Governors Nyesom Wike of Rivers Sate and Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State ended their vociferous support for Senator Ali Modu Sheriff as acting national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on a rather sour note yesterday.
The duo almost came to blows after it became clear that they were riding a lame donkey.
While Wike remained steadfast in his support for the retention of Sheriff as chairman of the party at its convention in Port Harcourt, Fayose sensationally backed out.
And thus ended the controversial three month tenure of the former Borno State governor in the saddle.
But Sheriff insisted that he remained chairman.
The convention itself was aborted and a former governor of Kaduna State, Senator Ahmed Makarfi was picked to replace Sheriff in a desperate move to save the party from being submerged by the leadership crisis.
Makarfi heads a seven-man committee to steer the affairs of the party.
To assist Makarfi as national secretary is a former aide to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, Senator Ben Obi.
Other members of the committee are: Sen. Odion Ugbesie, Sen. Abdul Ningi, Mr. Kabir Usman, Mr. Dayo Adeyeye and Alhaja Aisha Aliyu.
The Makarfi-led caretaker committee will pilot the affairs of the party for three months during which it is expected to elect the national working committee, it was gathered.
The new chairman and secretary emerged shortly after Sheriff announced the suspension of the convention, citing three court orders.
The motion to dissolve the party’s NEC and NWC was moved by Mr. Austin Opara, a former Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives and seconded by Mr. Emeka Ihedioha, also a former Deputy Speaker of the house.
Gov. Nyesom Wike of Rivers and Chairman of the party‘s National Convention Committee put a the question and the motion was affirmed by the delegates.
The convention also approved another motion to set aside decisions taken by the NWC and zoning of its presidential candidate for 2019 election to the north.
The motion was moved by Dr. Babangida Aliyu, a former governor of Niger and seconded by Gov. Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta.
“We want to be seen as a law-abiding party,” Sheriff told reporters, reading from a prepared text.
“We will ask the delegates to go home,” he said.
The other faction of the party at its own convention in Abuja picked Ibrahim Mantu as national chairman and Professor Tunde Adeniran as national Secretary.
The support of Sheriff’s main backers –Governors Nyesom Wike (Rivers) and Ayodele Fayose (Ekiti) counted for nothing in the face of report from Abuja that the Professor Jerry Gana-led Concerned PDP Stakeholders were forging ahead with their parallel convention.
Only on Friday night, Wike had mocked Gana and co as inconsequential in PDP.
He derided the court injunctions obtained by their supporters to stop the Port Harcourt convention as fraudulent.
Fayose himself had dismissed the Concerned PDP Stakeholders as spent forces who should yield the ground to younger elements to run the affairs of the party.
Trouble however began after the PDP governors and party leaders were briefed on two court orders served on the Sheriff-led National Working Committee.
The first court order was an interlocutory injunction from a court in Lagos restraining the party from conducting election into the offices of the National Chairman, National Secretary and National Auditor until 2018.
The second was the ruling of an FCT High Court asking the party not to declare 18 positions vacant until 2017 leaving only the office of the National Financial Secretary to be voted for at the convention.
But party leaders insisted that Sheriff’s Executive’s tenure ended yesterday and tinkered with the option of an Interim Caretaker Committee.
Instead, Sheriff wanted his NWC to remain with a proclamation of the extension by the National Convention.
A well placed party source said that an enlarged meeting of PDP governors and leaders followed yesterday to consider three issues:
- To cancel or postpone the convention in the light of the court order;
- To extend the tenure of Sheriff’s administration; and
- To put in place an Interim Caretaker Committee
“At the session, Sheriff and Wike maintained that the idea of a caretaker committee was alien to the PDP Constitution and it would amount to illegality,” the source said.
“They said having a caretaker committee would lead the party into a deeper crisis and defiance of the two court orders.
“They said since PDP is known for its adherence to the rule of law, the National Convention should be postponed.”
But Fayose and other governors rejected the proposal from Wike and Sheriff’s NWC.
Another source said: “At a point, tension peaked at the meeting leading to a shouting match between Wike and Fayose.
“It degenerated to a level that Wike and Fayose were near fisticuffs. But at the end of the day, most of the governors and PDP leaders agreed on going ahead with the convention and the setting up of a caretaker committee headed by Ahmed Makarfi.”
Stunned by the decision, Sheriff opted to call a press briefing where he announced the cancellation of the National Convention.
Sheriff later left Port Harcourt in the company of former Governor of Jigawa State, Sule Lamido.
A member of the NWC said: “The appointment of any interim or caretaker committee is an exercise in futility because it is alien to our constitution. It is also in defiance of court orders and the national chairman of the party did not convene the convention which set up the interim administration.
“The consensus was that the national convention should be postponed. So, the so-called convention was unauthorized.”
At a hurriedly convened press conference, Sheriff said: “After seeing the challenges confronting our party, taking into account the decision of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), not to supervise the election to the offices of chairman, secretary and others, based on the order of the court.
“On account of the fact that our party is responsible, law abiding with high respect for judiciary and courts, we do here by state and put off the national convention of our party from taking place. “We have suspended it until when all the court cases are g resolved.
“The issues are so many. We have about three different court cases.
