A plot by some governors elected on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party and a flurry of text messages triggered the revolt that led to the removal of the National Chairman of the party, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff; SUNDAY PUNCH reported.
Top officials of the party who took part in the game of intrigues that led to the ouster of the party chairman said Sheriff did not realise the level of conspiracy against him till it was too late.
The officials, who spoke to SUNDAY PUNCH on condition of anonymity, said the coalition that worked against Sheriff also included senior party members led by Prof. Jerry Gana. These party members, the officials added, were the ones who persuaded the governors to send last-minute text messages to their delegates to reject Sheriff on the convention ground.
One of the text messages read, “Reject Sheriff at the convention by passing a vote of no confidence in him and voting ‘no’ on his ballot paper.”
It was learnt that the text message leaked to Sheriff, who hurriedly left his hotel room and headed to Government House, Port Harcourt.
Sheriff, who had scheduled a press briefing for the early morning of Saturday, was said to have rushed to the Government House where he met the governors, including the host, Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, seated.
One of the governors, who spoke with one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity, said Sheriff confronted the governors, some senators and members of the Board of Trustees at the meeting, but failed to sway them.
The governor, who spoke to our correspondent, said, “The crisis started when Sheriff refused to abide by the terms of an agreement that he should spend just three months in office and he started maneuvering to remain in office.
“We spoke to our colleagues that we should take a position and ask him to leave, they said no. Even when the party was factionalised, they remained adamant.”
The governor added that two of Sheriff’s main backers and sponsors, Governor Wike and Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State, abandoned him when they saw the level of opposition to their choice.
The governor added, “Wike and Fayose went to beg the Gana faction that they should support Sheriff, they returned with nothing. The members of the Gana faction said ‘over their dead bodies.’
“We then agreed that we (anti-Sheriff governors) would play along and act decisively at the eleventh hour. That’s what we did today (Saturday), by sending text messages to our delegates to pass a vote of no confidence in him at the convention ground.
“Unfortunately, the message leaked and that was why he rushed to meet us at the Government House. We asked him to go and resign in order to save the party, but he refused.
“When he knew that the game was up, he stormed out of the meeting and rushed down to his hotel to address you people (journalists). He knew that there was no way he would survive the gathering storm. We needed to save our party from disintegration and total collapse. That’s what happened.”
Convention called off — Sheriff
At the hurriedly-held press briefing, Sheriff said he was calling off the convention due to series of court injunctions against it, and those asking the party not to elect officers into some national offices, including that of the national chairman.
He said, “This is to inform our supporters nationwide and all the delegates to the National Convention in Port Harcourt, Rivers State that the national convention has been suspended.
“This is due to the numerous court cases and the directives from the Independent National Electoral Commission not to supervise elections into some offices.
“The 2016 National Convention is suspended to allow time for the cases in court to be resolved.”
Sheriff, who was accompanied to the briefing by a few of his supporters, didn’t entertain any question.
Among those who were with him were a former Governor of Imo State, Mr. Ikedi Ohakim; Sen. Hope Uzodima; and Dr. Mary Ali.
A few minutes after he finished the briefing, a former President of the Senate, Sen. David Mark, and a former Governor of Jigawa State, Sule Lamido, walked into the premises.
It was not clear if the two men were able to discuss with Sheriff.
However, a few minutes later, Sheriff and Lamido drove out of the hotel premises in his (Sheriff’s) private car.
Mark, later joined the anti-Sheriff forces at the Sharks Stadium, where the party’s convention was held.
It was at the convention that the party sacked the members of its National Working Committee, which was headed by Sheriff.
It also announced the nullification of the zoning arrangement of its national offices as put in place by the National Executive Committee.
The NEC had zoned the office of the national chairman to the North-East, where Sheriff hails from.
I’m still in charge — ex-Borno Gov
Sheriff has, however, declared the convention as “illegal, null and void.”
Sheriff, who spoke with one of our correspondents through his media aide, Inuwa Bwala, said the constitution of the party did not give the governors any role in the party’s affairs.
He said he and other members of the NWC would meet to discuss the “charade” that happened at the “so-called convention.”
Bwala said, “The chairman had announced the suspension of the convention based on numerous and conflicting court judgments.
“He did that strategically in order not to embarrass the party and save it from further litigation.
“Those that met and said they were doing the convention did that on their own. The governors have no role to play in the party according to our constitution.
“Those who think they have money and that because of this they can run the party illegally will have to have a rethink.
“The NWC is still in office, and we are meeting soon. The chairman remains in office. All other organs of the party like the Board of Trustees and the NEC will meet at the appropriate time. Sheriff remains the national chairman.”
It was, however, gathered that the party might witness a series of legal action in the days ahead.
On Friday, Justice Muhammed Idris of the Federal High Court, Lagos ordered members of the PDP not to take any action that would void the proceedings of court on the issue of the parallel convention.
Also, Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court, Lagos on Friday refused to vacate the order not to conduct election into the offices of the National Chairman, National Secretary, and National Auditor at the PDP national convention.
Confusion in Port Harcourt
Though the PDP did not hold any election during the convention, it appointed a caretaker committee led by a former governor of Kaduna State, Senator Ahmed Makarfi.
Sheriff had, at about 1.50pm, told reporters that the national convention had been suspended, even when supporters of the party waited patiently for the convention to commence.
Sheriff, who had on Saturday, gone through screening at the Rivers State PDP Secretariat, briefed journalists at the Le Meridien Hotel in Port Harcourt without any of the PDP governors by his side.
