Onyebuchi Ezigbo, in Abuja, looks at the negotiations that produced the recent settlement by the two contending factions of the PDP
If there is anything that has excited members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party in recent times, it is last week’s decision by the party’s warring factions to drop their acrimony and embrace each other in true reconciliation. Before last Tuesday’s reconciliatory move, both parties to the leadership tussle, the Senator Ahmed Makarfi-led National Caretaker Committee and the Senator Ali Modu Sheriff-led faction, had fought themselves almost to a standstill with little or no room for further manoeuvring. The warring PDP groups, whose disagreement started since the May 21 ill-fated national convention in Port Harcourt, had failed several times to settle their differences on the dialogue table, thus leading to plethora of court cases.
Another attempt to hold the PDP national convention in Port Harcourt on August 17 also hit the rocks, as the Sheriff faction successfully deployed the legal instrument to scuttle it. Not even the intervention of the party’s Board of Trustees could resolve the crisis. Rather than bringing the two parties together, the peace committee led by Professor Jerry Gana tnded to further alienate Sheriff and his group, accusing them of being influenced by external forces.
Road to Peace
But first sign of a possible end to hostilities from both sides came when recently Makarfi said only a peaceful settlement could end the leadership crisis in the PDP. Addressing journalists after the Sallah break, Makarfi said PDP was committed to reconciliation with all the different interests in the party. He said even if the party was victorious in court, there would still be need for reconciliation, stating that the party is making serious efforts to resolve the internal crisis.
However, Makarfi said such reconciliation must be based on rational demands. The PDP caretaker committee chairman said the committee was not about personalities but the interest of the party and, therefore, would do anything the generality of PDP members want.
Makarfi stated, “Not only shall we rise and run. We shall rise and fly. We are doing everything possible. Even if you are victorious in court, you still need to come home and do reconciliation. So it is better if we can achieve that before, instead of leaving it to litigation to settle.
“We are not representing ourselves. Whatever the party wants, we will do. We don’t have personal interest in this matter. We listen to the opinions of the overwhelming members of the PDP.
“Reconciliation is something you talk less about. Because certain actions being taken, if you talk about it, you will indirectly be undermining the process. We are open to the reconciliation. There must be flexibility when you are talking of reconciliation.
And, of course, the overwhelming views of majority of the members, even whoever you may classify as minority, cannot also be ignored. You must make concession here and there and I believe that the party is ready to do that. But that will be on the basis of rational and reasonable demands so that we can all work as one family.”
Similarly, the secretary of the caretaker committee, Senator Ben Obi, said the committee was committed to restoring the party to its past glory.
Obi said, “We are deeply committed in making sure that the PDP comes back to its old self. That is what the chairman has been busy doing in the last three, four weeks, meeting various leaders across the country in search for peace.”
Makarfi’s position came on the heels of the insistence by factional national chairman, Sheriff, that he will only accept a peace deal that is in line with the PDP constitution. In an interview last weekend, Sheriff said he believed dialogue was the way forward and that genuine reconciliation should be pursued in line with the PDP’s constitution.
Obi believed, “The solution is very simple: we must have a solution based on truth, sincerity, something that can stand the test of time.”
In a similar vein, while speaking on the botched peace efforts, former PDP national vice chairman (South-south) and the deputy chairman of the Sheriff- led NWC, Dr. Cairo Ojougboh, said only a political solution could to end the crisis – rather than the adjudications by the court on the matter. He noted that the way to fully reconcile aggrieved members was to ensure the return of the party to the people.
“Sheriff keeps telling them and we keep telling them that we must sit down as a party to grow this party. When I say it, God doesn’t make mistake; Sheriff is an agent of change to say no to impunity and that is why those of us who are with him are supporting him. As at the last count, the party has had not less than 15 such court cases with several rulings and judgements, some of which were contradictory to each other.
From all indications, all the cases against the party have the potential of causing maximum damage to its political interest and may likely linger if they all get to the Supreme Court.
“Perhaps, it was in realisation of this fact that both Makarfi and Sheriff accepted last Tuesday to sheathe their swords and to embark on genuine reconciliation in the party.”
Cessation of Hostilities
On Tuesday, the party witnessed a major shifting of grounds by both sides in the conflict. Not only did Makarfi and Sheriff hold a meeting at the latter’s private office at Maitama, Abuja, but they came out to issue a joint statement stating that they had resolved to end their differences and work towards full reconciliation of all aggrieved members of the party. The two principal actors in the dispute, Makarfi and Sheriff, said they had agreed to sheathe their swords and were determined to end the leadership crisis that engulfed the party following the national convention in Port Harcourt early this year that resulted in the ouster of Sheriff as the party’s chairman.
The position of both factions was made known at a joint press conference held on Tuesday by Obi Ojougboh. Ojougboh, who read the resolutions reached at the meeting, said the two factional leaders met and make a holistic review of the state of affairs of the PDP.
The joint statement reads, “In reviewing the crisis that has engulfed our party since the loss of the 2015 general election after 16 years of uninterrupted leadership at the centre, it became obvious to both of us as principal actors that it is time to heal the wounds and bring about a united, focused and constructive opposition party that can bring sanity to our democratic process, bring relief to the teeming supporters of our great party and to the benefit of our great country.
“Based on the above, we have both agreed to consult widely with all relevant organs of the party, set up a joint committee that will carry out a holistic reconciliation of all aggrieved segments of our party across the country and in Diaspora and to pursue the vision of the founding fathers of our great party.”
In the spirit of reconciliation, they also called on PDP members to remain calm and refrain from any actions and utterances that could further bring about divisions or disputes in the party.
However, until the party comes out with the agreed terms of reconciliation it may be too early to say whether the PDP crisis is over or not. The meeting of last Tuesday never said anything about the numerous court cases against the party and how issues around them will be resolved. But what gives hope for possible settlement and an end to the leadership crisis is the fact that the key actors, Makarfi and Sheriff, have expressed their willingness to surrender to another set of leadership in the party to be elected at a national convention.
There is also burning a desire by members to see the party come together as one family to fight the governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states.
But the governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose, believes the reconciliation effort may be doomed to failure if the various court cases are not discharged first.
Fayose was quoted as telling journalists in Ado-Ekiti, “I’m not against anything called resolution within the party, but everybody must wait for the Court of Appeal to resolve this matter. Matters are in court, nobody has withdrawn any matter and they are resolving. What are you resolving? When matters are in court, you allow the court to lay them to rest.
“The moment this thing doesn’t go with one side, they’ll tell you, we’re still in court. But allow the court to take a stand and reconciliation would be made easy.
“I’m not against anybody reconciling with each other, but when you see that meeting, ask the conveners if governors were briefed. I was not briefed. I’m not the only person in the party, but then, I’ve a stake.”
The next few weeks will be interesting, as the country watches how the former ruling party navigates the road to permanent peace.