Former President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday endorsed Senator Ali Modu Sheriff as the National Chairman of the troubled Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
But the party’s key stakeholders, including governors, Board of Trustees (BoT) members, National Assembly Caucus and former ministers, passed a vote of confidence in the Ahmed Makarfi-led Caretaker Committee.
Jonathan’s endorsement came amid protests by the Ahmed Makarfi-led Caretaker Committee and other critical organs of the party against the Appeal Court’s ruling that affirmed Sheriff’s chairmanship.
Receiving Sheriff and members of his team at his Maitama, Abuja residence yesterday, Jonathan, who kept addressing Sheriff as “my chairman”, said there were no factions in the party.
Speaking after a closed door meeting with Sheriff and his team, Jonathan said: “We are not factionalised. We are one. There are bound to be differences in politics. We cannot run away from that.
“It is the way we resolve these differences that makes us human beings and that is what makes us leaders. I have met with Sheriff. And I have met with others. I will still meet with others, so that we will be able to do what is expected of us as a political party.”
Also speaking after the meeting, Sheriff said his mission was to unite the party and place it on a sound footing to provide credible opposition to the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led Federal Government.
Saying he was still consulting, Sheriff stressed that there could be only one national chairman, adding: “We are putting everything together to ensure that the party is united.”
“We are not fighting and this is no time to join issues with people. We want everybody to come back to the party. Very soon I will get back to you when I finish my consultations. I won’t tell you anything before I finish consultations.”
He added that the constitution of the party does not recognise a caretaker committee.
“There is only one PDP and there is only one national chairman. A group of people has the right to sit and discuss as only a group of people but not as PDP. If I go down to their level to exchange words with them, then I would not be different from them.
“We don’t have anything like caretaker committee in our party. As father of the party, I will make sure everybody is united. I will make sure that everybody gets what they want in PDP.
“By the time I finish my convention, Nigerians will know that we mean well for the party,” Sheriff said.
At the enlarged stakeholders’ meeting convened by the Caretaker Committee, party chieftains took turns to denounce Sheriff, vowing to pursue the leadership tussle to the Supreme Court.
Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu decried what he described as the manipulation of vital institutions of democracy and radical decline of democratic freedoms in the country.
Ekweremadu, who also attended the meeting of the Makarfi camp, said the solidarity of all key organs and bodies of the PDP towards the Makarfi-led PDP National Caretaker Committee showed that “it is not the hood that makes the monk”.
Peeved by the sealing of the International Conference Centre (ICC) , the venue earlier announced for the meeting, Ekweremadu said “such flagrant manipulation of critical institutions of democracy was not only dangerous, but bad news for the nation’s democracy”.
He said: “We are aware that all the institutions of democracy are being manipulated and harassed in this country. The National Assembly and the press are not left out.
“The INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission) has been captured and now a part of the All Progressives Congress. Our judiciary is being insulted and assaulted everyday. Their houses are being attacked very late at night and the judges are being harassed.
“So, we are not surprised at what we are seeing today (sealing of meeting venue). But what remains is for us to remain resolute.”
He expressed displeasure at what he described as the rise in political persecution in the country and enjoined PDP members to remain strong, as the party would work with Nigerians to restore true democracy and hope to the people.
The lawmaker urged party members to remain resolute and protect the soul of the PDP and the nation’s hard-won democracy, insisting that the party leaders were made by the party faithful, and could never be imposed from outside.
He continued: “If you look around this room, you will see a lot of people who are being harassed, persecuted, and taken to court. What is their offence?
“They claim they allegedly received stolen property, yet nobody has been arraigned for the actual stealing. As a lawyer, I know that if you are being arraigned for receiving stolen property, you must first of all arraign the man who stole the property. That is not so in our own case. Is that democracy?”
“We have heard there was a judgment in Port Harcourt. Now, those who benefitted from the judgment, where are they? Are they with our former ministers? Are they with our National Assembly members? Are they with our governors? Which organ of the party are they with or is with them? The truth is that it is not the hood that makes the monk”.
“I believe that with determination and sticking together, we will triumph and Nigeria will be better for it”.
