The embattled caretaker committee chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Senator Ahmed Makarfi, speaks with journalists in Kaduna on the factional crisis rocking the party, among other issues. MUHAMMAD SABIU, who was there, brings excerpts:
Nigerians had hoped that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) would provide a virile opposition, but as it is today, your party is engulfed in an unending crisis. What is the assurance that your party will make an impressive outing in the 2019 elections?
You see, we are a growing democracy and some mistakes are unavoidable, especially when you view how the parties came together to be formed; you have strange bed fellows coming together. But over time, water will find its level. The political party will transform and grow and you eventually find them operating, based on the principles and doctrines that developed democracies. We are going through our own problems now and even the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) will have its own crisis. No doubt it will come, but being the biggest and oldest party, it is expected that we in PDP go through our own crisis and reformation before others.
Personally, I don’t see any political party; either PDP or APC remaining the way they are now. A lot of things are likely going to happen and as for the form and shape they will assume, I can’t say. But all that we are going through is what will separate the chaff from the grains. It is good for democracy. We have been having nomadic politicians and that is part of the problems we have in our democracy. During one season they are here, the other season they are there. And it is common to all the parties especially, parties that have governments at one level or the other. Nomadic politicking is very common and it is unfortunate. But after all the movements, there will have to be settlements and we shall get to that period of settlement.
As to whether we will be able to give a credible challenge, a good fight in the 2019 elections, when did APC come together? It was basically a year to election; that was when APC came together as a party. So, it means it is not too late for us. Whether APC will remain as one party, don’t bank on it. Also, don’t bank on whether PDP will remain as PDP. A lot of things are likely going to happen that will put the major party in one shape or the other and that is the time you can begin to make your reasonable and sensible analysis as to where the pendulum could swing. But I am positive the pendulum shall swing towards positive change because in change, you know there is negative and positive change. I am one of those who subscribe only to positive change, not the negative we have now.
Talking about change, life itself is dynamic. You see, Nigeria will continue to go through all kinds of changes until we get it right and the Nigerian voters have discovered their powers, the power of the vote. And I tell you, they will continue to change governments at each opportunity they have, if the government they elected fails them. Nigerians themselves have taken opposition as a personal right. So whether a political party at a particular time offers opposition or not, the citizens have not been deaf and dumb. Opposition as it is today is rife and that is the most potent and dangerous opposition for any party in power. If it were from a political party, you will say, oh it is politics. But when it is coming from the voters, that is not politics because the voters are human; they have feelings and they know what they are feeling and they are voicing their opposition. We shall definitely catch on and harvest that sentiments of the voters over the ruling the party at the right time and we will get there.
Rumour is rife that the PDP is working towards transforming into a mega party with a plan of registering the Advanced Peoples Democratic Party (APDP). What is the true situation of things?
Well, let me be categorical: the caretaker committee is not behind the registration of APDP. But you know PDP is made up of millions of members. It is possible some members of PDP and some members of other political parties are involved in that. I have not tried to find out because I know it is irrelevant. As a matter of fact, registration of political parties is very open. May be because of similarity in name with PDP; that is why people are concerned. Let me, once more, be categorical that we are not behind the registration of APDP. But we have never ever shied away from making it clear very loudly that we are not going to allow ourselves to be boxed into a corner. We go with all options open to us and being an opposition party, we will be foolish to give a clear direction as to where we are going or how we are going to get there. We are wise enough to leave options open and to keep our secrets secret. Anything we are going to do, it will just be seen that it is done without giving anybody any chance to preempt us and to attempt to block us. We have never shied away from saying that all options are open to PDP and not me, not a few, but the party will make the decision it feels comfortable with at the right time.
Senator Modu Ali Sheriff has threatened to sue you for contempt of court. Are you not bothered that these crises could affect your party in elections that would be conducted in states like Anambra, Osun and Ekiti?
