Efforts by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to help restore peace in the crisis-ridden Peoples Democratic Party has run into a hitch as the feuding governors refuse to shift ground
| By Olu Ojewale | Aug. 26, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT
GETTING gladiators in the crisis which has engulfed the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, sheath their swords appears to very difficult. For two days, former President Olusegun Obasanjo sat down with all the PDP governors, except Isa Yuguda of Bauchi State, to broker peace in order to find a lasting solution to the crisis rocking the party. But the two-phase meeting, held in the banquet hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja, on Monday and Tuesday, August 12 and 13, failed to produce the desired results. It only succeeded in bringing together all the PDP governors from the two divides of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, NGF.
At the end of the first phase of the meeting, it was resolved that Obasanjo and the governors would later meet President Goodluck Jonathan in an enlarged meeting, during which the issues which were being discussed would be thrashed out as part of the final reconciliation. But by the time the second phase of the meeting ended on early Wednesday, August 14, the state governors remained divided on major issues that would have helped the party in the peace effort.
All the 23 governors could not reach a compromise on the crisis in the NGF. Governors Chibuike Amaechi and Jonah Jang of Rivers and Plateau states, who head different factions of the forum, were not ready to relinquish their claim. Jang was said to have been evasive by saying he was still consulting, but Amaechi told the session that only those who elected him could ask him to step down. Besides, Amaechi pointed out that most of those who elected him were not members of the PDP.
Another cog in the wheel of the peace process is the governors’ division over the fate of Bamanga Tukur, national chairman of the party, who has variously been accused of heavy-handedness. One of the governors was quoted saying: “Many governors wanted Tukur to step aside to rebuild the party ahead of the 2015 polls, but a few others opposed the idea. Those who wanted Tukur to remain in office opted for a safety net by suggesting that President Jonathan should be allowed to determine Tukur’s fate.” Also unresolved was the issue of the proposed automatic ticket for the president and the PDP state governors as proposed by Tony Anenih, chairman, PDP Board of Trustees, BoT. Instead, the governors insisted that the president, governors, members of the National Assembly and state Houses of Assembly must undergo free and fair primaries to earn ticket to contest in 2015. “They said unless there is internal democracy in the PDP, the crisis rocking the party cannot end,” a source said.
Invariably it was decided that there would be another round of meeting with the governors to resolve the crisis. But the date of the third session was unknown by press time. The first phase of the meeting had started with the issue of the chairmanship of the NGF, topping the agenda. It was the first time that Governor Amaechi was involved in a caucus of the party since his suspension, which followed his election as chairman of the NGF last May. According to an insider at the meeting, Obasanjo had to calmly bring the governors under control as there were hotly contested issues. He also guided them to pour out their feelings so that all the issues could be tackled once and for all. A governor, who was at the meeting, said the governors were frank in their submissions while Obasanjo listened attentively.
The governors who backed Jang during the election, had argued that Amaechi disobeyed the party’s directive not to re-contest as chair of the NGF. The governors described Amaechi’s action as an affront to the party and likened it to the insistence of Aminu Tambuwal to contest for the speakership of the House of Representatives despite it being zoned to another part of the country. One of the ,governors said: “Some of us felt that we should not allow the opposition to determine who leads us anywhere the party has majority. We cited the case of the office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, which was taken away from the party’s choice because of the connivance of the opposition. We said we should be seen to be one and that this was the only way there would be cohesion and discipline in the party.” Eventually, there were suggestions that as part of a final reconciliation both Amaechi and Jang should step down. “What we want is peace and some of us argued that it could only be achieved if the two men (Jang and Amaechi) step down. That is why we asked them to consider that in the interest of the party,” one of the governors said.
But Governor Murtala Nyako of Adamwa State, on Wednesday, after meeting with the president behind closed-doors at the Villa, Abuja, while speaking with the State House correspondents, insisted that Jang did not have any claim to the NGF chairmanship because he did not win the election. When asked whether the governors resolved at their meeting with Obasanjo that both Jang and Amaechi should step down as the chairman of the NGF, the governor said: “You are saying Jang should step down, step down for what? Did he win the election? What we are saying here is that if he is going to step down because he is second winner, then that is their business and it is not the business of others or the winner to tell him to step down. He is number two, he got the second highest votes and that is the way forward. Step down for what? From number two to where? Number three or four?”
Nyako said the crisis in the NGF was unnecessary because it was clear that Amaechi won the election. The governor said one of the criteria of electing a leader for the forum was that their chairman must be trustworthy. He said while the governors wanted a chairman that would have a cordial relationship with the president, they could not be comfortable with a leader that would turn himself to the president’s “yes man.”
The problems in Rivers State were equally brought up and the governors expressed concern at the situation where the first lady and appointees of the president had been empowered to disorganise political harmony in the state. According to those who were privy to the meeting, it was agreed that a delegation would visit President Jonathan and Patience Jonathan, his wife, to stress the need for less interference of the first lady in the affairs of states, and particularly in Rivers State. The delegation would also urge the first family to discourage the practice of political lackeys flocking to the first family for political patronage. “The situation whereby aspirants are flocking to her (Patience Jonathan) to seek her consent and blessing is unacceptable to most of the governors and we want her to stop trying to impose lackeys as the next governors in the states,” a governor was quoted as saying.
