Second Port Harcourt Convention and the Thorny Path to Peace


Onyebuchi Ezigbo examines the search for peace in the former ruling party

The battle for the soul of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party has lingered for a long time and it appears the gulf between the rival parties has continued to widen. Before the last convention in Port Harcourt, series of efforts had been initiated by the leaders of the PDP to try to resolve the leadership crisis rocking the party.

But the efforts fell like a pack of cards in the end, leaving the warring factions even more divided than ever. When the peace move initiated by the party’s Board of Trustees through a reconciliation committee headed by former Minister of Information, Prof. Jerry Gana, came on, all hailed it as a good idea that could bring lasting peace to the party. In fact, a scene during one of the reconciliatory meetings held by the BoT peace committee at Sheriff’s office raised a lot of hope.

After engaging the feuding parties in dialogue sessions, where they exchanged jokes and banters, Gana turned in the report of the peace committee penultimate Saturday. He told the gathering at the residence of the BoT chairman, Senator Walid Jibrin, that it had recommended some measures that would make the aggrieved group led by Senator Ali Modu Sheriff to drop its agitation and embrace the leadership of the party at the national convention billed for next Wednesday in Port Harcourt.

Although the peace committee failed to let out details of the recommendations, it said one of the high points of its intervention was that all the parties to the conflict must withdraw their cases in the court as a condition for implementing other measures that will restore normalcy to the party. Gana said he was confident that the recommendations if implemented will go a long way towards resolving the leadership crisis.

Gana said: “We have the support of all the organs of our party and party members, the governors’ forum and the National Assembly caucus. We have tremendous respect for our members who are still aggrieved, hence this committee. We have recommended how they, too, can be made to feel at home so that we can welcome them at the convention. But it will be irresponsible of me divulge because the BoT will have to consider and rectify that aspect. We have given very weighty recommendations that if approved we will waiting at the convention receive these our aggrieved members.”
On his part, Jibrin said the submission of the report of the reconciliation committee marked the beginning of the return of normalcy within the party.

Dashed Hope
Many people had expected that the recommendations of the peace panel would be implemented or would form the basis for settlement of the conflict, but that was not to be. Both the agitated former national chairman, Sheriff, and the chairman of the National Caretaker Committee, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, rather than coming together to push for a unified national convention, kept a distance from each other. Some of the conditions given by Sheriff in order to stop his fight are that the convention should be postponed and its venue shifted to Abuja. The former Borno State governor also insisted that the Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, should not chair the convention committee.

While those opposed to Sheriff blamed him for sticking to hard line conditions for peace, a member of the Sheriff-led NWC and former PDP National Vice Chairman (South-south), Dr. Cairo Ojugboh, dismissed such blame, saying Sheriff has been cooperative and had indeed accepted most of the peace terms proposed by the BoT committee. Ojugboh put the blame for the stalemate at the doorstep of some leaders of the party, particularly Wike and his loyalists, whom he said had been seeking to hijack the party.

Going against the peace initiative, both sides once again dusted up their cases in the courts. The courts tried to outwit each other through the issuance of interim orders and counter interim orders. A lot of PDP faithful, including the caretaker committee, had accused the All Progressives Congress and its administration of conniving with Sheriff to fuel the crisis in the PDP.

Although the ruling APC dismissed such insinuation, many PDP members say incidents such the one at last Wednesday’s repeat convention of the PDP in Port Harcourt cast doubt on the innocence of the APC-led federal government. The Inspector-general of Police deployed his men to stop the use of the Sharks Stadium for the PDP convention in the face of conflicting court orders for and against the holding of the exercise.

In a statement signed by the spokesman of the PDP caretaker committee, Prince Dayo Adeyeye, the party said that convention venue had to be shifted to another location due to security cordon at the stadium. The statement read: “The convention which was proposed to take place at the Sharks Stadium, Port Harcourt, was shifted to the state party secretariat on Aba Road, due to security cordon-off of the venue by contingent of security agencies on the pretext of obeying the interlocutory order given by Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja, on Tuesday August 16, against holding the already convened national convention.

“The public is aware that our party is law abiding and it’s acting in compliance with the judgement of Justice Liman of the Federal High Court sitting here in Port Harcourt, which is in favour of all actions taken by the party’s highest decision making organ, the national convention of May 21, held here in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. So far, there is no judgement upturning it which, of course, such must come from the Court of Appeal.

“In addition, there is another existing order from a court of competent jurisdiction directing all concerned not to tamper with the convention. Notwithstanding, the powers that be at the federal level in conspiracy with the former national chairman, Senator Sheriff, and his co travellers carried out their act of legal and political disobedience with flagrant disregard to the tenets of democracy.”

But the police have defended their action, saying that they acted to prevent a breakdown of law and order following what looked like a possible showdown between factions of the PDP. But the party had held its May 21 convention at the same venue and under a similar circumstance without any violence or breakdown of law and order.

Makarfi also accused the police of bias while declaring open the party’s convention at its Rivers State secretariat on Wednesday. Makarfi noted that such acts of bias posed a danger to the survival of the country’s democracy.

For the PDP, the events of last week show clearly that the party is in grave danger. The issues may worsen if nothing urgent is done to arrest the deteriorating conflict. By extending the tenure of the Makarfi-led caretaker committee by one year, PDP seems to have inadvertently extended the faceoff with Sheriff.