By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
Chieftains of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, were at the weekend rushing to the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, for a meeting tomorrow to decide on the prospects of their platform after the leadership of the party was handed over to Senator Ali Modu Sheriff by the Court of Appeal.
Some foundation members of the party were ruing the fact that Sheriff, who joined the party less than three years ago, was preparing the party for destruction. Before joining in July 2014, he had been a member of the All Progressives Congress, APC, and before then, a member of the defunct All Peoples Party, APP, and former All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP.
This sigh of despondency was also being buttressed by the fact that Sheriff’s deputy, Dr. Cairo Ojuogboh, like Sheriff, was also not an original member of the PDP, having been a foundation member of the Alliance for Democracy, AD, and eventually, Delta State chairman of the party, before joining the PDP at the beginning of the millennium.
Some stakeholders had, immediately after the judgment, canvassed that they should abandon the PDP and its carcass for Sheriff. However, as the judgment increasingly distilled, many more members were at the weekend beginning to canvass that the judgment should be appealed using what they described as the sound reasoning adduced in the minority judgment given by Justice Abadua Orji.
Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode, former minister of aviation and spokesman of the Goodluck Jonathan 2015 campaign, was one of those who had opined that the PDP should seek an alternative platform and abandon the carcass of the party to Sheriff.
‘’The Court of Appeal’s decision is absurd. It’s time for us to gut the PDP, leave its carcass for Sheriff, and form a new party,” Fani-Kayode tweeted yesterday immediately after the judgment.
Continuing, he said:
‘’The decision by the Court of Appeal in PH to recognise Senator Ali Modu Sheriff as the National Chairman of the PDP is a victory for @MBuhari.”
His assertion that the judgment was a victory for the Muhammadu Buhari tendency in the polity, evokes the apprehension that welcomed Sheriff into the PDP when he joined in July 2014. That apprehension even became stronger when he was enthroned as acting national chairman in February 2016.
Governor Kassim Shettima, of Borno State, who had his political apprenticeship under Sheriff, had predicted the crisis in the PDP once his former boss was empowered as the acting national chairman.
“My boss is a very consummate politician; he can survive in any political terrain. He will certainly find his way and will successfully destroy the PDP to the better glory of the APC,” Shettima had said in an interview with Sunday Vanguard published on April 2, 2016, well before the crisis reared its head.
Such assertions were not helped by the political background of Sheriff who served two terms as governor of Borno State between 2003 and 2011, and one term in the Senate between 1999 and 2003; all under the canopy of the then opposition All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP.
Suspicions about Sheriff were not helped that, even though as a member of the opposition ANPP, he was nevertheless one of the most privileged governors who walked in political symmetry with former President Olusegun Obasanjo of the PDP. No one has been able to prove the wild claim that he was engaged to destroy his former party, ANPP, but the fact that the majority of Borno ANPP senators supported the Third Term project linked to the former President is one claim that his critics use to buttress his alleged political infidelity. The late Senator Omar Hambagda, who chaired the Senate Committee that drafted the Third Term proposal, was a political spin-off of the Sheriff tendency in Borno State.
Some political insiders also allege that Sheriff was the one who divided the one-time strong bond between Alhaji Kashim Imam and President Obasanjo. Imam’s determination to unseat Sheriff as governor using the PDP cum state machinery in 2007, was said to have been thwarted by President Obasanjo.
“Kashim thought he was Obasanjo’s man, but he did not know that Sheriff was like Obasanjo’s son and that the two had come a very long way,” a political source said.
Obasanjo, as military head of state was a near buddy to Sheriff’s father, as a federal government contractor.
Obasanjo certainly would not have been pleased with Sheriff’s role in promoting the ‘Sani Abacha For Ever’ chorus, while he, Obasanjo, was in prison in the period between 1995 and 1998. However, by the time he became president, the two men even though operating under different political parties seemed to walk in symmetry in many political projects including Third Term.
After Obasanjo’s exit, Sheriff, even as a leading ANPP chieftain, was able to pull levers in the PDP.
When Jonathan was returned as president after the 2011 election, Sheriff humiliated the Borno State chapter of the PDP when he got the glory for nominating the minister from the state into the Jonathan government. The nominee was Hajiya Yabawa Lawan Wabi, who served as minister of state (finance) having earlier served Sheriff’s government for four years as accountant general. Though Hajiya Wabi was highly qualified for the appointment, not a few critics of Sheriff observed that she is also the senior sister of his wife, Hajiya Fatima Ali Sheriff.
Whatever Sheriff did as an ANPP governor to have deserved the honour to nominate a person alleged to be his sister-in-law as a minister in a PDP government just after the 2011 election, has yet to be revealed.
Though the suspicion of being a mole in the ANPP was repeatedly voiced but never established, some critics claim that he has joined the PDP to play a similar role. Such critics allege that he is a direct in-law to President Muhammadu Buhari, the symbol poster of the APC. Sheriff’s nephew Babagana Mohammed is married to one of Buhari’s daughters, Halima, a relationship that those who brought him in as chairman did not consider or were ignorant of.
But as Governor Shettima told Sunday Vanguard in 2016, Sheriff is a very suave politician with the ability to use the present to negotiate the future.
It is, thus, not surprising that many critics of the governor are suggesting that current political currents in his native Borno State are being stirred by Sheriff for his political benefit. The PDP in Borno State has recently suffered some defections even with Sheriff as acting national chairman of the party. Remarkably, among those who have defected back to the APC are very close associates of Sheriff, among whom are a former Borno State chairman of the ANPP and a spouse of a former minister from the state.
When the two persons who left with Sheriff to the PDP in 2014 returned to the APC, it raised some questions as to whether Sheriff was losing support among those in his inner circle. However, the suspicion among those who have for long observed Sheriff’s politics is that the returnees are being groomed by Sheriff to aspire for the APC governorship contest in 2019.
If Sheriff sustains his claim as PDP National Chairman and by that helps to destroy the PDP, he could as well ask for the APC governorship ticket in 2019 as his quid pro quo.
Such assertions fan the claim by critics like Fani-Kayode that the PDP should be abandoned for Sheriff who it is claimed can only inherit the carcass of the once giant party. With the notable exceptions of Senator Ibrahim Mantu, Dr. Cairo Ojuogboh and Senator Hope Uzodinma, nearly every other major stakeholder in the PDP is aligned to the Makarfi led mainstream.
As the party officials meet tomorrow, Sheriff’s background as a consummate political operator is bound to engage the men and women in the mainstream as they ponder their future.