PDP’s convention of confusion

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) practically passed through the eye of the needle to hold a one-legged convention in Port Harcourt on Wednesday. But, the convention appears to have opened up new chapters, writes Group Politics Editor, TAIWO ADISA.

The stage for the national convention of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Port Harcourt on August 17 was set in confusion and at the end of the day, it did not come as a surprise that the convention proper landed in a confluence of crisis.

Apprehension, suspense and tension had gripped delegates and participants at the Convention from Monday. As more and more party faithful poured into the Garden City, the gloomy atmosphere lingered.

The gloomy atmosphere appeared lifted a bit on Monday when Justice Ibrahim Watila of the Federal High Court Port Harcourt ruled that the convention should go on without hindrance. But the joy was tenuous as

a ruling of the Federal High Court in Abuja presided over by Justice Okon Abang was still awaited.

In two successive days, Justice Okon Abang delivered salvos that eventually pull the convention down.  The Judge on Monday gave an order stopping the convention and late on Tuesday, he delivered a final blow, asking the Police, the electoral Commission and other security agencies to ensure the convention did not hold.  It was a direct affront on the earlier ruling by Justice Watila but the Police and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had found a convenient alibi to block the convention.


The conspiracy theories

As soon as INEC and the Police started expressing views which indicated that they were going to reckon with the ruling of the Abuja Federal High Court presided over by Justice Abang, the trigger of conspiracy theories went off. Many members of the PDP were quick to indicate that the government of the All Progressives Congress (APC) had found a convenient point to secretly intervene in the crisis and keep the opposition party in limbo. Many had reasoned that with the factional National Chairman, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff being an in-law of President Muhammadu Buhari, it should not be difficult to see the essence of Sheriff’s intransigence. Many had also opined that the statements credited to two chieftains of the APC, the Governor of Kano State, Ibrahim Ganduje and the Governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima, which indicated that Sheriff would work for the APC ahead of 2019, were instructive enough but that the governors of the PDP who foisted him on the party were oblivious of the danger.

Rivers state governor, Nyesom Wike, who served as Chairman of the Convention planning Committee and his Ekiti State counterpart, Ayodele Fayose who were the arrowheads of Sheriff’s chairmanship of the party have had to apologise to members of the party for the role they played in bringing him on.  Wike said in a television interview on Wednesday that he and his colleagues made mistakes in bringing Sheriff on. Many members of the PDP believed that the APC-led government only chose to cherry-pick the judgments to obey and that it would have been okay if the government had left the Police and INEC to decide on their own.

Where there are conflicting judgments from courts of coordinate jurisdiction, what is expected of the government is to await the ruling of a higher court and not to elect to obey one ruling at the expense of the other,” said the chairman of Edo state chapter of the PDP, Chief Dan Orbih.

He however stated that all the attempts at foisting an inconclusive convention on the PDP was resisted and thwarted by party loyalists who he said remained dedicated and loyal to their decisions to exercise their rights.

“All the efforts to truncate the convention and make it inconclusive were frustrated. They wanted to plant on the PDP and Nigerians another inconclusive exercise but the determination of party stalwarts to exercise their rights ensured we had a concluded exercise,” Orbih said

adding that the extension of tenure for the National Caretaker Committee would enable the party resolve all the legal tango and move forward.


The convention day drama

Though Justice Okon Abang in Abuja had given a late night order stopping the convention, the PDP Hierarchy had announced the readiness to proceed with the convention.  That provided some succor for the determined members who continued to troop into the Garden City.  All flights heading for the Rivers state capital were fully booked, with airlines having a field day charging fares as they deemed fit. The city of Port Harcourt was bubbling in different colours. While some states chose to turn up in brand new uniforms, others dry-cleaned uniforms they had used in the run up to the 2015 election and previous conventions and state congresses.

