By Emmanuel Aziken, Abuja
he Peoples Democratic Party, had prided itself until last Saturday as the only political party to have survived since the advent of the Fourth Republic without altering its identity or name. But not anymore.
It all seemed to be going well last Saturday as the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP held a special national convention in the Eagles Square. Security concerns arising from the Boko Haram insurgency had been almost adequately addressed with the decision to block traffic on all major roads leading to the Eagle Square.
Entry into the square was strict as all entering the square were passed through tough security screening. The impression that the gathering was moving towards success was further given when President Goodluck Jonathan arrived the convention ground that morning in a bus alongside the party’s governors.
The governors had converged at the Presidential Villa that morning to join the president as part of his convoy to demonstrate to delegates that the troubles that had bedevilled the party in recent times were about to end.
Before the convention day, the president it was learnt, had agreed to resolve the issues that had pitched many of the governors against the leadership of the party. Among the issues that were bothering the governors was the president’s determination to seize the party structure to himself.
In agreeing to heed to the concerns of the governors, it was agreed that all the nominees of the governors in the last National Executive Committee, NEC of the party that voluntarily stepped down on account of the report of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC that ruled their election last year as irregular, should be returned to office.
However, the governors were said to have been shocked as they stepped down from the bus with the president as they were encountered with a list dubbed “Unity List” allegedly endorsed by the presidency and party hierarchy as those endorsed for office. Many of the nominees of the governors for the positions on the NEC were dropped. Prominent among those replaced was Dr. Sam Jaja, the erstwhile Deputy National Chairman in whose place the former National Organising Secretary, Prince Uche Secondus was fitted in.
Also unnerving for the governors was the decision of the party leadership to bar delegates from Adamawa and Rivers States from voting at the convention. The import of the decision was that only statutory delegates would vote at the convention. So while the convention festivities continued, the governors consulted among themselves.
Remarkably, before then, five Northern governors (Rabiu Kwankwanso (Kano); Aliyu Wamakko, Sokoto; Sule Lamido, Jigawa; Babangida Aliyu, Niger and Murtala Nyako, Adamawa had drawn national attention to themselves with their agitation against the alleged slide in the party. They had to the chagrin of presidential aides made consultations with some of the country’s leading elder-statesmen during which they raised allegations of injustice to them by the president and the party leadership.
A day before the convention, Governor Lamido also paid an unusual courtesy visit to former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar in the latter’s Asokoro, Abuja residence.
The purpose of the visit, Saturday Vanguard learnt, was to reunite Atiku and Nyako. The two men who are both from Adamawa State have had an unsteady relationship since Nyako emerged as governor. That visit was indicative of a plot by the governors to form an alliance with Atiku in the coming fight which they obviously had been preparing for.
So it was not surprising that when the governors noticed that they were totally about to be short-changed at the convention that they consulted among themselves and quickly resolved to meet at the Yar Adua Centre, about two kilometres away where they proclaimed a parallel leadership of the party.
The five Northern governors were joined by Governors Abdulfatah Ahmed of Kwara and Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State who himself had been suspended from the party some three months ago.
Governor Ahmed’s presence among the rebel governors was attributed to what sources claimed as the persistent harassment he had lately received on account of his continuing loyalty to Senator Bukola Saraki.
Ahmed was Commissioner of Finance for a period of time when Saraki was governor of the state between 2003 and 2011. According to sources, the Ahmed government has serially been host to agents of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. His patron, Senator Saraki who has lost his own immunity since leaving office as governor has according to associates been the guest of the EFCC several times and yet without being charged to court. The senator it was learnt, has another invitation to be a guest of the EFCC next Monday.
“It has gotten to a point that he is better charged to court so that all the issues can be resolved legally,” an associate of Senator Saraki told Saturday Vanguard.
At the press conference that Saturday, the rebel governors were joined by a number of lawmakers from the National Assembly including some from outside the states of the rebel governors.
Alhaji Kawu Baraje, the former Acting National Chairman of the PDP was proclaimed the national chairman of a parallel executive that also had Chief Olagunsoye Oyinlola as National Secretary.
Baraje at the press conference said the PDP had lost the principles upon which it was founded and pledged that they would ensure that the party was returned to its original ideas.
President Jonathan who was shaken by the developments, it was learnt, reached out to his one time patron, former President Olusegun Obasanjo. The following morning, President Obasanjo was ferried in a presidential jet from Lagos to Abuja. In Abuja, the former president had meetings with Dr. Jonathan in his private residence and attended church service with him too in the Presidential Villa Chapel.
Obasanjo’s involvement in the peace process was understandable. Five of the rebel seven governors were known to be direct offspring of President Obasanjo’s political legacy.
Following consultations with Obasanjo, the President that Sunday, summoned a meeting with the PDP governors to resolve the issue.
