The new national chairman of the PDP has run an eventful political course that his supporters claim puts him in good stead to frontally confront the APC.
By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
Is it a script gone awry? The emergence of Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, SAS, as the national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, was envisaged by associates of former President Goodluck Jonathan and his allies among PDP governors to be the energiser to force the party back to reckoning.
The inner camp of the former president working along with some governors believed that the party needed somebody with grit and gutter instincts to lead it at this time against the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC.
Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State, who had showed such streak in his recent assertions against the Muhammadu Buhari administration and appeared to some as the better for it, reportedly was at the head of the initiative that forced Sheriff as the new national chairman.
SAS, as he is popularly known among the political class, had won a reputation as a political bulldozer stretching back to his first political outing in the Third Republic.
As a young politician, he won national acclaim in 1991 when in the contest for the Borno Central Senatorial district, he defeated Kolo Kingibe, wife of Amb. Babagana Kingibe, the popular national chairman of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, for the Senate seat. He was to win the same seat on the platform of the United Nigeria Congress Party, UNCP, in 1998 during the ill-fated democracy transition of late Gen. Sani Abacha and again in 1999 at the advent of the Fourth Republic on the platform of the All Peoples Party, APP.
In the Senate between 1999 and 2003, SAS’s deft politicking and capacity for conspiracy came to national renown when he clubbed around with other minority senators, notably, the late Senator Mamman Ali to depose the famed Senator Usman Al-bashir as Senate Minority Leader.
Whether he really projected the interests of the minority parties was an issue for stakeholders especially given his chummy relationships with vested interests in the majority PDP. Willy-nilly, the office of minority leader was helpful to him in preparing his plans for the 2003 governorship contest of Borno State. He successfully took the ticket of the APP from the incumbent governor, Mala Kachalla and also defeated him in the main election when the governor defected to the Alliance for Democracy, AD.
Sheriff’s role in the decimation of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, remains largely unknown but what is known is that between 2003 and 2007 his party largely fell into lethargy and factions at the national level even while he and a few selected governors consolidated politically in their states.
It thus became an issue in 2007 as he sought re-election that the famed political godson of President Olusegun Obasanjo, Alhaji Kasshim Imam emerged as the governorship candidate of the PDP to confront SAS.
By most accounts, the 2007 elections were the most rigged in the Fourth Republic and the PDP it seemed had pencilled down some states for takeover by hook or crook. The overbearing influence of the PDP was manifested in states like Imo and Rivers. In Imo State, the party disowned its candidate, Ifeanyi Ararume and allowed in the more biddable candidate of the Peoples Progressive Alliance, PPA, Ikedi Ohakim. In Rivers the party dismissed the outcome of the primaries won by Rotimi Amaechi supposedly because of a K-leg and allowed Celestine Omehia.
Associates of Alhaji Imam, the PDP candidate had also hoped for the help of state apparatus in seeing off SAS in the 2007 election. Imam had well proved himself as a political errand boy for Obasanjo especially in the National Assembly.
However, they did not reckon with the extensive tentacles of SAS within the inner caucus of the Obasanjo political family. That was demonstrated by his known support for the third term.
Relationship with Obasanjo
Whereas Imam drew his relationship with Obasanjo from the Fourth Republic, SAS drew his relationship with Obasanjo from childhood given his father’s business dealings with the Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo military administration. “SAS was like a part of the Obasanjo household and had grown up seeing Obasanjo as a godfather who was his father’s benefactor given the extensive contracts the senior Sheriff did for the Obasanjo military government,” a source disclosed.
“So while Kashim did his plots ahead of 2007 to put SAS in trouble, SAS easily got wind of such plans through his family relationship with Obasanjo and it was not difficult that plans to use the security agencies easily scattered,” the source further articulated. SAS’s easy road to re-election inevitably caused a breach in the relationship between Kashim and Obasanjo and it was not too long that Kashim was forced to seek political accommodation with SAS.
However, as his second term wore on, the charming political story of SAS began to fade away. Was it the absence of Obasanjo from power? No one can really say. But as the 2011 election approached, SAS either overplaying himself or for whatever factors began to lose political bearing.
In the March 2011 election SAS had taken the Borno Central Senatorial ticket of the ANPP for himself given his ineligibility for a third term as governor. For the first time since 1991, the seat which SAS had either won for himself or placed a lackey was taken from him as he was soundly defeated in the election even as an incumbent governor.
He, however, recovered himself to push through an anointed successor in the person of Kashim Shettima.
Following that, he emerged as the Board of Trustees, BoT of the ANPP in 2012 and became an active participant in the collapse of the party into the All Progressives Congress, APC.
For a man used to bestriding the political stage as a king, it was not too long that playing second fiddle to the likes of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu turned into an issue for SAS. Senior APC figures alluded to their fears and it was not too long after the merger that SAS eased himself out with his defection to the PDP.
When he returned to Maiduguri for the first time in years in July 2014 the Goodluck Jonathan administration opened the airport hitherto closed to civilian traffic for him. A seemingly triumphant SAS boasted that he would chase out his former political godson, Governor Kashim Shettima out of the Government House.
Alas, the election came and Shettima ridding on the coattails of Muhammadu Buhari and his own achievements rubbished the SAS political legacy. In the end, the PDP won no elective office in Borno State.
It was against the background of the seemingly fading SAS mystique that many were bemused with the decision of the PDP kingmakers to pick the former governor as the new national chairman. But as a party source disclosed, the party has decided to go for broke or be broken!