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Chairmanship Tussle: Sheriff And PDP’s Journey To Political Extinction

Senator Ali Modu Sheriff

In the light of the crisis tearing the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) apart, following the emergence of Ali Modu Sheriff as its new national chairman, ANDREW ESSIEN writes that the major opposition party in Nigeria may have just shot itself in the foot before the 2019 political race begins.

These are truly not the best of times for the self-acclaimed biggest party in Africa. Of recent, the PDP has steadily been towing the path to implosion and ultimately self-destruct. From the moment former President Goodluck Jonathan conceded defeat to the APC’s candidate, President Muhammadu Buhari in the 2015 presidential election, the PDP has been struggling with the question of finding a suitable leader for the party.

The then chairman of the party, Adamu Mu’azu, who had christened himself the ‘game changer’, lived true to his name. It was under his purview that the fortunes of the party nosedived, kickstarting a process that some say may eventually lead to the party’s implosion. When it was now clear that the wind of change had blown the umbrella to the background, Mu’azu ditched the party, leaving it on auto-pilot. Several other leaders of the party also towed that line and gave way for the scramble for and partition of the party’s chairmanship stool.

From one crisis to another, the party had hardly recovered from one problem than another will hit it. From corruption charges to the chairmanship tussles, pundits say they are at a loss as to which will eventually consume the party first. Then the unthinkable happened; notable actors in the party have been guests form one court and prison to another. While the party was still battling to keep some level of integrity, the former Political Adviser to former President Goodkuck Jonathan, Alhaji Ahmed Gulak, stormed the secretariat like James Bond with his supporters and made himself the national chairman of the party.

Like a scene from a commando movie, Gulak arrived the national headquarters of PDP in the company of other aides of former President Jonathan, went straight to the third floor of the building and asked that the office of the national chairman be opened for him. He immediately moved to the National Working Committee (NWC) Conference hall to address journalists, using the chair of the national chairman. Everyone thought the downfall of the party had come.

But analysts now posit that the greatest and most expensive misadventure of the PDP came last week when, in the heat of the leadership crisis, the controversial erstwhile chairman of the Board of Trustees of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and former governor of Borno State, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff was on February 16, 2016 chosen to become the national chairman of the PDP after a section of its leadership picked him as the preferred candidate. Sheriff was allegedly chosen for the position by governors elected on the platform of the party and some members of the national working committee after former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nuhu Ribadu was rumoured to have turned down the job.

The general public opinion is that the choice of Sheriff as an alternative to the other names that have been bandied around by the party’s political hierarchy has further fragmented the crisis-ridden PDP which is yet to recover from its defeat since the last general elections. His public approval rating is at an all time low, as the barrage of allegations linking him to the formation and spread of the dreaded Boko Haram terror group, like a bad odour, has consistently trailed his every move. It is on record that it was under his purview as governor of Borno State between 2003 and 2011 that the sect took root downwards and grew upwards to become the become one of the single most notorious security threat bedeviling the country.

Political observers in the country believe that for a party struggling to stay afloat, the choice of Sheriff who has been a guest of the EFCC over alleged mismanagement of N300billion will certainly not do the party any good in the integrity front- what it desperately needs at the moment. Sheriff’s candidacy bears grave consequences for PDP. It is for this reason that it has continued to generate huge ripples, both within and outside the party.

There are concerns from party stalwarts that his candidacy is already generating huge too much dust both within and outside the party. The surprise however was when he stated the impossible, that he would ensure PDP bounces back and rule for ever. Perhaps due largely to the euphoria ascending to such exalted political office, the new National chairman of the party boasted that he was poised to leading his party to regain power it lost to the All Progressives Congress (APC) at the center in 2019.

In its reaction carpeting the PDP chairman’s assertion, the APC likened it to the 16th century English language proverb and nursery rhyme, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride”. In a press release signed by its national secretary, Mai Mala Buni, the party stated that it would not join issues with the ailing party as it is more interested in delivering the dividends of democracy to Nigerians who voted it into power.

Buni said: “In monitored media reports, Ali Modu Sheriff boasted in Umuahia, the Abia State capital that the ailing PDP which lost power in 2015 will regain control of the federal government in 2019. Ali Modu Sheriff was also quoted saying the PDP would soon come out with its “master plan” to regain power. The APC is reluctant to join issues with Ali Modu Sheriff’s idle 2019 postulations and would rather join issues that will bring about all-inclusive development in the country.

“The 2015 elections has been won and lost. The priority of the present APC administration is to deliver on election promises made by the party to Nigerians who long-desired change of political leadership at the federal level and in many states”, The APC spokesman added, noting that he hoped the “touted master plan” of the PDP in its bid to return to power included the return of funds its members misappropriated under the party’s 16-year rule.

Towing the party line, the Kano state governor, Dr Abdullahi Ganduje has said that the new chairman of the PDP, Sheriff, will ultimately work for the APC, judging from his antecedents. He said: “I wouldn’t like to engage in cross fire but what I would like to tell you is that it is the usual utterances of those who want to impress his followers but I believe it is an empty threat. Looking at the antecedents, looking at the history of the chairman himself, I think he is a cross carpenter.

Many of his sympathisers say his strong point is that being a man of immense financial war-chest, he will be favourably disposed to funding the activities of the party easily. Others however say that he is bringing along with his wealth, a bulky weight of burden capable of fatally destroying the few strands of moral fibers on which a possible rejuvenation is hinged.

But to underscore how unpopular the politician cum arms dealer may have become over the years, his own party people have outrightly rejected him. The reactions coming from the prominent PDP members against his emergence as the party national chairman are legion. Former senior special assistant to former president Jonathan on Public Affairs and a PDP stalwart, Dr. Doyin Okupe said the choice of Modu-Sheriff is nothing but wrong. He pointed out that, while the capability of the PDP and its leadership to make grave errors of judgement is legendary, what was intriguing is that “even out of power, that tendency seems unabating”.

