ALI-MODU SHERIFF: What happened? – By Ikedi Ohakim

ikedi blk Expectedly, Nigerians have been reacting differently to the recent developments in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In all that, however, there is a common denominator; which is that Nigerians are desirous of a stronger and more formidable PDP more so at a time like this. Nigerians, generally, believe that a protracted crisis in the PDP will inevitably have a destabilizing effect on the entire polity. The PDP might not be in power at the centre but there can be no doubt that the imprints it made on the sands of Nigeria will remain indelible, regardless of any flawed tendencies that might have been part of its sixteen-year reign. Differently put, if PDP were “dead” as is being mouthed in some quarters, the attention its current travail is attracting would not have been so.

This write-up is at once a preview of this resurgent optimism and an interrogation of what led to the current setbacks. Beginning with the latter, I think it is only proper to remind ourselves that, while there is no intention to apportion blames, the current state of affairs appeared quite predictable. To begin with, the unavoidable electoral misfortune our great party suffered was starring all of us at the face; and looking back, just a little introspection would have changed a whole lot.

To be sure, several stakeholders, within and outside the party, made attempts to ask questions. I personally joined other well-meaning stakeholders in posing questions in expectation of answers that would have averted the electoral setbacks and by extension the events of today.

I had, for example, in a write-up entitled, PDP: WHAT HAPPENED?, which was published shortly after the March 2013 convention, pointed out the danger in allowing top stakeholders walk away from the party just like that. The article came following the breaking away of the New-PDP, led by former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. Unfortunately, grandstanding and the “good-riddance” mentality prevailed over reason. Not a single attempt was made to persuade the people who left, including five serving governors, to have a rethink. And we saw the result.

Not too long after, we witnessed another tragic repudiation of the party by a fellow who was, for all intent and purposes, its very back bone. I am referring to the dramatized exit of President Olusegun Obasanjo a few months to the 2015 general election.

In an article entitled, OBASANJO:  WHAT HAPPENED?, I similarly suggested that efforts should be made to make the grand old political oracle have a rethink and return to the party. Among other things, I had argued that Obasanjo might not have been present the day the PDP was formed but he was the very fellow on whose shoulders the responsibility of nurturing the party fell, following his election as the first Nigerian president on the platform of the party. My argument was, and still is, that PDP was able to remain in power for sixteen years only courtesy of Obasanjo, whatever were the flaws in the style and content of his administration.

Unfortunately, that episode came against the backdrop of a personal strained relationship between Chief Obasanjo and the sitting president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. Inevitably, the anger that trailed OBJ’s conduct, especially in publicly tearing his membership card, was allowed to becloud the gravity of his exit. Indeed, Obasanjo to some had become an irritant and again the good riddance theory was applied.

Then came the general election and we saw what we happened. Again, I did an article in which I suggested that members of the party’s National Working Committee (NWC) should be politically persuaded to voluntarily resign, following the outcome of the general election and the footsteps of the erstwhile national chairman Alhaji Ahmed Mu’azu. Of course, I was not the only person that held that view but it turned out to be a mere wishful thinking.

It was while we were waiting for what to do with that NWC, whose head, Mu’azu, had quit ‘honourably’, that trouble began. The party’s deputy national vice chairman, Uche Secondus, moved into Mua’zus position as acting chairman. Not long after, a chieftain of the party, Ahmed Gulak, from the Northeast geo-political zone, went to the court, claiming chairmanship of the party on the basis that his zone should be allowed to take over to complete the tenure of Mu’azu who also hails from the Northeast.

It is needless to chronicle what happened after that. It is sufficient to state, at least in my own thinking, that the claims and counter claims, within and outside the court, was what laid the foundation for the current discomfiture within. There were several arguments but none was held sacrosanct until the final emergence of His Excellency, Senator Amodu Sherriff, also from the Northeast, as acting chairman. Again, the controversy over Sheriff’s emergence is too well known and too fresh to be recounted here. It is sufficient to state that amidst the controversy, a decision was taken to hold party congresses at the ward, local government area and state levels, to culminate in a national convention to elect a new NWC including, most importantly, a national chairman.

