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NASS: Can PDP Arrest Simmering Tussle Within Its Fold?




Two committees were setup to arrest a budding crisis of confidence between the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and it’s members in the National Assembly, CHIBUZO UKAIBE writes on the implications

While the majority All Progresssives Congress (APC) in the National Assembly has since settled to work, the leading minority party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is still grappling with its members in the  chambers.

The composition of two party committees on recent events involving its members in the National Assembly indicates that the trouble within its ranks, perhaps, isn’t cooling off anytime soon, not with the simmering revolt against certain power-blocs.

The election of the leadership of the National Assembly had seen a clear disobedience to the party’s directive on how its members should vote. The party’s choice of Sen Ali Ndume and Hon Umar Bago, as Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives was not accepted by most PDP lawmakers. Most members voted instead for APC’s candidates, Sen Ahmed Lawan and Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, the incumbents.

PDP NWC’s response to the scenario seemed a mix of anger and embarrassment. But its Board of Trustees (BoT) were miffed, perhaps, at the seeming poor handling of the situation and the disobedience of their members in the federal legislature.

At their first National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting, while the PDP chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, expressed how embarrassed the party was, the BoT chairman, Sen Walid Jibrin, talked tough and urged stern action against such action.

After the meeting a committee, led by former Senate President, Sen Adolphus Wabara was setup to investigate the matter.  Other members of the committee are Yunana Iliya;  Senator Ben Obi; Mr. Austin  Opara;  Senator Ibrahim Mantu; Senator Stella Omu;  Margret Icheen; Hassan Hyatt; and Senator Abdul Ningi.

However, barely days after the NEC meeting the party was confronted with another revolt, this time by just its members in the House of Representatives who, refusing the party’s list of minority leadership, occupied the positions.

The party had forwarded a list to the Speaker, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, detailing Hon. Kingsley Chinda as minority leader; Hon. Chukwuka Onyema as deputy minority leader; Hon. Yakubu Barde as minority whip; and Hon. Muraina Ajibola as deputy minority whip.

But the House Speaker on the floor of the House read out the name of Hon Ndudi Elumelu as minority leader. He also announced Toby Okechukwu (PDP-Enugu), Deputy Minority Leader; Gideon Gwami, Minority Whip and Adesegun Adekoya as Deputy Minority Whip.

He justified the list as being derived from the minority caucus in the House.

PDP suspended Elumelu and the six other House members for one month over anti-party activities.  The lawmakers were suspended after they failed to attend a meeting with the NWC.

At this point, the BoT chairman, Sen Jibrin, had backed the emergence of Elumelu as minority speaker, giving a glimpse into the split within the party’s ranks.  Interestingly, Sen Jibrin barely 24 hours after endorsing Elumelu made a u-turn, sparking insinuations that he was allegedly leaned on to abandon his initial stand on the matter.

Nevertheless, the suspension sparked a mild firestorm as party members from Elumelu’s constituency talked tough against the party’s action. Elumelu in a letter to the party leadership  faulted the suspension, saying he was denied fair hearing.

He recounted that he had sent a letter to the party explaining that he, and other suspended members couldn’t attend because they were already out of town. He specifically stated that he had already left Abuja to attend the burial of a relative he couldn’t afford to miss.

The  Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, who is said to be backing Hon Chinda, lampooned PDP members in the National Assembly as being merchants.

Wike who broke his silence on the matter when he played host to his Oyo State counterpart, Seyi Makinde, said: “I am not surprised. When you have traders and merchants, what do you expect? It is unfortunate for those who do not understand what politics is all about. I am a core party man. I believe in the party.”

Elder statesman and former information commissioner, Chief Edwin Clarke, advised the PDP to allow the declaration of Hon Ndudi Elumelu as minority leader to stand.

Clark, who, while speaking with newsmen, admitted he was no longer a member of PDP but could speak on national issues, said the emergence of Elumelu and others to fill the minority leadership seats in the House was the choice of the lawmakers which should be respected.

He stressed that the rules of the National Assembly allows for elected members of the House whether they are majority or minority to sit among themselves and elect their leaders.

Dismissing the tension generated over the emergence of Elumelu as a minor incident he added that the PDP should focus on major national issues affecting the country rather than continue to tow a combative approach over the matter.

Clarke who spoke to newsmen at his Abuja residence over the minority leadership tussle, said the one month suspension of Elumelu was punishment enough.

While exonerating Elumelu, he said the precedence for such behavior was set in the 7th House of Representatives when the current governor of Sokoto State, Hon Aminu Tambuwal, from the North-west, emerged Speaker of the House against the wishes of the PDP who zoned the position to the South-west.

Concerned that the matter is getting out of hand, the BoT, constituted the Sen Ayu Committee.  Speaking with newsmen after the BoT met at the national secretariat of the party in Abuja, the BoT chairman, Sen Jibrin said, “We have decided to improve our relationship between the National Working Committee and the BoT. We resolved to corporate and consult with each other anytime to avoid any confusion.

