On May 25, 2017, the country’s apex court will begin hearing the various applications relating to the leadership tussle between the Senator Ahmed Makarfi National Caretaker Committee and Senator Ali Modu Sheriff faction of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The court fixed the new date last week after parties to the suit regularised the various court processes earlier filed with respect to the case. Justice Musa Dattijo Mohammed, who presided over the session in company of four other justices, settled for the date after parties in the suit agreed on the date.
Daily Sun recalls that the two factions of the party have continued to lay claims and counter claims to the national leadership of the party, a situation that culminated in the Port Harcourt Division of the Court of Appeal, affirming Sheriff as the authentic national chairman.
However, not satisfied with the court’s decision, the Makarfi-led leadership filed an appeal at the Supreme Court, challenging the competence of the appeal. It also went further to ask the apex court to set aside the decision of the Appeal Court which affirmed Sheriff as the authentic national chairman.
During last week’s proceedings, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), counsel to Sheriff, challenged the grounds on which Makarfi appealed the decision of the lower court in the name of PDP, insisting that by virtue of the court’s verdict, Makarfi no longer has any right to enter an appeal in the name of the party without first consulting with and seeking the consent of Sheriff.
Fagbemi had said “it was wrong for an appeal to be filed at the Supreme Court without consulting the chairman of the party. The person I am representing is not interested in the appeal, and I am here based on the judgment of the Court of Appeal which recognised Sheriff as national chairman of the PDP.”
He further argued that since the said judgement had not been set aside and there was no order for stay of execution, Sheriff, remains the national chairman of the PDP.
But the panel posed the following questions to him to justify whether or not he should be entertained: “What entitles you to be heard in this appeal? And was the decision of the Court of Appeal secured ex-parte?
In his response, Fagbemi told the court that he was in the matter on the instance of Sheriff, who according to him is the validly known national leader of the PDP and had asked him to discontinue the appeal. This is even as he admitted that the judgment obtained at the appellate court was not via an ex-parte order.
To this end, the panel described Fagbemi’s motion as “a storm in a tea cup,” just as Justice Dattijo granted him seven days to file and serve his written address in support of his motion on parties, while five days were given to Wole Olanipekun, SAN, counsel to Makarfi, to reply.
Sheriff, the ex-governor of Borno state, is no doubt facing what could pass for a political battle of his life ahead of 2019, the outcome, which could make or mar him politically for life. Like a colossus, he had survived many battles in the past. But will he survive this latest one?
Before his emergence for instance as governor in 2003, the tradition was that the elders in Borno decide who must be governor. But in 2003, Sheriff broke that tradition. Apart from his father, who incidentally was part of those who installed the former governor in 1999, no single elder supported Sheriff’s ambition to be governor in 2003. But the youths rallied support for him, having suffered what one of them had referred to as a “monumental” obliteration, under the then governor, Mala Kachallah. Because of his old age, Kachallah was surrounded by old men who lacked vigour and capacity to work.
Sheriff’s second term battle
The only time the PDP came close to working for a common goal in Borno state was in 2007, when the likes of Mohammed Umara Kumalia and Hajia Fati Ibrahim Bulama known in local parlance as ‘Hajja Kinna,’ and their supporters left the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), for the PDP. The two former political associates of Sheriff alongside their armies of supporters were on hand in 2003 to sway victory in favour of Sheriff, when he contested against the then incumbent, Alhaji Mala Kachallah (AD) and Kashim Ibrahim-Imam (PDP).
When Hajja Kinna and Kumalia pooled their political structures into the traditional opposition party in the state, many had concluded that for the PDP, it was victory and nothing else at the 2007 polls. The stakes became higher when former governor, Kachallah, also moved with his entire AD structure into the PDP.
However, before the polls, Kumalia again moved from the PDP to the defunct Action Congress (AC), owing to the fact he was denied a waiver to contest the governorship primary, even when others like Senator Mohammed Abba Aji, who defected long after Kumalia had defected, were given waivers to contest. The action, no doubt depleted the PDP’s support base.
Although, Kumalia eventually contested the governorship on the platform of the defunct ACN, Sheriff, was later to emerge governor in a controversial circumstance, as votes were still been counted in Maiduguri, the state capital, when Sheriff was declared the winner of the contest from Abuja. Once that was done, the PDP met and decided to withdraw from all the other remaining elections, especially the National Assembly elections, after it established that some persons within the Presidency, “actually worked to undermine the party in the state.” And that was how Sheriff became the first sitting governor, to break the second term jinx, in the State.
The battle to return to Senate in 2011
Like in 2007, when he ran for a second term in office, again, preparatory to the 2011 elections, Sheriff faced another stiff opposition from those who were bent on decimating him politically. Although, not gunning for governorship then, he needed to deliver the governorship seat to his party, and return to the Senate again.
But this time, the odds against him were higher, owing to allegations that he had a hand, through his actions and inactions, in the formation and the growth of the outlawed Boko Haram group. For this singular reason, the people of the state vowed to defeat him and his party at the polls.
