By Henry Umoru
As the nation prepares for the 2011 elections, the in house fights in the ruling party,Â Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP)Â must have shown its members the reality of its responsibility.
It was in April. In fact, last April was one of the most stormy moments in the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP following the emergence of the PDP Reform Forum.
Since then, it had suspicions, rivalry, accusations and counter accusations, so much that the leadership of the PDP saw members of the group as rascals, their actions irresponsible, undemocratic, unconstitutional. Members of the National Working Committee, NWC and the reform group afflicted plains on one another.
THOSE BEHIND THE REFORM FORUM
The PDP reform group has as its arrow-head former Senate President, Ken Nnamani, ex-Speaker, House of Representatives, Aminu Bello Masari, former Senate President, Adolphus Wabara, past National Secretary of the party, Bernard Eze.
It also prides itself with notable PDP members like Professor Alphonsus Nwosu, past presidential aspirant, Rochas Okorocha, immediate past Minister of Commerce and Industry, Achike Udenwa, former governor of Rivers State, Peter Odili, the PDP Abia governorship candidate in the 2007 governorship election, Onyema Ugochukwu, former transport Minister, Abiye Sekibo, and Senator Ifeanyi Ararume.
Other founding members of the group were Chief Tony Ukasanya, Chief Sunny Iroche, Senator Emmanuel Agboti, Senator Sylvanus Ngele; Chief Chris Ekpeyong, former Deputy Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Hon. Auwal Tukur, former Chief Whip, Bawa Bwari, Kelechi Igwe. Also recently, political aides of former President Olusegun Obasanjo literally stormed the Reform Forum in the likes of ex-Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, his Justice Ministry counterpart, Kanu Agabi, ex_Minister of the Federal Capital Territory Administration, FCTA, Mallam Nasir El_Rufai as well as Obasanjoâ€™s Special Adviser on Project Monitoring and evaluation, ProfessorÂ Julius Ihonvbere.
Also as new entrants were ex Foreign Affairs and former National Secretary of the PDP, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, former governor of Rivers State, Peter Odili, Musa Elayo, Professor Femi Otubanjo, and Akin Oshuntokun, Iro Dan Musa, among others.
ISSUES RAISED BY THE GROUP
Though there were series of meetings, the first major public outing by the reform group held at the Nicon Luxury Hotel, on April 22. They group agreed that there was the need for a holistic reform of the party, just as they stressed that the ideals of the founding fathers must be brought to bare if there must be meaningful progress in the party.
The forum also noted the absence of internal democracy in political parties in the country. They decried the state of what they described as current ineffectiveness of the PDP NWC which it said was neither imaginative nor creative in generating ideas to reinforce founding ideals of the Party, adding that the party must review its activities and take full advantage of the yearnings of Nigerians for a true and sustaining democratic culture.
The convener, former Senate President Ken Nnamani, described the PDP as a liability against the backdrop that if the party loses an election,Â Nigerians will describe the polls as very free and fair. But when the party wins, they will say the electionsÂ were rigged. He stressed that Nigeria as a country would get it right if the leadership and members of the PDP get it right.
According to him, if the present electoral reform process of the country must succeed, there must be a reform that must be carried out among the political parties in the country. He said that members of the reform group are not there to change the leadership of the party, just as he denied rumours that the group is being funded and it is also not about fostering a new chairman for the party.
â€œI will like to make a number of clarifications because there seem to be dilution of the noble intention of this forum, our purpose will be enunciated by subsequent speakers and will indicate very clearly that at no time did we gather or at no time did any individual try to sponsor us to foster on a new PDP chairman on the party.
A group of individuals found it convenient to run around with candidates of their choice who will take over from the present chairman of the party. That is not the purpose of this forum. We have at no time aspired to build one selective, nominate or direct the activities of PDP. That is not the function because I will like to call attention to section 9 of our constitution, PDP constitution , and I will like to believe also that every person here belongs to PDP.â€
At the end of that well attended meeting, a communiquÃ© was issued, saying, â€œThe PDP itself must rise up to the occasion by putting in place necessary internal democratic reforms to reflect what is being postulated at the national level. The PDP must revisit all facets of our Party Constitution that militate against transparent internal democracy within the Party and effect immediate reforms.
The PDP must revisit the current criteria of selections of delegates for our various congresses and convention with a view to seriously reducing the members appointable by a single individual -(be he a State Governor or the President/Commander-in-Chief). In fact, elected delegates must outnumber appointed ones.
â€œThe Biennial national conference prescribed in the PDP Constitution, which is currently overdue by three months, be immediately summoned for the sole purpose of examining and effecting these necessary far reaching internal reforms.
â€œAttendance at the conference must be strictly by election at ward/Local Government levels.
â€œThis conference hereby calls on the founding fathers, the National leader and Acting President, Commander-in-Chief, the Board of Trustees, the expanded National Caucus of our great party and all well meaning members of the Peoples Democratic Party to take all necessary and appropriate steps to urgently dissolve the National Working Committee of the Party as currently composed and recon-stitute same with men of high probity, integrity and commitment to the ideals of our great Party in the interest of the Nigerian nation.â€
INVITATION TO APPEAR BEFORE THE NWC
Disturbed by the stakeholdersâ€™ views on the national leadership of the Party, the NWC ordered them to appear before its members over what the immediate past National Chairman, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor and his team described as engaging in activities likely to cause disaffection among members of the party. Members of the Forum were to appear on Thursday 22nd April, 2010 at 12 noon to clear themselves of their operation under the group tagged PDP Reform Group.
