The People's Democratic Party is now at a critical crossroads between survival and extinction. We stand between a forfeiture of all the astounding dreams, the hopes of our founding fathers and the disgraceful submission to perfidy and damnation. The choice is ours. The truth is clear. We must make a move now! Let us ask ourselves: how long can we fold our hands and pretend that the current crisis afflicting our party is merely a political dispute that can be resolved on some round table?
Again, At what juncture do we stand up and acknowledge that the very grave matters that are now hobbling the progress of our party for almost two years are indeed issues of fundamental importance to the survival of the democratic space in our nation? Can we afford to fold our arms and stand in a neutral corner and pretend that the whirlwind will go away? Can we boldly jump into the fray, lock horns with the matters of the moment and affirm our position in the state of things? There are too many queries.
There are too many appealing choices. But we must stand up firm and fast. We must make a stand to confront the many maladies now confronting our party. We must be counted to be on the righteous and the redeeming side of history. We must take the hard and the most enduring choice. We must never shy away from the bitter truth. We must talk to one another with sincerity of purpose and with constant purity of focus. There are no pretenses anymore.
As I see it, from my own personal prism as one of the leaders of our great party, we have lost the focus and the vision that once earned us high praises, the hurrah and the accommodation of the Nigerian people. We have derailed in a mournful way from the guidance, the nuance and the formative directions of our founding fathers. We have upturned and disturbed the normal building blocks and the structures of an orderly organization. Our value system has changed. The normative foundational logic that once held our party in firm discipline, in genuine constitutional norms and processes of succession have all been abused, maligned and thrown into the wind. There is confusion everywhere. There is no semblance of clarity anymore.
There is no visible and acceptable guiding momentum to move us beyond the cliff of disaster. It is as if we are all frozen in one grand confusion and imperiled by our own collective contributions to the present crisis. But the party must move clearly and firmly beyond the current state of muddle and the encroaching darkness. We must tell ourselves the bitter truth. We must confront the pervading ills, the legitimate grievances and the screaming aberrations that are holding us back. We must boldly return to the foundational principles where merit, morality, justice, fairness, truth, impartiality, hardwork and excellence defined the logical articulations and the pristine anchor of our founding fathers.
The issue at stake now is: who is the rightful, legitimate and validly entrusted entity that the constitution of our party recognizes to lead the party presently? Ordinarily there should not be a dispute on this matter if we are all correctly attuned to the constitutional guidance and the stipulations that are etched in our collective norms, in our practices and traditions.
Let us start from the beginning. After our Presidential Election debacle in March 2015, our chairman at that particular time, Alhaji Adamu Muazu resigned his position to pave way for a new horizon. To fill this vacuum, Senator Alimodu Sheriff was appointed in an interim capacity to carry on with the business of party administration. Abinitio, Sheriff's position was to act as a stop-gap until a formal convention is organized to elect a constitutionally tenured and proper chairman.
In this wise, a new convention which was to elect new managers of the party was slated for May 21, 2015 in Port Harcourt, River State. Our acting –chairman Senator Sheriff came out to contest for the chairmanship position. He collected the nomination form, paid for the form, filled the form and submitted it to the appropriate election committee. Senator Sheriff equally appeared before the screening committee which was authorized to examine the aspirants for suitability.
According to our electoral guidelines Sheriff as an acting chairman was deemed to have vacated his seat as soon as he submitted himself for the nomination process at least 7 days before the convention. Had he been a substantive chairman, the guidelines stipulate 30 clear days for him to leave the position before the convention. Either in law, in logic or in the rational platform of democratic practices, the electoral guidelines explicitly affirm and resolve the key ingredients of fair play, equity, critical balance and moderating impartiality in the partisan contest.
It would have been virtually unfair, indecent, crude and primitive for an incumbent chairman or any office holder for that matter who wishes to contest for an office to now sit in arbitrating supervision over the process of his own election! We can be sure of what the outcome of such illegitimate process would be!
The electoral guidelines then were basically implanted to ensure the purity and the impartiality of the process. Thus, going into the convention as an aspirant for the chairmanship position, Sheriff in all legalistic and in all moralistic appropriateness had ceased to become chairman and had transmuted into an aspirant! Nothing more.
From here, the relevant convention committee had effectively graduated into the position of ensuring the continuity of party administration and the steering of leadership in an interim capacity before the substantive officers emerge from the national Convention. That was the state of things on May 21st 2015 at the Convention ground in Port Harcourt.
