By Jide Ajani
Last Thursday was a remarkable day for the members of the embattled, opposition People’s Democratic Party, PDP, as they found a reason to gather again en masse after almost two years of drifting without a clear trajectory.
From left: Former President Goodluck Jonathan, PDP National Chairman, Ali Modu Sheriff and Chairman Board of Trustees, Alhaji Wali Jubril at a PDP Stakeholders meeting in Abuja on Thursday
The stage was set and all the big names in the party were gathered at the presitigious event venue, the Yar’adua Centre, Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, expectant of a positive development from the outing.
However, what the members thought would be the finest hour for the party, turned into ash and got marred by what some have come to describe, rightly or wrongly, as the bloated ego of the Appeal Court-sanctioned National Chairman of the party, the indomitable Senator Ali Modu sheriff.
The meeting, slated for 2pm, did not start at the appointed hour. This is typical of a political party gathering in Nigeria, as opposed to a board meeting.
Part of the reasons for the late kick off was that Sheriff, whose presence and punctuality appeared central to whatever was to happen that afternoon, chose to come in late.
This was a stakeholders reconciliation meeting of the party where former President Dr. Goodluck Jonathan was to engage, for the first time with a larger contingent of key party members, since after leaving office.
At that meeting, also, seated and waiting for Sheriff’s arrival, were former Vice President, Namadi Sambo, former Senate President, David Mark, incumbent Deputy Senate President (and obviously the present, most senior party member) Ike Ekweremadu, some serving state governors, former ministers, senators and members of the House of Representatives, as well as members of the party’s Board of Trustees.
Jonathan had just presented a well received, beautiful speech reeling out the achievements of his party and rousing his party members to rein in their personal ambitions in the interest peace.
Sheriff, who arrived the venue long after Jonathan had given his opening speech, reportedly insisted on assuming control of the proceedings in his capacity as the chairman.
Not for him the reasoning that it was a reconciliation meeting meant to clear the mess he and some short-sighted party members helped to create.
To be fair – and in 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 national chairman “, Sheriff told newsmen outside the venue of the meeting. This was after he opted not to participate further in the proceedings.
The question is: How did Sheriff, who came in late after the meeting had started, hope to wrest control from the former President?
This, however, did not go down well with the leaders of the party including the governors, law makers and BOT members.
Their reason being that the party constitution recognises that marginal meetings not organised by the main structure of the party usually hold without the chairman overseeing proceedings.
For instance, it was explained that many organs of the party like the Board of Trustees and National Working Committee usually hold their meetings chaired by their heads, even if the party chairman is in attendance.
Their appeal to him was that since it was a reconciliation meeting, there was no need for him to insist on lording it over others, particularly being that the caretaker committee chairman who quietly sat through the meeting still had the support of over 90 % of party members.
Sunday Vanguard gathered that both factional leaders had earlier at several private meetings with Jonathan, committed to not holding on to their titles in the course of the meeting to allow peace to reign.
All the other members were, however, said to have been taken aback by Sheriff’s change of heart.
The meeting could not proceed after the BoT Chairman, Walid Jubril finished his remarks.
Had Sheriff been punctual, he would have spoken immediately after Jonathan. But the schedule had to be altered since he was not in attendance to make way for Jubril to make his presentation.
Not sure of how Sheriff would be presented to members without ruffling feathers, a small meeting within a meeting had to be called.
This held up the bigger meeting for all of the two hours it took to persuade Sheriff to participate to no avail. While this lasted, his co-claimer to the chairmanship position, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, calmly sat on his chair.
Speaking on how Sheriff got it wrong on his position at Thursday’s meeting Segun Sowunmi a strong member of the PDP from Ogun State said: “It was a well intentioned meeting by former President Jonathan which he designed to offer a credible platform to people like Sheriff to sell themselves. But he bungled it. You cannot chair a meeting meant to help you out of your own problem, especially if you are an interested party.”
These views were echoed by Engr. Emma Nwosu a stakeholder and founder of Restart PDP project who described Sheriff as a serial political loser who does not have the capacity to identify good opportunities. By convening that meeting President Jonathan did for sheriff what nobody else would have been able to do. Who else would have been able to bring the entire PDP under one roof, given the prevailing situation? I expected him to have stooped if he really wanted to conquer.”
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, just as he did at the botched Port Harcourt convention.
Despite Senator Sheriff’s opposition, the meeting went ahead to establish a road map for peace with a 40-man all inclusive committee to be directly chaired by the ex-President himself.
It remains to be seen whether Sheriff will see reason and return to the negotiating table. But analysts believe that he has already hit a dead end especially as many of his perceived members stayed back when he stormed out of the meeting.
Some party members express optimism, one which is is fuelled by the fact that Sheriff had lost twice before the Supreme Court and given that the apex court does not have the tradition of reversing itself, there is only a thin chance for sheriff to win.
While addressing his party men earlier, Jonathan had charged them to make personal and general sacrifices, saying: “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 last four years of our time in office as a party was in deed quite momentous as we fully restored confidence in our economy by not only steadying the fundamentals for growth and growing the economy to become the largest in Africa, but also repositioning it to become the number one foreign direct investment destination in Africa.
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.
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 on going litigation over some issues, the party leaders are out to develop a mechanism towards achieving a lasting and enduring political settlement of our differences. Great and committed members of our Great Party, you will all agree with me that this house as presently constituted is too large to fine
tune details of our reconciliation plans and for the intended final political settlement out of court. Permit me to therefore recommend that the meeting be conducted in two tiers viz:
The larger body of stakeholders as we are now. This body will come up with suggestions on the way forward for resolving the differences that we currently face.
A smaller committee of not more than 40 members will be constituted to fine tune the suggestions of the larger body, to finally resolve all the outstanding issues.
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By Jide Ajani