Former member representing Ibarapa Central/Ibarapa North Federal Constituency and Doctor of Law, Honourable Ajibola Muraina, is the chairman of the Interim Management Committee of the Makarfi Group of the PDP in Oyo State. He speaks with MOSES ALAO on the tussle in the party and the hope of opposition politics in Oyo State and Nigeria, among others.
EVER since you left the House of Representatives, where you were the chairman of the House Committee on Petroleum (Upstream) for four years, not much has been heard about you. What have you been up to?
After my sojourn in the House of Representatives, I have been doing the two things I am used to; Law is my profession and politics, which is my vocation. I have been engaged in both at the same time. I have been practising Law all over Nigeria and at various courts and in July 2016, I was sworn-in as a Notary Public of the Supreme Court, Federal Republic of Nigeria. Thereafter, I completed my Ph.D. in Law, which I started in 2011. I had the time to concentrate fully on it after leaving office and by February this year, I convoked at the University of Abuja.
With regards to politics, as I said, I have been actively involved in that too. And in January 2017, the Makarfi Group of the PDP in Oyo State inaugurated the Interim Management Committee in the state and by the grace of God; I was made the chairman of that committee.
There is the impression that the Makarfi group, following the Court of Appeal judgement that affirmed Senator Ali Modu Sheriff as the National Chairman of the PDP, comprises dissenters, with the Yinka Taiwo-led executives in place as the Oyo State PDP Working Committee. What is your view on this impression?
It may interest you and particularly the members of the public to know that Yinka Taiwo was elected as Oyo State PDP chairman for a period of four years in March 2012. So, the tenure of his executives lapsed in March/April 2016. Yinka Taiwo has ceased to be chairman since that time and he knows that himself. He is also aware that this is the provision of the party’s constitution; so there is no way he can be parading himself as chairman when he is no longer in office.
Let me also correct another wrong impression; we are the ones that are saying that we belong to the Makarfi group and we are not dissenters as you called us. In fact, we have in our group most of the leaders and elders of the PDP in Oyo State such as Senator Ayoade Adeseun; Senator Hosea Agboola; former Minister of State for the FCT, Chief Jumoke Akinjide; former Leader of the House of Representatives, Honourable Mulikat Akande-Adeola; Senator Gbenga Babalola; Dr Saka Balogun, and a host of others across the state. The Yinka Taiwo group had always insisted that it didn’t belong to any group, so they cannot suddenly rise and say they belong to Sheriff because he purportedly won in the Court of Appeal. That would be wrong. So, as far as we are concerned in the state, the Makarfi group is not only the authentic PDP, it is the one that is really on ground; because as far as the other side is concerned, they do not have a state executive or any interim management committee like we have.
But, wasn’t there a time that leaders of the party agreed that the Taiwo-led executive, which tenure you said has lapsed, should continue in office in acting capacity pending the conduct of a congress?
How can you agree on an illegality? You want to extend the tenure of an executive that has lapsed? Which type of agreement is that one? We were never part of that agreement and there was nothing like that. How can people agree that that they want to extend the tenure of an executive that has lapsed? Do they have such powers in the party’s constitution? Even under commonsense, do you have such powers? All over the world, what is done is that when the tenure of an executive lapses; the best you can do is to set up a caretaker committee or an interim management committee like we have done in Makarfi group.
The Court of Appeal recognised Sheriff and he is now saying that as the authentic national chairman of the PDP, he wants to organise congresses in Oyo, Kwara and other states. Since you do not subscribe to Sheriff’s leadership, where do you think the decision will fly.
