From Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
Hopes of resolving the crisis rocking the People Democratic Party (PDP), through a political solution appears to be fading by the day, as efforts to build a consensus to that effect at a stakeholders meeting last Thursday, ended in fiasco.
National Chairman of the party, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff walked out on President Goodluck Jonathan and other party leaders at the said meeting, which held at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre in Abuja.
The meeting was convened by Jonathan, in furtherance of the search for a political solution to the PDP leadership crisis.
Despite Sheriff’s attempt to scuttle the peace move, the former President at the end of the meeting, announced the setting up of a 40man committee to work out a road map for peace. He said the committee which is expected to come up with a political solution to the party crisis within two weeks would either be chaired by himself, former vice president, Namadi Sambo or the former Senate President, Senator David Mark.
According to him, the committee would comprise six nominees of the BoT, six nominees of the Sheriff led National Working Committee (NWC) and six nominees of National Caretaker Committee to be drawn from the six geo-political zone, all the PDP governors, Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, Senate Minority leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio, and House of Representatives minority leader, Hon Leo Ogor among others.
Speaking at the commencement of the meeting, the former President, who said the crisis has drastically affected the party’s fortunes in recent time urged members of the party to subordinate their individual ambitions to the overall interest of the party, adding that no sacrifice was too big to make for the survival of the PDP.
“It is high time we buried the hatchet, suppressed our ego and prepare to make sacrifices in the interest of our party and, indeed 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 events that later played out revealed that Jonathan’s plea to the warring gladiators on the need to subjugate their individual ambitions to the collective good was akin to pouring water on a stone.
Daily Sun reliably gathered that prior to the stakeholders’ meeting; Jonathan had met with Sheriff and chairman of the National Caretaker Committee, Senator Ahmed Makarfi to agree on the agenda for the meeting. At the parley, which lasted for close to four hours, it was agreed that the former President, Sheriff, Makarfi and the chairman of the Board of Trustees ( BoT), Senator Walid Jibrin would speak in that order, at the opening session of the meeting.
Sources said after leaving the consultative meeting, the PDP National chairman and his men decided that after he has spoken, there would be no need to allow Makarfi to speak as that would mean giving legitimacy to his position as chairman of caretaker committee.
But the former President was said to have gotten wind of this new thinking within the Sheriff camp, hence the decision not to allow both men speak at the opening session of the stakeholders meeting, even though, they were listed as speakers in the agenda for the meeting. The PDP chairman would have none of that.
When the PDP chairman could not have his way to speak at the meeting, he stormed out, disassociating himself from the gathering, saying “you can’t call me for a meeting of PDP and say I cannot address the meeting as national chairman of the party,” he told journalists.
He said he would stick with the recommendations of the Reconciliation Committee on the resolution of the party crisis.
“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. And I will not be party for anybody using me to do another programme. I am not going to be part of it. “
The PDP chairman, speaking through his deputy, Cairo Ojougboh, declared that his group would never honour any future invitation from former President Jonathan to attend any peace meeting on the party crisis.
If the Sheriff’s stance is anything to go by, the proposed political solution to the PDP crisis may just be dead on arrival.
To many, the turn of events in the PDP peace talks did not come as a surprise. Spokesman of the caretaker committee, Prince Dayo Adeyeye had declared weeks earlier that “ it appears that there would be no meeting point in this matter.”
It would be recalled that crisis broke out in the PDP on May 21 last year, after the party National Convention in Port Harcourt, Rivers state capital, sacked the Sheriff led party’s National Working Committee (NWC) and put in place a caretaker committee with Makarfi as chairman.
However, the Appeal Court, Port Harcourt Division in a majority judgment last February nullified the convention and ordered a return to status quo ante before May 21, 2016. The caretaker committee has appealed that judgment at the Supreme Court.
In the aftermath of the Appeal Court judgment which affirmed Senator Sheriff as the authentic National Chairman of the opposition, the PDP Governors Forum after a meeting with former President Goodluck Jonathan said they were opting for a political solution to settle the leadership crisis in the party.
