In this report CHIBUZO UKAIBE and ORJIME MOSES write on the intrigues that led to Social Democratic Party (SDP) endorsing President Muhammadu Buhari in the buildup to the presidential election.
In the build up to 2019, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) was perceived, in some quarters, as the alternate platform to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). But such prospects waned in the face of the power play and long drawn legal battles that befell the party.
It took the intervention of the court of appeal in Abuja to enable the party some measure of stability when it declared Donald Duke, former governor of Cross River, as the presidential candidate of SDP.
The appellate court set aside the judgement of an Abuja high court which declared Jerry Gana, former information minister, as the party’s presidential flagbearer. The court also awarded N500,000 cost against Gana.
Duke had approached the court to reverse the decision of the lower court which held that he was not the authentic candidate of the party, having emerged from a process said “to be contrary to the party’s provision for the primary election.”
The three-man panel held that the application is illegal and unconstitutional, which ought not to have been entertained by the lower court.
The court held that the position of Gana in section 18 of the party’s amended constitution contravenes the electoral acts stipulation for the validity of a candidate in any election.
However, out of the blues, the party was to adopt President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party after its meeting issued a communique.
It said “It is in view of all this that the National Working Committee (NWC) of the SDP has resolved to adopt President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice Presidential candidate Prof. Yemi Osibanjo of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as candidates of the party for the 2019 Presidential election.
“Consequently, all members of the party are hereby enjoined to vote for President Buhari of the APC at the presidential election coming up on Saturday 16 February 2019”
On why they adopted President Buhari and the APC for the forthcoming presidential election, they said, “after further weighing the options and reviewing the political situation in the country, NEC was convinced that with the SDP and the APC working together, SDP has a better chance of gaining lost grounds in meeting the yearnings of Nigerians and we have no doubt whatsoever that Nigeria will surely make progress and leap forward in the match of greatness through the resolution of pending challenges and progressively to the next level.”
Present during the NEC meeting were Prof. Adeniran National Vice Chairman South, Prof. Rufia Alkali, Deputy national vice chairman northeast, national Organising Secretary, Rt. Hon. Emeka Atuma, National Secretary, Mr. Shehu Gabam and the national vice chairman Dr. Abdul Ahmed Ishaq who read the communique.
The tussle …
Some weeks after the SDP elected a former Cross Rivers State Governor, Donald Duke as its presidential candidate in the 2019 general election, the party was plunged into a crisis over who rightfully won the presidential ticket of the party.
Against the run of play, Duke was returned by the SDP Electoral Panel as the presidential candidate of the Party and who has polled a total 812 votes.
Other results were recorded as follows: Prof Jerry Gana 611 votes; Mr John Dara 104 votes; Prof. Iyorwuese Hagher 72 votes; and Ambassador Felix Osakwe 10 votes.
The party at this point became unsettled.
A group in the party under the umbrella of G19 at a news conference in Abuja kicked against Duke’s emergence as the candidate of the party in the election, saying his choice breached the zoning arrangement of the party which zoned the position to the Northern part of the country.
Consequently, the director general of the G19, Dr Ike Neliaku, who addressed the press on behalf of the group, demanded for the immediate disqualification of Duke who is from the South-South zone and the immediate declaration of the second runner up at the National Convention, Prof Jerry Gana, as the lawful winner of the convention.
The group which threatened legal action against the party should it fail to retrace itself and follow due process, said all complaints before, during and after the convention aimed at correcting the noticed flaws were ignored by the leadership of the Party.
According to the DG, “while the process was in progress, we drew the attention of some Party leaders to the fact that the presidential ticket was constitutionally zoned to the north. Therefore, aspirants from the south should have been accordingly advised. Sadly, this matter of zoning was ignored.
“But in fact, our position is in line with the provisions of the SDP Constitution on the principle of Rotation and Zoning of offices, contained in Section 15.3 (i ii) (SDP Amended Constitution 2018), namely that: 15.3 Rotation and Zoning of Offices i. The Party shall adhere to the principle of Zoning and Rotation of Political Offices based on the principles of inclusiveness, justice, equity and fairness to all.
“The Party, therefore, shall observe the following: The office of the President and National Chairman of the Party shall rotate between the South and North and amongst the six (6 geopolitical zones).
“Accordingly, since the National Chairman of our Party, Chief Olu Falae is from the South, it follows logically that in accordance with the tenets of our party, the letter and spirit of our Constitution; the contest for the Presidential candidacy of the Party ought to have been restricted to aspirants from the North.
“So our advice which was ignored, was not merely wishful thinking, but a weighty constitutional matter indeed, the National Chairman of our Party, Chief Olu Falae, had earlier stated in a press interview published in the Punch Newspaper of May 13th, 2018 titled, “SDP will pick its presidential candidate from North – Falae.”
He stated that: “On the strength of the above Constitutional provision of the Party and the very specific assurances of our National Chairman, the G19 Team was influenced and encouraged to field a presidential candidate, in the person of Professor Jerry Gana.
According to him: “It is important to state that the National Chairman’s conclusive statement above, on the issue of zoning partly compelled the Professor Femi Olufunmilade, from the South to drop his earlier desire to contest for the Presidency of Nigeria on the platform of the SDP.
”Arising from the above, we expected the Party to do the right thing by disqualifying the affected Southern aspirants from contesting at the presidential primary.
”We find it most appropriate to stress that the Supreme Court, in a plethora of cases, has ruled and asserted the fact that political parties must obey their own constitutions and guidelines, and where necessary (as provided by law) the Courts will intervene and wield the big stick to prevent arbitrariness. We wish to cite below for ease of reference, some Supreme Court rulings on this matter.
