Sheriff Balogun in Abeokuta
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo said saturday in Abeokuta that there was need for strong political parties in both government and the opposition for democracy to thrive in the country. Obasanjo stopped short of calling the ruling All Progressives Congress a weak party, but dismissed the opposition Peoples Democratic Party as a dying political organisation. The former president made the comments during a courtesy call on him by the factional national chairman of PDP, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff.
Obasanjo stated, “For our democracy to thrive we need a strong political party in government and strong political party in opposition.” He said that was the necessary condition “for democracy to be strong and dynamic,” stressing, however, “Today, PDP cannot claim to be a strong party in opposition. I don’t know if APC can claim, at the national level, to be a strong party in government, either. Now that is part of the misfortune of this country today.”
He lamented that PDP was too weak to play the role of an opposition party role, while “APC is not strong enough as a ruling party.”
Obasanjo, who was president for two terms on the platform of PDP between 1999 and 2007, had resigned as chairman of the party’s Board of Trustees in April 2012. He became chairman of the BoT on June 27, 2007 after leaving office on May 29, 2007. Though, he said the resignation was to enable him focus on pressing national and international engagements, it was widely believed that he left due to differences with other leaders of the party. Developments later confirmed this. Obasanjo announced his formal resignation from PDP in February last year, saying he is quitting partisan politics altogether. And he tore his PDP membership card publicly in anger just before the last general election following alleged attempts to embarrass him with an expulsion from the party. Addressing journalists at his residence in Abeokuta yesterday after a meeting, held behind closed doors, with Sheriff, Obasanjo said he had tried to bring Sheriff to PDP when the party was still vibrant. “But he did not come,” Obasanjo said, adding, “the PDP they have given him now is a dying PDP, a dying baby. It needs to be in intensive care; otherwise, he will just be an undertaker.”
Reiterating his decision to quit partisan politics, Obasanjo said, “Let me make it absolutely clear once and again, I have renounced partisan politics. I don’t belong to any political party, not to talk of his (Sheriff’s) own faction of PDP or any other faction of PDP.
“But he came and I am very very happy to receive him and I said, ‘look, for my own education, for my own knowledge, tell me what exactly is happening’, and he briefed me. And, as they all want to say now, ‘well, you were once the father of PDP’. I was once the leader.
“For eight years, I was the leader of PDP, but the PDP that I was the leader of is not the PDP of today. The PDP of today, if you can talk of a party again as PDP, its soul has been taken out of it.”
The former president, however, said every Nigerian should be committed to the protection of the current political dispensation. “That being the case, it must be the concern of all Nigerians that the present democratic dispensation must not be allowed to be derailed and for it not to be derailed, we must have a strong political party in government and a strong political party in opposition.”
He emphasised, “A political party is an institution and in a democracy, it is a very important institution that we must all nourish and we must all cherish.”
In his remarks, Sheriff said he was in Abeokuta to seek counsel from Obasanjo whom he described as the grandfather of PDP. “Since we are looking for solution, whether he is inside, he has said he’s not going to play any partisan politics, we agree, but he is our father, father of the Nigerian nation and the grandfather of PDP. Therefore, the soul that has gone, he has to bring it back to us and through his advice, we will get through,” Sheriff said regarding Obasanjo.
On how to invigorate PDP, Sheriff said, “Nigeria needs a strong party in government and outside government and he also told you that both are needed for democracy to survive. He keeps saying this as a practical experience as a two-time President of Nigeria. Every wisdom that we want to lead our party, he has it and that is why we came to consult him.”
But Ekiti State Governor Ayo Fayose condemned Sheriff’s visit to Obasanjo as the “coming together of PDP enemies,” saying no genuine lover of PDP would visit the former president. In a statement issued on his behalf by his media aide, Mr. Lere Olayinka, Fayose said, “The meeting was a coming together of collaborators in the total annihilation of the Peoples Democratic Party.
“No genuine lover of the PDP will go to the house of a man who openly destroyed his membership card and worked assiduously to ensure the party’s failure in the 2015 presidential election, to seek advice on the way forward for the PDP.
“Sheriff can as well begin to sleep in Obasanjo’s house; it is good riddance to bad rubbish. Since Obasanjo is no longer a member of the PDP and he has consistently maintained that he can never return to the PDP, only those in the same league with him can go about visiting him.”