“Mr. President, hold me responsible if Borno is not delivered to the PDP when a free and fair election is held.” Those were the words of former Borno governor and former factional chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Senator Ali Sheriff, in January 2015, barely two months to the presidential contest of that year.
But by the time the election was won and lost in 2015, Sheriff did not only fail to deliver Borno to the PDP, he could not even secure the required 25 percent votes for the party’s presidential candidate, Gooodluck Jonathan, as Governor Kashim Shettima delivered 473, 543 votes to the All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, representing about 97 percent of the total valid votes cast, leaving Jonathan with just 25, 640 votes.
Instructively, the results from Borno at the time sealed whatever hope that was left for the PDP securing any victory in that contest. Sheriff, as chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), had led the party into the APC. But he left shortly after the party’s national convention in 2014, when he was edged out of the power equation.
First, he wanted Chief Tom Ikimi as the party’s national chairman. Butthe Asiwaju Bola Tinubu group, backing Chief John Odigie-Oyegun had the upper hand. Again, he backed his long time friend and political ally, Kashim Imam for the position of the national secretary of the party. Again, he was floored on that score, as the party’s national secretary, Mai Mala Buni, who had no ambition of vying for any position, emerged as secretary. Imam is from Borno State while Buni is from Yobe State.
Sensing that he was not needed in the party, especially having initially lost the attempt to emerge party leader in the state, as the proposal to that effect was thwarted by other party leaders at the caucus meeting, Sheriff was left with no option than to defect to the PDP.
In the PDP, he was received from the top, as the Borno State chapter of the party played little or no role in his return. Daily Sun gathered that instructions were just handed down to the party to accommodate him.
In the build up to the 2015 elections, Sheriff wielded colossal power that at the height of the Boko Haram crisis, the Maiduguri International Airport, which was closed for months and even to the Borno governor at the time, was opened to allow Sheriff land for campaigns.
Interestingly, however, before his defection to the PDP, he had boasted that he was going to move the entire APC structure to the PDP.
In the end, he left with just a handful of his supporters, as even his siblings failed to join him in his new party. This is even as a few politicians in the state, who had left the APC for the PDP because of Sheriff, suddenly returned to the APC, once Sheriff defected to the PDP, while those who remained played ‘siddon look,’ during the 2015 governorship and presidential elections in the state, owing obviously to the treatment accorded him by the Jonathan’s presidency.
But immediately after the elections were won and lost, and the wheat separated from the chaff, with Sheriff losing political relevance, owing to his inability to even win a seat in the state House of Assembly, he took a temporary break from the political arena, only to resurface in February 2016, as the acting national chairman of the PDP amidst stiff opposition.
Sheriff returns to APC
After about 17 months of battling to remain relevant politically, by hanging on to national chairmanship of the PDP, the Supreme Court, in July last year sacked Sheriff. Since then, he took another break, until yesterday when reports say he has returned to the APC.
And like his defection to the PDP in 2014, Sheriff’s return to the APC was also said to have been “arranged from the top” thereby alienating the state APC from the event. With his return to the APC, it would perhaps signal another round of crisis for the party in the state.
Like a colossus, Sheriff had survived many battles in the past. But will he survive the one that is awaiting him?
Before his emergence as governor in 2003, the tradition in the state was that the elders decide who must be governor. But in 2003, Sheriff broke that tradition. Apart from his father, who incidentally was part of those who installed the former governor in 1999, no single elder supported Sheriff’s ambition to be governor. But the youths rallied support for him. In the end, he emerged victorious.
His second term battle
The only time the PDP came close to working for a common goal in Borno State was in 2007, when the likes of Mohammed Umara Kumalia and Hajia Fati Ibrahim Bulama known in the local parlance as ‘Hajja Kinna’ and their supporters left the ANPP for the PDP. The two former political associates of Sheriff alongside their armies of supporters were on hand in 2003 to sway victory in favour of Sheriff, when he contested against the then incumbent, Alhaji Mala Kachallah (AD) and Kashim Ibrahim-Imam (PDP).
When Hajja Kinna and Kumalia pooled their political structures into the traditional opposition party in the state, many had concluded that for the PDP, it was victory and nothing else in 2007. The stakes became higher when former governor, Kachallah, also moved with his entire AD structure into the PDP.
