From the shift in date for Peoples Democratic Party (PDP’s) National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting to last Monday March 6, 2016, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, received a new lease of endorsement at the last checkpoint in his appointment as the party’s national chairman.
However, the real test for the new PDP helmsman would be how he goes about his duties to satisfy the confidence of those who chose him in the exercise of the functions of his lofty office.
The national secretary of the party, Prof. Adewale Oladipo, had explained that during the NEC meeting, Sheriff’s tenure would be determined and possibly ratified, acknowledging that “all is now well with PDP.” Oladipo noted that a great sign that the party was on a rebound “is that now we have a substantive national chairman in place from the Northeast to complete the tenure of Alhaji Adamu Mu’azu,”
He regretted that although some aggrieved members of the party kicked against his emergence, “I can say emphatically that we have been able to overcome that.’’ As predicted by Oladipo, Sheriff received the ratification and a charge to lead the party to a successful convention on May 21. But the so-called aggrieved members that kicked against the emergence of SAS must be waiting on the sidelines to see how far their apprehensions about the suitability of the former Borno governor for the party’s top job.
As he settles down on the job, Sheriff would begin to see how the office of the national chairman of a former ruling party that has transmuted to the major opposition, is not similar to that of a state governor. This is because despite the national secretary’s assertion that “all is now well with PDP”, the party faces the acid test in some states. And what he does or fails to do in relation to resolving the crises in those state chapters, including some zonal branches would affect his credentials and determine whether those who hired him were right or wrong.
Problems in most of these states have to do with petty squabbles and power struggles between favoured candidates and loyal members. In some of the states the fall out of the last election still lingers to the detriment of the party’s cohesion and image.
It should be noted however that the challenges facing PDP in its bid to recover strength and stamina is not restricted to state chapters alone. Notable stalwarts of the party have in various public utterances underscored the major problems inhibiting the party’s good image and the march to the future.
The new national chairman himself had while receiving members of the party from Adamawa State remarked that impunity in the breach of the party’s constitution and imposition of candidates during elections constitute PDP’s Achilles heels.
Sheriff told his guests that those shortcomings led to the party’s tragic defeat after 16 years on the saddle of national government. Wondering how such a PDP stronghold as Adamawa should lose its hold in the governorship election, SAS regretted that the “impunity with which the party was run made you to lose all elections, including the legislature”.
The national chairman’s assurances that he would do the right things to put the party back on its winning track would form part of his assessment. After all, he declared that “it is obligatory on him to develop interest in the politics of North-East” and that his success in the region will serve as a litmus test.
Part of Sheriff’s first steps should include looking into reports of various reconciliation committees set up by the party, with a view to seeing what could be implemented, how and when. For instance, the Ekwueme committee and Ike Nwachukwu Committees, which toured round the country, came up with far-reaching recommendations on how to return the party to its foundational principles. The issue of internal democracy, which Sheriff alluded to and that had given way to impunity and imposition should be taken up. And one way to address that could be by etching in black and white the zoning framework, as well as, religious observance of the constitutional provision that new members must wait for two years before angling for elective positions, either in the party or for inter-party electoral contests.
Part of PDP’s undoing is the practice of zoning offices or positions to favour certain personalities. This undermines competition and encourages cronyism and impunity. This particular shortcoming may have informed the recent remarks made by the chairman of the party’s Review Committee and Deputy President of Senate, Ike Ekweremadu. Ekweremadu had during the courtesy call on Sheriff by Adamawa State chapter, stated.that manipulation, which usually feature in the selection of party candidates and leaders, had been at the root of the problems facing PDP.
The Deputy President of Senate captured what could turn out as PDP’s healing secret this way: “I have assured all stakeholders that congresses and convention will not be as it used to be. Now, the people will decide their leaders. The days when someone will sit down in his house and name party executives are over. People will decide who will be their leaders. Our problem has always been that of manipulation, but that is all over.”
The forthcoming congresses and convention would show how far Sheriff could fashion the party towards responsible behaviour and internal competition, especially against the background of fears that some of the members of the National Working Committee (NWC), have concluded plans to return, albeit into different offices, through a deal. This may be where those who nurse the ambition for a new party may be waiting to see how Sheriff conducts himself.
Though the NEC and BoT did not dwell on whether SAS and other NWC members would be free to contest in the various positions during the convention, a sore thumb that sticks out is the practice of incumbents contesting for a second term, while still occupying same position. Apart from giving the obvious impression that there is no vacancy, the practice confers some advantage to the incumbent. How this simulates impunity is not hard to find.
