Olusola Fabiyi, John Ameh and Godwin Isenyo
The unending leadership crisis in the Peoples Democratic Party appears to be taking its toll on the unity of its members in the House of Representatives as the lawmakers can no longer speak with one voice on who to support between the National Chairman, Ali Modu Sheriff, and Ahmed Makarfi.
Investigations by The PUNCH, on Monday, showed that many members of the caucus were divided over the choice of Sheriff and the Makarfi-led National Caretaker Committee, which was sacked by the Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt penultimate Friday.
The House Minority Leader, Mr. Leo Ogor, had summoned a caucus meeting last week soon after Sheriff was declared as the chairman by the appellate court.
The struggling opposition party controls less than 139 lawmakers out of the total of 360 in the House.
At the meeting, members were said to have agreed, as a caucus, to back the Makarfi-led faction.
The resolution of the meeting was later made public as the position of the caucus on the raging crisis.
On Monday, however, some members came out openly to distance themselves from the position of the caucus, saying they were not part of it.
One of the members, Mr. Adesegun Adekoya, said many lawmakers in both the Senate and the House were “solidly” behind Sheriff.
Adekoya, who represents Ijebu North/East/Ogun Waterside Federal Constituency, told The PUNCH that the “so-called” caucus position was non-existent.
He said, “You can quote me anywhere any day. We are for Sheriff. As a lawmaker, I should not be a lawbreaker. All the people in my constituency, down to the last councillor, are for Sheriff.
“In Ogun, we have two PDP members: myself and my second (Adebutu Oladipupo). He is for Makarfi; yes, that is his choice.
“But, I am for Sheriff. That makes it 50-50.
“If you go to Osun State, Hon. Wole Oke is for Sheriff. Go and check in all the states, you will find out that many of us are for Sheriff.
“See, my brother, there is one thing about politicians. When they are in the open, they will say one thing, but when it comes to voting, they will go the other way. They will surprise you.
“That is why they always prefer secret voting because what they say in the open is not the truth.”
In Ekiti State, where Governor Ayodele Fayose is a vocal supporter of the Makarfi-led faction, a member from Ekiti, Mr. Olamide Johnson-Oni, is for Sheriff.
Another member of the party from Edo State, Mr. Johnson Agbonayinma, told The PUNCH that some members had realised that they would have to be with Sheriff to be on the side of the law.
Agbonayinma, who contested the PDP governorship primaries in Edo State in 2016, added, “Members have realised that they are lawmakers and not law breakers.
“Based on the decision of the court, we have to support Sheriff.
“Why are people saying they are not with Sheriff? He has won; or is Sheriff not a member of the PDP?
“More importantly, we are all PDP members; it is not about victory for Sheriff or Makarfi, but Sheriff is the man, based on the decision of the court.”
However, several members contacted by The PUNCH dismissed Adekoya’s position.
They described him as representing the “few bad eggs” in the caucus, bent on destroying the opposition party.
One of the members from Adamawa State, Mr. Adamu Kamale, told The PUNCH that it was not possible that serious party members would team up with Sheriff.
Kamale added, “It is not possible that I will be with Sheriff in what he is doing, same for most of our colleagues.
“Sheriff has been working with strangers; we don’t even know these people he carries around.
“I recall vividly that there was a particular meeting he called; when I went there as a PDP member to, at least find out the peace efforts being made, I was locked out.
“How can a man, who keeps intimidating legitimate party members, claims that he is our leader?”
Ogor claimed, however, that there was no division in the caucus.
He said Adekoya and those thinking in the same line with him were “just noisemakers.”
Ogor, who is from Delta State, added, “You will expect that some people will always want to cause trouble to seek attention.
“The caucus met and took a position. We all agreed that Makarfi is the one in charge of affairs of the PDP and we are with him.
“All these people talking about Sheriff should be ignored. We don’t know Sheriff.”
At the inauguration of the current 8th Assembly in June 2015, the PDP controlled 139 out of the 360 members of the House.
But, in the months following the factional crisis, some members seized the opportunity to defect to the ruling All Progressives Congress.
Only on Wednesday last week, Mr. Emmanuel Ukoette from Akwa Ibom State, a PDP stronghold, also defected to the APC on the floor of the House.
