Last Wednesdayâ€™s Supreme Court judgment recognising the Ahmed Makarfi leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party provides a second chance for the party to play a key role in the polity. Onyebuchi Ezigbo reports
Last Wednesdayâ€™s affirmation of the National Caretaker Committee headed by Senator Ahmed Makarfi as the authentic leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) by the Supreme Court has no doubt brought back to life, the crisis-torn party. With that judgment, PDP is in a better place to take up its position as the main opposition party in the country. Members of the party will now have a leadership to rally around and galvanise efforts towards challenging the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2019 general election.
The APC-led administration had in the last two years operated virtually without a major opposition party tracking its activities, except for occasional criticisms from a factionalised PDP, which were mostly feeble and lacking in depth and necessary follow-up. The situation has also affected governance as the ruling party could not get a virile opposition to give it the necessary push and to put it on its toes any time it slacks.
It is for this reason that many have welcomed the Supreme Court ruling of last Wednesday, which has restored normalcy to the leadership of the PDP. The implication is that a more united PDP would now change all that and will most likely constitute a major threat to the APC ahead of the 2019 general election.
If in the last two years, a factionalised PDP was able to exert influence in the legislature and was able to literally dictate terms during the formation of the leadership of the National Assembly, and if without a recognised party leadership, the governors of the PDP and its legislative caucus still mustered enough unity and cohesion to tackle APC, it could then be imagined what would happen now that the PDP will be operating under one national leadership courtesy of the Supreme Court judgment.
Political calculations for the 2019 general elections will definitely change and politicians will have to adjust their plans. This includes those who defected to the ruling party and others contemplating such moves may have to reconsider their stand now that a new window has opened for the PDP to try and get its acts together once again. Definitely, the coming back of the PDP will trigger off a lot of political activities in the coming days.
Thus, one of the immediate pre-occupation of the restored Makarfi-led National Caretaker Committee would be to embark on full reconciliation of its aggrieved members nationwide. It would also be focusing on how to actualise its mandate to organise a credible national convention for the party before their tenure elapses in August. Similarly, before it got immersed in the bitter leadership tussle, the PDP had endorsed some reforms as recommended by the post-election committee headed by the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekwerenmadu.
Perhaps, the party might be taking another look at some of the issues contained in that report as part of measures to rebrand its image and to do away with the mistakes of the past. Under the prevailing political climate, a resurgent PDP has no choice than to adapt to new ways of doing things. The days of impunity in the affairs of the party has gone, perhaps, as Makarfi and other leaders of the party have always echoed.
Henceforth, it may not be business as usual for politicians from both sides of the divide, the PDP and APC as well as any other party, as any mistake could be very costly. An example could be drawn from what happened in the last senatorial bye-election in Osun State, where the APC had issues with its selection process for its candidate in the election and paid dearly for it. This would serve as a lesson to other parties.
The Challenging Path to Reconciliation
The first major pre-occupation of the PDP national leadership is definitely going to be that of reconciliation of aggrieved party stakeholders. How to go about it will be a major challenge for the Makarfi committee especially, bearing in mind that several peace efforts failed in the past to achieve the desired result. Makarfi and other party leaders will have to first decide what to do with the various reports of the peace panels established in the recent past.
One of such peace panels was the one headed by the Governor of Bayelsa State, Hon. Seriake Dickson. Another of such efforts was the committee headed by the former Minister of Information, Prof. Jerry Gana, whose membership was more than 100 and was drawn from virtually all the organs of the party. Apart from considering reports of previous peace efforts, the party has to find ways of reconciling issues with the former national chairman, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff and those who stood by him in the leadership tussle.
The task of reconciliation in the PDP becomes very challenging and delicate, when one realises that the division and disaffection within the party have gone very deep even to the state chapters. Most of the states, especially those without the PDP government in place, have had their structures factionalised just as it happened at the national level. Even in some of the states presently under PDPâ€™s control, the leadership of the party has also been factionalised with some having issues to settle in courts. It may require a holistic approach, where the leaders come together and adopt a workable template for restoration of peace in the state chapters which will be acceptable to most stakeholders.
Another issue will be how to deal with some of the commitments and actions already taken by the former chairman during the leadership crisis. For instance the partyâ€™s candidates list already submitted to electoral bodies by the sacked Sheriff leadership, especially those for local council elections in Lagos State. Reconciliation is therefore very crucial if PDP is to live its dream of coming back to relevance and to possibly retake power in 2019.
First to respond to the Supreme Court judgment last Wednesday was Makarfi, who immediately offered an olive branch to all aggrieved party members, declaring that there was â€œno victor, no vanquishedâ€. He said efforts would be made to enthrone a true and genuine reconciliation that would be based on fairness, justice and legality.