In fact, several times, they openly called for his arrest and prosecution over his alleged involvement in the rise of the group. But Sheriff has always denied the allegations, including the one openly made against him by his friend and former FCT minister, General Jerry Useni (rtd), at the Villa, who was reported to have said that Sheriff, as governor then, once told him that the political thugs in the state, known as ECOMOG, usually came in handy to help the party during elections.
Although the ANPP won the governorship in 2011, to show that Sheriff was their target, the people killed his dream of returning to the Senate after eight years as governor, as he was defeated by a relatively unknown politician in the state, Ahmed Zanah, (now late) a candidate, whom according to insiders, the PDP had just fielded to “fulfill all righteousness”.
Sheriff’s failed bid to reclaim the state in 2015
Preparatory to the 2015 elections, Sheriff defected from the All Progressives Congress (APC) to the PDP. As chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT), of the ANPP, Sheriff played a prominent role in the formation of the ruling party. Shortly after his defection, he had while coming out the Villa, after his visit to then President Goodluck Jonathan, said “My being in the PDP is a personal sacrifice for my people. I am in PDP to make the necessary intervention for my people. If it takes me to be sleeping 24 hours in the Presidency for my people, I will do just that.” And because of his previous political antecedents, especially, from 1992, when against all odds, he defeated the highly rated wife of Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, in a contest for Borno Central Senatorial District, to 1999, when repeated the same feat against highly rated and highly educated Ibrahim Bunu; former FCT minister, for the same seat, to 2003, when he came from Abuja, as a sitting Senator to dislodge an incumbent governor, to 2007, when he broke a second term jinx in the state, many had thought, he could again repeat the same magic, in 2015.
At the party’s presidential rally in Maiduguri shortly before the 2015 elections, Sheriff had boasted publicly to Jonathan that he should be held responsible should PDP fail to win in the state during the presidential and governorship polls.
Daily Sun recalls that he went as far as boasting that the APC would not get up to 30 per cent of the total votes in the state, for the two elections. But oblivious of the fact that Sheriff was only able to move with a handful of his supporters from the APC to the PDP, in spite of his earlier boast to move the “soul” of the party in the state to the PDP, the old PDP members in Borno State blocked him from making any electoral capital out of the situation. Governorship primaries were held and the old PDP bloc produced the candidate, in the person of Alhaji Gambo Lawan, but allowed Sheriff to take the Borno Central Senatorial ticket.
However, Sheriff, was said to have pulled a fast one against the state PDP, by lobbying the Presidency to allow him produce the governorship candidate, insisting that it was a sure way to guarantee the party’s victory in the state. He got his way, and his protégé and former State chairman of the defunct ANPP, Mohammed Imam, emerged as the candidate, and his name published by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
But somehow, Sheriff’s name suddenly disappeared on INEC’s list too, as the Borno Central Senatorial candidate, for the polls.
Alhaji Lawan wasted no time in challenging his substitution in court. The case was decided on March 18, 2015, barely 10 days to the presidential contest, by Justice Ramat Ahmed, of an Abuja Federal High court.
In granting the reliefs sought by Lawan, the Judge ruled that the claims by the party that it resorted to consensus candidacy and that Lawan’s “Certificate of Return,” (issued by the PDP, after his emergence as the candidate) was “forged,” were doubtful, since the party never filed any criminal proceedings against Lawan, and the party’s chairman in the state and the national headquarters never filed any affidavit to debunk the plaintiff’s case. The judge also said that since the court was never availed of any document supporting the PDP’s claims; the court had no choice than to rule in favour of Lawan. The court’s verdict, Daily Sun gathered, became the first sign to the Sheriff’s camp in the PDP that it may have embarked on a fruitless adventure after all.
Interestingly, on the day of the presidential contest, Sheriff was in Maiduguri, not just to cast his vote, but to also fulfill his promise to ex-President Jonathan, of delivering the state to the PDP. The first shocker he got was that majority of the big wigs within the PDP from the state, who would have lent him the necessary support; failed to come in from Abuja for the election. In the end, Sheriff not only failed to deliver his council to the PDP, he also failed to redeem his promise to Jonathan, as Buhari beat Jonathan 473, 543 to 25, 640 votes in the state.
While campaigning in 2001, preparatory to his ousting of the then Governor Mala Kachallah from office in 2003, Sheriff had said that no governor in the history of the state had ever gotten a second term. And true to his word, he became the first to record that feat, in 2007. Ironically too, until 2011, Sheriff has never lost any election before in Borno, since his foray into politics in the 90’s. But in 2011, he not only lost the election, he was roundly defeated by a relatively unknown politician in the State, thereby shattering his dream of returning to the Senate after eight years as Borno State governor.
The Battle within PDP
In Borno state, majority of the PDP members are with the Makarfi group. If the Supreme Court decides in Sheriff’s favour, there is the likelihood that the Makarfi group, who are in the majority will leave the party. If that happens, the political relevance he seeks by being the national chairman of the party may be eroded. Again, if the Supreme Court ruling does not favour him, the larger PDP may find it difficult accommodating him, as the members would have lost confidence in him. Whichever way the Supreme Court ruling goes, Sheriff, no doubt has a crisis in his hands, as far as his political future and the PDP crisis are concerned.