A trouble-shooting team in the Peoples Democratic Party, the Reconciliation and Strategic Committee headed by a former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, met last week with critical stakeholders in the main opposition party. Amidst speculation of mass defection to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), TAIWO AMODU and LEON USIGBE of Tribune examine the efforts of the six-member committee and its chances of aborting a depletion in the PDP.
Last December, the Prince Uche Secondus-led National Working Committee (NWC) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) inaugurated a six-member National Reconciliation and Strategic Committee with the immediate past Senate President, Bukola Saraki, as chairman.
Other members of the committee are another former Senate President and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator Pius Ayim; former Governors Liyel Imoke (Cross River), Ibrahim Dankwambo (Gombe), and Ibrahim Shema (Katsina), as well as former House Minority Leader, Mulikat Akande.
The committee has as part of its terms of reference, reconciliation of aggrieved chieftains in state chapters. It was also saddled with the task of ensuring that top chieftains who have distanced themselves from the party are placated to show interest in who gets what in the erstwhile ruling party.
Walking the talk
In his acceptance speech, the former two-term governor of Kwara State commended the leadership of the party for the initiative, while pledging that his team would deliver on the assignment.
“This initiative by our great party to embark on genuine reconciliation, strengthening of our structures, addressing the grievances of our members, re-inventing the all-inclusive, broad-based foundation of our party which has been the goal of our founding fathers is, to quote Victor Hugo, “an idea whose time has come,” said Saraki.
The committee dominated the media space last week, as it met with former President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, federal lawmakers under the aegis of PDP National Assembly Caucus, former PDP governors, a strategic organ of the party, the Board of Trustees and former military President, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (retd) in Minna.
Jonathan refutes defection plot
Prior to the meeting, there were several insinuations in the media of overtures by top members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to the former president to defect to the ruling party.
Last year, some APC governors visited the former president on the occasion of his birthday fuelling the rumour of a likely romance and plan by the APC to lure the former precedent to their fold ahead of next general election. The governors in the ruling party and certain individuals in the Presidency have been linked with an orchestrated plot to woo Jonathan with the APC presidential ticket for 2023 as the bait.
According to the narrative, the plot is to ensure that power returns to the North after one term of Jonathan in 2028.
A source at the meeting revealed that the former president, however, told the members of the committee that “he has no intention to defect from the party that made him Deputy Governor, Governor, Vice-resident and President.”
He said he pulled back since the party did not seem to need his assistance or seek to involve him in its activities. He said he did not want to impose himself on the party. He promised that now that the party has deemed it fit to approach him, he will make his resources, experience and contact available in rebuilding, repositioning and refocusing the party.
Speaking at the end of the closed-door meeting with the former president, Senator Saraki told newsmen that the claim about Jonathan defecting to the ruling party was a mere ruse.
He said, “Jonathan gave us his views and we are very happy. He reassured all of us of his commitment to the PDP and he told us that he is still ready to offer his time, experience and resources to strengthen the party.
“That is very strong and important for us. Of course, you know there are funny issues going on, but we are leaving this place very happy. Jonathan is also ready to work with the reconciliation committee to play his own part. That is a great step for the party.”
The same day, the committee also met with the PDP senators at the home of the Senate Minority Leader, Eyinaya Abaribe.
Prior to the inauguration of the committee last year, the main opposition party lost a serving Senator representing Adamawa North, Elisha Abbo, and Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi to the ruling APC.
The meeting held with the federal lawmakers at the residence of Senator Abaribe was to enable the Senate caucus to ventilate their grievances, if any, and discuss way forward for the party.
Last Wednesday, the six-member panel met with governors who had served the country under its platform since the return to democracy in 1999. The meeting which held at Legacy House, Maitama was also attended by top leaders across states of the federation like former Anambra state governor, Peter Obi; immediate past Kwara State governor, Abdulfatai Ahmed, Ibrahim Shema, Boni Haruna, Ahmed Makarfi, Gabriel Suswam, Sam Egwu, Emmanuel Uduaghan, Ramalan Yero, Babangida Aliyu, Ibrahim Idris, Wada Idris, former governors of Katsina, Adamawa, Kaduna, Benue, Ebonyi, Delta, Kaduna, Niger and Cross River states respectively.
Before the meeting, speculation was rife that APC had open discussions with some of the former governors and they were already on their way to the ruling party. The PDP was, however, jolted as former Ogun state governor and Director-General of Atiku Campaign Organisation in the last presidential election, Gbenga Daniel, gave credibility to the news.
At the end of the meeting, Senator Saraki told journalists that the former governors dismissed media reports of mass defection, but expressed their disaffection over the leadership style of the Uche Secondus-led NWC which they noted has alienated them.
The former Senate president said his team has given the former governors assurance that henceforth, the former governors would no longer be in the dark about development in their party.
‘We got assurance from them that they are not going anywhere. Instead, we are going to bring more people to the party.
“Look at it now, the turnout of the former governors at this meeting is two-third. It has never happened before. It›s a good sign and a good prospect for the party. They [former governors] were very frank on their grievances and that is what took us a long time.
“They told us what the issues are and we have taken note of those issues but they are not issues that are insurmountable.
“I am very happy, very encouraged because a lot of them have a lot of experiences and resources, but felt that they are not as involved in some of the issues. And we have promised as a committee to keep them briefed, get them involved.
“I want to see them be more active because their silence sometimes might be misinterpreted, but they have promised me and the committee that they will become more active workers of the party.
“You will hear more of their voices that they are available for comments on national issues. You can look at the calibre of some of them. If they are working at full blast, I think it will help the fortunes of the party.”
