Maiduguri, the Borno state capital was on Friday, agog with activities as politicians of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) turned out en mass to welcome the defecting former national chairman of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), Ali Sheriff.
Mr. Sheriff was a founding member of the APC before he left the party in 2014 following his strained relationship with both his political godson and present governor of Borno state, Kashim Shettima, as well as some top national leaders of the party.
While he was in PDP, he was criticised heavily by many APC leaders for his roles in the formation of the terror group, Boko Haram; allegations he denied. That, however, did not deter the APC from welcoming him back to the party.
Mr Sheriff decided to return to the party following his controversial stint as the national chairman of the PDP before he was later removed last year.
The former Borno State governor had not set his foot at the government house, Maiduguri, since he left office in 2011 till Friday. He was almost accorded the status of an outcast following his fight with his predecessor.
Mr Sheriff, a former governor of Borno State between 2003 and 2011, later joined the then ruling PDP as one of the presidential campaign coordinators of the former president, Goodluck Jonathan, in 2015.
After Mr Jonathan lost the election, Mr Sheriff emerged the acting chairman of the PDP and was able to jump-start it back to prominence before he was sacked by the Supreme Court after a bitter leadership tussle.
Since his removal from the PDP national chairmanship seat last year, Mr. Sheriff has continued to distance himself from the party even as rumours were flying that he may return to the APC.
But before his return, Mr. Sheriff had to settle with the state governor, Mr Shettima, whom he helped to power in 2011, before they eventually became avowed political adversaries.
The two Borno leaders reconciled their nearly seven years of cold war on Wednesday at a peace meeting brokered by Abba Kyari, the chief of staff to President Muhammadu Buhari; Kashim Imam; and Babagana Kingibe in Abuja.
Following the truce, the Borno leaders agreed to consolidate their new found friendship by coming to Maiduguri to present themselves at a special APC stakeholders meeting where the future of the party would be forged.
Mr. Sheriff, who was in town alongside Kashim Imam and other top APC leaders, stormed the government house, Maiduguri, venue of the meeting, amidst cheers from admirers who took to the side of the roads leading to government house to hail the former governor.
In his usual manner, the former PDP national chairman electrified the cheering crowd by spraying some Nigerian currencies which sent many of them scrambling to grab the naira notes.
At the government house, the APC stakeholders assembled at the Multi-purpose hall to welcome the former governor and some of his returnee loyalists.
Mr Sheriff did not come back with his loyalists alone. He also brought the 2015 PDP governorship candidate in Borno state, Gambo Lawan, with him.
Mr. Lawan contested against incumbent governor Shettima, who defeated him in a landslide victory.
APC Will Not Tolerate Indiscipline – Ali Dalori
Despite the truce, there seemed to be some air of distrust amongst the uniting party politicians as several speakers, especially those that were met in the house made suggestions that they were not yet at home with the re-union.
The Borno State APC chairman, Ali Dalori, in his welcome address, said the party was happy to have some of its former and new members joining them.
He however warned that despite the brokered truce, the party would not tolerate any form of irresponsibility from any of its members “regardless of his or her position or status in the party.
“We shall not condone and act of indiscipline from any one as far as this party is concerned,” he said.
Need to Tackle Hunger in Borno – Imam
Kashim Imam, a three time governorship candidate of the PDP before he eventually deserted the party in 2011 to form a protest alliance with former governor Sheriff’s ruling All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) in the state, was amongst the early speakers at the event.
“As leaders of our dear state, we must tell each other the home truth, that there is hardship and hunger in our land,” he said. “And it is time we all come together to see what we can do to help our people out of this unfortunate situation. We must all work hand in hand for the restoration of peace in our state”.
Mr Imam called on all members to forget about the past and work together as a family.
It Is Time to Develop Borno – Ali Sheriff
Against the expectation of many attendees at the APC stakeholders meeting, Mr Sheriff turned out a more matured politician when he, rather than dwell on past bickering, preached unity, peace and development of Borno State.
Mr Sheriff, who sat beside Mr Shettima, was greeted with thunderous applauds when he stood up to say he has forgiven everyone and had put the past behind him.
He also preached the need for all stakeholders to embark on massive voter registration exercise which he said would be the yardstick that determines the volume of government projects in the state.
“Today is a day of unity; I have forgiven everyone and I want to state it here that I have put the past behind me and bygone is bygone,” he said.
“What should worry us more now should be the development of our dear state, Borno. It is time for us to rebuild Borno.
“I left this party as an ordinary member and joined the PDP to become its national chairman. Experience has taught me, during my time as the national chairman of the PDP, that states get more federal government attention if they cast more votes in favour of the federal government.
“We have to, from today onward, embark on massive voters registration exercise so that majority of our people can get registered in such a manner that we would give nothing less than a million vote to our presidential candidate come 2019.”
Nothing More To Worry About – Ndume
The former majority leader at the Senate, Muhammed Ndume, who spoke on behalf of the members of the National assembly from Borno State, said the return of Mr. Sheriff into the fold of the APC was like 70 per cent of their political problems being solved.
“It is time for us to all come together and rebuild our party and our state because now we have lesser problems in our hands,” he said.
“We all know those behind our major political problems in this state; but now that they are on our side, I guess our problems have been solved substantially.”
He however, pointed out that the party cannot progress without the due regards to a clear leader of the party and the state.
“We must not make mistake about loyalty to our one and only leader for now, who is no one else but His Excellency, Kashim Shettima,” he said.
We Shall Resist Imposition – Mr Shettima
Mr. Shettima, in his address at the APC stakeholders meeting, said the euphoria that greeted the return of Mr Sheriff back to the party in the state, would not set aside the party’s respect for internal democracy and rule of law.
He also said that the party would not tolerate any form of imposition of candidates especially during the wards and local government congresses of the party which is expected to commence tomorrow.
“We are all aware of the development that is unfolding in our great party; which is the ruling party both in the state and at the federal level”. As a party that was built on the principle of internal democracy, the national headquarters has directed the conduct of congresses beginning with ward congress that will hold by 6th May 2018.
“As we all know it is our duty to respect the constitution of our party and adhere to the rules of internal democracy; so let me assure all of us here that we are not going to deviate on this noble path. So all our actions shall be guided strictly by the provisions of our constitution in a free and fair environment and a level playing field for all members of the party.
“Members are equally expected to play the game according to the rule, devoid of any form of hatred and acrimony – after all, it is a family affair.
“Permit me, at this juncture, to welcome our new entrant and returning members of this great party – Gambo Lawan, you are welcome back home.
“Borno is a traumatized society and we all need to coalesce into a union to face these challenges of insecurity and under-development,” Mr Shettima said.
Against insinuations that the sharing of office within the party may have been one of the conditions that led to the truce between Mr Shettima and his predecessor, Mr Sheriff, the governor in his speech clearly stated that no one will emerge as an anointed candidate in the coming congresses of the party.
To emphasise his seriousness, he quoted relevant sections of the APC constitution that insisted that all vacant party offices can only be filled during congresses of the party either by election, or by affirmation of support by delegates should there be any consensus candidate.
The governor also urged party leaders at the local government to return to their respective local government areas in order to participate in the wards and local government congresses that will soon commence.