Since the Supreme Court verdict of July that sacked Sen. Ali Modu Sheriff as national chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Sen. Ahmed Makarfi, whose headship of the opposition party’s caretaker committee was authenticated by the apex court, has continued to reinvent the party that was before now written off by pundits and even some key members. We look at how Makarfi is cleaning up the PDP.
The new steam in the PDP is not coming on a platter, there are praises here and there and backlashes as well. Analysts believe that Makarfi, a former two term governor and a former senator, would have to continue to work harder on the herculean task given to him and other members for the party to truly have a sense of direction ahead of the 2019 elections.
Unarguably, many believe that he is exactly doing that, and the ultimate goal is for the PDP, which led Nigeria since the advent of the Fourth Republic in 1999, to recover the presidency and many states from the ruling All Progressives Congress which seized the fame in 2015.
Since the Supreme Court judgment, there are clear indications that the PDP has survived what analysts described as “the worst crisis” that nearly claimed its very existence as a party which once said it would remain in power for 60 consecutive years.
Several meetings at various levels were held of recent at the instance of the Makarfi-led committee and the reinvention move climaxed at last Saturday’s non-elective convention held in Abuja.
Die hard supporters and leaders of the PDP described the event as a “celebration of victory over evil.”
Power brokers, party bigwigs, decision-makers and key actors like former President Goodluck Jonathan, ex-Vice President Namadi Sambo, governors, founding fathers and other stakeholders gathered to prove their determination to reclaim power in 2019.
How cleaning began at Eagle Square
During the convention at the Eagle Square on August 12, Makarfi and other PDP leaders, as part of their “cleaning initiatives,” did not only reel out the achievements of the party during its heydays at the corridors of power, but mercilessly lashed at the APC’s alleged iniquities in the last two years, talked tough, took decisions and made several proclamations.
They appeared “scrupulous and meticulous” in the eyes of the multitude of supporters on ground and those that were afar monitoring through live media broadcast of the convention’s proceedings, demonstrating their conviction that it’s a new dawn for the PDP.
For instance, Jonathan, who had for nearly two years literally dumped the PDP and distanced himself from politicking until recently, was at the convention a different man, more vocal, assertive and upbeat. He said the PDP had returned from the limbo and would reclaim power in 2019.
“The PDP like every successful human organization has gone through a momentous time in the last one and half years,” he said.
“As a party that heralded Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999, the PDP had become so accustomed to success in its 16 years in power that the first time our fortunes changed at the polls, it was obvious that the party would suffer the aftershocks of the loss.
“It was in deed a most trying period for us as a political party. However, it is not an experience that is peculiar to us. This is because all over the world, any party that loses election at the centre as we did will, first of all, struggle to hold together before regaining its composure to effectively present the strong voice of the opposition and resume the contestation to return to office,” he said.
It was indeed a hectic journey for the PDP. Over 5,000 delegates participated in the convention and in his speech, Makarfi confirmed that five attempts were made to stop the mini convention through the courts.
Four major decisions
One, the tenure of the Senator Ahmed Makarfi-led National Caretaker Committee was extended by four months to allow them more time to strengthen the party, bring back defectors, attract new members by cashing on the apparent lapses in the APC probably due to the long absence of President Muhammadu Buhari and ultimately organise an elective national convention ahead of 2019.
A former governor of Akwa Ibom State and Senate Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio, moved the motion for extension of the tenure while a former governor of Jigawa State, Sule Lamido, seconded the motion.
It was the second time the PDP was extending the tenure of the caretaker committee.
“Makarfi and his team are doing a good job, that’s why we unanimously endorsed the extension,” said Umar Sanda, the Acting Secretary of the Youth Wing of the party in Borno State.
“Makarfi is cleaning the damages done by Ali Sheriff, we’re pleased our PDP is back both in number and influence. There was no opposition in the last two years but we’ve one now,” Sanda said.
The Makarfi committee’s tenure was supposed to expire on August 16, 2017.
The party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) had on August 17, 2016, extended the tenure of the caretaker committee by 12 months following the intense leadership tussle with Senator Sheriff.
Two, the party also dissolved its executive committees in seven states including Adamawa, Borno, Kebbi, Kwara, Lagos, Ogun and Osun where parallel and conflicting organs existed when both Makarfi and Sheriff were contesting leadership of the party. The motion was moved by Governor Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo of Gombe State and seconded by Governor Chigozie Ikpeazu of Abia State and adopted.
The convention mandated the caretaker committee to organize congresses in those states within three months.
In the same move, the convention also ratified the dissolution of the factional executives in Anambra State. Governor
Nyesom Wike of Rivers State moved a motion to that effect and it was seconded by Hajiya Maryam Inna Ciroma.
Fourthly, a decision was reached at the convention on the ratification of the election of zonal and state executives where congresses were successfully held between May and March 2016.
Notable faces at the event included the governors of Ekiti-Ayodele Fayose, Rivers-Chief Nyesom Wike, Akwa Ibom- Emmanuel Udum, Taraba-Arc. Darius Ishaku, Gombe-Dr. Ibrahim Hassan Dankwanbo, deputy governors of Bayelsa-Rear Admiral John Jonah-Cross River-Professor Ivara Esu, Ebonyi-Dr. Eric Kelechi Igwe, national vice chairmen, state chairmen, party stalwarts and other leaders.
Real politicking commences!
However, the embattled Senator Sheriff and most of his loyalists were conspicuously absent, heightening fears that it’s not yet a bed of roses for the PDP handlers.
A case of note was that two days after the convention, Senator Buruji Kashamu (PDP, Ogun West), an ardent supporter of Sheriff, kicked against the dissolution of the Southwest executives at all levels in Ogun, Lagos and Osun states, saying it was illegal and would not stand.
