The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) reconciliation agenda is now under threat as governors on the platform of the party are working hard in their respective states to shut out their political foes. Ike Abonyi and Chuks Okocha examine the development and its implications for the party
Months after he assumed office as the National Chairman of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Bamanga Tukur appears not to be getting his bearing right. Even though he assumed office with some measure of goodwill and lofty agenda that many believed he had the pedigree to achieve, his actions and moves so far appear to have proved otherwise.
There are insinuations that many who backed his chairmanship aspiration,including President Goodluck Jonathan, are now disturbed about his handling of party affairs. However, Tukur’s leadership finally came up with a seeming popular policy which emphasised that concerted efforts should be employed to bring back all aggrieved members of the party who left in protest over one issue or the other. According to Tukur, the reconciliation policy was aimed at expanding the party’s frontiers. Many people, especially party members, hailed the agenda because of the perceived unjust decisions which led to the exit of many, including some founding fathers of the party.
Nevertheless, an indication that this new reconciliation policy would run into a hitch emerged when one of the party officers said the move was not meant for “snakes and reptiles.” But another officer denied it, saying there was no condition attached to it, insisting that every aggrieved person must be given a fair hearing.
But some inquisitive minds had asked if Tukur secured the permission of PDP governors whose activities in the first instance chased away a number of party members who are now being invited for reconciliation. Those who asked the question knew that the real locus of power in the PDP lies with the governors and not even the president. The reality soon began to dawn on people, when a mere rumour that a former governor of Abia State and pioneer member of PDP, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu, was planning to return to the party in line with the reconciliatory move caused not quite a small stir.
Soon, hell was let loose among supporters of the state governor, Theodore Orji and the governor himself. In a swift reaction, the governor led his group to the Wadata House national secretariat of the party in Abuja to inform Tukur that Kalu was not wanted in the party. And without seeking a second opinion, a jittery Tukur who seems to be in a hurry to avoid the governors’ wrath, quickly bowed and said to the governor, “you have spoken, he will not be allowed back.”
For the record, the incumbent Governor Orji was a civil servant in 1999 when Orji Kalu brought him into his government as the chief of staff. When his two-term tenure of eight years was moving to an end, Kalu planned to hand over to him but he had issues with the PDP which prompted him to form the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) which expectedly fielded Orji who was in detention as PPA candidate when the 2007 governorship election took place. To the shock of many, he was declared winner of the election right from the prison custody. Consequently, Kalu who facilitated his victory at the election ensured his eventual release.
It looks apt therefore to say that he would not have become a state governor at least for now, if fate had not brought him in contact with Kalu. But not so long after he assumed office as the state governor, there was irreconcilable differences between both men which ended their relationship and led to the eventual exit of Orji from PPA, the platform which brought him to power. He returned to PDP after a brief stay in All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). Now, Orji wants to block his estranged godfather from returning to PDP.
Among those who accompanied the governor to the PDP to stop Kalu were former National Chairman of PDP, Chief Vincent Ogbulafor (who was a member of All Peoples Party, APP, in 1999 when Kalu brought PDP to Abia State ), Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe who was Kalu’s running mate who later contested against him as All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) gubernatorial candidate.
But observers of the trend have argued that what the stoppage of Kalu from returning to PDP implies is that the reconciliatory agenda of Tukur’s leadership has failed from the outset as the case revealed that no sitting governor would accommodate his perceived enemies. This is even so that Tukur was said to have asked: “how can Senator George Akume attempt to come back when his former godson, now Governor Gabriel Suswam, is holding sway?” He was said to have made that comment while listening to Orji’s complaints against possible admission of Kalu in Abuja .
Speaking with THISDAY against the backdrop of the visit by Abia State’s PDP stakeholders led by the governor, the PDP National Chairman said the reconciliation move embarked upon by the National Working Committee (NWC) was genuine and not built on politics of rancour or bitterness. The national chairman emphasised that he stood by what he told the Abia PDP stakeholders, pointing out that democracy is by choice and not imposition.
Tukur, while calling on Kalu to reconcile with his people in Abia State , said: “Our reconciliation as a party must be total in the sense that everyone must be carried along. You saw what happened yesterday (Wednesday). All stakeholders of PDP in the state came here, all senators, all members of the House of Representatives from the state, former national chairman, every one stakeholder were here.
“Those that came here represent the party in the state. My advice to the former governor is to go and reconcile with his people. We don’t want reconcilation through imposition from the national secretariat of the party.”
Further, he said “there are constitutional provisions and this implies that he must rejoin the party from his ward. This procedure must be followed. He must reconcile with his people. This is part of the reconciliation that we are talking of.”
Tukur added that “the aim of reconciliation is to ensure that the President, Goodluck Jonathan, is not distracted. Reconciliation is necessary to ensure that the aggrieved members of the party are carried along and brought back to the party. This will help to make the party the people’s party and this reconciliation will be based on the recommendations of the Ekwueme’s report.”
He also explained that the party’s reconciliatory move was further driven by new patterns of political recognition and motivated by the instruments of dialogue, appeal and articulation, targeting all classes of persons, groups and communities in the country.
Tukur insisted that “this move is to ensure ‘complete change,’ thus to examine and introduce new approaches in which public resistance can be modified for assurances of better deal and removal of threats relating to our democratic practices.”
But Tukur’s explanation is said to be unconvincing and self contradictory as the general opinion about the move now is that reconciliatory agenda of the PDP initiated by the national chairman is gradually running into troubled waters given his handling of the Abia case and other matters. This is against the background of allegations of selective agenda on the reconciliation. And governors elected on the platform of the party have been named as major obstacles in the wheel of NWC’s reconciliatory effort. Their actions and activities are said to have greatly constituted a major setback for the national reconciliation.
