…As Sheriff, Makarfi continue war of attrition
By Willy Eya, Taiwo Amodu and Chinelo Obogo
When will the internal crisis rocking the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) end? Many would agree that even soothsayers would find it difficult to answer the above question. As it appears, there does not seem to be an end in sight to the festering crisis in the opposition party, as different interests and power blocs are tugging viciously at the fragile strings holding the party together.
The PDP’s loss of power at the Federal level and in several states which it controlled before the 2015 general elections came with a myriad of problems. Despite efforts to recover from its defeat, the crisis in the party has refused to go away.
For a party that has ruled for over 16 years, PDP has had its fair share of prolonged internal crisis, but the ongoing leadership tussle between the Ahmed Makarfi-led national caretaker committee and the Ali Modu Sheriff’s faction of the party is one, skeptics say may be the final nail on the coffin.
Since the last May 21 convention in Port Harcourt, the main opposition party has been polarised into two camps, with each faction proclaiming itself as the authentic national leadership. The factions are the Ahmed Makarfi caretaker committee, a creation of the national convention, the highest organ of the party, and the other led by the erstwhile national chairman, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff whose national working committee was dissolved in Port Harcourt.
Currently, the factionalisation is having a toll on the fortunes of the party from one state to the other.
In Edo and Ondo states, where governorship elections would soon hold, the factions of the party are fielding two candidates each in the states.
In Edo State, the Makarfi-led national caretaker committee produced former Secretary to the State Government, Osagie Ize-Iyamu, while the Sheriff faction is presenting former Majority Leader in the House of Assembly, Matthew Iduoriyekemwen as its choice.
The same scenario played out in Ondo where the Makarfi-led faction produced the immediate past Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Eyitayo Jegede (SAN) as the party’s governorship candidate at a primary election observed by officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The pro-Sheriff faction on the other hand elected business mogul, Mr. Jimoh Ibrahim as its standard bearer. The implication of all of this is that the PDP has failed to reach a consensus on the party’s authentic leadership.
But in the crisis bedevilling the party, so many issues come into perspective.
PDP’s legal dilemma
Critical observers argue that even though majority of the stakeholders in the embattled party including members of the Board of Trustees(BOT), all current governors and virtually all members of the National Assembly members are with the Markafi faction, Sheriff is confident that legally, there is still a window for him to determine how and when the crisis will end.
The party’s legal quagmire began at the Federal High Court in Lagos where Sheriff, Alhaji Fatai Adeyanju and Prof. Wale Oladipo, as plaintiffs prayed the court for an interlocutory injunction restraining the PDP from conducting any election to the offices of the national chairman, national secretary and national auditor, which they occupied, pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit. This was before the national convention which was slated to hold on May 21, 2015.
The trial judge, Ibrahim Buba, granted their prayers, but the planned convention went ahead with Sheriff in attendance.
Notwithstanding protests from other prominent party members against his emergence as acting chairman, Sheriff, who was initially backed by the PDP Governors’ Forum, a powerful bloc within the party, ironically, sanctioned the May 21 convention with optimism about his possible confirmation for another two years.
What had become a protracted cold war among power brokers in the party boiled over when the party held its National Convention simultaneously in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital on May 21. It was literally the climax of the intrigues and power tussle that have characterized affairs of the party in recent time.
While one faction led by former Minister of Information, Jerry Gana, held its convention in Abuja, the other headed by Sheriff, organized its own at the Sharks stadium, Port Harcourt. The calculation was that the real power base of the party would be in Port Harcourt as all the party’s 12 elected governors, National Assembly members, State Assembly members and key leaders supported the Port Harcourt convention, where it was planned that the embattled National chairman was going to be anointed by the power brokers to continue in office.
But the tide turned against Sheriff in Port Harcourt, when party stalwarts asked him to step down as acting national chairman of the party. They said his emergence had polarized the party, and wanted to make room for someone who would be a unifying factor. He refused, and quickly arranged a press conference to postpone the convention.
