IF you have had the opportunity of interacting with Senator Ali Modu Sheriff since his ascension to the throne of the national chairmanship of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), then you have met a man who believes, rightly or wrongly, that some matters are better left to take care of themselves.
The philosophy behind this disposition is that of wait and see. That is what the man whose admirers call SAS has been doing all the while. He was rumoured, even frontally accused, of being a major sponsor of Boko Haram, but Sheriff would not care a hoot. He did not tell his own story because, somehow, he believed that the matter, someday, would take care of itself. In other words, his indifference was not that of botherlessness. It was borne out of a shared understanding between him and his people. He says that his people know the truth, that is, that he has no hand in the Boko Haram menace. This being the case, SAS believes that there is no need belabouring the point. To do so would amount to flogging a dead horse.
Sheriff was still luxuriating in this dismissive mood when the thunderbolt struck. He had been coopted into the race for the national chairmanship of the PDP and the story had to change. Perhaps, Sheriff reaped what he did not expect when a floodgate of criticisms trailed his ascension to the PDP top position.
What was the storm all about? The National Executive Committee of the PDP had settled for Sheriff from a motley crowd of aspirants from the North East, who wanted to occupy the office of the party’s national chairman. If Sheriff thought his choice would go without a whimper, he was terribly mistaken. His emergence provided a fertile ground for those who have stories to tell about him to step out. The most daring of them all so far is Femi Fani-Kayode. He hit Sheriff below the belt. He did not just accuse the former governor of Borno State of being a Boko Haram kingpin, he said SAS has questions to answer, concerning the death of Mohammed Yusuf, the original leader of Boko Haram and Buji Foi, who was Commissioner for Religious Affairs under the regime of Sheriff in Borno State. The Fani-Kayode diatribe has since opened a fresh can of worms, which the PDP is now grappling with.
For those who wish the PDP a quick recovery after its fall from Olympian Heights, the bad blood over Sheriff is considered most regrettable. It gives the impression that the crisis of confidence, which the party has been embroiled in since it lost the presidential elections of last year, has assumed a more staggering dimension. This was especially so when some elements and groups within the party roundly rejected Sheriff as the National Chairman. From what has transpired so far, it could be safely said that the North East’s occupation of the office of the PDP national chairman has become as fractious as the South East’s occupation of the office of the President of the Senate during the Obasanjo Presidency. It has been a game of musical chairs for the North East just as it was for the South East.
After bungling the party’s race to the Presidency in 2015, Adamu Mu’azu, who was then the party’s national chairman, threw in the towel. His anti-party disposition was too obvious to be ignored. Since his exit, the zone that produced him has been making spirited efforts to have him replaced by someone from the zone. It was in the pursuit of this goal that Alhaji Ahmed Gulak, a former political adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan, went to court to press home the zone’s demand for its right to occupy the office of the national chairman. The issue was eventually resolved in favour of the zone, and the beneficiary turned out to be Ali Modu Shriff.
As if the diatribe from Fani-Kayode was not enough, some groups and individuals within the party were also up in arms against Sheriff. The forum of PDP ministers as well as the party’s Board of Trustees rejected his emergence as national chairman. However, it took the intervention of PDP Governors Forum for Sheriff to weather the storm. Sheriff was mandated to stay in office for three months within which period the National Convention of the party would be called to elect a substantive chairman.
Sheriff, the man at the centre of the storm, was cut short in a way. Upon his emergence as national chairman, the man spoke with confidence. He made declarations, which suggested that he was out to do battle with the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), which took over the reins of governance by default. He served the ruling party a quit notice come 2019. But Sheriff was not allowed to go the whole hog. Rather than have the APC tackle him for his declarations, it was his party men that tried to take the wind off his sail.
Since these stories started making the rounds, Sheriff has always dismissed them as untenable and laughable. That is probably why he never bothered to dispel them. But the stories have, over time, come to assume a life of their own. That was why they had to be regurgitated this time around. But at last, Sheriff has come up with a counter narrative. For him, it is a contradiction to say that he is a supporter of Boko Haram. If anything, he says that he is the number one enemy of Boko Haram. According to Sheriff, “I outlawed them while I was governor. They could not operate while I was in office. How then can anyone say that I support Boko Haram?” This is Sheriff ‘s main point of departure with his accusers. How can you be the sponsor and promoter of an organisation you outlawed? This is a contradiction in terms.
Whatever the narrative and counter narrative may be, calm has since returned to the party. But the development, in a number of ways, widened the gulf that has been tearing through the walls of the party. After the ignominious fall that the party witnessed in the 2015 general elections, the expectation was that the party that was in charge for 16 years would go into soul-searching with a view to knowing what went wrong. Of course, it made initial efforts in this regard through the PDP Post-Election Review Committee, headed by Senator Ike Ekweremadu. But it would appear that the party has learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. That was why the rage over Sheriff was considered most impolitic on the part of PDP. It was a case of washing one’s dirty linens in the public.
However, the storm was not without its lessons. It should teach the main opposition party how and when not to shoot recklessly and aimlessly. It cannot put its acts together by so doing. Fortunately, Sheriff appears to be on top of the game in spite of the initial distraction. To demonstrate that he is not on a roller coaster, Sheriff does not think that PDP’s problem will take care of itself. He believes that it requires sagacity and sincerity of purpose to deal with. Sheriff, even at the risk of sounding immodest, believes he has these qualities. That is why he is making spirited efforts to reposition the party. He has promised that his emergence will give PDP a new lease of life. PDP faithful should believe him. He needs that benefit of doubt to deliver on his mission and vision.