On face value, the peace efforts to reconcile factions in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party seem positive but in reality, it is motion without movement
| By Olu Ojewale | Sep. 30, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT
THE crisis in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, may take a while to be resolved. At a meeting held in Aso Rock villa with President Goodluck Jonathan, leaders of the opposing parties and the aggrieved governors, on Sunday, September 15, agreed to a ceasefire in order to give peace a chance. Despite that, the gladiators appear still seriously divided.
On Tuesday, September 17, there was a big threat to the ceasefire when the seven aggrieved governors visited the House of Representatives. The visit, led by Abubakar Baraje, chairman of the New Peoples Democratic Party, caused fisticuffs among members of the opposing camps. Aminu Tambuwal, speaker of the House; Emeka Ihedioha, deputy speaker; Mulikat Akande-Adeola, majority leader, Ishaka Bawa, chief whip; Leo Ogor, deputy leader, and Murktar Ahmed, deputy whip, and other principal officers had received the guests in one of the rooms at the House chambers.
As Baraje was about to state the purpose of their visit, Henry Afongo, a member from Bayelsa State, stormed the venue with Betty Apiafi (Rivers); Bethel Amadi (Imo); Kingsley Chinda (Rivers); Bitrus Kaze (Plateau), shouting point of order. The disruption led to a free-for-all conflict for a while. As the proceeding was becoming too rancorous with members of the opposing camps shouting slogans, Baraje carefully stated that they were there to register their opposition to the way things were being run in the party.
Responding to Baraje’s speech, Tambuwal tactically avoided the factional crisis in the party. Instead, he accused politicians of trying to destroy democracy. Tambuwal said that self-interest, rather than the welfare of the majority of Nigerians, had become uppermost in the minds of the nation’s politicians. The speaker said: “We are deeply concerned about recent political developments in our country, especially in the PDP. Democracy belongs to all Nigerians and not to politicians alone. Many people died fighting for democracy. This is the reason we must conduct ourselves according to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We must abstain from heating up the polity unnecessarily because of our personal ambitions.”
Earlier, Akande-Adeola had welcomed the delegation, expressing hope that the visit would be the “beginning of the end to the crisis in our party.” The meeting ended hurriedly as tension escalated. None of the governors uttered a word, as they hurriedly left the venue.
Baraje also led his team members to the Senate where he stated their grouse against the leadership of the PDP led by Bamanga Tukur, the national chairman. The factional leader said they decided to visit the Senate leaders because of their strategic importance in the resolution of the PDP crisis. He said the group was concerned that the democratic image of the PDP had started declining in recent years because of the lack of internal democracy caused by the interference of the presidency in party affairs.
The New PDP chairman said the development had affected the quality of the party and style of leadership “that now takes pride in illegal dissolution of states’ party structures and other acts of impunity.” Baraje thus, asked for “the reversal of the dissolution of the party executives in Rivers and Adamawa states, conduct of a fresh convention by the PDP due to the lapses in the recent one, removal of Alhaji Bamanga Tukur as national chairman of the party, strict adherence to party constitution and total objection to third term for President Goodluck Jonathan from the back door.” He also appealed to the Senate leaders to ignore the calls on them to declare the seats of senators loyal to the group vacant.
In his response, David Mark, president of the Senate, assured the team that all the issues it raised would be addressed dispassionately. He also promised that the Senate would not declare the seat of any senator vacant on account of the current crisis within the PDP. The governors in the New PDP who accompanied Baraje to the National Assembly were Aliyu Wamakko (Sokoto); Babangida Aliyu (Niger); Rabiu Kwankwaso (Kano); Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers); Sule Lamido (Jigawa); Murtala Nyako (Adamawa); and Abdul-Fatai Ahmed (Kwara).
The Tukur-led National Working Committee, NWC, had also planned a similar visit to the National Assembly, but shelved it on account of the ceasefire agreement entered into by the aggrieved governors and the president. Olisa Metuh, national publicity secretary, told journalists that there was the need for the ceasefire to be kept. “We are abiding by the decision reached at the Sunday meeting where we were directed to avoid anything that would be seen as inflaming the crisis. This was why we were not at the National Assembly. We don’t want to do anything that would be seen as stalling the ongoing reconciliation,” Metuh said.
Indeed, by the middle of the week, all the contentious issues dividing the party have become public. According to insiders, the governors agreed with the president on the need to work together to bring sanity to the party if it wants to retain its power. The parties, it was gathered, agreed that they could not achieve their plans without the support of each other. The meeting which was also attended by some of the PDP governors loyal to the Tukur-led NWC of the party, discussed and agreed on five major contentious issues namely, Governor Amaechi’s suspension by the party’s NWC; control of the PDP structure at the state level; Jonathan’s alleged 2015 ambition; Tukur’s fate as the party chairman and court cases.
