Sheriff: Impunity Must Pave Way for Reconciliation

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As the factional fights in the opposition Peoples Democratic Party continue to rage without signs of thawing, factional Chairman of the party and former Governor of Borno State, Senator Modu Sheriff, shares his perspectives on the crisis with Bolaji Adebiyi and Onyebuchi Ezigbo, listing also, some of the conditions for reconciliation. Excerpts:

There are ongoing efforts at reconciliation in the party. Could you bring us up to speed on the progress of the peace process?
Thank you very much for coming to know what is happening. Just before the last convention in Port Harcourt, the BoT set up some mediatory committees. They came to my office about four times to discuss with me and we agreed on what to do. They reached an agreement with me. But suddenly, Governor Nyesom Wike came and said no, that they didn’t have his permission to go and talk to anybody. That he did not send them to talk to anyone and therefore, the convention must go ahead in Port Harcourt and that as far as he remained the chairman of the convention committee, no one had the right to stop the convention.

But that wasn’t the understanding we had with them. We agreed to some conditions with Prof. Jerry Gana. I was, however, surprised to see him saying something different on television the very day we had a very nice discussion in the morning. We agreed to work out ways of having a credible convention in Abuja. They were to go and discuss the modalities and come back to me. But he (Gana) didn’t come back to me till this morning as I am talking to you.

We went back to the court and we got an order from the court stopping the convention and directing the police not to secure it. What we were trying to avoid was taking the convention to a volatile place like Port Harcourt. We feared there could be violence that could lead to the loss of lives and property. So, that was why we went to the court and the court agreed with us.
After the convention, a lot of our leaders came to me and I told them that I was available for reconciliation anyday, because political parties are about people, who want to protect their interests. Nobody can do it alone. Therefore, I am available for reconciliation. The former president, Goodluck Jonathan, talked to me. Tony Anenih came to this house twice or so and spoke with me. Dickson, who is the chairman of the reconciliation committee, had also met with wide spectrum of the membership of our party to find a solution. So, they are still working to find a solution to this problem.

As it is now, what is your minimum condition for peace?
We told them that PDP belongs to Nigerians. PDP wasn’t formed by Ali Sheriff; PDP wasn’t formed by Governor Wike neither was PDP formed by Governor Fayose. Leaders of Nigeria in their wisdom decided to form a party that would accommodate all shades opinions of Nigerians. That was the idea behind PDP. When PDP was formed, people like Wike were junior players in politics.
The main people were Chief Peter Odili and a lot of other leaders. And at that time, we were also forming our own party. In this country, some times when you don’t know the history of Nigeria, certain things begin to happen that surprise you. But it is people that know the history of this country, the political leaders, that would sit and look back and ask why are we having problems today in PDP?
They are used to doing things the way they like. They can elect a national chairman today and throw him away like toilet paper tomorrow. You can go to a state and you win your election; your people want you as a governor or as senator, but somebody will sit down in Abuja and say no, I have one of my house boys, who served me, even if that person has never been to the state.
They would say that he would be the governor. Look, in my career, I have built a party. If anybody claims to be the founder of the ANPP, you can’t bring two people without me. We went for elections and we did extremely well. PDP won the presidential election but we had credible opposition at that point in time. I was the national chairman of my party even while I was a governor. This APC that was formed, I was the chairman of the Board of Trustees of the ANPP that made up the APC today.

So, I know a thing or two about party formation. I was invited to come and be chairman because they felt I had something to offer and that I could bring the PDP back to life. While it is true that many of these people did not know me because we had not worked together before, but I would not allow anybody to mess me up because they could not manipulate me. At the time, I had been playing at the national levels, both Wike and Ayo Fayose were junior players; they were not in the hierarchy of their party.

So their schemes will not work. It would never work. I am not saying I must be a national chairman, no! I have never sought to be a national chairman. But since I believed in the party to take a membership card of that political party, and people in the party looking at my antecedents think that this man can do the job better and made me chairman, if that has to change, then, it must be done properly. You must do it in a way that leaves my respect and integrity intact. There are many people in the party that are qualified to be national chairman but that would have to be done democratically and through the processes laid down by the constitution of the party.

This was my position at the first botched Port Harcourt Convention. There were three valid court orders obtained by our members complaining that their rights have been infringed upon. I as the leader said let us get proper direction from the court. I said we should allow the court processes to be exhausted. But what did they do? They went and set up a caretaker committee. From which section of the PDP constitution was that derived?

