Post-conflict PDP: Calculating future possibilities, challenges

Ali Modu Sheriff

• Sudden Resurgence Of Presidential Aspirants

As far as litigations go, erstwhile ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) will hit the end of the road this week on its protracted leadership wrangle. Going by the verbal assurances of the protagonists-Senators Ali Modu Sheriff and Ahmed Makarfi-the outcome of the anticipated apex court judgment would produce a confluence of both camps, thereby leading to a resurgence of the party as one.

However, given the mutual suspicion and ego tiff of the contending camps, it is also possible that the ruling would present a tributary where the losing faction seeks political future elsewhere. Should that latest scenario play out, it would lend credence to the long held impression that the crisis had the instigation of outside influence.

Matter At Issue
THE Supreme Court would be delivering its verdict on the appeal filed by the Makarfi camp challenging the decision of Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt, which recognised Sheriff as the authentic national chairman of the party.

The five man panel of Justices led by Chief Justice of the Federation (CJN), Justice Walter Samuel Onnoghen, reserved judgment on the suit after throwing out an application from Sheriff. The defeat of that technical hurdle calculated to delay or abort the trial was seen as a harbinger of hope for the Makarfi side.

Sheriff had sought to dissuade the apex court from hearing the appeal on grounds that the case was not properly filed, neither did the Makarfi camp obtain necessary authorization of PDP to file the appeal in its name. However, rebuffing the arguments of the applicants, the apex court granted leave to the Makarfi group to challenge the Court of Appeal’s ruling.

Exulting in that positive verdict from Port Harcourt, Sheriff and his faction contended that being a corporate personality, PDP can only be represented by principal national officers even as they relied on a May 18, 2017 judgment of an FCT High Court, which ordered a return to status quo. Sheriff also averred that Makarfi and the caretaker committee can only enter legal challenge as interested parties, after securing leave of the Court to Appeal.

Inferences, Possible Verdicts And Scenarios
THERE are no two ways about it. A winner must surely emerge this week. With the rejection of Sheriff’s obstructionist plea, it is easy to say that the apex court Justices would see reason in an earlier ruling by the Port Harcourt High Court presided over by Justice Liman, which endorsed the Port Harcourt convention, as well as, the sacking of Sheriff.

In delivering such a ruling, the apex court may even decide to see logic in the contention that the May 22 Port Harcourt convention was validly convened and, being the highest caucus of a political party, the convention’s decision to set up a caretaker committee was valid in the light of a Lagos High Court injunction against an election.

If that outcome is returned, the Makarfi camp will express vindication and get to the next level of returning PDP to its original form. The national care taker committee would however discover that its challenges are not over, because the real test of organising a national convention to elect substantive national officers would rear its head.

That convention could also wake up old contentious issues about zoning of national offices. Prior to the Sheriff challenge, Southwest had vigorously challenged the nebulous zoning of the post of national chairman to the South, instead of stating clearly that it was the turn of Southwest to produce a national chairman for the first time since 1999.

However, with the appearance of Alegho Raymond Dokpesi at the launch of Action Peoples Democratic Alliance (APDA), the field would be left open to Chief Bode George and the 2015 Lagos State governorship candidate of the party, Jimi Agbaje. But that could be overly simplistic, because as yet, not much is known about the degree of involvement of the Makarfi camp in the formation of that fledgling platform.

On the flipside therefore, if APDA has the anointing of the prime movers of the national caretaker committee, the positive verdict from the apex court would necessitate new rounds of negotiations towards formal fusion and harmonization. In such a situation, it would be telling what format the zoning of national offices of the emergent PDP could take.

Furthermore, a victory for Makarfi faction would also bring to the open the behind-the-scene actors in the PDP crisis, whose interest revolve around using the platform to contest the 2019 presidential election. When that happens, accounts of who played what roles would be thrown into the bargaining for ascendancy.

The possible implication of the resurgence of presidential aspirants is that the jostle as to who becomes the substantive national chairman could become very intense, as each aspirant might want to push his/her preferred candidate. How far such elbow fight would affect the return of PDP is better left to conjecture.

