A former governor of Borno State, Ali Modu Sheriff, on Monday in Maiduguri, the state capital, said he was in the state to initiate the process of defecting to the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
Mr. Sheriff arrived in Maiduguri alongside several members of the National Assembly and was received at the airport at about 2 p.m. by a mammoth crowd: supporters of both of the PDP and the state’s ruling All Progressives Congress, APC.
A convoy of hundreds of cars, put at about 500, that snaked into several kilometres accompanied the ex-governor from the Maiduguri airport to his Giwa Barracks Road home.
Some Nigerians have criticised Mr. Sheriff for not doing enough when the seed of Boko Haram was sowed in his state while he was governor.
A few people have suggested the Boko Haram sect comprised disgruntled political thugs who worked for the Borno administration during his reign.
His arrest and prosecution has always been cited as a major demand of the Boko Haram sect in earlier efforts at negotiation with the sect, who partly blame him for the killing of their founder, Mohammed Yusuf; while various government panels had without mentioning him also always sought the prosecution of former and serving public officials who financed the sect at inception.
Mr. Sheriff has consistently denied the allegations against him.
On Monday, various posters of the PDP with the pictures of the former governor as well as some of his political cronies were hurriedly printed by supporters who brandished them along the highways.
Mr. Sheriff later confirmed his exit from the APC to journalists who interviewed him in his house. He said he also came to pull his “people” out of the APC.
“There is nothing to hide as you can see, I have come to consult with my people on our resolve to pull out of the APC and join the PDP. But this is just a private visit which turned out to be some kind of rally because our supporters wanted it that way,” the former governor said.
“We are still consulting with the national officers of the PDP on how to go about it, because the pull out is going to be big, and we hope to organise it after fasting. Presently, as you can see, majority of our people are fasting and praying for peace to return to our dear state. But after the Ramadan we will come back and pull our people out of the APC”.
Asked why he was dumping a party he helped built, Mr. Sheriff, who was involved in a near-fisticuff with another APC leader, Bola Tinubu, at a party leadership meeting recently, said the APC was not inclusive.
“The game has changed both in Borno and at the national level. APC has no solid foundation; a party cannot be built around an individual,” Mr. Sheriff said.
“I have taken time to study the package called APC and came to realise that it won’t work. And any serious politician, who knows his onions would not want to be in a ship that is bound to crash”.
“For now we are in high-level consultation with our people and also with the PDP national officers. It is sad that our people here are in serious want; I came and saw many of them in serious difficulties, and we feel pained that we have to do something fast to assist them. We have no option now than to come and tell them that we are sorry, that we brought them a wrong party, but now we have come to correct our mistakes.”
Mr. Sheriff did not say if he would be exiting the APC alongside his erstwhile political godson, Governor Kashim Shettima; although it appears the latter would remain in the APC where he remains its leader.
“Kashim Shettima was my commissioner for four years before God gave us the opportunity of assisting him become the governor of Borno state in 2011. It cannot be doubted that I took him round the 27 local government councils of Borno and sold his candidature to the people before he was accepted and voted as governor,” the ex-governor said.
“But now the game has changed, and we have no choice than to do what the people of Borno State want; we know there was too much sufferings but we call on the people to be patient. We all pray that God should bring us peace so that Borno state can regain its name once again as the home of peace.”
Mr. Sheriff’s visit to Maiduguri comes barely 24 hours after Governor Kashim Shettima left the state capital for Abuja by road, as the military insisted the airport was closed for security reasons.
The military had also barred intending pilgrims from access to the airport for the lesser hajj. They had to travel to the airport in Kano to commence their journey.
Governor Shettima’s adviser on media, Umar Gusau, said his boss was being politically witchhunted by the closure of the airport causing the governor and his family members to travel by road, even though they are at the highest risk of being attacked by the Boko Haram sect.
Mr. Gusau said this in a statement emailed to journalists on Monday.
Read excerpts of the statement below.
“Following the closure of the Maiduguri International airport by the Federal Government on June 27, 2014 for a period of three months, intending pilgrims for this year’s lesser hajj were forced to travel by road to Kano amidst fear over their safety.PremiumTimes
“One of such intending pilgrims, Shettima Mohammed Shettima, the immediate elder brother of both parents, to Governor Kashim Shettima was on Friday involved in a ghastly motor accident resulting in the death of a policeman travelling with him while he had multiple fractures on both legs.
“A policeman was attached to him following threats to his life by Boko Haram elements in addition to being a high risk person due to his relationship with the Governor.
“The accident occurred 20 kilometres away from Damban in Bauchi State while the Governor’s brother was travelling to board a max airline to depart Kano for Saudi Arabia. The accident occurred at about 2pm.
“A max airline chartered flight had arrived Maiduguri airport on Friday, June 27, 2014 to airlift 276 intending pilgrims from Borno and Yobe States who had been screened and were awaiting airlift. Despite intervention by Governor Shettima, soldiers from the army however took over the airport and ordered the plane to take-off without a single pilgrim while the pilgrims were forced to travel by road, departing Maiduguri in the evening and arrived Kano at about midnight before they were airlifted to Saudi Arabia.
“Skynet International Limited which chartered the flight said it followed all processes and had gotten clearance from the army, air force and the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria before it began preparations for the airlift. The airport was thereafter closed till September 29, 2014 by the time hajj airlift would have been concluded.
“As the airport closure was still in force, Governor Kashim Shettima yesterday embarked on a trip by road to Kano to see his immediate elder brother and most senior member of his family since the Governor has since lost both parents. The Governor’s convoy was without soldiers.
“While the Governor went about travelling by road, Ex-Governor of Borno State, Ali Modu Sheriff was permitted by the Federal Government to fly into the closed Maiduguri International Airport. Sheriff arrived the airport at about 1:32 PM, on board his private jet with registration number 5NBMH to the waiting hands of dozens of soldiers led by the Garrison commander, seven division of the Nigerian Army in Maiduguri, Colonel D.R. Hassan who led troops to give cover to the Ex-Governor.
“The plane departed the airport at 2:22pm and is expected to return on Tuesday to airlift the former Governor. Sheriff is expected to defect to the PDP and lead the re-election bid of President Goodluck Jonathan in Borno State.
“Dismembered youth political groups called ECOMOG that was associated with rival violence during the Sheriff administration were re-mobilised by Sheriff’s men as they stormed the airport. Governor Shettima had in the last three years introduced a policy of suspending political thuggery to have youths provided with vocational skills to
become self employed. Some of ECOMOG thugs were last year trained on poultry agriculture.
“A campaign office belonging to Sheriff was painted in white while it is expected to wear PDP colours in coming days. Some key associates of Sheriff including a serving member of House of Representatives, Kangar, had in an interview published last week in some Newspapers said Sheriff had made up his mind to defect to the PDP.”