Nigeria’s main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has been enmeshed in a leadership crisis since May 21 last year when at a national convention in Port Harcourt, it sacked its acting National Chairman, Ali Sheriff, and announced a National Caretaker Committee led by Ahmed Makarfi, a former governor of Kaduna State.
Mr. Sheriff, a former senator and ex-governor of Borno State, however challenged his removal in court. This set the stage for more litigation, some of which were won by the embattled national chairman and others by the Makarfi-led NCC.
In February, the Court of Appeal affirmed the former Borno governor as the national chairman of the party. That judgement is being challenged by the Makarfi faction at the Supreme Court.
Ehiozywa Agbonayinma, a PDP member in the House of Representatives from Edo State, in this interview with PREMIUM TIMES’ Nasir Ayitogo and Mohammed Lere at the National Assembly complex, called on the Makarfi faction to lay down its arms and obey the court judgement.
PT: The PDP is in crisis, what we see now are two factions. Which side do you belong?
Agbonayinma: There is only one PDP and there is only one leader and that leader is Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, the national chairman of the greatest party in Africa, PDP. He is the Chairman, the authentic chairman, there is no other chairman.
Caretaker committee chairman doesn’t exist in law; that is why he (Ali Sheriff) won at the Court of Appeal. You can’t give what you don’t have, we are not in a lawless society or a banana republic, this is Nigeria. For God’s sake, are we now saying we won’t obey the rule of law?
By court pronouncement and even before court pronouncement, he was chairman and they were challenging his leadership because they couldn’t manipulate or remote control him. They thought they could remote control or push him around but they found out that they were having a dead end. You can’t push Senator Ali Modu Sheriff around, he is a man of principle, he said let’s give the party back to the people and that is why it is PDP – Power to the People.
If they knew that he was a bad man, he was wicked like they have been blackmailing him that he was part of Boko Haram, why did they go to plead and appeal to him to come and redeem PDP back to its old glory if they knew all these?
They went to him and begged, all of a sudden, he accepted, he got the highest votes to beat three other contenders when the NEC voted.
By law, since then he became the National Chairman of our party. So, they were hoping that this man that has been three times and a two-term governor, that when he was leaving he left about N67billion in the state treasury, no governor did that in the whole federation.
A man that has built his political career, his business empire for over the years, then all of a sudden you want to dent his image because of politics. For me, I am a lawmaker and not a lawbreaker; I am on the side of the law and let it be that I am the only one standing by him. He is my chairman, the chairman of our great party whether the devil likes it or not.
Sheriff is not the one on trial, those on trial are the ones who are perpetrating themselves as mini gods. Nobody is above the law, you can’t play God, and he is the one who gives power.
PT: The Makarfi caretaker committee has approached the Supreme Court, what if the result turns out in its favour?
Agbonayinma: To them, they said if Sheriff happens to win at the Supreme Court, they will not have anything to do with him, to us if it happens to be that Makarfi wins, we’ll obey and stand on the side of the law.
But look at this, it is crystal clear, if you read the constitution of the PDP, there is no such thing as caretaker committee. But you can find it in the state or local government level. The national body can set up a caretaker committee in the state or local government but in the national level, there is no such thing.
The Barrister, Dayo Adeyeye, parading himself as the spokesman of PDP, if we happen to have been in a country that always believes in the rule of law, he’ll be apprehended and jailed for contempt. He is a lawyer, he should know better.
He is trying to tell the judiciary that whatever judgement they have given does not hold water, for him to still parade himself as the spokesman of PDP. It is unheard of.
They can say whatsoever they want to say, we had several meetings of reconciliations. I, Senator Sheriff, Professor Jerry Gana, Sule Lamido and many other leaders from Makarfi’s group were in that meeting, sometimes these meetings lasted till 2 to 3 a.m. in the morning. Whatever recommendations they brought, we said no problem, as we are agreeing to support what they want, the following day they are countering the same recommendations they brought themselves.
They were the ones who brought Professor Jerry Gana to head the committee. I have great respect for Professor Jerry Gana but unfortunately, he is dealing with people that do not understand that we are all created equal. A tree that is standing alone by itself cannot be called a forest. One person cannot govern himself, he needs people. As a leader, you need followers. You can’t be the leader and follower at the same time.
In that meeting, they brought seven recommendations, we agreed to numbers 1-6, but I asked the chairman of the committee why the seventh recommendation had a question mark. He said they would get back to us, only for us to wake up the following day to hear Governor Fayose spitting fire.
