OBIORA IFOH –
The 14 months leadership crisis that rocked the nation’s main opposition party, the People Democratic Party, PDP came to an end last Wednesday with the ruling by the Supreme Court. While the Senator Ahmed Makarfi-led National Caretaker Committee has been jubilating, the Senator Ali Modu Sheriff camp chose to be reticent. OBIORA IFOH in this analysis however thinks that lessons are numerous to be learnt from the protracted crisis.
Mixed reactions have continued to trail the 12th July judgment of the Supreme Court on the leadership of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In a unanimous decision of the apex court read by Justice Bode Rhodes Vivour, Makarfi was declared the authentic chairman of the PDP as the judgment given earlier by the Court of Appeal sitting in Port Harcourt, which declared Sheriff national chairman of the party was upturned. But beyond the celebrations and comments, analysts are quick to point out few lessons that should be learnt from the landmark judgment; the winners, the losers as well as the way forward for the main opposition party.
Root cause of crisis.
After the PDP lost the 2015 general election, the then national chairman, Dr. Ahmadu Mu’azu resigned his position barely two years into the office. His deputy Prince Uche Secondus, from South South assumed office in acting capacity. That development did not go down well with the party leaders from the North East geo-political zone who insisted that the chairmanship slot must return to the region. The pressure forced the party leadership to begin to shop for a replacement to complete Mu’Azu’s remaining two years. Of course, several interests showed up and virtually all organs of the party with the exception of the Board of Trustees filed behind Sheriff.
However, midway into his leadership, the party suspected that Sheriff was nursing ambition for the Presidency of Nigeria in2019 and therefore started hatching plots to stop him. This brought about the division and further crisis in the party. Divided as the party was, they agreed to go for a non elective convention in Port Harcourt on May 21, 2016. Unknown to Sheriff, the execution of the plot to remove him as the national chairman was to be at the convention but again, a court order stopping the convention was obtained that morning. Based on that, Sheriff called off the convention. However, his deputy, Secondus went ahead to preside the convention with the support of all other organs of the party including 9 out of the 12 members of the National Working Committee, the Board of Trustees, BoT, the National Caucus, Governors Forum, Legislator Forum and the entire convention committee.
Fourteen months after, it was one court judgment after another. The legal battle started from the Federal High Court, Abuja and then, Port Harcourt, where there were conflicting judgments between an Abuja Division of the Federal High Court and the Port Harcourt Division. The Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt Division, in a later judgment validated the Sheriff faction as the authentic faction. But not satisfied with the decision of the court, the Makarfi faction approached the Supreme Court, seeking to upturn the judgment of the Court of Appeal.
A five-man panel of justices of the apex court headed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, had reserved judgment after striking out an application that sought to abort hearing on the appeal that was lodged by the Sheriff-led faction of the party. Sheriff had challenged Makarfi’s appeal on the ground that Makarfi no longer had the authority to initiate a suit on behalf of the party. Sheriff and his group failed to persuade the apex court not to hear the appeal.
The panel, in a ruling that was delivered by the CJN, granted the Markafi-led faction leave to challenge the Appeal Court verdict that recognised Sheriff as leader of the party. The CJN held that under section 27 of the Supreme Court Rules, the appellants had a period of three months to appeal against the judgment. The apex court held that the notice of appeal was properly filed in April, and that all the processes by the appellants were duly filed and served.
While delivering judgment on July 12th the Court held that the national convention of the party held on May 21, 2016, was validly convened and in line with the PDP constitution. It also agreed with the appellant that the national convention is the supreme organ of the party, which controls every other organ. The justices unanimously held that the National Convention was in order, when it set up a caretaker committee, having dissolved the National Executive Committee. The apex court also held that the dissolution of the National Executive Committee at the convention was in order, since the national deputy chairman, who presided has the constitutional backing to act in the capacity he did.
The justices expressed worry that Senator Sheriff, who submitted himself to the national convention to seek election into the office of the national chairman, came with a half-filled nomination form and was consequently screened out. The judgment read that going by the report of the electoral screening committee, Sheriff was disqualified on the ground that he did not have PDP membership card, and he also failed to produce a three-year tax clearance and voter card as required by law.
The court noted that in line with Section 35 (3) of the PDP Constitution, a national officer could be removed without a vote of no-confidence. “The party can remove any member who engages in act of dishonesty or contrary to its guideline.” It went further to state that any member of the party who commits any of the offences in section 58 (1) can be sanctioned, and that the national convention has enormous power to decide on the party’s policies. It added that the Appeal Court was wrong to have arrived in that perverse conclusion without reference to the party constitution.
The judgment further read that immediately he was screened out by the electoral committee, Sheriff sought to cancel the election and when the attempt failed, he resorted to court actions as part of a desperate attempt to perpetuate himself in office. The apex court noted that in the process, Senator Sheriff had filed 10 suits in different courts within one year, an effort described by court as an “infantile desperation.” It held that those suits “would end up gathering dust in the judicial archives of the court.”