â€œI am happy that the Supreme Court has brought this protracted leadership tussle to an end today. There is no victor and there is no vanquished, but a collective victory for our party and the nationâ€™s democracy. No democracy can prosper in the absence of a virile opposition or under the extreme hardship Nigerians have faced over the past two years. Citizens deserve a viable alternative.â€
Makarfi led a team of party leaders including Professor Jerry Gana, Ekiti State governor, Ayo Fayose; former Jigawa governor, Sule Lamido; former Anambra Governor, Peter Obi; Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu and many others from the Supreme Court premises straight to the Wadata Secretariat, where they met with other stakeholders of the party, already waiting for them.
The former Kaduna State governor, who is saddled with the responsibility of bringing the party back to life, again, spoke about his plans.
â€œWe are open to reconciliation. But for us, reconciliation does not mean we will take what belongs to Mr. A and give it to Mr. B. We will do reconciliation based on equity, equality and value. You cannot get what you didnâ€™t earn.â€
Speaking to a crowd of supporters, which gathered at the national secretariat of the PDP, Makarfi said the reconciliation would not mean denying people positions that are legally theirs, adding that he and his committee would be meeting with stakeholders in the days ahead to chat the way forward.
â€œThe battle we fought was not a battle for PDP alone. It was a battle for democracy; it was a battle for supremacy of party men and women to decide their destiny. And itâ€™s a battle to do away with dictatorship in political parties and this will never repeat itselfâ€.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan, while reacting to the Supreme Court judgment echoed the position of the Makarfi-led NCC, saying it is â€œno victor and no vanquished policyâ€. Writing on his Facebook page, the former president said â€œI thank God for this day of Justice and may God bless Nigeria. While urging truce and forgiveness for those that may have taken disagreeable positions, Jonathan said the PDP that gave Nigeria the largest economy in Africa is a party whose heart is large enough to find a place for all Nigerians.
â€œTodayâ€™s verdict is a judgment, where there are no winners or losers. It is a verdict that will bring our party together. We should all thank the Supreme Court of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I believe in our jurists. We may have issues with some individuals but the Nigerian judiciary deserves our respect and commendation. They have served this country well.
â€œThe PDP is an inclusive vehicle not an exclusive one. We see Nigerians as human beings deserving of the rule of law, separation of powers and a free market economy that provides a level playing ground for all. As a senior member of the party, I hereby call on all those, who left the party because of its leadership issues to return to their natural home and build the PDPâ€.
On his part, Ekweremadu said the Supreme Court judgment ushered in a new dawn of peace, reconciliation, and recovery for the party, saying â€œIt is heartwarming that calm is returning after the storm. I salute millions of our party faithful and Nigerians, who stood firm to weather the storm for their courage and loyalty, and sincerely appeal to those, who left for one reason or the other to return to our big political family.
â€œImportantly, I call on our party leadership and elders to immediately initiate an all-inclusive peace, reconciliation, and rebuilding process to reunite everybody under the big umbrella and reinvigorate the biggest party in Africa to bounce back to the rescue of the suffering masses of Nigeria come 2019â€.
Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike said the judgment of the Supreme Court was a victory for democracy as the nation will now have a viable opposition. Speaking in Abuja on Wednesday, Wike said: â€œThis judgment shows that there will be opposition in Nigeria. I am very happy. Rivers people are very happy, because we have no other party aside the PDPâ€
Former ministers, on their part, described the judgment as â€œone of the most celebrated cases of our timeâ€ adding that it was in tandem with the wishes of party members. Addressing newsmen after their meeting in Abuja, the chairman of the ministersâ€™ forum, a former minister for special duties, Tanimu Kabir Turaki, thanked the Supreme Court over the judgment and said it had established itself as being able to rise to any challenge in critical times.
â€œThe judgment is hope for democracy. The opposition will continue to survive. Without opposition, government wonâ€™t be able to sit up and do the work that is expected of them. We urge the committee to make necessary arrangement to consolidate the gains. Bring all members back to the fold. In our last press briefing, we said no matter the outcome of the judgment, there is no winner or loser. This temporary setback should not be seen as excuse to allow the unnecessary gap to continue.â€
On what advice they would give to Sheriff, the ministersâ€™ forum said, â€œFor Sheriff, who is my brother and friend, I know he is a democrat. I remember that on more than one occasion, I have heard him say he will abide with the decision of the court. I will encourage him to do that and to talk to his members to come back home. Judgment has been given and it has settled all the issues. The committee has a mandate they are working on which is to oversee credible conventionâ€.
However, the man in the thick of the crisis, Sheriff, was not available for comments and when contacted, his Deputy, Cairo Ojougboh, said he had no comment to make yet until they meet to review the development.
As it is, the PDP already has its life back, with a rare opportunity to play a major role in the polity that is in dire straits. How the party makes use of this golden opportunity is up to it and certainly, would go a long way to determine whether or not it truly desires to return to power in 2019.