Wednesday’s judgement of the Supreme Court affirming Ahmed Makarfi as the authentic leader of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has finally laid to rest the leadership squabble that had engulfed the party in the last 15 months.
The court, in the judgement read by Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour, said the national convention that produced the Makarfi-led National Caretaker Committee, NCC, on May 21, 2016 was in order.
“The national convention did not violate any court orders,” Mr. Rhodes-Vivour said, wondering why the Court of Appeal, which had earlier decided the matter, disregarded the event in its February 17 judgement.
The Port Harcourt Division of the Court of Appeal had recognised Ali Sheriff as the authentic national chairman of Nigeria’s main opposition party.
In the split judgement of three to two, the court set aside the earlier judgement delivered by Justice Mohammed Liman of the Federal High Court, also in Port Harcourt, which had recognised the Makarfi-led NCC.
The Makarfi Committee was constituted following the dissolution of the national working committee led by Mr. Sheriff, a former governor of Borno State and former senator.
Expectedly, the crisis created a deep division in the once ruling party, with many watchers of Nigeria’s democracy doubtful if it was not going into extinction.
The party faithful and state chapters queued behind the two factions; though virtually all the party organs, including the Board of Trustees, were solidly backing the Makarfi group.
Expectedly, others chose to dump the party and defect to the ruling the All Progressives Congress, APC, citing the division created by the leadership crisis as a reason.
In all, no fewer than five PDP senators and members, House of Representatives defected to the ruling party.
There were reports that some of its 11 state governors, notably in the southeast geo-political zones, were planning to dump the party.
Consequently, faced by these multifarious challenges, the once ruling party was hampered from providing effective opposition to the APC, to which it lost power at the centre as well as in some states in 2015.
With the leadership crisis settled, what next for the PDP, the behemoth that had ruled at the centre and in most states from 1999 when the country returned to democratic rule, until 2015?
To be sure, the first major task before the Ahmed Makarfi-led NCC is to unite the party’s feuding members under one “umbrella;” and it is a task that it must commence urgently.
While the crisis escalated and festered, both groups gave indications at different fora that they would abide by the impending judgement of the Supreme Court.
“God willing, Sheriff will obey the outcome of the Supreme Court, and we do know that we will always obey the rule of law. We urge the Supreme Court not to be swayed by the posture of these persons who ordinarily cannot walk the street,” Cairo Ojougbo, Mr. Sheriff’s deputy, said earlier this month.
Ahead of the Supreme Court judgement, Mr. Makarfi also hinted that the wound created by the crisis would be healed in order for the party to forge ahead.
He reiterated this position on Wednesday and expressed his willingness to work with the Sheriff faction.
According to the former Kaduna State governor, “We are open to reconciliation but for us reconciliation does not mean we will take what belongs to Mr. A and give it to Mr. B. We will do reconciliation based on equity, equality and value. You cannot get what you didn’t earn.”
Whether the Sheriff group will keep to its words is not clear yet.
Attempts by PREMIUM TIMES to speak with Mr. Ojougbo after the judgement were unsuccessful.
Nonetheless, the PDP has a history of emerging stronger after major crises. It did so in four previous occasions.
In 2001, the party survived a major crisis, which saw the expulsion of some founding fathers, including Sunday Awoniyi, Don Etiebet, Asheik Jarma, Bamanga Tukur, Edwin Ume-Ezeoke. All members of the party’s Board of Trustees had battled with the then president, Olusegun Obasanjo, for the soul of the party.
In 2006, it survived another crippling crisis instigated by its pioneer National Chairman, Solomon Lar, and a former Deputy National Chairman, Shuaibu Oyedokun, both of whom floated a parallel NWC.
In 2013, the PDP again was thrown into crisis when some of its prominent members, including five governors and a former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, revolted and floated a new faction of the party, named nPDP.
Again, the process of unification and the healing process in the PDP is urgently needed chiefly because of the impending electoral contests in the next one year.
The Anambra State governorship election holds in November while those of Ekiti and Osun hold in 2018. Besides, the general elections come up in less than two years.
For the party to make impact, it must heal all wounds, ensure total reconciliation and forge a common front. Analysts believe it lost the last Ondo governorship election to the APC because of the leadership tussle between Messrs. Sheriff and Makarfi.
In the main, last Saturday’s senatorial election in Osun West Senatorial District which was won by one of its own, Ademola Adeleke, offers some hope that the party could bounce back to reckoning ahead of the polls.
Another major task the Makarfi-led NCC might urgently undertake is to convene a national convention to elect substantive officers for the party.
This was one assignment it was given when the party sacked Mr. Sheriff at the Port Harcourt convention last year.
The committee was tasked among other things to organise a “proper” national convention within 90 days to elect substantive officers for the party; but was hindered from doing so when the Sheriff group insisted on hanging on the power.
With a national convention devoid of rancour, the PDP is certain, not only to provide vibrant opposition but also confront the APC head on in the years ahead.