Now that the dispute over leadership â€Žof the Peoples Democratic Party has been laid to rest, Segun James sets the agenda for the party struggling to regain its lost glory
If 2015 was the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) dry season with prolonged famine, 2019 may end up becoming the partyâ€™s raining season of triumph.
One of the clearest signs yet of the recovery of new vitality in the party was the winning of the Osun West Â senatorial district by-election that took place penultimate week.
Itâ€™s probably too much to hope that there would be a break in the seemingly endless leadership crisis in the PDP, but some signs pointed in that direction when, surprisingly, the two factions of the party, for the first time, agreed to field one candidate in the election and ended up humbling the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state.
Â This ‘unusual coming-together’ followed a high profile meeting in Abuja recently when leaders of both factions in the party sat down for the first time in months to agree to an initial conflict resolution deal on the way forward for the party as the 2019 election dates draw near.
About two years ago, the party was plunged into a dispute. There seemed to be no end to it until someone brought the reality to bear on them â€“ adapt or die.
For two years, the party members engaged themselves in a macabre dance that ultimately led to the way of death for the party and political suicide. But respite came for the party when the national chairman of the party, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, was booted out of office by the apex court following a prolonged leadership tussle in the party.
The court, in the judgment read by Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour, said the national convention that produced the Makarfi-led National Caretaker Committee, NCC, on May 21, 2016 was in order.
â€œThe national convention did not violate any court orders,â€ Mr. Rhodes-Vivour said, wondering why the Court of Appeal, which had earlier decided the matter, disregarded the event in itsÂ February 17Â judgment.
The Port Harcourt Division of the Court of Appeal had recognised Ali Sheriff as the authentic national chairman of Nigeriaâ€™s main opposition party.
In the split judgment of three to two, the court set aside the earlier judgment delivered by Justice Mohammed Liman of the Federal High Court, also in Port Harcourt, which had recognised the Makarfi-led NCC.
The Makarfi-committee was constituted following the dissolution of the national working committee led by Sheriff, a former governor of Borno State and former senator.
The crisis created a deep division in the party leaving many to doubt if it was not going into extinction.
The party faithful and state chapters queued behind the two factions; though virtually all the party organs, including the Board of Trustees, were solidly backing the Makarfi’s group.
Expectedly, others chose to dump the party and defected to the APC, citing the division created by the leadership crisis as a reason.
In all, no fewer than five PDP senators and members of the House of Representatives defected to the ruling party.
There were reports that some of its 11 state governors, notably in the south-east geo-political zone, were planning to dump the party.
Consequently, faced with these self-inflicted challenges, the party was hampered from providing effective opposition to the APC, to which it lost power at the centre as well as in some states in 2015.
The war of words between the two factions of the PDP degenerated following the botched national convention of the party with the Makarfi-faction blaming the crisis on what it claimed as a secret presidential ambition of Sheriff. The Sheriff-faction, on its part, accused the Makarfi of planning to compromise the Supreme Court to obtain a favourable judgment.
Meanwhile, the dispute lasted this long not because there were no efforts to resolve it but because the warring factions refused to shift grounds. A reconciliation committee headed by Bayelsa State governor, Seriake Dickson did make an effort. So did former president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan.
Dickson, while presenting his committee report had welcomed the pledge by Sheriff not to contest the office of the national chairman in the proposed unity convention which he advocated.Â
Welcoming Sheriffâ€™s gesture then, Dickson had called on the two leaders to resign in the interest of the party. Both of them refused, and resolved to fight to the bitter end.
With the leadership crisis settled what is next for the PDP, the party that ruled at the centre and in most states from 1999 when the country returned to democratic rule, until 2015?
Now that the PDP is back, how can it consolidate to confront the challenges of making a great impact and possibly create an upset like the APC did in 2015? How easy will this be achieved and will the crop of experienced and seasoned politicians that left the party come back to give the APC a fight and a run for its money? Will the two factions in the party be able to come together and work for the common good of the party? These and other questions are what the Makarfi-led executive must answer as the race towards the 2019 general elections resumes in earnest.
The truth remains, however that politicians enjoy making promises and usually fail to follow their words with action. Most Nigerian politicians are armchair politicians. They give speeches, which they hope will make the people vote for them. Once elected, their job is to give more speeches, have private meetings, engage in endless debate with opposition and once in a while give personal opinions. In other words, a lot of words.
The first major task before the Makarfi-led caretaker committee is to unite party members under one ‘umbrella;’ and it is a task that it must commence urgently. The second will be to persuade those who defected to APC to return. This will be tough though.
While the crisis escalated, both groups gave indications at different fora that they would abide by the impending judgment of the Supreme Court.
â€œGod willing, Sheriff will obey the outcome of the Supreme Court, and we do know that we will always obey the rule of law. We urge the Supreme Court not to be swayed by the posture of these persons who ordinarily cannot walk the street,â€ Cairo Ojougbo, Mr. Sheriffâ€™s deputy, said earlier this month.
