Backed by the key organs of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the Ahmed Makarfi-led Caretaker Committee will be holding the party’s national convention in Port Harcourt today.
Through a separate court ruling, Makarfi has bypassed a legal ambush laid by the party’s disputed National Chairman Alhaji Ali Modu Sheriff. Assistant Editor GBADE OGUNWALE reports that the convention may not end to the lingering crisis in the party.
THESE are not the best of times for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Since the party lost the presidential election on March 28, last year, to the All Progressives Congress (APC), the party which once prided itself as the largest in Africa, has not regained its rhythm. The more the party tried to wriggle out of one crisis, the deeper it sank into more crises.
Leaders of the party have looked up to today’s convention in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, to close the cracks on its walls but the conflicting Federal High Court rulings from the Abuja and Port Harcourt divisions yesterday put a question mark on the outcome of the exercise – the second in less than three months.
The path to today’s national convention got tortuous, courtesy of the party’s disputed National Chairman Ali Modu Sheriff. There were dark clouds over the convention last night, but the stage appeared set for the ‘controversial’ convention as some 90 aspirants vying for the party’s 22 national executive positions were in Port Harcourt for the event. Organisers of the convention were put final touches to preparations as aspirants embarked on last minute’s strategies to market themselves to delegates.
The Port Harcourt court, presided over by Justice Ibrahim Watila, yesterday gave the party the go ahead to hold the convention but Justice Okon Abang of the Abuja court ruled urged the organisers against going ahead with the convention as scheduled.
Latching on to the Port Harcourt court ruling, the Ahmed Makarfi-led caretaker committee resolved to proceed with the convention even as Sheriff held on to the ruling from the Abuja court.
In all, there are no fewer than 15 different court cases filed by litigants on both sides and which are still pending before the various courts across the land. Wading into the crisis, the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the party had called on the litigants to withdraw all the court cases to pave the way for the various reconciliation efforts to work.
One of such reconciliation committees, headed by Bayelsa State Governor Seriake Dickson tried in vain to resolve the differences between the Sheriff and Makarfi camps. After weeks of shuttling to meet parties to the crisis without achieving the desired results, the Dickson committee gradually withdrew to the background. Another reconciliatory committee raised by the BoT and chaired by a former Information Minister Prof Jerry Gana also met with the Sheriff and Makarfi camps. The 18-member committee, which submitted its report to the BoT chair last Saturday, also failed to resolve the crisis. Similar reconciliatory moves initiated by PDP governors to bring the Makarfi and Sheriff factions together in the past few weeks were all fruitless.
The various reconciliation teams have described the conditions given by Sheriff as “difficult to implement”. At every point, Sheriff had sounded denunciatory of the initiatives, insisting that he should be the one to organise the convention. Among others, he demanded the reinstatement of the state congresses conducted under his watch but cancelled by the Makarfi committee. He also demanded that the caretaker committee be disbanded for him to assume control of the running of the party.
Insisting on being recognised as chairman, Sheriff instituted a series of court cases seeking to invalidate the caretaker committee. One of such cases culminated in Monday’s interim order by Justice Abang, stopping today’s convention. The judge yesterday re-affirmed the interim order.
Though the pro Makarfi leadership resolved to go ahead with the convention, Sheriff has vowed to fight on, saying he would not recognise the outcome of the convention and whatever decisions taken therefrom would not be binding on him.
He told reporters in Abuja yesterday that Justice Watila was bias and vowed to report him to the National Judicial Council (NJC) for appropriate action.
According to him, the Watila’s ruling was a hoax, because he erred by sitting over the case at a time the courts are on vacation. Expressing shock at the ruling of the court, Sheriff argued that Justice Watila converted an ex parte motion to an interlocutory order in the case filed against him by the Makarfi-led caretaker committee.
The former Borno State governor also accused the Port Harcourt judge of asking workers at the court registry to abandon their duty posts, so as to frustrate his legal representatives at the trial.
Sheriff said: “Some judges in the Federal High Court are destroying Nigeria and they should be removed. In a situation where judges are compromised, whatever they do is illegal.
“I call on the Chief Justice of Nigeria, the President of the Federal Hight Court and the NJC to probe the judge in Port Harcourt because he is available to be used.”
The Makarfi committee has decried the trend where disputes arising from leadership tussles end up in the courtrooms. It lamented a situation where party members no longer respect the internal dispute resolution mechanism provided for by the party’s constitution.
Spokesman of the committee Prince Dayo Adeyeye said the trend, if not checked, could destroy the nation’s democracy. Adeyeye cautioned that no court can impose a chairman on any political party and called on Sheriff and his group to embrace reconciliation.
Adeyeye recalled that seven past national chairmen of the PDP were removed from office before the expiration of their tenure at different points in time. He reminded Sheriff that none of them went to court to challenge their removal.
He listed the affected chairmen to include: the late Chief Solomon Lar, Senator Barnabas Gemade, Chief Audu Ogbeh, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur and Alhaji Adamu Mu’azu. “All these past chairmen were duly elected with constitutional mandate but the party removed them for reasons bordering on the overall interest of the PDP. None of them went to court to challenge their removal because the sacrificed their personal interests for the higher interest of the party”, Adeyeye said.
The party leaders and the caretaker committee must have pulled the rug off Sheriff’s feet by zoning the chairmanship position to the Southwest zone. The position was initially zoned to Sheriff’s Northeast region, a development that informed his resolve to fight on.
As part of strategies to technically edge out Sheriff and other northerners from the chairmanship race, the party zoned its presidential ticket for 2019 to the North.
After today’s convention, Sheriff’s claim to the party’s chairmanship would become with the emergence of a new set of executives.
Sheriff has accused Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike, who is the host and chair of today’s convention of attempting to hijack the party. But his request that the convention be moved from Port Harcourt to Abuja and Wike be dropped as the convention planning committee chairman was rebuffed.
His earlier insistence that he and his group be given a definite role in the planning of the convention was also ignored.
No doubt, holding a successful convention will ultimately put Sheriff and members of his group at a disadvantage. With a new chairman emerging from the Southwest, there will be no basis for him to continue to fight on for the position.
Besides, the emergence of the officers will pave the way for the party to take disciplinary actions against the embattled Sheriff.
A party source confided in The Nation last night that Sheriff might be suspended or expelled from the party should he pushed ahead with his cases in court.
However, political analysts are of the view that it would take more than a successful convention to resolve the lingering crisis in the party.
To them, the outcome of the convention may trigger a chain of litigation form the two camps.
One of the analysts said: “Going by his utterances and body language, Sheriff is not likely to withdraw from the fray after the convention. That means the party will continue to fight to validate the outcome of the convention through the courts.
“It is likely to be a long drawn legal battle that may be fought to the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court. So whichever way it goes, the convention will certainly not cure all the ills afflicting the PDP.”
The Makarfi group enjoys the backing of all the key organs in the party, including the governors, the Board of Trustees (BoT) and the National Assembly caucus.
On the other hand, Sheriff has been fighting his battle alongside a handful of party chieftains, who considered themselves alienated by some decisions taken by the leadership.
Those in Sheriff’s camp are: former National Secretary, Prof. Adewale Oladipo; a former National Auditor, Adewole Adeyanju; a former National Vice Chairman (Southsouth), Dr. Cairo Ojougboh; a former presidential aide, Ahmed Gulak; Senator Hope Uzodinma and Chris Uba among others.
One of his strongest backers, Senator Buruji Kashamu backed out two weeks ago and urged Sheriff to embrace reconciliation in the interest of the party.