Although the party could not for strategic reasons touch on what becomes of the national chairman after May 21, it is possible that Sheriff would be allowed to continue on the post to complete his rejigging of the party towards 2019. At least, the national chairman set the target of leading PDP to a presidential victory in 2019 for himself.
But questions, which the convention and Sheriff’s actions would answer should he contest the post of national chairman during the forthcoming convention and being the last convention before the midterm convention in 2018, would he contest while on the seat? And given concerns by some party stalwarts that Senator Ali Modu Sheriff has his eyes trained at the presidential ticket, how would his ambition affect the zoning structure of the party?
It might well be that SAS has convinced leaders from his zone that his interest begins and ends in rebuilding PDP and as such does not extend to seeking presidential flag. That possibility may have informed the decision by the Chairman of the Rescue Group, Ambassador Wilberforce Juta, to rethink his opposition and call on the national chairman to resign.
Though Juta praised NEC for noting that Sheriff should remain in office until the next convention produces new leaders, it is left to be seen how he would react at the possibility of SAS contesting the national chairmanship position as an incumbent. Apart from announcing the zoning of the presidential ticket to the Northeast, PDP as yet, has not come out with the zoning format for other offices in the NWC.
Some members are also engaged in subdued protestation that attempt to programme the Deputy President of Senate as a possible vice presidential candidate, may plunge the party into another crisis. Was there an under the table deal cut by the NWC, NASS caucus and Sheriff? The national chairman’s body language and movement would reveal such in the days to come.
Yet, apart from his relationship with those organs and response to reports of reconciliation committees, Sheriff’s ability to usher peace into embattled state chapters of the party would be his ultimate test. Here are some of the states that present as centres of assessment for SAS with their internal challenges.
Adamawa: Carry Over From 2015 Election
CRISIS hit the Adamawa State chapter of PDP in the build up to the 2015 governorship election. While the national leadership of the party preferred the former chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and presidential candidate of Action Congress of Nigeria in the 2011 presidential election, Nuhu Ribadu, for the governorship, the primary election became fuzzy.
There was an attempt to compensate the acting governor, Bala Ngilari with the Adamawa North Senatorial ticket stated.to have been won by former presidential adviser on political matters, Ahmed Gulak. Gulak kicked, alleging that the governor did not as much as buy the senatorial form, much less, taking part in the primary election. Gulak told journalists in Yola then that Ngilari contested the governorship and not the senatorial primary.
The ding-dong lingered, leading to eventual loss of the governorship as the party could not achieve the much needed cohesion to rally round the candidate, Ribadu. But having lost the state to the rival All Progressives Congress (APC), PDP has an uphill task of rebuilding its structures in a state that has the fourth republic vice president, Atiku Abubakar.
Without doubt Adamawa stands out as one state where Sheriff’s leadership style would come into great test.
Anambra: The Long Term Prodigal
BUT for the brief stint, spanning the four years it controlled the state, PDP enjoys the reputation of housing all the political big names in Anambra without being in charge of the Government House. Even since the two Chris, Ngige and Uba, fought over the governorship ‘won’ by the party in 2003, PDP has remained at the periphery. Losing such a strategic state as Anambra in Southeast paved the way for the party’s gradual loss of dominance of the geopolitical zone.
To worsen matters, PDP has not known peace in the state following a prolonged leadership crisis that tore the party into two factions. Contrary to expectations, the recent Supreme Court ruling, which upheld the Ejike Oguebego faction as the legitimate state executive, has not solved the crisis. The Prince Ken Emeakayi faction, it was gathered is planning to vacate the Federal High Court order that gave life to Oguebego faction.
There are many court cases within the Anambra State chapter of PDP than in any other state. Has the party helmsman the political will to demolish the factions and begin the rebuilding of the party from ground zero? How would he handle the so-called party financiers from the state? truly Anambra is one of the hotspots for Sheriff’s attention. He would be assessed by how far he is able or not to harmonise the party’s structure in Anambra, knowing that that is the political gateway to the East.
Bauchi: Rage Of The Big Men
BAUCHI happened to be one of the surprise losses recorded by PDP in the Northeast. Ordinarily, the state had no reason to fall, given the caliber of powerful men in the commanding heights of the party. The then national chairman, Alhaji Adamu Mu’azu hails from there. Over and above that, the party had a sitting governor in the person of Isa Yaguda, in addition to minister of the FCT, Senator Bala Mohammed.
