In an attempt to nip the crises rocking the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the bud, former President Goodluck Jonathan convened a stakeholders’ peace meeting. But Leon Usigbe reports that the peace move ended up causing more harm than good. He poses the question; who will draw the party from almost an assured path of perdition?
Everyone had thought that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was on its way to finding a lasting solution to its perennial crises when former President Goodluck Jonathan announced a stakeholders’ meeting last month especially as Jonathan’s initiatives were in tandem with the widely accepted peace option of the Reconciliation Committee headed by the governor of Bayelsa State, Honourable Henry Seriake Dickson.
But as the upbeat members of the largest opposition party in the country gathered at the Shehu Yar’Adua Centre for the meeting, their hopes and expectations got shattered midway into the meeting. Rival claimant to the seat of National Chairman, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff arrived late to the meeting and immediately caused a stir, eventually led his supporters in a walk out on the meeting.
It was a shock find for PDP stakeholders who have always seen their presidents either serving or out of office as leaders of the party.
And that has become the crux of another round of feud in the ever escalating crises rocking the party.
Though Sheriff based his decision on the fact that he was being shut out of speaking to the public at the meeting, party leaders said he failed to arrive at the time he was scheduled to speak. As a result of that development, Sheriff’s hand-picked Deputy National Chairman, Dr Cairo Ojougbor had declared that Sheriff and his supporters are closing the window for discussions or peace meetings with the Senator Ahmed Makarfi-led National Caretaker Committee. That certainly should lead the party to the unexpected Golgotha and the stakeholders are reading the signals clearly.
Youth leaders from the Northern geopolitical zones were quick to read the danger sign when they identified Sheriff’s action as insubordination to Jonathan as asked him to apologise within seven days.
The youth groups, under the aegis of the Amalgamated PDP Youth Leaders nationwide, under the chairmanship of Segun Adeyemi, said that Sheriff’s action was an embarrassment to the PDP and the former President who is seen as the leader of the party. According to the group, while it will not condone anyone disrespecting Sheriff, the former Borno Governor should also not be allowed to disrespect other PDP leaders.
The youth group said: “We witnessed what happened that day, when he walked out on the former President. Would Sheriff be happy if any member of the party embarrassed him the way he embarrassed Jonathan that day?
“He has to tender an unreserved apology to the former President, the Board of Trustees (BoT) and other leaders of the party.
“We insist he should tender unreserved apology. We strongly believe that he is going to do the needful.”
And the fallouts of Sheriff’s walk out on Jonathan and the stakeholders have been reverberating ever since. The former Borno Governor has been seen on visits to the South East, where he had gone to host his own stakeholders meeting for the South East. He has been linked with the establishment of different state factions of the party, while the Delta State version of the party has announced its unwillingness to work with the Sheriff faction of the PDP.
For skeptics and many observers of the crisis-ridden PDP, the temerity of Senator Sheriff to walk out of the peace meeting conveyed by former President Jonathan is an affirmation of the national chairman’s lack of positive sentiments towards the health of the party he claims to lead. Therefore, rather than fast track the peace deal, the PDP simply went deeper into the abyss. But Sheriff felt no remorse at the development. He had insisted till date that Jonathan’s shenanigans, rather than his own intransigence should be blamed for the latest round of crisis rocking the former ruling party.
In line with his promise while leaving power, Jonathan, after a period of hibernation upon losing power in 2015, decided to become more active in the effort to resolve the lingering leadership crisis in the PDP and therefore came up with the idea of a political solution without prejudice to the different ongoing litigations. A fortnight ago, he organised a meeting of PDP stakeholders which he also chaired.
Somehow, the outcome of that effort did not work according to plan. The attendance at the meeting held at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja, was an indication that most leaders of the opposition party were tired of the endless crisis and desired a quick resolution of the matter to enable the party to regain its bearing. But there were signs early on that members were yet to step up on the same page as regards the search for peace.
The meeting started without Sheriff in attendance and no one could tell whether or not he would attend. His deputy national chairman, Dr Ojougboh, was accorded a place at the high table which hosted the likes of Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu; Chairman of the National Caretaker Committee of the party, Senator Ahmed Makarfi; state governors, some members of the party’s Board of Trustees (BoT) and other members of the party’s national caucus.
Jonathan had given his opening remarks and the chairman of the BoT, Senator Walid Jibrin, was giving his when Sheriff strolled into the hall. He walked to the high table where no seat was immediately available for him. Senate Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio, volunteered his seat on the immediate left of Jonathan. That appeared to balance the equation as Senator Makarfi, the other claimant to the national chairmanship seat sat at Jonathan’s immediate right side.
But there was another problem. Sheriff wanted Makarfi out of the high table because he heads the NCC, a body he claimed was not known to law. Sheriff did not have his way on that. Next, he demanded that journalists who had been asked to excuse the meeting be called back to enable him to give his own address as national chairman of the party in public. Going by the programme, Sheriff’s address at the opening ceremony was supposed to follow that of Jonathan, followed by that of Makarfi as NCC chairman before the Chairman of BoT, Senator Jibrin would speak. But Sheriff was not available to speak after Jonathan had concluded his address. In an apparent attempt not to be seen as promoting Makarfi above Sheriff, the former Kaduna State governor’s address was stepped down and the BoT chairman was instead requested to speak. That was the point Sheriff, who was said to have flown in from Egypt, emerged. He protested the announcement that the media should vacate the hall for the meeting to go into a closed session. Governors Nyesom Wike and Ayo Fayose of Rivers and Ekiti states, respectively, showed him no sympathy as they argued that he could not speak publicly as the national chairman of the party except Makarfi would be also allowed to give his remarks as the chairman of the party’s NCC.
