From Okwe Obi, Abuja
As the 2023 general polls draw closer, pundits would have thought that the Social Democratic Party (SDP) that had the likes of the late Moshood Abiola, would be strategising on how to wrest power from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). But this is not the case, as the party is currently enmeshed in series of internal crises.
The impasse started after the 2018 convention that produced Donald Duke, a former governor of Cross River State, as its presidential candidate in the 2019 general polls.
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While Duke scored 812 votes, Jerry Gana got 611 votes. John Dara, Prof. Hagher Iyorwuese and Johnson Osakwe polled 104, 72 and 10, respectively.
But Gana, who served as a minister of information, under General Sani Abacha, contested the results in court on the grounds that the ticket was zoned to the North.
The former lecturer, through the Director General of G19, Dr. Ike Neliaku, argued that before the commencement of the process they “drew the attention of some party leaders to the fact that the presidential ticket was constitutionally zoned to the North.”
He also argued that “aspirants from the South should have been accordingly advised,” noting that, “this matter of zoning was ignored.”
He maintained that Gana’s position was in line with the provisions of “SDP Constitution on the principles of rotation and zoning of offices, as contained in Section 15.3 (I&ii) (SDP Amended Constitution 2018)” which states that, “the office of the President and National Chairman of the party shall rotate between the South and North and amongst the (6 geopolitical zones.”
Justice Hussein Bab-Yusuf of the Federal High Court in Abuja, sacked Duke and declared Gana as the authentic candidate of SDP.
Dissatisfied with the judgment, Duke challenged the ruling in court and was reinstated one month to the election.
However, the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Muhammadu Buhari, emerged as the President of Nigeria.
As a result of the defeat and unabated political theatrics, Duke, Gana, Senator Barnabas Gemade, John Dara, among others left the party.
Now, about three years after, three factions have emerged and laying claims to the leadership of the party.
The first group is led by Dr Olu Agunloye, who served as minister of power. The second is headed by Abdul Ahmed Isiaq. While the third has the backing of Supo Shonibare.
The National Executive Committee (NEC) loyal to the Deputy National Chairman (North), Abdul suspended Ogunloye and Secretary, Shehu Gabam, for alleged misconduct.
The factional NEC unanimously appointed Isiaq as Ogunloye’s replacement and Simon Adesina as National Secretary pending the outcome of its convention slated for April 27 to 29, 2022.
The communique issued in January 2022, read, “the NEC observed the wanton disregard to the provisions of the SDP constitution especially Article 12.5(iv) 12.2.2(viii) and Article 9.4 to suspend some officers from the party .
“The NEC considered the variously abuses of the constitution by the following under listed officers and there agreed by majority to suspend Alhaji Shehu Gabam and Dr Olu Ogunloye.
“The NEC noted the urgency to put in place all that is required for a befitting party convention and therefore resolves; that the national convention of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) is fixed for April 27th to 29th with arrival being Wednesday April 27th, 2022.
“The appointment of NWC members namely the National Youth Leader, Okechukwu Ogbonna and National Publicity Secretary, Amb. Rufus Aiyenigba is here disapproved and cancelled by the NEC.
“The NEC resolved and affirmed that all State Chairmen, officers in any organ of the party purportedly suspended is not acceptable and any notice or communication in that regard is null and void and of no effect whatsoever.”
Less than a week after, a Publicity Secretary, loyal to Agunloye, Rufus Ayenigba, described Abdul Isiaq’s decision as laughable.
Ayenigba, argued that Isiaq had been under suspension and, thus, lacked the locus standi to suspend Agunloye and Gabam.
The spokesman clarified that the Deputy National Chairman North, was suspended on January 15, 2022.
He listed some of the reasons Isiaq was suspended as contained in the letter the party wrote to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the Department of State Police (DSS), and the Nigerian Police.