Ahead of the judgment, Makarfi also hinted that the wound created by the crisis would be healed in order for the party to forge ahead.
He reiterated this positionÂ on WednesdayÂ and expressed his willingness to work with Sheriff.
According to the former Kaduna State governor, â€œWe are open to reconciliation but for us reconciliation does not mean we will take what belongs to Mr. A and give it to Mr. B. We will do reconciliation based on equity, equality and value. You cannot get what you didnâ€™t earn.â€
Whether the Sheriff group will keep to its words is not clear yet.
Many prominent members of the main opposition party have reacted to the judgment, describing it as victory for democracy and Nigerians.
Also following the ruling, the party has rekindled its hope to reclaim power from APC come 2019.
Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike had immediately after the court verdict said Sheriff would obey the court order and still be part of the party.
Chieftains of the PDP in Akwa Ibom State described the outcome of the ruling as â€œvictory for democracy and the rule of lawâ€. The Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Uwemedimo Nwoko, expressed delight over the ruling, saying it has put to rest internal feuds between Sheriff and Makarfi, which had split the party along factional lines in the last 14 months.
According to him, the victory would go a long way towards setting the tone for the rebuilding process in the party and place it in good stead to reclaim its ruling party status in 201 â€œI want to salute the courage of the Supreme Court justices who have asserted the independence of the judiciary in Nigeria.â€
Adding that the outcome of the judgment has once again rekindled the hope of average Nigerian on the judiciary as the last hope of the people. â€œThe judgment is also good for democracy in Nigeria because the PDP has shown tenacity and the ability to lead Nigeria as egalitarian society based on the rule of law. PDP managed the affairs of Nigeria for 16 years, and during that period, democracy was deepened and the rule of law respected; things were done according to the dictates of democracy and rights of Nigerians. There was no form of infringement and violations of peopleâ€™s rightsâ€.
He attributed the party crises to external influence orchestrated by those who, according to him, were afraid of the soaring popularity of the PDP and advised those who decamped to return and be part of the rebuilding process.
Â His advice to those who defected is very timely and relevant. He said: â€œThose who were misled to leave the party are welcome back, if they are sincere in belonging to the party. If their hearts are still with the PDP, they should return, but if not, they should remain where they are.”
In the Publicity Secretary of the PDP in the state, Comrade Ini Ememobong, described the outcome of the ruling as â€œno victor, no vanquish but a victory for democracy and the rule of lawâ€. He urged party supporters and those that left in the midst of the crises to bury every sentiment and rally round the party with the return of peace and unity to PDP.
Nonetheless, the PDP has a history of emerging stronger after major crises. It did so in four previous occasions.
In 2001, the party survived a major crisis, which saw the expulsion of some founding fathers, includingÂ SundayÂ Awoniyi, Don Etiebet, Asheik Jarma, Bamanga Tukur, Edwin Ume-Ezeoke. All members of the partyâ€™s Board of Trustees had battled with the then president, Olusegun Obasanjo, for the soul of the party.
In 2006, it survived another crippling crisis instigated by its pioneer National Chairman, Solomon Lar, and a former Deputy National Chairman, Shuaibu Oyedokun, both of whom floated a parallel national working committees.
In 2013, the PDP again was thrown into crisis when some of its prominent members, including five governors and a former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, revolted and floated a new faction of the party, named nPDP.
Again, the process of unification and the healing process in the party is urgently needed chiefly because of the coming electoral contests in the next one year.
The Anambra State governorship election will hold in November while those of Ekiti and Osun will hold in 2018. Besides, the general elections come up in less than two years.
Immediate past governor of Imo State, Chief Ikedi Ohakim, also had this to say: â€œAlthough the Supreme Court has finally given its verdict on the PDP crisis, the true position is that we have a no victor, no vanquished situation.â€
He called the crisis era â€œa sabbatical period, from which the party ought to have learnt some lessonsâ€, even as he cautioned that the leadership should not be in a hurry to jump into actions and conclusions. â€œThe PDP has gone through a lot of trouble for too long. This is the time to sit down, do a lot of soul searching on how to reorganise the party and restructure the country. Nigeria is honestly looking up to PDP for a new lease of lifeâ€, Ohakim said.
In his reaction, the National Vice Chairman of the party, South-east zone, Chief Austin Umahi described the judgment that declared Makarfi as the authentic national chairman of the party as phenomenal. He said that God by the judgment had raised the banner of the party above those he described as destructive elements whose sole aim was to render the party powerless.
Also speaking, the state secretary of the party in Ebonyi State, Nze Raymond Emeana, said it was time to reconcile and face the onerous task ahead. â€œNigerians are expecting so much from the PDP and we canâ€™t afford the luxury of failing them. We must rescue them from their current APC inflicted punishmentâ€, Emeana said. For Owerri based legal practitioner, Mr. Emeka Umah, â€œthe judgment did not come to me as a surprise because based on their previous decisions, Markafi was going to coast home in victory.