Either on account of the clash of interests and ambitions, it was obvious that the big men did not play as a team at the build up to the 2015 election. Recall that the PDP presidential campaign train was pelted with stones and sticks in the state, due in part to the supremacy battles among the big men.
Sheriff should start his mending in Bauchi if he hopes to turn the political fortunes of Northeast into the PDP fold. With Gombe still standing, Bauchi could provide the pathway for reconnecting the zone back to PDP. Bauchi, fondly called Gari Na Miji, (A masculine town); should rank high as a tactical pathway for Sheriff to announce his chairmanship in the Northeast. The state has a dynamic voting population that favours PDP, but the sins of imposition and impunity did not fail to set the party back at crucial election moments.
Benue: Divided By Interests
BENUE has the singular reputation of being the only state in Nigeria to produce two national chairmen of and President of Senate from the PDP. The state aptly demonstrates the inability of the party to manage its success effectively, as most of the playmakers left the party to pursue their political future elsewhere. If there is a state therefore, which Sheriff should take seriously in courting and building peace, it is Benue.
The forthcoming congresses and convention would show how far Sheriff could fashion the party towards responsible behaviour and internal competition, especially against the background of fears that some of the members of the National Working Committee (NWC), have concluded plans to return, albeit into different offices, through a deal. This may be where those who nurse the ambition for a new party may be waiting to see how Sheriff conducts himself
Prevailing circumstances in the ruling APC do not give hope of better prospects for its chieftain from the state. It is left for the new national chairman to rekindle the conservative tendency of Benue to recover it in the PDP platform. There is no doubt that Benue would play big in the 2019 election, as such, whether it could rise to the occasion under APC or PDP depends on the value of leg work and rapprochement put in place by SAS.
Ebonyi: Tormented By Ideological Debauchery
EBONYI State is one of the Southeast states that have consistently been voting PDP since the inception of Nigeria’s Fourth Republic. However, from 2003 to successive general elections, especially the governorship, members of the party have always defected to opposition platforms to challenge the status quo. Troubled by cycles of political wickedness, political actors from the state find the three sins of PDP: impunity, imposition and intolerance; very unacceptable.
Presently, it is hard to describe Ebonyi as a PDP state because despite the fact that it returned all the members of the National Assembly and governorship, a sizeable percentage of the membership and voters side with other political parties. With the state governor, David Umahi, manifesting some signs of political coquetry towards the APC, the challenge of making PDP whole again in the state is enough to test Sheriff’s ability.
Some members of the state Working Committee of the party have been on an indefinite suspension, while litigation over the chairmanship lingers in the court. And while the case lingers, the party has remained comatose serving the government’s dual political posture of being bodily PDP, but APC in spirit. Notable politicians like Senator Azu Agboti and Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, recently defected to the APC and more are angling to jump ship in the days ahead.
Edo: Political Miscalculation
IT should surprise any keen watcher of Edo politics that the state should slide into the hands of the opposition after eight years of enjoying unchallenged dominance of the polity. Having produced the chairman of Board of Trustees, Edo was ordinarily seen as the heartbeat of PDP.
Edo State boasts of knowledgeable politicians and assertive voting population. But, perhaps, being power drunk by incumbency and federal might or beset by divisions within the ranks of its powerful stalwarts, Edo PDP caved in. Imposition and impunity became its undoing. Sheriff should see Edo as one of his examination centres. If he scores a pass mark in Edo, it would be because he recognizes the secret of giving power to the people. Democracy means much to the people of Edo State!
Ondo: Trembling Around Ideological Cold
ONDO is one of the states that would hold its governorship election this year. That election would be a great opportunity for Sheriff to walk the talk of transparent primaries and an end to imposition and impunity. There is a serving a governor who may be tempted to raise a finger in support of a preferred successor. This would present some challenges to the negotiating skills of the new national chairman. Ondo would reveal how Sheriff could handle state governors, who have constituted themselves as the tingods of the party.
All eyes would be on Sheriff as he steps in to ensure that the party remains under one leader and fold as the state goes into a major electoral battle against ideological insurgency of the APC.
By now, SAS should have known that he is on a probationary period. He must have learnt from what is playing out at the centre that there is no honeymoon for political positions. His steps are now being closely watched and he should watch out for banana peels along the way, especially in the states formerly under PDP umbrella.