The end of Ali Modu Sheriff?

Unless the Supreme Court of Nigeria otherwise decides, last Wednesday, November 23, 2016  Appeal Court’s ruling has sounded the death knell of the political career of Ali Modu Sheriff, who, until now, paraded himself as the National Chairman of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party. The reliefs granted Eyitayo Jegede to replace Jimoh Ibrahim as the PDP candidate in the Ondo governorship election apart; the more significant importance of the judgment is that it deflated Sheriff completely and pulled the platform of relevance off his feet. It will be difficult, if not impossible, for Sheriff to inflate his illustrious, even if controversial, political career any time soon.

If, like INEC,  all other agencies of government abide by the appeal court ruling – which they should in a democracy obligated to respect court judgments – then, peace and stability will return to PDP as the cancerous tumour in its body-politic has now been surgically removed. As stated by the appeal court, Abuja Federal High Court judge, Abang Okon’s judgment negating Jegede flies in the face of evidence, law, logic, and the hallowed principle of natural justice. The court used one stone, as it were, to kill many birds. One: Jegede, initially accepted by INEC as the PDP standard-bearer but expunged after Okon ruled otherwise, was reinstated. Two: The court ruled in favour of Ahmed Makarfi on the contentious issue of which, between Sheriff and Makarfi, is the authentic PDP leadership. Three: The appeal court took Abang to the cleaners, using uncharitable words to describe both his ruling and conduct. Abang had been a thorn in the flesh of PDP; his rulings had provided the straws that Sheriff had clung on to, to polarise and afflict PDP; taunt and jeer at its leaders, including his benefactors, these past months.

Abia State governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, must also be grinning from ear-to-ear with the demeaning treatment given Abang by the appeal court, because it is the same Abang that constituted himself into the Supreme Court when he removed Ikpeazu from office and ordered INEC to immediately issue a certificate of return to his opponent as well as commanded the Abia State Chief Judge to quickly swear-in the litigant as governor, without minding that Ikpeazu had the right of appeal. Had Ikpeazu not been street-wise, that would have been it. Ekiti State governor, Ayodele Fayose, and many other well-meaning Nigerians embarrassed by the petulance and garrulous grandstanding of Abang; and baffled by his penchant for, and obsession with churning out outlandish and controversial judgments, called for the judge’s sack, especially in view of the latest savage attack on his competence, character, and conduct by his superiors. We return to that later.

Ali Modu Sheriff was born in Ngala, Ngala Local Government Area of Borno state in 1956. His father is the business tycoon, Galadima Modu Sheriff. He attended Government Secondary School, Bama (1974 -1979) and the London School of Business where he studied Insurance, Banking, and Finance. In 1981, he joined his father’s construction company as a director, later becoming the Managing Director. In 1985, he registered his first company; his companies are said to include Meroil Organisation and Union Chase.

Sheriff was first elected Senator representing Borno Central under the banner of the United Nigeria Congress Party during the ill-fated Third Republic. He defeated Mrs. Kolo Kingibe, wife of Babagana Kingibe, the SDP National Chairman and later presidential running mate to MKO Abiola in the watershed June 12, 1993 presidential election, which result was annulled by military dictator, General Ibrahim Babangida. In April 1999, Sheriff was again elected Senator representing the same constituency but this time on the platform of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). He was also a member of the National Constitutional Conference; chairing the committee on States and Local Governments.

In 2003, he became the Borno State governor on ANPP’s platform, going on to make history in Borno as he was re-elected in 2007. In both cases, he defeated the PDP candidate, Kashim Ibrahim-Imam. Sheriff is touted as one of the founding fathers of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). His party, the ANPP, was one of the legacy parties, together with Muhammadu Buhari’s Congress for Progressive Change; Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s Action Congress of Nigeria; and a rump of the All Peoples Grand Alliance (APGA) led by the Imo state Governor Rochas Okorocha, that formed the then mega opposition party. However, irreconcilable differences between him and Tinubu, the APC National Leader, reportedly did not let Sheriff last long in APC.

In 2014, he defected to the then ruling PDP. On February 16, 2016, Sheriff was appointed acting Chairman of PDP’s National Working Committee. On May 21, 2016, he was, however, removed from the post at the PDP National Convention held in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State and a Caretaker Committee headed by former Governor Ahmed Makarfi was instituted in his place.  Sheriff has resisted the change, hanging unto all manner of straws to remain in office. He came to his tethers’ end with the appeal court judgment of last Wednesday.