The chairman of the Forum, Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti state had told journalists at the end of meeting ,which lasted for several hours , that : “We believe that a political solution will go a long way to solving this matter. And if we believe in this party, we will all be willing and ready to pursue a political solution, in which at the end of the day every interest will be well represented.”
The Dickson proposal
The Governor Dickson- led Reconciliation Committee is recommending the conduct of a unity convention, where a new leadership for the PDP would be elected, not later than June 30 this year.
The recommendations also include the setting up of a broad based Convention Committee, with membership drawn from all organs of the party.
According to the report the convention committee should comprise seven governors, seven senators including the Deputy Senate President, 12 members of the House of Representatives, six members of the BoT, six National Vice Chairmen and three state chairmen per zone, making a total of 18 state chairmen.
Also to be included in the committee are six serving Speakers of state Houses of Assembly, six former governors, former presiding officers of the National Assembly, who are still members of the party, six prominent women leaders, six youth leaders of the party, six former ministers of the party and 12 members to be nominated by the National Chairman in consultation with stakeholders.
The Reconciliation Committee also want all party officials whose tenure will subsist beyond June 30, this year to pave way for the conduct of the proposed unity convention.
Road block to peace
However the major hurdle to achieving a political solution to the PDP crisis is the lack of trust on both sides and divergent views on the Dickson Committee Report on what a political solution to the crisis should be. When it emerged that Jonathan asked Sheriff and Makarfi to give up their respective positions as part of a political solution to the PDP crisis, the National chairman’s camp rejected the idea flatly, stating that it was not a true reflection of the outcome of the meeting between the PDP Governors Forum and the former president.
Ojougboh had told Daily Sun in a telephone interview that the position of his group was that Sheriff should remain as chairman to conduct a national convention and thereafter handover.
According to him, asking Sheriff and Makarfi to step down would mean setting up another new caretaker committee, which will invariably spark off another round of crisis in the opposition party.
The PDP deputy national chairman said the party’s NWC believes that the recommendations of the Dickson committee are the panacea to the party’s crisis. Ironically, even by the decision of the Appeal court, which recognised Sheriff, Ojougboh’s position as Deputy Chairman, is not known to the party’s rules and guidelines, since he was just handpicked by Sheriff, without either NEC or NWC of the party ratifying the appointment.
On the other hand Makarfi, a former governor of Kaduna state said the committee report was against both the Appeal Court judgment on the party crisis and the political solution canvassed by Jonathan in his meeting with governors.
For the Makarfi group, except the organs of the party decides otherwise, the only acceptable option is a situation where Sheriff and members of his NWC and the members of the Caretaker Committee would resign their positions, thereafter a Memorandum of Understanding ( MoU) will be signed and deposited at the apex court as the settlement of the crisis.
According to Makarfi “some of the resolution is that the judgment of the Appeal court must be respected to prevent anybody from coming up tomorrow to rubbish the party with litigation. Again, haven reverted to the status quo, everybody will now formally resign. If everybody will resign, then the solicitors of the organs of the party will now sit down and look at all the legal issues involved and then draw up an MoU that will serve as settlement of parties. This will be deposited at the Supreme Court as the settlement of the crisis.”
Regardless, Adeyeye, who is also a former Minister of state for Works said the caretaker committee does not trust Sheriff to organise any convention for the party, stating that the PDP chairman wants to use the convention to further his 2019 presidential ambition. “We don’t trust him. He cannot be at the driving seat. We do not trust him to organise any national convention,” Adeyeye declared.
But Ojoughoh disagrees. He said it was the caretaker committee chairman that wants to use the national convention to advance his 2019 presidential ambition. “Makarfi wants a situation where he will tailor-make the convention to suit his interest, because he has come out to say that he will be contesting the presidency of the country. We are very mindful that we are not going to tie our party around any individual,” he said.
As it is now, the party may have to depend on the decision of the court on the party dispute.