It began with the governor of Plateau State , Jonah Jang, who insisted that aggrieved members who left the party for another should not be allowed to return to PDP. Such aggrieved members in Plateau included former ministers, Damishi Sango, Pauline Tallen and other individuals who left for the Labour Party over allegations that a level playing ground was not provided for them in the pursuit of their individual rights. Jang’s position was recently reiterated when the National Legal Adviser of PDP, Victor Kwon, remarked that some categories of politicians would not be allowed to return to the party. He also went further to describe the aggrieved members as ‘snakes and reptiles’ that wouldn’t be allowed back into PDP.
Both the National Organising Secretary of the party, Abubakar Mustapha, and Deputy National Secretary, Onwe Solomon Onwe, made spirited efforts to deny insinuations that some aggrieved members who left the party would not be allowed to return to the party. Mustapha had claimed that “our reconciliation is total. There are no conditions.”
But the reconciliation claim was put to test last Wednesday when Orji, led the three senators from the state, viz: Uche Chukwumerije, Nkechi Nwogu, Abaribe, all members of the House of Representatives from the state, Ogbulafor, Onyema Ugochukwu, a former minister in the Second Republic , Ihechukwu Madubuike, among others to protest the planned re-admittance of kalu.
This is because Abia PDP stormed the national secretariat with anger to protest the planned return of Kalu. Ironically, their position paper was read by National Vice Chairman of the party (South-east), Colonel Austin Akubundu (rtd.), who also hails from Abia State . The paper was entitled: “The Position Paper of Abia Stakeholders on the Re-admission of Chief Orji Uzor Kalu to the Party.” He submitted that the return of the former governor would undermine the peaceful co-existence and “camaraderie,” existing among party stalwarts in the state.
According to him, while Abia PDP stakeholders lauded the initiative of the party’s national leadership to reconcile aggrieved members, they cautioned that any attempt to re-admit Kalu “would cause disaffection or return us to the battlefield of hostilities and would be stoutly resisted.” Akubundu further claimed that Kalu’s return would be inimical to the growth of the party in Abia State adding that the former governor was not an asset to PDP.
Reading the position paper, Akobundu said: “Since his exit, PDP in Abia State has gone round the crisis and emerged from those experiences an entirely different entity which today celebrates a prevailing atmosphere of unanimity, being relieved of the common source of deep-seated animosities and resentment. You may have also heard it elsewhere that the exit of the former governor was the rallying point in reconciling aggrieved members and setting the party on a sounder electoral footing.
“If the rumours making the rounds presently that he has been making surreptitious moves to be re-admitted into the party’s fold are correct, then there will surely be cataclysmic consequences for the party in Abia State . This controversial and wholly unnecessary move will re-ignite the fire of trench warfare among otherwise reconciled members.’’
The Abia PDP elders further alleged that the former governor wanted to return to the party fold in order to use its platform for his 2015 presidential ambition.
Further, Akubundu said: “On the strength of our usually reliable intelligence gathered from his loyalists, his sole objective of seeking to rejoin the party is to use its platform to pursue his presidential ambition. It is a ploy that would escalate tensions within the ranks of the party; he is coming not to build but to destabilise… His presence will add neither quality nor quantity. His comprehensive defeat in the 2011 Abia North Senate race exposed his lack of electoral value. It was only when he left the party that we were able to win all the seats we contested. He has recently turned into a loose cannon and peddler of mischief.’’
Though, the elders spoke with a sense of restraint, they inadvertently gave out the real reason they were against the former governor coming back to PDP. This Akubundu said in clear terms. “If Chief Kalu were allowed to return, he would do so with his loyalists in the PPA. Where and how will they be accommodated? If they attempt to dislodge the existing structures which are a product of a harmonised agreement among the major interest groups and prominent individuals in the state, a violent struggle for power will ensue,” he disclosed.
Still on why Kalu should not be allowed back into the party, Akubundu added: “The former governor carries credibility baggage; there are not a few Abians who accuse him of large scale squandering of their resources and the criminalisation of politics from which the state is only recovering.
In fact, the state government is seriously exploring the possibility of probing his administration to establish the truth of these allegations and to properly understand explained incidence of funds diversion/misappropriation during his tenure.
“His re admission would therefore significantly obstruct this objective and put the state government in an impossible ethical dilemma at this critical period in the political life of the party,” the National Vice Chairman of the PDP said.
Despite the presentation of the position paper, Senators Abaribe and Nwogu were not done yet. They gave further reasons the former governor should not be allowed to return PDP. While Abaribe described Kalu as a “political liability” who has no electoral value, Nwogu described him as a “political virus’’ that would do the party no good but rather cause disunity and crisis.
While giving a summary of all that had been said, Orji told the Tukur-led NWC: “Your Excellency, we have come with full hearts to show the world that we support you. Secondly, this is democracy. My people have spoken and I don’t need to repeat what they have said. Our strength has been that we fought a common enemy. If we have to retain that strength, we have to keep the common enemy at bay. There is no need for reconciliation in Abia; we are at peace with ourselves. We don’t want any distraction in Abia, as it will be a disservice to our people,” Orji submitted.
In his response, Tukur assured them that their remarks would not be ignored as he noted that “democracy is about choice.” According to Tukur, “the people have spoken. People who talked here mentioned one thing - peace, harmony. That’s what I want. My mission is reconciliation without confrontation. I thank the party faithful who followed you; they have made our party great. All I can assure you is that we are here to ensure that the cordial relationship reigns.”
Given the perception of insincerity already created in the so-called reconciliatory move of the PDP, the pertinent question seems to be,
where will this lead the party?
“We are here to ensure that the cordial relationship reigns.”
Given the perception of insincerity already created in the so-called reconciliatory move of the PDP, the pertinent question seems to be, where will this lead the party?