The Monday Discourse
With last week’s rulings of both the Appeal and Supreme Courts, which validated the candidacy of Mr. Eyitayo Jegede as the standard bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party in Saturday’s election in Ondo State, does it translate to a final position of the law on the leadership crisis plaguing the party, ask Shola Oyeyipo and Segun James
The 2015 electoral misfortune that befell the former ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was not just a sheer happenstance. From the build up to the eventual ouster of former President Goodluck Jonathan, the party had not shown enough capacity to manage internal crisis.
Not only did the PDP lose the March 28 presidential election to President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the party equally suffered defeat at the Senate and the House of Representatives. And in sealing its misfortune, it further lost some of what used to be its traditional states like Plateau, Niger, Kaduna, Benue, Bauchi, and Jigawa to the APC.
Since then, the PDP has not remained the same. The defeat tore it apart. The leadership, PDP governors and the Presidential Campaign Organisation (PDPPCO) started the blame game and pointed fingers over who was responsible.
Former chairman, PDP Governors’ Forum and former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Senator Godswill Akpabio, started the fight for the removal of the Alhaji Adamu Muazu-led National Working Committee (NWC), because of the party’s unimpressive performance during the last general election.
Akpabio’s call for Muazu’s removal was soon chorused by the Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose, the PDPPCO spokesperson, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode and some other agitated party bigwigs.
Alleging that Muazu betrayed Jonathan, Fani-Kayode, demanded the sack of the entire NWC. “We must throw out the bad eggs in the NWC and prepare for a long-drawn war of attrition with the new incoming government. In order to survive over the next four years as a party, we must make the necessary changes at the top otherwise we will be utterly decimated.”
Though the intention of the proponents of Muazu’s sack was to rebrand the party and make it formidable ahead of subsequent elections, how much of that has been achieved is still the question because the crisis trailing the party has been threatening to kill it ultimately.
After weeks of intense battle, Muazu, who himself was brought in as chairman to quell the lingering crisis in the then ruling party eventually bowed out. He claimed his decision was as a result of his failing health and the abysmal performance of the party in the 2015 general election.
Rather than address the problem, Muazu’s resignation sparked even bigger protests and in-fighting because in the resignation letter, he asked Chief Uche Secondus to step in as acting national chairman in line with Sections 45 (2) of the PDP Constitution as amended in 2012, until Muazu’s zone, the North-east, brings a replacement.
Due to the sensitive issue of which zone ought to produce the chairman and which would in turn determine the zone that would produce the party’s presidential candidate in 2019, Secondus choice as chairman met with even stiffer opposition. Not only did governors of the party ask him to step aside as acting national chairman of the party, PDP loyalists from the North-east vehemently rejected his leadership and proceeded to the court to slug it out.
At that point, the PDP leadership through the Chairman of the PDP Governors Forum, Governor Olusegun Mimiko, the party’s National Secretary, Professor Oladipo Adewale, agreed to Secondus to assume office as national chairman.
He assured the people that the party would roll out a process of electing a new and substantive national chairman from the North-east in compliance with the earlier court judgment.
About this time, a former aide to Jonathan Mr. Ahmed Gulak and his supporters including Dr. Doyin Okupe had stormed the National Secretariat of the party in Abuja, claiming to have assumed the position of the national chairman of the party. He premised his action on a court judgment in his favour.
A High Court judge, Justice Hussein Baba had ordered, in a suit filed by Gulak, that Secondus should vacate the chairmanship seat of the PDP within 14 days. According to the court, Secondus assumed the headship of the party through an illegitimate process and the position of the acting National Chairman of the PDP was zoned to the North-east geo-political region
Hence, the court ordered Secondus to hand over the leadership of the party to the plaintiff or any other member of the PDP from the North-east. As it became glaring that the crisis destabilising the PDP would not end in a hurry, in the bid to find a workable solution to the crisis in the party, a new twist was introduced with the choice of a former governor of Borno State, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, as the new national chairman of the party on February 16, 2016.
