By Omoniyi Salaudeen
Nothing worthwhile in the affairs of man happens by mere happenstance. There is time for everything. There is time to plan, time to sow and harvest, time to agree and disagree. So it is for the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which had been long torn apart by leadership tussle. Now, after a prolonged power contention and the ultimate showdown that led to the seal-up of the party’s national secretariat in Abuja by the security operatives, the two factional leaders, Senator Ali Modu Sherriff, and Chairman, Caretaker Committee, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, have resolved to bury their hatchets and forge a way forward.
Things fell apart on May 21 when some PDP governors conspired to pull the rug off Sherrif’s feet by sacking the National Working Committee (NWC) at the National Convention held in Port Harcourt and put in place a caretaker committee headed by Makarfi. Since then, peace has remained elusive in the party, as Sheriff, a dogged fighter, insisted on reclaiming his mandate as authentic chairman by all available means. Consequently, all entreaties made by the stakeholders to reconcile him with his rival claimant had utterly proved abortive. His disdain for the BoT leadership as well as what he described as illegality of the caretaker committee formed part of the reason for the failure of the previous peace initiatives.
However, this time around, excitements are high on both sides of the divide that the renewed effort would rescue the party from the fringe. Deputy National Chairman of Sheriff’s faction of the PDP, Dr. Cairo Ojougboh, at a joint press conference with the Secretary of the caretaker committee, Senator Ben Ndi Obi, expressed confidence that the move would end the festering crisis, saying that the two PDP leaders had agreed to set up a joint committee to reconcile all aggrieved members of the party across the country.
A statement jointly signed by the leaders of the groups read: “At a meeting held this (Tuesday) morning, between Sheriff and Makarfi, a holistic review of the state of affairs of the PDP was deliberated upon. The meeting was held in a most convivial atmosphere of brotherhood and understanding in the best interest of our great country, Nigeria and the sustenance of our multi-party democracy.”
“In reviewing the crisis that engulfed our party, it became obvious to us, as principal actors, that it is time to heal the wound and bring about a united, focused and constructive opposition party that can bring sanity to our democratic process, bring relief to teeming supporters of our great party and to the benefit of our country.”
Cheery news here for the bewildering supporters of the party! For the first time in a long while, there is a genuine concerted effort to resuscitate and bring the party back to life from the intensive care unit and make it work again as a responsible virile opposition to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). But there are yet some knotty issues to be looked into before it can successfully cross the Rubicon.
One of the critical issues to be dealt with as the reconciliation initiative progresses is the crisis of confidence arising from the activities of Sherriff in the recent past. For his seeming obstinacy and doggedness put into the fight to sustain his position, sizeable members of the PDP see Sheriff as a mole working for the ruling party. While the face-off lasted, a prominent member of the party, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, didn’t in fact mince words when he declared Sheriff as a mole, acting the script allegedly written by President Muhammadu Buhari. “I have always said it that Sheriff is a stranger in our party and we are not going to watch him destroy the party for us. He is working for the opposition to destroy our party. We learnt from a good authority that he is Buhari’s in-law, but we shall know the true position of things in due course. Those who brought him in must have now realized their mistake.”
The question now is: Has the party investigated into Sheriff’s genuine identity and cleared him of the allegation? If not, whatever resolution that might be reached in the ongoing reconciliation without resolving this suspicion would be an effort in futility, as it would amount to building something on nothing.
Again, the contention as to which organ of the party other than the national convention has the right to constitute a new leadership is still a subsisting court case. Sheriff has consistently maintained that the caretaker committee put in place at the Port Harcourt convention is an illegality and has no space in the constitution of the party. Will he shift ground now that there is a commitment from both sides to take a second look at the crisis and get the party going again? In the opinion of Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State, it is only the Court of Appeal that can resolve the party’s leadership crisis. He said: “I’m not against anything called resolution within the party, but everybody must wait for Court of Appeal to resolve this matter.
“The matters are in court, nobody has withdrawn any of the matters and they are resolving. What are you resolving? When matters are in court you, allow court to lay them to rest. The moment this thing doesn’t go well with one side, they will tell you we are still in court.”