Ekweremadu also decried the worsening economic conditions in the country, noting that all APC promises had been kept in the reverse order.
“They told us that one U.S dollar would be one naira when they take over. Has that happened? Today, our currency is the worst currency in the whole of Africa.
“Is that the type of democracy we looked forward to? I can see a situation where the price of oil is going up and the value of naira is going down. What type of economics is that?”.
Makarfi vowed that Nigerians had not seen the end of the matter, adding that the Court of Appeal judgment that affirmed Sheriff as chairman was faulty.
“As it happened in Port Harcourt, so it happened here. This is not the last. It’s an aberration to stop people from associating. When PDP was in power, it could have stopped the formation of the APC. The principle that people should be given a choice to participate in democracy should be encouraged.
“We know what happened in Port Harcourt when the court gave its verdict. The type-written judgement is the main judgement but the hand written judgement, we don’t know what happened.”
Makarfi said the Caretaker Committee had approached the court for an injunction to allow the committee to continue pending the determination of the cross appeal at the Supreme Court.
A communique issued at the end of the meeting stated that while the party held the judiciary in the highest regard, the decision of the Court of Appeal was greeted with consternation, not only amongst leaders and members of the party in Nigeria, but also true lovers of democracy in Nigeria and the world over.
Among the resolutions reached at the meeting was that the PDP remained united, strong, resolute, steadfast and solid under the leadership of the National Caretaker Committee, in view of the fact that the Court of Appeal is not the final court on the matter.
The communique added: “All members, leaders and organs of the party, including but not limited to the Board of Trustees, the Governors Forum, the National Assembly Caucus, PDP Former Ministers Forum, National Vice Chairmen, State Chapters represented by the Conference of State Party Chairmen, Leadership of State Assembly Caucuses and teeming members nationwide, stand resolute that authority to lead the PDP, and indeed any party, solely and exclusively derives from the consent of members at plenary.
“PDP members freely and clearly expressed themselves on the 21st May 2016 at the Port Harcourt National Convention and we stand by the decision given that the National Convention is the highest decision-making organ of the party.
“That we fully endorse the prompt and proactive decision of the National Caretaker Committee to lodge an appeal to the Supreme Court of Nigeria against the decision of the Court of Appeal as well as filing an application for injunction pending appeal of which was done in the morning of Monday 20th February 2017.
“Our abiding faith in the capacity of the judiciary to protect Nigeria’s democracy and political aspirations of the Nigerian people, particularly at the level of the Supreme Court, proven repeatedly over time, is aided by the profound, fearless, irrepressible, comprehensive and insightful minority decision of T. N. Orji-Abadua, J. C. A. in CA/PH/349/2016 SHERRIF & ORS. VS. PDP & ORS., whom we salute for doing the judiciary proud in spite of the predatory interferences of anti-democratic forces and state actors.
“That having duly filed both an appeal to the Supreme Court and an application for Injunction Pending Appeal in the morning of Monday the 20th February 2017, we pass a resounding and unqualified vote of confidence in the leadership of the Sen. Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi-led National Caretaker Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party and pledge our unalloyed support to it as it pilots the affairs of the party in this critical transitional period of the party’s life.
“To this end, we are not at all deceived by the supposed olive branch being offered by Sen. Ali Modu Sheriff, knowing that the only thing that can come from traitors of his ilk is nothing but a poisoned chalice and a Greek gift.
“The meeting reiterates that the party’s Constitution stipulates the process of democratically electing officers of the party and therefore emphatically rejects any imposition such as those being illegally paraded as officers of the party by Sen. Ali Modu Sherrif.
“That stakeholders and leaders of the party are enjoined to return to their geopolitical zones, states, local governments and wards to convene meetings of the party and disseminate the foregoing to members.
“True party men are urged to remain calm, steadfast, loyal even in the face of wanton provocation of sealing off the venue of a peaceful assembly of stakeholders. We remain committed to the ideals of the party which stands us out as democrats.
“The meeting agreed to appeal to all Nigerians to fully support the Peoples Democratic Party, a genuinely democratic party that is people oriented and a great defender of equity, justice and fairness to all in its commitment to eradicating poverty, hunger and under-development from our country.”