So, after Sheriff had proclaimed postponement of the convention, governors, party leaders and delegates assembled at the Sharks Stadium where they dissolved the National Working Committee (NWC) headed by Sheriff and announced the composition of a National Caretaker Committee (NCC) headed by former Kaduna State governor, Senator Ahmed Markafi and Senator Ben Obi who would serve as the Secretary.
The motion to sack the national officers of the party was moved by the former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Austin Opara and was seconded by the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Emeka Ihedioha, and the motion to set up the Committee was moved by the former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Godswill Akpabio and seconded by the governor of Gombe State, Alhaji Ibrahim Dankwambo.
The seven member Caretaker Committee was tasked to organise a convention within 90 days, and work toward reconciling all the feuding members of the party. The committee was immediately sworn in to commence work.
With the tide turned against him, Sheriff, through his spokesman, Inuwa Bwala, said: “Immediately the chairman (Sheriff) received another court injunction, he called a meeting of the NWC and told them that it wasn’t safe to continue with the convention of the party, especially since the court had forbidden elections virtually into all the offices. He announced the suspension of the convention at a press briefing, only for some people to go behind and claim that there was convention.“There was no organ of the party that was represented at the convention. The convention was cancelled, and it remains cancelled until such a time the matters in court are resolved, for us to convene another national convention.”
But according to the PDP leadership, the decision to inaugurate a caretaker committee at the convention was in accordance with Section 33(2) of the party’s constitution which states that: “The National convention shall be the supreme and controlling authority of the party within the limits prescribed in this constitution and it shall be the principal representative, policy making and administering body of the party”.
Section 33(3) further states that: “the national convention shall have supremacy in all matters pertaining to the party and all officers and organs of the party shall be bound in the exercise of their functions by the decisions of the national convention”.
Continuing, section 33 (5) states that the national convention shall have and exercise authority to (b) elect or remove the National Officers of the party (e) appoint such committees, as it may deem necessary, desirable or expedient and assign to them such powers and functions as it may deem fit; the quorum of the national convention shall be two third of its membership and a simple majority shall pass any motion.
But the argument by the Sheriff’s faction is that even though the above sections of the constitution gives the national convention powers to remove and appoint officers of the party, there is no explicit provision for the constitution of a Caretaker committee as is presently the case in the PDP.
Battle for Wadata plaza
Twenty Four hours after the controversial national convention, precisely on Sunday, May 22, heavily armed policemen took over the national headquarters of the PDP when news filtered in that Sheriff and his supporters would storm the place to continue to lay claim to the office. Five police vehicles, comprising two trucks and two pick up vans blocked access on both ends of the street directly in front of the secretariat. The Makarfi faction did not occupy the PDP facility for long as Sheriff and his supporters later forced themselves into the national secretariat, making the Caretaker committee and his group to move temporarily to a hotel. So, one of the major outcomes of the national convention was the emergence of two different national secretariats for the party. The former Borno governor has turned his private residence in Maitama, Abuja to a makeshift secretariat while the Ahmed Makarfi team also got another private residence within the Abuja city centre to conduct its official functions.
Sheriff courts the court
On May 23, Sheriff filed a motion on notice in the Federal High Court, Lagos, for the purpose of setting aside the national convention of the party held on May 21 where he hoped to emerge as chairman. On May 24, counsel to Sherriff and other plaintiffs, Mr. R. A. Oluyede, told the court the PDP had flouted the order dated May 12, 2016, as it had gone ahead to conduct elections into the offices of: national chairman, national secretary and national auditor.” Justice Buba then declared the caretaker committee illegal.
The caretaker committee insisted that elections were not conducted during the convention and that it did not fill the three posts in line with the court orders, as there was no order against setting up a caretaker committee. While Buba in Lagos affirmed the interim chairmanship of Sheriff, another Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt ordered him and the NWC to stop parading themselves as leaders of the party.
