Heavily armed policemen have taken over the national headquarters of the Peoples Democratic Party in Abuja.
This step, which was noticed on Sunday, was said to have been carried out by the police to prevent the breakdown of law and order at the secretariat.
A former Governor of Borno State, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, was reportedly removed as the PDP national chairman at the party’s convention in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, on Saturday.
Sheriff, however, described his removal and the sacking of the members of the National Working Committee as a nullity.
Constitutionally, the ex-Borno State governor’s tenure expires on Saturday.
But some officers of the party, like the National Secretary, Prof. Wale Oladipo, and the National Auditor, Adewole Adeyanju, including Sheriff, are in court, contesting their tenure.
They had secured a court order, restraining the party from filling their offices at the Port Harcourt convention.
Sheriff said the court action and the claim by the Independent National Electoral Commission that it would not monitor election into the above three offices were part of the reasons why he called off the convention.
He said he and members of his NWC were to meet at the party secretariat on Sunday.
Our correspondent gathered, however, that the policemen were deployed in the secretariat to prevent Sheriff and some members of his sacked NWC from meeting at the secretariat.
Sheriff had said the emergency meeting of his NWC would hold at the secretariat on Sunday (yesterday).
No fewer than 30 armed policemen, who were led by an assistant superintendent of police, Mr. Ime Obot, prevented journalists from entering or coming close to the two-storeyed building.
Five security vehicles were packed around the building.
Two trucks were used to block the road in front of the secretariat.
One of the trucks, with number plate NPF 5209C, was used to block the road from the headquarters of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps.
Three other vehicles, including a Hilux van, were used to block the back gate of the building which is used by the party’s national officers, especially the national chairman.
None of the policemen volunteered to speak with one of our correspondents when he approached the operatives.
A sergeant, who used a sleeveless cardigan to cover his name tag, told The PUNCH to “look for someone else to talk to. We can’t talk to you.”
When prodded further, he told one of our correspondents in anger, “Move back. You can go and stay there (pointing) until you see someone to talk to.”
It was learnt that the policemen were drafted to the secretariat by the PDP governors.
The governors were said to have taken the action to prevent Sheriff and his faction from taking over the secretariat.
Oladipo, a member of the Sheriff faction and who is also in court with the embattled national chairman, told one of our correspondents on the telephone on Sunday that there was nothing wrong with the presence of the policemen.
He said, “They are Nigeria Police. We own them. Their coming isn’t a crime because they could have gathered intelligence report that some people were planning to attack the secretariat.
“So, we have nothing against their being there. It is their duty to provide security.”
The former governors and ministers of the party, who have also appointed a former President of the Senate, Senator Ibrahim Mantu, as the chairman of its steering committee, did not fault the presence of policemen at the secretariat.
A member of the group, who is a former Minister of National Planning, Dr. Suleiman Abubakar, who spoke with one of our correspondents on the telephone on Sunday, said the group had no grouse against the presence of the policemen.
“They are likely there to maintain law and order. We are not against that. Their being there doesn’t change or mean anything to us,” he added.
Efforts made to get the reaction of members of the National Caretaker Committee of the party, who were appointed at the Port Harcourt convention on Saturday, were not successful.
Meanwhile, Sheriff has said the constitution of the party does not provide for a caretaker committee.
He argued that the appointment of a caretaker committee to run the affairs of the party was alien to the PDP’s constitution.
His media aide, Mr. Inuwa Bwala, who spoke with journalists while the meeting being held by the Sheriff group was still ongoing on in Abuja on Sunday, added that the meeting was discussing the four court orders which he said compelled Sheriff to call off the convention.
He said, “In Port Harcourt, the court papers were served on the chairman. He decided to summon the meeting of the governors, members of the Board of Trustees and others. Before then, he said he had not been served the court papers.
“He told the gathering that there could be a problem if the party ignored the orders.
“He informed the governors that the convention should be deferred. But they (the governors) were angry because they had already pencilled down those they wanted to put in offices.
“To show our sincerity, we approached the court in Lagos to vacate the order, we were denied. As of Friday, all the court orders were subsisting.
“Because of the conflicting interest, some agreed, some did not. He (Sheriff) went ahead to meet with the NWC members and they said he should address a press conference to call off the convention.
“All members of the NWC members, except the Deputy National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, left. Their personal interest took the better of them. You can open the constitution of the party from the beginning to the end, you won’t find caretaker committee anywhere.
“If we are able to vacate the injunctions, we will meet and fix another date for the convention.”
Oladipo had earlier told one of our correspondents that the group would address a press conference at the national secretariat.
However, the presence of policemen at the secretariat was said to have aborted the plan.
Meanwhile, more facts emerged on Sunday why the governors moved against Sheriff in Port Harcourt shortly before the convention.
Sheriff, it was gathered, refused to convince the governors that he did not have a presidential ambition in 2019.
It was gathered that the former governor was asked to publicly announce that he would not seek the nomination of the party for the 2019 presidential election, an action he allegedly refused.
A source at the meeting added that two governors said Sheriff had approached them to be his running mate.
At a closed-door meeting held at the Rivers State Government House, two governors of the party, one from the South-West and South-East respectively, were alleged to have informed the attendees that Sheriff had offered them the vice-presidential slot.
The source stated, “That confirmed the fear that he was nursing a presidential ambition and that it would be difficult for us to ask him to step down for a southerner in 2018 as said by the NEC.”
In his reaction to the crisis in the party, the Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, on Sunday, dismissed media reports of the existence of factions in the PDP, describing them as false, baseless and misguided.
Ekweremadu, in a statement in Abuja by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Uche Anichukwu, stated this at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, on arrival from Port Harcourt, where he attended the Saturday national convention of the party.
Ekweremadu, who was in the company with the interim National Chairman of the PDP, Senator Ahmed Maikarfi, said what existed within the PDP were only contending interests, which, according to him, were normal in any political family.
He said, “For the purpose of clarification, there are no factions within the PDP family as I speak. What we have are contending interests. Such is common in any party. Yes, there were some disagreements, but the good thing is that we have not allowed such disagreements to degenerate into a major crisis that would warrant factions.
“Instead, what happened in Port Harcourt over the weekend further confirms PDP’s capacity to resolve issues in favour of laid down precepts and in the overall interest of our great party and nation.
“Distinguished Senator Makarfi is a quality leader, a pan-Nigerian, and someone I have worked with for many years in the Senate.”
Meanwhile, the Chairman of the 2016 PDP National Convention Planning Committee and Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, said on Saturday that the party sacked Sheriff because he (Sheriff) was destabilising the party.
Wike, who spoke after the national convention in Port Harcourt, explained that all along, the crisis in the PDP had been about the emergence of Sheriff as the acting leader of the party.
He said, “All along, the crisis has been about the former acting chairman whose emergence was strongly opposed.
“This is destabilising the party and so, we had to let him go. What is important is the party and not an individual. No sacrifice is too much for anyone to make as far as PDP is concerned.”