Abuja and Port Haracourt — Former Borno State Governor, Ali Modu Sheriff, has emerged the national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The emergence of Sheriff yesterday, who was a two time governor and three time senator from Borno State, laid to rest months of horse-trading over who would replace the erstwhile chairman, Ahmadu Adamu Mu'azu, who resigned shortly after the dismal outing of the party in the 2015 general elections.
He was never mentioned as one of the contenders for the post and therefore, his coming on board has taken many by surprise.
National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Olisa Metuh, earlier in the day addressed journalists, saying the resolve to pick Sheriff followed a second thought by various organs of the party which looked beyond the five candidates sent to them by the North-east stakeholders of the party.
He said Sheriff was selected by the National Working Committee (NWC), PDP Governors' Forum (PDPGF) and the National Caucus which had their separate meetings Monday and yesterday in Abuja.
Metuh said the three organs invited Sheriff as well as the former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Nuhu Ribadu and former minister of state for power Mohammed Wakil to assess them but Ribadu declined to face the panel.
He added that there were 29 aspirants from the North-east before the caucus considered one each from five states in the region and later settled for Sheriff who joined the race much later.
"We in the NWC, PDP Governors' Forum and the National Caucus have in our different meetings nominated Ali Modu Sheriff for approval by BoT and NEC," he said.
Our correspondents report that there was initial resistance from some members of the BoT and the NEC until much later when they conceded around 8.pm yesterday.
S/South leaders' blessing
Sources in Port Harcourt, Rivers State said there was no doubt that Governor Wike was instrumental to the emergence of Sheriff. The former Borno governor was sighted in Port Harcourt on Wednesday last week on a visit to Governor Wike at Government House.
"The presence of Sheriff at Government House, Port Harcourt was to seek the blessing of the governor for the position of PDP national chairman," a source said.
He was also sighted at Obio Akpor, where he accompanied the governor to attend a PDP rally for a National Assembly rerun election.
Another source said Sheriff used the opportunity of the visit to secure the blessing of other notable PDP stakeholders in the South-south.
The PDP was scheduled to hold its national convention in March when new leaders would emerge, but sources said there are plans to extend Sheriff's tenure by six months.
"The idea is to allow the party stabilize more, and by then, a new chairman will emerge from the south. Wike is working hard to ensure that Secondus stages a comeback as substantive chairman," another source said.
Simon Nwakandu, the Special Adviser to the governor on electronic media, did not reply a text message sent to him on the matter.
It was also gathered that former President Jonathan threw his weight behind Sheriff as the PDP chairman.
The relationship between Jonathan and Sheriff swelled in the build up to the 2015 elections when the former defected to the PDP from the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Sheriff was instrumental to Jonathan's visit to Maiduguri, the hotbed of the Boko Haram insurgency, as part of efforts to improve the chances of the PDP.
"Even after the defeat of the PDP, Jonathan and Sheriff remained very close because they both need each other. Let me tell you, beside the political interest, Sheriff has serious business interests in Bayelsa State, the home-state of Jonathan, where he recently opened a cement factory," a source in the PDP said.
According to him, Jonathan wants Sheriff because no matter how we look at it, he (Sheriff) has a strong political and financial base. He will be able to pull the crowd and keep the PDP house a bit stable before full electioneering campaigns," he said.
When contacted, Reuben Abati, said he no longer speaks for the former president.
After Mu'azu's exit, the deputy national chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, took over as acting chairman for three months.
However, his 'overstay' in office prompted Ahmed Gulak, the special adviser to former President Goodluck Jonathan, to go to court.
After foot dragging for over two months, the North-East submitted the names of Senator Saidu Umar Kumo (Gombe), Shehu Gabam (Bauchi), former minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Mohammed Abba Gana (Borno), North-East Zonal Vice Chairman, Senator Girigir Lawal (Yobe) and former governor of the defunct Gongola State Wilberforce Juta (Adamawa) for the national headquarters to pick one. In October 2015, the national leadership of the PDP zoned the presidency to the North, saying it had learnt its lessons and would never repeat any such mistake.
The decision was part of the recommendations of the Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu-led PDP Post-Election Review Committee which recommended that in accordance with the popular views expressed in the submissions to the committee, the presidency should be zoned to the North.
Sheriff: PDP made right choice
With the emergence of Sheriff, Secondus will revert to his position as deputy national chairman of the party.
Speaking after taking the oath of office last night at the PDP national secretariat, Sheriff saidý: "The task ahead of us is very challenging one but I will carry everybody along to ensure that we take over power in 2019. The choice you have made today, you will never regret it. I will pilot this party to success. Nobody will be witch-hunted or left alone. All of us will together re-position and take the party to greater heights.
"The setback we had in 2015 will not take us backward. From tomorrow, we will keep this party growing. You will come here to celebrate PDP in 2019," he said.
He announced that he would officially take over from Prince Uche Secondus today.
Gulak: I remain the chairman
Meanwhile, some chieftains of the PDP have expressed displeasure with the emergence of Sheriff as national chairman.
Barrister Ahmed Gulak said whatever decision taken by the party now would be of no effect.
Speaking through his spokesman, Bernard Mikko in a telephone interview, Gulak said: "The position of the PDP national chairman is not vacant because the December 16 High Court judgment declared Gulak the national chairman after 14 days. The stay of execution filed by Secondus at both the High Court and Court of Appeal were struck out."
On his part, Chief Fani Kayode said: "I do not often speak publicly about the internal affairs of the PDP because I have always chosen to remain well above the fray. This is because I have good friends in every single group and on all sides that constitute the party.
"However, given today's events, there appears to be a deep cause for concern. it is clear to me that more than at any other time in its almost 17 years of existence, the PDP needs serious prayers.