BoT passes confidence vote in Saraki team
At penultimate Thursday meeting with the Board of Trustees led by Senator Walid Jubrin, Senator Saraki said it was determined to give everyone in the party a sense of belonging. He further noted that every member of the party has a role to play in the reconciliation move and the progress of the opposition party.
“We are going to reach out to everybody. Everybody matters. Everybody has a role to play. As I said earlier, we started the process with the former president.
“Yesterday was with former governors and deputies. Today, we are meeting with BOT. We are reaching out to former leaders of the National Assembly, founding fathers.
“Next week, hopefully, we will have sessions with women and youths to bring them together on issues of reconciliation and more participation and other issues,” Saraki said.
At the end of the meeting, Senator Jubrin said the BoT has given its recommendations to the committee to help it perform better.
Jubrin who expressed confidence in the Saraki team however appealed to it to be forthright in its recommendations.
“We are giving them 100 per cent support to carry out this assignment. They are fearless.
“They should not fear anybody and no issue of money should be involved in this exercise.
“We trust Saraki. We know he is the kind of person that cannot be bought by anybody. So, we will fully support him and continue to give him our 100 per cent support.”
Last Friday, it was the turn of former military President and former PDP presidential aspirant, General Babangida, to host the Saraki Committee at the former’s Minna residence in Niger State.
Both Saraki and his host, General Babangida evaded questions on the thrust of their discussions. But checks revealed that General Babangida offered suggestions on how to reposition the party ahead of next general election.
Further investigation revealed that before its penultimate week engagement with critical stakeholders, the Saraki Committee has been involved in several meetings to bring peace to fractured state chapters.
While it was involved in peace meeting with the Jonah Jang and General Jeremiah Useni factions in the Plateau State chapter, it also met with the Zamfara State governor, Bello Muhammad Matawalle, who felt his colleagues in the PDP Governors Forum have been hostile to him.
Governor Matawalle, it was gathered, was not comfortable with the several media reports attributed to his colleagues who accused the North-West state of complicit in the illegal mining of mineral resources in his state. The oil-producing South-South states governors have argued that exploitation of gold was an affront on the constitution which vests such operation in the Federal Government since mineral resources is listed in the Exclusive Legislative list.
Saraki also brokered a meeting between the Cross Rivers State governor, Benedict Ayade and his Rivers State counterpart, Nyesom Wike.
The committee also after the meeting with the BOT received the reports of a sub-committee set up on the crisis in the Imo State chapter and jointly headed by Right Honourable Austin Opara and Senator Mao Ohunabunwa.
According to a source, “the report which the committee had deliberated upon showed that the lingering crisis in the state will soon be finally resolved. Aggrieved members who had cases in court have agreed to withdraw them. Others have chosen to move forward and forget the past while working to reclaim a state which is a traditional PDP State.”
We will be fair to all —Saraki
Investigation revealed that the committee will this week continue its assignment as it formally opens discussions with House of Representatives caucus, forum of State Assemblies, all the governors on the party platform under the aegis of PDP Governors Forum.
The PDP Governors Forum is led by former Speaker, House of Representatives and Sokoto State governor, Aminu Tambuwal.
The governors’ forums of both dominant parties are not statutory organs of the parties but appear to be the most influential. They have the state resources to maintain firm grip on the party structures and bully their rivals to seek political habitation elsewhere. They are also seen as not amenable to alternative viewpoints which inform the cynicism among some individuals that the Saraki committee might not achieve much in making the governors see reason to concede space to their rivals and also subordinate themselves to statutory organ of the PDP.
Some political analysts believed that it will take tact and diplomacy for the Saraki’s trouble-shooting team to make the governors surrender to its peace initiative and PDP for the main opposition party to regain lost grounds and not suffer depletion ahead of 2023 elections, owing to media reports linking four of the PDP governors to the APC.
But all these notwithstanding, Saraki, former governor and former chairman of the umbrella forum of thirty six states governors in the country, the Nigeria Governors Forum, had promised to be fair to all to ensure lasting peace in the party.
“We have made it clear to the NWC that we are committed and we are working to ensure that our recommendations are implemented. We will not allow anybody in any way to tamper with the report.
“We want to be able to look anybody in the face and tell them the truth.”
The former Kwara State governor appealed to those who are aggrieved to give peace a chance and those who are aggrieved should just be patient and should be confident that by God’s grace, the party will do the things that they will be proud of.”
The last line
The coming weeks are crucial in the bid by both the PDP and the APC to populate their ranks with more ebullient and influential politicians drawn from the six geopolitical zones. More dynamics to serve as game changers are bound to come into play, as evident in the subtle manoeuvring, brinkmanship and statements by some high calibre politicians in recent times.
The plots and counter-plots will be fired by desperate political juggernauts in their utmost desire for higher elective offices and the urge to influence the process that will determine their individual ambitions. As a corollary, there will be conscious attempts by them to ensure their pointmen and surrogates occupy strategic positions in the main structures and organs of the parties ahead of party primaries, congresses and conventions.
However, while the PDP is stepping up efforts to cement the cracks within its fold across board, despite cynicism cum scism in certain quarters, coupled with obduracy on the part of a few of the aggrieved members, the ruling APC is battling with issues arising from the ongoing membership revalidation and registration exercise in the party, with insinuations about a supposed hidden agenda. Nonetheless, the stage for alignment and realignment of forces preparatory to the next generation election is gradually taking shape and form.
Will there be a Third Force? Time will tell, as there is no clear signal on the possibility of the amalgam of parties on the fringe coalescing into a cohesive and formidable force towards heralding a paradigm shift from the pre-2019 polls so far. Or is the country likely to witness a playback of the circumstances that threw up the formation of the APC in 2013: a combination of subterfuge and conspiracy?