Fayose further disclosed that PDP governors as critical stakeholders were not consulted before the reconciliation initiative became a public matter. This implies that whatever the conveners of the peace committee eventually come up with may not have a binding effect on the party since the governors are the movers and shakers of the party. Fayose, his counterpart in Akwa Ibom State, Emmanuel Udom, and Rivers Nyesom Wike, were the key actors who propped up Sheriff but also ditched and left in him the lurch at the Port Harcourt convention. It is, indeed, very doubtful, if the crisis of confidence that led to the Port Harcourt coup could be reversed. “I’m not against anybody reconciling with each other, but when you see that meeting, ask the conveners if governors were briefed. I was not briefed. I am not the only person in the party but then I have a stake,” Fayose said.
Apparently, this is another way of saying that the peace initiative is dead on arrival, especially in the event that the governors have a different game plan.
Previous peace efforts
This is not the first time peace initiative would be proposed. Before the latest development, precisely on August 29, the same effort was made by the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the party when it intervened to find a lasting solution to the festering crisis. The move followed the Dickson/Mantu reconciliation committee put in place to find a way out of the quagmire.
But the embattled former chairman of the PDP rejected the peace initiative, insisting on seeking redress through court injunctions. Ojougboh in a statement released on behalf of Sheriff’s faction said the peace proposals fell short of their expectations. “We completely reject the vote-of-confidence passed on the illegal caretaker committee because a committee that has failed twice to successfully organise a convention on two occasions is a failure. Consequently, we can now confidently inform the public that well meaning Nigerians have been urging Makarfi to resign to save democracy,” he said.
Dissatisfied with the role of the BoT Chairman, Walid Jubrin, he added: “Having deliberated on the reported outcome of the BoT meeting of August 29, 2016, we have resolved to state as follows, that the resolutions fall short of the decision reached with the Dickson/Mantu reconciliation committee.”
“The agreement we had is that Sheriff should chair a National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting where Makarfi will attend as a member of the BoT, at the meeting, a chairman of Convention Committee will be agreed upon, a new convention committee set up, including all other sub-committees: zoning, finance, accreditation, etc.
“We had hoped that opportunity will be given where everybody will meet under one umbrella and shake hands and will see the PDP reemerge for the challenges ahead.”
“That the BoT Chairman, Jubrin, has brought crisis to the party. In any case, his tenure has expired as he has spent more than 10 years as secretary and chairman BoT, which runs contrary to the constitution. A party where we have eminently qualified persons like Senator David Mark, Babangida Aliyu and others cannot be led by unstable individuals controlled by the love for money.
“That the source of irritation in the party is the still-born illegal caretaker committee and the BoT should have advised that the illegality be addressed,” Ojougboh declared.
This time around, however, many stakeholders believe that the crisis would soon be a thing of the past if the two leaders are committed to renewed peace effort. Babatope, speaking with Sunday Sun in an interview, said the process of reconciliation was already ongoing, saying: “We have not had any other development more than the fact that the two of them (Makarfi and Sheriff) have committed themselves to have peace in the party. We are very optimistic that the crisis would be resolved because the thing came from the two of them and we are sure that they will do so. The process is already on in Abuja and we shall inform Nigerians when the time is up.”
A former special adviser to ex-president Goodluck Jonathan, Ahmed Gulak, also expressing optimism on the outcome of the peace effort, said: “Definitely, we are very optimistic. The process of reconciliation is already ongoing and we are about wrapping it up. We shall soon make our position known to the public.
With the new development, Babatope said PDP would mobilize its supporters to win the governorship election coming up in Ondo State on November 26, adding that Sheriff had said that “they are committed only to Jegede.”
To rebuild the public confidence as a credible opposition, PDP stakeholders obviously have a great challenge at hand in this matter. Ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo, deliberately deriding the party at his Abeokuta Hilltop Residence recently, had said that PDP was in the intensive care unit. A lot needs to be done to prove other cynics wrong and show that the party can indeed play its role as an effective opposition. Without a virile opposition, the future of the country’s democracy is imperiled.