By Iheanacho Nwosu
Former governor of Borno state and National Chairman of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Sen.Ali Modu Sheriff relishes informing anybody that cares to listen that he loves life. But there is doubt if he can say such now. Events of few days have left bitter pills in his mouth .
There are pressures on Sheriff to quit the PDP chairmanship saddle which he mounted a week ago, precisely last Tuesday . He is feeling the heat but has elected not to bow to it. He is fighting back. Surely, Sheriff may not have envisaged that that his emergence as the chairman of the party would elicit strident challenge and opposition from key party chieftains as is currently the case. If he thought that way, he read the handwriting wrongly.
The scowl on the face of the former governor last Monday as he addressed journalists clearly told how the growing opposition to his reign has taken a better part of him. He struggled to put up a counterpoise to the myriads of allegations levied against him by those who do not want him to steer the ship of PDP.
“I won’t resign because the leadership of the party, in their wisdom, chose me to lead the PDP for the purpose of rebuilding and repositioning the party at this critical period,” Sheriff said.
The former governor’s battle started few hours after he emerged at the instance of PDP Governors and National Executive Committee (NEC) . Members of the Board of Trustees (BoT) flatly rejected his choice. Their stand was supported by some stalwarts of the party including erstwhile ministers
Addressing newsmen in Abuja , on behalf of a group christened ‘the PDP Rescue Group’, former Senate President Adolphus Wabara; former Minister of Water Resources and former deputy governor of Sokoto State, Muktar Shagari; and former governor of defunct Gongola State, Ambassador Wilberforce Juta, demanded that Sheriff must quit his new office.
Also at the press conference were former minister of state for power, Mohammed Wakil; PDP deputy national legal adviser, Barrister Bashir Maidugu; former Minister of Environment, John Ode; Ambassador Esther Audu; Dr. Akilu Indabawa; foundation member of the PDP Dr. Bitrus Pogu; former chairman of Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC), Alhaji Kabiru Shitu among others.
According to Juta, who is the chairman of the group, the call for Sheriff’s resignation was hinged on the fact that he was not one of the nominees sent by the North-East caucus to the national leadership of the party for assessment and confirmation.
He said the group was ‘upset’ by the decision of the party in appointing Senator Sheriff as chairman, contending that the NEC’s decision was against the will and wishes of the generality of PDP faithful.
His argument “The North-East zonal wing, having been directed by the National Caucus of the party to forward nominees from the zone, did not nominate Senator Sheriff for the position of national chairman. In the interest of the PDP and the country, Senator Sheriff should do the needful by stepping down honorably as it is evident that party members nationwide overwhelmingly reject his imposition.
“We call for early Congresses and National Convention to elect party leaders as the term of the current leadership is due to end in March 2016. Under no guise should the tenure of the current leadership of the party be extended, if we must make the needed fresh beginning. We make this statement in the best interest of the party and the country”.
By the party’s arrangement the tenure of Sheriff’s led executive ought to elapse in March when the party is expected to hold a national convention to elect new National Working Committee (NWC).
But Juta does not want the new chairman to be in the saddle till next month. His reason is that the party would be laying bad precedence because of the manner he came into office.
Juta does overrate himself in the campaign to shove Sheriff aside. He is aware that the battle against the chairman can only succeed if some critical bodies and elements in the party joined forces with him. Such bodies include state and zonal chapters, Board of Trustees (BoT), National Caucus, NWC, NEC and pressure groups such as the National Assembly Caucus, PDP Ministers’ Forum, PDP Governors’ Forum, the G-84 as well as past and present leaders of the party.
Juta said , “The current leadership crisis is a challenge to every Nigerian in the sense that having the PDP destroyed by acts of error of judgment, as being witnessed now, is denying Nigeria of a strong opposition party that is badly needed if Nigeria’s democracy is to be strengthened and all tendencies towards civilian dictatorship checked.
“The crisis must challenge all party members to action to halt the party from further drift.
