The crisis in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) assumed a new dimension yesterday as governors under the platform of the party, dumped Sen. Ali Modu Sheriff as the national chairman of the party.
This happened as elders of the party under the aegis of Concerned PDP Stakeholders Forum, led by Prof Jerry Gana, held a parallel national convention in Abuja.
According to an inside source, the governors’ decision to dump the embattled national chairman, who they had earlier rallied support for, was the aftermath of a discovery that Sheriff, who is nursing a presidential ambition in 2019, had promised four governors the vice president position.
LEADERSHIP Sunday gathered that Sheriff’s game caught up with him when the 12 governors elected on the platform of the party upon arrival in Port Harcourt, Rivers State on Friday, realised that he (Sheriff) had been talking to four of them, namely; Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, Enugu State governor; Dave Umahi, Ebonyi State governor, Ayo Fayose, Ekiti State governor and Nyesom Wike, Rivers State governor, and had promised each of them that they would be his running mate in 2019 when he gets the party’s ticket to run the presidential election. The party had earlier zoned the 2019 presidential candidate to the north.
The governors were said to have at this point, asked Sheriff to excuse them, while they went into a meeting with former governors who were also in Port Harcourt for the convention. At the end of the meeting which lasted till 5am on Saturday, Sheriff was nowhere to be found but the meeting had resolved that he be removed as party chairman and a caretaker committee to be composed of representatives of the six geopolitical zones be formed, to oversee the affairs of the party for 90 days.
The governors yesterday inaugurated a committee headed by Senator Ahmed Makarfi, a former governor of Kaduna State to organise another national convention within 90 days.
The court order restraining the party from going ahead with the election of a new national executive, which the governors had earlier resolved to ignore, became useful at this point, as it was agreed that it would give them a leeway to reconcile factions of the party before a new convention.
The choice of Makarfi, LEADERSHIP Sunday gathered, was because of his neutrality of the factions in the party and the respect he commands among stakeholders in the party, in the belief that his emergence would bring healing and unite the factions ahead of the convention.
It was further gathered that the resistance put up by Concerned PDP Stakeholders Forum was also a factor in the governors’ decision to beat a retreat on their support for Sheriff.
Recall that the governors and members of the NWC had in February this year, backed Sheriff, in spite of resistance from several quarters in the party, to emerge national chairman.
At the height of the resistance to Sheriff’s chairmanship, they had also told aggrieved party members, majorly members of the Board Of Trustees (BoT), that Sheriff would hold a national convention in May and vacate office.
The governors as well as members of the National Assembly however overruled Sheriff’s suspension of the convention.
LEADERSHIP Sunday gathered that the governors and members of the National Assembly drove straight to the venue of the convention shortly after a close-door meeting, which ended in a deadlock at Government House, Port Harcourt.
The convention had yesterday, through voice vote, set up a national caretaker committee following a motion by Senate Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio, which was seconded by Gombe State Governor, Dr. Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo.
The caretaker committee, which will be in office for not more than 90 days and will conduct a proper convention for the party, has Senator Ahmad Makarfi and Senator Ben Obi as chairman and secretary, while Senator Odion Ogbesia, Senator Abdul Ningi, Barrister Kabiru Usman, Prince Dayo Adeyeye and Alhaja Aisha Aliyu are members.
Also, the motion for the removal of members of the NWC was moved by former deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, Chief Austin Opara and was seconded by the immediate past deputy speaker of the House, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha.
Another motion for the zoning of the party’s presidential candidate to the North come 2019, was moved by former Niger State governor, Dr. Babangida Aliyu and seconded by Delta State governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa.
In his acceptance speech, Makarfi, called on all aggrieved members of the party to give peace a chance in the interest of the party’s growth.
“I humbly accept the challenge and I do so on behalf of other members of the committee. I assure you that you have no cause to worry. None of us is contesting for any office. Please give peace a chance so that we can rebuild our party for the benefit of not only Nigerians and Africans, but the entire black race,” he said.