The governors similarly expressed their resentment of the party under its present leadership. They frowned at the habit of the national working committee, NWC, dissolving the state structures without consultation with the governors. They also pointed at the highhandedness in running the affairs of the party. Besides, the governors said it was unfortunate that Tukur had not met with them once since he assumed office. Tukur, however, defended himself on this allegation, saying he used to meet them regularly. He said: “Our governors are our governors. We meet with our members regularly. I just came back from a tour and we are going to be meeting with them regularly.” At a news briefing in Abuja on Monday, Tukur said that the PDP leadership had set up a reconciliation committee because it wanted harmony. He promised that the party would use both “stick and carrot” to achieve peace.
In addition, the governors also expressed their opposition to the proposal of automatic ticket for the president and governors. The governors were also said to have told Obasanjo that no one should be given automatic ticket during the 2015 elections. “We argued that after all, Obasanjo himself contested the presidential primary with other people in 2003. So, why should we be talking about automatic ticket now?” a source said.
But Obasanjo himself was not spared. The governors allegedly accused him of moving too far away from the party affairs and as such allowed the party to drift into its present crisis. It was learnt that it took the efforts of some governors and the recent registration of the All Progressives Congress, APC, to spring Obasanjo into action. Some analysts have argued that if the APC should get into power as it has threatened, it would spell a very difficult period for the former president whose antagonism to the leaders of the APC is almost legendary.
Efforts to get Obasanjo involved in the peace process actually started with the visit of a group of five state governors from the north at his residence in Abeokuta, Ogun State, last month. The governors, namely Sule Lamido (Jigawa); Murtala Nyako (Adamawa) Babangida Aliyu (Niger) and Aliyu Wamakko (Sokoto), similarly visited some former national leaders, including former President Shehu Shagari, Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar.
Thereafter, it was learnt that Emmanuel Uduaghan, Delta State governor, and Liyel Imoke, his Cross River State counterpart, had to speak to Obasanjo on the need for him to summon the meeting with the aim of ending the lack of cooperation among the PDP governors. Uduaghan and Imoke were said to have implored the former president to end the perceived rift between him and Jonathan in the interest of the PDP. Obasanjo was also persuaded on the need for him to intervene in the disagreement between Jonathan and Amaechi so as to lower the political tension in the land. Besides, Obasanjo was told that Jonathan still owed his emergence as president to him and that it would not be in his interest if he failed to do it and the party disintegrated. “The party is shaking, especially with the registration of the All Progressives Congress. We want the former president to help douse the tension in our party,” said a governor.
The division among the governors was also a great worry for some of them and they saw the need to use the former president’s influence on the governors, especially those from the North, to resolve the rift for the sake of the party and the country. “Obasanjo’s influence on the four governors from the North, who have been moving from one state to another, is overwhelming. He can talk to them and there would be peace,” the source said. The governors being referred to here are Lamido, Nyako, Aliyu and Kwankwaso. Thus, the former president personally signed the letter inviting all the PDP governors.
At the end of the meeting, Obasanjo was said to have summarised the issues affecting the party as the NGF, Tukur’s unacceptable treatment of governors, disapproval of automatic tickets and the alleged meddlesomeness of the first lady. He promised to meet with President Jonathan on all of them while another meeting would be held later.
Speaking on the progress towards reconciliation, Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State, who is also chairman of the PDP Governors’ Forum, PDPGF, said the meeting had sent jitters to the opposition in the country. Interacting with State House correspondents, on Tuesday, August 13, after he had briefed the president on the outcome of the meeting, Akpabio said: “All the steps being taken at the moment are steps in the right direction to ensure cohesion and bring back all the party faithful. Particularly, the body of governors will come together to work as one for the interest of Nigeria and the interest of the PDP.”
Interestingly, the PDP National Reconciliation Committee chaired by Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State has also started to record some positive results. This followed the decision of some PDP members to discontinue the suit seeking to stop the forthcoming PDP mini South-West Congress slated for August 24 and the mini national convention of August 31. The decision to discontinue the case before a Federal Capital Territory High Court in Apo, Abuja, by three aggrieved PDP members namely, Abba K . Yale, Yahaya A. Sule and Bashir Maidugu, has been seen as a major breakthrough by the Dickson-led committee which had held a meeting with the aggrieved members. Speaking on the withdrawal of the case from the court, Dickson assured the party faithful of his committee’s preparedness to amicably resolve all their individual and collective differences in order to allow for the smooth delivery of the dividends of democracy to Nigerians.
The committee also brokered peace in Ekiti State, where the party stalwarts, including Ayo Fayose were at each others’ jugulars over 2015. As a result, the party hierarchy suspended Fayode. But a the Dickson-led committee recently restored peace and rescinded the suspension order placed on the former governor.
It is on record that there have been a series of peace efforts by the leadership of the PDP, which yielded no success. Anenih had, a few months ago, toured various PDP states to broker peace, and so did Tukur. But their efforts fell flat on the face. The recent registration of the APC seemed to have been the wake-up call for the party to put its house in order, more especially that the party’s interim leadership has been boasting that it was ready to wrestle power from the PDP government. A leader of the APC was recently quoted in the media saying: “We believe that we should not have any problem in the North-West, North-East, North-Central and the South-West. “But we need to do more work in the South-East and South-South. From all indications, President Goodluck Jonathan will get the Peoples Democratic Party’s presidential ticket. He has strong support in the two zones. We, therefore, need to neutralise him there.” For now, it looks remote that the PDP would allow its internal crisis to deny it of victory in 2015, but what looks assured is that the party leaders are working to get all the gladiators to work on their differences.