The meeting agreed that Amaechi should be recalled and that a committee be constituted to visit Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State, to reconcile all aggrieved members of the PDP in the state. Amaechi was suspended on June 21, for his alleged refusal to obey the lawful directive of the Rivers State executive committee to rescind his decision on the dissolution of the elected executive council of Obiokpor Local Government Area of the state. The parties accepted that all the governors of the party, including the aggrieved ones, should be in charge of the state working committees of the party in their respective states. Having ceded the control of the party machineries at the state level to the governors, Jonathan was said to have argued that since it had been accepted that he should not interfere in the running of the party at the state level, he should be allowed to determine the fate of Tukur as the party’s national chairman. The meeting also agreed that all pending court cases concerning the party must be withdrawn immediately.
According to the agreement, Amaechi was, therefore, expected to withdraw a case in which he is challenging his suspension. Also, numerous cases filed by members of the New PDP and the Tukur-led PDP would also be discontinued. There appeared to be no agreement on when the cases would be withdrawn. But as demonstrated by Baraje while meeting with the leadership of the Senate, Jonathan’s 2015 ambition remained a contentious issue. Even at the meeting, the matter generated so much acrimony as the aggrieved governors insisted that the president had told them that he would not run for a second term. Jonathan was said to have specifically accused Governor Aliyu of misleading Nigerians on the 2015 issue. But Aliyu was said to have told the president he had said at different fora that he was not going to seek re-election.
Aliyu was said to have mentioned Ethiopia, the United States and different caucus meetings of the party as the various fora where the president promised not to seek for re-election in 2015. This led to flare up of tempers and Tony Anenih, chairman of the Board of Trustees of the PDP, who was also present at the meeting, had to come in to advise that it should be suspended for a later date. “It was a give-and-take meeting, but at the end of the day, we agreed that the issue of 2015 should be revisited and resolved amicably. I can tell you that the meeting was very frank. We all spoke our minds, including the President and his deputy (Namadi Sambo). So, we wait to see the implementation of the resolutions reached,” a governor, who attended the meeting said. Reading a statement on the resolutions of the meeting on Monday, Aliyu said that the parties agreed to avoid inflammatory remarks, pending the final resolution of the crisis. He said further talks had been slated for October 7.
In spite of the ‘no inflammatory comment order’, Ahmed Gulak, special adviser to the president on political affairs, boasted on Monday, that nobody could intimidate the president into not contesting in 2015. “The 1999 Constitution gives Mr. President the right to offer himself for a second term if he so chooses and no individual or group can abridge his constitutional right. If he decides not to contest, let it be on his own volition not because he is intimidated or cajoled into doing that,” Gulak told state House correspondents in Abuja.
Gulak, who added that peace was gradually returning to the party, also stated that Tukur would survive the crisis. He said: “The national chairman has no problem. He was elected and I always say that as there are processes for election, there are processes for removal or resignation. So, nobody can cajole anybody to say the national chairman will not survive. Nobody is against the national chairman.”
To resolve the crisis, Jonathan seems to have adopted both carrot and stick approach. As part of the rapprochement, the president was said to have told the aggrieved to nominate replacements of ministers sacked from the Federal Executive Council, FEC, on Wednesday, September 11. The governors were reportedly asked to forward ministerial nominees of their choice to replace the nine ministers sacked during the last FEC meeting. But if they refuse, the president also showed them what he was capable of doing to force the issue when Tanko Isiaku Gomna, national treasurer of the New PDP, was forced to resign from the group. It was learnt that Gomna was invited to the Presidential Villa, Abuja, where he was asked to either resign or forfeit his company’s contracts with the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency, FERMA, and the Federal Ministry of Works.
Gomna was said to have sought for permission to consult before making a decision, but he was told to either make up his mind there and then or forget the contracts. When he realised that there was no escape route, Gomna decided to resign. “Upon doing so, the forces at the Villa hurled him before TV cameras to announce his resignation,” a source said. In a statement issued in Abuja, Gwamna said he resigned “after a careful study of the unfolding events in the polity and a deep sober reflection of the consequences of the outcome of such impasse on our party.” As a lover of democracy, he said that the impasse would not augur well for the unity, peace, progress and prosperity of the party in particular, and the nation in general. Gwamna, therefore, pledged his loyalty to the Tukur-led PDP and called on all party faithful to unite and ensure an amicable resolution of the crisis in the party. “Our desire is for the PDP to continue to lead while others follow. As such, we must eschew all vices capable of unnecessarily heating up the polity,” he said.