Apart from appointing a caretaker committee that would handle its affairs for the next 90 days, the opposition party also decided to zone the candidacy for the presidency to the North.
Before then, the Chairman of the Convention Committee and the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, described the PDP as a united party, even as he urged supporters to dismiss any rumour of division in the party.
Other members of the Caretaker Committee are Professor Ben Obi, Secretary; Senator Odion Ogbezia, member; Kabir Usman, member; Prince Dayo Adeyeye, member; and Aisha Aliyu.
While the former governor of Niger State, Babangida Aliyu, moved the motion that the candidacy for presidency be zoned to the northern part of the country, the Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa seconded it.
For the appointment of caretaker committee members to oversee the affairs of the PDP for the next 90 days, former governor of Akwa Ibom State and current Senate Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio, moved the motion while Hassan Garba seconded it.
The acting national chairman of the party pointed out that the party was also confronted with the issue of the court order directing the Independent National Electoral Commission not to supervise the election of the chairman, secretary, and auditor of the party.
“We have been meeting since morning; we are confronting a lot of challenges. We are facing series of court orders, including that INEC should not supervise the election of a chairman, secretary, and auditor of the party.
“As a result of these, we hereby say the National Convention has been suspended. Taking into consideration all these, we will not hold the convention.
Former Govs, ministers reject Makarfi
The crisis in the main opposition party may not be over with the sacking of Sheriff.
This is as former governors and ministers in the party rejected the appointment of Makarfi as the national caretaker chairman.
The former ministers and governors spoke shortly after they heard the reports from Port Harcourt, where a faction of the party held its national convention.
They were joined by some former members of the National Assembly in condemning the incident following the sacking of Sheriff.
While they welcomed the removal of the former governor of Borno State, they said the party’s BoT should be mandated to run the affairs of the party afterwards.
A former President of the Senate, Sen. Ibrahim Mantu, and a former Minister of Special Duties, Tanimu Turaki, spoke on behalf of the group.
Mantu said, “First and foremost, we want to thank our members throughout the nation for giving us the support that actually led us to achieving some of the goals we set for ourselves.
“We were opposed to the zoning, and indeed, the zoning has been canceled or set aside.
“We were also opposed to the convention taking place, and the convention did not take place courtesy of the court.
“Again, we were opposed to the way the congresses had been conducted; they fell short of our expectations. These congresses and conventions had been set aside.
“This group can confidently say that we have achieved all the targets we set to achieve.”
The group added that it was opposed to the appointment of a caretaker committee.
Tanimu, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, said, “It is there in our constitution that in a situation like this that is unprecedented, the BoT, the conscience of the party as the fathers of the party, should step in immediately. There shouldn’t be any vacuum.
“And we are concerned that what is coming out of the party from Port Harcourt may likely deepen our disagreement.
“In this situation, therefore, the BoT leadership must take up its responsibilities over the reins of the affairs of the party and bring all the members of our party back home for us to sit down and find a way forward as members of one family.”
Sheriff’s ouster good omen for PDP — Babatope
A member of the BoT, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, has said Sheriff’s removal as National Chairman has set the stage for the party’s reinvention.
Babatope said this in a telephone interview with SUNDAY PUNCH in Abuja, on Saturday.
The BoT member said Sheriff’s attempt to extend his stay in office against the wish of a majority of party loyalists was one of the factors responsible for the seeming discord among party members.
He hailed what he called the courage of leaders to return the party to the path of sanity.
Gana, Mantu emerge co-chairmen at Abuja congress
The Jerry Gana-led faction of the Peoples Democratic Party held its first non-elective congress in Abuja, on Saturday.
At the end of the event, which lasted for barely two hours, members agreed to suspend elections until a court order restraining the party from doing so was vacated.
The group, which has formally adopted the name Concerned PDP Stakeholders’ Forum also ratified the membership of its steering committee and picked Gana and Mantu as co-chairmen to run its affairs in the interim.
Members of the faction also said they were prepared to reunite with the Modu Sheriff-led faction when issues of injustice, imposition of candidates and adherence to party constitution and guidelines were addressed.
The decision to ratify the membership of the steering committee was taken shortly after opening remarks by Gana and other leaders of the forum.
A former Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dubem Onyia, who is also a member of the steering committee, moved the motion to allow the committee run the affairs of the forum until the court order restraining the PDP from electing national officers was vacated.
Accordingly, members of the group ratified a 57-member national steering committee by acclamation.
Former Special Adviser to former President Goodluck Jonathan on Public Communications, Dr. Doyin Okupe, who later spoke to reporters in an interview, explained that members of the forum were neither opposed to nor had they ruled out reconciliation with the other faction.
In response to a question on the subject, Okupe said, “We are not ruling out reconciliation. We are open to setting up a caretaker committee.”
Speakers from the six geopolitical zones who addressed the convention called for justice and a level playing ground, to kick against the imposition of candidates.
Those at the Abuja convention were mainly former ministers, founding members and a few former governors.
Some of those who also attended the event were former National Chairman, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo; and former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Senator Bala Mohammed.
Others were Outgoing PDP National Vice Chairman (South-South), Dr. Cairo Ojougboh; former governors of Imo, Adamawa and Taraba States, Achike Udenwa, Ahmadu Fintiri and Garba Umar, respectively; and a former Chairman of Abuja Municipal Area Council, Mrs. Esther Audu, among others.