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Sheriff As PDP Chair: Pain Or Gain

Ali Modu Sheriff

The immediate public impression from the emergence of former Bornu Governor, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff as the new national chairman of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was alarm. Put on a second thought, it stokes the feeling that the supremacy battle between Nigeria’s two mega political parties,-PDP and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC)-,would linger. At least, if the ruling party carries on with the effusive swagger that it has a new sheriff in town, its rival can now validly claim that its own Sheriff is original! And where sheriffs are involved, battles abound.

The new PDP national chairman could be described as a poster-child of Nigeria’s nomadic politics. Though Sheriff was a chieftain of ANPP on which platform he produced Mala Kachalla as governor, he displaced his political godson to become governor and broke the jinx of one term governorship in the state.

Barely a year in office as governor, signs began to emerge that Kachalla, despite his paucity of means, lacked the capacity to contain the wheeling dealing politics of Borno State. Senator Sheriff, who bankrolled his election played from Abuja as Khalifa, heir to the throne. Even when the governor aped the Zamfara counterpart to set up the Sharia system of administration of law and order, gaps existed between him and the masses.

In the midst of that political disconnect, it was said that Kachalla begun moves to seek political tentacles outside the state. This fact came to the fore during the Lagos riot involving Hausas and Yorubas. The then Borno governor used the opportunity to strike a political understanding with his Lagos State counterpart, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. The two governors collaborated in dousing tempers from the riot.

Seven months after the Lagos outing, Kachalla disclosed that there were criminal elements from Chad that were threatening the territorial integrity of Nigeria. He explained that the elements were taking advantage of the lack of clear boundary delineation among Nigeria, Chad and Cameroun, pointing out that armed rebels trafficked in light arms and children. Most people believe that that was the origin of Boko Haram.

Social unrests and labour crisis in the state pointed to the inevitability that Kachalla would not get the ANPP governorship ticket for a second term. He was later to defect to the Alliance for Democracy (AD), confirming the fears in Senator Sheriff’s camp that the governor was on a solo political flight. As expected, the incumbent was defeated in the 2003 governorship by the rambunctious SAS.

Blessed with deep pockets and with wide business connection around the Chad basin, Senator Sheriff, maintains political attachment to the grassroots, such that during his governorship, other political parties found it impossible to penetrate the state structures. Some of the members of his state cabinet ended up in the Yussufiyya movement that transmuted to Boko Haram. That is how the former governor came to be associated with the funding and support of the insurgents even when available evidence suggests that those who joined Yusuf were actually those that lost their position in cabinet reshuffle like the commissioner of local government and chieftaincy matters, Alhaji Gubio.

When the merger of political parties into APC happened not a few political watchers wondered how Sheriff could work on the same canopy with Tinubu, who sources said wanted to use kachalla to undercut his political profile in Borno.

Consequently, on July 14, 2014 when the former flambouyant governor of Borno crossed over to PDP, APC chieftains described it as good riddance of bad rubbish. It is this pedigree to play the rough and tough politics that most PDP chieftains cast their lot on SAS to “wager the APC excesses”.

President Muhammadu Buhari has been doing all he can to woo the Northeast, especially through the emphasis being placed on rebuilding the region ravaged by insurgency. But with Sheriff in charge of PDP, there is going to be a balance of political attention.

Those who expect Buhari to go for a second term may have to go back to the drawing board. The thinking is that depending on what the political calculations of former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, may be, the Northeast may rally together to wage new political battle against the Northwest. And knowing that they share closer affinity with the North Central, Sheriff’s coming may prove a great strategic relief to PDP as the APC may not claim hegemonic control of the north any longer.

However, a lot depends on how the party could manage the fallout of Sheriff’s contentious emergence as national chairman and whether he would relinquish the position for a Southwest successor to prepare for the presidential contest, either as candidate or navigator. It is clear that PDP presidential candidate in 2019 would most probably come from Northeast. When that happens it would be left to the voters to have the final say on who could be the best repairer of the region: an indigene or neighbour?