PDP Convention: Sheriff hangs on
Less than four days to the contentious national convention of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the Acting National Chairman of the party, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff ‘s frantic move to keep the party as one shifts to the National Executive Committee (NEC).
Sheriff in a deft move had stepped down the planned constitutional amendment, which would have given the national chairman an advantage over convening meetings of the Board of Trustees (BoT), among others.
In addition, in collaboration with the 12 PDP governors agreed to review the recent congresses of the party held across the country to assuage the feelings of those who felt shortchanged.
Although the national chairman’s ambition to retain the office at the convention may have been given a nod after the BoT meeting yesterday, sources claimed that it still hanged in the balance as some in opposition maintained that all members of the existing national committee members must not come back.
“All members of National Working Committee (NWC) who see their positions as employment will have to forgo their ambition, let new members come on board … you can see that most of them have corruption cases hanging over them and that is a high moral problem for a party in opposition,” former member of the House of Representatives, Mr. Bernard Mikko stated.
Besides, Mikko argued that there should be a clear distinction between party politics and governance stressing that party should play politics, put candidates forward for elections and form government.
Determined to takeover the structure of the PDP from the embattled acting national chairman, 13 governors and 43 other stakeholders of the party led by Prof. Jerry Gana last weekend said a 57-man steering committee was in place to take charge of affairs of the party should Sheriff insist on retaining the post beyond May21.
The influential PDP members known as Concerned PDP Stakeholders requested Sheriff to quit as chairman on or before May 21, when the party scheduled to hold its national convention in Port Harcourt.
It threatened that the steering committee would commence the operation of a separate national secretariat for the party if Sheriff did not leave.
Reports indicated that three past national chairmen of PDP were backing the steering committee, as well as a former Deputy President of the Senate, Sen. Ibrahim Mantu, 13 former governors, 14 former ministers and other key leaders of the party.
But Sheriff’s rapprochement has begun to yield fruits in other areas going by developments in Niger State. Former governor of Niger, Muazu Babaginda Aliyu, who was prominent in the initial gathering of the Concerned PDP Stakeholders, is believed to have backed out and pitched his tent with the chairman.
At the Stakeholders meeting held on Saturday in Abuja where they inaugurated a 57-member steering committee to take over the affairs of the party, Aliyu was conspicuously absent.
Sources labored to convince The Guardian that he has backed out of the opposition to Sheriff’s ambition. The sources claimed that this informed the decision of the Niger State chapter of the party to disown Prof Jerry Gana and his group.
According to the vice chairman of the party in the state, Yahaya Ability, PDP in Niger State was fully in support of the Sheriff-led PDP.
The vice chairman alleged at the weekend in Kontagora, Niger State that Gana forsook the party in the state after the PDP lost the 2015 election and wondered why he has suddenly shown interest in the affairs of the party.
Yahaya argued that the process of congresses initiated by Sen. Sherrif from ward to national convention was credible and should be supported by everyone that meant well for the party.
His words: “Rather than staying in Abuja to play Abuja politics we expected him to come back home to contribute to the growth of the party at home first. Since we lost the last general election in the state, he has not done anything in the state to show that he is still a party man.”
He said that Sheriff leadership needed support for him to reposition the party ahead of 2019 general elections and for the party to bounce back as a formidable political party that it used to be.
He claimed that the position of Prof. Gana did not tally with that of the PDP members in Niger State, and advised all PDP members to rally round the party and disregard the detractors of Sheriff that were not committed to the revival of the party.
However, Sheriff on Sunday apologized to the stakeholders, a departure from his previous tough stance on those opposed to his ambition and which observers believed was designed to calm frayed nerves among members.
Tendering the apology during a briefing in Jalingo, the national chairman said, “As a well cultured and astute politician, I would never make any comment that would ridicule the party.”
He said it was not in his character to join issues with highly respected elders of the party, noting that he never authorised any of his aides or political associates to react to issues raised by aggrieved elders of the party.
Sheriff said that the aggrieved members of the party reserved the right to complain about issues affecting the party that they considered inimical to the progress of the PDP.
He, therefore, urged any aggrieved member to bury the hatchet and join hands with the present leadership to rebuild the party and restore the confidence of Nigerians in it.
