The long journey to save the PDP from itself

By Niyi Bello (Head, Politics Desk) and Seye Olumide   |   13 July 2017   |   4:26 am

Ali Modu Sheriff

The affirmation of Makarfi as the authentic chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) by the Supreme Court comes as a tonic for the revival of the party that has almost bled to death from internal injury.

The decision of the Supreme Court, in a unanimous judgment delivered yesterday, to declare hitherto factional leader of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Senator Ahmed Makarfi, former governor of Kaduna State as the authentic Chairman of the party, has not only boosted opposition politics in Nigeria but also brought fresh vibes into the country’s political scene.

Before the verdict, which was delivered by Justice Bode Rhodes Vivour on behalf of a five-member panel of the apex court headed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen, the PDP as a major platform of opposition elements in the political space, was in total disarray.

In a crisis that many of its leaders alleged was being fuelled by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to avoid the bitter pill it made the PDP to swallow in the last months of its incumbency, leading to its unprecedented defeat in 2015, the party’s head was literarily severed and it became a subject of litigation among two factions.

Before the decapitation of the PDP, many Nigerians had expected the platform to live up to the expectations of a true opposition like the APC when it was in the trenches fighting to get political power, but the former ruling party, apparently because of the effect of a defeat that ended its 16-year rule and the barrage of criticisms against its leaders especially in the many revelations of graft investigations that portrayed them as a bunch of rogues, lost its compass in the political wilderness.

The first major attempt to reawaken the party and pull it from the brink to fill the huge gap created in the opposition circle especially in the face of the faltering steps of the APC administration, met a brickwall as it resulted in the crisis of leadership between Makarfi and fellow former governor and Senator, Ali Modu Sheriff.

Sheriff who was brought in by some governors, notably Ayo Fayose of Ekiti and Nyesom Wike of Rivers, allegedly because of his deep purse to finance a party that was no longer in the corridors of federal power, refused to vacate the chairmanship seat to prepare for an elected leadership in accordance with the party’s constitution.

As usual when Nigerian politicians are at each other’s throats, the judiciary became a pawn in the chess game as different conflicting judgments were being obtained in courts from Lagos Port Harcourt and Abuja before the matter was finally dragged to the apex court for final adjudication.

While the PDP was busy trying to settle its home front with the factions’ recourse to litigations and several unsuccessful out-of-court resolutions, the APC was having a field day as it faced only uncoordinated criticisms from an opposition in disarray. But with the decision of the apex court, the political space is expected to expand to allow for constructive engagements on all sides.

Nigeria’s politics seem to be on the verge of achieving this as many chieftains of the PDP have already started preaching the message of peace and reconciliation. Sheriff himself, despite the obvious fact that he was not leading the mainstream of the party while the litigations lasted, has reportedly pledged to work with the leadership to create a virile opposition that would strengthen the pillars of the country’s democracy.

Apart from removing the major obstacle on the path of opposition politics, the pronouncement of the apex court has also strengthened political party administration because of the recognition it accorded the constitution of the PDP which stated that the decision of the party’s convention supersedes any other.

Specifically, and in a manner that would promote internal democracy in political parties through adherence to its rules and regulations by leaders who are in the habit of seeking court protection to undermine their parties’ constitutions, the Supreme Court said Articles 33, 35 and 47 of the PDP constitution which affirmed the supremacy of its national convention, must be respected by every member.

While the crux of Makarfi’s defence was that he had been proclaimed as an interim chairman at the controversial Port Harcourt national convention of the party, Sheriff depended on an earlier decision of a federal high Court in Lagos that declared him as the chairman of the party even though his emergence at the instance of a few leaders, did not enjoy the stamp of a convention.

And with the unsubstantiated speculations about the APC Federal Government having a hand in the PDP crisis, the judiciary has, by its pronouncement on the matter not only debunk the allegations but affirmed its authority and independence as an arm of government in a functional democracy.

The Supreme Court has also affirmed itself as the protector of democratic values and controller of judicial recklessness on the part of administrators of the lower courts and desperate politicians. While condemning Sheriff for “demonstrating an infantile desperation to lead the PDP by filing almost 10 different applications in various courts, which shall forever gather dust in judicial archives,” the apex court awarded a cost of N250, 000 against him.

