By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor, Henry Umoru & Ben Agande
LAGOS— Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, yesterday, justified last Saturday’s removal of Senator Ali Modu Sheriff as national chairman of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, at the Port Harcourt convention, saying the party under the erstwhile leadership was headed towards the precipice.
Wike’s justification of Sheriff’s sack was welcomed by Prof. Jerry Gana, leader of the PDP Concerned Stakeholders, who convened a parallel convention in Abuja to press for the removal of the Sheriff-led executive of the party.
Meanwhile, heavily armed policemen, yesterday, took over the national secretariat of the party, denying entry and exit to and from the building.
The development, which came ahead of today’s expected takeover of the national secretariat by the Senator Ahmed Makarfi-led caretaker committee, was also shadowed by continuing intrigues as the ousted Senator Sheriff executive was last night also said to be preparing to fight back.
Sheriff and his aides, who could not be reached for most of yesterday, were said to be engaged in a meeting with his dissolved National Working Committee, NWC.
Speaking after the 2016 national convention, Wike said: “All along, the crisis has been about the former acting chairman whose emergence was strongly opposed. This is destabilising the party and so we had to let him go. What is important is the party and not the individual. No sacrifice is too much for anyone to make as far as PDP is concerned.”
He noted that he had no personal interest in supporting Senator Modu Sheriff as he was the best option at the time he emerged.
He said PDP will continue to grow from strength to strength as it remained the only hope for the country.
Governor Wike said: “We will not allow the PDP to die or suffer divisions under our watch. History will never forgive us if we watch the party die.”
The governor said the party leaders would work towards maintaining unity among all members of the party.
He said despite the challenges, the 2016 national convention was successful as the party had been repositioned in the interest of the nation.
Police block entry into secretariat
Last night, five police vehicles, comprising two trucks and two pick up vans, blocked access on both ends of the street in front of the secretariat in the Wuse Zone 6 Area of Abuja.
The vehicles conveyed a detachment of policemen, who took positions and blocked the entry into the secretariat.
The two sides of Dalaba Street, leading to the front and back gates of the secretariat, were barricaded by stern-looking security operatives brandishing weapons.
Findings by Vanguard showed that men of the Nigeria Police, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC, and private security guards manning the secretariat had been replaced with new ones.
A source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, yesterday, that the security men might have been deployed to forestall any vandalism of the party’s property.
Mr. Temitope Kolawole, a Deputy Superintendent of Police, who was the most senior office in the team, refused to give reasons for the cordoning off of the secretariat, yesterday, as he told reporters who approached him that only the Police Public Relations Officer could speak on the development.
Makarfi plans takeover today
Meanwhile, Secretary of the Caretaker Committee of the party, Senator Ben Obi, has said the committee would take over the secretariat of the party today.
In an exclusive interview with Vanguard, Senator Obi acknowledged that he had been informed about the police presence at the secretariat but declined to speak further, pointing out that he did not have the facts of the matter.
He said the chairman of the caretaker committee and his team would formally assume office today at the party secretariat.
Meantime, Sheriff and some of his loyalists in the just dissolved NWC were said to be locked in a meeting yesterday night.
Repeated efforts to reach them and their aides were unsuccessful as the phone calls were either not answered or their phones were switched off.
Sheriff insists he is still chairman
Sheriff, last night, insisted that he remained the chairman of the party, saying all that transpired after he cancelled the convention on Saturday were null and void by the fact that he had postponed the convention.
Speaking through his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Inuwa Bwala, who addressed journalists in Abuja, yesterday, Sheriff said the NWC under his leadership would make its position known today.
He said: “What transpired in Port Harcourt was a nullity. We have decided to go to court to vacate the order of the court. It is after that that we will fix a date for another convention.
“By Friday, they served him (Sheriff) four court papers. At that point, he felt that he would summon a meeting of the necessary organs and inform them that before he went to Port Harcourt, he heard of court papers but he had not been served. The orders of the court were contradictory and he felt that if he obeyed them, he would be acting in defiance of the court order.
“He informed the governors that with this court ruling, we would be going contrary to the court order and called for the shifting of the convention since the court said their tenure still subsists.
“As at Friday, we approached a court in Lagos to vacate the existing court order and we were denied. He advised that the convention should be shifted but some governors agreed while others disagreed. He summoned the NWC as critical stakeholders and sought their opinion.
“Some interested NWC members were parties to the court and naturally agreed. He summoned a press conference. All NWC left except Uche Secondus. It is contradictory that the chairman who cancelled the convention was being represented. Their personal interest took a better of them against the law.”
We have achieved our objectives —Gana
Gana told Vanguard, yesterday, that his group of stakeholders was fully satisfied with the developments in the party, saying they would work with Makarfi, who he said was even originally part of them.
Gana also paid encomiums to some of the stakeholders, who attended the Port Harcourt convention, who helped to keep the communication between the two groups.
Gana, particularly, cited Governor Segun Mimiko, who he said was a central figure who helped to drive the peace process.
He said: “Definitely, we want to appreciate the efforts on all sides, both those who gathered with us in Abuja and those who went to Port Harcourt.
“The key objectives have been achieved because we wanted a leadership that is credible, a leadership that will emerge through a constitutional process.
“They realised that some of the congresses were not done properly, they also realised that the processes of zoning were not acceptable and that the process of putting the former chairman was not acceptable, and so, a lot of very important decisions have been taken which are in the overall interest of our party and believe me, even of the nation.”
We’ve no factions in PDP — Ekweremadu
On his part, Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, dismissed as untenable suggestions that the party was divided.
Ekweremadu, the highest elected political office holder on the platform of the opposition party, spoke to airport correspondents in Abuja on his return from the Port Harcourt convention yesterday.
Ekweremadu, who was in the company of the acting national chairman, Senator Makarfi, said: “For the purpose of clarification, there are no factions within the PDP family as I speak. What we have are contending interests. Such is common in any party.
“Yes, there were some disagreements, but the good thing is that we have not allowed such disagreements to degenerate into a major crisis that would warrant factions.
“Instead, what happened in Port-Harcourt over the weekend further confirms PDP’s capacity to resolve issues in favour of laid down precepts and in the overall interest of our great party and nation.
“I’m sure what happened in Port Harcourt remains a disappointment for those who were expectant of major crisis and factions in the PDP because we emerged from the convention more determined to change the change, to save our economy, reposition the electoral process, and make life more bearable for the suffering masses of Nigeria again.”
No legal encumbrances to the convention
Ekweremadu said there were no legal or judicial encumbrances to the convention or the emergence of the interim NWC.
He maintained that the convention did not conduct any elections, but simply acted within its constitutional powers as the highest decision-making organ of the PDP to appoint an interim NWC to oversee the affairs of the party and also conduct elections into the NWC positions within 90 days.
The Deputy President of the Senate, who congratulated the interim NWC, expressed strong confidence in the leadership qualities of the national chairman, Maikarfi, and his team.
He enjoined them to make the reconciliation of all aggrieved and divergent interests within the party their priority.
He noted: “Distinguished Senator Maikarfi is a quality leader, a pan-Nigerian, and someone I have worked with for many years in the Senate.
“He also served on the PDP Post Election Review Committee, which I chaired; I am sure his team is already reaching out to reassure all interests and amicably resolve any outstanding issues ahead of conducting a free, fair, and credible election of NWC members, in line with the mandate handed them by the party in Port Harcourt.”