LEON USIGBE writes on what becomes of Senator Ali Modu Sheriff against the backdrop of the Federal High Court Judgment affirming his ouster as the national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
JULY 4 has been the most anticipated date in the life of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) this year. It was the day Justice Abdulahi Liman of the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, chose to deliver judgement on the legality of the May 21 national convention of the opposition party. The implications of the date were grave and the parties in the leadership crisis waited with bated breath to learn their fates.
The court was to determine whether or not the convention was validly convened and its outcomes, legal. Even the Independent a National Electoral Commission (INEC), which had been in quandary over the PDP crisis, was also waiting to be guided by the judgement. It will be recalled that former National Chairman of the PDP, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, had convened the Port Harcourt national convention in due consultation with all the organs of the party at a time he believed the convention would ratify him as the substantive national chairman of the party.
At the time the convention was being cooked, the post had been zoned to Sheriff’s North-East and indeed, he was chosen as the sole candidate of the zone in the run up to the event. But out of the blues, trouble germinated. The former Borno State governor who had been the beautiful bride of the all powerful PDP state governors, sensed that something was fishy – the governors had a change of heart.
Working with a few members of the extant National Working Committee (NWC), he scrambled for court orders barring the conduct of election into the office of the national chairman, national secretary and the national auditor. The governors’ apparent u-turn on his choice did not deter him at that point as he headed to Port Harcourt for the convention. But while in Port Harcourt and with the writing clearly visible on the wall, he hastily called a press conference in his hotel room and announced the cancellation of the convention while delegates from all around the country were already seated inside. He subsequently flew out of the Rivers state capital and convention went ahead without him. By a resolution of the delegates, the convention dissolved the NWC which he led and replaced it with the National Caretaker Committee led by Senator Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi.
Armed with the order restraining the PDP from conducting elections into the three aforementioned offices, Sheriff argued that the national convention was invalid and continued to lay claim to the office of the national chairman. The PDP had rushed to the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt to attempt to affirm the legitimacy of the convention and its resolutions.
On the judgement day, Justice Liman decided that the PDP national convention in Port Harcourt was duly constituted, declaring that the dissolution of the NWC and the National Executive Committee (NEC) by that convention was also valid. Similarly, the court held that the appointment of the Caretaker Committee of the PDP to oversee its affairs was legal and in line with the provisions of the PDP constitution. Justice Liman affirmed that Article 31 (1) of the PDP constitution vested the powers to convene a national convention on the NEC of the party.
The court ruled that pursuant to the constitution of the party, the former acting National Chairman had no powers to unilaterally postpone the properly constituted national convention on a day all delegates had converged on Port Harcourt. He described the action of Sheriff as most unconscionable, pointing out that Sheriff participated in all the processes leading to the national convention only to make a u-turn at the final minute after he was screened and disqualified.
INEC needed no further convincing Nigerians as to whether to deal with the Makarfi-led National Caretaker Committee or the pretender to the throne, Senator Sheriff. The electoral body got what it waited for – the Liman judgment and immediately recognized the caretaker committee as the authentic leadership of the former ruling party. Even though Sheriff had obtained another ruling which had ordered INEC to recognize his faction pending the determination of the case before it, the Port Harcourt High Court Judgement rendered the ruling a mere academic exercise.
The full weight of Sheriff’s twist of fate was given clarity by INEC’s rejection of his candidate for the Edo state September 10, 2016 gubernatorial election. Having shied away from efforts to amicably resolve the leadership crisis all the while, he suddenly became more amenable to peace talks but his move was too little too late. At the week-end, he refuted claims that he has reconciled with the Ahmed Makarfi-led faction of the party, against the backdrop of reports that the warring factions had buried the hatchet during a meeting held several days ago.
“I have the express permission of Sheriff to inform our teeming supporters and PDP faithful nationwide that he has not reached agreement with anybody, neither has he permitted anybody to conclude on any processes on his behalf,” Dr. Cairo Ojougboh, Sheriff’s deputy said on Saturday. He added: “We are continuing with our cases in court, we respect the rule of law. Sheriff will address a press conference on Monday on the state of our party, PDP. Our goal remains to return the party to the people and stamp out impunity.”
However, although he has indicated that he would appeal the judgment, his camp has apparently crumbled on his head with his major backer, Senator Buruji Kashamu, abandoning him after the court judgment. Former National Secretary and former National Treasurer of the PDP, Professor Wale Oladipo and Alhaji Adewole Adeyanju, respectively, who were the only members of the previous leadership to remain with Sheriff, are now likely to jump ship since they were dragged to him by Kashamu.
Sheriff now apparently realizes that as far as the party chairmanship post is concerned, he may have reached the end of the road, but he does not want to be humiliated. All hope is not lost for him. For the umpteenth time, Makarfi stressed last week that there is enough room in the party for the former party boss and his supporters. And so, with the national convention scheduled for August 17, Sheriff has another opportunity to rebound as he can play a vital role in the reconstitution of the PDP’s new national leadership.