PDP: Making the regeneration so challenging


While it lasted, the PDP crises have inflicted political injuries on many, made others frightened by the unpredictable trajectory to take precipitate actions, and above all, left Nigerians feeling the pangs of regret for a lack credible opposition to checkmate the excesses, license and superciliousness of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).

Two years on, it has been a tempestuous and tenuous former famed largest political platform in black Africa that has been reeling from an avoidable leadership disputation.

Although conflict of judicial pronouncements have done their worse to accentuate the structural defects and leadership crisis, the reality that the present opposing camps of Senator Ali Modu Sheriff and Senator Ahmed Makarfi are defined by craft and candour, makes the regeneration so challenging.

It is against that background of the perceived triumphal craftiness of the Sheriff faction, which was emboldened by the Court of Appeal ruling; and the candid apprehensions by the Makarfi camp, which structural ascendancy was betrayed by the ruling, that the recent action of the National Reconciliation presents as a missed opportunity.

Fallacy of Authority
As chairman of the National Reconciliation Committee, Governor Henry Seriake Dickson (HSD), gives the impression that he was either oblivious to the great opportunity which the Appeal Court ruling handed his committee to play as the rallying point and mediate a process for PDP’s reunification.

By first submitting his committee’s report to Sheriff, Governor Dickson seemed to have been propelled by the prevailing legal status conferred on Sheriff as the acting national chairman of the party, while overlooking the necessity of building consensus through wider consultations on the contents of the committee’s resolutions.

It is evident that the reconciliation committee was not a creation of the law, but that of the Makarfi caretaker committee. Consequently, if the report must be ventilated, it must of necessity and in line with due process, be sent to the establishing body, since Sheriff and his group are total strangers and complete outsiders to the terms of reference handed over to the body.

However, as a lawyer, HSD may have been swayed by the fact that the Port Harcourt Court of Appeal, not only repudiated the position and claim of the Makarfi camp to the leadership of PDP, but ordered a return to status quo. Yet, in consummating the work of his committee, the Bayelsa governor ought to have deployed greater tact and circumspection, by reaching out to both, since it could be safely argued in the long run that the interest of the party was being served.

Had the governor gone the extra mile of canvassing support for his committee’s stands, the report, which he hurriedly submitted to Sheriff, would have become a perfect working document for both parties to the crisis and a common ground for joint meetings.

Again, had HSD taken that path, he would have cleared the cobwebs surrounding some of the resolutions of the committee and the cloud of doubt about his motivations, especially when other members, either out of trauma of the Appeal Court ruling or disinterest, claimed that the mandate of the ad hoc committee had elapsed.

HSD would also have cleared the allegation of misrepresentation raised by the caretaker chairman, Makarfi, who claimed that although the Bayelsa governor met with him, they did not talk about submitting the report to Sheriff.

While blaming Dickson for presenting the report to Sheriff without consultation, Makarfi reportedly asked Dickson, why he did not table the report before his colleague governors and whether he had taken pains to read the Port Harcourt Appeal Court judgment.

As Makarfi pointed out, the judgment was based on two premises, which his camp did not accept, including the real interpretation of the status quo, since according to him, while the tenure of three members of the National Working Committee (NWC) will elapse in August, that of 18 others would run full course by July 2018.

Had Dickson read the judgment, he would have noted the grey areas that precipitated further appeal to Supreme Court, and also been able to canvass an acceptable common ground for a durable political solution.

Submitting the report to Sheriff therefore served the purpose of massaging the ego of Sheriff and echoing his disputed victory at the appellate court, instead of ensuring either a total obedience to the ruling concerning a full scale return to status quo or unanimous acceptance of the committee resolutions by the parties to crisis.

In the end the exercise ended up as a nearly missed opportunity, because there were salient propositions by the Dickson committee that could have aided PDP restoration going forward.

But in fairness, it should be noted that Dickson has all along maintained a principled stand against the Sheriff leadership, even though he felt betrayed that his support for a three-month period within which the former Borno governor should conduct a national convention and quit, was not carried through.

The Bayelsa governor had regretted that the whole quarrel is not about what is best for PDP. “It is about ambitions, it is about those who want to control PDP structures; it’s about those who want to contest presidential elections; it’s about those who want to contest elective office 2019, who feel that if so, so person is in control, they are shut out,” he stressed.

Could it then be that HSD decided to draw his own pint of blood by recognising Sheriff through the submission of the committee report, to spite those he blamed for not only bringing in the former Borno governor, but also tried to foist him on the party as national chairman in the twice failed Port Harcourt convention?

Though he premised his action on the subsisting Appeal Court ruling, HSD would not totally purge his decision of the lingering pain and revulsion caused by the manner some of his colleagues infested the party with the Sheriff conundrum.

For instance, Dickson had told journalists, after submitting the report to Sheriff:  “When (some) people were bringing Modu Sheriff, I never supported it. I have never been a fan of Modu Sheriff. My position is not for any personal reason. I was a minority voice in the PDP Governors’ Forum. They planned, did all kinds of things behind our back, undermining the Governors’ Forum. The chairman of the forum didn’t know what they were doing. I too didn’t know what they were doing.”

Lost Talking Points

Ahmed Makarfi

When former President Goodluck Jonathan waded into the crisis, the general consensus of opinion was that in the face of divergent judicial positions, which granted Makarfi camp legal victory and accorded Sheriff’s camp recognition at the appellate level, a political solution should be the final arbiter.

Nevertheless, the reconciliation committee chairman expressed his reservations, arguing that not only was it vague, but also that it requires templates to raise qualitative talking points to aide discussion and proposals for people to make critical inputs and that contains possible time frames.