Sheriff’s sack yesterday, alongside members of the NWC came less than one hour after he addressed journalists at Le Meridian Hotel, Portharcourt, where he announced the suspension of the national convention, citing orders of two Federal High Courts.
The embattled national chairman also declared that he remains national chairman of the party.
He also directed all the party’s delegates and supporters who had earlier converged on the Sharks Football Club Stadium, venue of the convention, to return to their respective states.
Sheriff, declared that he and other members of the NWC of the party would remain in office until all court cases that led to the suspension of the convention are resolved.
“Members of my working committee and I have been meeting since morning and we are confronted with a lot of challenges. The challenges are, we have many court cases that stopped our convention from taking place.
“After a careful consideration of the issues confronting our dear party, taking into account the decision of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which said it will not supervise the election into the offices of chairman, secretary and auditor, based on the order of court, on the account that our party is responsible, law abiding and with high respect for the judiciary and court, we hereby state that the national convention will no longer take place.
“We have suspended it until when the High Court cases have been resolved. The issues are so many; from Abuja, we have a case where 17 members of the working committee’s tenures have not expired. It will expire in 2017. Another one in Lagos, which said the tenure of chairman, secretary and auditor will expire in 2018. INEC also warned that they will not supervise the convention in Port Harcourt.
“Taking into consideration of all these, if we go out and conduct the election in Port Harcourt, the national working committee of the party will be charged for contempt of court. We asked for a stay of proceeding in Lagos yesterday, but the court denied that also. Therefore, the best and simplest way is to put the convention off.
“Therefore, we are putting off the convention until all the court cases are resolved. Then, we will announce another date for the convention. There is no convention taking place; we don’t want to disobey the law, we are law abiding and that is the decision of the day.
“Second matter of contention is that the court says there is no space for election. Therefore, we will sit in office as chairman of the party until the court cases are resolved, just like all the other members of the working committee. Whatever the decision of the court is, we will abide by that,” he said.
Several journalists who were at the venue of the convention for coverage were manhandled and beaten up by both security operatives and thugs, leading to the hospitalisation of two of them.
Despite holding a separate national convention in Abuja, elders of the PDP under the aegis of the Concerned PDP Stakeholders’ Forum yesterday declared that the party remains united.
The Gana-led forum which held a parallel convention in Abuja, said it was discussing with the other PDP leaders who were in Port Harcourt, for another convention with a view to resolving the differences between them.
“For you to have gathered here in large numbers, short time and mobilisation is a great sign for democracy in Nigeria. We want to assure you that by the grace of God, PDP will be united, alive and move forward. We are promoters of democracy. It is about deliberations and debate. We promote free society where power belongs to the people,” Gana said.
He said elected leaders respect the will of the people and not impunity, adding that, “PDP will ensure a society that is equitable, not a society for a rich powerful few. We want a society that will build wealth and reduce poverty.
“The founding fathers didn’t build PDP for acquiring sheer power. But to elect good leaders, which will bring about governance and development and everything that is good for Nigeria.”
The former minister said the interest of his forum was to have an inclusive party.
“We want all to be cared for. Our founding fathers wanted to build a party were values of honesty. We will not tolerate anything that will dehumanise the people. PDP will take over Nigeria again and govern,” he added.
The Concerned PDP Stakeholders said they decided to hold a non-elective convention in deference to a court order stopping the party from electing new NWC members.
However, a 57-member steering committee co-chaired by former deputy president of the Senate, Senator Ibrahim Mantu and former minister of education, Prof Tunde Adeniran, was set up to oversee the affairs of the forum until the court order is set aside and a proper convention held.
Mantu in a speech said the stakeholders “resolved to rebuild, renew and rebrand” the party to anchor the dreams of the founding fathers.