Like others before him, Ukoette cited the factional crisis as his reason for shifting his political party platform.
Sheriff, Makarfi clash over secretariat
Meanwhile, Sheriff and Makarfi groups are at the brink of another clash over the plan of Sheriff to re-open the party’s national secretariat.
The two parties also accused each other of either blackmailing the Supreme Court or attempting to pre-empt the impending appeal before the apex court.
The secretariat, which had been locked since May 2016, was forcefully opened by Sheriff and his members of the National Working Committee on Friday.
He stated that he took the action following the favourable judgment he got from the Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, on February 17.
But the sacked caretaker committee asked Sheriff to vacate the party’s national secretariat immediately.
It said Sheriff should await the Supreme Court judgment on the matter.
Spokesperson for the faction, Dayo Adeyeye, who stated this at a press briefing in Abuja on Monday, also accused the police of working in favour of the former governor of Borno State in the crisis.
Adeyeye, a former Minister of State for Works, said Sheriff must leave the secretariat in order to avoid a breakdown of law and order.
Sheriff also declared that all the activities and programmes done by the Makarfi group, in the name of the PDP, were illegal.
Saying the case was still in court, Adeyeye said the police must ensure that Sheriff and others “are not allowed to use the secretariat,” adding that the status quo ante must be maintained until the determination of the appeal before the Supreme Court.
Adeyeye added, “It is common knowledge that Sheriff and co. forcefully broke into the national secretariat of the party around 6pm on Friday, February 24, 2017.
“The keys of the national secretariat are with the Board of Trustees, who are the custodians of the assets of the party.
“We know that the keys of the secretariat are still with the BoT but Sheriff entered by breaking the doors in an action totally unbecoming of a person who had been governor of a state, Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and also claiming to be a national chairman of a major political party.
“We therefore demand that Senator Sheriff and co vacate the national secretariat immediately.
“We have stated several times that the APC has its hands deep in the PDP crisis. There is no doubt that Sheriff’s activities against the PDP are being aided and abetted by the APC.
“For the record, just last week, the Governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha, gave unsolicited advice that we should support Senator Sheriff.
“That is one instance of their meddlesomeness in the PDP affairs. No doubt that Okorocha and co are happy that their man won at the Appeal Court but very much afraid that he could lose at the Supreme Court.”
Adeyeye alleged that Sheriff and his group had perfected plans to receive non-serving state executive committees of the party at its national secretariat in order to give an impression that he had been accepted by the party’s organs.
Speaking for the Sheriff-led PDP, a former political adviser to former President Goodluck Jonathan, Ahmed Gulak, said, “The Supreme Court belongs to all Nigerians. They have been talking and grandstanding as if the Supreme Court belongs to them.
“They said they will get judgment from the Supreme Court as if it is their institution. They should stop blackmailing the Supreme Court.
“This party is bigger than everybody. The law does not see your face. It is not a popularity contest and I must say that the law is the law.”
Gulak, who spoke in company with the acting Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Mr. Bernard Mikko, also justified their entry into the party secretariat.
He stated that the complex was opened to them after the Court of Appeal judgment, noting that both camps had agreed not to head for the apex court.
He said, “It is a fact that the former Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Solomon Arase, with the consent of both factions, closed the secretariat of the PDP and both sides agreed because of the conflicting court judgments.
“Both parties agreed that in order to pursue genuine reconciliation, nobody should pursue the case again at Supreme Court.
“All the things that the Makarfi group has done before the judgement are illegal and cannot stand.”
Also, the PDP in Kaduna State vowed never to support the Sheriff’s NWC.
Kaduna State chapter of the party described Sheriff’s reinstatement by the appellate court as an act of impunity, which was against the constitution of the party.
They also declared that the state executives and members were loyal and answerable to the Makarfi-led National Caretaker Committee.
The party stated its decision through a communiqué signed by the Chairman, Drafting Committee, Dr. John Ayuba, after the party’s meeting in Kaduna.
The communiqué read in part, “Members of the PDP in Kaduna State should not lose focus of where we are going as we know where we are coming from. We must face the current challenges headlong to ensure that we change the change come 2019.
“The PDP in Kaduna State remains united, strong, resolute, steadfast and solidly loyal and answerable to the National Caretaker Committee under the leadership of Senator Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi.”