It was learnt that some of the rebel governors were disinclined to attend the meeting and in the end, four of the seven rebel governors joined others to meet with the President and other party leaders including Chief Tony Anenih, the Chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees, BoT.
In the course of the meeting the ‘rebel’ governors, it was learnt, alleged serial cases of injustice perpetuated against them by the party. They were alleged to have cited among others the suspension of Governor Amaechi from the party, the harassment of the governors by the EFCC, the removal of party structure from them by the national party and the betrayal at the Eagle Square among others.
The meeting which ended sometime around 2.05 a.m. was supposed to resume on Tuesday after consultations among the different sides.
Also on Monday, elements in the Baraje faction of the PDP filed a petition before an Ikeja, Lagos High Court seeking to remove legal recognition from the Tukur -led faction of the party and transfer same to the Baraje -led faction.
Even more striking, is a prayer by the Baraje group represented by Oyinlola praying the court to declare that Tukur is not a member of the PDP on account of the claim that he has not been formally re-admitted into the party following his 2001 expulsion from the party.
But even before the consultation could resume, the crisis escalated as 26 PDP senators pledged their loyalty to the Baraje led nPDP.
That was followed a day later on Tuesday by the members of the House of Representatives who were able to mobilise as many as 58 of their members to declare allegiance to the Baraje led faction.
As the situation deteriorated, Anenih announced the postponement of the Tuesday scheduled meeting with the rebel governors.
Anenih, normally a strong associate of the President, in a communiqué announcing the postponement of the meeting affirmed that some of the governors indeed have genuine grievances.
That nonetheless, the President the same Tuesday night met with loyalist governors during which he was said to have vowed not to kowtow to the demands of the Baraje group.
At that meeting, it was gathered that the President also vowed not to stop the EFCC from doing its duties in investigating the governors belonging to the Baraje group. His hard posture some alleged flowed from what some claimed as the demand put to him by the Baraje governors to give an assurance that he would not contest the 2015 presidential election and that he would drop Tukur as their conditions for peace.
Perhaps driven by a determination not to give up control of the party to the governors, the President was quoted as saying at that meeting with the loyalist governors that he would not give in to the blackmail. Perhaps fired by the alleged resolve of the President, Tukur on Wednesday came out smoking, vowing to ensure that the governors and National Assembly members who crossed over to Baraje’s faction of the party were made to lose their political positions.
Addressing newsmen, Tukur who refused to take follow up questions said: “The PDP has only one duly elected National Executive Committee (NEC) under my chairmanship. I wish therefore to state with all emphasis that any group of persons parading themselves as leaders of NEC or any other organ of our party are impostors and I urge all Nigerians, especially the security agencies and other institutions of democracy to regard them as such.
“Let me state categorically that the PDP as the sole custodian of the sacred mandate of over 160 million Nigerians and which in the last 14 years has lifted high the banner of democracy will not fold its arms while some undemocratic and unpatriotic elements destroy our common destiny by causing divisions and confusion among the people.
“Consequently, we shall ensure that any person who is not duly elected into any leadership position in our great party and has not been duly assigned any role but goes ahead to arrogate such to himself will be made to face the full wrath of the law.
“Similarly, all persons elected on the platform of our great party at all levels who identify with these enemies of the oneness and greatness of our party shall have their seats declared vacant as required by law.
“We shall leave no stone unturned to ensure that such persons and indeed any other individual who attempts to subvert the leadership of the PDP shall reap in full, the consequences of such actions.
“I wish to emphasize that the PDP has adequate mechanism for internal conflict resolution. All party members are, therefore, advised to ventilate their grievances through this medium. There is only one lawfully recognized PDP and I am firmly in charge. I thank you and may God bless you.”
Baraje immediately replied him, saying: “They are all jokers, they don’t know what party politics is. We are not surprised because he (Tukur) is ignorant of party politics. In any case, the process of declaring a seat vacant or recalling members of the National Assembly is well known in the constitution; to wake up and say he is going to recall people or declare their seats vacant is sheer ignorance. He is not fit to be called the National Chairman of the PDP.”
Speaking in a similar vein, spokesman of the House of Representatives, Rep. Zakari Mohammed said: “The man should go and read the Electoral Act and be guided as that will guide his utterances. This is about the law. What he does not understand is that when a party is factionalised, I can decide to say that I belong to PPA today, it doesn’t matter because it is public knowledge today that we have two factions of the PDP and nobody can pretend about it”.
The crisis has inevitably opened a way for the radical elements in the party seeking to break away to do so given that the only legal avenue for members of the National Assembly to leave the party on which they were elected is a crisis in that party.
But the danger for the President and the PDP as an institution is that the ensuing crisis could in due season break the party’s control of the National Assembly. Already the party has turned into a minority in the two houses of the National Assembly.
For now, the agitation among members has not inflamed angst against the leadership in the two houses who understandably have kept a low profile in order to avoid collateral damage.