After the shameful reluctance to reconcile, the basket-case that is the Ali Modu-Sheriff faction of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, was, last week, humiliated by the Supreme Court with a verdict that the Ahmed Makarfi Caretaker Committee of the party is vested with the legal headship of the embattled opposition entity. This brings an air of finality to the over 12-month leadership crisis that has rocked the party. However, the maddening incongruity, which led to the initial acceptance of Sheriff as national chairman of the PDP, is symptomatic of the imposition malaise that runs deep in the culture of leaders of the party, and which caused it to lose, woefully, power at the polls in 2015. Now that it has been offered another chance at sobriety, it has become the lot of leaders and members to avail Nigerians the needed opportunity of a virile opposition, just so democracy, and not cabalistic manipulation, can thrive.
By Jide Ajani
Shambolic! That best explains how it was going to tumbledown. At least, before and even after the Supreme Court gave its judgment last Wednesday.
It was not the first time some leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, would opt to misbehave in public. But it was the first time its misbehaviour would not needlessly overheat the polity because, unlike in the past when it constituted the federal government – it ceased to enjoy that luxury since Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress, APC, became President and Commander-in-Chief – its crisis since over a year ago was in its unfamiliar toga of an opposition party.
After the political sorcery that unexpectedly produced Ali Modu-Sheriff as its national chairman, with the gadfly of a politician attempting to dominate his environment, it took a few surreptitious moves to expose his real intentions. And that was when trouble started.
Therefore, a national convention of the party slated for Port Harcourt, Rivers State, in June last year, turned into a fiasco.
Firstly, it was suspected that Sheriff would hijack the convention.
Those suspecting Sheriff were the selfsame people who introduced him to and imposed him on the party.
With conflicting court orders flying around, Sheriff chose a convenient order to obey and, therefore, canceled the convention.
But those opposed to Sheriff went ahead with the convention any way and instituted a caretaker committee to take over the affairs of the party. Some governors, led by Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State and Nysome Wike of Rivers State, as well as legislators and Board of Trustee members, did not want Sheriff.
Ahmed Gulak, speaking in defence of the position of the Sheriff faction, insisted, at that time, that “there is no provision for caretaker committee in our party constitution. You don’t run the constitution by your desires or wishes; you run the party by the constitution. In the first place, when we were in Port Harcourt, the party was restrained from conducting election into three offices – the national chairman, national secretary and national auditor. The Order was given by a Federal High Court in Lagos on May 12, 2016. Another Federal High Court, Lagos, issued an Interim Order on May 24, specifically directed the Inspector General of Police to provide security for Sheriff to carry out his duties as the national chairman. On May 16, 2016, an Abuja High Court gave what the Sheriff faction described as a final judgment in a case filed by Etiaba, against the PDP. The judgment was clear that the offices of 17 officers of the party was not vacant until 2017.”
Because the Orders could not be vacated by the end of the week preceding the Port Harcourt convention of the party, Sheriff, in his wisdom, claiming to obey what was termed a “lawful court order”, and in his assumed capacity as the only person who could chair the national convention of the party, suspended the convention, pending when the issues in court would be sorted out. He reportedly met with some members of the NWC whereupon the suspension of the convention was decided.
That seems very reasonable and plausible.
Sheriff (and his co-travellers) continued to insist that the establishment of a caretaker committee for the PDP at the Port Harcourt convention of the party was a fool’s errand which had no justification in the face of the party’s constitution.
In fact, Gulak explained that “ n Order Exparte was obtained from a Port Harcourt High Court by the sponsors of the caretaker committee – the latter being a creation of the national convention that still went ahead. The Exparte Order sought to restrain Sheriff from parading himself as national chairman of the party. An Exprrte Order, lapses after 14days – Order 26, Rules 12(1)(2), Federal High Court Rules, 2009.”
On June 9, 2016, the Order was deemed to have died. That was what Sheriff relied on – since the Exparte Order was not extended or renewed.
To be fair, it was at a meeting of the NEC of the PDP that Sheriff was made national chairman – not that he stole the mandate ab initio.
Three people stood for that election: Sheriff got 68votes, the first runner up got eight votes while the second runner up got just one vote.
Ibrahim Mu’azu had resigned on May 28, 2017, as national chairman of the party. Sheriff’s emergence was with a view to fulfilling part of the party’s constitution that another person from the zone where the unfinished tenure had been placed would serve out the tenure.
On December 10, 2013, Mu’Azu was elected to serve a tenure of four years.
Caretaker committee’s stance
Bode George, speaking at that time described Sheriff’s action as a charade, a shocking move and that he had never, having joined the PDP since 1998, seen anything like that before. His reaction was to the takeover of the PDP national headquarters, Wadata Plaza, in June, 2016.
Guided by the constitution the party, George explained that the law is very clear.
According to the party’s constitution, the functions of the national convention include that “it shall be the supreme and controlling authority of the party, within the limits prescribed in this constitution, and shall be the principal representative, policy-making and administration body of the party.”
This gives the party’s convention some powers in absolute terms to either recommend, appoint, dissolve, expel or terminate any organs or individuals at the national level of the party.
Was Sheriff appointed at the national convention of the party? The answer is no.
The NEC of the party recommended that there should be a convention. Yes.
Preparations were on for the convention, with Sheriff playing the role of a midwife. Sheriff’s grouse (as well as those of his supporters) is that the institution of a caretaker committee by the purported national convention was a nullity as such powers were not available to be usurped, nor is the term caretaker committee known to the PDP constitution.
But on page 67 of the same constitution of PDP, it is stated clearly that “the national convention shall have and exercise authority to appoint committees as it may deem fit, desirable and expedient, and assign to them such functions as it may deem fit”.
The court order which the Sheriff group relied on all along, did not stall or stop the convocation of a national convention.
It merely stated that no elections should be held.
Indeed, no elections were held.
But a caretaker committee was empanelled. It was given a 90-day lifeline.
Meanwhile, that same PDP constitution forbids members from going to court without first exploring all dispute resolution mechanisms within the party as stipulated by the constitution. None was explored.
In fact, attempts to ensure a resolution of the crisis always hit brick walls.
A meeting between the BoT members, PDP governors’ forum, and national assembly caucus members, which was called, suffered the absence of the Sheriff group after a promise to attend had been extracted earlier from the the latter group.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan’s attempt to reconcile was scuttled by the Sheriff faction. This time, Sheriff graciously attended the meeting; but opted not to be gracious by just stooping to conquer, because he insisted on presiding over the meeting called by the former President.An appeal placed before the Court of Appeal saw the Makarfi group kissing the dust of defeat. Some observers described the judgment as curious, hence, the move by the Makarfi group to head straight to the Supreme Court; where it won.
The attempt to oppugn the credibility of the caretaker committee set up by the national convention led to the legal rigmarole.
No matter. The very corrosive influence of Sheriff’s emergence, in the first instance, on the stability of a disturbed party still grappling with the loss of political power, shamefully engendered movement from some itinerant politicians. A gale of decampment happened on the PDP.
Makarfi is already making some useful noises.
He has decided to grant amnesty to the floaters in the Sheriff camp.
Leo Ogor, House deputy leader, has said the PDP doors have been flung open, adding that the time for a virile opposition is now.
From tomorrow, Makarfi is expected to preside over a series of meetings as he reclaims Wadata Plaza.