As the party faithful oscillate between convention glee and gloom, the Police delivered a big blow unto the chin early on Wednesday. Police authorities deployed armoured cars and personnel carriers to block all points leading to the convention ground at the Sharks Stadium.

Delegates and hangers on were left in a quandary and the leaders scampered to the Rivers state Government House for emergency meetings.

From consultative meetings, the leaders resolved to hold the statutory National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting which prepared the way out of the quagmire. The PDP was in straight dilemma, threatening to dovetail into trilemma. The National Caretaker Committee headed by Senator Ahmed Makarfi would cease to operate from August 21 if nothing was done in form of a convention. And then Ali Modu Sheriff had continued to parade himself as factional chairman.


Which way to go?

That was the question on the lips of PDP leaders as he headed into meetings at the Government House Port Harcourt. At the end of series of consultations, it was obvious that the Police had blocked the convention. But the leaders resolved to hold the convention anyhow.

That was the only way they believe they could rescue the party from Sheriff. Thus, the decision was taken to the effect that the convention be moved to the state party Secretariat, which is blessed with an expansive compound.

That done, it emerged that the expanded NEC meeting had resolved to extend the tenure of the Makarfi-led National Caretaker Committee by one year, while also mandating the committee to ensure the resolution of all internal wrangling before the next national convention.


An Agbaje corronation aborted?

As the party faithful were converging in Port Harcourt, it was obvious that the governorship candidate of the PDP in Lagos state in the 2015 election, Mr Jimi Agbaje was headed for coronation.  The South East caucus as well as the South-South and the Governors forum had adopted him as the man that should be put forward for election as national chairman. The thinking among the party’s leaders according to insiders was that the party needed someone who could not be indicted for past misdeeds in government.  The leaders, according to sources were of the view that those engineering crisis from outside the party will easily harass any other candidate to submission since all the other contenders except Agbaje had served in government at one time or the other.


A breather for the troubled umbrella?

But the party had to do a quick one by ensuring that the Makarfi-led committee is given further oxygen such that the party is not handed over to Sheriff through the back door.

In aborting the elective convention, the PDP posited that it was a law abiding party and that it would seek to vacate all negative court orders but in the interim empower Makarfi to carry on the mantle for another 12 months.

A statement by the Publicity secretary of the National Convention Committee, Prince Dayo Adeyeye, read in part: “The public is aware that our Party is law abiding and it’s acting in compliance with the judgment of Justice Liman of the Federal High Court Seating here in Port Harcourt, which is in favour of all actions taken by the Party’s highest decision making Organ, the National Convention of May 21, 2016 held here in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. So far, there is no judgment upturning it which of course, such must come from the Court of Appeal. In addition, there is another existing Order from a Court of competent jurisdiction directing all concerned not to tamper with the Convention.

“Notwithstanding, the powers that be at the Federal level in conspiracy with the former national chairman, Senator Sheriff and his co travelers carried out their act of legal and political disobedience with flagrant disregard to the tenets of democracy.

“In view of these and other developments, the Party convened an emergency meeting of the National Executive Committee (NEC) at the Government House, Port Harcourt which was inaugurated by the Chairman of the National Caretaker Committee, H.E. Senator Ahmed Makarfi, CON and the Meeting took several decisions to reposition the Party.

“Following the above, the National Convention held at the PDP State Secretariat on Aba Road in Port Harcourt. The Convention was presided over by the Chairman of the National Caretaker Committee, Sen Ahmed Makarfi, CON with all delegates in attendance which includes: PDP Governors, National Assembly members, the BOT members, other members of the Party nationwide and invited guests.

“The Convention adopted the following resolutions:

“Postponed election of officers to various national offices of the Party.

“Extended the tenure of the National Caretaker Committee till anotherNational Convention which is to be convened within the next 12 months.

“Approved the expansion of membership of the National Caretaker Committee from 7 to 13 members;

“Finally, the Repeat National Convention affirmed that all members of the National Caretaker Committee shall not contest or aspire for any national office in the next National Convention of the Party.

