A picture file of the G7 Governors during a visit to the National Assembly Tuesday
•New PDP visit tears House apart
•Tukur elects to stay away
Omololu Ogunmade and
The seven governors, who broke away from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to form a faction of the party, the New PDP, Tuesday stormed the National Assembly, where they restated their opposition to President Goodluck Jonathan’s unannounced re-election bid in the 2015 elections.
They equated Jonathan's reelection bid to a third term in office and echoed “no to third term”.
The governors who were in the National Assembly were Aliyu Wamakko (Sokoto), Sule Lamido (Jigawa), Babangida Aliyu (Niger), Rabiu Kwankwaso (Kano), Abdulfatah Ahmed (Kwara), Murtala Nyako (Adamawa) and Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers).
Their position contradicted the statement made by the Akwa Ibom State Governor and Chairman of the PDP Governors’ Forum, Godswill Akpabio, on Monday that the Group of Seven Governors (G7 governors) had backed down on one of their demands that the president must not seek re-election in 2015.
Akpabio claimed that the aggrieved governors and the president had arrived at the decision during their meeting on Sunday in Abuja.
But while their meeting with Senate President David Mark was outwardly calm, the same could not be said of the meeting with House of Representatives yesterday, as lawmakers loyal to the Bamanga Tukur-led faction of the party staged a protest over attempts by the Abubakar Baraje-led group to address the PDP Caucus in the lower chamber.
During their meeting with Mark, the aggrieved governors, who were led by Baraje, reiterated their grievances which they said included lack of internal democracy in the party; Amaechi’s suspension from the party; the Nigeria Governors' Forum election and subsequent polarisation; the unconstitutional dissolution of the execution committee of the Adamawa State chapter of the PDP; and the exclusion of important stakeholders from running the party and government.
Speaking on behalf of the governors, Baraje said: “As important stakeholders of our great party, I am sure you will all agree with me that the party has in recent years started declining in its democratic image.
“This is mainly due to lack of internal democracy as a result of the undue interference of the Presidency especially as it concerns the election of party national officers which has affected the quality and style of the leadership that now takes pride in the illegal dissolution of state party structures and other acts of impunity.”
Baraje described himself as the incumbent chairman of the National Working Committee (NWC) of PDP while referring to the national chairman of the party, Tukur, as its erstwhile chairman.
In his response, Mark who said he would remain in PDP and would not allow the party to fall, also promised that he would not declare the seats of defectors vacant.
Mark, who also said he would stand on the side of justice, equity and fairness, reiterated that the crisis must not be allowed to get into the National Assembly, adding that members of the federal legislature should be allowed to remain as a big and united family.
He said: “I am and I would remain in PDP and I would not like to see the PDP fall on anybody. The problems of the governors, seven of you have presented your positions and you have met with the president and there is progress but it is slow. My position is that we must keep the members of National Assembly in the PDP united.
“We must not bring the crisis to the floor. I have not declared any seat vacant and have no intention of doing this. I will support justice and fairness and equity. Appeal to them (lawmakers) that no matter what happens, they should remain in PDP and the lawmakers must remain a united big PDP family.
“I will also speak to the Bamanga Tukur group and we will all be frank. We admit that there is a problem. But it is a family problem.”
Also yesterday, the agitation for the convocation of a national conference, got a major boost, as Mark who had resisted the need for a national conference, finally joined the group of individuals calling for the conference.
Mark while welcoming his colleagues back to the Senate after seven weeks of recess, said “given the crises confronting the nation today, the convocation of ethnic nationalities which conglomerate Nigeria has become imperative.”
According to him, convoking such a conference to deliberate on what he called the frank and national question was in order because the conference “can certainly find accommodation in the extant provisions of the 1999 Constitution which guarantees the freedom of expression and association.”
While making a case for the national conference, Mark said the unusual events in the polity such as recurrent violence have all conspired to question the idea of the nation state.
He noted that the nation does not necessarily have to behave “like the proverbial ostrich” which continues to bury its head in the sand and refuses to confront the perceived or alleged structural distortions which have bred discontentment and alienation in some quarters.
Mark said this sense of discontentment and alienation had fuelled extremism, apathy and even predictions of catastrophy for the country.
He however added that the conference participants must not campaign for the break up of the nation and also warned against tagging it a constituent or sovereign conference and must be organised by the federal government.
He said if convoked, the outcome of the conference would be difficult to ignore by the National Assembly in its constitution review efforts.
Mark also condemned the activities of those he described as political jobbers, sycophants and hustlers whom he said had prematurely seized the political space even though the 2015 general election is still two years away. He described such people as hirelings who are desperately seeking relevance.
“My prayer is to see our democracy advance to a level where those who lose elections would stoically accept the verdict of the electorate, congratulate the winners and forge ahead.
“Beating drums of war, chanting war songs and blackmailing the nation with fire and brimstone are outdated and unacceptable,” he said.
Mark also tasked the executive arm of government to improve on its last year record when it presented the 2013 budget “early enough”, saying this enabled senators to meticulously consider and pass it at the nick of time and promised that they were prepared to repeat the feat this year.
Mark also appealed to the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to return to the classroom while negotiations on their demands continue.
He expressed regrets that as a result of the strike, students are idling away while progress in the education sector is retarded and intellectual development impeded.
But the calm session in the Senate was not replicated in the House of Representatives as the crisis rocking the PDP reverberated through the lower chamber yesterday, when the Baraje faction’s attempt to address the PDP Caucus of the House triggered a protest from lawmakers sympathetic to Tukur.