On June 29, Justice Valentiine Ashi of Court 29 Abuja, nullified the 2014 amendment of the PDP constitution on the grounds that it did not comply with Section 66(2)(3) of its constitution by not serving the National Secretary with a written copy of the proposed amendment two months before the convention, which the secretary was also required to circulate among secretaries of the party a month before the convention.
Article 47, paragraph 6 of the amended constitution states: “In case of any vacancy, the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) can appoint an Acting Chairman from the area or zone where the last occupant of the office comes from, pending when election is conducted, to reflect that where there is vacancy, the acting chairman shall serve the tenure of the officer who left before the expiration of the tenure.”
This ruling was a major blow to Sheriff whose emergence in the first place was predicated on the 2014 amended constitution of the party. But Sheriff rejected the ruling of the party, stating that he had not yet joined the party when the amendment was made, and as such does not affect his position as chairman.
The legal conundrum continued when on July 28, a Federal High Court, sitting in Abuja nullified the Markafi-led caretaker committee. Justice Okon Abang, who ruled in Sheriff’s favour, held that the convention held on May 21. Delivering his ruling, he said: “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. The convention was unlawfully held and the Caretaker Committee was unlawfully and illegally appointed and could not take any legal decision for the PDP in view of the subsisting order of the Lagos Division of this court. If the Markafi-led Caretaker Committee, as apostles of impunity, missed their way to the Port Harcourt division of this court, that court could not have conveniently assumed jurisdiction to set aside the earlier decision of the Lagos Division. I hold that the Port Harcourt division of this court cannot make an order to neutralise the potency of the Lagos Division of this court dated 12 and 20 May”.
On August 17, a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja reaffirmed Sheriff’s removal. The court, which was presided over by Justice Nwamaka Ogbonnaya, reaffirmed the sack on the ground that the judgment of Justice Ashi, which nullified his appointment on June 29 has not been set aside or vacated and is therefore subsisting.
With the unfolding drama in the PDP, all manner of permutations are currently in the public domain with many questions as to what the true intentions of the feuding parties are. Many believe that at the periphery, it is a battle among the power brokers in the party to take over the structure but there are those who insist that the entire drama is geared toward 2019.
On one hand is Markarfi, who has the support of majority of the PDP power brokers and leaders in the party; those who want to maintain control of the party structure, and on the other hand is Sheriff, whose actions have thrown up some conspiracy theories. One conspiracy theory is that Sheriff, who was one of the founders of the All Progressives Congress (APC) is an in-law to President Muhammadu Buhari, and is working in tandem with the ruling party to destroy the PDP. This theory emanated from the role Sheriff played in 2012 where he stood in as the family representative during the wedding of a Borno businessman, Babagana Sheriff to Buhari’s daughter. This theory even gained more ground when after his nomination as acting PDP acting chairman, Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State, responded to those who accused Sheriff of being a Boko Haram sponsor, insisting that he(Sheriff), was Buhari’s in-law and as such could not be a sponsor of terrorism. He said: “Ali Modu Sheriff and their ‘Saint Buhari’ are in-laws courtesy of his (Sheriff) son’s marriage to Buhari’s daughter and no one has called the President a Boko Haram sponsor by association. Or are they also saying President Buhari could have allowed his own daughter to marry the son of Ali Modu Sheriff if he was indeed a Boko Haram sponsor?” Curiously, neither Sheriff nor Buhari has refuted the speculations.
Another incident which Sheriff’s critics say lends credence to the theory that he had the backing of the APC-led Federal Government is the barricade of roads leading to the venue of the national convention of August 17 which was scheduled to hold in Port Harcourt by officers from the Nigerian Police.
The second conspiracy theory is that Sheriff wants to remain the national chairman for a longer period in order to position himself for the next presidential election in 2019.
Sheriff was a two-time governor of Borno State on the platform of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), of which President Buhari was also a two-time presidential candidate.
