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From Iheanacho Nwosu, Abuja
Governor Seriaka Dickson of Bayelsa state is the Chairman of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), National Reconciliation Committee. He has been at the centre of controversy over the report of his committee which was submitted to the Ali Modu Sheriff national exco. In this interview he cleared the air on some allegations against him and the cause of the crisis in the party.
Your committee has been in the news over your decision to submit your report to the Ali Modu Sheriff executive, what is really happening?
As I told some of my friends and colleagues, in this game of politics when your opponent has created an opening, don’t be surprised because that is how to play politics for people to be interested. But essentially the situation in PDP is a self inflicted crisis. My position is very clear, when people were bringing Modu Sheriff, I never supported it. I have never been a fan of Modu Sheriff. My position is not for any personal reason. There are lots of reasons but my position was that the party after it lost in presidential election and lost control in so many states, needed a fresh start; a new beginning. I thought we should have used that opportunity to clean up the party, bring fresh faces for Nigerians to see and then formulate a fresh message, and formulate new system of engaging the Nigerian people as opposed to the old PDP way of doing things.
But somehow we were not able to do that. I was a minority voice in the PDP Governors’ Forum. We were then 12 and the chairman later came to regret why that position was not supported. Our out gone Chairman, Gov Mimiko, my good friend, was completely messed up because of the crisis. Now, my position is that we have got to move forward. When I didn’t support Sheriff, there was nobody he didn’t send to talk to me. I am a politician of conviction, I’m not a politician of convenience, and I’m not a typical Nigerian politician. I made my views known to him directly even before telling others, he was my guest in Yanegoa at my inauguration.
They had already concluded with some of my colleagues and informed me then. And right there in Yanegoa as my guest I told him no. We came back and I told my other colleagues and gave reasons. Well, that did not stop him from coming to engage me from time to time, and so on. But now, I had to intervene to broker peace for three month tenure for him. When he was eventually made chairman and crisis erupted, I spent three weeks in Abuja talking to stakeholders for peace, making a case to prevent the division of the party. And because of those interventions, we all agreed to give him a three month period of grace within which to conduct a convention and leave. Towards the conclusion of the three months, the people who brought him, again, went and encouraged him to re-contest and nothing will happen. They were more interested in being in control of a national chairman and in the structures of the party than in rebuilding the party for whatever reason. They planned, did all kinds of things behind our back, undermining the Governors’ Forum. The chairman of the forum didn’t know what they were doing; I too didn’t know what they were doing. All those who were not in support were cut off, and then zoned things directly to him, and again organised another convention. All these characters that are blackmailing Sheriff now, that are saying no Sheriff now were all those who went to Port Harcourt two times to elect Sheriff and I stayed away.
As I said, I take my political beliefs very seriously. My political beliefs are not for sale. The conventions were inconclusive especially the first one. We had to come up with a novel concept known as the National Caretaker Committee. And we went to court in Port Harcourt, the federal High court sitting in Port Harcourt and it validated the appointment of Makarfi and the caretaker team. It was based on that validation that Makarfi was positioned to now act, to lead the party, even though Sheriff and others were questioning the validity. They went to the court of Appeal; Sheriff and co, and we thought we were going to have judgment at the court of Appeal. I and majority of others, up to 70-80percent of the party have been with Makarfi. I was part of the convention that made Makarfi. He appointed me to chair the convention in Ondo state as most of you will recall. We have been supporting the Markafi group. But now as you know, the Court of Appeal where we were all assured that we were going to get judgment gave judgment rather to Sheriff, declaring him as the national chairman of the party. For me, that presents another opportunity to attempt an amicable political resolution of the issues, so that the party can move forward. While that matter was pending at the court of Appeal, different stakeholders had brokered different meetings. Gen Gusau- led team, and brokered one by which he told both of them and their teams to resign.
Sheriff said bring the paper, I’ll sign and resign but I won’t leave Makarfi behind because of my honour. So, Makarfi said he will not resign and so, that settlement also collapsed.