It was the first day of plenary after the lawmakers resumed from their annual vacation but the joyous mood soon gave way to an open battle for the soul of the ruling party.
However, the meeting between Baraje and the PDP Caucus turned chaotic as lawmakers on Tukur’s side stormed the venue and disrupted it.
As a result, proceedings were stalled for about 25 minutes, as some lawmakers protested the bid by Baraje and the NWC of the New PDP to address the PDP Caucus.
Prior to their arrival, a letter signed by the National Secretary of the New PDP, Olagunsoye Oyinlola, stated that the meeting was scheduled to hold at 3.00 pm.
As soon as Tambuwal read the letter, there was commotion in the chamber and shouts of disapproval rented the air. There were also shouts of approval from some other lawmakers, which resulted in rowdiness.
Tambuwal had an uphill task calming the lawmakers, but he later explained that the Tukur-led PDP had written to the House seeking audience with the PDP Caucus on the same day.
He said the Tukur group later withdrew their letter early yesterday, a situation that left the door open for the splinter group.
However, in a surprise move to show that the House was not going to be distracted by the crisis in the ruling party, Hon. Kingsley Chinda (PDP/Rivers) moved a motion seeking that a vote of confidence should be passed on the leadership of the House.
In the motion, Chinda said in spite of the crisis in the party, lawmakers in the House still believed in the leadership they chose for themselves two years ago.
However, this solidarity with the leadership became somewhat doubtful when Baraje came into the House alongside other party leaders in his group. On Baraje's entourage were the seven aggrieved governors and members of the group’s NWC.
On hand to receive them were the speaker and other principal officers of the House who are members of the ruling party.
House Leader, Hon. Mulikat Akande-Adeola, welcomed the guests on behalf of the caucus and expressed hope that the meeting would lead to a resolution of the conflict in the party.
However, as soon as it was Baraje’s turn to address the gathering, there was a commotion. A member of the House, Hon. Henry Oforngu (PDP/Bayelsa), raised a point of order.
Although he was hushed down by some of Baraje’s loyalists, pandemonium ensued from that point till the end of the meeting.
Lawmakers opposed to the presence of Baraje and his team, began to shout “No Way! No Way! No Way!” Others shouted “PDP, Tukur! PDP, Tukur! PDP, Tukur!”
The commotion effectively drowned the voice of Baraje and created tension across the chamber. Lawmakers on either side of the conflict also almost resorted to fisticuffs as both groups engaged each other in a shouting match.
A moment of respite came when Tambuwal addressed the gathering and sued for peace. According to him, the current crisis in the PDP had exposed the vulnerability of the political situation in Nigeria.
He told the warring factions that democracy was not for politicians alone but for the entire citizenry.
He lamented that politicians who constitute about 25 per cent of the Nigerian populace were heating up the polity without recognising that some Nigerians paid the supreme prize for democracy.
Tambuwal urged all parties in the crisis to allow the national interest take precedence over the personal ambitions of politicians.
Tambuwal had earlier at plenary alluded to the tension generated by both interparty and intra-party squabbles.
“This is not all together unexpected given the approach of 2015. What is worrisome however is that these squabbles have further exposed the weaknesses of internal party democratic culture and interparty intolerance. These are viruses that we must resolve to dispense with in order to sanitise the political space.
“I caution that we exercise the highest restraint to the obvious distractions that the approaching 2015 is bound to bring so that we do not lose our focus in the diligent pursuit of our mandate. The proper timing for 2015 will surely come and at that time, we shall do the needful,” he said.
Even after the meeting with Baraje ended, some lawmakers continued their shouts of disapproval and condemned his visit with the seven governors.
Oforngu, who addressed newsmen outside the chamber, said his group was opposed to Baraje’s visit because there was a subsisting agreement between the factions to ceasefire and allow for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
He said his point of order was meant to raise question as to the reason Baraje was visiting alongside the seven governors.
Another of the protesting lawmakers, Hon. Betty Apiafi (PDP/Rivers), said the visit was in bad fate and an attempt to draw lawmakers into the crisis.
Apiafi said the contending groups ought to have restricted their meetings to venues outside the National Assembly.
However, Chairman, House Committee on Public Service Matters, Hon. Andrew Uchendu (PDP/Rivers), justified the visit and condemned the attempt by some lawmakers to disrupt it.
Uchendu said the number of lawmakers in the House who are loyal to the Baraje faction had risen from 57 to 102 in the last few days.
Meanwhile, it emerged yesterday that the Tukur faction elected to postpone its meeting with the National Assembly in order not to jeopardise on-going efforts at reconciliation by the party.
A party official informed THISDAY that the request for the postponement of the visit was a sign of the commitment by the Tukur-led PDP to ensure the peaceful resolution of the disagreements within the party.
“The leadership of our great party under the chairmanship of Alhaji Bamanga Tukur had earlier secured an appointment to meet with members of the National Assembly elected on the platform of the PDP on Tuesday (yesterday).
“However, due to the on-going reconciliatory efforts in the party, a letter was sent to the leadership of the National Assembly requesting that the visit be postponed to another date. This is in line with our commitment to ensure the success of the on-going reconciliation in our party,” he said.
Also confirming this position, the National Publicity Secretary of PDP, Olisa Metuh, said the party put off its plan to visit the National Assembly because of the on-going reconciliation efforts in the party involving the president and the governors of the New PDP.
According to Metu, “We were abiding by the decision of 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.”