â€œThe job starts now, the job of not doing a blind and destructive reconciliation. This is the time to distil the faithful from contractors and fraudsters. This is the time for reappraisal, a time to get back to the grass roots for confidence building in forthcoming pollsâ€, Umah said.
Finally, Sheriff has finally surrendered his struggle for the leadership of the party, even as the PDP has slated its national convention for the election of new executives for October.
In a short statement posted on his twitter handle, the former Borno State governor said: â€œThe Supreme Court has spoken. I congratulate Senator Makarfi. We must all put our hands together to channel a new course for the PDP.
â€œMoving forward, we must embrace true reconciliation, so as to be united as a formidable option to send the APC packing in 2019. This is the time to build the PDP and to focus on the future, which includes reclaiming power from the APC.â€
Sheriff also vacated the national secretariat of the party, which he had occupied since February after the appeal court judgment that recognised him as chairman.
Makarfi responded by assuring Sheriff and his loyalists that they would be given amnesty, and also declared that the 2019 general election would be a walkover for the PDP.
He added that Nigerians had completely lost hope when the opposition party was in crisis.
Also speaking when he met with former ministers at the partyâ€™s temporary office in Abuja, Makarfi said that some committees would be set up to resolve some outstanding issues in the South-west.
He added: â€œWe will interact with Sheriff and some of his people. We will leave the door open. Sheriff has accepted the judgment going by what I read in the media.â€
Reiterating Makarfiâ€™s position after the meeting of the caretaker committee, the National Publicity Secretary of the party, Mr. Dayo Adeyeye, also urged party members who had defected to the APC and those in the newly formed political parties to return to the fold.
â€œOur hands are extended to all those on the other side. We will grant general amnesty to everybody. We have declared no victor, no vanquished. We want to give them full embrace, co-operate with them. We will extend our hand of fellowship to them.â€
Adeyeye, however, warned that the olive branch to Sheriff and his followers would be predicated on their abstinence from anti-party activities.
He described Sheriff as a monumental distraction who created a painful and agonising period for the party even as he warned that he must desist from committing further offences.
Speaking on the way forward for the party, Adeyeye said that the PDP would use the model for the Osun West senatorial election, noting that the collaboration adopted by both sides led to PDPâ€™s victory in the poll at the weekend.
â€œIf we had done that in Edo and Ondo States, we would have won. Going forward, we appeal that those who have cases in courts in the states should withdraw their cases,â€ he said.
On PDPâ€™s come back plan for 2019, he said: â€œEverybody is happy. People are happy because there is a ray of hope for them, because APC has been a disaster. When PDP had its crisis, Nigerians lost hope completely.
â€œNow that PDP has overcome its leadership crisis, the election in 2019 will be a walkover for PDP. The arrogance of the APC is just too much.
â€œWe want to send a signal to APC that PDP has come together and they will see a virile opposition. We have given them a two-year holiday and they have run roughshod over Nigerians.
â€œWe will provide a very strong opposition to APC and make Nigerians see the evils of this government.â€
The party spokesman went on to appeal to those who have defected from the party to return and build the party.
But irrespective of Sheriffâ€™s mea culpa, the spokesman of his group. Bernard Mikko, had earlier said in a statementÂ ThursdayÂ that they were shocked by the Supreme Court verdict, which sacked them from officeÂ on Wednesday. â€œWe received with shock the 12th July judgment of the Supreme Court on the leadership of Peoples Democratic Party.
â€œThough we still await the full written judgment of the highest court from our lawyers who will fully brief us on the details of the judgment, in the interim, we ask all members and supporters to remain steadfast in prayers for Nigeria.
â€œMeanwhile, we continue with our avowed demands that the party must be given back to the owners at the grass roots to always elect their party officials and those to contest elections for them at all levels. Internal democracy must be institutionalised in the party.â€
Towards achieving a seamless convention, each state branch of the party has been directed to submit the names of 30 members that would serve on the convention planning committee.
The Niger State chairman of the party, Alhaji Tanko Beji, who disclosed this said the leadership of the party, which met at the national secretariat in AbujaÂ on Wednesday, after the Supreme Court ruling, also took a decision on the zoning of the presidency of the country in 2019 to the northern part of the country, while the vice-presidency would go to the south.
Beji advised all those with ambition to seek the mandate of the people to do so, stating that the era of â€œno vacancyâ€ had come to an end.
â€œAnyone with ambition to seek political office should go to the people, the leadership will not allow imposition of candidates,â€ he said.
According to him, each zone in the state would present 10 of the delegates allocated to Niger state and advised that each of the zones should ensure that the local government areas are represented.
He said the major focus of the party was how to hold a successful national convention and win the national elections in 2019.
â€œOur common enemy is the APC; we should all join hands to chase out the APC in 2019,â€ he said.
Referring to the arrest and arraignment of some of the leaders of the party in the state, including himself, Beji added: â€œWe should not be afraid of arrests, we cannot all be arrested, we cannot all die one day.â€
Prominent members of the PDP, among them those in the Sheriff group, attended the stakeholdersâ€™ meeting.