Onyebuchi Ezigbo, in Abuja, looks at what the main opposition party can do to resolve the current disagreements threatening to tear it apart
Few weeks ago, the former ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party, came close to resolving the crisis and controversy surrounding its national chairmanship post. The crisis followed the dissolution of the National Working Committee at the party’s last national convention on May 21 and subsequent appointment of a national caretaker committee headed by Senator Ahmed Makarfi.
The national convention itself was marred by series of court litigations, which literally prevented it from proceeding with the set goal of electing new national officers. The drama that accompanied the ill-fated national convention held in Port Harcourt also saw the then national chairman, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, hurriedly addressing a press conference in hotel room, ostensibly, to postpone the event while many delegates had already gathered at the venue of the convention.
Litany of Litigations
However, Sheriff did not succeed in stopping the convention. Thus, the dissolution of the NWC and appointment of a caretaker committee did not go down well with the former national chairman. From that time the PDP has not known peace, as both the Makarfi-led caretaker committee and the Sheriff-led group have continued to lay claim to the leadership of the party. Members of the party have been treated to different court rulings. At the last count, the party had not less than six court judgements from various courts, though, of coordinate jurisdiction, some of which ran counter to each other.
The crisis in the PDP almost disrupted its participation in the forthcoming governorship election in Edo State, as both factions of the national leadership came up with governorship candidates produced from parallel primaries. It was the decision of the Independent National Electoral Commission to recognise the governorship candidate of the Makarfi-led PDP caretaker committee, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, that tended to break the stalemate. A late evening text message from the commission’s deputy director of publicity and voter education, Mr Nick Dazang, was what put an end to the controversy.
Dazang said the commission had received names of 19 governorship candidates from 19 political parties, including the candidate of the PDP, Ize-Iyamu, as at the end of the deadline. He stated, “As at this evening, we received 19 candidates from 19 political parties for the Edo State governorship election. This includes the candidate of the Makarfi-led faction of the PDP. We received the candidate of the Makarfi-led faction because of the Port Harcourt court judgement, plus the fact that we monitored its primaries.”
However, the recognition conferred on the Makarfi-led leadership by INEC seems to be only a temporary relief for the PDP.
Leaders of the party have made efforts to persuade Sheriff and his group to try to secure their support and ensure total reconciliation that would see to the withdrawal of the many cases still pending in the courts. This is as a result of the defiant position taken by Sheriff, who seems determined to continue with his cases in court.
But the chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees, Senator Walid Jibrin, told journalists penultimate week after the party’s national caucus meeting in Abuja that as part of efforts to achieve reconciliation, he and other leaders of the party spent a lengthy time discussing modalities for peace with Sheriff. Jibrin said the fact that a prominent member of the Sheriff camp, Senator Buruji Kashamu, has accepted to re-join the mainstream PDP and support the caretaker committee was a clear sign that the crisis in the party was coming to an end.
Jibrin said, “If you see Kashamu coming to our side, fully embracing our national caretaker committee, whatever this group says will be acceptable to him. We have been meeting with Sheriff. And there is progress with Sheiff. He is a human being and I am sure he will follow suit.”
On the withdrawal of the court cases and whether peace could be achieved in the party before the August 17 date for a new convention, Jibrin said, “What other kind of concession than for somebody to come on his own to announce that he is in support of the caretaker committee. We have been meeting with Sheriff. At the appropriate time Sheriff himself will be with us.”
Apart from the efforts to reconcile with Sheriff and his group, PDP has made some progress in settling the rift that almost tore apart the South-west chapter of the party. Notable leaders of the party, such as Governor Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo State, Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State, and Kashamu met at the Ondo State Governor’s Lodge in Abuja where they agreed to drop their differences to allow peace to reign.
Efforts to secure a peace deal with Sheriff were also made by the PDP governors at a meeting held at the Taraba State Governor’s Lodge in Asokoro, Abuja, a few days before the national caucus meeting.
While narrating what went on at the reconciliation meeting held between Sheriff and the Makarfi caretaker committee before the national caucus meeting, Kashamu said there was an agreement to convene an expanded national caucus meeting. He said it was also agreed that a harmonised National Convention Committee should be set up.