To cut a long story short, where we are today is that on the appointed day, three tendencies emerged: One, led by highly respected party elders like Jerry Gana, Ibrahim Mantu, Achike Udenwa, Ojo Maduekwe etc, headed for Abuja where it held what it described as a “non-election convention”; which, however, threw up a steering committee of fifty seven (57) members (perhaps unwieldy if you ask me) to preside over its affairs for ninety (90) days. Another group, led by Senator Sherriff, himself a candidate for the scheduled convention, and supported by ebullient and party leaders including all the PDP state governors, all members of the National Assembly and, of course, not excluding party stalwarts like my humble self, headed to Port Harcourt, the officially chosen venue of the convention. But all that, whether in the Port Harcourt or Abuja axis, was amid uncertainties that arose from a court injunction, and a judgement barring the party from holding a convention to elect new officers.

It was under these circumstances that opinions got split in Port Harcourt just a few hours to the beginning of the convention: One, led by Sherriff, chose to obey the court order. The other, galvanized mostly by the governors, insisted on going ahead and indeed held a ‘convention’ at the Sharks stadium in Port Harcourt. There, another working committee was elected with the highly respected former governor of Kaduna state, Senator Ahmed Markarfi, as Chairman and Senator Ben Obi (Ojeligbo) as Secretary. But let me pose a question: what are the consequences of the emergence of care taker committees at both the Abuja and Port Harcourt venues if not the effective disobedience of the court orders , even if unintended?

Expectedly, the question since Saturday has been: who is wrong, who is right? My answer? All is right, all is wrong! We are all right, we are all wrong. We are all wrong because we have failed to heed the wise saying in my native parlance which goes thus: “Onye ndi iro gbara gburu gburu n’eche ndu ya nche mgbe nile” (he who is surrounded by enemies must be vigilant at all times). But we are all right because behind all the posturing and vociferous arguments is one basic desire: to re-invent the PDP and make it stronger than ever before.

I want to draw particular attention to the statement credited to Professor Jerry Gana, erudite scholar and political tactician, in his initial reaction to what happened at the Port Harcourt ‘convention’. Gana was quoted as saying that the emergence of the Markarfi-led committee will make room for reconciliation. That is quite heartwarming. I am also deeply encouraged by the statement credited to the deputy senate president, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, to the effect that there are no factions in the party but different contending interests. I commend both leaders for sounding so positive and I recommend that type of posturing for all leaders of our great party. There is an immediate responsibility for the party’s Board of Trustees (BOT) to bring the different stakeholders together. In the time being, party chieftains should restrain from making statements that underline a rift or malign others. We should be able to shame our detractors who, as noted earlier in this article, might have popped champagne in the belief that the PDP was imploding into pieces.

But there is yet another sense in which the party can, even in the midst of this storm, hold its head high. Even without realizing it, the party in a sense has also shown that it is peopled by leaders who are desirous of ridding the country of impunity in national politics. I am referring to that interest, to still borrow Ekweremadu’s illustration, led by Senator Sherriff himself; and which, as is well known, includes this writer, which went for obeying the court order stopping the convention. We may not claim superiority over the line towed by the other two contending interests but it is a stance based on scientific reasoning and the need to meet the expectations and desire of Nigerians to end impunity and embrace, instead, the rule of law.

Whether it was by design or default, I consider the decision by Senator Sherriff to put off the convention until the court matters are resolved as a sound one. The court injunction might have sounded politically incorrect but in my view, it offered us an opportunity to show that we can do something different, even if we were not doing it before. Sherriff might have attracted criticism or even resentment to himself for various reasons but the truth is that he was able to fill a void that existed before his emergence as acting chairman. His emergence brought back life to a national secretariat that had almost become a ghost place.

As I noted earlier, it is heartwarming that no group or interest is singing a victory song. Not even the governors can sing a victory song because the big question will be: victory over whom? Apart from that they (the governors) are the biggest custodians of the mandate of the party faithful, a stronger PDP is definitely what they need, Sherriff or no Sherriff. Each of the contending interests has its own strength and weaknesses and given the nature of politics in Nigeria generally and PDP in particular, no group can go it alone. It is a win-win situation for each of the interests and once they come together, the winning becomes even tripled. Isn’t that fantastic? But let me pose another question: how do we handle the forth coming governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states without a substantive chairman? If we go by care taker committees, who will sign the papers for the party’s nominees, since the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) does not allow care taker committees to authorize nominees?

The feelers I get are that out there, the people of Nigeria have been withdrawn and dejected since last Saturday. Reasons: their only hope and next line of defense is troubled. In spite of the recent setbacks, the myth and ability of holding the country together for sixteen years remains. For Nigerians, it is just yesterday, a mere yesterday. The nostalgia is still there and so, it behooves on all of us, the party stakeholders, to close ranks and put the events of Saturday behind. After the storm comes sunshine.

Ohakim is the immediate past governor of Imo State.



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