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The letter read: “Dr. Abdul Isiaq, erstwhile Deputy National Chairman North of the SDP, has no authority to whatsoever to call a National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting without the approval of the National Chairman, Olu Agunloye or the National Working Committee (NWC).
“And that all the actions taken by Isiaq were taken while he was still suspended.
“Dr. Abdul took these untoward steps at a time he was under suspension. He was suspended from the party for gross misconduct and fraudulent acts by the NWC on 17th January 2022.
“And that the suspension was duly communicated to INEC.”
But, Isiaq fired back by filing an order at a Federal High Court, Abuja against Olu Agunloye and Shehu Gabam, for them to restrain them from parading as leaders of SDP because of the expiration of their tenure.
“We have filed through the Federal High Court in Suit No: FHC/ABJ/CS/75/2022 a Restraining Order that have been served on the former Acting National Chairman, Dr. Olu Aguntoye and the former National Secretary, Shehu Musa Gabam to stop parading themselves as acting National Chairman and National Secretary respectively and to handover all parties properties in their possession to the new leaders of the party. (copy attached)
“It is instructive to note here, that by the instrumentality of Chief Olu Falae GCON, CFR letter to Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) dated 19th February, 2019, of his voluntary retirement from active partisan politics effect from Friday 8th February, 2019, and for Prof. Tunde Adeniran to takeover and complete his tenure as SDP National Chairman, which expired on 8th March, 2020.
“And similarly the National Convention of 6th October, 2018 that only ratified the appointment of Shehu Musa Gabam as National Secretary to complete the tenure of Alh. Hussain Saleh Dass.
“So by this, which tenure of office is Dr. Aguntoye and Alh Gabam are struggling to stay in or occupy when in reality the duo tenure has expired, by this, we have also through Federal High Court in a suit No. CV/ 354/ 2022 filed a case to determine whether Dr. Olu Aguntoye inherented any tenure.
“Since we have tenures expirations, we have under my leadership through our NEC called to convene SDP Elective National Convention which is now slated for 27-29th April, 2022 in line with INEC guidelines,”he said.
Weighing into the matter, the Forum of SDP Chairmen, headed by Oke Idawene, passed a vote of confidence in Agunloye and Gabam.
Idawene, who doubles as SDP Delta State chairman, noted that the duo had performed credibly well to reform the party ahead of next year’s general elections.
“The forum of all the state chairmen of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) comprising 36 state chairmen and FCT state chairman met in Abuja in a two-day retreat and announced that:
“The state chairmen as individuals and collectively are in support of the leadership of the party under the chairmanship of Dr Olu Agunloye and Shehu Gabam as national secretary;
“That all the state chairmen stand with and in support of the National Working Committee on its efforts to instill discipline, focus, decorum and determination to win the party and, in particular, its recent efforts to strengthen and stabilise the party structures across the nation, and;
“That the forum wishes to faithfully pledge its loyalty, support and full readiness to work with the National Working Committee under the leadership of Dr Olu Agunloye in all the programmes of the party to win elections and bring power to the hands of social democrats for the true development of the Nigerian people.”
Regardless, the Shonibare’s camp advised the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), not to recognise Agunloye’s faction.
The advice was contained in a statement issued by a factional National Secretary, Simon Adeshina.
Adeshina explained that the resolution was reached after a meeting with the Isiaq and Supo Shonibare’s camp that took place on January 9, 2022.
He said: “The lingering leadership tussle in SDP took a dramatic turn of event yesterday 9th Jan 2022 as both the Chief Shonibare and Dr Abdul Isiaq groups held a two and half hours meeting to reposition SDP. The meeting resolved as follows;
“That the two groups enjoin INEC not give recognition to the present faction occupying the secretariat henceforth as there is no basis for it.
“That both sides recognise the need to harmonise progress of SDP particularly considering the forth coming 2023 general election;
“That the two groups shall set up a caretaker committee soon to pave way for a true national convention within the time limit set by INEC.”