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Modu Sheriff And PDP’s Leadership Tussle

The best approach, in the thinking of many, is for the combatants to embrace dialogue and come together on a round table to address the issue, instead of all the orders and counter-orders from the court that are only helping to further fuel the crisis. They must remember that a house divided against itself can never stand!

Michael Jegede

There seems to be no end in sight to the crisis that erupted in the People Democratic Party (PDP) since Ali Modu Sheriff, the erstwhile Governor of Borno State emerged in February this year as the acting National Chairman.  All has not been well with the former ruling party from the time sheriff came on board. The internal strife tearing the PDP apart has continued to take different twists, and many keep wondering when the whole brouhaha will cease.

Sheriff, a former Chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP was picked by the then National Executive Committee, NEC of the PDP to complete the tenure of the erstwhile Chairman, Adamu Mua’zu, which was expected to expire on March 24, 2016. Mua’zu had resigned as PDP national chairman after the defeat of the party in the last general election by the then opposition party, All Progressives Congress, APC.

The emergence of Sheriff followed a series of intrigues and horse-trading. It was widely condemned by most Nigerians and top party members who wondered what yardstick was used to arrive at the decision to settle for the former Borno governor. The Forum of ex-PDP Ministers, members of the party’s BoT, founding fathers of the PDP and some other groups within the party were visibly angry with the NEC for choosing Sheriff ahead of other aspirants believed to be of unquestionable character and integrity from the North East for the exalted position.

On the contrary, Sheriff’s appointment then had the full support of the PDP governors and National Assembly caucus of the party. Perhaps, they see him as having what it takes to lead the party to greater heights as against those who view his emergence as a dent on the image of the PDP because of the perception Nigerians have about him. There were even insinuations that he had the backing of former President Goodluck Jonathan.

The BoT members who initially opposed the decision of the party’s national caucus to handpick Sheriff later did a U-turn. Giving reasons why it succumbed in a communiqué signed by the former Deputy Senate President, Senator Ibrahim Mantu, the board said: “The BoT reviewed the commitment made on its behalf at the stakeholders meeting which was convened by Deputy Senate President, Senator lke Ekweremadu, which resolved that Sheriff who was elected by NEC at its last meeting, be allowed three months tenure within which period congresses and national convention would hold to elect new leaders of the party at all levels.

“The BoT, which is the conscience of the party, has the moral capital to reinvent the party due to its unity of purpose and internal-cohesion. In this connection, in spite of the initial position taken by the BoT, its desire to ensure the unity, cohesion and future successes of the party has necessitated a review of its earlier position. Consequently, it resolved to adopt the decisions taken at the stakeholders’ meeting. It however, urges the full and sincere implementation of all the decisions/programmes agreed upon at the stakeholders’ meeting of Wednesday February 23, 2016…” Despite the volte-face by the BoT, some members of the board and the former ministers were insistent that Sheriff’s tenure had expired in March and cannot be allowed to remain in office.

When the zoning committee inaugurated by Sheriff zoned the chairmanship slot to north east, it became very clear that the game plan was actually for him to succeed himself. Few days before the North East zonal congress where Sheriff was endorsed as the sole candidate for the chairmanship seat, a former Minister of Information, Prof. Jerry Gana, led a group of founding fathers, stakeholders and leaders of the PDP from all the six geopolitical zones to announce the takeover of the party from the ex-Borno Chief Executive.

The battle by the Gana-led group to stop Sheriff from becoming the substantive chairman of the PDP led to the conduct of two separate conventions on Saturday, May 21, 2016. The NEC-approved national convention took place in Port-Harcourt, while the Gana-led group had theirs (a non-elective convention) in Abuja where Mantu and Prof. Tunde Adeniran emerged as the Interim National Chairman and Vice National Chairman of the party respectively.

At the Port-Harcourt convention, the party could not continue with the conduct of election into the various positions. Instead of leaving out the offices of national chairman, national secretary and national auditor due to a court order and conduct election into other positions, the party decided to constitute a National Caretaker Committee to run its affairs and spearhead the conduct of another convention at a later date where elections into all the offices will be done. From the May 21, 2016 Port-Harcourt convention, Senator Ahmed Makarfi emerged Chairman of the caretaker committee mandated to conduct another convention in 90 days.

