In the midst of his colleagues and members of the Expanded National Caucus of the Peoples Democratic Party, Mr. Ayodele Fayose, the Governor of Ekiti State, had appeared to be extraordinarily happy and he couldn’t hide it. The venue was at the Ondo State Governor’s Lodge, Abuja. Smartly dressed and beaming with infectious smile, Fayose had stood beside the Governor of Ondo State, who is also the Chairman of the PDP Governors’ Forum, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko. They were surrounded by some other governors and members of the Board of Trustees of the party.
Fayose’s expectant happiness was the success he and others recorded in their ability to convince their fellow party men and women that Senator Ali Modu Sheriff was the best person to lead the main opposition party in its troubled time. They had said he remained the messiah they were looking for. It was a political masterstroke that others including Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State made to douse the tension created by the refusal of the BoT and other elements in the party to accept Sheriff, who they alleged, would lead the party to destruction. Nodding his head to answers provided by Mimiko in response to questions raised by journalists during the short briefing that heralded the introduction of Sheriff as the saviour of the PDP, Fayose had stressed that Sheriff would be an invaluable asset to his party in its quest to wrestle power from the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress, in 2019.
Thus, when Mimiko was asked if Sheriff would be allowed to contest at the May 21 national convention of the party as a substantive chairman, Fayose had interjected.
“No, that question is loaded with meanings. But when we get to the bridge, we will cross it,” he had said.
Turning towards Fayose and looking at him, Mimiko re-echoed what his colleague had said.
“We will handle it when we get to the bridge,” he had reaffirmed.
Unfortunately, by the time the party and the governors got to Port Harcourt, Rivers State, on May 21, the ‘bridge’ that linked the governors with Sheriff had collapsed beyond repairs. This made them, the BoT and other leaders of the party, who had hitherto sung “Hosanna” to Sheriff before then, change their song to “crucify him.”
Sensing danger as his hailers had suddenly become his haters, Sheriff hurriedly called a press conference, where he announced that he had called off the national convention. The governors disagreed, went ahead to hold their convention and appointed a national caretaker committee to steer the ship of the party for three months. That action finally marked the point of total departure amongst the political allies.
Since then, Sheriff and the chieftains of the party have been moving from one court to the order, trying to outsmart each other in support or against the much publicised August 17 national convention date. But despite the conflicting court judgements and orders, the governors and the national caretaker committee of the party gave assurances that the convention would hold and that national officers would emerge at the end of the exercise. But sensing that the enemies were lurking at corners, the party rushed to different courts in Port Harcourt, where it got favourable attention. With this, Wike, who also doubled as the Chairman of the National Convention Committee, assured teeming members of the party and the nation that the Garden City was ready to host the delegates. That assurance seemed certain.
Chairman of the PDP BoT Reconciliation Committee, Prof. Jerry Gana, was among those who shared in Wike’s optimism. Insisting that the convention would hold with or without the support of the Sheriff faction, which had refused to agree with them, Gana said “the national convention of the PDP scheduled for the 17th of August will hold.
“I hereby encourage all our delegates from the Northern part of Nigeria to be in Port Harcourt. We are never intimidated by the kind of things people are talking about. We are going to Port Harcourt. This party needs to be solid so that we have national officers that will direct the affairs of this party.”
A former Deputy President of the Senate, Ibrahim Mantu, agreed with Gana. He assured the people that everything was set for the convention.
He said, “I will say without due apologies that I have been at the forefront of those who are sceptical about the possibility of holding the convention on August 17 in Port Harcourt because of the ongoing reconciliation; because we thought perhaps, the reconciliation will come up with something new. But it is now clear that the convention will, by the grace of God, take place on August 17, and it will be in Port Harcourt.”
The tough-talking members of the PDP however lost their voices when Justice Okon Abang of Federal High Court, Abuja Division, gave his ruling, a night before the expected day, warning the party, the Independent National Electoral Commission and security agencies to stay away from the Sharks Stadium, venue of the expected convention.
Abang’s ruling turned out to be the killing order that nullified all the hurriedly-secured judgements and orders by the party from what may be described as friendly judges.
The ruling, which was effectively implemented by the security agencies, stopped the aspiration of those who were aspiring to lead the party in many capacities. Chief among them were those who wanted to be the national chairman. They are Chief Olabode George, Chief Raymond Dokpesi, Mr. Jimi Agbaje, Prof. Tunde Adeniran and Prof. Tahoeed Adedoja. Dokpesi had however warned that the “party will break and disappear into oblivion (if the convention fails.) I tell you that if the party does not reform now, it won’t survive the crisis.”
The non-election of national officers at the Port Harcourt ‘make shift’ convention might have put a hold on the ambition of many members of the party, but it has also extended the political relevance of many. This is evidenced in the one year extension given to the Makarfi-led caretaker committee. A member of the committee, Prince Dayo Adeyeye, said that the convention also approved the expansion of membership of the Caretaker Committee from seven to 13 members.
Adeyeye added that the convention affirmed that all members of the National Caretaker Committee “shall not contest or aspire for any national office in the next National Convention of the party.”
It was gathered that the governors took the decision to formally ban members of the caretakers from contesting following the furore that followed the decision of two members of the caretaker committee to contest at the botched convention.
The members are Mr. Kabiru Usman and Hajiya Aisha Aliyu. It will be recalled that The PUNCH had exclusively reported that the governors were angry because of the ambition of the two officers of the party. While Usman was planning to contest the position of the national publicity secretary, Aliyu on the other hand, was planning to become the national woman leader.
Will these actions save the party from crisis, or is the party destined to die? Sheriff described the decisions as illegal, null and void. He said that the meeting breached Section 31 (4) of the PDP constitution.
The section provides that “the NEC shall meet at least once in every quarter at the instance of the national party chairman or at the request of two-thirds of its membership, who shall notify the chairman at least seven days prior to the meeting; and an emergency meeting be summoned by the national chairman having regard to all the circumstances of the agenda.”
Sheriff also asked members of the former ruling party to ignore the resolutions.
He said, “Even in an emergency situation, one week notice must be given to the national chairman, who has the sole responsibility to convene the NEC. It is sad that, in the face of obvious disregard to court orders, which halted the convention, some individuals are bent on perpetrating impunity by taking steps to install another contraption on the PDP.”
Sheriff stated that the rule of law and constitutionality must prevail in all circumstances, adding that in the absence of the above, decisions reached at the convention and the NEC meeting were not “binding and cannot stand in law.”
A member of the BoT and former Minister of Transportation, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, described the party as being in deep mess. He said more trouble was ahead and that the party was merely alive on paper.
“In reality, the PDP is dead and we are in a very deep crisis. Some governors were almost imposing a new member as the chairman of the party on us at Port Harcourt. For now, the party is rudderless and we don’t know where we are heading,” he said.
Babatope was making a veil reference to the preference of Agbaje by Wike and Fayose ahead of other experienced party leaders as the national chairman. But the botched convention was said to have saved the party from total disintegration as three chairmanship aspirants were said to have agreed to pull out of the race before the election.
Will the PDP get it right in the next one year, or will it die or remain factionalised? Or will the prophecy of Mimiko come to pass when he cautioned that “a new party would emerge from the ashes of the PDP and the APC if the two parties fail to resolve their internal problems?”
The clock is ticking.