Kashamu said, “After series of meetings with many of our respectable leaders, a larger meeting was held with Senator Ali Modu Sheriff and Senator Ahmed Makarfi at the Taraba State Governor’s Lodge. They both agreed that the two of them will address the nation and members of the party at the national convention. In effect, the two great leaders showed that they have the interest of the party at heart.
“However, the only point of divergence was who should preside over the expanded national caucus meeting and constitute the National Convention Committee. It was then proposed that they both Co-chair the expanded national caucus meeting and jointly constitute the National Convention Committee.
“Other proposals were made. It was at this stage that I decided to attend the expanded national caucus meeting and join hands with other well-meaning leaders to see through the reconciliation process. As a true party man, I could not but support the reconciliation process in order to move the party forward.”
But Sheriff has rejected the entreaties made to him, insisting that the only condition for an end to the crisis is for the party to dissolve the Makarfi-led national caretaker committee, which he said is illegal and unknown to the PDP constitution. He went further to state that the party must to agree to hold a fresh national convention in Abuja – rather than Port Harcourt. He also suggested the formation of a harmonised convention committee with 10 members each from his group and the Makarfi committee.
The uncompromising stance of Sheriff has not gone down well with the caretaker committee and most leaders of the party. Although the leaders are supportive of continuing with the dialogue process, most of them are of the opinion that the party may need to call the bluff of Sheriff and his group since they seem to have very slim prospects of securing any legal victory against the party. Perhaps, it was in the light of this reasoning that the caretaker committee went ahead with the resolutions reached at the national caucus meeting to organise a fresh national convention on August 17 in Port Harcourt.
The party unanimously resolved to zone the post of the national chairman to the South, just as it reaffirmed its earlier decision that the North should produce its presidential candidate for the 2019 general election. Speaking on the role of the committee, Makarfi assured that they would keep to the timeframe given to them to organise a national convention and leave. He also spoke on the need for stakeholders of the party to reignite the spirit unity of purpose for which the party was known in order to win more people over ahead of the convention.
While receiving stakeholders of the PDP from Kwara State who paid a courtesy visit to the national caretaker committee, Makarfi said the recommended approach would help the party win more states in the 2019 general election. “We don’t belong to sit-tight leaders. We have been saying that even if by today our services are no longer required we will quit. Others left before us and others will leave after us.”
On the issue of reconciliation, Makarfi said the party was making progress. He said, “What we want is an all-inclusive PDP, an equitable, fair and just system in the PDP, where the right of everyone commensurate with their own level is protected and preserved. We equally have set up a special committee led by Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, to further cement the reconciliation within the South-west so that all issues that must have led to the division in the South-west would be resolved accordingly.”
It was learnt that Sheriff had been offered a concession to produce the party executive in his home state of Borno and to also nominate a candidate for election as the national vice chairman for North-east zone at the next convention.
While offering his opinion on the way forward, the immediate past national legal adviser of the PDP, Mr. Victor Kwom, advised the party to go ahead with plans for a fresh national convention and disregard Sheriff.
According to Kwom, “Sheriff has been kicking and kicking against the party’s position but he is doing so in his hotel room and, meanwhile, the party is moving ahead. There is nothing he can do about it. If you observed, the party did a primary election for Edo State that the INEC came to monitor and it finally gave us recognition and the party is moving on after that. We also feel that where the issues fail to be reconciled peacefully, then the courts and appellate court will be allowed to adjudicate on the matter and the party will go on with its affairs afterwards.
“I feel that the party is bigger than anyone and that everyone should able to sacrifice his or her ambitions in the interest of the party and not the party doing so for the interest of a man. The party is a common platform that serves the need of everyone but we must protect that platform so as to continue to play that role.”
A member of the caretaker committee and the spokesman of the Makarfi-led leadership, Dayo Adeyeye, is also of opinion that the issue of leadership tussle should be laid to rest based on the recognition given to them by INEC. Adeyeye said the days of the media feasting on the crisis rocking the PDP were over, as the all the stakeholders were now willing to resolve the contending issues in a peaceful atmosphere.
What remains to seen is how and when the party will attain full reconciliation between the mainstream leadership headed by Makarfi and the aggrieved faction led by Sheriff. For now it seems the media still has some time more to feast on the PDP leadership controversy