Jonathan intervened, saying that neither Sheriff nor Makarfi would speak as no national chairman would be recognised at the peace meeting in order to create a level playing field for a negotiated settlement.
Sheriff got up to leave but was prevailed upon by other party members following which they retired to an ante room within the venue to calm down frayed nerves. The meeting in the room was made up of prominent party members led by Jonathan himself who spent nearly two hours trying to convince Sheriff to accept the arrangement in the meeting.
But Sheriff refused and eventually stormed out along with members of his National Working Committee (NWC). On his way out, he told journalists that as things are in the party, he is the most senior figure as the national chairman and must be recognised as such, pointing out that no other person, not even the former president, has the right to preside over a meeting of the party where he, Sheriff, is present.
His words: “The party as at today has one national chairman, which is Ali Modu Sheriff. There is no PDP meeting that will take place under any arrangement that I will not make an opening remark as a national chairman. I think that Governor Dickson made a proposal, and we have accepted it. Other people have a programme to bring an agenda which is not part of the proposal.
“And as a national chairman of the party, what I told you people in my office is that I will not be party to anybody using me as a party to do another programme. I will not be.”
Sheriff further maintained that his decision to storm out of the meeting did not amount to disrespect for President Jonathan, adding that he has shown good respect to the former President by flying in straight from Egypt for the meeting.
He did not fail to add that the best way forward for the PDP as far as he was concerned, is the template provided by the party’s National Reconciliation Committee led by Bayelsa State governor, Seriake Dickson. “We have a programme, which is initiated by Dickson. Anything that is outside that, I will not be part of,” he added.
The meeting proceeded without Sheriff and ended up establishing another 40-man committee with membership drawn from both Sheriff and Makarfi’s camps, to sort out the problems that had been identified and report back within two weeks.
Jonathan heads the committee but in his absence, former Vice President Namadi Sambo or former Senate President, David Mark will chair it.
While speaking at the end of the meeting, the former president who regretted what he termed the “little situation that occurred in the early part of the meeting,” was hopeful that by the time the committee submits its report; such thing would not repeat itself.
Earlier in his address, Jonathan had told PDP stakeholders that as the leading light of the nation’s democracy, the PDP must not be allowed to drift, noting that rather than engage in blame game, the party must be rebuilt into a formidable force. He observed that the challenges in the PDP are not strange in a democratic society but advised that members should first rebuild the party, that even though people must be encouraged to aspire for positions, they cannot achieve their ambitions without a strong platform.
He said: “There is no doubt that the PDP is a leading light in constitutional democracy and this is why we cannot allow the party to continue to drift. This meeting of today is therefore designed to stem the drift. I have to state clearly that today is not a day to blame ourselves. We have blamed ourselves enough in the media. Today is not a day to insult ourselves; we have also done enough of that in the media. Today is the day our great party men and women will come up with suggestions and solutions to our problems. We will surely overcome the current challenge. The PDP will definitely rise again.”
Jonathan had explained that the meeting was noticeably unique and aimed at achieving two key objectives: “To reassure our party members and all Nigerians that the PDP is united and still remains the largest party in Nigeria and one that has all it takes to win key elections, that without prejudice to the ongoing litigation over some issues, the party leaders are out to develop a mechanism towards achieving a lasting and enduring political settlement of our differences.”
Jonathan thus recommended that the stakeholders meeting should come up with suggestions on the way forward for resolving the differences that we currently face, which necessitated the setting up of 40-member committee to fine tune the suggestions to finally resolve all the outstanding issues. He stressed the need for party leaders to make personal and general sacrifices to ensure the quick resolution of the problems in the party, declaring: “The PDP is a symbol of democracy. If you believe in the PDP, there is no sacrifice too big for you to make.”
Jonathan gave a charge to his party men thus: “As politicians, with the zeal to lead our people, we must aspire to higher offices or identify the people we believe have leadership qualities and encourage them to aspire to those positions. But one thing is very clear: You cannot, as the polity is configured today, be elected into a higher office on the platform of a weak party. We must all, therefore, work to rebuild the PDP and strengthen the party in line with the vision of our founding fathers, and the mission to continue to provide for the good of the people of our great country, valuable leadership in a stable democracy rooted in the rule of law.
“We have to remind ourselves that the prolongation of the crisis in our party may have cost us so much in election fortunes, in recent time. The loss of Edo and Ondo gubernatorial elections is still fresh in our memory. It goes without saying that we cannot afford to have a repeat of that in the forthcoming elections in Anambra, Ekiti and Osun states. It is high time we buried the hatchet, suppressed our ego and prepare to make sacrifices in the interest of our party and, in deed the country. Our ambitions therefore must come second; otherwise we will only be building castles on quick sand. We must realize that as they say, everybody is nobody without a platform. So, why destroy the platform?”
The former President further admonished PDP’s teeming members to remain steadfast and continue to believe in the party, saying that despite the 2015 election setback, “the fact remains that the PDP is still the largest party in our dear country. There is no doubt that the PDP will emerge from this moment of trial to regain its position as the greatest party on our continent.”
In the wake of the collapse of the peace moves by Jonathan, not a few party stakeholders remain divided on the way forward as they find it hard to see where the much needed peace will come from.
Notwithstanding the huge despair, the former President still believes that peace will not remain elusive for too long. Many of his party men will say a big “Amen” to that even in their state of disillusionment.