The winners, the losers
Former President Goodluck Jonathan in his reaction said, “Today’s verdict is a judgment where there are no winners, nor losers…Thus they must take inspiration from former head of state, Gen. Yakubu Gowon and declare no victor no vanquished policy.”
Are there really no winners and no losers? The objective assessment of the development is that indeed, democracy is the greatest winner. Secondly, the PDP as a party and of course, the judiciary, which with this judgment appears to be asserting itself as the unbiased arbiter. After the enthronement of the All Progressives Congress, APC, government more than two years, the governing party appears to be in a roller coaster, with no opposition heating up their heels. For more than two years that the PDP government left office, APC has carried on as if Nigeria is a mono-party system or a one-party state. Reason being that the PDP was so ravaged by internal crisis and the implosion had rendered it impotent that it cannot fill the gap of an opposition party. The apparent poor governance by the APC has in essence continued being without any form of compass and has ruffled every segment of the system it met since May 29, 2015. If it is not the altercation between the Judiciary and legislature, it will be with the institutional management. The jubilation that heralded the judgment was a pointer that Nigerians are clearly fed up with the present system and are asking for something better. But with the judgment, it is believed that the PDP will be in a position to challenge the continued lowly rated governance by the President Muhammadu Buhari government. One other winner of the judgment is the PDP. The protracted legal battle for the soul of the party, has forced PDP to lose critical elections, including governorship seats in Edo and Ondo states and legislative seats in many others. The party has also been grappling with a loss of membership to APC. Virtually in all the states of the federation, the party has factions loyal to either Makarfi or Sheriff. This has polarized the membership. A case in point was the unfortunate situation in Ondo which resulted to their loss of governorship contest. But with the judgment, every faction will now collapse into the Makarfi leadership. One lesson learnt is the supremacy of the party constitution. PDP ran into the crisis because of the impunity and lack of internal democracy. It was a lesson learnt in a hard way and it is believed that the party leaders will now sit up. Sheriff was an imposition by the PDP Governor’s Forum. Had they allowed the party to elect their leaders, probably the crisis may have been averted.
Not only PDP benefited, the APC had a field day. Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu said, “The ruling party has indeed profited from the prolonged power contest, not just in terms of defections, but also in the unchallenged degeneration of democratic values, rule of law, electoral practice, and the economy because the PDP has been too distracted to keep them on their toes.”
One other winner is the judiciary. The allegation has always been that the Sheriff group was sponsored by the APC government. The judgment of the lower and appellate courts had given Sheriff victory. And many had suspected that the Supreme Court may toe the same line but that was not to be. However, some other pundits were sure that with the absence of President Buhari and the internal wrangling within APC leadership, the Supreme Court will not be under any pressure to skew the judgment. Also judgment has been delivered and the rest is history. The CJN also warned the judges in the lower courts to always consult the party constitution before delivering judgment even as he advised that political cases should be assigned to judges that have comparative knowledge to avoid indiscriminate and contradictory judgments. For the losers, it could be argued that probably, PDP having lost some states such as Ondo, Edo and a number of legislative position may be counting their loses. Again, Sheriff and his co -travelers should be counting their losses having had no peace while their administration lasted.
With 2019 in focus, it is the general belief that should PDP put its house in order, there could be some surprises. Threats of secession have continued to spiral with virtually all sections of the federation including notable figures in the ruling party rooting for restructuring. The government has refused or is not in any hurry to take action to address the agitations though the ruling APC has set up a 10-member committee headed by Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir El Rufai to examine the ieeue. This is a critical period in the annals of this nation and the crisis is anything but abating and it is expected to get to its crescendo during the campaign. PDP is expected to leverage on this snag should they put their house in order.
In a veil reference to that, former President Jonathan while calling on all those who left the PDP because of its leadership issue to return to their natural home and build the PDP, said “We see Nigerians as human beings deserving of rule of law, separation of powers. The party that gave Nigeria the largest economy in Africa is a party whose heart is large enough to find a place for all Nigerians and a free market economy that provides a level playing ground for all. PDP is an inclusive vehicle not an exclusive one.”
Elated Makarfi said what was uppermost in his mind presently is 2019. But he also said the party will immediately constitute three committees for peace and reconciliation. Senator Ekweremadu also said, “importantly, I call on our party leadership and elders to immediately initiate an all-inclusive peace, reconciliation, and rebuilding process to reunite everybody under the big umbrella and reinvigorate the biggest party in Africa to bounce back to the rescue of the suffering masses of Nigeria come 2019”.
Chairman of the Former Ministers Forum and a former Minister for Special Duties, Tanimu Kabir Turaki, urged the committee to make necessary arrangement to consolidate the gains and bring all members back to the fold.