They set up another committee headed by Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa, Ali Modu Sheriff didn’t set up that committee, Makarfi faction set up the committee to liaise with us. The committee came up with their recommendation and final report which they came and submitted at the national secretariat (Wadata Plaza). Senator Sheriff together with other NEC members received them and accepted the recommendations and reports. Immediately Sheriff accepted, the following day Fayose said no, no! So, you see, we take one step forward and the want to take us ten steps backwards. Let’s call a spade a spade, there is no perfection in humanity, I am not perfect, I am not saying Senator Sheriff is perfect, I am not saying Fayose is perfect but you must respect others.
I don’t know where Fayose was when Senator Ali Modu Sheriff was already a governor and senator. He just started yesterday, he should respect elders. I was brought up to respect elders. We can disagree to agree and agree to disagree, politics is about dialoguing, and it is not about using weapons of mass destruction or trying to be negative or abusive. Communicate if you have a superior argument. I have told my honourable colleagues who asked me why I follow Sheriff to explain to me why I shouldn’t follow Sheriff, convince me.
I am with him (Sheriff), I am for him, I am by him and we stand with him.
PT: Senator Sheriff has appointed people into the National Working Committee of the PDP such as Cairo Ojuogboh. Is it in the PDP constitution that the National Chairman can singlehandedly appoint a member into the NWC?
Agbonayinma: Don’t forget Dr. Cairo Ojuogboh was a vice chairman (south south) of PDP and he is deputy national chairman on acting capacity.
When a seat is vacant, somebody has to fill that position. He is acting since the former Acting National Chairman, Uche Secondus, happens to come from the South-south and Secondus was vice chairman from the south-South, there is nothing wrong for Cairo to act as the National Vice Chairman.
PT: Does the National Chairman have the power to appoint any member to the NWC?
Agbonayinma: Don’t forget we have a national working committee. Even the General Secretary of our party is still with Sheriff, a lot of the members of the NWC are still with Sheriff.
For your information, not everybody left. But as at today, more governors are now with Sheriff, are you aware? Only few governors are now on the side of Makarfi, about three governors, the rest of them have keyed in to Sheriff.
PT: Can you tell us the names of these governors that have aligned with Sheriff?
Agbonayinma: I’ll tell you the three governors who are not with Sheriff, then you do the remaining calculations yourself.
They are Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State and Ibrahim Dankwambo of Gombe State. Apart from these three, the rest are with Sheriff. You know why? Elections are going on everywhere and by law, INEC only recognizes Sheriff. INEC only accepts names submitted by Sheriff.
PT: How many members of the House of Representatives are with Sheriff?
EJ: As at today, we can no longer count. Before, we were few but as at today, all these governors that have keyed in have instructed their members to also key in. So, they (Makarfi faction) are now confused because that is not the best way to settle issues, they should still come together as one family.
A house divided can never stand, politics is not a do or die affair. Nobody is an island, we need each other to succeed.
PT: President Buhari has been very sick. As a PDP member and a member of the House of Representatives, do you think Buhari should resign?
Agbonayinma: Let me be sincere with you. Yes, I am a PDP member but first I am a Nigerian. I don’t want to be partisan in making any statement that has to do with the President of our country.
If you don’t value what you have, somebody else will help you devalue it. What we should be talking about and be preaching is love, being our brother’s keeper. When your leader is sick, what you should do is to pray for that leader. Anybody can be sick.
Once upon a time, my enemy was sick and I was taken to America for treatment, nobody came and said EJ must resign from being a member of the House of Representatives.
Until proven beyond reasonable doubt that he (Buhari) can no longer function as president, it is a topic for another day.
But as at this time, of course age is no longer on his side, we shouldn’t be castigating, using derogatory statements, making negative statements to compound the issue. Rather, we should be our brother’s keeper.
We should pray for our leaders, pray for the president, Vice President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Senators and Honorable members of the National Assembly and those that are part of the governance of this country so that this country can move forward.
If president Buhari succeeds, guess what? Nigeria succeeds; Nigerians will benefit from the enormous good things that will come out of this government.
Unfortunately, we are not together, we are fighting amongst ourselves. APC is fighting amongst themselves, PDP is fighting amongst themselves, and Nigerians are quarrelling amongst themselves. Where do we go from here?
Mr. President is ill, anybody can be ill, the best we can do for him is to pray.
Somebody was telling me the other day that now that the president is not functioning, we should impeach him and the Vice President but I said look, this is where we always get it wrong. Is that the right thing to do now? A man that is sick, can’t you pray for him to get well?
None of us will live here forever, everybody, once upon a time will go and meet the almighty creator, we should be our brother’s keeper. This is not the best for our nation.
I understand we are not where we used to be, but we are not where we ought to be. Even though we are progressing, that progression should be that which all Nigerians will feel the impact of governance. Please let’s call a spade a spade, let us live together as brothers and sisters.