At this juncture, let me emphasize that the National Convention itself was authorized by the National Executive Committee of the party. Thus, no single person can convoke or dissolve a National Convention. It is always a collective responsibility of the NEC, which is the second highest organ of the party.
As the Convention process was gathering steam while the various aspirants and the delegates from all the states were duly assembled for the nomination process, Sheriff who apparently perceived his own vulnerability that the contest might not go his way, decided to “cancel the Convention” and ordered everyone to go home! That was clearly a screaming aberration. It was an illegal, offensive and dictatorial statement that wrongly assumed that one man can choose and pick the general directions and the guidance of the party!
This absurdity was encouraged further by a rushed, unreflective court injunction that restrained the party from electing anyone in the Convention. Let it be stated emphatically that the National Convention of the People‘s Democratic Party is the highest decision making organ of the party. It is the most supreme arbiter whose decisions are sacrosanct, binding, ultimately overwhelming in the vastness of its reach and capabilities that it can even dissolve the party itself! It is only another National Convention that can change or amend the decision of a previous National Convention.
In schedule 10 section 33 item 2 of the party constitution the functions of the National Convention is firmly stated : “the National Convention shall be the Supreme and the controlling authority of the party …… and it shall be the principal representative, policy making and administering body of the party." Item 3 of the same schedule reaffirms that “the National Convention shall have Supremacy in all matters pertaining to the party and all officers and organs of the party shall be bound in the exercise of their functions by the decisions of the National Convention.”
Again in the same Schedule 10, section 4, item (e), the National Convention is empowered by the constitution to “appoint such committees, as it may deem necessary, desirable or expedient and assign to them such powers and functions as it may deem fit.” The National Convention gave the Makarfi Care-taker Committee a three month duration to organize a new convention where new elected party managers would emerge. Immediately, the Care-taker Committee swung into action by setting up the Senator Ekweremadu Committee which was detailed to handle the zoning of the party offices.
Equally, a Reconciliation Committee was also convoked with five members from both Senator Sheriff’s Camp and all the other organs of the party which stand behind Senator Makarfi. But here again, the peace overture was scuttled as Senator Sheriff’s group suddenly pulled out of the reconciliation process by heading to the Appeal court. But adhering to the constitutional legitimacy of its mandate, the Caretaker Committee fixed a new National Convention for August 17, 2016 in Port Harcourt. Again to avoid any constitutional crisis, the National Convention which hurriedly held at the River State PDP Secretariat gave a fresh one year mandate to the care-taker committee with the binding challenge to sort out all the root causes of the party’s problems and the possible solutions to rectify all the anomalies.
Here, the Jerry Gana’s Strategy, Research and Planning Committee was given this very difficult task. The Committee has since submitted its report after very exhaustive and thorough exercise. Indeed, the Committee has done a very good job in the total comprehensive essence of its recommendations and its vision. This is where we are before the new ruling of the Port Harcourt Appeal Court which has practically distempered the vast majority of our members who believe that justice was not served!.
I have gone to this length to quote copiously from the relevant sections of our constitution to demonstrate the wide and far reaching powers of the National Convention and equally to affirm that the People’s Democratic Party is an organization that operates on valid rules, norms and practices as enshrined in the party constitution. It is an organization whose character, vision and pursuits are firmly anchored upon well thought out guiding principles as embodied in our grundnorm. It is in the spirit of this constitutional path and legalistic appropriateness that the National Convention responded to the exigency of the movement by reaching into the constitution itself to apply and enforce the function which authorizes the National Convention to “appoint such committees, as it may deem necessary…. ’’
This naturally gives constitutional validity and binding legitimacy to the Senator Makarfi led Care-taker Committee which is a product of emergency created to avoid a constitutional crisis where the party would have been thrown into a rudderless ill-wind without administrative guidance and leadership. This is where we are now!
The Appeal Court in Port Harcourt in a split decision has muddled the issue by ruling in favour of Sheriff. There is indeed a lot about this ruling which ridicules rationality, which distorts and negates the norms and the fundamental articles of voluntary association. The judges in their wisdom appear to be dictating, remolding and recasting the spirit, the tenets and the foundational principles that are the very structural pivot of party identity. The judiciary is a very powerful tool in the stability and in the endurance of a democracy.
It is the neutral arbiter that ensures the faithful interpretation of laws, resolved and established on principled purity that compels fairness, impartiality and strict adherence to the principles of equity. The building blocks of more enlightened societies are invariably anchored on the moral integrity and the industrious probity of the judiciary. Its inherent predications are the instinctive fixity on ensuring that truth is not abused, that the purity of the law is not distorted to suit the parade of friendship or the corruptive influences of partisan manipulations.
