By Ben Agande, Abuja
The shenanigans of leaders of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, playing out in it’s bid to reposition, would only give the party a bloody nose. This report will reveal the undercurrents of the present crisis and why the party should stop pouring cold water on its efforts to re-engage Nigerians who are still angry at the last 16years of manifest misrule. Both ways, the leaders of the party are making a bad situation worse. If it is about re-engaging Nigerians and the only person they could think of is Modu-Sheriif, a bad situation would get worse; or, conversely, if after choosing Modu-Sheriff, they are still bickering, a bad situation would, certainly, become worse.
When the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP), penultimate week, announced the choice of a former governor of Borno State, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, as the National Chairman of the party, not a few people received the news with incredulity and, in fact, indignation. To many observers, the choice of Sheriff to lead a party that practically blew its 16 years in power because of its penchant for not following due process its activities appeared to be one of the most unpopular decisions the party has taken in recent times.
The decision to choose a new Chairman for the PDP is a knee jerk response to the failed attempt by Ahmed Gulak, a former Political Adviser to erstwhile President Goodluck Jonathan, to forcefully take over the leadership of the party. Following the resignation of the former Chairman of the party, Ahmed Muazu, after the presidential and governorship elections, the party had been under the temporary leadership of Uche Secondus, the National Vice Chairman. But apparently unable to organize the emergence of a substantive Chairman from the North-East where the position is zoned to, Secondus and other National Working Committee (NWC) members of the PDP steered the affairs of the party until Gulak’s roused Acting National Chairman to action.
Not wanting to be out maneuvered by the Gulak challenge, governors elected on the platform of the PDP and some ranking members of the party in the National Assembly moved to take charge. The result was the drafting of Sheriff who joined the party two years ago, and had been a staunch member of the opposition parties all his life, to take charge as Chairman of the PDP. Even by PDP standards, it was one incongruity beyond comprehension.
But in party politics, decisions are sometimes taken not based on comprehensible reasons but to advance interests that may not be manifest to a casual observer.
According to inside sources, with the threat posed by Gulak, some governors of the party, led by the governor of Gombe State, Ibrahim Dankwambo, and supported by the governor of Ekiti, Mr. Ayo Fayose, took charge of the party before the crisis could fester further. According to a member of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the party, who spoke with Sunday Vanguard, the two governors, in pushing for the emergence of Sheriff as Chairman, were moved by the desire to revive the PDP using an individual with a deep pocket, and who also understands the opposition party very well.
Convinced about their choice of Sheriff as the National Chairman of the PDP, the next move by Dankwambo and Fayose, Sunday Vanguard gathered, was to approach former President Goodluck Jonathan for his endorsement. While in office, Jonathan, it is believed, had developed some closeness to Sheriff; so he needed little persuasion for him to throw his weight behind Sheriff. With Jonathan on their side,the governors wooed the National Assembly Caucus of the PDP and went for the meeting that endorsed Sheriff with a solid conviction that their proposal would sail through. And sail through it did. But it was not without strong criticism from some members of the party including members of the BoT and ministers who served under the PDP government since 1999.
A repositioning that went awry
The question those opposed to the emergence of Sheriff have been asking is why would an ‘outsider’ be imposed on the PDP at a time it is in dire need of repositioning and, more importantly, a good dose of credibility in its leadership to endear it to Nigerians? According to sources close to Fayose, one of the arrow heads of the Sheriff emergence, the choice was arrived at based on the need to have a man of Sheriff’s calibre who can sufficiently fund the PDP since the party is no longer in power and no access to funds from government coffers.
“The decision was informed by financial considerations and the need to have somebody who cannot be bought by party members in order to sway his decisions. Sheriff fits into this thinking. He is sufficiently strong-willed to reposition the party for the immediate challenges. They felt he was the best for that position at this moment”, the source said.
But in taking that decision, the PDP stalwarts, many observers argued, did not sufficiently look at the man they wanted to bring to lead their party. While serving as governor of Borno State, Sheriff was allegedly closer to the then President Olusegun Obasanjo than his then party, the then All Peoples Party (APP), leaders, prompting the allegation by his colleagues in the APP that he may have been planted by Obasanjo to weaken the opposition party.