HSD lamented that instead of focusing on the talking points contained in the template that his committee produced, Makarfi and his backers have been sponsoring vicious (media) attacks against him. But even as he did not specify an instance of the attacks, it was possible that the Bayelsa governor was referring to the condemnation of his faux pas of handing over his committee’s report to a stranger.

However, although Dickson was reported to have reversed himself by taking the report to Makarfi, he had by his initial mistake reduced the potency of the salient suggestions contained in the report.

For instance, the governor had explained that the template proposed by the committee was one that could set in motion the process for a negotiated unity convention. The committee, according to him, had reasoned that “the inability to hold a unity convention or even hold a successful convention at all is at the heart of the crisis in PDP.”

But Dickson appeared to hurt his genuine intention to return PDP into reckoning by handing the document to Sheriff, a development Makarfi described, not as evidence of ulterior motive, but exuberance. The Bayelsa governor had accused the caretaker committee of ineffectiveness, not giving a sense of direction and not even taking on (the Federal) government.

It was therefore ironical that the Sheriff who offered to resign if Makarfi does the same, responded to Dickson’s committee recommendation of an early convention. This no doubt aroused the suspicion of the Makarfi camp, which doubted the sincerity of the former Borno State governor.

Although Makarfi rightly pointed out that it was wrong for Dickson to submit the report to one of the parties to an issue, the Bayelsa governor must have recognised the fallacy of sidelining everybody except Sheriff.

It is against that procedural mismatch that renders the valuable recommendations of the committee sterile. Attempts by Dickson to give perspective to his decision failed to enrich the efficacy of the suggested ring-fenced convention.

What HSD did not figure out was that by accepting all those conditions, Sheriff seems to be staging a political ambush, believing that when he takes full authority it would be too late in the day to commit him to responsible implementation of the recommendations.

That may have prompted Makarfi’s rejection with the critical posers about how the convention could produce different result from the twice failed 2016 convention in Port Harcourt.  Makarfi stated: “What the court ruling means is that all the national officers before May 21 must return to office. What Sheriff is doing is against the judgment, all his actions run foul against the judgment. As far as we are concerned, the caretaker committee has no position, other than that of the organs of the party.

INEC Timeline
Although unintended, the release of the 2019 election timetable by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), helped to escalate the rash decision taken by parties to the PDP leadership confusion. First, the release of the timeline seemed to have put pressure on some state governors and federal legislators that were angling for a second term or nursing governorship ambition.

HSD had confessed that the INEC timeline prompted his decision to submit the reconciliation committee’s report to Sheriff, who had been singing the song of an early convention, pointing out that the national convention, as the highest organ of the party, would put paid to all agitations, particularly when Sheriff, who is at the centre of general apprehension of hijack had promised not to contest.

Dickson said: “I had the intelligence about the INEC time table; I said this is the time to begin to put our party together and fast-track this process. Makarfi drew my attention to the fact that some persons were claiming that their tenures have not elapsed, and they may take us to court. I said yes, thank you for that, I will include it in the template that those people must resign, so that all offices must be vacant to give the party a fresh beginning and I included it in the template.”

But while Dickson was acting fast, supposedly, a gale of defections hit the party anew, even as the proposal for an alternative platform lost appeal. Sheriff and Makarfi continued to raise allegations and counter-allegations about who was frustrating the peace process.

But while the former Kaduna State governor maintained that his committee remains “open to political resolution provided it is genuine, sincere, comprehensive, democratic, legally water-tight and not to surrender the party in an undemocratic manner to anybody including myself.”

On his part Sheriff expressed the belief that his intention to conduct a convention that would elect new leaders would put paid to the trouble in the party, even when he refused to accommodate other members of the NWC recognised before the May 21 convention, which ordinarily, should have raised the credibility of his avowals.

The North Angle
Perhaps, a crucial development in the PDP re-engineering process was the resolution by leaders of the party that a political solution held the key to permanent healing of the crisis. The Bayelsa State governor appropriated the position of the northern leaders’ as a tacit endorsement of the National Reconciliation Committee’s belief that only political solution would take PDP out of its present crisis.

While commending the northern leaders and elders for supporting the political solution, Dickson in a statement signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Daniel Iworiso-Markson, declared that only a political solution will deliver a win-win situation for PDP.

He added that the northern PDP leaders’ position accentuated their commitment to finding peace in the shortest possible time, stressing that if the party needed to put its house in order, “personal interests, ego and differences must give way to the overall survival of the PDP.”

However, sources from the north revealed that the new thinking in the zone was propelled by the failure of the APC to unite the country on a clear path of harmony and economic prosperity. The source added that former military leaders, some knowledgeable traditional rulers and statesmen met, and after reviewing the political trajectory in the country, conclude that something must be done quickly to arrest the zirigaziriga being undertaken by PDP.

Immediate past governor of Jigawa State, Alhaji Sule Lamido, told The Guardian that the PDP’s slide predated Makarfi and Sheriff, remarking that the party had withstood the whims of “phenomenal strong men”, it would soon overcome the present challenges.

Going down memory lane, Lamido lamented that leaders of the party failed to act when the first signs of the lack of structural alignment in the party started manifesting.

“Some of us in the Governors’ Forum decided on shuttle diplomacy around the country and visited founding fathers of the party. We alerted them to the possible dangers and national calamity that could befall the country if PDP goes asunder,” he recalled.

Lamido said it has dawned on all that the programmes being pursued by the present administration were those initiated by the PDP administration, pointing out that despite the demonizing of the party, initiatives by the former President Goodluck Jonathan in the areas of railway rehabilitation and unbundling of the power sector cannot be rivaled.

The former Jigawa governor acknowledged that the PDP made mistakes, saying there was no way APC could have won the presidential election without the leverage of PDP. He said the overall intention of the seven governors before the crisis broke out was not essentially to defect, but to rouse the party to the failings within its internal organs.

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