“The plan of the PDP Rescue Group is to mobilise party members and leaders to help attain this noble goal.”
He described the way Sheriff was appointed as a crude imposition, calling on the party stakeholders to search for a credible person to replace the former Borno State governor immediately.
Juta added, “Given that PDP is now a major opposition party, it is the duty of every PDP member to ensure that party leaders possess high integrity and leadership skills.
“To raise a leader, who is lacking in integrity and skills, is to throw the party and the nation into inefficiency, indiscipline, disorderliness and even chaos.
“Sadly, the overwhelming reaction of Nigerians to Sheriff’s emergence, especially PDP members and leaders, is that of disappointment.
“It is therefore critical, if the PDP must come back to national reckoning, that we remodel its leadership on the platform of honesty as required by the party’s manifesto.
“To this end, we call on all the party organs to rise to the challenge by insisting on the reversal of what is clearly a crude imposition of Sheriff on the party.
“The party organs – the State and Zonal Chapters, Board of Trustees, National Caucus, the National Working Committee and the National Executive Committee; and pressure groups, such as the National Assembly Caucus, PDP Ministers Forum, PDP Governors Forum, the G-84 as well as PDP leaders past and present – should commence the search for persons with high integrity, strategic insight and fear of God Almighty to lead the party.
“It is our considered view that we should endeavour to elect only those with such discernible traits.”
Lending weight to the claims of Juta, Senator Wabara, the group’s vice chairman said: “it is very clear he was imposed on the party but we are here to rescue the party from acts of imposition and impunity.”
The ante was upped by former minister of aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode who insisted that Sheriff lacked the desired character and integrity to lead PDP. He particularly argued that Sheriff’s rumored connection with the dreaded Boko Haram sect makes him the wrong choice for the PDP top job.
Fani-Kayode is a member of the PDP ministers forum , an association of former ministers. It is composed of PDP ministers, who served from 1999 till 2015. They met in Abuja shortly after Sheriff was announced as the new helmsman of the party
A former Minister of Aviation, who is also the Chairman Committee on Strategy, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode who is the association’s chairman committee on strategy told newsmen that group is wholly against the choice of Sheriff.
His words “The PDP Ministers Forum, under the able leadership of Alhaji Tanimu Turaki (SAN), the former Minister of Special Duties, will meet to deliberate on how to move our party forward in view of recent developments”.
“The meeting is for all PDP ministers who are still in the party and who served between 1999 to 2015”.
Sheriff has not allowed tackles against him to go unchallenged. He has not only upbraided Juta, Wabara and Fani-Kayode, he has threatened to take legal action against the former aviation minister.
He believes that he can still reconcile with his army of opponents. How he intends to achieve that when more and more PDP faithful are joining forces with those who want him to resign is to be seen.
“I will leave no stone unturned. I will go to everybody for support. I will bring everybody on board. Let those who were not consulted before I was appointed forgive all of us for whatever wrongs that have been made”, he pleaded.
Taking the war on the doorstep of Fani-Kayode, he exonerated himself of the Boko Haram allegation . According to him no court has ever linked him to Boko Haram and reports linking him to the group emanated from the imagination of the writers.
He said “Boko Haram killed my own brother. They killed members of my family. So, why should I sponsor people to kill my own brother, my own family? I am not a fanatic. I love to enjoy my life.
“Boko Haram are criminals who live in the bush and eat once a day. I believe their sponsors will be caught at the end of the day. I have nothing to do with Boko Haram”.
He added “this time around, people like Fani-Kayode will not go scot-free”. On Juta he said “Juta has no moral ground to ask me to resign because he was among the people that contested the position with me. He scored only one vote and now he has turned around to ask me to resign.
“How can a person that got only one vote ask me to resign. Where is credibility; where is justice? If he did not contest the position with me, maybe I would have listened to him”.
Sheriff may be talking tough , what is clear to many is that he is feeling the heat that is coming from the tribe of PDP members who want him to give way. Whether he would be able to weather the storm will be seen in weeks to come.