Onyebuchi Ezigbo looks at PDPs difficult peace process
The Peoples Democratic Party recently launched yet another effort at reconciliation of aggrieved members after previous failed attempts. The current effort is also aimed at winning back some of the party’s founding fathers. The fresh peace move was initiated under the auspices of the party’s Board of Trustees, who as elders of the party felt they could help restore genuine peace and cohesion among the members.
Obasanjo’s Negative Appraisal
The fresh efforts to resolve the leadership crisis in the PDP came just as former President Olusegun Obasanjo, a former member of the party, had cause to assess the goings-on in the party. Obasanjo had attended a function organised for farmers at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre in Abuja where the PDP was, incidentally, inaugurating its national convention planning committees. In a show of courtesy, the leadership of the PDP national caretaker committee, led by Senator Ahmed Makarfi, promptly went over to greet the former president and exchange pleasantries.
Obasanjo did not attend the PDP function, as he took his exit after his engagement. Not even the desperate effort of some anxious journalists could make him talk. He made his way to a waiting black Toyota SUV that drove off almost immediately. But his presence at the venue of the PDP meeting left tongues wagging, with some insinuating that he might have returned to the party.
The controversy generated by the reports in some media outfits caused Obasanjo to respond. In the response, he described his former party as “dying and gasping for breath”. While reacting to the insinuation that he might be considering returning to his old party, which membership card he publicly tore last year, the former president said that there no way he could return to a party that was already torn apart, dying and gasping for breath.
New Reconciliation Move
Perhaps, the bashing from Obasanjo was all that was needed to get the BoT into action, as it constituted a new committee headed by Professor Jerry Gana to pursue full reconciliation of aggrieved forces within the party. Speaking during the inauguration of the 18-man peace committee at his residence in Asokoro, Abuja, the chairman of the BoT, Senator Walid Jibrin, urged all those predicting doom for the party to do a rethink, change their mind and come to join the party to rebuild and reposition it into a more formidable platform ahead of the 2019 general election.
Jibrin, himself also a founding member of the party, dismissed the statement by Obasnajo that PDP was gasping for breath, saying such an assessment exists only in the imagination of those making it.
He said regarding Obasanjo’s comments, “Leaders who are talking in newspapers that this party is not alive, the party is alive, it is only in the imagination of anyone that is saying that this party is dead and that it will not come back. Such people should change their minds. If he comes back to this party, we are ready to receive him.”
While inaugurating the 18-member peace committee, the BoT chairman said that the party had decided to pursue a political solution as a means of resolving the faceoff with the former national chairman, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff.
He said, “We are gathered to inaugurate special committee of the BoT to reconcile our members. You are aware that the BoT have been meeting with some organs to review the situation in the party. We have therefore decided to set up a special committee with a view to resolving the problem.
“With the calibre of the people we have chosen to represent the BoT, I am very optimistic that the end of this conflict has come and that we shall all come out smiling very soon, before our convention.” Jibrin assured that party will henceforth rely on its constitution, adding that the principle of party supremacy must be uppermost in the minds of members.
Based on the urgency of their task, the Gana committee has swung into action in a bid to achieve reconciliation ahead of the August 17 national convention of the party. Members of the BoT peace committed first began with a late night visit to former President Goodluck Jonathan at his Maitama residence in Abuja. Jibrin who led the delegation, told Jonathan that the BoT decided to pay him a courtesy call in recognition of his position as former president and to interface and inform him of the state of the party.
“PDP is undergoing a lot of difficulties and challenges, it is important that we give you briefing. You are aware of the resignation of Anenih as BoT chairman, followed by the appointment of Bello. The members elected him as chairman,” Jibrin told the former president.
According to Jibrin, Jonathan’s intervention is important for a way forward for the party. Jibing, who came with some members of the BoT representing various zone of the country, told the former president that they had great respect for him despite the fact that he had not been appearing in the activities of the party.
“We have visited Ciroma. We have embarked on programme of visit to our founding fathers, we have visited the National Assembly. We are satisfied with the level of cooperation between PDP and other members in the National Assembly and they have played the opposition role very well. They have dwelt on politics of issues not on personalities.”
