In protest against not being allowed to address the opening session as the court-recognised National Chairman of the crisis-ridden Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Senator Ali Modu Sheriff yesterday walked out of a meeting called in Abuja by former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.
The session was convoked to find a lasting solution to the leadership crisis confronting the party which has seen it factionalised between Sheriff and Senator Ahmed Makarfi. But with the way it ended, there is no hope yet of an early and peaceful resolution of the crisis of the PDP which is the main opposition party in the country.
The parley had barely begun when crisis erupted following Sheriff’s insistence to be recognised and allowed to speak at the opening session in his capacity as the Court of Appeal Court-validated national chair of the party.
Jonathan and chairman of the party’s Board of Trustees, Senator Walid Jibrin had spoken and initially made provision for Sheriff and Makarfi to also address the house. The cancellation was premised on the assumption that it would be better for the two gladiators to address the stakeholders at the closed-door session which was to commence immediately after the first session.
However, as newsmen were being asked to vacate the hall for the closed-door session to begin, Sheriff, backed by his appointed deputy, Cairo Ojougboh, stirred an uproar, insisting that the former must speak to the cameras in his capacity as national chairman of the party.
The Sheriff group, it was said, also insisted that after he might have spoken, Makarfi must not be given the opportunity to speak because his office as chairman of the caretaker committee no longer exists following the ruling of the appellate court.
Jonathan and other stakeholders, however, objected to the demand, a development that led to an open exchange of hot words between Sheriff and Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State.
The former president had earlier in the day held a meeting with both parties where an agreement was reached on the agenda of the meeting.
In a move to keep the crisis away from the knowledge of the hundreds of party faithful, Jonathan invited Sheriff and some party leaders like erstwhile Senate President, David Mark, BOT chairman, Ekiti State governor and chairman of the PDP Governors Forum, Ayodele Fayose and a host of others into the executive room of the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre where a truce meeting held.
Signs that the parley was not productive emerged early as Fayose stormed out of session after 25 minutes for the main hall where Makarfi was quietly seated. Some party members swarmed round him to hear what had happened in the room.
Loyalists of each group were seen exchanging banters as the meeting continued in the inner room. But Sheriff remained adamant and eventually left the venue.
Surrounded by his supporters, led by Ojougboh and Senator Annie Okonkwo, Sheriff told newsmen that he felt slighted that the former president could join others in making a mockery of his office as the chairman of the party.
He insisted that it was a misnomer for the party to host any event and have him prevented from making an opening speech in his capacity as the leader.
His words: “We are here for a PDP stakeholders’ meeting and the party has only one national chairman, which is Ali Modu Sheriff.
“There is no PDP meeting that will take place under whatever arrangement that I will not open the session as national chairman. Today, I am the most senior member of this party.
“I think Governor Dickson made a proposal for reconciliation. And we have accepted. Some people want to deviate from this programme, to bring an agenda which was not part of it. And as national chairman of the party, what I have told you people in my office when Dickson brought the report is the only thing that we have agreed on at this moment.”
Sheriff added that he would proceed with his plans to hold the party’s convention.
“As the national chairman, we will move on. We have a programme initiated by Dickson. And we are continuing with that. Anything outside that, I am not a party to it,” he stated.
Jonathan, who did not hide his hurt, said he was hopeful of a peaceful resolution, adding that the Supreme Court would settle the crisis once and for all in the interest of democracy.
Consequently, he announced a 40-member committee to be headed by him or his former vice, Namadi Sambo or Mark, with representation from all sides to the crisis and other stakeholders.