Yes, I read about the issue of contempt. You see people talk about this rule of law; who is complying with the rule of law and who is not complying. Even some of their members, in going to see Modu Sheriff, say they won their case based on the rule of law. Some do so maybe because they don’t know, while some do so in a deceptive manner. The position of the law is that once you file an appeal, the status quo remains until that appeal is determined. There are certain motions that, when you file, they serve as a stay until the motion is turned down. If the judge doesn’t attend to it, is his business. It is not your fault that he has not attended to it, but it serves as a stay until it is rejected. So, as far as we are concerned, we have done all these processes. But what we have seen is like an intention to invite some kind of breakdown of law and order. That is why, even though legally we are on the right to assume anything, but we have chosen not to be confrontational. It is not worth it to create any situation that will make the little injury worse. We are doing our politicking and will follow the due process of law for justice to be done, but we will not fall into any entrapment that could lead to breakdown of law and order. Not because we don’t know our constitutional rights.
Again, when you talk of contempt, people should read the judgment of the Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt; even in the majority ruling, they called Modu Sheriff all kinds of name that if you call yourself the chairman of any party, you should not continue to parade yourself as chairman of any party. But at the end of the day, for whatever reason, they arrived at the decision they arrived. They have done their job and the constitution provides for what you should do in the event that you disagree with a judgment and we have done the needful. We are not holding it personal against their lordships; they have done their constitutional duty and have said what they want to say and we are exercising our constitutional rights.
The process is in advanced stage. We are not leaving anything to chance in pursuing this. Even the political solution suggested, we are not in totality ruling that out. But we have only said that it has to be comprehensive and germane. It has to be sincere and based on water-tight legal basis. I will explain that in due course. But tied to contempt, the Court of Appeal went further to say, the status quo before 21 May 2016 should be reverted to. It didn’t mention Modu Sheriff or whatever; it mentioned status quo before 21 may. Of course, before 21 May, Modu Sheriff was acting chairman, he was never chairman. It was for the convention to confirm him or to whatever. And that was an appointment by NEC and if NEC appoints you, NEC can remove you.
Two, the status quo before 21 May 2016 means that all the former national officers should go back to their seats, all of them, not just the working committee; it includes all those assistants. That was the status quo before 21 May. Now, who is in breach of that? Is it not Modu Sheriff? He is only working with those he appointed; people he unilaterally gave appointments and they are assuming the positions of people the Court of Appeal has said should go back to their offices. So who is in contempt? He is ignoring the ruling that affects 30 other persons asked to return to office. If you go by this, legally there is no working committee. Anything that comes from there is illegal; it is null and void because that is the status before 21 May, 2016. There are no national officers in place. Even if he goes for a kangaroo convention, it will be declared illegal if another person goes to court because the court will say it was not the status returned by the Court of Appeal. That is why we keep on wondering what the intention is really. Is it to continue creating these crises in such a way that PDP is finished?
Now, we said we have no problem with the Court of Appeal judgment. Let it be implemented in full. And that is what the governors and former President Goodluck Jonathan proposed. And if you mean well for the party, everybody should resign after which the lawyers from both sides should sit down and look at all the judgments and propose how we can politically resolve this while fully complying with all the relevant judgments, blocking any loophole for any future legal action. We said we have no problem with that, but Sheriff said he has problem with it. If you are sincere why should you have problem with a proposal that is capable of bringing a final solution to the crisis? To be candid, we are not in contempt. If you go through what I have said, you will see who is in full contempt of the Court of Appeal rulings.
As for the elections that you mentioned, which are fast approaching, we have our thinking caps on. It is not that we are not conscious of that or we are not doing anything about that. But it will not be right for me to expose our strategies. All I can tell you is that we have our thinking caps on in respect if those elections coming in Anambra, Osun and Ekiti states.
Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State presented the PDP reconciliation report to Senator Modu Sheriff and you are reported to be angry. What was the reason for the anger?
On the Dickson’s report, you know I came out to denounce the manner it was done and the content. I did say that he (Dickson) saw me on personal basis and without any document, but was just talking and I saw loopholes in what he was saying. I tried to guide him; I thought he was trying to develop something that he was going to use for discussion, not knowing that in an hour or less than two hours after seeing me, he was planning to go and submit a report to Modu Sheriff, which was unfortunate. And that is basically what Modu Sheriff has been looking for so that he can go and conduct convention and here was somebody coming to look for him.
