By Chidiebere Onyemaizu
Tortuous legal battle for the soul of Nigeria’s erstwhile ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP came to an end this morning with Supreme Court ruling declaring a former governor of Kaduna state, Ahmed Makarfi as the authentic leader of the party.
Makarfi and former governor of Borno state, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff had both laid claim to the leadership of the PDP. Matters came to a head for the party on May 21, 2017 at its botched national convention in Port Harcourt, the Rivers state capital.
A restraining court order, allegedly instituted by Sheriff through proxies had halted the convention resulting in the National Working Committee, NWC, sacking the former Borno state governor from his position as PDP’s National Acting Chairman. Makarfi was then inaugurated as Chairman of party’s Interim National Committee with the mandate to organize fresh convention within three months which was August 2017.
The August national convention was again aborted by Sheriff through a restraining court order. The result was that the party paraded two factional National Chairmen-Sheriff and Makarfi with the latter enjoying confidence and loyalty of about 90 percent of PDP members, including all organs of the party.
When Sheriff was imposed on the party in February 2016 as Acting National Chairman by some PDP governors, mainly Rivers state governor, Nyesom Wike and his Ekiti state counterpart, Ayo Fayose, it was with the understanding that he was to be in office for three months to complete the tenure of former National Chairman of the party, Adamu Mu’azu, who led the PDP into disastrous defeat in the 2015 general elections and subsequently resigned.
Sheriff’s choice was in fulfillment of PDP constitution which stipulates that if an incumbent national officer leaves office for any reason before the expiration of his tenure, his replacement must come from his geo-political zone to completion the tenure. Mu’azu who was a former governor of Bauchi state and Sheriff are both from Northeast. However, unknown to those who drafted him in, Sheriff had other ideas. He was looking beyond three months and actually wanted to stay in office till 2018 hence, he allegedly used proxies to secure restraining court orders aborting the May 21, 2016 national convention so that he would continue in office.
In the ensuing other court cases, including his appeal at the Appeal Court, Sheriff’s line of argument was that his tenure as National Chairman of the PDP would end in 2018 even when no convention elected him in the first place.
Though he had stridently denied it, the recurring motif in the titanic battle Sheriff fought to claim the PDP was that he would stay in office till 2018 and then use the topmost party position to navigate the presidency in 2019 after planting surrogates and stooges in the party who will in turn expressly award the him the PDP presidential ticket for the 2019 presidential election.
The ousted PDP boss came close to realizing this dream following his victory at the Court of Appeal in March this year. The appellate court, in a split decision, had proclaimed him the rightful PDP National Chairman. Till he was thrown out early Wednesday by the Supreme Court, Sheriff was legally, the PDP National chair and dutifully exercised the powers of that office, including signing nomination forms for PDP candidate seeking elections.
It is not yet clear whether Sheriff will return to the PDP fold having severally declared that he will remain with the party whichever way the Supreme Court judgment. It is however being speculated that sooner than expected, the former Borno governor will return to his natural habitat- the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC. A founding member of the APC, Sheriff decamped to the PDP in the run up to the 2015 general election to protest the decision of the National leadership of APC to cede the party’s structure in Borno to his god son and incumbent governor of the state, Kashim Shettima.
While the PDP leadership crisis lingered, Sheriff’s opponent accused him of working for the APC. They insisted that the former governor’s soul was still with the APC, and that the party was using him to destroy the opposition after which he would return to the APC fold to help his in law and President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari secure second term. Buhari and Sheriff are related by marriage by the virtue of his son’s marriage to the President’s daughter.
The apex court, in an unanimous decision by a five-man panel of Justices, handed leadership of the party to the Senator Markafi, tongue lashing Sheriff
Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour who read the lead judgement validated the National Convention PDP held in Port Harcourt on May 21, 2016, where the Sheriff led – National Executive Committee, NEC, was dissolved.
The Supreme Court said the convention was not conducted in disobedience to any court order, contrary to Sheriff’s claim.
The apex court accused Sheriff of engaging in forum shopping, saying he “displayed infantile desperation to cling to office at all cost”.
Consequently, it awarded a cost of N200, 000 each, against Sheriff and Prof. Wale Oladipo who acted as National Secretary of the party under him.
Meanwhile, dependable party sources have told this Magazine that a dozen fringe parties which have been waiting for the outcome of the Supreme Court judgment to melt into the PDP have signified their intention to do so in the coming days. One of such parties is one Makarfi’s faction of the PDP had registered as plan B in case the apex court judgment wasn’t favourable. Politicians from other parties, including disgruntled APC chieftains who had also been waiting for the judgement before making a political movement are equally said to be warming up to defect to the party in the days to come.