Sheriff, a former chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the defunct All Nigerians Peoples Party (ANPP) was picked by National Caucus of PDP which comprised the governors, members of the National Working Committee (NWC) and the leadership of the National Assembly.
But instead of addressing the problems in the party, Sheriff’s emergence also met with resistance. For instance, the BoT of the party was stoutly opposed to his emergence. A section of members of the party also felt aggrieved about the decision to elect Sheriff who joined the PDP less than two years. He had joined the All Progressives Congress (APC) which he dumped for the PDP due to unresolved crisis with some leadership of the ruling party.
As the leadership crisis that has polarised the party since the era of Alhaji Bamanga Tukur lingered, the division in the party festered till a faction of the PDP led by a former Minister of Information, Jerry Gana, made good its threat and conducted a parallel national convention.
While the Sheriff group held its convention in Port Harcourt, Rivers State with his chairmanship maintained, the other group held a simultaneous convention in Abuja where a seven-man caretaker committee headed by a former governor of Kaduna State, Senator Ahmed Makarfi was set up with Senator Ben Obi as secretary. This has since made the unity of purpose practically impossible.
It is those fault lines that have continually haunted the former ruling party. The factionalisation of the party along the Sheriff-Makarfi camps at the national level has reflected negatively at the state levels and rather than stand as a strong opposition to the ruling APC, top members of the party have worked at cross purpose as reflective in the recent Ondo saga resolved a few days ago by the Supreme Court.
The Failed Interventions
Against the backdrop of widespread political and economic volatility in the country, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) stands out as the most affected by the turmoil in the polity. The enormous political challenges facing the party have overshadowed a different kind of drama elsewhere in the party, which is: who is the authentic leader of the party between Sheriff and Makarfi.
Even the most turmoil-tested politician would agree that 2016 has been the most painful year for the PDP. The party’s leadership has made several efforts to stitch the big and gaping holes in the big umbrella of the party amid fears that the party may indeed be disintegrating.
But how did the party get up to this sorry state? Following the loss in the 2015 general election, the party was thrown into crisis which almost sounded the death knell on it. But the decision of the Supreme Court recognising the election of Jegede as the authentic candidate of the party in the Ondo State governorship election seems to have given the party some traction.
Since the PDP lost control of the presidency, it has remained largely divided. As soon as Jonathan acknowledged defeat and congratulated Buhari, the blame game, which punctuated the long-drawn crisis, deepened, even as PDP chieftains take turns, almost on a daily basis, to defect to the APC. The crisis has become even more pronounced and the challenges in the party can be traced back to multiple disagreements between the party leadership and some powerful members before the 2015 elections. The resultant leadership crisis led to the emergence of a splinter faction that had in its ranks, seven protesting state governors.
That development, which some analysts described as PDP’s gravest error, set the tone for what was to come. Since then, the battle for the soul of the PDP began. However, several interventions have been initiated in the past to stitch the umbrella of the party together. It began with General Ibrahim Babangida.
According to the Senator representing Plateau North Senatorial District and former governor of Plateau State, Jonah Jang, the former military president and General Abdulsalami Abubakar, offered to intervene by reconciling the Sheriff and Makarfi factions in order to “seal the party’s victory in 2019.” But he noted with dismay the manner in which top party chieftains dumped the PDP for the APC and said the intervention of the senior citizens in resolving the crisis attested to the fact that Nigerians have lost hope in the APC government.
Jang, while addressing PDP supporters in Jos, on the efforts to reconcile aggrieved factional leaders of the party said a committee would be set up to solidify the reconciliatory move by former military presidents.
However this effort failed, even as the two factions later, in a surprising move agreed to work together after a meeting in Abuja, where they agreed to put their differences behind them. The caretaker committee was led to the meeting by its National Secretary, Obi, while Cairo Ojougbo, the deputy national chairman of the Sheriff faction, led its members.
At a joint press conference, the groups said they had resolved to bring about a united, focused and constructive opposition party in order to achieve sanity in the nation’s democratic process. According to Ojougboh, who read the text of the conference, the groups also agreed to constitute a joint committee which would embark on a holistic reconciliation of the aggrieved members of the party nationwide.
