2017:  Year of crisis, legal battle for PDP

From Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja

Last year was very eventful for the Peoples Democratic Party( PDP). It was a year characterised by crisis, botched peace moves, legal battles and the election of a new National Working Committee (NEC) for the party.

 The PDP began the year with its leadership crisis, which started the year before and ended it with another crisis over the outcome of the party’s convention.  Also, in the course of the out gone year, the leadership of the opposition party sanctioned some of its big wigs in its quest to instil discipline within its fold.

Former PDP chairman in Anambra State, Chief Ken Emeakayi was suspended by the leadership of the party, first for one month, for anti-party activities. He was later suspended for four years.

Similarly, senator representing Ogun East, Senator Kashamu Buruji was also suspended for one month for anti-party activity.

However, the defining moment for the PDP in 2017 was the resolution of the party’s leadership crisis by the Supreme Court. 

In its judgment on the leadership tussle between the former National Chairman of the PDP, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff and the then National Caretaker Committee of the party led by Senator Ahmed Makarfi, the Supreme Court declared the later the authentic leader of the party.

The apex court in a unanimous judgement on July 12, 2017 upheld the decisions of the May 21, 2016 National Convention, there affirmed the supremacy of the convention of a political party in its affairs.

The judgement read by Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour held that “the National Conventions of Political Parties are the supreme organs which control every other organs of the party. In the light of this, the highest organ of the party did not breach any laws by dissolving the national executive committee headed by Sheriff at that convention.”

Consequently, the Supreme Court panel headed by Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen held that “the caretaker committee of the PDP led by Senator Ahmed Makarfi is hereby affirmed as the authentic national leadership of the party.”

The then  PDP National Legal Adviser, Dave Iorhemba,  in his  immediate reaction to the Supreme Court judgement described it as a victory for the nation’s democracy and all political parties in the country.

“It is victory for democracy.  It is not only a victory for the PDP.  It is a victory for all political parties.  This judgment enshrined the supremacy of the convention of every political party.  It is a victory for all of us”, he told journalists.

 Prior to the historic judgment, the major opposition party was embroiled in a 14 month crisis that shook it to its foundation. Many efforts to resolve the 14 months  leadership crisis politically, which former Minister of State for Works, Dayo Adeyeye  descibed  “as a most agonising period” for the PDP, fell like a pack of cards.

Among those who tried to mediate was former President Goodluck Jonathan. As a matter of fcat, Sheriff walked out on Jonathan and other party leaders at a reconciliatory meeting held at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja.

Analysts say the judgment rescued the PDP, as it is presently known from collapse. Many of the party leaders sympathetic to the caretaker committee had planned to dump the opposition party, if Sheriff wins at the Supreme.

According to PDP chieftain, Chief Raymond Dokpesi, supporters of the Makarfi led caretaker committee floated the Advanced Peoples Democratic Alliance (APDA) as an alternative platform in the event they lose at the Supreme Court.

“The idea of APDA was a plan B platform for the PDP when the party was in a crisis caused by the Sheriff group,”Dokpesi said.

Recall that crisis broke out in PDP in May 21, 2016 at its National Convention in Port Harcourt. The convention in exercise of its power as the highest organ of the party had sacked the PDP National Working Committee (NWC) led by Sheriff and replaced it with a caretaker committee.

But in a desperate bid to save his seat as national chairman, the former Borno governor on May 23, 2016 filed a suit before the federal High Court in Port Harcourt challenging his removal.

That suit was followed by a litany of other suits by the gladiators in battle for the soul of the PDP. As the battle raged, the party’s national secretariat was under lock and key.

However, on February 23, 2017, Sheriff forcefully took over the Wadata Plaza, headquarters of the party.  A few days earlier, the Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt Division had in a lead judgement nullified the May 21 ,2016 Convention of the PDP; thereby declaring him the national chairman.

After the Supreme Court judgement, the stage was set for what turned out to be an epic contest for the leadership of the PDP. First, the caretaker committee, which originally had a three months mandate, before it was extended by one year, quickly scheduled a special convention for August 12.

At the special convention held at the Eagle Square, Abuja, the tenure of the caretaker committee was further extended by four months, while the elective convention was fixed for December 9, 2017.

 At the end close of submission of nomination forms, a total of 83 aspirants declared interest  to contest for 21 vacant party positions.

Expectedly, the chairmanship seat was the most keenly contested, with eight aspirants indicating interest in the coveted position. They included the eventual winner, Prince Uche Secondus; former Education minister, Tunde Adeniran; former PDP Deputy National Chairman, Chief Olabode George and 2015 Lagos State governorship candidate, Mr Jimi Agbaje.

Others were Otunba Gbenga Daniel and Senator Rashidi Ladoja, former governors of Ogun and Oyo states respectively, and former minister of Sports and Youth Development, Professor Taoheed Adedoja.

The outcome of that convention generated mixed feelings among party the party stakeholders, with some of stalwarts expressing misgiving with the election that produced new PDP NWC.

While Adedoja, who scored zero in the chairmanship contest, has filed a suit before the federal High Court in Abuja, seeking the nullification of Secondus’ election as party chairman, five aggrieved party stalwarts led by Prince Emmanuel Obi-Nwosu opened a parallel party secretariat in Asokoro Abuja.

The group equally threatened to appoint its own set of NWC on January 22, 2018. The PDP Post Convention Committee in the out gone year intensified efforts to reconcile all aggrieved members of the party. The year no doubt witnessed the depletion of the PDP caucus in the National Assembly over the party crisis. In the course of the year, no fewer than 12 lawmakers elected on the platform of the opposition party, in the senate and House of Representatives defected to the ruling All Progressives Congress ( APC). They also cited the party crisis as the reason for their decision to dump the PDP.

On the flipside, the membership of the party also received a boost with the return of the former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, to the opposition party.

Atiku, who left the PDP in 2011, rejoined the party, shortly before its December 9, national convention, after his resignation from the APC.

Before the end of 2107, the party expressed optimism that all its former members who had defected to the APC ahead of the 2015 election are also expected back to its fold this year ahead of next year’s election. If that happens, it means 2019 would appear good for the party struggling to return to power next year.

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