Already the final judicial pronouncement in the PDP crisis has started to reverberate across the country’s political landscape. Minutes after the judgment was read yesterday, Deputy Majority Leader of the Senate, Bala Ibn Naallah, who represents Kebbi South Senatorial District, on the platform of the APC, congratulated the PDP on the floor of the upper chamber but added that the judgment would not make the major opposition party a threat.

Onnoghen

Speaking during plenary, Naallah said, “Despite the apex court’s verdict, the PDP would still remain what it is and that is that the party is still in the Diaspora.”

He however said the judgment has not only resolved the crisis in the opposition party but also proved the true disposition of the APC to the rule of law and the party’s believe in the principle of separations of power.

The Senator said it was unlike those days when the PDP was in government “such a landslide decision by Supreme Court would have been written in the Presidential Villa to favour whomsoever the power that be wants. It also shows that our party believes in the independent of the judiciary.”

Also reacting to the development, Senate Deputy Minority Leader, Emmanuel Bwacha, who represents Taraba South commended the apex court as he urged all the PDP members who had left the party for whatever reason to start their journey back to base.

To him the judgment was no victor, no vanquished but would definitely change the political equation in the country.

From the information available to The Guardian, members of the PDP, including those that have left or retreated to their shells since Sheriff’s leadership of the party was affirmed by the Appeal Court in Port Harcourt few months back, are beginning to reposition themselves to engage the ruling party.

As a matter of fact, some of the PDP members believed that the Supreme Court verdict came at the right time when the preparations for the 2019 elections is about to commence.

It is also believed that the development would enable the PDP to take advantage of the public disenchantments against the APC government and internal crisis within the ruling party, in the preparations for 2019 elections.

It was gathered that immediately the judgment was delivered, PDP lawmakers in the National Assembly started regrouping with some of their colleagues in the ruling party to chart a way to resolve the political logjam in the country.

Yesterday’s pronouncement has also gingered the Lagos chapter of the PDP ahead of the July 22 local council elections. The Lagos PDP has, before now, been seriously weakened because of the protracted crisis.

Spokesman of the party, Taofik Gani in a telephone chat with The Guardian yesterday, said those members loyal to Makarfi received the decision of the court with joy, although he said the party would still go ahead to use the Labour Party (LP) platform for the council election.

With the verdict, all the candidates of the hitherto recognized Sheriff faction in Lagos PDP who had been cleared for the election have been swept aside.

According to Gani, “The party would come out with a categorical statement very soon. This judgment goes beyond the PDP intra politics but actually a successful surgery on the political stability of Nigeria, which has been very volatile as a result of the diabolical attempt by the APC to ‘kill’ the PDP.”

Gani noted that a party with over 65 million registered members within a country of about 140 ‎million “definitely is the party by which the heart beat of politics and political stability can be measured.”

He urged those who left the party at the trying period to come back as “it is not too late to return, especially those who won elections on its platform. In Lagos state, we shall welcome them and forge ahead together if they are found fit and proper to be further associated with.”

Meanwhile, the Lagos faction loyal to Sheriff and led by Segun Adewale had reconciled itself with the new development in a congratulatory message to Makarfi yesterday.

According to Adewale, “Makarfi’s victory was a call to reconciliation towards building a formidable PDP.”

He noted, “our nascent democracy was being tested and victory belongs to all PDP members. I have always said that despite the crisis in our party in the last 14 months, our party is all about the interest of the people. Our party remains the hope of Nigerians and the Supreme Court today has affirmed our belief in the rule of law.”

Lagos governorship candidate of the PDP in 2015, Jimi Agbaje, said it was now time for the PDP to put its house in order adding that the party is the future hope of democracy in the nation.

But beyond the fact that the apex court’s decision would put to rest the issues in the PDP, the National Chairman, African Democratic Congress (ADC), Ralph Nwosu said the judgment was also good for party politics and the nation’s democracy “based on the fact it recognized power and supremacy of party convention.”

According to him, “The judgment was commendable. It also affirmed that the party constitution and convention is the final decision. The court got it right.”

Nwosu however urged the Makarfi’s side to extend a hand of fellowship to the other faction “because there is great prospect for the party.”




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