Are you saying the party’s constitution did not guide their action?
The constitution is clear about our processes for leadership recruitment and succession. Many people have been aggrieved in the past because they were short-changed. I say we cannot continue that way. I want to let you know, these things we are taking about are being spearheaded by only two governors – Wike and Fayose. You know God created human beings differently. You have people that have values, people that have respect for their society and people that have respect for leaders in their society. There are certain things that they don’t do. But some people don’t have any boundary in whatever they do. For me, we must follow the rules. Let us resolve the issues based on the needs of our members. What do our members want? They want a credible convention where they can elect their leaders.

They don’t want imposition again. At the last Port Harcourt Convention, Wike had planned to impose Jimi Agbaje, when the choice of the Yoruba was either Chief Bode George or Prof. Tunde Adeniran. Wike went and handpicked Jimi Agbaje, who apart from Lagos, has never been to anywhere else to canvass for votes. His only participation in politics was when he wanted to be a governor of Lagos State. National politics needs more than that. That was definitely against the interest of the Yoruba that you said should have the chairmanship.

When I went to Taraba State to seek for support before the first botched convention, the contest was opened to everybody and I was elected. Even when there was no opposition, we still cast ballot and I was confirmed. That is democracy. My position is that the convention should hold in Abuja under a neutral chairman that will not be under the control of Wike and Fayose. The zoning too must be done by a committee of people of integrity.

And when the positions are zoned, all the zones must be allowed to decide who their representatives would be. Not this arrangement where Wike chose Agbaje as chairman and Uche Secondus as deputy National Chairman as if he has taken over our party. People laboured to form this party and no one would be allowed to hijack it simply because he has access to public funds to spend to influence people.

There were people who opposed your chairmanship at the early stages because they said you were a new member. How did you feel about that?
Dr. Cairo Ojougboh, who is sitting here with me now, was among the people who opposed me, disagreeing with me on everything that I joined the party not long enough for me be a national chairman. He insisted that their zonal chairman in the north east must be the national chairman. They went for a process, where names of five people were taken to NEC of the party and I was amongst them. Girigiri Lawal got 9 votes, Wilberforce Juta got one vote, Kumo got zero and one other person also got zero and I got 69 votes. But today the very person that was against me, fighting me, is my deputy in the party.

In politics, you must understand the dynamics. And why did he decide that he would follow me? It is because day in, day out it became clear to him that my message was the one that would save the party and stop it from losing elections. Secondly, I came into this party to run for election. If I don’t believe in it, I will not do that. If I could come in and pick up a ticket and bring up a candidate for governor and go to campaign then you must know that I believe in what I was doing.

I came in with pure intention to rebuild a party that lost election. I believe I have the knowledge of party politics and formation to turn the PDP around. It is a merger of three political parties that became APC today and I was among those at that time that facilitated it.
Therefore, the solution is very simple; we must have a solution based on truth, sincerity, something that can stand the test of time. But if people like Senator Walid Jubril would be BoT chairman that would make ten different statements at different locations, then I am afraid the resolution might be difficult.

At what point did you disagree with Governors Wike and Fayose and Senator Jibrin?
I disagreed with Fayose, who is the principal actor in this crisis, over his desire to control the South-west. He wanted to control Osun, which wasn’t his state and is where the National Secretary is from. He wanted to give the whole structure of that party to Senator Iyiola Omisore, who lost a general election in that state. The leaders of the party in the state did not like that. We did the state congress twice at the instance of Fayose and twice the people he wanted lost the election and he said we must cancel it again.

So, I said to him: ‘My friend I am not your house boy. You can’t make me to do the wrong thing. If your friend wants to win election let him go and meet his people. But Ali Sheriff will not sit down in Abuja and write election results.’ He tried the same thing in Lagos. We cancelled the election in Lagos. I sent Governor Shekarau to go and conduct the congress. But still he said he didn’t want it because the people he wanted could not win election. He wanted to be a leader of the South-west region and put his cronies everywhere.

In Ogun we have senators and members of the House of Representatives. Anywhere there is no governor, the Senators and House of Representatives members are the leaders of the party, and they are the ones to determine where the party should go. Again, he wanted his own structure there. So, he began to fabricate stories that the National Chairman wanted to be president; the national chairman handpicked some people as his running mate.

