The Chairman of the Caretaker Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party, Ahmed Makarfi, speaks with TOLUWANI ENIOLA on the party’s crisis and why reconciliatory moves failed
You were expecting victory at the Court of Appeal which recently recognised Ali Modu Sheriff as the authentic national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party. How did you feel about the judgment?
When you have a case before a court, you can be hopeful but you cannot be too sure of the outcome. We are not members of the bench so we could not have known the outcome of the case. We believed we had a good chance of winning at the appellate court. We respect the justices as individuals but we do not accept their judgment. This is why we are appealing against their judgment at the Supreme Court. We will follow due process. It has nothing to do with their personalities as justices of the Court of Appeal. The crux of the matter is that we believe that our convention was not a breach of any court order. The only court order was that election into offices should not take place. There was no court order stopping the convention and we did not hold any election. A convention has many powers. A convention is not just about the election. It can even dissolve the party. It can promulgate a new constitution. So, who says a convention is only about electing leaders for the party?
Why are you challenging the ruling at the Supreme Court when the Sheriff faction claimed there was a mutual agreement between both factions to obey the outcome of the Court of Appeal?
The problem with Sheriff and his men is the spread of falsehood. That is why people are reluctant to sit down and talk with them and resolve this issue. Remember that recently, former President Goodluck Jonathan had to address journalists on the fact that he never endorsed Sheriff as the national chairman. They only capitalised on their visit to the former president to plant lies in the media. Now, to answer you specifically, there was never a time when such an agreement was made. The only agreement we had was the one before the former Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase, and the Director General of the Department of State Services before the initial High Court judgment in Port Harcourt. We agreed that whoever won the judgment would be allowed to function and the offices would be opened. We won that judgment. But when we won, Sheriff didn’t keep his words. They reneged on the agreement and went ahead to appeal the (High Court) judgment. That is why we are here today. We never had any agreement after that incident. That purported agreement as claimed by the Sheriff faction is a continuation of their spread of falsehood.
Let me say categorically that Sheriff is not even obeying the Court of Appeal judgment which seems to be in his favour. This is because what it (court) said, which we are appealing against, is that the status quo before the May 21 convention should be complied with. This means that all national officers of the PDP such Uche Secondus, who was the deputy national chairman, and other national officers should be restored to their positions. But he (Sheriff) has refused to obey the court on this; he has continued to parade Dr. Cairoh Ojougboh as deputy national chairman and kept others in the national executive positions. Were those people in such positions before the May 21 convention? So, we should see Sheriff and his people the way they are. We are not working against anybody. But after attempting (to mend fences) several times, they would renege and shift the goal post when we are about to make some progress. That discourages people a lot.
In the interest of lasting peace, why can’t your committee just decide to accept Sheriff as the national chairman?
We are challenging it (Court of Appeal judgment) not because of the PDP. If we allow this judgment to stand unchallenged, it means the issue of convention in a political party has become useless. It would rubbish the power of convention of any political party. That is not good for democracy. This is why we must appeal against it, not because the PDP is affected. Tomorrow, it could be any other party. It is a setback for the growth of democracy because it makes nonsense of conventions of political parties. We are an evolving democracy. We believe the Supreme Court would look at this from all angles and ultimately correct any wrongs.
What would you do if the outcome of the Supreme Court judgment eventually favours Sheriff? Will you support him?
It will be a sad development if that happens. As I said, it is not just about the PDP. Sheriff is simply trying to nullify the powers of a convention in the PDP. If he prevails with this, any individual can hold a political party to ransom. We are also not docile or folding our arms. We are looking at all options and alternatives. When we get to the river, we know how to cross it. I cannot say what will happen after the Supreme Court judgment but when we get to that state, we will make a decision.
There have been allegations that the PDP crisis is being sponsored by the All Progressives Congress to weaken the party ahead of the 2019 general election. How true is this claim?
Recently, Governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha, issued a statement in which he supported Sheriff and congratulated him on the appellate court’s judgment. What business does an APC governor have with the PDP that he has to publicly support one side of the PDP divide and condemn the other? What kind of uncivilised, undemocratic attitude is Okorocha putting up? It is unacceptable. At least, he has come out to do that. Before then, there was a presidential aide that congratulated Sheriff after the judgment. We should ask, which of them in the APC came out to congratulate us (Makarfi faction) when we won at the High Court? That does not mean I don’t have friends and associates in the APC. I have many of them even though we disagree politically but we are not enemies. If you want to join the APC or PDP, there is no crime in that. You can build your personal relationships and maintain it separately from political matters. That is how a democracy should operate. Why should Okorocha start interfering in the PDP’s affairs and even go to the extent of issuing a press release to congratulate Sheriff? He condemned us and called us power-hungry people and all kinds of names.
Are you saying that Okorocha and the APC-led Federal Government are sponsoring Sheriff?
There is undisputable proof that the APC is using Sheriff and his men to destabilise the PDP.
Why won’t your committee allow Sheriff to be the chairman?
Sheriff has perfected plans to be the presidential candidate of the party. That is his agenda. Already, we are aware that Sheriff has changed the plans. He has plans to zone the national chairmanship to the South-South, which he has a candidate for. Apart from this, he wants to zone the position of the secretary to the North-East and he is preparing a candidate. All these are being done with the purpose of returning him as the presidential candidate of the party. These people go about talking recklessly and we got to hear.
