• As fresh wind of defection hits party
By Omoniyi Salaudeen
A thick cloud of uncertainty is perilously hanging over the fate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as an opposition to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). With its current dilemma, it would be much easier for the proverbial camel to pass through the eye of the needle than the party surviving its current leadership challenge, which has endured for almost two years since it lost power to the APC. Not only that the crisis is festering, it has, indeed, festered and even metastized to a huge purulent sore.
As if that is not enough, the recent judgment of the Appeal Court in Port Harcourt further dealt a death knell to the so-called biggest party in Africa on Friday, February 17, 2017, declaring its convention illegal and affirmed Senator Ali Modu Sheriff as acting National Chairman. The detail of the judgment is already a familiar story. In a split judgment, the appellate court held that the setting up of the Caretaker Committee headed by Senator Ahmed Makarfi on the May 21, 2016 Port Harcourt convention was illegal, null and void.
Makarfi and Sheriff had been in a fierce legal tango since the intrigues that culminated in the setting up of the caretaker committee. Prior to the latest ruling of the Appeal Court, Justice Mohammed Liman of Port Harcourt Federal High Court had held that the convention which propped up Makarfi as acting national chairman was valid and legal. But Sheriff, unsatisfied with the ruling, filed an appeal seeking for declaration of the caretaker committee as null and void on July 4, 2016.
Consequently, in a judgment that lasted about four hours, two out of the three judges of the appellate court held that the removal of the National Working Committee (NWC) and setting up of a caretaker Committee by the national convention of May 21, 2016, was illegal ab initio. Delivering the lead Judgment, Justice Bitrus Sanga submitted that the PDP did not follow the provisions of Article 47(3) of its Constitution in the removal of the Sherrif-led working committee. According to the judge, no vote of confidence was passed as provided by the said article, and the national working committee was not put on notice before their removal. Supporting the lead judgment, Justice Abubakar Gumel, who is also the presiding Justice, stated that the preliminary objection filed by the PDP was incompetent.
There is now a divergence of opinion among the stakeholders as to the next possible line of action that could get the party out of the present quagmire. On one side, there are those who strongly believe that it is only through political solution that the party could get itself out of the lingering crisis. In their opinion, any attempt to contest the latest judgment at the Supreme Court would deal a final blow to the tiny string that connects the two warring factions together. And that would ultimately means the end of the PDP as an opposition.
The BoT Reconciliation Committee headed by Prof Jerry Gana in its earlier efforts to resolve the crisis through political solution had recommended that all court cases instituted by the members of the party be withdrawn from the court. Gana made this submission while submitting the report of his committee to the Chairman of the BoT, Sen. Walid Jibrin. He said: “We believe that court cases are not good for our democracy. Every little thing is taken to the law courts. We have recommended that we should not run to the law courts at the slightest problem. We have recommended that all cases be withdrawn so that democracy is not truncated. Political issues should have political solutions.” But the plea fell on deaf ears.
Now, the big dilemma is: Who bells the cat? Since Sheriff had turned down several peace overtures in the past, what is the possibility that he will be willing to shift ground this time around? A former deputy national chairman (South) of the PDP, at a press briefing held in his Ikoyi office immediately after the judgment, while reviewing the previous reconciliatory efforts, vowed not to have anything to do with Sheriff regardless of the court’s decision. “Does he (Sheriff) have the personnel and wherewithal to run a political party like the PDP? The answer is No. Count me out of PDP under Sheriff. I will never be part of such. I can never be a flip-flopper. I can’t be A today and B tomorrow,” he declared. Asked if the party was considering reconciliation, he retorted: “What do you want to reconcile again? Sheriff now has the legal strength and that was why he pulled out of the reconciliation process instituted earlier.”
Not unexpectedly, Ahmed Makarfi-led faction of the party has vowed to seek redress at the Supreme Court. The spokesman of the Makarfi group, Prince Dayo Adeyeye, said: “The judgment has finally shown that the APC is out to create a one-party state in the country. Certainly, we are proceeding immediately to the Supreme Court to file an appeal against the ruling”.
Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, also explaining the reason to go to the Supreme Court, hinged the decision on lack of sincerity on the part of some members of the Sheriff faction and therefore ruled out reconciliation as a solution to the crisis rocking the party.
He further alleged that the ruling APC was working behind the scene to keep the PDP in disarray as its survival strategy. According to him, the only way a solution to the crisis rocking the party can be achieved is through a ruling of the Supreme Court. “Nobody can say he does not want reconciliation. How many times has PDP set up committees on reconciliation? When we lost election in Ondo State, there was a statement made by Sheriff and company. If we had lost election in Rivers State, they would have come up with a statement. They would have said: ‘How will we win when people like Wike don’t want people to participate. Is that the one you want to be national chairman of a party? In all honesty, I cannot see myself making commitment to work with that kind of leadership.” He expressed optimism that the party would win at the Supreme Court. “I have hopes that there is no way the Appeal Court judgment that affirmed Ali Modu Sheriff as PDP national chairman can stand. I believe we have a good case against Sheriff,” he insisted.
Ahead of the final ruling of the Supreme Court, however, some groups hitherto sympathetic to the caretaker committee have resolved to abandon the Makarfi camp and join forces with Sheriff. The Cross River State chapter of the party, for instance, didn’t waste much time before it declared its support for the Sheriff faction soon after the judgment of the Appeal Court, citing respect for the rule of law as its main reason.
A recent release signed by the chairman of the party, Ntufam Edim Inok, countered an earlier statement by the state Publicity Secretary of the party which declared support for the Ahmed Markarfi faction. It read: “The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Cross River State chapter, supports Senator Ali Modu Sheriff-led executive. This is in line with the Appeal Court’s judgment delivered in Port Harcourt in favour of Senator Sherriff as national chairman of PDP.
“This statement also refutes the earlier report credited to the state Publicity Secretary of the party. As law abiding citizens, we are committed to the rule of law and also respect court decisions at all stages.”
Harvest of losses
As events continue to cascade at an alarming profusion following the judgment of the appeal court, there has been a heavy flow of human traffic out of the PDP to the ruling APC. This is particularly more pronounced within the party’s caucus in the National Assembly, especially the Senate. The latest in the gale of defection that has hit the upper chamber is the movement of Senator Andy Uba, Chairman, Senate Committee on Public Accounts, from the PDP to APC. He cited the leadership crisis rocking the party at the national level as reason for his defection. Uba is the fourth PDP lawmaker to defect to APC since the 8th Senate was inaugurated in 2015.
In Lagos State, six out of eight PDP lawmakers in the state House of Assembly defected to APC on February 16. The defectors included the Minority Leader, Akeem Bello (Amuwo Odofin II), Minority Whip, Mosunmola Sangodara (Surulere II), and Olusola Sokunle (Oshodi/Isolo I). Others were Jude Idimogu (Oshodi/Isolo II), Dayo Famakinwa (Ajeromi Ifelodun II) and Oluwa Fatai (Ajeromi/Ifelodun I). The two PDP lawmakers left in the opposition are Victor Akande (Ojo I) and Dipo Olorunrinu (Amuwo-Odofin I).
Makarfi-led committee walking a tight rope
As far as Makarfi-led Caretaker Committee is concerned, the last option available to rescue the party is the appeal suit filed at the Supreme Court. As a plan B, speculations are rife that the group may eventually abandon the PDP for Sheriff should the Supreme Court ruling turn in his favour. According to this permutation, the group is hoping to leverage on the continued support it still enjoys from all the major organs of the party to make the exodus that would leave Sheriff with just an empty shell of the party.
As series of reconciliation attempts in the past had failed, it is very unlikely for the two groups to reconsider their hard line positions on the contending issues in the nearest future for genuine reconciliation. Now, with the narrow option available at the Supreme Court to finally lay the prolonged crisis to rest, there is obviously a slim chance of survival for the PDP as an opposition party to the APC.