Unfortunately for the leadership of the party, while they were expecting them at the Wadata Plaza, the National Secretariat of the Party, Nnamani and his men were at Nicon Luxury tongue_lashing the partyâ€™s leadership.Â The meeting could not therefore hold as the NWC members waited in vain for those they later described as radicals.
When members of the reform group refused to honour the invitation on the ground thatÂ as senior members of the party who have contributed to the growth of the PDP, the then National Chairman ought to have invited them properly and not through newspapers or television, then the leadership of the PDP got provoked and suspended the 19 members.
Former Senate Presidents, Ken Nnamani, Adolphus Wabara, Ex_Speaker Bello Masari and others wereÂ referred to the National Disciplinary Committee for further necessary action.
According to the National Secretary, Alhaji Abubakar Kawu Baraje who signed the statement, the party expressed its surprise at the refusal of members of the Party operating under a group called the â€œPDP Reform Forumâ€ to appear beforeÂ it despite extensive invitations extended to them.
Baraje, who is now the Chairman of the five_member Committee set up to look into the issues raised by the group, said then,Â â€œThe NWC is of the view that the concerned members had adequate notice but declined to utilise the opportunity granted them by the invitation to explain their roles.
â€œThe NWC held that the decision to dishonour the invitation to appear before it is a calculated attempt to disregard lawful directives of the Party in order for them to continue to ridicule the Party contrary to Article 12.1 of the PDP Constitution.
â€œConsequently, the following members of the so called PDP Reform Forum are suspended from the Party forthwith in accordance with Article 21.4 of the Party Constitution.â€
Even during the suspension, the PDP, through the National Publicity Secretary, Professor Rufai Ahmed Alkali, barely four hours, 20th May, 2010 after the PDP Reform Forum ended its conference in Abuja, the Party described the membersâ€™ call for the dissolution of the National Working Committee, NWC as irresponsible, undemocratic, unconstitutional.
According to the party, their moves were deliberate attempts to ridicule the Partyâ€™s laid down procedures, adding that they were out to seize control of the Peoples Democratic Party through the back door.
THE FORUM IN COURT
After their suspension from the party and as the PDP prepared for its National Executive Committee, NEC meeting scheduled for Tuesday, 27th April, 2010, the 19 suspended members went to an Abuja High Court before Justice A.M.Talba to have an order of interim injunction restraining the leadership of the party from holding the meeting.
The respondents were the PDP, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor, Abubakar Kawu Baraje and the National Publicity Secretary, Professor Rufai Ahmed Alkali. But at the end of the day and with the support of the 28 PDP governors, the meeting was held following the setting aside of the first order.
The First Casualty
As events were unfolding, even though the leader of the group, Senator Ken Nnamani had said they were not for the removal of Ogbulafor or any member of the NWC, the Abia prince, Ogbulafor, became the first casualty. He had to resign under duress last Wednesday, 13th, May, 2010.
According to him, he resigned from his position following his case with the Independent Corrupt Practices and Related Offences Commission, ICPC in court over a 16_count criminal charge involving N2.3 billion fraud, just as he said that quitting would give him the opportunity to prepare as well as face his case in court, just as he reiterated that he was innocent of the charges.
The letter of resignation read in part, â€œResignation as the National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), dated 13th May, 2010 which the attention the Deputy National Chairman, Ogbulafor said, his resignation was â€œin strict compliance with the provision of Article 14.4 of the Constitution of the PDP, 2009(as amended).
The letter which he copied President Goodluck Jonathan and the Kwara State governor and Chairman, Governorsâ€™ Forum, Dr. Bukola Saraki further read, â€œthis resignation was informed by the case I have with the Independent Corrupt Practices and Related Offences Commission, (ICPC) in court; for it will give me an ample opportunity to prepare and face my case frontally in order to prove my innocence; and for the interest of our Party and the nation at large.
More so, this resignation will prove to the world that some Nigerian leaders can vacate high offices in order not to be seen as using such office to obstruct justice.â€
Jonathan/Sambo Peace Move
After all the hullabaloo and splitting of fire by both groups, there came the end of the tunnel Tuesday, June 1, 2010 when the presidency had to intervene, to say enough was enough. Though President Goodluck Jonathan was in far away Nice, France, his Vice, Namadi Sambo called both the NWC and the Reform Forum members to a meeting at the Presidential Villa.
The PDP team was led by its Acting National Chairman, Dr. Mohammed Bello. It was gathered that issues were raised and at the end of the day, the crisis appeared nipped in the bud, a prelude to Wednesday decision by the NWC to lift the suspension on them.
The journey which lasted over two months must have ended with the go and sin no more. Many of the party members hope that their leadership would respect the gentlemanâ€™s agreement reached during the meeting with Vice President Namadi Sambo. It is also hoped that with the exit of Ogbulafor as the first victim in the entire political imbroglio, the party will at least experience peace.
It is also hoped that the National Working Committee members must have learnt their lessons that we do commit suicide each time we are annoyed and the reform group must have also learnt some lessons from the troubles.