“The Party wishes all delegates and other members journey mercies to their various destinations and urged members to continue working together with the National Caretaker Committee till a new National Convention holds in the next one year.”


Makarfi inaugurates new PDP NEC

to set the tone for the extension of the tenure of his Committee; Senator Ahmed Makarfi had at the Rivers Government House inaugurated the party’s new National Executive Committee (NEC).

The extended NEC later took the decision to allow Makarfi continue in office for another 12 months. He said that in the absence of the elected national officers, the National Caretaker Committee members would be part of the NEC, adding that the caretaker committee members would cease to be NEC members once national officers were elected.

The former Kaduna state governor said that the new PDP NEC, in line with the demands of many stakeholders would include the PDP governors, National Assembly Caucus, members of the PDP Board of Trustees, National Caucus, the 36 state PDP chairmen and national officers of the party.


Police and the double speak?

Rivers State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Francis Odesanya, said on Wednesday that the Force did not seal off the Sharks Stadium venue of the national convention of the PDP but acted only to protect lives and property.

Odesanya, who spoke to newsmen in Port Harcourt, said that the action taken by the Police was in view of the conflicting court orders from the Federal High Courts in Abuja and Port Harcourt. The Police Chief said: “We are only obeying a court order. It is not my duty to interpret court orders. You people are journalists and you got the court orders too. You are in a position to interpret the orders.”

He also refused to reveal when the police got the order to seal off the venue of the convention, as the police authority had disclosed earlier that it was yet to get the order, as at 11pm on Tuesday night.

“Our actions are in line with the court order. It is not relevant when we got to the venue. The police have been there; we are always everywhere. We are always providing security everywhere. That is our primary assignment; to make sure that everywhere within the state is secured. Police did not seal off anywhere. We are merely providing security and ensuring that there is peace, security and order.”

He also said journalists were not in any position to speak for and on behalf of PDP delegates who could not gain entrance into the venue of the convention, noting, “Journalists are not delegates and you cannot speak for delegates. You are journalists and you are not accredited.”

Ekiti State governor, Ayodele Fayose triggered another controversy on Wednesday when he lamented that he was practically under ‘house arrest’ during the convention.

He told newsmen about his failure to show up at the convention ground that he was blocked by the police who stopped all exit from his end of the Rivers government House where he lodged. He lamented that he was not at the national convention as he was placed under ‘house arrest’ at the Old Presidential Lodge, Rivers State Government House when the Police blocked his exit with an Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC). He said that his convoy was prevented from leaving for the state secretariat of the party after security agencies had sealed off the initial venue, was prevented from moving out as the gate to the Old Presidential Lodge.

Special Adviser to the governor on Social Media, Lere Olayinka, who spoke on behalf of Fayose, said that all entreaties to allow Fayose to step out to attend the convention were rebuffed by the security personnel.


Will the PDP survive?

That is the question that would remain on the lips for long. Many party leaders at the convention in Port Harcourt were already expressing the feeling that the stakeholders could abandon Sheriff with the name “PDP” while they move enmasse to another party platform. Those in this school of thought were of the view that with Sheriff having seized the soul of the party via subtle official backing from the APC, the troubles of the PDP might not end so soon.

They also reason that the plot might be to keep the PDP in the courts through conflicting rulings, which would be enforced as the government deemed fit.

That notwithstanding, some leaders were said to still nurture the hope that the party could survive the current travails if the cases are taken through the Court of Appeal and the apex court. Besides, a section of those in this school believe that there is nothing that stops the PDP from retaining the Caretaker Committee for as long as possible.

One of such sources claimed that the ruling APC only had a National Caretaker Committee in place even when the heat of the 2015 election was on. Another school of thought among the party’s leadership is however of the view that the survival of the PDP would largely depend on the action of its members henceforth. According to this group, a party that has no fewer than 15 court cases instituted against it by its own members looks more like one sitting on a keg of gun powder.