For any democracy to work in full exercise of unrestrained, agreed equitable testament, the judiciary must be fearless, firm and sincere, doggedly determined that no one, no matter how powerful, should sway the scale of justice. No doubt the root cause of the festering crisis in our party has an unveiled external linkages. There are veritable intrusive conspirators out there who do not wish us well. There are indeed agents of fury and storm who are bent on provoking the destruction of the PDP.
The conspirators who are out there beyond the confines of our party have found pliable tools, the aggressive fifth columnists who are without conscience or principles and who are willing to mortgage the truth for personal acquisitions. The ultimate aim of these conspirators is to decimate the opposition organ, annihilate the structures of dissent, vanquish all alternative fora of pluralistic contributions and therefore reduce the nation to a one-party monolith. And what does that augur for the deepening of the democratic space and the entrenchment of Liberty? What does this portend for the necessary widening of the expanse of freedom and the permanent cultivation of diverse contributions to the governance of the state?
Without competition, without plurality of thought, without tolerance of alternative voices, there is no democracy. There is no freedom. A virulent monolithic state is the quickest road to chaos and societal destruction. The stern lesson of the First Republic still stares us in the face.
We who are members of the older generation are still much reminded of the reckless orchestration of the crisis which erupted in the Western Region in 1962, 1963 and 1964 and whose culminative effect not only engulfed the entire nation in a whirlwind of uncertainty and political turmoil, it eventually dovetailed into a destructive civil war which claimed millions of lives and paralyzed the national cohesion.
And yet it all began with an hegemonistic intrusion upon the affairs of the Regional party known then as the Action Group. An internal leadership crisis between Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Chief Ladoke Akintola was hijacked by external forces who manipulated the dispute between the two leaders and triggered series of domino effects which first shattered the party itself beyond redemption and graduated into the glaring compromise of the judiciary which abetted the unjust conviction of Chief Obafemi Awolowo by Justice Sodeinde Sowemimo who at Chief Awolowo’s sentencing claimed that his “hands were tied!”
From there, the Western Region knew no peace as thugs, partisans mercenaries and the Agbekoyas flung themselves into internecine destruction that resulted into unbridled arson and murder. The end result was the first coup of January 1966 and the counter coup of July 1966, and the eventual civil war that almost ruined the Nigerian Union. And it all started with the intrusive attempt to wipe out the opposition. Whereas the Action Group was a much smaller party with confined regional relevance, the PDP is a pan-Nigerian ideal, an unprecedented rainbow coalition of all tribal stripes and all possible ideologies congregating to form a truly national platform with the vast reaches stretching from the Savannah to the Atlantic shore.
The consequence of the destruction of such pan- Nigerian platform may provoke a sweeping cataclysm whose end result no one can predict. My clear submission is that the ultimate resolution of the PDP crisis resides in the Supreme Court which has proven time and time again as an organ of responsible, intelligent, integrity conscious and morally upright men and women whose purpose and vision is to protect the dignity of the Judiciary. There can't be any half measures anymore. We need a clear, firm and binding total solution. This can only be obtained at the highest court in the land.
Nothing else will do! The sustenance of every enduring democracy is the effective opposition. It keeps the ruling party alert. It provides a platform for alternative vision for the governance of the state. In the striking continuity of the oppositional refrain, the nation engages itself in perpetual, vigorous debate, therefore preventing any slide into a tyrannical, omniscient leadership. In the end, an effective opposition is not only the heart-beat of democracy, it strengthens the ruling party by a conscious and constant reminder that it needs to perform and meet the aspirations of the people to remain in power.
Therefore, the survival of the People’s Democratic Party is crucial to the survival and the longevity of our democracy. As an opposition party, the PDP must remain strong and healthy; vigorous, independent and conscionable. It must be faithful to its foundational ideals as well as to the Nigerian people in ensuring that ultimately it is the will of the people that must prevail over personal and selfish pursuits. This is the time we need men of matured wisdom and strong moral fiber to lead our party beyond the present tumult.
This is the time we need men of exemplary leadership and disciplined commitment to set us on the right, redemptive course. There is relevance now in the words of Thomas Jefferson: " May God grant us men of principles so that we can have principal men to lead us." That was true two hundred years ago and it is still very true today. May the good Lord guide our party and our Nation on the path of rebirth and genuine healing and shining glory. I thank you all.
Chief Olabode George, CON Atona Oodua of Yorubaland
March 21, 2017 Lagos