“From Abuja, where it says that the tenure of the 17 members of the National Working Committee has not expired, it will be expiring on the 17 of June, 2017 and another one in Lagos which says that the tenure of the chairman, secretary and auditor will expire in 2018.
“INEC also wrote that they will not supervise the election in Port Harcourt.
“Taking into consideration of all these, if we go out and conduct elections in Port Harcourt, the NEC of the party will be charged with contempt of court. We have asked for a stay of proceedings in Lagos and the court denied that also.
“Therefore, the best and safest way is to put off the convention. Therefore, we have suspended the convention until all the court cases are resolved. We will then announce another date for the convention.”
There had been anxiety among delegates when the convention did kick off at 2pm as expected.
Although the host chairman, Felix Obuah, told reporters that the exercise would still come up , delegates became weary when the Governors , who were in Port – Harcourt ,failed to show up at the venue.
Sources said amid the tension communication was going on between the factions in Port Harcourt and Abuja.
The PDP National Assembly caucus was said to have suggested to the governors the need to avert a possible balkanization of the party by postponing the exercise.
Said one source, “Reality dawned on the Governors that they could not insist on the convention, especially the candidature of Sheriff, without some dire consequences. The Gana group was contacted and it insisted that it had no problem with the Governors, but with the candidature of Sheriff.
“Many party chieftains also deliberately shunned Port – Harcourt and that was also worrisome to the Governors. It was realized that the people threatening a parallel convention could not be ignored because they also cut across the 36 states.”
However, a way out was found out of the logjam when both factions agreed on the setting up of a caretaker committed to steer the affairs of the party till July when a new convention will be held.
It was not immediately certain what role Sheriff will play in the new arrangement.
Both factions agreed to forge unity and reconciliation in the interest of the party.
Some of those at the Port Harcourt convention were the Chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees, Sen. Walid Jibril, Deputy President of the Senate, Chief Ike Ekweremadu, ex-President of the Senate, Chief David Mark, ex-Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Emeka Ihedioha, 12 Governors including Henry Seriake Dickson, Ben Ayade, Darius Ishaku, Ifeanyi Okowa, Ayo Fayose, Udom Emmanuel, David Umahi, and Nyesom Wike among others.
Meanwhile, the Gana faction held its convention in Abuja without electing officials.
The group converged on an events centre in the capital city with delegates from the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory.
The faction did not elect officers, ostensibly in deference to court orders restraining the PDP from holding the convention.
Instead, the group ratified its 56-member Steering Committee with a former Deputy Senate President, Ibrahim Mantu and a former Education Minister, Prof. Tunde Adeniran as co-chairmen. Gana retained the position of National Coordinator.
Mantu announced the decision of the faction not to elect national officials, saying members were still open to reconciliation with the Sheriff faction in the overall interest of the PDP.
Restating the group’s opposition to Sheriff as national chairman, Mantu lamented the culture of impunity, disdain for democratic norms and utter disregard for the party’s constitution. The same trend, he said, led to the party’s loss of the 2015 general election.
His words: “We view the purported extension of the tenure of the current National Working Committee of the party as null and void as the National Executive Committee cannot grant such extension under the party constitution.
“Therefore, all actions of the Ali Modu Sheriff led executive, including the purported congresses and convention in Port Harcourt are null and void and an exercise in futility.
“The action of the National Executive Committee of the party in selecting Ali Modu Sheriff as chairman was in gross violation of the established procedure for the selection.
“The selection of the chairman for the unexpired term of the Northeast zone started with nominations from states in the zone, Sheriff was not nominated by any state caucus and hence not qualified to be selected.”
He added that any decision to go ahead with the Port Harcourt convention would amount to disobedience to valid court orders stopping the exercise.
It was gathered that botched attempts were made yesterday by the Chairman of the PDP Governors Forum, Governor Segun Mimiko to prevail on the stakeholders to shelve their separate session in Abuja.
The stakeholders however went ahead with the parallel convention.
A top source, who spoke in confidence, said: “Mimiko spoke at length with Gana and others on Saturday morning that we should not conduct our own election in Abuja.
“The Ondo State governor said the PDP governors were ready to concede to our demands which border on the stepping aside by ex- Governor Modu Ali Sheriff.
“Even on Friday, they placed a chartered aircraft on standby at Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport to convey members of the stakeholders to Port Harcourt but we stood our ground based on principle that Sheriff cannot reform PDP.
“But we did not want to take anything for granted at all because when we met with the representatives of the governors about six days ago, they were adamant that Sheriff must continue.
“Those who had audience with us were Governors David Umahi (Ebonyi), Ayo Fayose (Ekiti) and Nyesom Wike (Rivers).”
Some party stalwarts at the alternative convention in Abuja were a former Deputy President of the Senate, Ibrahim Mantu, ex-Governor Achike Udenwa, ex-Acting Governor Garba Umar, 15 ex-Ministers including Hajiya Inna Ciroma, Abubakar Suleiman Olanrewaju Suleiman Abubakar, Shetiima Mustapha, Arc. Bunu Sheriff, Prof. Jerry Gana, Tanimu Kabir Turaki, John Odey, Bala Mohammed, Ishola Sarafa, Adamu Maina Waziri, and Amb. Tunde Adeniran.