“This becomes a non-elective convention in respect of court order, and also to enable us have a tete-a-tete with our brothers in Port Harcourt,” Mantu added.
On his part, chairman of convention, Mantu, said “our brothers in Port Harcourt are members of PDP and we only disagree on principles. We hope they will see what we see and we will see what they see and we will unite. We are one.”
He added that, “16 years of PDP led to mistakes. We the elders have come to a painful conclusion that impunity which led to the loss of party has reared its ugly heads. We must say no to anything that goes contrary to the constitution.”
Mantu reiterated that the decision to choose Sheriff as chairman of the party was in gross violation of the established procedure for the selection.
A member of the steering committee, Hajiya Inna Ciroma, noted that the PDP in Borno State suffered for 16 years under Sheriff.
“We won election and he scuttled it. Is it a way to pay us back by imposing him on us?” she queried.
Former special adviser to former President Goodluck Jonathan on public communications, Dr. Doyin Okupe, in an interview said the group had not ruled out reconciliation, and was open to setting up a caretaker committee.
Speakers from the six geopolitical zones who addressed the convention called for justice and level playing ground, and also kicked against imposition of candidates.
Among party leaders at the Abuja convention were Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo; former Minister of Federal Capital Territory, Senator Bala Mohammed; outgoing PDP National vice chairman (South-South), Dr. Cairo Ojougboh; former chairman of Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC), Mrs. Esther Audu; and former governors of Imo, Adamawa and Taraba states, Achike Udenwa; Ahmadu Finitiri and Garba Umar, among others.
BoT Should Take Over, Not Makarfi
Addressing a press conference in Abuja at the end of the Port Harcourt convention, Mantu, who is co-chairman of the PDP Stakeholders Forum, opposed the appointment of the Makarfi as caretaker committee chairman and decried the further split within the party, while calling on the party’s Board of Trustees (BoT) to take over the affairs of the party.
“There is a body that is constitutionally mandated to take over the affairs of the party. And that body is the conscience of the party called BoT.
“At this point in time, the only legal organ constitutionally empowered to actually takeover the affairs of the party is the BOT,” he said.
On the legal implications of what transpired in Port Harcourt, former minister of special duties, Tanimu Turaki, also said the way out now was for the BoT to step in and take charge.
“It is there in our constitution that in a situation like this, that is unprecedented, the BoT, the conscience of the party as the fathers of the party, should step in immediately. There shouldn’t be any vacuum,” he said and expressed fears that the development in Port Harcourt may deepen cracks in the party.
“It is really unfortunate that instead of working as one group towards strengthening and bringing all members together, our friends in Port Harcourt have ended up further factionalising the party. There is a group now behind Sheriff saying that everything that has been done is illegitimate and wrong. And then the other group are saying that Sheriff has been dissolved.
“This is what we want to look at and take a position on them as very response leaders of this party so that we will be able to make our positions known to the public particularly the teeming members of our party,” Turaki stated.
On whether they were in support of any of the two groups, he said, “our position is not to factionalise the party. We don’t want to destroy this party. We want to strengthen the party and bring all members as it were as one family back home together.
“That is why we are worried, that instead of them having agreed with our positions, instead of them coming to say okay you are right, we have agreed with all you arguments, your submissions were based on principles and due process, they ended up factionalising their own group.
“And we are saying this is a very serious situation we need to dispassionately appraise before taking a decision.”
INEC To Deliberate Over Convention
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) yesterday said it would deliberate on the outcome of the PDP national convention.
Director, voter education and publicity, Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi, told LEADERSHIP Sunday that, “the commission will meet to consider the report of the monitoring team that was there.”
He however didn’t state when they would meet.
Osaze-Uzzi had earlier told LEADERSHIP that INEC would only monitor the Port Harcourt convention, technically not recognising the parallel convention which held in Abuja.
The commission also clarified that in keeping with a court order, it would not monitor election into the positions of national chairman, national secretary and national auditor.