IT was another test for the management of political parties in contemporary Nigerian democracy especially as it concerns internal mechanism last Tuesday when the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)’s choice of a new helmsman in the person of former Borno State governor, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff blazed a trail of controversy.
Although the new chairman is expected to serve out the tenure of former Chairman, Adamu Muazu, who had to resign after the party fell out of favour with the Nigerian electorate in last year’s general elections, the need to have a new helmsman, even if temporary, became clear when party faithful from the North Eastern zone, where the position was zoned to, rejected the continued leadership of Uche Secondus, the Deputy National Chairman, who was made acting Chairman after Muazu’s resignation.
The situation got to a head when Special Adviser to former President Goodluck Jonathan on Political Matters, Ahmed Gulak, who is from the North East zone, declared himself as the acting Chairman with the support of some stakeholders.
With the claim of both Gulak and Secondus to the chairmanship seat leading to litigation, the party was divided and was ready to burst at the seams as a result of the seeming inability to manage its internal democracy to arrive at a position acceptable to majority of the people.
While governors under the banner of the party were behind the emergence of Sheriff, which was consummated during a two-day parley that was held at the Abuja lodge of Ondo State governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, who is the Chairman of the PDP Governors’ Forum, some critical stakeholders in the party have rejected the choice on the ground that he does not possess the qualities needed in a leader that could be saddled with the responsibility of rebuilding a party with the status of the PDP.
Publicity Secretary of the party, Olisa Metuh, who had earlier announced the emergence of Sheriff with a tinge of optimism that the party was going to move forward with the development, was to later announce that the process was not yet concluded when opposition began to gather momentum.
It was gathered that the sentiment of those rejecting Sheriff in the BOT was shared by mainly members of the National Assembly from the South-South and South-East zones where the party has the bulk of members.
There were even speculations in some quarters that former President Jonathan, who is still the leader of the party, judging from the alleged opposition of some of his close aides, was not comfortable with the emergence of Sheriff.
The dissenting voices from the South South and South East over the choice of Sheriff may not be unconnected the scheming and positioning process ahead of the 2019 general elections.
Although majority of the governors elected under the platform of the PDP and members of the National Working Committee (NWC) sanctioned Sheriff’s choice for the job, the Board of Trustees (BoT) was sharply divided while chairmen of the state chapters, Senators from the South South and South East were said to have rejected him.
The aggrieved persons believed to be loyal to Jonathan were said to be uncomfortable with the fact that the party’s structure has virtually slipped away from the former president’s control.
PDP had in October last year zoned the presidency slot for the 2019 general elections to the North as part of measures to reposition it and place it at an advantage for the elections. Thus with emergence of Sheriff as national chairman from the North, the aggrieved group’s fear seemed to have been heightened.
However, those in support of Sheriff were quick to point out that Sheriff would only serve out Mu’azu’s tenure, which hopefully will not exceed March when the national convention may hold to elect a substantive national chairman.
Besides there has been the moral tag over the choice of Sheriff whom many alleged have links with Boko Haram, the insurgent group that has devastated the North East, as well as the credibility issue surrounding his alleged case with the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC).
Such concerns may have informed the call by a chieftain of the party, Femi Fani-Kayode’s call for prayers for the party.
Fani-Kayode, a former Aviation minister and spokeman for the Jonathan/Sambo Campaign Organisation, explained that the prayers became imperative following the emergence of Sheriff as chairman of PDP.
“Given todays (Tuesday) events, it is clear to me that, more than at any other time in its 16 years in existence, the PDP needs serious prayers,” he stated shortly after Sheriff was announced the chairman.
Similarly, a former president of the Senate, Senator Ken Nnamani recently resigned from the party citing arrogance and incongruence with the vision and dreams of the founding fathers, among others as reasons.
His words: “We need to become a party of technocrats and professionals and not a party of mercenaries and rent seekers. We need to become the party of young men and women with new ideas and not a party of political dinosaurs. It is clear now that these pleas have fallen on deaf ear.”
But the Lagos State chapter of the party has thrown its weight behind Sheriff, saying his election was a welcome development for the party as it would help in reviving it ahead of the 2019 elections, which the party is hopeful of winning.
According to its spokesman, Taofik Gani, Sheriff is a competent politician and an asset that would eventually change the fortune of the party for good in future.
He said all the sentiments being raised against the election of Sheriff are nothing but mere politics saying, “It is the handwork of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) aimed at further discrediting the PDP.”
Gani said he believes that the new PDP chairman has what it takes to drive the party to a save destination where it would be strong, viable and positioned enough to displace the ruling APC at the federal level in 2019.
A member of the BOT from the South West, Ebenezer Babatope told The Guardian yesterday that the body rejected the choice of Sheriff but that his eventual emergence, which he said would do the PDP no good, could be imposed on the party. He said, “Since the NWC has endorsed him, there is nothing we can do about it.”
A national official who spoke in the same vein claimed that confusion was reigning supreme over the party, as it was not certain now if the new leadership would go ahead to hold the congresses preparatory to the convention.
The official said that the choice of Sheriff as the new chairman would further compound the problems of the party, adding: “To be honest with I don’t know when this chairmanship tenure will end because nobody is supporting it everybody is saying no. In fact, it will tear the party apart; it will kill the party completely.
“Honestly, its only God that will save Nigeria … Nigeria is not doing well, Nigerians are tired of Buhari administration, instead of PDP to position properly and work to salvage the situation they are getting worse. How do you go and get an APC man to become our chairman, the man who can sell out. The man sold his party out all through when he was in APC. Is that the same man you now go and take, this man will sell us out too.”