But a member whose position on reconciliation is not known at least for now is Senator Sheriff, the erstwhile national chairman. Though, Makarfi said he read in the social media that Sheriff has congratulated him, however, spokesperson of the Sheriff faction, Hon. Bernard Mikko had since denied any such congratulation from his boss.
The former chairman disowned series of tweets congratulating Makarfi after the court judgment on Wednesday, saying he has no twitter handle.
Sheriff who also rejected the amnesty offered him and his followers by the Markafi-led PDP said that he was rather worried about the future of the party, which he said is now in the hands of some persons known to have criminal cases bordering on fraud, treasury looting and dishonesty pending before the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
A twitter handle @SenAliSheriff, with a display picture of Sheriff, had posted a congratulatory message to Makarfi, call on PDP faithful to corporate with the new leadership of the major opposition party to remove the All Progressives Congress (APC) from office.
Makarfi had offered Sheriff and his loyalists amnesty, declaring that it was in the spirit of ‘no winner no loser’ disposition of his leadership.
But reacting to the purported tweets from Sheriff, acting national publicity secretary of the Sheriff-led PDP, Hon Bernard Mikko said, “Our attention has been drawn to a fake congratulatory message credited to an imaginary Twitter handle of Sen (Dr) Ali Modu Sheriff, the immediate past PDP National Chairman. For the avoidance of doubt, Sen Ali Modu Sheriff does not have or own a Twitter account and could not have tweeted any message.
“We therefore view the said message as fake and mischievous and should be discountenanced as that of evil doers. We further warn all mischief makers to desist from trying to exploit the huge political capital of Sen Ali Modu Sheriff for selfish gains”.
Reacting to the amnesty offered Sheriff and his group of loyalists, Mikko said, “I take exceptions to the reckless statement credited to Prince Dayo Adeyeye suggesting the grant of amnesty to Sen Ali Modu Sheriff, his National Working Committee and supporters. Amnesty is a reprieve for those who have committed offence under our statutes. We did not occupy the office illegally or committed any offence.
“Sen. Ali Modu Sheriff was validly elected and was forced to vacate the National Secretariat after a joint meeting of the contending camps with the Inspector General of Police in the wake of attack in the heat of conflicting court pronouncements.
“However the office was officially re-opened for us after we presented the certified true copy (CTC) of the judgment of Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt Division to the Inspector General of Police. I am therefore concerned about the future of our party in the hands of some of those who are known to have pending criminal cases bordering on fraud, treasury looting and dishonesty with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The Supreme Court of Nigeria is the highest court in our land and we await the copy of the full judgment delivered on July 12, 2017.
“No one owns the party and those making unguarded and reckless statements in the public domain should realise that the solution to the problem of Nigeria is beyond any political association. Unacceptable and unjustifiable means cannot lead to a justifiable and acceptable end”.
Meanwhile, the immediate past national organizing secretary, under Sheriff’s, Okey Nnadozie, has pledged loyalty to Makarfi’s leadership, describing the Supreme Court judgment as victory for the party.
In a statement issued by himself, Nnadozie said, “I have carefully considered Wednesday’s ruling of the Supreme Court, which in effect ended the regrettable leadership tussle and protracted disagreements among members of our great party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
“The unfortunate tussle, while it lasted, saw many loyal and committed members of our great party wittingly or unwittingly on different sides of the divide based on principle and different interpretation of our Party’s constitution. But in all, the verdict is victory for all as it has at last brought us all together again as one big family that we have always been.
“It is on this note that I sincerely congratulate the leaders and members of our party, particularly, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, and members of the National Caretaker Committee, Our Governors, members of the National Assembly, and of course all Nigerians for this important judgment. Indeed, the ruling is a clear pointer to the future of not only our party but also the entire nation”.
“This development also points to the democratic credentials of our party and the resilience of its undying ideology as a robust and egalitarian platform, irrespective of the challenges it faced. No doubt, during and immediately after the 2015 general election, and particularly during the period of this unfortunate divisive leadership tussle, mistakes were made; unguarded statements were made, our party had to bear avoidable pain and loses, but in all, very serious lessons have also been learnt.
“What is left for us now is to put the painful past behind us, forgive and embrace one another and together forge ahead in the onerous charge to reposition our party for the task ahead. In this regard, I wish to commend and thank our leaders who have made comments in this direction.
“As a loyal and dedicated member who has held leadership position at the national level, the PDP remains my home as we once more rededicate ourselves and place the overriding interest of our party over and above every personal ambition or interest”.
Good advice if you ask but all the same PDP is on the move again, and it is advised that the Makarfi led National Caretaker Committee must waste no time to restore sanity. He should also be magnanimous in victory while Sheriff and his team should humbly accept the defeat with grace and team up with the entire party organ to rebuild the party or they will say, to patch the tattered umbrella. The aborted convention must return to the front burner even though a non-elective convention has been fixed for August 12 and the Professor Jerry Gana committee recommendations on how to get the party back to the people must be dusted up, considered and put to use immediately.
For a better society