“Secondly, we have decided to wade into the fracas in the House of Representatives as regards the minority leadership. To that effect, a committee has been formed under the Chairmanship of Chief Senator Iyochia Ayo, Senator David Mark, Senator Ibrahim Mantu, Senator Adolphus Wabara and Hon. Austin Opara, Secretary of the Committee. They have been given a week to submit their reports to the BoT and National Working Committee thereafter, a decision would be taken.

“We agreed again that our party will play the role of opposition. We are in support of the process going on at the Supreme Court and thirdly we congratulate the judiciary for a job well done. We are very encouraged with the judges and if they continue, our democracy in Nigeria will be better.

“So I call on all our members to be law abiding and to ensure that our party keeps moving and to play the role of opposition. We have to be very careful and obey the party because the party is Supreme. We congratulate the new leadership of the Senate for coming out with the leaders and the minority leaders.

“I assure you that the issue of House of Representatives will soon be solved by the party. We must ensure that we do not break this party. The party will continue and no body will make any attempt to do away with our party,” he said.

While some analysts opine that the events in the National Assembly reflects the internal scheming for control of the party, others aver that if the party mismanages the situation it might lead to a major crisis in the mould of the Sheriff-Makarfi tussle that almost grounded the party after the 2015 general elections.

The Sen Wabara committee meant to investigate the actions of its members over the leadership election was inaugurated last week by the PDP deputy national Chairman, (South) Mr. Yemi Akinwonmi.

Speaking after their committee was inaugurated, Sen Wabara promised that the committee will perform its duties in accordance with the terms of reference diligently, “in such a manner that our members at the National Assembly will by the special grace of God remain intact and loyal to this party.”

He added, “At the National Assembly that is where politics starts and ends. We will go in there and ensure that there is peace what ever happens there will not lead to factionalisation of our party in the National Assembly.”

On his part,  the deputy national chairman said, “When we have issues like this, we call on them. They are people that have seen every thing about this country, they have served the party in different capacity, they have contributed to the growth of this country. That is why the eminent gentlemen here you can’t find elsewhere in this country. These are the array of people we are parading.”

In his vote of thanks however, national secretary of PDP,  Sen Umaru Tsauri, said “We have to take a decision whether right or wrong. We are not going back on our decision. It is either you are in PDP or you are not. You can’t be on the fence.”

Similarly, the Ayu Committee also met with the suspended lawmakers. The BoT committee chaired by former Senate President, Iyorchia Ayu, met with the suspended lawmakers, including the minority leader, Hon Elumelu; Hon Wole Oke; Hon Linda Ikpeazu and six others at the Abuja home of the chairman.

The BoT had last week set up a committee to wade into the crisis arising from the emergence of Hon Elumelu and others as leaders of the minority in the House of Representatives as against the list of PDP which detailed Hon Kingsley Chinda as minority leader.

However the six lawmakers were accompanied to Ayu’s premises by their colleagues who came in three coaster buses and about 17 private cars. The lawmakers numbering over 80 exchanged banters as they filled every available space in the expansive living room where they were hosted.

Before meeting with the suspended lawmakers, the Ayu Committee met and resolved that regardless of the intrigues which culminated in the flouting of the party’s directive by the embattled lawmakers , the PDP would not take a decision capable of factionalising its ranks.

In his brief remarks, Senator Ayu said, “Elders of the party are meeting and this is a family affair.” He added that the committee would take a decision in the best interest of the party.

Also speaking, a member of the committee who craved anonymity stressed the importance of peace, saying the party,  having made a decent outing in the 2019 general elections, could not afford any form of crisis capable of endangering peace.

“Before the meeting with our lawmakers, we met as a committee. We are planning reconciliation and I  can assure you that any decision reached will ensure peace. We will not factionalize the party.”

Similarly, a member of the House who came to the meeting in solidarity with the suspended lawmakers told newsmen in confidence that they thronged Ayu’s residence because the matter at hand was not a problem for Elumelu alone,  but the concern of all lawmakers elected on the platform of the PDP.

“This issue is not about Elumelu alone but about all of us. So,  we are here to show our support for all of us,  believing that at the end of the day,  the party would be stronger,” he said.

As the issues rage on, the APC is lapping up the respite it currently enjoys over the matter. Smarting from its 2015 ordeal, the party had perfected it’s strategy on how to ensure it’s members won the top seats in the chambers.

However, whether APC is behind the crisis rocking the PDP in the National Assembly or not remains a matter of conjecture, the Hon Kasimu Bello Maigari, representing Jalingo/Yorro/Zing Federal Constituency of Taraba State has exnorated the APC from the crisis generating tension within the PDP.

Maigari said PDP failed to put its House in order which resulted into the emergence of two factions in the House of Representatives. He urged the Party to work with the Speaker to find ways by which their crisis will be resolved and try to cooperate with the Speaker to move Nigeria forward.

Evidently, the PDP is in a fix on how to handle its lawmakers. Whether the current scenario will escalate and engulf the party, is a matter of time.