It was the first time they would agree to work together since the party split into two after the national convention in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, in May. But this effort failed forcing such leaders as Chief Edwin Clark to accuse Sheriff of being an agent of destabilisation within the party.
“As an elder statesman, who had been a PDP member, I believe what is going on was all part of democracy and I believe very soon a stronger PDP will emerge. There must be factions and I believe the two sides –Sheriff and Markafi – should come together. I’m appealing to the two factions to come together and resolve whatever might be their differences in the interest of the party.
“I tried to step in but Sheriff was not cooperating, otherwise, I was ready to bring the two of them together. Markafi was ready at all times for a peaceful resolution of the crisis. I am only surprised at some of the court pronouncements. I am ashamed. There was no court judgment in Lagos which prevents the party from holding a convention in Port-Harcourt and I was therefore surprised when I heard the Judge in Abuja stating that he had regard for the judgment in Lagos. What I am saying is that both sides should come together.”
Today, the decision of the Supreme Court on the recognition of Jegede as the PDP candidate for last Saturday’s election has provided a welcome opportunity to take stock and determine where the party stands amidst the several challenges facing it.
According to the PDP in Ondo State, the intervention of the Supreme Court in the party’s governorship ticket dispute would hasten the process of reconciliation. Publicity Secretary of the party, Banji Okunomo, said the intervention of the apex court has hastened the administration of justice.
“No matter what happens, the judiciary remains the final arbiter in Nigeria and beyond and in this circumstance, we have chosen to toe this civilized path to enable justice prevail.”
Interpretation of the Rulings
Many PDP stalwarts who had eagerly looked forward to an end to the crisis bedeviling the party saw the recent Supreme Court judgment that removed the Sheriff-picked Jimoh Ibrahim PDP candidate and replaced him with Mr. Eyitayo Jegede as a good omen.
Legal practitioner and Lagos State Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Mr. Ganiyu Taofeek said the judgment has ended the crisis in the party.
“Yes, the judgment is circumstantial. The implication is that the Makarfi leadership is recognised and that Mr. Eyitayo Jegede is the candidate. The issue has been rested. We know that even when the Supreme Court eventually pronounces on the matter, it is our expectation that some people will still want to tear the party apart. But the judgment is circumstantial enough,” he noted.
Another legal luminary and former National Secretary, Labour Party (LP), Mr. Kayode Ajulo, also agrees that the apex court judgment is an indication of the end of the problems in the PDP.
“I believe the judgment has substantially removed the factionalisation in the party. That is why you see that the judgment gave the Makarfi faction to quickly move ahead to present the candidate and sanitise the party”, he said.
However, after the judgment, the faction led by Chief Bayo Dayo, which is believed to be loyal to the Senator representing Ogun East, Buruji Kashamu, said the sacked national chairman, Senator Ali Modu-Sheriff, remains the opposition party’s helmsman.
Alhaji Kunle Akangbe, a political leader from Oyo state, said “Sincerely, the Ondo judgment is an opportunity to revive the party back to old glory. For a party that is supposed to be the main opposition to have failed to reorganise and organise itself to be the formidable force which can give Nigeria a robust democracy which Nigerians clamour for, it is very unfortunate.
“The party has degenerated. The founding fathers of the party must be most disappointed at the sorry state of the party. Those who are living will be wondering how the situation gets to be so bad and those who are dead will be rolling in their graves. I reiterate that this is unfortunate.”
This sentiment was also shared by Dr. Stanley Simon Ugochukwu, a public analyst, who is optimistic that the victory of Jegede may signal a rebirth for the party, saying “Only if they seize the opportunity.”
He stressed that the Supreme Court judgment is strictly that of Jegede as victory has been given to the right person, while also advising the PDP to quickly organise itself by seizing to opportunity of the judgment. He added that unless this is done as soon as possible, the time might be too late as people position themselves towards 2019.