What I faulted in the report was purely on how you form a committee to conduct convention. The issue in PDP is not about formation of committees to do convention. It is about more fundamental issues. If you don’t address these fundamental issues and achieve reconciliation, how do you go for convention? You have not healed the wounds in people’s heart and you are only concerned about convention. How do you go for a unity convention when you have not discussed the problems and solved them? Which means you will go and hold convention, while the crisis is still on. I know that Governor Dickson was at the meeting which was chaired by former President Jonathan where they came out with a unanimous proposal. So how can he pull himself out, a week or so after and make a counter proposal? If he had anything contrary to what all the governors with President Jonathan, why didn’t he suggest it at that meeting? It didn’t make sense. Out of 11 governors, you pull yourself out and then you make a separate proposal, go and present to Modu Sheriff.
The proposal that came from the governors and President Jonathan was presented to us; it was presented to the PDP BoT chairman and was presented to Modu Sheriff. If anything is going to change, they should go back to President Jonathan and discuss, review the responses from us in the caretaker committee, from BoT, from Modu Sheriff and see if there is going to be any modification to any proposal. It is not for one single governor, under whatever guise or under whatever name who was a party to the other proposal, to now come out with a particular proposal. He told me he was going to bring a document to me and I did not see the document. He called the BoT chairman that he was going to see him with a document. The BoT gave him the next day; he didn’t wait till the next day, but went and submitted report to Modu Sheriff. He contacted President Jonathan who gave him Wednesday and he went on Tuesday to submit the report to Modu Sheriff. So you ask yourself what he is up to. It is agenda; I don’t know, but definitely it is not an agenda that is good for PDP.
Okay, you say convention should hold in August. You cannot hold a convention in June and I told him that. Except the Supreme Court reverses that judgment, based on the majority ruling that the tenure of three officers will end in August and the tenure of 18 others will end in June next year. So if you go for convention in June, to do what? You are in complete breach of the ruling, even if you say you are going to elect the three officers, their tenure ends in August. So what are you going to do in June?
Would you say Governor Dickson betrayed your committee?
Not my committee. Get the point: the proposal, as I said earlier, is in complete breach of the Court of Appeal judgment because you cannot hold convention before August and if you hold any convention in August, you can only elect three officers; chairman, secretary and auditor, based on the court ruling. Then you have until June next to elect the other 18 officers, based on the Court of Appeal judgment. If you make a report that we should go for convention, to do what? What is the difference between that convention and the one we did? So, it is something that is standing on a faulty foundation which cannot stand, based on the Court of Appeal judgment. That was why when we analysed the very wise suggestion by all the governors and President Jonathan that the only way to get out of this is to comply fully with the Court of Appeal judgment.
Having complied, let everybody resign and let them sign an indemnity that they will not challenge the party on the basis of their tenure or whatever. Let us set up a neutral body; neither of us should conduct election, but we can participate in nominating the members of the committee so that there will be a level-playing field if it is really peace you are looking for. Can you have a better option than this? We would have complied with the ruling of the Court of Appeal. By resigning, there would be a vacuum and, if this agreement is reached, it should be tendered before the Supreme Court as settlement so that the court can adopt it as settlement of parties and it will have the force of law. But I told you that is what Modu Sheriff rejected and then you come with a proposal that will be in direct conflict with the Court of Appeal judgment. So how are you in compliance?
What is your assessment of the performance of Acting President Yemi Osinbajo in the 49 days that President Muhammadu Buhari was on vacation?
I will start with your last question which is the easiest to answer. I have not taken time to assess his (Osinbajo’s) performance. I have seen him walking around and if his walking around has achieved anything, I am not in a position to say because I have not taken time to assess him.
On the date for the 2019 elections fixed by INEC, how many times have dates been changed? I heard them, but we will wait and see.