Consequent upon the foregoing therefore, the return of positive verdict from the apex court would definitely not usher in uhuru to PDP, but as a temporary relief for the ongoing work in progress towards strengthening the once invincible octopus. But a remarkable inference of Makarfi victory would be the validation of the alleged interference in the crisis by suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. David Babachir Lawal.

No sooner had the Port Harcourt Appeal Court ruled that Sheriff was the authentic national chairman of PDP, than words started making the rounds of how the now embattled SGF reached out to highly-placed judicial officers to ensure that victory went a particular way. The office of the SGF it was said was the launching pad of certain invidious judicial pronouncements that rattled the nation, particularly in the PDP crisis.

Sources disclosed that the SGF who had eyes on the Adamawa governorship seat was troubled at the possibility of PDP bouncing back as a strong platform and therefore become a pedestal for a fourth republic Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar to contest the presidency. Those in the know of such fears of the former SGF said he believes that with Atiku on the presidential ballot in 2019, it would be impossible to defeat his candidate in Adamawa governorship.

It was also disclosed that the return of former national chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Malam Nuhu Ribadu, was part of the SGF’s schemes in ostensible preparation for a showdown against Atiku’s political interests in Adamawa.

Conversely, should Sheriff carry the day, it is possible that the fibre of what has been known as PDP would have been excised, leaving the visceral mass. Should that happen, Sheriff would redouble his efforts at reaching rapprochement with intensely aggrieved stakeholders, particularly some first term governors and members of the Board of Trustees, who could say, after all, it was victory for PDP.

A possible affirmative verdict from the apex court could further energize Sheriff, Cairo Ojougbo and others to insist on internal democracy as the philosophy of function in a new PDP. That might also be a possible carrot the camp could throw at stakeholders who for long have repudiated the impunity and overbearing influence of state governors on the party.

And emboldened by such propitious outcome, Sheriff would embark on a chest-thumbing visit to state chapters to assure party faithful that their party has come back to them, even as he boasts that he has chased the promoters of corruption, violence and intimidation away.

Yet, depending on how far he succeeds in wooing back strong political actors to his side, Sheriff may be forced to fuse his ramshackle platform into a crumbling All Progressives Congress (APC) in a bold strategic political move to achieve a balance of forces in the likely event of nPDP elements in APC moving out to pursue their interests in another party.

Odds Against Stand Alone
HEAD or tail, PDP, as Nigerians know it, would not stand alone after the Supreme Court verdict. Should Makarfi camp win, they would align or enter into political alliance with “like-minded” political parties. That position has been canvassed times and again by chairman BoT, Senator Walid Jibrin and Makarfi.

In fact, when Makarfi authorized party faithful, especially those from states going into electoral contest, to feel free to run on any platform, he seemed to be alluding to the looming fusion of parties. Virtually all political actors in the country have come to the realisation that the nation’s democracy needs two very strong political parties to deepen the experience.

Even when former cabinet ministers of the PDP met recently in Abuja, the subtle message they were passing in their challenge to President Muhammadu Buhari or whoever in the APC wants to contest the 2019 presidency is that in the very way APC joined struggling platforms to defeat PDP, PDP would replicate same feat.

Although the Sheriff’s camp revealed that it enjoys the confidence many state governors incensed against the dominant influences of Governor Ayo Fayose and Nyesom Wike, deep down, it knows it cannot go it alone.

The implication of what is gradually playing out in the PDP’s long drawn battle is that the combined effects of 2015 election loss and leadership crisis has whittled down its potency as a national political platform. Additionally the attempts to resurrect regional power blocs may go further to ensure that PDP may never get back its winning ways again as a dominant platform.

Therefore, how far PDP is able to rekindle its national appeal, after this week’s apex court ruling; would go a long way in determining the direction of Nigeria’s democracy. It may go back to its original concepts of zoning, evolve popular ownership and seek merit and integrity as basis of selecting its flag bearers, but definitely it would no longer be the same party that expressed a lofty ambition of ruling Nigeria for sixty years.

But with CJN presiding over the final judgment on PDP, Nigerians can only hope that out of its defeat and digression comes out something even strong and better for the nation’s democratic progression. The party had already lost a seeming golden opportunity of taunting APC with its many slips and fibs.

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