I have been interfacing discreetly with teams on both sides even though I’m essentially Makarfi’s. But because of the nature of my work, I’ve interacted with so many leaders across the length and breadth of our country and I thank them for the confidence that they have for me and I also have confidence, respect and love for all them too. I have also tried several times, having a joint meeting with some people in Markafi’s group, some people in Sheriff’s group, to see how all can resign or at the very word, to share the national convention. All these were to no avail. I believe that the national convention of a political party, as a supreme organ of the party has capacity to dissolve or sack everybody and take decisions that will help the party. This was what we attempted to do in Port Harcourt. But I’m not the court; we have to respect the judiciary. The court of Appeal against our expectations proclaimed Sheriff as the national
chairman of the party; which means whether we like it or not in the eyes of the law and in fact from that day of pronouncement, Makarfi and his caretaker team ceased to have legal authority to conduct PDP business anymore. Whether we like it or not from that day, Sheriff is the only one that can do so. As we speak since that day, Sheriff has been acting, not only is it at that national secretariat, Sheriff is the one sending names of candidates of states that are doing election. Even as we speak, if there were to be a by election in Kaduna, Makarfi’s state, Makarfi today is not in the position to send a name to INEC for INEC to accept. That is the political reality everybody in the PDP needs to accept whether you like Sheriff’s face or not. I don’t also support Sheriff and what he has done but I acknowledge that reality.
So, the reconciliation committee which I have chaired for quite sometime met to review our positions in the light of the court of Appeal judgment. And we said look, let us formulate a realistic, practical and strategic response to that reality because in the end, its all about strategy.
Yes, we said you can go on Appeal but without prejudice to the Supreme Court case, let us intensify and even fast track the peace moves. Former president Jonathan also intervened; called all the governors and we had a meeting where some of us spoke in support of a political solution and we resolved that we should adopt a political solution. But that is vague; political solution is vague. There must be templates to discuss; there must be proposals to criticise; for people to make input and time frame perhaps given. That is where we are. Unfortunately Makarfi and those behind him have been sponsoring vicious attacks against my person. Everyone knows that unlike them, I’m not a Sheriff man. All of them who are attacking me for submitting report to Sheriff are the same people who brought Sheriff and who supported him. The whole quarrel is not about what is best for PDP; it is about ambitions, it is about those who want to control PDP structures; it’s about those who want to contest presidential elections which is their rights; it’s about those who want to contest elective office 2019, who feel that if so so person is in control, they are shut out.
Can you elaborate on the templates you are proposing?
The template we’re proposing actually is a template that will lead to a negotiated national unity convention. Because, the inability to hold a unity convention or even hold a successful convention at all is at the heart of the crisis in PDP. That was why when that failed to happen, we appointed Makarfi caretaker to midwife another convention; the second one too failed. And in that convention we are proposing, now this is where the templates come in. We want a situation where since Sheriff after the court of Appeal has said he will be prepared to have a quick national convention, we think that is victory for PDP. He has also said he will not contest at that convention, which is victory for the PDP. The challenge however that is a number of people said they can’t trust him. Well, I say that is valid, but then what you need to do is engage more and ring fence the convention. How? This is where the template comes in. This convention committee should not be done like the other one. Our template says they should be seven governors; people should be nominated from the key institutions of the party. And by the way, all these key institutions are with Makarfi not Sheriff which is why I don’t understand what Makarfi’s problem is unless he sees himself and his role as not that of a caretaker but the landlord or even an undertaker of PDP. Otherwise, all the people we have suggested in the template are all institutions working as we speak with Makarfi. Of close to 100, he has almost 80 something. Because of that, we now put 12 names to be nominated by Sheriff. Even that one we said, in consultation with stakeholders, because we thought Sheriff will say no. We actually expected Sheriff to say no,not Makarfi to shout.
Sheriff has accepted all of them, convention templates, seven governors, seven senators, led by the Deputy senate president who is the head of the caucus, 12 Reps led by the House minority leader Leo Ogor . BoT is to nominate six members, one per zone; former ministers to nominate six, one per zone; former presiding officers of the national Assembly who are still with us to be automatic members, a number of them are with Makarfi, and the national vice chairman of the party. Every zone has a national vice chairman, all six of them. And all these people are with Makarfi. And then we say
the chapter chairman, three of them per zone should be there, 18 of them. Then we said six prominent women leaders, six prominent youth leaders, and so on and so forth. All these institutions are with Makarfi. So, what we were designing was a Ring fenced convention that Sheriff, if we all work together will be unable to control. His role will be in accordance with the laws of the party to convene and preside. After he makes his speech, we would move a motion to dissolve. And with that dissolution, all these arguments would have ended and then, we go into the election. That’s what we thought is the quickest way out of this crisis. And when I consulted Makarfi, I didn’t consult Sheriff; but I consulted Makarfi. I left committee meetings to brief Makarfi, that this is what the committee is doing, there’s urgency now. I had the intelligence about the time table that INEC was to release. I said this is the time to begin to put our party together and fast tracking this process, this is what I’m proposing. Makarfi drew my attention to the fact that some persons were claiming that their tenures have not elapsed, and they may take us to court. I said yes, thank you for drawing that to my attention; I will include it in the template that those people must resign, so that all offices must be vacant to give the party a fresh beginning; And I included it in the template.