All are complete lies! That was the beginning of the crisis. He said we must dissolve everything and get a caretaker and start all over as if he was God. Yes, he was one of those people who invited me to come and be chairman. But that doesn’t give him the right to say that he would destroy the party that was given to me on trust by Nigerians to rebuild.

What about Wike?
Wike was unfortunately carried away by Fayose’s ambition. Fayose is his friend but Wike wasn’t the principal actor, the principal actor is Fayose. It is also up till now Fayose that is running around. You know the English man said people are the product of their environment. If you don’t grow up to respect your leaders; if you don’t grow up in a family where your father brings you up to respect elders; If you don’t grow up in a place where there is seniority in society; then in whatever you do there would be a problem.

I don’t have to tell you that from the countenance of Fayose, the way and manner he insults everybody in this country, the way and manner he equates himself to God, you would know that he is not doing well. If we don’t get someone that would tell him that, then we would wake up one day and you would be surprised at what he will do. Imagine a sitting governor, howsoever you disagree with the president of your country, you don’t go to the international community and work against the interest of your country.

These are the kind of human beings we are talking about. So we need to stop people like Fayose from dictating the tune of a national party like the PDP.

There are several cases in court, yet this is a political issue. You have been trying to achieve political resolution without success, because from what you have said so far, you have issues with even the BoT that is the conscience of the party…?
The problem with the BoT is that Jibrin came in through a faulty means and I would tell you why. We were having a Board of Trustees meeting one day and he was supposed to be secretary of the BoT, whose tenure had long expired. We called a BoT meeting to discuss the constitution of the party and I went out for five minutes to receive some people, and before I came back someone had moved a motion that he should be the chairman of the BoT.

So when I came back I was told he had become the chairman. I said things were not done like that. Meanwhile, the BoT meeting had less than 30 per cent of its members in attendance that day. So, there are certain things that went wrong. Can’t you see that whenever there are reconciliations meetings, because he lacks self-confidence, it is somebody else that drives the process? The BoT chairman is supposed to be the conscience of the party. All these things can be resolved.

So, what’s the way forward?
I think we have to reconstitute the convention committee properly and put in place a zoning committee that is based on the principles laid down by the party’s constitution, which does not recognise caretaker committee at the national level.

How do you correct all these wrongs? Even your own election has been challenged in court, which has nullified the basis of your election.
Now, that is the mistake you are making. Let me tell you what has happened so that this can be corrected. Someone went to court and said that the amendment that allows an acting chairman to serve out the term of a chairman, who resigned was defective. Now, what does the previous section say? It says when a chairman resigns the acting chairman would come from the same zone, pending the election of a substantive chairman. As long as there is no elective chairman, I remain the National Chairman.

And you don’t want to share the power of that office at the convention for peace to reign?
Sharing the office for what? Convention is for one day. Convention planning committee is the one that would plan the convention. So, I don’t have an objection to appointing a neutral Chairman of the convention planning committee. But the chairman of the convention is the chairman of the party, who declares the convention open for the purpose of electing national officers of the party.

If we may take you back to something that happened before the Port Harcourt convention during your election at NEC. The NEC was also specific about your tenure, they said three months.
No! That is not what NEC said, please. It said the convention must take place within three months. It was not about my tenure and I addressed you and said I won’t exceed one day longer than the day given to me by NEC and I stuck to it by organising the convention in Port Harcourt within the 3 months and I didn’t change it.

Now, your party appears to be at a crossroads as you have parallel candidates for the forthcoming governorship elections in Edo and Ondo States. Is that not enough reason for you and your party members to quickly make up issues and settle this matter so that PDP can take its rightful place?
I am personally willing to settle all the problems of the party. But talking about Ondo and Edo States, the court was very clear that I, Ali Modu Sheriff, should present the candidate for the elections and I have gladly done that.

Now there are two reconciliation committees: the one by the BoT and the one being led by Dickson. Which one would you think is in the best position to negotiate peace and reconciliation?
The Dickson Committee was the one officially appointed by the party and that is the one I have confidence in. It is a standing committee of the party. And at that time, we didn’t foresee that we were going to have problems. He was elected by NEC as chairman of the reconciliation committee. So, that committee has the mandate and authority of the party to work for reconciliation. Leaders of the party can also do this but I won’t accept anyone, who has soiled his hands.

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The solution is very simple; we must have a solution based on truth, sincerity, something that can stand the test of time. But if people like Senator Walid Jubril would be BoT chairman that would make ten different statements at different locations, then I am afraid the resolution might be difficult