A spirited attempt by the Abubakar Baraje-led faction of the Peoples Democratic Party to draw up more support from federal lawmakers degenerated into violence Tuesday after supporters of the faction clashed with lawmakers backing Bamanga Tukur as chairman of the party.
Fighting broke out after lawmakers supporting Mr Tukur jeered while Mr Baraje addressed a late afternoon meeting attended by the lawmakers, the speaker of the house, Aminu Tambuwal, and the seven governors who belong to the Baraje faction.
Mr. Baraje, alongside Governors Babangida Aliyu of Niger state, Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers, Sule Lamido of Jigawa, Murtala Nyako of Adamawa, Aliyu Wammako of Sokoto and Abdulfatah Ahmed of Kwara state, had met first with senate president, David Mark, and other senators.
Speaking on behalf of the governors and the faction of the party, Mr Baraje told the senate president, in the group’s clearest and most official declaration concerning the 2015 election, that President Goodluck Jonathan must relinquish his ambition for a fresh term.
He said should Mr Jonathan be allowed to contest, it would be his “third term”. He accused the president of pushing for tenure elongation through the “backdoor”.
“This group is fighting to ensure there is no impunity and for the protection of democracy. If we (PDP) continue like this, I don’t think the PDP can win any election henceforth.” Mr Baraje said.
The group also called for the recall of Mr Amaechi, who has long been suspended from the party, the restoration of the sacked party’s executive in Rivers and Adamawa states. They also insisted that Mr Tukur be fired.
Speaking the first time, formally, on the crisis that has deeply fractured the governing party, Mr Mark told the faction he would stand for justice and equity. He did not elaborate.
“Even if you have a knife in my head, I will stand for justices, fairness and equity,” Mr Mark said. He urged the faction to come together and uphold a strong and united PDP.
He said he would remain in the PDP and would not live to see a fallen party and pleaded with members not to abandon the party. “We are stronger and better as one big, strong and united party. We need to work together and make our democracy sustainable,” Mr. Mark said.
The confrontation on Tuesday marked a new phase in the three-week-old struggle between what has become known as the old and the new PDP.
The Baraje-group also has the backing of former vice president, Atiku Abubakar.
The rival factions have failed at repeated attempts at reconciliation and the most promising appeared to be a meeting with Mr. Jonathan on Sunday. Both sides agreed they should refrain from the media and calm things down after the meeting.
But those conditions were breached on Monday after the two sides contradicted themselves on the agreement reached at the Sunday meeting.
More than any other event yet, Tuesday’s dramatic flare-up at the House of Representatives would appear certain to further drive the party apart and diminish any opportunity for reconciliation.
Lawmakers at the House hinted at violence early in the day after Mr Tambuwal read out a letter from Mr Baraje, requesting to meet with the PDP Caucus in the House.
Supporters of Mr. Tukur, still in majority and estimated at more than 100, booed the request and repeatedly shouted “No, No”. A response from the Baraje supporters stalled proceedings for more than 25 minutes.
By late noon, after Mr Baraje had met with the senate president, David Mark, and other senators, the scene at the House of Reps tipped into full blown chaos as the Baraje team attempted to commence talks with members of the House.
A member from Bayelsa State, Henry Daniel-Ofongo repeatedly shouted “point of order” and another member from Rivers state, Dakuku, a support of Mr Amaechi, responded physically, and the two lawmakers engaged themselves briefly.
Calm was restored briefly after other members intervened. But the commotion restarted when Mr Baraje was invited to give his remarks as pro-Tukur lawmakers began singing and hailing Mr. Tukur, shouting “PDP, Tukur,” PDP, Tukur”.
Mr Daniel-Ofongo, from the home state of President Jonathan, later told reporters he was seeking to disrupt the meeting but to draw attention to the fact that Mr Baraje arrived the venue of the meeting with thugs.
Separately, one of the leaders of the pro-Baraje group in the House, Andrew Uchendu, from Rivers state, accused his rival colleagues of deliberately attempting to stop the meeting with Mr Baraje, calling the action as a “reign of impunity, lawlessness and intolerance” which the Baraje-led executive was out to stop in the PDP.
He claimed the membership of the group in the house had swelled to 108.
Speaker of the House, Aminu Tambuwal, cautioned that in all of the crisis, nobody should consider his interest above that of Nigerians and Nigeria.
“Political parties are structures of democracy and it is important as politicians to constantly remind ourselves the democracy we have today belong to Nigerians, not the political parties,” he said.
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