Outlining his personal rationale for the need to rescue his crisis-plagued political party, former President Goodluck Jonathan on Thursday admonished bickering factions in the Peoples Democratic Party to put aside their differences.
“It is high time we buried the hatchet, suppressed our ego and prepared to make sacrifices in the interest of our party and indeed the country,” the former president said during an address to party members at Yar’Adua Center, Abuja.
The speech comes at a critical juncture for the PDP, a party bedevilled by internal crisis amidst calls for a viable opposition party in the country.
“I have to state clearly that today is not a day to blame ourselves. We have blamed ourselves enough in the media,” Mr. Jonathan said. “We must realise that as they say, everybody is nobody without a platform. So, why destroy the platform?”
The PDP has been in perpetual crisis for more than a year, with two rival factions laying claim to its chairmanship and casting a pall of uncertainty on its future.
The PDP had held at least two botched conventions within the past year, with the last resulting in the installation of Ahmed Makarfi’s interim leadership with a year mandate last August.
Ali Sheriff, the hitherto chairman of the party, kicked against the arrangement and challenged his ouster in court.
The Court of Appeal declared him the authentic chairman last month and an appeal of that ruling is currently pending at the Supreme Court.
At his appearance before party leaders on Thursday, Mr. Jonathan said his intervention was not intended to pre-empt the pending suit at the Supreme Court, but to inform party loyalists of ongoing efforts to resolve the challenges.
“The meeting of today is noticeably unique and it is aimed at achieving two key objectives:
“To reassure our party members and all Nigerians that the PDP is united and still remains the largest party in Nigeria and one that has all it takes to win key elections.
“That without prejudice to the ongoing litigation over some issues, the party leaders are out to develop a mechanism towards achieving a lasting and enduring political settlement of our differences,” he said.
Mr. Jonathan has emerged in recent weeks as a unifying figure in the deeply polarised party, and many party loyalists have expressed confidence in his ability and moral authority to placate the factions.
Some of them expressed renewed optimism in his speech today, but acknowledged there’s still a lot to be done going forward.
“It was a beautiful address,” Wale Oladipo, the party’s national secretary, told PREMIUM TIMES Thursday night. “It’s the outcome of a series of meetings we’ve held behind closed doors in the former president’s house in recent days.”
“But there are still more works to be done and we won’t relent,” he said.
In his observation, Demola Olarewaju, a PDP strategist, described the address as “highly spirited.”
“It signified hope and renewed confidence amongst party loyalists,” Mr. Olarewaju said. “The crisis has lingered for too long for the former president not to intervene.”
Sheriff stages a walkout
Mr. Sheriff walked out of the Thursday meeting of PDP leaders, saying he should have declared the meeting open being the authentic head of the party.
Mr. Olarewaju said the decision by Mr. Sheriff to stage a walkout with members of his faction could blight the significance of the event.
“We understand that Ali Modu-Sheriff staged a walk out over seating arrangement,” Mr. Olarewaju said. “That did not only indicate that there’s a lot of work ahead but also put a question mark on today’s high-profile event.”
Mr. Sheriff stormed out of the venue shortly after the event got underway, citing alleged failure by the organisers to give him a slot for an address.
I have shown respect by attending this event, but it is unfair to bring me here and not allow me to address members as the chairman of the party, he said.
But Mr. Oladipo, a strong ally Mr. Sheriff who identifies with his faction,” said there was no walkout.
“I sat beside the former president who is our leader and when it was time for me to leave I left.
“When it was time for the chairman to leave, he left. Immediately after the speech of the former president I left because I had to embark on a journey,” Mr. Oladipo said.
He, however, said some issues are still yet to be resolved.
“This crisis has been going on for some time,” Mr. Oladipo said. “So, it will require our resilience and political dexterity to get out of it.”
Mr. Jonathan has not openly thrown his support behind any faction, and some of his associates said he might not do so for some time.
The internal wrangling has earned the PDP harsh criticism from Nigerian, with many saying the protracted crisis has affected the party beyond redemption.
Today’s address is the first of such since Mr. Jonathan was defeated in the historic elections two years ago, and he used it to absolve the PDP of much wrongdoing.
He said the party’s 2015 electoral misfortune will serve as “a test to re-evaluate its performance, and an opportunity to reform its processes and programmes, towards rediscovering itself.”
“I will like to point out that every election cycle throws up a challenge as well as opportunities for a political party.”
Mr. Jonathan said the PDP was defeated not necessarily because it didn’t perform, but because the citizenry learned a new leadership.
“All over the world, political parties lose elections, not because they have entirely failed, but because, in most cases, the people who gave them power in the first place, have decided to hand it over to another party, in order to experience a different kind of leadership,” he said.
The former president played up his party’s democratic credentials, pro-growth and laissez-faire economic policies, transparency amongst others.
“There is no doubt that the PDP will emerge from this moment of trial to regain its position as the greatest party on our continent,” he said.
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