difference between Chairman of caretaker committee and chairman of the party? These are the things that Justice Abang has always been pointing out and to that extent the May 21 convention is null and void. Take it from here to the Supreme Court even to heaven, justice is justice and the truth is truth and the truth is only one.

What do you say to the judgment of Justice Ashi of the FCT High Court in Apo, Abuja and that of the High Court in Kubwa, Abuja which declared Sheriff’s seat vacant?
Again the same thing we are talking about. There is a subsisting order that Sheriff is the chairman of the party and that the rest should be maintained until all those cases are dealt with. Again, instead of going to discharge the orders and set them aside, they are shopping for orders from any so called judge, who can give them order. Let me make it clear, Nigeria cannot continue like this because it is important that we should call the attention of the CJN of Nigeria to all this discrepancies. Then, the need now arises for judges of the Federal High Court and Abuja High Court to be called together and a seminar organised for them to reorient them and tell them what is allowed and what isn’t allowed in this circumstance and in fact, the brilliant Justice Abang made this very clear. He said, ‘look if you get such a case and you find that there is another High Court case handling it, call the attention of the chief judge of the Federal High Court to either reassign the case or direct you on what to do’. This, the Judges didn’t do.

You see, the impunity in which this judgment of today by Justice Ogbonna was made is very unfortunate. Nigeria is in trouble. The Judiciary is getting bad. It is rotten. A case was instituted four days ago and the chairman of the party, Ali Modu Sheriff was not served. They hid the service and somehow, the information filtered to the chairman that something was happening and the chairman went to the court.

With all these contradictory judgments from courts of coordinate jurisdiction, why can’t you appeal some of the judgments?
The judgment is being appealed but the courts are on vacation. What the caretaker committee people do if they want anything is just to shop for a judgment. Look at the way the Justice Watila judgment came. The thing came as an interim application. He granted it to the following day he converted it to originating summons and the following day, he converted it to judgment and even in that matter they are talking about, PDP wasn’t included; Ali Modu Sheriff wasn’t included. The judgment had nothing to do with PDP.

Still talking about the court orders, Senator Markafi too has accused Sheriff of buying judgments. Are you in turn accusing them of doing same?
Let’s look at the judgments that both parties have received so far. Justice Bubaje’s ruling was given sometime in May and it was adjourned for a very long time. Now, the time hasn’t come and instead of the so-called caretaker committee to go back to Bubaje’s court, they went to Justice Liman in Port Harcourt. They didn’t appeal it. Justice Liman, in a matter of three days, gave his pronouncement. Meanwhile Justice Bubaje is still waiting for his script to mature. Justice Abang gave a ruling two months ago and they adjourned the case to October 25. If we were shopping and giving bribe to people, the Judge would have done our cases in two, three days.

In all our cases, there was none that didn’t wait for maturity. There is no case that the Caretaker Committee brought against us that matured. It is obvious who is buying judgment and look at where the judgments are coming from, the same Port Harcourt. Look at the judgments that are in Abuja courts. We don’t have two cases; it is the same one case that we are pursuing. The case was assigned to Abang the first time and that is where the case still is; we haven’t left out that case. We don’t have two cases before Abang, it is one case but they have three, four, five cases differently.

Sheriff had earlier denied filing the suit against the party, why do you think he suddenly changed his mind?
Can you beat a child and tell him not to cry? So, now if God didn’t help Sheriff and those cases were dead, he would have been disgraced out of office. Remember that Sheriff never said he wanted to be chairman, these were the people that went to call him and I have been appealing to the former president. I have appealed to the Board of Trustees and its leadership; to the National Assembly that, look for a way out of these court cases and that we must find a political solution to it.

My people, let me tell you what happened last week. We were seated in our office when Jerry Gana called that there is a need for us to settle this politically and we said ‘oh, that is very good; that is what we have been waiting for’. So, Jerry Gana came and they spoke. We said ‘look we are ready for peace and we have started this peace meeting in the house of the Taraba State Governor and of course, I was there and we said we are very ready for peace’.

So, they now gave us 7 points which they agreed. In fact they proposed the seven points after both parties had spoken. They said they were going to come back and they came back with seven points and amongst the seven points is one that the Port Harcourt convention be postponed. Secondly, that the convention be held in Abuja and thirdly, that Wike will not be the chairman of the convention. Fourthly, that both parties will contribute meaningfully and fifth, that during the convention that Markafi will open and Sheriff will give the closing speech.

We said we agreed. They left us and said they were coming back to us and we didn’t hear from them again only for us to learn that they have gone to meet the Northern Caucus and the Northern caucus said they don’t want Sheriff, that Sheriff is the one causing trouble.
Till today, we find it very dishonest. We can’t believe it that men of integrity and men that are respected in the society will behave like that because we were told that when they went to tell Wike what was agreed, he said they shouldn’t mind us that he had finished the matter and that he was in charge.

What do you have against Wike being the chairman of the convention committee and the convention taking place in Port Harcourt?
What we have against Wike and the Port Harcourt venue is this: we know that if the convention holds in Port Harcourt, it would never be free and fair. At the first instance, when it went to Port Harcourt, the governor changed all the functionaries that were elected to his commissioners and they were changing the name of delegates to suit them. Even the one that they were to do yesterday the same thing happened and of course if this convention was to take place they have their plans and they would have eroded the convention and produced who they wanted.
But we can never be influenced and that is what we are against. They have penciled down Agbaje. They have penciled one of the former financial secretaries from Kaduna to be the secretary of the party. They have penciled down Uche Secondus to return as Deputy National Chairman of the party South. These were the things we had already known and they had perfected how these persons would come over and we said no!