More importantly, many people have alleged that the idle young men of Borno whom they said Sheriff did not empower while serving as governor of Borno became easy recruits for Boko Haram under its late leader, Yusuf Muhammed.
With such allegations, it was only natural that his emergence would provoke the reactions that greeted the emergence of Sheriff. Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, who was the spokesperson for the PDP Presidential Campaign Organisation in the 2015 elections, fired the first salvo when he dismissed the emergence of the new PDP National Chairman.
His view was echoed by a former Senior Assistant to President Goodluck Jonathan on Public Communications, Dr Doyin Okupe, whose objection to Sheriff’s emergence was equally strong, even if coached in a more subdued diction.
“Alhaji Ali Sheriff is a longstanding political associate of mine and a very adroit and astute politician of perhaps a sublime class.
But for the post of the National Chairman of the PDP, he is a wrong candidate and also coming in at a wrong time”, Okupe stated.
His warning to the leadership of PDP appeared to have captured the mood of even non-partisan Nigerians who believe that the emergence of the former governor of Borno, as the Chairman of the leading opposition party at a time it terribly needs rebranding, is an aberration.
“For a severely prostrate political party, thanks to the overwhelming and effective propaganda machinery of the party in power, this may yet be the mortal wound that may cause the eventual haemorrhage of its long perplexed followership. But if it is the divine will of God that our present masters must kill PDP, then by the grace of God, we shall yet tarry at the graveside to bid it farewell”, the former presidential aide stated.
It was a foreboding conclusion that many people who genuinely have the interest of the party at heart took very seriously.
BoT, ex-ministers join fray
But it was not only individuals within the PDP that picked issues with the emergence of Sheriff. The BoT of the party as well as the Forum of Past PDP Ministers (which was formed solely to object to the emergence of Sheriff) added their opposition.
And at the end of its emergency meeting in Abuja, the Acting Chairman of the BOT of the party, Senator Jibrin Wali, waved Sheriff aside as not the man fit to be the PDP Chairman.
“The Board of Trustees of the PDP is of the view that Ali Modu Sheriff is not suitable as National Chairman of the PDP”, Wali said on Tuesday night while the Forum of Former PDP Ministers said it rejected “Alhaji Ali Modu Sheriff as National Chairman of the PDP due to the illegitimacy of the process that purportedly brought him in”.
Faced with an internal rebellion that would deal a further blow to an already distressed party, the PDP governors and leaders of the PDP Caucus in the National Assembly moved to limit the damage that the emergence of Sheriff may have done to the party. First, it organized a meeting with members of the BoT to find a middle road while allowing Sheriff to carry on as Chairman of the party. According to Sunday Vanguard findings, part of the compromise reached between the governors, Sheriff and members of the BOT was for the tenure of the new National Chairman to be pegged at three months, from the nine months that he was initially asking for; during which he would organize the party’s national convention to elect new officers. It was this compromise that made the BOT members to make a volte face, 24 hours after it had rejected Sheriff.
Despite the many tragedies the controversial emergence of its leaders has brought upon it, it appears that the PDP is incapable of learning its lessons. But while it was able to weather the storm of its many crises while it was in power, the dynamics of its present prostrate position as a party that lost power may make it more difficult for it to stomach. The attraction that it had as a party in power when many of its members could afford to stomach many injustices is no longer there to keep many of them not satisfied with the emergence of Sheriff to stay back.
But what is it that made Sheriff attractive to those that brought him into office? Is his alleged deep pocket enough to change the fortunes of the PDP?
The new helmsman comes from a zone (North-East) that is deeply dissatisfied with the PDP with only two state governors and few legislators; he is not known to be a great mobilizer and his knowledge of PDP, nay Nigerian politics outside his Borno is alleged to be suspect. He still has a case of alleged corruption with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
For the PDP, these are not the best of times. The party’s ability to navigate the present crisis that it has apparently created for itself by bringing in a stalwart who many members believe is a total stranger to lead it, at a time it requires so much soul searching, would determine whether it will position itself as a strong opposition party or it will disintegrate into oblivion.