Responding, Jonathan acceded to the plea of the BoT to wade in to the leadership crisis rocking the party with a view to resolving it. Jonathan told them that the disagreement culd be resolved amicably, adding that he has already started talking to the individuals involved in the matter.
“I have been talking to individuals but not in a way that is exposed to the media,” Jonathan said, adding, “I believe I should do more. It is matter of regret that we have the conflicting court orders on this issue. Unfortunately, we have challenges but I think you should not be discouraged. This should not be beyond us but I believe, collectively, we can resolve it. Any sincere PDP member should know that PDP is bigger than any individual. Members have sacrificed their interest for the party”.
A member of the BoT and one of the aspirants for the PDP chairmanship position, Prof Tunde Adeniran, told journalists after the meeting with Jonathan, “He is in support of peace returning to the PDP family. All leaders of the party have been meeting. The BoT has just held their meeting. We are interacting and the party is moving forward. I am very optimistic that the crisis will be resolved. PDP is a family and we will resolve the crisis. The convention will go on. You will witness the resolutions.”
Another leader of the party and chairmanship aspirant, Chief Bode George, spoke on the outcome of the discussions with Jonathan, saying that the former president has accepted to assist in brokering peace between the aggrieved parties.
George said, “The meeting was perfect. I feel completely elated. When we were in power for 16 years, all these crisis would have been resolved by the Villa. Now there is no villa. It looks like a community where there is no headship. Suddenly the spirit of discussion and camaraderie that evolves gave me this personal happiness. In our party whoever is president is always the leader of the party.
“Now until another presidential candidate emerges, President Jonathan remains the leader of the party.”
The BoT member noted, “We are at a point where we cannot afford to allow the party to go under. And this is the most appropriate time as BoT to come to him to say, we want you to intervene. It was a very warm meeting and very encouraging.”
George confirmed that Jonathan had not only accepted to assist in making peace but had given his word to join in the process of resolving the crisis.
But despite the inroads made to solicit Jonathan’s support, peace and reconciliation are still far from being achieved, especially with regard to the leadership crisis rocking the party. So far, the latest peace overtures initiated by the BoT peace committee to strike a settlement with Sheriff has failed to yield positive results. Sheriff, who was expected to back down on his demands and accept to reunite with his party, stuck to his position by Wednesday, insisting that the National Caretaker Committee is illegal and as such should be disbanded before peace can return to the PDP.
At a meeting between the peace committee and Sheriff, held behind closed doors, which started on Tuesday night and lasted till Wednesday morning, the Gana committee agreed to go back for further consultations on possible concessions to be made to the former chairman.
Sheriff was insisting that as a condition to end his fight against the party, the PDP must postpone the August 17 national convention, reconstitute the convention planning committee, and ensure that a new venue, other than Port Harcourt, was chosen. Although the former chairman had agreed to make concessions and possibly end his struggle to hold on to office, he said this will only be possible if the process of easing him out of office is carried out in accordance with the PDP’s constitution.
Sheriff has since the last May 21 controversial national convention in Port Harcourt been disputing his removal from office, describing the vote at the convention dissolving his National Working Committee as illegal, null and void. He has followed his agitation with series of court actions which at a stage led to the Federal High Courts of coordinate jurisdiction issuing conflicting rulings and judgements on the leadership of the PDP.
Speaking during the meeting with the Gana peace committee, Sheriff gave conditions which he said were the way for him to accept a peace plan. “I say no to the convention in Port Harcourt on the 17th. The date and venue must be set by all stakeholders and approved by INEC”. Sheriff maintained that the governor of Rivers State, Mr. Nyesom Wike, must not be allowed to chair the convention planning committee, while also calling for the disbandment of the Makarfi-led caretaker committee.
According to Sheriff, the caretaker committee is an illegal contraption unknown to the PDP constitution and must be disbanded.
He said, “All forms of impunity and lawlessness must stop. The ward, local government and state congresses already concluded and approved by NEC must stand.”
An obviously disappointed Gana said the committee had taken serious note of the problems causing the crisis and would go back for consultations before scheduling another peace meeting with Sheriff.
“We are delighted that there has been a clear resolution on the determination and desire that the problems must be resolved, unity be re-established and for PDP to move forward,” he said.