In this piece, Deputy Editor, LEON USIGBE, reviews the non-elective national convention conducted recently by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Those of us in PDP should pump our chests. We should be proud of ourselves because we were able to come out of this (crisis) within two years and very ready for 2019.” This rallying call made by former President Goodluck Jonathan summarises the feeling of most delegates at the end of the non-elective national convention of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) held in Abuja two Saturdays ago.
It was an exercise organised to begin the process of repositioning the former ruling party, after surviving a gruelling two years of internal crisis by the grace of the Supreme Court. Recall that the apex court retrieved the party from Senator Ali Modu Sheriff and handed it over to the leadership most of its faithful had desired, the Senator Ahmed Makarfi-led National Caretaker Committee (NCC).
The event was therefore, a celebration as the NCC had promised, as well as an opportunity for its members across the country to recommit themselves to the ideals of the founders of the party kicked out of power after 16 years of bestriding the Nigerian political space.
Jonathan is arguably its leading light being the only former president of the country still in its ranks. He led the effort to engender confidence in members, reminding them that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has failed to match the achievements of PDP particularly in the last four years of his own administration, and that this is clear to Nigerians. This, he believes, puts PDP in pole position to rebound and recapture power at all levels in 2019. Not only that, he felt that, with the perceived lack of performance of government, it is in no position to intimidate the PDP. “I’m here to assure you that nobody should intimidate PDP. PDP is the only party that can take Nigeria to greatness. I believe in the PDP. Even God believes in the PDP. This is August 12 and there’s no rain because God wanted us to celebrate PDP,” he declared.
He said even though the party could not claim to be perfect as a human institution, as a party of vision and accomplishments, its achievements as at 2015 were clear for all Nigerians to see especially in stabilising the economy with inflation tamed to a single digit, maintaining price stability while the economy grew to be number one in Africa. Jonathan backed up this claim with the 2012 experience during which the country went through a major flood disaster in 2012 and food prices did not rise because of the way the administration dealt with the situation. That was why he was amused by his own reckoning when he heard people say in some quarters that the economy would have been worse if he had remained in power.
He said, “I was told that some people were insinuating that if PDP had remained in power, the economy would have been worse off and I laughed. We had a strong team that was managing the economy of the country. That is not a talk for today. But definitely, we will talk one day.” He spoke of the benefit of such flagship programmes as the e-Wallet for fertiliser distribution as well YouWin for youth empowerment and employment creation that had now been adopted by the World Bank for other countries.”
On corruption, he conceded that his administration may not have plugged all loopholes, but introduced innovative programmes to reduce the act including the Bank Verification Number (BVN), Treasury Single Account (TSA) and the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS). These are initiatives, he pointed out, capitalised upon today by the present government in its fight against corruption. He thus affirmed that PDP was still the largest party in Nigeria and was back to regain its pride of place in the country as the party to lead Nigeria to greatness.
The Chairman of the party’s NCC, Makarfi, also utilised the occasion to rouse the delegates into a near frenzy, harping on what he believed was the pain and misery piled on Nigerians by the gross incompetence of the present administration which he alleged only deceived the citizenry. He told the delegates, “Nigerians may wonder, what has PDP got? Well, what are you getting now? Are you not hungry? Are you not jobless? Are you not insecure? My God! Pray for PDP to come back. Kidnapping is part of insecurity and it has spread across the length and breadth of this country and it’s because of joblessness.”
According to him, students were crying over hike in tuition fees in the country even when money was scarce. He, therefore, promised that when the PDP returns to power, it would consider a students’ loan scheme to alleviate their sufferings. “There will be no hunger because there will be plenty to eat. There may be plenty in the market today, but you have no cash in your pockets. Under PDP, there will be cash in your pockets because you have earned the cash”, Makarfi added.
Makarfi’s words: “We mean well for our President. We continue to pray for his full recovery. We want him to be fit and on seat when we will defeat the APC government come 2019. We will continue to pray for him but that doesn’t mean we will go to sleep. We will work hard to replace the APC government, come 2019, God willing.”
He mocked the APC as a mere alliance of desperate groups rather than a close knit political party that he pointed out the PDP is, noting that with the experience of past achievements, the PDP had much to offer Nigerians when afforded the opportunity to return to office in 2019.
Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State, who had just three days to plan the convention as chairman of its planning committee, believed that God answered the prayers of the party members with the apex court’s decision reinstating the NCC as its national leadership, saying that the PDP was now back with a bang and would not disappoint the people. “Today, let it be known to all Nigerians who prayed for us during our time of travail that the PDP is back with a bang. We shall not disappoint you!”, Okowa told the delegates before admonishing that the party must now explore the current momentum to focus on rebuilding and sticking to the principles of fairness, equity and justice.
According to him, “On this day, we must understand that our nation is at a cross road. Therefore, our emphasis must be about building a party focussed on fashioning a better society founded on the principles of fairness, equity and justice. We must commit to making the needs and aspirations of the Nigerian people the centre piece of our party’s democratic agenda. On this day, we must call for a paradigm shift in our party leadership style. Too often, we have demanded service and worship from the very people we have been called to serve. That must change. We need leaders, sincere leaders, strong leaders who understand that power is held in trust for the people and, therefore, must be administered for their good and advancement. Finally, on this day, we call on all true PDP faithful to return home. It’s time to forgive. It’s time to heal the wounds of the past. It’s time to get over the hurts of the past. It’s time to embrace love and reconciliation. It’s time, brothers and sisters, to come back home!”
Many members of the party with ambitions exploited the occasion to make statements about themselves, with coteries bandying promotional materials of their principals announcing their intentions to vie for one office or the other in the coming elections. Former Governor of Jigawa State, Sule Lamido, made sure to make a grand entry with a luxurious 52-seater bus painted with his own campaign posters for the 2019 presidential ticket of the PDP. Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State similarly pulled all stunts to convince ‘doubting Thomases’ in the party that he is making a serious bid for the presidential ticket. Aspirants in the November 18 Anambra State gubernatorial election such as Ifeanyi Ubah and Stella Oduah were not left out in the carnival-like provided by the convention for them to sell themselves just as those who wanted to be elected into the next National Working Committee (NWC) of the party.
In the end though, the convention resolved to dissolve the executive committees of seven of its state chapters including Adamama, Borno, Kebbi, Lagos, Kwara, Osun and Ogun and approved the setting up of caretaker committees in their places. Similarly, it ratified the earlier decision of the NCC to dissolve the Anambra State factional executive committees and appoint a caretaker committee for the state just as it ratified and confirmed zonal executive committees at the six zones of the federation and at all levels where congresses have been duly conducted before the crisis, in line with the Supreme Court judgment. But the major decision of the afternoon was the extension of the tenure of the NCC by four months.
After positive messages of goodwill from various members, including one of the most poignant messages of the former Foreign Affairs Minister, Chief Tom Ikimi, who ridiculed the APC as a ruling party that is unable to hold NWC meetings and national convention, delegates departed the Eagle Square venue of the convention with high hopes that the party has returned from dead and even stronger to challenge for power in 2019.