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PDP: What the Truce over Sheriff’s Chairmanship Means

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The three major organs that control the affairs of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party reached a watershed agreement on Tuesday that seemed to have resolved a renewed internal wrangling that beset the party following the emergence of Senator Ali Modu Sheriff as its chairman penultimate Tuesday. But what are the implications of this seeming truce? SAMUEL OGUNDIPE attempts an answer…

The accord has effectively put to rest the verbal fireworks that underscored a frightening division amongst the party’s top assets. Former Borno State governor, Ali Modu Sheriff has now secured a consensus to remain as substantive chairman until the national convention slated for the end of May 2016 is concluded. It’s at the convention that the party’s members are expected to select a new chairman who, party insiders said, would probably come from another geopolitical zone from Sheriff’s Northeast.

“In view of the recent developments in our party, I want to let you know that all organs of the party –the Governors’ Forum, National Assembly Caucus, BoT–have agreed to stand by our national chairman to ensure that our party moves forward,” Governor Segun Mimiko, who chairs the PDP Governors’ Forum, told newsmen moments after the accord scaled through.

Members of the PDP’s pre-eminent Board of Trustees had initially kicked against the selection of Sheriff shortly after it was ratified by the National Executive Committee, the highest decision-making organ of the party. For over a week, the aggrieved BoT members, bolstered by the PDP Ministers’ Forum, a pressure group of former ministers within the party, unleashed media firestorm on Sheriff and the National Working Committee that engineered his victory in collaboration with the Governors’ Forum.

The disgruntled elements quickly sought to galvanise public opposition to the move, warning that the PDP will burn out its perception lifelines defending a man like Sheriff who many of them, including BoT members like Chief Ebenezer Babatope, claimed carried a lot of political and moral baggage; while belligerent members like former Aviation Minister Femi Fani-Kayode went as far as labeling their party’s new chairman the “founder of Boko Haram.”

Insufferable Spotlight…

The crisis placed the PDP in an insufferable spotlight and a top-level functionary at the party’s headquarters confirmed to WESTERN POST last week that it was causing “bitter exchanges amongst some of the leaders of the party,” adding that they were busy trying to avert “anything that could disintegrate the party.”

Sheriff’s backers said his chairmanship couldn’t have come at a more crucial time for the party. They argued that the prevalent indiscipline across the party’s various structures at both the local and national levels has met its nemesis in the person of Sheriff.

“What the party leaders have done therefore is to tackle the present situation in our party with the most appropriate solution and we must all stand by Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, who is the present solution to our present situation,” said Governor Ayo Fayose. “The party was in a peculiar situation and we need people who can stand up against these devourers of our collective heritage. I can say it confidently that Senator Ali Modu Sheriff is such a person and in the collective interest of our party, we should all rally round him.”

The popularity of the agreement amongst the major stakeholders was immediately echoed by the acting Chairman of the party’s BoT, Senator Walid Jubril, who said his colleagues at the BoT have agreed to go along with the resolution in the interest of the party. Former Minister, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, also told WP in an interview Thursday that he’d backed down from his previous position in the overall interest of the party.

“Truly, the BoT has made its intentions known about the emergence of Sheriff, but we have agreed with the position of the NWC and the PDP Governors’ Forum that Sheriff should oversee the affairs of the party going into the National Convention in May in order not to create chaos in the political system in Nigeria,” he said. “We can’t allow the PDP to be in crisis because such won’t augur well for the country as a whole. We’re okay with Sheriff spending just about three months.”

The Burdening Question…

How to reposition the PDP in the wake of the huge electoral misfortune it suffered during the general elections last year has remained a burdening question for most of its sympathisers. The party has so far failed to allay the fears of many Nigerians that it may be incapable of charting the cause of effectual opposition that is crucial to sustaining democracy.

The individuals who make up the face of the PDP will determine how Nigerians give the platform a soft reconsideration in the coming months, said political analyst Bruce Ugiomoh.  “The PDP has enough negatives already as far as Nigerian politics is concerned,” he said. “Why they fail to understand that whoever emerges the party’s leader will be keenly watched by Nigerians is beyond me.”

Ugiomoh said Nigerians have been calling on the PDP to show more vigour in its criticism of President Muhammadu Buhari, adding that the error it made in choosing Sheriff may now prompt Nigerians to give up.

“You heard everyone screaming that the PDP should raise its voice more often instead of keeping quiet in the face of mis-governance by Buhari and the APC, but now they made Sheriff their face, he said. “Who would take them serious with Sheriff? Nigerians might just have given up.”

But Franklyn Edede, the President of the PDP National Rebirth Group and member of the PDP Restructuring Committee, dismissed the disparaging comments about Sheriff as political mischief allegedly orchestrated by the APC to divert attention from its internal crisis and failure to tend to the unbearable economic situation in the country.

“The APC knows that the only person that could take the PDP out of the current quagmire is Ali Modu Sheriff, that’s why they’re trying to deceive Nigerians about him in order to cover their failure to deal with the unbearable financial conditions of many Nigerians,” he said. “Sadly for them, Nigerians are now wiser.”

Edede said the APC is packed with individuals who have grievous corruption cases hanging on their necks, adding that the assault against Sheriff that borders on his alleged ties to Boko Haram is spurious because he was a founding member of the APC.

“If you look at the APC history you will see that Sheriff was a founding member of the party and they only came up with this frivolous allegation because they wanted to revenge against him.”

In choosing Sheriff, the PDP may have inadvertently placed itself in a vulnerable position for wanton attacks. Sheriff has become a bogeyman for APC denigration. In responding to Sheriff’s statement that his leadership would ensure PDP’s return to power in 2019, the APC said: “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.”

As Mimiko noted in his remarks, the PDP National Assembly Caucus also participated in drafting the accord, and some impeccable sources have maintained it was brokered by Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu. While a few members of the Ministers’ Forum have come out to openly back the agreement, some elements within the group like Fani-Kayode still appeared to have reservations about the agreement. On Wednesday, a day after the truce, he was still widely quoted as saying that he would deal with Sheriff for making threatening statements against him.

Sheriff had, while responding to Fani-Kayode’s Boko Haram allegation against him, said the former aviation minister would not “go scot-free,” adding that he would “deal with him.”

WP’s SMS seeking comments from Fani-Kayode received no response and attempts to reach him on the phone also fell through, but the party’s National Secretary, Prof. Wale Oladipo, told WP the matter is “the PDP’s internal affair,” adding that “efforts are already underway to resolve it.”

During the 16 years that the PDP spent midwiving Nigeria’s nascent democracy at the centre, the party repeatedly showed several instances of impotency whenever the need arose to instil discipline even at the highest levels. Following its defeat last year, the PDP has suffered an exodus of top political players and those left behind have been enmeshed in intermittent bickering, with the commotion that trailed Sheriff emergence merely being the latest. While the debate about if the party will fracture or remain a single entity going into 2019 is unlikely to cease anytime soon, there’s no doubt that the latest truce is a reassuring indication that the party has not entirely lost its shrewdness in managing its internal affairs.

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