THE series of crises that characterized the activities of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in 2016 made the outgoing year the most agonizing in the party’s 18-year history.
By Charles Kumolu
Not even the impact of its defeat in the 2015 presidential election after a 16-year grip on power, could rival the enormity of the stress that the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP was put to in the outgoing year.
The situation has been so damaging to the extent of demystifying its historical knack for rebounding stronger from self-inflicted crises.
Having started the year with its National Working Committee, NWC, bogged down by internal crises, virtually every step the party took in the year, begot controversies that threatened its soul. From the arrest of its former spokesperson, Chief Olisa Metuh in January, to the shocking emergence of Alhaji Modu Sheriff as National Chairman in February, the year 2016 had been tortuous for the PDP.
With hindsight, the following issues rendered the party comatose in the year under review: Imprisonment of Metuh and Femi Fani-Kayode among others, emergence of Sheriff, Board of Trustees, BoT, split over Sheriff, failed Port Harcourt Convention, conflicting court judgments over national chairmanship, defeats in Edo and Ondo governorship polls, defections, and the plans for a mega party.
Arrest of Metuh, Fani-Kayode others
Metuh was arrested by the Economic Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC at a time he was like the lone voice of the opposition. The impact was devastating to the fold.
More to it was the fact that it was a period when the NWC of the party was enmeshed in controversy. Thus, the development in no small ways silenced the party’s voice in the polity. Another lethal blow was the arrest of Fani-Kayode, who had been the most vocal party faithful. These and the subsequent detention of other chieftains of the party on alleged corruption charges further demoralized the ranks of the party.
Emergence of Sheriff
The surprising emergence of Sherif as the party’s National Chairman allegedly at the instance of Governors Ayo Fayose and Nyesom Wike could be likened to the last straw that broke the camel’s back.
In fact, without that scenario, perhaps, the PDP may have minimally reinvented itself. Rather, the controversies now appear as the historical Frankenstein monster which hunted its creator to death.
Sheriff’s emergence ensured that the crises in the party took a new twist as there was a sharp division among the organs of the PDP over the choice of the former governor of Borno State as the new national chairman.
Sheriff, who was the Chairman, Board of Trustees, BoT of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, was headhunted by the governors who alleged that he was the man with the fortune and carriage to save the party from financial stress it had entered.
What followed the development, were series of rejections of his chairmanship by leading party chieftains.
The BoT also joined the group of those, who rejected the appointment of Sheriff.
The appointment which was expected to expire at the party’s National Convention was said to have taken place in line with section 47 (6) of the PDP Constitution, which empowers the NEC to fill a vacant position with a person from the zone where the officer originated from.
Failed Port Harcourt convention
Indications that Sheriff planned to extend his tenure beyond its three-month mandate resulted in a series of legal fireworks ahead of the convention which was slated to hold or held on May 21, 2016, in Port Harcourt.
Two Federal High Courts – one in Abuja and the other in Port Harcourt gave conflicting rulings on the convention.
While Justice Ibrahim Watila of the Port Harcourt court okayed the convention, his Abuja counterpart, Justice Okon Abang stopped the exercise.
Despite the Port Harcourt ruling, the Police stopped the exercise from taking place at the stadium, leading to the convergence of most PDP leaders at the Rivers State Government House where a former governor of Kaduna State, Senator Ahmed Makarfi was chosen as acting National Chairman.
While party members had thought that Makarfi’s appointment would end the troubles, the matter became worse with the hijack of the National Secretariat of the party by Sheriff, who was removed as chairman at the Port Harcourt event.
The takeover was a well-scripted plot by Sheriff who stormed the Wuse, Abuja Zone 5 secretariat in the morning with his loyalists demanding entrance into the nearly deserted sprawling edifice.
He was armed with a copy of a ruling by a Federal High Court, Lagos which affirmed the legality of his position as chairman of PDP despite his removal at the Port Harcourt convention. Suffice to say that the police moved in sealed up the party secretariat. The secretariat as at date has remained sealed. Even the Legacy House normally used as an outpost of the national headquarters has also been sealed.
Election defeats in Edo
The governorship election in Edo State which was a platform for the party to test its popularity was only a forum where the intra-party crisis became hydra-headed.
The Sheriff faction had its primaries after the emergence of Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu as the mainstream PDP candidate.
Two aspirants, Johnson Agbonayima and Matthew Iduoriyekemwen, were cleared by the faction to contest the election. Agbonayima, who represents Egor and Ikpoba-Okha constituency in the House of Representatives, stepped down for Iduoriyekemwen.
With 677 accredited delegates, voting commenced after which Iduoriyekemwen emerged as a candidate.
The police had earlier cordoned off the entrance to the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, scheduled for the primaries; the exercise was held at the Tennis Court.
Though the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, defied a court order to the effect that Iduoriyekemwen be recognized as the candidate, the existence of two factional candidates for the polls was burdensome to the party’s chances at the poll.
In Ondo State, the Sheriff faction bared its fangs as it fielded a factional candidate, Chief Jimoh Ibrahim, whose short-lived candidacy was at some point legalized by a court verdict.
The Abuja Division of the Federal High Court had ordered INEC to recognise Mr. Jimoh Ibrahim, as the candidate. The court, in a ruling delivered by Justice Okon Abang, made the order to reinforce a verdict it earlier gave on June 29, which recognised the Ali Modu Sheriff-led faction of the PDP.
The development led to the removal of Mr. Eyitayo Jegede, SAN, as the PDP candidate.
Though Jegede was later reinstated as the party’s standard-bearer through an Appeal Court verdict a few days to the election, the factionalization of the party did much harm to the party’s chances of winning the election.
In fact, analysts still argue that the defeat of the PDP in Ondo, would not have been possible if the party had been in harmony.
Failed peace moves
The intractable nature of the crises with its attending devastating impacts informed the initiation of reconciliation efforts by party elders.
At some point, both factions met in Abuja in October where they agreed to put their differences behind them.
The caretaker committee was led to the meeting by its National Secretary, Sen Ben Obi, while Dr. Cairo Ojougbo, the Deputy National Chairman of the Sheriff faction, led its members. At a joint press conference, the groups said they had resolved to bring about a united, focused and constructive opposition party to achieve sanity.
However, the peace did not last as hostilities resumed. Sheriff was accused of not being serious about the peace deal, as shown by his activities in Delta and Ondo states.
Consequently, Sheriff warned Makarfi to desist from speaking for the party on national issues.
Sheriff, who declared that the peace process in the party had lapsed, added that it would amount to contempt of court for any member of the Makarfi-led caretaker committee to speak for the PDP after a Federal High Court in Abuja had declared the committee illegal.
As the year ended memories of a declaration by a former national chairman that the PDP would rule Nigeria for 60 years were turning into faded tunes. The question of the PDP surviving another year has become a major issue.