Without doubt, Sheriff has had an illustrious political career; his rise to political prominence had been meteoric. Three issues, however, dog the feet of Sheriff; one of which is the allegation that he was the sponsor of Boko Haram – an Islamist organisation said to have acted as Sheriff’s political thugs and enforcers when he was governor of Borno. Irreconcilable differences were said to have later set in between Sheriff and Boko Haram; the falcon could no longer hear the falconer as Boko Haram grew in stature and confidence. Federal Government-appointed Boko Haram Australian negotiator, Steven Davies, pointedly accused Sheriff of being the sponsors of Boko Haram. At this year’s annual conference of the Nigerian Bar Association held in Port-Harcourt, the Borno State Commissioner for Justice, Kaka Shehu Lawan, also accused Sheriff of aiding the growth of Boko Haram.  Sheriff has denied the allegations, describing himself as one of the victims of the sect. That may well be so! Boko Haram, which started small, later became a Frankenstein monster. Those who ride on the tiger’s back always end up in its belly.

In September 2014, the then President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan travelled to Chad in search of peace with Boko Haram; the president of Chad was said to have not only had close ties with Boko Haram but also their mandate to negotiate a truce with the Nigeria government.  When Jonathan’s plane touched down at Ndjamena, on the Chadian delegation to receive him was Sheriff! The alibi was that Sheriff had great influence over Boko Haram and was indispensable to the peace efforts. The Chad initiative, however, proved a hog-wash and one of many occasions when the Jonathan administration got duped by conmen pretending to have the ears of Boko Haram. Sheriff is, however, said to be entrenched in Chad and reportedly wields immense political and economic influence with the powers-that-be.

The second issue is that he has not sufficiently explained the source(s) of his stupendous wealth. He is touted as the owner of the largest fleet of private jets in the country. His latest, said to be the best and costliest around, was said to have been registered in Dubai, thus denying Nigeria the tax and import duties he should have paid here. For a leader of his stature and one rumoured to be eyeing the Presidency at that, this is seen as economic sabotage and an unpatriotic act, especially in this period of economic recession. The third is the obviously ignoble role he has played in the affairs of PDP. Sheriff confirmed that he was invited by some PDP leaders; those who invited him said it was just for a three-month period i.e. to complete the unfinished term of former governor of Bauchi, Adamu Muazu, who is from the same North-East zone as Sheriff. That was why the appointment was tagged “acting” in the first place. But once in the saddle, Sheriff wanted to transmute into a permanent chairman. Every important organ of the party kicked against him; yet, he was recalcitrant. His action was killing the party he claimed to have come to rescue and re-position; yet, he couldn’t care a hoot.

What love is this and what manner of a leader or rescue operator is Sheriff? It is obvious he overstayed his welcome. It is indisputable that he is a bad loser. He rejected pleas; spurned entreaties; and truncated every peace moves. Whereas he comes from the same political zone as the late Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim, protagonist of “politics without bitterness,” Sheriff is the master of politics with bitterness. He almost wrecked PDP/opposition in Nigeria. Allegations that he was a fifth columnist working surreptitiously and in cahoots with APC to undermine PDP did not move him. Pray, what were his assurances? An in-law to President Muhammadu Buhari, Sheriff was said to have worked underground against PDP/Jonathan in the 2015 presidential election. Now, how are the “mighty” fallen!

We return to Abang: The tongue the appeal court wielded against Abang was caustic. There are many who will say Abang deserves the pummelling he got; including the sack Fayose asked for. My worry, however, is the recent practice of judges disrobing judges in the open. In the olden days, judges, even when disagreeing with peers or those of the lower Bench, were tempered in their language: “Learned trial judge erred;” “learned trial judge misdirected himself/herself” were usually the words of dissent used. No more! These days, judges take judges to the cleaners, digging into the gutter for expletives. This must stop! Such practice is indecorous; it hurts the “offending” judges like Abang; at same time does little credit to the judges wielding the horse-whips; and desecrates, ultimately, the temple of justice. Judges must stop washing their dirty linens in the open. There should be better ways of responding to the likes of Abang. Methinks it is for this reason that the National Judicial Council was instituted in the first instance. I expect to soon hear the NJC call in judges like Abang. That is the appropriate venue to discipline erring judges and offload bad rubbish.