Nigeria’s ruling Peoples Democratic Party plunged further into crisis on Monday after a reconciliation effort by President Goodluck Jonathan and the party brass failed to bring back to the party’s fold a splinter group that broke free on Saturday, and that now insists it is the legitimate PDP.
The Abubakar Baraje-led faction of the party, backed by seven governors, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, and more than three dozen serving federal lawmakers, asked a Lagos court on Monday to dissolve the PDP executive led by Bamanga Tukur, and restrain its officials from parading themselves as leaders of the party’s national executive.
The new faction said it represented the legitimate PDP and announced plans to immediately inaugurate an office in Abuja, and brushing aside the Tukur-led party, recognized and backed by President Goodluck Jonathan.
Coming amid intense efforts by Mr Jonathan and the party’s leadership to intervene in a crisis that has terribly humiliated the governing party, the measures by the Baraje-led breakaway faction signalled the party was up for even more turbulent days ahead as it struggled to mend its fractured ranks.
A meeting between the president and the aggrieved governors late Sunday, and a series of consultations that continued through Monday, ended without success, party officials said.
The governors have accused the president and Mr Tukur of “hijacking” the party machinery, imposing their candidates as officials, and going after dissenting members including governors such as Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers state. Mr. Amaechi was suspended by the party.
At the Sunday meeting at the presidential villa, the governors reportedly spoke “frankly” about those concerns. An expanded talk, which will include former heads of state, and former leaders of the party, is to hold on Tuesday.
A spokesperson for the party, Olisa Metuh, who was re-elected on Monday told reporters the party’s crisis should be over by Tuesday after the meeting.
“Consultations on what happened on Saturday and all issues therein are ongoing at the highest level of the party in this country. We are going to take the decisions and the reasons behind the decision after tomorrow’s meeting,” Mr. Metuh said.
But indicative of how speculative that plan may turn out after all, the Baraje faction of the party on Monday instituted a case before a Lagos High court asking the court to sack the Bamanga Tukur-led executive of the ruling party.
The faction said in a statement by the National Secretary of the new faction, Olagunsoye Oyinlola, that the case was a demonstration of the group’s determination “to effect a change and stem the slide of the PDP”.
Mr. Oyinlola named the plaintiffs in the case to include himself, factional chairman, Abubakar Kawu Baraje, and factional Deputy National Chairman, Sam Sam Jaja.
The Baraje-led faction, according to Mr. Oyinlola, is asking the court to restrain chairman of the other faction, Bamanga Tukur, its Deputy Chairman, Uche Secondus, Women Leader, Kema Chikwe, and Publicity Secretary, Olisah Metuh and others from parading themselves as members of the national executive of the party.
They also sought a motion exparte asking for leave to serve the defendants outside the jurisdiction of the court. Parties are to return to court on September 9 for initial hearings.
The legal action represented a surprising twist for a party that has faced months of internal turmoil, suspended two of its governors, sacked its national executives, and is now tackled by two newly formed, but potentially formidable opposition parties.
Governors of the platform of the All Progressive Congress on Monday welcomed the new turn of events for the PDP, and praised the “courage and resilience” of the seven governors who staged a walk out from the PDP’s special convention on Saturday before naming a new parallel leadership for the party.
The 11 APC governors said the splitting of the PDP, and the emergence of a faction led by the party’s former acting chairman, Abubakar Baraje, was a “necessary and inevitable result of repressive rule of the PDP”.
“Recent events, first with the orchestrated crisis in the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF), suspension and expulsion of PDP leaders, including serving governors without fair hearing and complete demonstration of lack of tolerance and respect for different opinions are signposts of crisis that should unavoidably result in the split of any organisation,” they said in a statement on Monday.
The Baraje group said it was encouraged by the “overwhelming support” from party faithful across the country on its mission to “salvage the party”, and pledged a sustained campaign that will enthrone “justice and fairness” in the troubled party.
“We also appreciate the efforts of leaders of the party, particularly President Goodluck Jonathan and former President Olusegun Obasanjo who, we note, have scheduled a meeting of the party elders for this week,” the party said in a statement. “We respect the elders and will be guided by them, even as we stress that we will not abandon the ideals of justice and fairness that gave birth to the new party leadership under Alhaji Baraje.”
By late Monday, more members of the PDP had openly identified with the splinter PDP group. Twenty six senators said in statement they were part of the new initiative to “reposition” the party.
“By this decision that no doubt provides a soothing balm that will calm frail nerves in the party, you have written your names in gold and will be remembered in our political history as men that stood to save the party and Nigeria’s democracy,” the lawmakers said of the governors and Mr. Atiku.
Mr. Atiku had earlier come under attack from the presidency which accused him of failing to protect a party he was so “indebted” to.
“I was surprised because Atiku is supposed to know more than another person that there is no party like PDP. He left PDP and went to ACN and he came back to PDP, because he discovered that outside PDP there is no party, so he had to come back and he was even given the waiver to contest the primaries election in 2011,” Ahmed Gulak, special adviser to the president on political matters, said on Monday.
“Atiku should be grateful to PDP. Atiku is indebted to PDP and the best way to continue to pay the debt is to protect PDP,” he added.
In his response, sent by his media aide, Garba Shehu, Mr. Abubakar said he does not dispute the fact that he is indebted to the PDP; but that the best way to continue to pay that debt is to protect PDP.
“That is exactly what I am doing: Protecting the PDP,” the former vice president said.