The senator argued that the decision was a violation of a Federal High Court order, adding that the judgment recognising the executive councils in Ogun and Southwest was never appealed and therefore subsisting.
In line with this, the Southwest faction of the PDP had since gone to court seeking an order to nullify the 75th National Executive Committee meeting of the party and all the issues adopted at the special non-elective convention.
A former legal adviser of the PDP in Anambra State, Barrister Afam Akonanya, has taken Makarfi and his secretary, Senator Ben Obi, to a High Court in Awka over the dissolution of the executive committee in the state.
Akonanya said the suit was targeted at prevailing on the caretaker committee to reverse its order.
But Makarfi was unperturbed. “The Supreme Court has already ruled on powers of the convention, other issues will take their natural course,” he said.
Though the courts have settled most of the legal issues, Makarfi and his team would have to find political solutions to other issues such as who would emerge the new national chairman and from which zone.
Long ago, a committee headed by the Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ikweremadu, had zoned the national chairmanship to the South and the presidential ticket to the North. But everyone is aware that there are six geo-political zones and though not entrenched in the Nigerian constitution, the zones have indirectly become the threshold for sharing political benefits.
Chieftains of the party from the Southwest are already embroiled in a fresh battle for the chairmanship of the party.
The contenders are a former Minister of Education, Prof. Tunde Adeniran, who at a time served as Nigerian ambassador to Germany. He is also a member of the party’s Board of Trustees (BoT).
Similarly, a former National Vice Chairman of the party, Chief Bode George, a former PDP governorship candidate in Lagos State Jimi Agbaje and Prof. Taoheed Adedoja among others are all reportedly in the race.
Prince Uche Secondus, a former acting national chairman of the party, is also reportedly considering going for the chairmanship.
In the 2016 contest, broadcasting mogul, Chief Raymond Dokpesi, was in the race. It is, however, not clear whether he is still nursing the ambition considering the fact that he split his legs between the PDP and a new registered party, APDA.
Some of the contenders from the Southwest who spoke with our correspondent said they should be allowed to produce the PDP chairman on the ground that their region had never been entrusted with the revered office since the creation of the party in 1998.
Undoubtedly, the Makarfi committee would have to play a key role in resolving this issue.
Most importantly, our source learnt that some members of the caretaker committee that have various ambitions are willing to organise the elective convention in order to hand over to a new crop of NWC ahead of 2019.
For instance, the National Organizing Secretary, Senator Abdul Ningi, is said to be eying the governorship ticket of the party in Bauchi State while Prince Dayo Adeyeye is eying the same position in Ekiti State.
Besides, the choice of presidential candidate will also be a factor in the North.
Many people believe that Makarfi would be a veritable candidate considering his track record as governor and at the Senate, including his towering credentials in the management of the PDP crisis.
Also, ex- governors Sule Lamido (Jigawa), Ibrahim Shekarau (Kano), ex- Senate President David Mark among others are all likely contenders. Their banners were conspicuously displayed during the mini-convention.
Moreover, some notable APC chieftains such as ex- vice president Atiku Abubakar, ex- Kano State governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso among others might likely jump the fence if the odds in their present party do not favour them in the coming months.
Though Kwankwaso had within the week dispelled rumours that he had dumped the APC for the PDP, many believe that Atiku is only marking time. PDP leaders in his home state of Adamawa said they had been preparing grounds for him to return.
While the caretaker committee has to go in four months, analysts say it is incumbent on the members to work closely with the reconciliation committee set up by the party in order to reconcile aggrieved members across the board.
Credible sources within the party told our correspondent that some of those who defected to the APC at the height of the internal brawl in the PDP are willing to return, but are thinking of what will become of them if they fail to first negotiate with the party’s national leadership before returning.
A member of the disciplinary committee told our correspondent that some of them are heavy weight politicians but they want to have a pact with the PDP before jumping ship.
“So, the caretaker committee must have to manage this in such a way as to bring them back,” he said.
But Makarfi is also clear on this when he said they knew the antics of “nomadic politicians.”
Makarfi, who stated this when he received the PDP Rescue Group led by a former governor of the defunct Gongola State, Amb. Wilberforce Juta, said, “We are open to accepting new entrants into the party but no special privileges for anybody coming into the party. That is not an issue to be contemplated. No exclusivity, it will be inclusive without any special privilege to anybody or group of individuals.
“That’s how APC got it wrong. We should learn from how APC got it wrong, what we need to do is that we will create a level-playing field and don’t lord it over those who have slaved for the party,” he said.
Makarfi would also have to contend with erratic members of the party such as Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State who recently said nobody would stop him from vying for the presidency, despite the fact that the ticket was zoned to the North.
Fayose, after supporting Makarfi to defeat Sheriff in all fronts, is now waging a different war from within.
Just last week, Abiodun Aluko and some of his followers dumped the PDP after accusing Fayose of turning the party to his personal estate and harassing prominent leaders.
Aluko, a PDP governorship aspirant, accused Fayose of intimidating other aspirants like Senate Deputy Minority Whip Senator Abiodun Olujimi and the party’s national spokesman, Prince Dayo Adeyeye to drop their ambitions for the 2018 gubernatorial poll.
Aluko served under Fayose as deputy governor during his first tenure. He was impeached from office in controversial circumstances in November 2005.
Obviously, if pending issues are not resolved nationwide, legal threats will manifest before the party’s elective convention coming up in the last quarter of this year.
Ambassador Wilberforce Juta’s rescue group in a recent statement appealed to party members to exhaust all available processes within the party in resolving all disputes and grievances rather than turning to courts for injunctions.
That apart, pundits are unanimous that the Makarfi-led caretaker committee has indeed opened up the political space once again, posed a challenge to the APC and elaborately changed the narrative about what becomes of 2019.