First, this brings out the lie in the claim by the other side in Oyo State. You will recall that we filed a case in the Federal High Court, Ibadan on the fact that the tenure of the Yinka Taiwo-led PDP state executives had lapsed but in the course of that matter; they came to court and alleged that we had done the congresses in the state. They even brought to the court, documents allegedly from the PDP headquarters, which were purportedly signed by some people from the headquarters and they tendered these in court to back their claim. So, it is not only that they have deliberately lied to the court; they also perjured, because they filed the affidavit. But more importantly, if Sheriff is now saying that he wants to conduct congresses in Oyo State and others, then we have been vindicated that there were no congresses in Oyo State. Of course, we will proceed to court to file the appropriate papers to show the court that they perjured and that congresses had not been held.
Now, for Sheriff to be planning to organise congresses and even National Convention; that will amount to contempt of court. You will recall that apart from the case in Port Harcourt, there were two other High Court cases where the court held that Sheriff could not be properly regarded as the national chairman of the PDP ab initio. These cases were not appealed against by the Sheriff Group and the cases stand on their own; different and distinct from the one of Port Harcourt, which is now going to the Supreme Court. And up till today, those cases were not appealled and the time for appeal has even expired; he can only approach the court for extension of time to appeal. Not only that; when we won the case at the lower court in Port Hacourt and they filed a motion for stay of execution of judgment, we didn’t take any action on the rest by illegally taking over the party secretariat. But no sooner had the Port Harcourt judgment been given in favour of Sheriff by two out of three justices, than he illegally entered the national secretariat. And this happened despite the fact that the Makarfi Group filed for a stay of execution and have even proceeded to Supreme Court on the matter. In law, once a motion for stay of execution is filed, no party can take action to frustrate the other party pending the determination of the matter. That means Sheriff entering into the secretariat was illegal and contemptuous of the motion that was filed by the Makarfi Group and the same goes for the alleged plan to organise congresses in Oyo and other states. Sheriff is committing contempt of court on several sides. If he is preaching the rule of law, he must be seen to be practising it. That was what we did when we won at the lower court; but brazenly, the Sheriff Group is going against all the tenets of the rule of law.
Is your faction not worried that you are losing out?
We are not losing out; we are taking appropriate steps with all the strength we can muster and it is not just on the legal front. Though it appears that there is a third force and an unseen hand behind all these matters, we are not giving up.
What do you mean by unseen hands?
You would recall that by the time the Makarfi Group wanted to enter the national secretariat when we won at the lower court; the police didn’t allow us. But that was not the case for Sheriff. You would ask why justice was not evenly distributed. But these are not questions you should ask me; they are questions for Nigerians. Why? When there is a viable opposition, the benefits are more for Nigerians and not for PDP members only. That is why Nigerians should take interest in having PDP come back to life, so that Nigerians can enjoy the benefits of a viable opposition; so that they can have options and choices. This will make democracy sweet for Nigerians.
Look, the Makarfi Group feels that we should continue to respect the rule of law; that is why we have been playing by the rules. But apart from having the two cases in our favour, the crème-de-la-crème of the party in the country are with us. I stand to be corrected; we have almost all the governors remaining in PDP with us. We have more than 90 per cent of the National Assembly members with us. The chairmen’s forum of the party is solidly behind Makarfi; ditto the Board of Trustees. And when you interact with the ordinary Nigerians on the streets, they believe that the soul of the PDP is with the Makarfi Group.
You said the soul of the PDP is with the Makarfi Group, but former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who is regarded as your political father, recently said that your party is dead and that its destiny is already sunk. What is your reaction to that and Are you not afraid that there is no hope?
First, I will never deny Chief Olusegun Obasanjo; he is my father and I have the greatest respect for him any day. You know that Baba does not talk for talking sake and if you go down memory lane, right from 1979 when he left power; he had always come out timeously to say one thing or the other and in most cases, they have always come to be. So, who am I to be against whatever he said? But what is important here is that you cannot play politics alone; it is done with people. So, if the people have decided that we should follow this path that we are taking and we see where it lands; we will still need the people. Therefore, we cannot abandon the people in the middle of this struggle and say the party is dead; we have to wait until the whole course is completed. Whatever finally happens, so be it. But we will take advantage that whatever finally happens; the people are with us.