BEN AGANDE, ABUJA
The Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt division last week affirmed Senator Ali Modu Sheriff as the substantive chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party. It was a ruling that both Senator Ali Modu Sheriff and Senator Ahmed Makarfi who had been locked in a leadership tussle for the soul of the biggest opposition party in the country had looked forward to with much anticipation and high expectation of victory.
It will be recalled that since May last year, the Peoples Democratic Party has been bogged down by leadership crisis after its then acting chairman, Ali Modu Sheriff abruptly cancelled the planned convention in Port Harcourt when it became obvious that the governors elected on the platform of the party and who had, against all odds foisted him on the party, were no longer ready to support him to continue.
Rather than hearken to the postponement of the convention as announced by the chairman, the leaders of the party, led by the state governors hurriedly set up a caretaker committee, headed by the former governor of Kaduna state, Ahmed Makarfi to lead the party pending when a substantive convention would be held to elect new leaders for the party. Since then, series of court orders, some contradictory from courts of coordinate jurisdiction were issued for both parties. The court of Appeal Judgement in Port Harcourt was therefore the highest ruling by any court affirming the Senator Ali Modu Sheriff’s leadership of the party.
Though the Ahmed Makarfi led caretaker committee, backed by almost all the organs of the party has promised to file a challenge at the Supreme Court, until such appeal is filed and dealt with by the apex court in the land, senator Sheriff remains the chairman of the party.
But how far can Sheriff go in piloting the affairs of the party when it appears that majority of party members do not want his presence? From all indices available, Sheriff may be in office but he is certainly not in power.
For instance, apart from Professor Wale Oladipo, Adewale Adeyanju and Dr Cairo Ojuogboh, national secretary and national Auditor and Deputy Chairman respectively who were properly elected into office at one time or the other, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff has single-handedly filled every other position in the national working committee with his yes men and cronies who have found in Sheriff’s leadership, an umbrella for their political relevance. They neither have base nor relevance back in their home state to make any difference to Sheriff’s quest to maintain his leadership of the party.
But beyond these political feather weights that populate Modu Sheriff’s space, there are a few serving senators- Hope Uzodinma, Buruji Kashamu and a few members of the House of Representatives who have pledged their loyalty to the leadership of Ali Modu sheriff. At best, these are controversial members whose claim to relevance is their membership of the legislature with all the controversy that surrounds them. Leadership of state chapters of the party that have pledged allegiance to Senator Sheriff are creations of this same leadership that its legitimacy is being challenged by majority of the members of the party.
But while one may accuse Senator Sheriff of overt ambition, he cannot be said to be politically naïve. At a time that many people expected that he would be spitting fire and brimstone over his court declared victory; senator Sheriff has sounded a conciliatory tone that has disarmed even his worst critics.
At his maiden press briefing after the court of appeal declared him the authentic chairman of the party, Senator Sheriff in a subdued language extended an olive branch to his traducers, especially state governors who had made his ousting their main agenda.
According to him, “The verdict of the court of appeal in Port Harcourt is victory for all. There are no losers and no winners. As a party, we have had some little misunderstanding within ourselves and what happened yesterday is beginning of all the good things that will come for the Peoples Democratic Party. Sheriff is not the winner, Makarfi is not the loser. All of us are winners.
“We are going to unite the party. I was not even in town when the decision of the appeal court was reached. I have come back so that we can put our house in order. I have received many calls from different leaders and I have also made several calls to leaders of the party ever since the verdict was passed. I have received calls from our governors, members of the National assembly and other leaders of the party.
“For now, All Progressive Congress has been the one campaigning for the Peoples Democratic Party. As a party we were doing nothing. I want to assure you that this party will come back to the position it was in 1999. All the leaders of the party will be consulted within now and the next one week and we will come out with a roadmap that will culminate in a successful convention. I am not interested in continuing as the national chairman of the party. What I am interested in is to unite and rebuild the party to make sure that we have credible leaders that will take us to a successful election in 2019.
“Let me put it on record that the survival of the PDP is greater than any one of us. This part is a party that was in government for more than sixteen years. Today marks the beginning of going back to winning elections.
“People should not look at this issue as a personal problem between me and Senator Makarfi or any leader of the party. This is the fist time I am making a statement since the court of appeal in Port Harcourt made its pronouncement but I have seen and read many stories purported to have come from me against leaders of the party. People should respect themselves and not create more problems for the party.
“I will formally consult the national assembly, the governors, the Board of Trustees so that we can come out with a proper roadmap. Within the shortest period, we will organise a convention so that people will aspire to whatever position that they want.
“Nobody is a victor and nobody is a loser. I have spoken to almost all the people that have been affected by this position and I want to assure that everybody will come back together to form one united party”.
“I have full confidence in the judiciary of this country but the judiciary is not the best place to settle political disputes but our judiciary is first class. Let me caution people that have been making misguided statements against our judiciary to desist from doing so.
“There are many well meaning Nigerians from all walks that want this party to be united and that is what I want. Nothing more. I do not believe in all the insinuations that are coming from different quarters that APC is sponsoring me; my hands are clean. There is nothing to hide. Those that are making those statements, check their antecedents. As a person, I want to make sure that I make my contribution to the success of this party and by doing that, I am ready to make any sacrifice for the PDP. We want impunity to stop. We do not want to lose election again. Unless and until we do things correctly, people will not take us serious. Democracy is about people. You either give them their rights or they leave you. What I want to do is to give the party back to the people.
“I will call the leader of the reconciliation committee, Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa state to ensure that we have a quick roadmap that will lead to a successful convention” he said.
If words were enough balm to sooth aggrieved members of the party to have a rethink about their position on Sheriff, it would be easy to conclude that Sheriff has done enough to get all organs of the party to support him. But with the intransigence of governors Nyesom Wike and Ayo Fayose who in the first place foisted least favoured Sheriff on the party with the consequences that such action has engendered, it is most unlikely that Sheriff’s extension of unclenched hands of friendship will get the desired warm embrace that it deserves.