However, before the election, Kumalia again moved from the PDP to the defunct Action Congress (AC), owing to the fact he was denied a waiver to contest the governorship primary, even when others like Senator Mohammed Abba Aji, who defected long after Kumalia had defected, were given waiver to contest. The action, no doubt depleted the PDP’s support base.
Although, Kumalia eventually contested the governorship on the platform of the defunct ACN, Sheriff, was later to emerge governor in a controversial circumstance, as votes were still being counted in Maiduguri, the state capital, when Sheriff was declared winner of the contest from Abuja. Once that was done, the PDP met and decided to withdraw from all the other remaining elections, especially the National Assembly elections, after it established that some persons within the presidency, “actually worked to undermine the party in the state.” And that was how Sheriff became the first sitting governor to break the second term jinx in the State.
The battle to return to the senate in 2011
Like in 2007, when he ran for a second term in office, again, preparatory to the 2011 elections, Sheriff faced another stiff opposition from those who were bent on decimating him politically.
Although, not gunning for governorship, he needed to deliver the governorship seat to his party and return to the senate again. But this time, the odds against him were higher. Although the ANPP won the governorship in 2011, to show that Sheriff was their target, the people killed his dream of returning to the Senate after eight years as governor, as he was defeated by a relatively unknown politician, Ahmed Zanah, (now late) a candidate, who according to insiders, the PDP had just fielded to “fulfil all righteousness.”
Ironically, until 2011, Sheriff had never lost any election before in Borno, since his foray into politics in the 90s.
Sheriff’s failed bid to reclaim the state in 2015
Shortly after his defection in 2014, he boasted to return Borno to the PDP. And because of his previous political antecedents, especially from 1992, when against all odds, he defeated the highly rated wife of Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, in a contest for Borno Central Senatorial District, to 1999, when he repeated similar feat against highly rated and highly educated Ibrahim Bunu, former FCT minister, for the same seat, to 2003, when he came from Abuja, as a sitting senator to dislodge an incumbent governor, to 2007, when he broke a second term jinx in the state, many had thought he could again repeat the same magic in 2015. But he couldn’t. Without him, Shettima led the APC to victory. And for the first time in the history of the state since 1999, no single seat in the state and National Assembly was won by the PDP.
Daily Sun recalls that Sheriff also went as far as boasting that the APC would not get up to 30 per cent of the total votes in the state for the governorship and presidential elections. But oblivious of the fact that Sheriff was only able to move with a handful of his supporters, in spite of his earlier boast to move the “soul” of the party in the state to the PDP, the old PDP members in Borno State blocked him from making any electoral capital out of the situation.
Governorship primaries were held and the old PDP bloc produced the candidate – Alhaji Gambo Lawan, but allowed Sheriff to take the Borno Central Senatorial ticket.
However, Sheriff was said to have pulled a fast one against the state PDP, by lobbying the presidency to allow him produce the governorship candidate, insisting that it was a sure way to guarantee the party’s victory in the state. He got his way, and his protégé and former state chairman of the defunct ANPP, Mohammed Imam, emerged as the candidate, and his name published by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
But somehow, Sheriff’s name suddenly disappeared on INEC’s list too, as the Borno Central Senatorial candidate, for the polls. But Lawan challenged his substitution in court. The case was decided on March 18, 2015, barely 10 days to the presidential contest by Justice Ramat Ahmed of an Abuja Federal High court, affirming Lawan as the authentic candidate. The court’s verdict perhaps became the first sign to the Sheriff’s camp in the PDP that it may have embarked on a fruitless adventure after all.
Interestingly, on the day of the presidential contest, Sheriff was in Maiduguri, not just to cast his vote, but to also fulfil his promise of delivering the state to the PDP. The first shocker he, however, got was that majority of the bigwigs within the PDP from the state, who would have lent him the necessary support failed to come in from Abuja for the election. In the end, Sheriff not only failed to deliver his council to the PDP, he also failed to redeem his promise to Jonathan, as Buhari beat Jonathan 473, 543 to 25, 640 votes in the state.
The Battle within APC
In Borno State today, Shettima is in charge. But Sheriff’s defection to the APC from the top like he did when he defected to the PDP in 2014, and with his defection coming barely two weeks after a Federal High Court in Abuja, dismissed two defamation suits filed by him against the state government and its Commissioner for Justice, Kaka Lawan, will no doubt signal another round of crisis for the party in the state ahead of 2019.