By Willy Eya
For the umpteenth time, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has failed to resolve the leadership crisis threatening its existence. With the outcome of last Thursday’s crucial meeting of major stakeholders of the party presided over by former President Goodluck Jonathan, it appears that the schism within its fold has become an albatross on its neck.
The last effort by Jonathan is one of the several attempts by stakeholders, groups and the founding fathers of the party to calm fraying nerves and prevent it from disintegration.
But the major headache is obviously the intense and protracted power play between the two factions of the party led by Sen. Ali Modu Sheriff and Sen. Ahmed Makarfi and the bone of contention is the seat of the national chairman, which both parties hold tenaciously to.
It would be recalled that after the Port Harcourt appeal judgment that authenticated the chairmanship of Sheriff, President Jonathan had promised to lead in the resolution of the conflict to bring peace back to the party. His promise came shortly after the Prof. Jerry Gana-led committee submitted its report to the former president on the way forward to revive the ailing party and restore confidence in the hearts of its supporters ahead of the 2019 general elections.
It was then followed by a proposal from the Governor Seriake Dickson led-committee on reconciliation. The committee had agreed to adopt a political solution to resolve the lingering leadership crisis.
Following the development, stakeholders of the party held several meetings to clear the coast ahead of the April 6, 2017 reconciliation meeting hosted by Jonathan.
So, when the crème of the party converged on Abuja last week, many had expected a fruitful outcome of the proceedings. However, the opportunity to reconcile the differences failed when senator Ali Modu Sheriff stormed out of the meeting for not being allowed to take over the proceedings. Sheriff who arrived late for the meeting, left midway into the close-door session, accompanied by his deputy, Cairo Ojougboh and many of his supporters.
He told journalists at the Yar’Adua centre, venue of the event that as the National Chairman, he ought to preside over every meeting of the party. The PDP chairman later vowed not to attend any reconciliatory meeting with the former president. He said that although he respects former president Jonathan but that the gesture must be reciprocated.
“I respect him (Jonathan) calling for the meeting. He was a former president but as at today, I am the most senior member of the party. Therefore, if I respect him, the respect must be reciprocated. You can’t call me for a meeting of PDP and say I cannot address the meeting as a national chairman of the party. We are here for PDP stakeholders meeting and the PDP has only one national chairman, which is Ali Modu Sheriff. There is no PDP meeting that will take place under whatever arrangement that I will not open the session as national chairman.
“I think Governor Dickson made a proposal for reconciliation and we have accepted. Some people want to deviate from this programme, to bring agenda which was not part of it,” he said.
For the party which hitherto dominated the nation’s politics like a colossus, it is like one week, one trouble. And the question critical observers of unfolding developments in the party, are asking is when will the seeming intractable crisis in the PDP be over?
Since the crisis started, many permutations have dominated public discourse with many believing that Sheriff is a mole in the PDP. The calculation by people in this school of thought is that the former Borno governor is not ready for any reconciliation as he is bent on achieving a predetermined agenda. Even though Sheriff’s supporters do not agree with that conspiracy theory, many think otherwise.
Some believe that he is beginning to lose popularity as many of his supporters stayed back when he stormed out of the last meeting. Many argue that the meeting convened by President Jonathan was an opportunity for the controversy on Sheriff’s loyalty to the party to be put to rest but it turned out another elusive search for peace.
At the beginning of the meeting, Jonathan presented a beautiful speech reeling out the achievements of the PDP and rousing his party members to rein in their personal ambitions in the interest of peace. Part of his speech read: “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. 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.
“The meeting of today is noticeably unique and it is 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.
“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”.
But a former Senator representing Benue North East, Senator Joseph Akaagerger believes that the meeting convened by Jonathan was aimed at compounding the leadership crisis of the PDP because it lacked direction.
Akaagerger noted that the lack of direction was why Sheriff was not recognised as the National Chairman of the Party.
He stressed that the former Borno governor ought to have been recognised as the National Chairman of the party in any gathering of the party members.
Ekiti state Governor, Ayo Fayose who also spoke to newsmen at the venue of the meeting declared that he was not surprised by sheriff’s conduct, adding that he had formed a notorious habit of storming out of meetings.
Fayose accused Sheriff of insulting leaders of the party with his attitude, describing him as an impossible character who nothing, can change.
He said: “From what Ali Modu Sheriff did it should now be clear to all well-meaning Nigerians that he is not acting on his own. He is an agent of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and by extension an enemy of democracy in Nigeria”.