The tenure of Senator Ahmed Makarfi, who was appointed last May as caretaker chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) for three months, was on Wednesday extended by a year. In this interview, he says contrary to reports, the party held a convention in Port Harcourt. He also dismisses allegations that he’s strategising to grab the party’s presidential ticket ahead of 2019.
Sen. Ahmed Makarfi
Daily Trust: it is alleged that because the Abuja Federal Court barred you from holding your convention Sharks Stadium in Port Harcourt, you moved to Government House and held it?
Ahmed Makarfi: We didn’t do convention in Government House. The requirement of the law is that we should inform INEC 21 days before the date, and in which town we’re holding the convention, not specific venue – say Abuja, Kaduna, Port Harcourt or Kano. If I may take you a little bit back, the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt did not only uphold our convention, but upheld that the national officers as at that time (Ali Modu Sheriff and co) stand removed based on the resolution carried at the convention.
The court further said that by that action, the National Executive Committee (NEC) stands dissolved. Of course, it stands dissolved because the chairman had been removed by the convention, along with all national officers. Now, look at the full composition of the NEC – state party chairmen elected, national vice chairmen- six of them elected; principal officers of the National Assembly elected; some representatives of the National Assembly elected; governors who are elected and Board of Trustees (BoT) members who are appointed. Then, the national officers elected at the national convention. You have the five already in place, but because the national officers were removed, basically the NEC, as pronounced by the court, stands dissolved. But, the court went further to say that in place of NEC, the only organ known in law was and still is the caretaker committee. So, what remained was for the caretaker committee to re -inaugurate a new NEC because all the others are already there. That’s what we did in Port Harcourt; then we went to the convention.
Makarfi: At the state party secretariat which has capacity to accommodate thousands of delegates. We didn’t hold the convention at Government House. I’m therefore putting the record straight. I inaugurated the NEC and then we had our first formal meeting to decide whether election under that circumstance was possible or not, and the consensus by the NEC was election could not be guaranteed to hold peacefully because of the unprovoked onslaught the party was facing.
DT: Onslaught from where?
Makarfi: There were even military men, I don’t know, if you want to go back to the order which Justice (Okon) Abang gave, it was not served on the military. So, what do you think would bring the military into the venue of a party convention? What would bring Navy officers or Air Force officers to the venue of a party convention?
DT: Are you suspecting external agents?
Makarfi: I would come to that. You see, the NEC that I inaugurated and then sat, exercised its powers and decided that elections that would guarantee safety of lives and property could not hold; and that a vacuum could not be created. It therefore exercised its powers that the caretaker established by the previous convention should be given sufficient time to run and establish some stability before going into election. Ask yourself, does it (NEC) have powers to do so? Ahmed Mu’azu was appointed by NEC and ratified by convention almost a year later. Modu Sheriff himself was never elected at a convention; it was the NEC that appointed him. He was to be elected afresh or ratified at a convention (in May in Port Harcourt) but he did not attend that convention, he left as the convention was about to start. So, you can’t question the powers of NEC. You know that there was no convention that elected Modu Sheriff; it was the NEC of the party. So, having established that fact, we went to the convention ground, where motions were moved to stand down all issues to do with the election of national officers because of the potential threat to the lives of the delegates and ordinary citizens in Port Harcourt. We also ratified the decision of NEC which gave the caretaker committee 12 more months. It also mandated that NEC should expand the committee to give more representation, so that the caretaker committee can have enough men and women that can manage the party within the next 12 months.
DT: Don’t you think what you did is contempt?
Makarfi: Which of the courts?
DT: The Abuja Federal High Court.
Makarfi: What order did the court in Port Harcourt give?
DT: That you should go ahead with it.
Makarfi: Your Excellency, I want to know exactly which of the orders you respected.
Makarfi: Where did we hold the convention?
DT: In Port Harcourt.
Makarfi: Which court gave us order to go ahead with the convention?
DT: Port Harcourt.
DT: But the judge in Abuja said the headquarters of your party and that of INEC are all in Abuja and therefore the judge in Port Harcourt does not have the mandate to give you clearance.
Makarfi: Nothing says that your convention should be in Abuja; you can hold convention, you can hold NEC meeting anywhere. There’s nothing in the party’s constitution or any law that says you must hold convention in specific place. Was it not Sheriff who called the earlier Port Harcourt convention?
DT: Sources said Sheriff backed out and called off the Port Harcourt convention in May because you and the PDP governors were planning to manipulate the process.
Makarfi: If you call a convention and then you think the decision of the convention will not favour you. Is the convention about you or about the party? Is it not democracy? Should an individual be allowed to hold a political party to ransom? Is that democracy? What’s the difference between that and dictatorship or autocracy? You’re in a position by the will and wishes of the people and if they say you should not be there, why must you insist you must be?
DT: But sir, are you comfortable with the bundles of court orders and judgments trailing your party?
Makarfi: I’m not comfortable, it’s dangerous for democracy and I believe even senior members of the bench, serving and retired have voiced their concerns. But, that’s a matter that I’ve confidence the judiciary is capable of sorting out. Look, all these issues are within the Federal High Courts, I did not see it from other courts. And all these orders against the party are coming from one judge … people should ask themselves – ‘Is there a mind-set that anything PDP before such person is wrong?’
DT: What do you intend to do about the court orders?
Makarfi: First of all, those against us, we have appealed; those against Sheriff, he has appealed. And I’ve confidence that the appellate court will sit down and do justice to both the appeal we’ve fielded and the appeals he fielded. That’s the procedure. We, the politicians should stop confusing situation by going to different courts, seeking different orders, different judgments, circulating different issues to the same judge; confusing the entire issue. If we’re not satisfied with certain issue, we should proceed to the appellate court; that is how we, the politicians can help the system.
DT: We gathered that you comfortably agreed to continue as caretaker chairman so that you will grab the presidential ticket of the party when the time come s… (Cuts in)
Makarfi: It took a lot of pressure from party men and women, pleading on the caretaker committee to continue, we declined continuing.
DT: Does that mean you are not keen about taking the party’s presidential ticket?
Makarfi: Look, ab initio, I was not even aware that I was going to be appointed as the caretaker committee chairman in the first instance.
DT: Sheriff is also saying the same thing.
Makarfi: But I’ve said that anytime they don’t want me, I would go. What about him?
DT: It seems there’s politics in all the zones of the country about 2019.
DT: The argument is that both you and Sheriff are striving to get the party’s flag ahead of 2019 while those in the South West are struggling for the vice presidential slot.
Makarfi: Look, I’ve said it, these people that put me in this position, let them today come and tell me to go and I will go. How does that translate to somebody who wants to hang onto a position because of something? And who said he heard me talking about anything presidency? There’re those who, evidence shows they’ve been talking about something like that.
DT: I’m still insisting that the general aura out there is that the horse trading in the PDP is about 2019.
Makarfi: Who knows who will live up to 2019 for God sake?
DT: But assuming we all live to see 2019, are you going to contest for the presidency?
Makarfi: That’s an assumption and you should not base things on pure assumptions. In any case, one year means 2017, not even 2018 or 2019 and primaries would not have started by then. Look, the first motion of extension that was moved was six months, it was people that said ‘look, we don’t want another problem,’ that we should take time to go through all the legal issues and then stabilise. They didn’t say we must reach 12 months, they said maximum of 12 months, so that at any time we achieve some stability, we can go for convention and conduct elections.