Okupe said, “Alhadji Ali Sheriff is a longstanding political associate of mine and a very adroit and astute politician of perhaps a sublime class. But for the post of the National chairman of the PDP, he is a wrong candidate and also coming in at a wrong time. According to many of his proponents, his strong point is that being a man of great financial resources he will be favourably disposed to funding the activities of the party easily. But the antagonists believe that he is bringing along with his wealth a crushing weight of burden capable of fatally destroying the few strands of moral fibers on which a rejuvenation will depend on.

“For a morosed and severely prostrate political party, thanks to the overwhelming and effective propaganda machinery of the (opposition) party in power, this may yet be the mortal wound that may cause the eventual hemorrhage of its long perplexed followership. The present crop of leadership of the PDP have not faired well. Impunity, presumptive reasoning, highly stratified and restrictive consultative processes, absolute lack of inclusiveness, mercantilism, group conceit with a resultant total disconnect with the main stake holders and the followership are some of the florid signs and symptoms of the terminal disease that is killing this erstwhile great party.

In the same vein, another staunch member of the PDP and erstwhile director of the Jonathan 2015 campaign organisation angrily spoke of Modu-Sheriff’s long-term plan to hijack the leadership of the party for as long as possible, remain as National Chairman indefinitely and emerge as the Party’s presidential candidate in 2019. He said the plan will fail because it does not have the blessing of God. “How are the mighty fallen. What on earth has happened to us? As the Book of Galatians in the Holy Bible asks, ”who has bewitched us”? Over the the course of the last 17 years, in terms of the quality of party leadership, the PDP has gradually descended into the unceremonious cesspit of mediocrity”, Fan-Kayode lamented.

He noted that, with the recent appointment of Modu Sheriff as National Chairman, the PDP has chosen to spit in the wind, sleep with the dogs, dance on the graves of its fallen heroes, “piss on the blood and bones of the slaughtered innocents and wallow in the filthy pool of compromise, deceit, doublespeak and shame”.

Spitting fire and brim stone, Fani-Kayode further said, “As a consequence of this calamitous decision we have, literally overnight, become a shell, nay a shadow, of what we used to be. Unfolding events will prove my assertion true. I have no doubt that time will eventually prove me right and vindicate me. The bitter truth is that this arrangement is an affront against the Living God and it cannot stand. Yet if it does stand the party will pay a heavy price for it because it will inevitably lead to the end of the PDP as we know it.

“Imposing Ali Modu-Sheriff is an insult to all those that have fought for, led, served, defended, supported and risked everything for the party, at every level, over the last 17 years. Only the deeply malevolent can be comfortable with such an arrangement. It is evil. It is godless. It is indefensible. It is shameful and as long as it stands the PDP does not have the moral standing or authority to criticize or condemn others.

Also, a group championing reforms in the party, Restart PDP Project rejected the appointment of Modu-Sheriff as the national chairman of the party, saying due process was not followed in his emergence. Co-convener of the group, Emmanuel Nwosu Butches in opposing the appointment said it was an imposition by a few people. The group threatened to work with other like minds to ensure that a proper person who is fit to be chairman emerges.

Yesterday, another strong objection to Sheriff’s choice came from some chieftains of the PDP led by former governor of old Gongola State, Wilberforce Juta. They asked the new PDP national chairman to resign and save the party further embarrassment. The aggrieved party members who spoke to journalists under the auspices of PDP Rescue Group described the emergence of Sheriff as an imposition because he was not nominated by any state from the North-east. They noted that the Borno State chapter of the party has rejected Sheriff.

Juta, who spoke on behalf of the group at a press conference on Sunday called on the party organs to commence the search for “persons with high, strategic insight and fear of God almighty” to lead the party.

The former governor who was also screened for the chairmanship position, listed the organs to include state and zonal chapters, board of trustees, national caucus, PDP ministers Forum, PDP governors forum, G84 as well as PDP leaders past and present. Noting that they were upset by NEC’s decision to appoint Sheriff, Juta said they are “convinced that this decision by NEC is against the will and wish of the generality of faithful members.

“We know that North east zonal wing having been directed by national caucus of the party to forward nominees from the zone didn’t nominate Sen. Sheriff for the position of national chairman.That it is in the interest of PDP and the country, Sen. Sheriff should do the needful by stepping down honorably as it is evident that party members nationwide overwhelmingly reject his imposition”, he maintained, adding that they have resolved for an early congress and national convention to be called to elect new leaders as “the term of the current leadership is due to end in March 2016.”

Apart from members of the party, analysts have also warned about the futility of picking Mmodu-Sheriff as PDP national chairman. The say if the selection of the Sheriff was meant to restore the lost glory of the PDP, then it has already backfired because the party appears to be more fragmented than ever, with some members threatening to leave the party over the controversial nomination. They wonder why a party struggling to stay on it’s feet come up with the choice of Sheriff who has been alleged to have supported Boko Haram when he was governor between 2003 and 2011 and who has been a guest of EFCC over alleged mismanagement of N300billion is a suicidal choice.

Judging from public outcry from all quarter, it is becoming obvious by the day that the choice of Sheriff as the chairman of a political party whose political fortunes has greatly declined in a period when the country, and indeed the political sphere, is earnestly yearning for change further compound its image problem. This, keen observers insist, could eventually result in the final annihilation of a party once promised to occupy the seat of power for a long period of time. It is sad that after 17 years of its existence, the PDP did not get a candidate with an impeccable character in its quest towards returning to power.

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