The PDP partly lost the Ondo and Edo governorship elections because of this factional crisis. Osun, Ekiti, and Anambra are fast approaching. What are your fears?
This is why we are praying that the Supreme Court should not just look at this as an internal party affair. This crisis affects every other election, even local government elections. Every now and then, the Independent National Electoral Commission would announce rerun elections, so we are in an election circle. That is why the Supreme Court must take our appeal very seriously and take the best decisions to save our democracy. Beyond that, we have also learnt our lessons.
You and Sheriff were on the verge to ending the crisis at some point. What went wrong in the reconciliation process?
What happened then was that we were supposed to nominate 15 persons from each side (faction). Sheriff wanted to solely chair the meeting and, of course, that was not acceptable to us. We recommended that since his side has 15 persons, let him choose who would lead that group, while we choose who would lead our group. This arrangement was to ensure that the two leaders of the groups would be the co-chairmen. We reasoned that this would not cause any problem. He didn’t accept. We never understood why he stood against the idea. Then he came again to say he did not want the initial arrangement. He said he and I should just meet privately and set up a committee. I said no, that I do not represent myself. I represent the party. I do not have a veto over their decisions.
Why did he ask for both of you to meet?
I don’t know. I don’t know what was on his mind but I don’t know why I should do something against the people who nominated me. That was not democratic.
Your tenure as the national caretaker committee chairman has been riddled with crisis. Do you have any regrets since you were appointed?
Personally, this job is not what I bargained for. I told our leaders on several occasions that I was going to leave the job. Not just me, the caretaker committee members on a number of occasions had offered to quit.
Why didn’t you resign?
I had been prevailed upon repeatedly. People may even be thinking that holding on to the job is because I have personal ambitions. Such a report is completely false. If we quit, that would create more chaos and more confusion. That will not help the party. So, we had to persevere and make sacrifices until this matter was resolved.
The PDP is not an active opposition party. Some are saying you refuse to criticise President Muhammadu Buhari because you are from the North?
That is not true. We have a spokesman who has been doing that. It is not the main duty of the chairman to be doing that. It was Lai Mohammed that was criticising us then, he being the APC spokesperson. We have been responding to many issues. While we were the ruling party, we never interfered in the affairs of the APC, now we have interference in our party from the ruling party. Since Buhari assumed power, when did you hear Sheriff making any comment on any policy of the government? Any time he made comments, it was usually against us and not the government.
What is your view of the President’s medical sojourn abroad?
There is a thin line between what is private and what is public, especially when you are a public office holder. I think what should happen is the complete transfer of power to the acting president so that the acting president is not encumbered by other federal officers who may want to undermine his powers and act effectively. We pray for him (Buhari) and wish for him a quick recovery. But we don’t want a vacuum, so there should be a complete transfer of powers to the vice president so that he can act well.
Some sections of the country such as the South-East and others have been complaining that they don’t have juicy positions. They have a right to complain. Buhari should listen to them. We are all Nigerians. Every geopolitical zone and people should be fairly treated whether they voted for Buhari or not. He should know that once you get elected, you become the president of the entire country. It is not just for those who elected him. The Buhari-led Federal Government has disobeyed many court rulings. That is the difference between the PDP and the APC. That is a striking difference. If the courts have granted anybody bail, that should be respected because the court considered all factors before they did that. The government should obey court judgments, not just for Nnamdi Kanu, but anybody taken to court.
You were a governor in Kaduna State. Are you satisfied with the way Governor Nasir el-Rufai is managing the Southern Kaduna crisis?
I had many challenges as governor but they are all different from the one he is facing now. He should make use of the Abdulsalami Abubakar committee’s report in order to ensure lasting peace in the area. Rightly or wrongly, there is a loss of trust and confidence between the communities and the government. I am not in a position to know the details. But when you perceive that there is mistrust, there is an urgent need for an arbiter, like an independent body, which the aggrieved parties would respect so that we can bring this killings and mayhem to a stop. I don’t want this matter to be politicised. It is not a political issue. Anything all of us can do to help the state government should be done.
You said the PDP has a great chance of returning to power in 2019. Don’t you think that the recent defections could affect the party ahead of the polls?
Defections are common political occurrences. Remember that when the PDP was in power, virtually all governors and National Assembly members were defecting to the PDP. Despite their defections to the PDP, we lost the election. When the time came, people started defecting again to the APC. So, you can’t say history will not repeat itself. History will definitely repeat itself. It is defections that would happen in early 2018 that should worry us. It is unfortunate that many people have become political migrants and nomadic politicians. They enjoy moving around. But defections are a not a sure sign of victory nor defeat for any political party. It is the electorate that will decide.
How can the PDP resolve its impasse?
A political solution is good if you are dealing with people who are honest. The Supreme Court should review our appeal very carefully and allow this matter to end as expeditiously as possible. It is human to disagree; we can’t do away with that. Nobody should think it is a terminal end. Look at where the majority of the people are and respect it. If we really want to win an election, we should know the kind of people that can rule this party. PDP leaders are not the ones that make us win elections. It is the voters. So we have to consider voter reaction to the people we put forward to lead our party.
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