Ben Obi emerges party scribe How governors turned against sheriff Gana’s group seeks BoT’s intervention
Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt and
Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
In a bid to urgently reposition the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and stem the growing tide of opposition within its fold, the national convention of the party yesterday in Port Harcourt sacked its acting national chairman, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff. Sheriff was replaced with a caretaker chairman, former Kaduna State Governor, Senator Ahmed Makarfi. Former presidential adviser to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, Senator Ben Obi, was elected secretary of the caretaker committee, which was mandated to manage the affairs of the party for three months.
Sheriff’s tenure was a major source of division in the party, as a faction supported his stay in office while another fiercely sought his removal.
The changes that emerged in Port Harcourt were amid a parallel convention of the PDP held in Abuja by the faction of the party that had been traditionally opposed to Sheriff’s leadership.
Sheriff had until a couple of days ago been backed by the PDP Governors’ Forum, a powerful bloc within the party, and other key sponsors of the convention in the Garden City. His removal by the Port Harcourt convention came as a complete surprise. He had looked forward to the convention with optimism following discussions about his possible confirmation for another two years.
Meanwhile, details started to emerge yesterday about how the tide turned against Sheriff in Port Harcourt. The 12 PDP governors, former governors of the party, National Assembly members led by Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, and other party leaders had held a marathon meeting at the Rivers Government House, Port Harcourt where Sheriff was also in attendance.
THISDAY reliably gathered that the stakeholders had during the meeting asked Sheriff to step down as acting national chairman of the party. They noted that his emergence as acting chairman had divided leaders of the party and polarized the rank and file, raising fears that if urgent steps were not taken to halt the slide, the party may not recover from it. They wanted to make room for someone who would be a unifying factor – instead of the divisive factor that Sheriff had become. He was said to have refused, insisting that he has till 2018 to preside over the affairs of the party.
It was also gathered that part of the reasons the governors and other stakeholders asked Sheriff to step aside was the fact that, contrary to widespread belief, he was broke and thought to lack the financial muscle needed to steer PDP out of its current difficulties. The fear, sources said, was that he would rely too much on the governors for funding, and many would be unwilling to venture into such responsibility under the present cash crunch and in an era of anticorruption campaign.
There was also the issue of trust as many leaders of PDP found it difficult to trust Sheriff, who had been in the opposition for the greater part of the Fourth Republic and came into the former ruling party not long ago. His manner of exit from the opposition coalition ahead of the 2015 general election, which also bordered on trust among his former comrades, was further cited as reason not to entrust the affairs of the party in his hands for too long.
THISDAY gathered that there were fears among even those that had been backing Sheriff about his motive for wanting to stay in office at all cost even when his stay had polarized the party and that there were tendencies that he would be out of control once he secures a new mandate.
Besides, many of the stakeholders argued that his tenure had ended and he should vacate office.
Sensing he would be sacked at the convention, Sheriff quickly called a press conference at Le Meridian Hotel, Port Harcourt announcing the convention’s suspension after he left the meeting at the Government House that lasted several hours, citing court orders, which he had, however, consistently tended to jettison.
At the press briefing, Sheriff said, “If we proceed with the convention, we will be charged for contempt of court. As a responsible party, we have to respect the court orders. We will reconvene as soon as we are able to dispense with the court cases.”
He added, “We’ve been meeting since morning. We had challenges of series of court cases; we’ve decided to abandon election into chairman, secretary and auditor (positions). We have suspended the convention; we had three different cases in Abuja and Lagos. INEC also said they will not supervise the election. We will be contravening the court and we will be charged for contempt of court. We went to court, but we were denied permission.”
His directive was, however, ignored, as the convention went on as planned with the 12 PDP state governors and other leaders of the party in attendance.
While Sheriff left Port Harcourt after his press briefing, the 12 PDP governors as well as members of the National Assembly and other stakeholders headed to the Sharks Stadium venue of the convention and kicked off the programme. Rivers State Governor and chairman of the National Convention Committee, Nyesom Wike, was in charge of the process. The convention dissolved the NWC, effectively sacking Sheriff, and set up a national caretaker committee.
One of the first decisions taken by the convention was the dissolution of the NWC by a motion moved by former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Austin Opara, and seconded by another former Deputy Speaker, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha.
The convention, via a voice vote, set up a national caretaker committee following a motion by Senate Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio, which was seconded by Gombe State Governor Ibrahim Dankwanbo. The caretaker committee, which will be in office for not more than 90 days and conduct a proper convention for the party, also has as members Senator Odion Ogbesia, Senator Abdul Ningi, Barrister Kabiru Usman, Prince Dayo Adeyeye, and Alhaja Aisha Aliyu.
Another motion for the zoning of the position of presidential candidate to the North head of 2019 was moved by former Niger State Governor Babangida Aliyu and seconded by Delta State Governor Senator Ifeanyi Okowa.
In his acceptance speech after being elected chairman of the caretaker committee, Makarfi called on all aggrieved PDP members to give peace a chance in the interest of the party.
“I humbly accept the challenge and I do so on behalf of other members of the committee. I assure you have no cause to worry. None of us is contesting for any office. Please, give peace a chance, so that we can rebuild our party for the benefit of not only Nigerians and Africans, but the entire black race,” the former governor pleaded.
One of the key conditions given to Makarfi and other members of the caretaker committee, THISDAY learnt, was that they will not contest for any position at the next PDP national convention.
The Concerned PDP Stakeholders, led by former informer minister, Professor Jerry Gana, at their parallel convention in Abuja, set up a 57- member steering committee co-chaired by former Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ibrahim Mantu, and former Minister of Education, Professor Tunde Adeniran. The committee was required to oversee the affairs of the faction until the court orders against the election of new PDP officers were set aside and a proper convention was held.
The concerned PDP stakeholders said they decided to hold a non-elective convention in deference to court orders stopping the party from electing new National Working Committee members.
The faction said given the current disagreements in the party, the Board of Trustees is in the best statutory and moral position to assume the leadership of the party pending the reconstitution of its National Executive Committee.
Mantu said the stakeholders “resolved to rebuild, renew and rebrand” the party in line with the vision of the founding fathers. “This becomes a non-elective convention in respect of court orders, and also to enable us have a tete-a-tete with our brothers in Port Harcourt.”
He reiterated that the decision to choose Sheriff as chairman of the party was in violation of the established procedure.
Former presidential adviser on public communications in the Jonathan government, Dr. Doyin Okupe, said in an interview, “We are not ruling out reconciliation, we are open to setting up a caretaker committee.” He was referring to the group that convened in Port Harcourt.
Among party leaders at the Port Harcourt convention were former national chairman, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo; former Minister of Federal Capital Territory, Senator Bala Mohammed; outgoing National vice chairman (South-south), Dr. Cairo Ojougboh; former chairman of Abuja Municipal Area Council, Mrs. Esther Audu; and former governors of Imo, Adamawa and Taraba states, Achike Udenwa, Ahmadu Fintiri, and Garba Umar, respectively.
Speaking after a meeting in Abuja to appraise the decisions that emerged from the convention in Port Harcourt, Mantu said there was no other body constitutional mandated to take over the affairs of the party at this time than the BoT. He stated, “There is a body that is constitutionally mandated to take over the affairs of the party. And that body is the conscience of the party called BoT. At this point in time, the only legal organ constitutionally empowered to actually take over the affairs of the party is the BoT.”
Mantu added that his group had been vindicated by the removal of Sheriff in Port Harcourt, saying that is what the Concerned PDP Stakeholders have been advocating.