Similarly, he noted that the PDP, as the main opposition party in the country, could not afford to have a divided house. He appealed to members to work for the unity of the party at all times.
He explained that the present leadership of the party was poised to lend a listening ear to all shades of opinions with a view to strengthening it to face the challenges ahead.
Will Sheriff survive the onslaught?
The possibility of Sheriff surviving the ongoing onslaught may be slim but his support base appears to be increasing.
However The Guardian learnt yesterday, that some members of the party, particularly from the northern geo-political zone, seemed to be rigid on their posture towards Sheriff’s ambition.
In a chat, a member of the BoT, Chief Ebenezer Babatope dismissed the sentiment currently being whipped up by Sheriff’s loyalists that he (Sheriff) has apologized.
According to him, “What is he apologizing for? As far as I am concerned, Sheriff has not apologized to anybody but playing pranks. This is not a matter of apology but reality. Even the minority group that has been trying to put the party in jeopardy is now at loggerheads. The Governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose is no longer in tandem with Senator Buruji Kashamu, who represents Ogun East and Sheriff. So it is a serious situation but our major concern is for the structure of the party to remain solid so that we can continue to have a strong opposition voice to the ruling APC.”
Northern opposition against Sheriff’s ambition
In the last couple of weeks, a faction of the South West zone led by Chief Bode George is believed to have been the major opposition to the incumbent national chairman’s ambition of continuing in office before May 21 but with recent development the northern zone has taken over the lead as opposition to Sheriff’s plans to continue in office.
According to a source, “The northern zone of the PDP has come to realize the danger in leaving the affairs of the party in the hands of Sen. Sheriff, whom majority considered to be a political traitor.”
They alleged that Sheriff has always been a mole working for the ruling party right from the period he was in the defunct All Nigerian People Party ((ANPP). The fear was that Sheriff’s chairmanship would definitely undermine the chances of the PDP against the ruling APC in 2019.
According to the source, “His antecedent of working against the interest of his party is part of the reasons opposition is mounting against his ambition. Nobody is sure if he is not doing the biddings of some cabals in the ruling APC to produce a very weak and insignificant opposition against the APC in 2019.”
But a one-time Deputy Chairman of the party in Delta State, Chief Ighoyota Amori said the reasons advanced by some critics of Sen. Sheriff for the position were untrue and not in line with the realities on ground.
He told The Guardian the two-time governor of Borno State and two-time Senator has the requisite qualification, knowledge and political experience to contest for the position of national chairman of the party.
Reacting specifically to reports credited to the former Senate Chief Whip, Senator Rowland Owie, Amori who is currently the Special Adviser, Reconciliation and Conflict Management to Sen. Sheriff, stated that the party’s chairmanship position was zoned by the National Executive Committee to the North-East and not to the South as claimed by Senator Owie.
“Those calling on Sen. Sheriff to quit office by May 21st are the real ‘palace jesters’ and APC paid agents to destabilise the PDP in its quest to put its house in order to reclaim power at the centre come 2019” he stated.
He claimed that PDP would revert to the South for the chairmanship at an appropriate time stressing that for now there was nothing politically unusual in the present zoning arrangement.
Amori urged some leaders of the party opposed to Sen. Sheriff’s candidature for the PDP chairmanship to be more committed to the party in winning their various States as a way of correcting the results of the 2015 general elections in their various States and regions.
However, former President of the Senate, David Mark, has called for a truce among the PDP faithful to avoid disaffection within the party ahead of the national convention.
Mark, in a statement in Abuja, noted that since the leaders of the PDP had realised their past mistakes and learnt their lessons, they should not give room for any crisis or disaffection within their fold any more.
“It is time for all genuine men and women of our party to make the necessary sacrifice and work honestly towards a united and a more cohesive party.
“In every human organisation, there are bound to be disagreements but we must put aside sentiments, personal interest and reconcile honestly and genuinely in the larger interest of the party.
“The PDP must avoid the pitfalls of the past such as imposition of candidates against the wishes of the majority. We are returning the party to the people. So, let the people decide,” he stated in the statement issued by his media aide, Mr. Paul Mumeh.
Mark explained that the inability of the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress, (APC) to “find the compass to navigate the ship of the state and ultimately respond appropriately to the yearnings and aspirations of the citizenry” had offered the PDP the ample opportunity to bounce back to power.
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