“It is trite that where a statute provides for a means of doing a thing, no other means or manner shall be permitted. The failure to comply with these provisions of the constitution makes the entire exercise null and void. See Nwabueze v Okoye (1988) 4 NWLR (pt 91) 664, Ezeobi v Nzeka (1989) 1 NWLR (pt 98) 478.
“In the light of the above, it is patently clear that in accordance with the SDP Constitution, Mr Donald Duke did not meet the condition precedent for participating in the presidential primary of the Party in the first place.”
Not long after, a legal suit ensued. Gana went to court to fight for the mandate. And he won albeit at the High Court.
Clearly, Duke’s main challenger, former minister of information, Gana was miffed at how he was displaced from taking a ticket he felt he was a heir to. For him, he had laboured hard to make the party viable for 2019 and for his ambition which was long speculated even while he was in Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
He had left his highly placed position in the PDP for the SDP after his candidate former minister of Education, Prof Tunde Adeniran, lost out in the contest for national chairman of the PDP.
Although he left the PDP in protest, his next destination, SDP, was always open to him. As a Board of Trustees (BoT) of the PDP, Prof Gana, in his bid to help the party overcome its 14 months internal leadership crisis at the time, consolidated ties with the SDP.
The party was split between the Sen Ali Modu Sheriff Camp (accused of being backed by the APC) and that of the Sen Ahmed Makarfi (which enjoyed the backing of PDP members). The tussle which defiled political interventions became an intense legal battle which went up to the Supreme Court.
As fears that his former party, PDP, would not survive the crisis started to gain traction, Gana was mandated to head a contact and integration committee with a mission to interface with other opposition parties in a bid to build a coalition ahead of 2019.
It was however revealed by Gana’s political protege, now running mate to presidential candidate, Shehu Gabam that the essence of that committee was to find an alternative platform in case the Sheriff-led PDP won the leadership tussle. He added that it was resolved that the Makarfi camp will move en masse into the SDP if they lose the leadership battle.
With the leadership crisis resolved at the Supreme Court in favour of the Makarfi camp, the idea of moving en masse to SDP was dropped. But the relationship had been established.
As such, when Gana’s camp also lost out of the national chairmanship tussle in the PDP, which was won by Prince Uche Secondus, he moved to the SDP, seamlessly to fulfil his presidential ambition.
For pundits, Duke’s victory at the SDP presidential primary had jolted Gana awake to the reality that he doesn’t have an exclusive preserve to the ticket.
On the other hand, an insider in SDP confided in LEADERSHIP Sunday that the scramble for the presidential ticket of the party is connected to the Coalition arrangement among opposition parties. It was learnt that whoever gets the ticket of the party would be in a good stead to get a strong footing in the goverment of national unity proposal.
Meanwhile, after the court ruling that the SDP should recognise Gana as its presidential candidate, the party’s state chairmen rejected him, declaring that Duke remains the candidate at the poll.
On their part, the party’s forum of state chairmen rejected Pro. Gana even as they condemned the High Court ruling by Justice Hussein Baba-Yusuf nullifying the candidature of Mr Donald Duke as SDP’s presidential candidate in next year’s election.
The forum’s chairman, Oke Idawane, at a press briefing in Abuja, flayed the judgement, insisting that the court lacked the “locus stand to deny and scuttle the inalienable right of a presidential flag bearer who was duly elected and returned as the party’s candidate.”
Idawene, argued that the court misinterpreted Article 15:3 (ii) (2) of the party’s constitution which states “the office of the President and National Chairman of the Party shall rotate between the South and North and among the six (6) geopolitical zones.
“What the overwhelming majority of delegates did on the October 6, 2018, was to elect our presidential candidate.
“We did not elect a president; otherwise the only logical consequence of Friday’s Abuja, High Court decision would be that Prof. Jerry Gana would be sworn in as president of Nigeria on May 22, 2019,” he said.
He vowed that the forum, based on the above provision and clarification “will pursue to a logical conclusion, the mandate given to us by thousands of party members from the 36 states.
The national publicity secretary of SDP, Alhaji Alpha Mohammed, responding to the confusion trailing the party’s presidential candidate in the 2019 election, declared that Gana was the recognised candidate for now in line with last week’s judgement of the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja.
He, however, said the party could revert to Donald Duke as its candidate if the appeal before the Court of Appeal declares the former Cross River State governor as the party’s candidate in its expected judgement.
He said:” We remain impartial in the matter between Prof. Jerry Gana and Mr Donald Duke.The party will comply with the ruling of the lower court, until the Appeal Court rules otherwise.”
Gana has since pressed on with his campaign, despite the divided acceptance he enjoys from party’s national leadership as a result of the pending legal tussle for the candidacy.
An invite by Gana to the leadership of the party to the flag-off of his campaign was formally turned down by Falae, until the suit was clear. Interestingly however some members of the party’s National Working Committee (NWC) attended the event, sending a signal that he, perhaps still has some support within the party leadership.
While the national treasurer, Mr Emeka Atuma, and the national publicity secretary of the party, Alhaji Alpha Mohammed, were in attendance at the occasion, others stayed away in obedience to the directive of Falae.
Although the court of appeal in Abuja has given the party some respite by declaring Duke as the presidential candidate of SDP, it remains to be seen how much ground they can cover ahead of the polls.
As it stands, the tussle has apparently set the party back as it has become distracted from its campaigns, a situation which further sets the party back in a presidential race that is largely seen as two-horse race between the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).