The development did not go down well with Sheriff who appears to be desperate to continue in office as the PDP’s national chairman. He quickly issued a statement to say that he remained the national chairman. His claim was that as the party’s chairman he was the one vested with the power to pronounce the dissolution of the NEC and National Working Committee, NWC. The declaration for the dissolution of the NEC/NWC was made by the then Deputy National Chairman, Uche Secondus in the absence of Sheriff at the venue of the convention.

Sheriff also averred then that he had already announced the postponement of the Port-Harcourt convention before the resolution for the constitution of a care-taker committee was reached, thereby insisting that the action was null and void. Feeling satisfied that their aim of stopping Sheriff had been achieved, the Gana-led group and the BoT aligned with the Makarfi-led care-taker committee. The PDP governors and some prominent members that were previously queuing behind Sheriff abandoned him to his fate, because to them, decisions taken at the convention by delegates from across the 774 Local Government Areas in the country supersede any other.

The two factions held parallel primaries for the forthcoming governorship election in Edo State. Makarfi-led caretaker committee’s primary election which took place on June 20, 2016 produced Osagie Ize-Iyamu as the candidate of the party. On the other hand, Mathew Iduoriyekemwen emerged from that of Sheriff’s faction held on June 29. Iduoriyekemwen had earlier participated in the Makarfi’s primary but went to join the Sheriff’s camp after he was defeated by Ize-Iyamu.

At this point, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, refused to deal with any of the two warring groups, insisting that the electoral body would be guided by the outcome of a pending case on the matter at a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt to decide on the faction to recognize. The ruling of the court on July 4, 2016, delivered by Justice Abdullahi Liman okayed the Port Harcourt convention and the caretaker committee constituted therefrom. Based on the court verdict, INEC opened its door to the Makarfi’s caretaker committee which has since submitted the name of Ize-Iyamu as the authentic candidate of the PDP for the Edo guber poll.

Refusing to give up, Sheriff, who some political observers say, appears to be out to destroy PDP, approached another Division of the Federal High Court in Abuja. And on Thursday, July 28, 2016, he got a judgement affirming him as the authentic Chairman of PDP from Justice Okon Abang. The Abuja court held that its Port Harcourt Division erred to have upheld the Port Harcourt convention.

According to Abang, “Parties have an uncompromising duty to obey court order until it is set aside. The Lagos Division made orders on May 12 and 20, forbidding the PDP from removing the Sheriff-led Caretaker Committee. That order is still subsisting. Having regard to the order of the court, PDP had no lawful authority to hold the convention that led to the emergence of the Markafi-led Committee.”

The leadership of the PDP led by Makarfi was shocked by the Abuja court verdict as it had just received the report of its zoning committee on the zoning arrangement for election into the party’s national offices for the convention coming up on August 17, 2016 still in Port Harcourt. However, in a swift reaction, the spokesman of the caretaker committee, Prince Dayo Adeyeye said: “The Judgment of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt was very clear that the National Caretaker Committee was duly constituted and recognized; and in line with that, the scheduled National Convention for August 17, 2016 still holds.” The PDP national legal team also maintained that Abang’s ruling cannot stand superior judicial scrutiny, describing it as a stillborn baby. According to the legal team, no court order restrained the May 21 Port Harcourt convention from holding, neither was it stopped from dissolving the NEC and NWC. The team insisted that the convention was only stopped from electing persons into certain offices.

This leadership tussle in PDP, in the opinions of enlightened Nigerians, is indeed not a good development for a party that is supposed to play the opposition role of keeping the ruling APC on its toes and checking their excesses through constructive criticism. For PDP to be effective and vibrant as the major opposition party in the country today, political analysts feels, it has to find a way of amicably resolving this crisis that is pulling it down and leading to its annihilation. Presently, the two factions operate from outside the national secretariat which has been under lock and key.

The best approach, in the thinking of many, is for the combatants to embrace dialogue and come together on a round table to address the issue, instead of all the orders and counter-orders from the court that are only helping to further fuel the crisis. They must remember that a house divided against itself can never stand!

Jegede, a journalist and public affairs commentator writes from Abuja

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