He was later to become one of the arrowheads that led the ANPP to form the APC prior to the 2015 elections. After the first national convention of the APC held in 2014, Sheriff lost out when John Odigie-Oyegun, a former governor of Edo State, emerged national chairman of the APC while Mai Mala Buni of Yobe State emerged national secretary. Sheriff had supported former foreign affairs minister, Tom Ikimi and Kashim Ibrahim Imam for the two positions, but when his candidates lost out, he immediately left the APC to join the PDP.
Before the national convention which held on May 21, where Makarfi was appointed, Sheriff had planned to exert more influence over the BoT, many of whose members were opposed to his emergence. In order to overcome the opposition, many believe that Sheriff began moves to checkmate that organ of the party, by proposing an amendment to the party’s constitution, where he added a clause that the body would need to consult him before it could call for any meeting.
According to the party’s constitution, the BoT, of which the national chairman is a member, does not need only the chairman’s permission to hold its meeting. It is a statutory organ of the party with powers to act as its conscience, and it needed two-third of its members to agree for a meeting to be called. But in the proposed amendment, which was meant to be discussed at the meeting of the party’s NEC which took place before May 21, Sheriff wanted a clause to be added to the constitution, so that he would have to be the only one who would be consulted before the BoT of the party could meet.
Sheriff was forced to withdraw the proposed amendment when it was met with stiff opposition by members of the BoT. They accused him of wanting to decimate its powers by asking to be consulted before the body could hold meetings.
Can the PDP reinvent itself?
Before handing over in 2015, former president Goodluck Jonathan said that if the members of the party remain committed to the vision of its founding fathers, and work very hard, the party would return in 2019. He said the party had all that it would require to win the 2019 elections, but needed to return to the drawing board to re-strategise for the future.
“You can go to Ghana that is very close to us. The present administration lost some years back and of course, they came back. The problem is not whether we lost or won, but how we can reconsolidate our party,” he said.
For the governor of Ondo State and chairman of PDP governor’s forum, Olusegun Mimiko, one of the major problems of the party is indiscipline. Speaking at the inaugural meeting of the party’s executive council in the South West, he said that any organisation whose members are not disciplined cannot make progress. He pointed out the leadership crisis at the national level, saying it has its root in indiscipline.
“The level of discipline that we have is the reason why people would rush to the court for issues that could be settled within them. If I had the opportunity to re-write the constitution of the party, I will write in capital letters that anybody that rushes to the court should be expelled, ” he said.
However, many insist that the crisis in the PDP is not as easy as it seems. There is a side of the argument that only a political solution can end the impasse. Those who share this view believe that reaching a consensus with Sheriff is the only solution to the crisis. But for others, toeing that line will not solve the problem considering the stubborn position of Sheriff in the crisis.
BoT fruitless peace moves
With each faction justifying its legitimacy based on different court pronouncements, a statutory organ of the party, the Board of Trustees, (BoT) was left with no option than to seek a political solution to the leadership tussle.
However, feelers from the PDP have shown that its trouble shooting efforts so far met a brick wall, as the terms set for peace deal by Sheriff were rebuffed by the Makarfi committee and the governors .
Part of the condition which the former Borno governor gave include the resignation of the Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike as the National Convention committee chairman, relocation of the venue of the convention to Abuja, resignation of the chairman of the BOT, Senator Jibrin Walid, dissolution of the Makarfi-led Caretaker committee. The party hierarchy has already agreed in the relocation of the convention to Abuja and removal of Governor Wike as the chairman of the committee but that is yet to pacify Sheriff.
While dismissing the former Kaduna state governor as a usurper, Sheriff has vowed that no convention of the party would be conducted until 2018.
“I remain the authentic national chairman of PDP until 2018 unless the court of our land said I should cease to be, which I will obey. But, as of today till 2018, I, Ali Modu Sheriff, is the National Chairman of PDP,” he said.
So with the stance of Sheriff, many are waiting to see how what looks like a political logjam in the PDP would end.