This thing will kill the party and we must return the party to the people. Sheriff keeps telling them and we keep telling them that we must sit down as a party to grow this party. When I say it, God doesn’t make mistake. Sheriff is an agent of change to say no to impunity and that is why those of us who are with him are supporting him.

Are you also saying that Wike is so powerful that he can overrule all other leaders of the party?
I gave you an example of what happened. We have already agreed in the house of the Taraba State Governor. The governors were not there, it was the Board of Trustees that came because this was the committee that they set up. So, they invited us and we went to the Lounge of Taraba Governor. There, they read the 7 points of settlement terms we agreed and they now said they were going to give it to the governor. Look, let me articulate it again – the problem of the party. Sheriff has said, look, you people brought me and I have done a very good job to reposition this party.
This party was almost dead when Sheriff took over. Northerners started coming in, people wanted to come in from every corner but when they saw that there was hope that the party was going to survive, they now ganged up to remove him. He said look, I am ready. You heard him on Channels television last Saturday when he said ‘I am ready to go even today but before I go, for heaven’s sake, I will return this party to the owners of the party. Who are the owners of the party? The grassroots! That is what he said.

So how would he return it to the grassroots? He must elect competent, selfless, disciplined and outstanding persons into the NWC of the party. How would that happen? With free and fair election. How would that happen? Everybody must get involved, every sector, every department of the party must get involved – National Assembly, Board of trustees, the governors, NWC, the NEC and then form a convention committee. That convention committee must be agreeable to all and that convention must not take place in Port Harcourt. Wike must not be the chairman, but any other person and once that is done, Sheriff is ready to go for convention tomorrow.

In this case, who funds the convention because I learnt that funding was also an issue?
See, let me tell you, when Buhari took over power from Shagari in 1983, all the governors went to jail. Most of them went to jail, including my governor then, Ambrose Ali. Look at the anti-corruption war today, election funding. The party has said ‘governors face your governance in your state. Hold your state. Deliver the dividends of democracy to the people in your state. Leave party to the party to run. What money do we need to hold a convention except that people want to be corrupt? People want cheap money. If a state is coming for convention, if the party agrees that PDP you will pay your due 50 naira per month do you know how much that is? We have over 10 million members.

At the parallel National convention in Abuja, you championed the cause of opposition against Sheriff, why did you make a U- turn to back him?
I wasn’t opposing Sheriff. I was opposing the impunity of the governors. I have never had anything against Sheriff but what I have been against is impunity and that was why we didn’t go to Port Harcourt because we told them and that is what our group is still saying. The certain majority of people in PDP are supporting Sheriff. The people who want money from Wike are supporting the Caretaker Committee. If you want go and meet Wike, you will make money. Go and meet Wike, he will give you. He has a lot of money to give.

Where is the meeting point?
The meeting point is that we have told them, come back from Port Harcourt, and we would sit down and then discuss honestly. Sheriff is ready for peace. We are ready for peace. I am ready for peace and I pray to God that He will give them the wisdom and knowledge to face the fact so that peace can reign. Honestly, I have been praying fervently for our leaders to see the light of truth, so that the truth and truth only would set us free.

So now that the convention in Port Harcourt has agreed to give the Markafi leadership another one year to explore the possibility of a unity convention, are you going to go into negotiation without a condition?
What happened in Port Harcourt that NEC approved something and something again, is impunity! It is crass ignorance because only the chairman of the party can convene NEC and that is Sheriff and that is who the court recognises and the law recognises as chairman of the party. So, whatever took place in Port Harcourt is illegal.
Secondly, there is nothing whatsoever in the PDP constitution that says a Caretaker Committee will run the party. Thirdly, the Caretaker committee has said by virtue of their agreement on May 21st in Abuja, the convention in Abuja has cancelled all orders of the party including NEC. So, where did NEC come from to now give them power to extend the tenure of Markafi?

Reports had it that it was the NWC they dissolved, not NEC
That is what I am telling you. They said the convention in Port Harcourt dissolved NEC. That is what Markafi said – dissolved NWC, dissolved NEC and it is only the Caretaker committee that can run the party and now that they have been caught in their lies now, they said okay, NEC has approved this and that. NEC can approve nothing. The only person they can call NEC is Sheriff.

But some say your conditions are very stringent.
All of them are now in agreement that if this convention is going to hold again by any way possible, it would not be in Port Harcourt. They have also agreed that Wike will not chair it and so we are getting somewhere. I say most of the people on the Caretaker committee and the people on the other side have now agreed because the people who were hoping that they would have the chance of competing have seen that it is not possible. By so doing, they are now supporting what we are saying and I can assure you that when we are ready, the convention will not hold in Port Harcourt and Wike will not chair it.

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Can you beat a child and tell him not to cry? So, now if God didn’t help Sheriff and those cases were dead, he would have been disgraced out of office. Remember that Sheriff never said he wanted to be chairman, these were the people that went to call him and I have been appealing to the former president. I have appealed to the Board of Trustees and its leadership; to the National Assembly that, look for a way out of these court cases and that we must find a political solution to it