Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is in a dilemma, as the rebellion in its National Assembly caucus, which begun on June 11 reached a climax last Wednesday in the House of Representatives.
Some PDP members in the Green Chamber, led by Ndudi Elumelu, in alliance with other opposition lawmakers had submitted a list of minority principal officers, totally different from what the party had arrived at , to the House leadership.
The list which was read by the Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila at Wednesday’s plenary, amidst protests by another group of PDP lawmakers, had Elumelu, as Minority Leader, Toby Okechukwu, Deputy Minority Leader; Gideon Goni, Minority Whip and Adekoye Adesina as Deputy Minority Whip.
The development, which led to a fracas on the floor of the House, has divided the opposition caucus.
The PDP had in a letter, dated June 21, nominated Kingsley Chinda as Minority Leader; Chukwuma Onyema, Deputy Minority Leader; Yakubu Barde, Minority Whip and Ajibola Muraina as Deputy Minority Whip.
In its immediate response to the situation, the opposition party in a statement by its spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, stated that “it is instructive to state that the PDP had duly written to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, after consultation with other minority members in the House of Representatives, notifying him of members that have been selected for leadership position in the House of Representatives, in line with dictates of the rules and parliamentary practice.
“However, to our utter dismay, the PDP had discovered that the speaker attempted to smuggle in names other than those recognised and forwarded to him as the leaders of the minority in the House of Representatives.
“The PDP, in the strongest terms, cautions against this abuse of rules, parliamentary practices and procedures as well as the convention and we urge the speaker to respect the rules and read the list submitted to him by the leadership of the PDP”.
However, beyond that condemnation, inside sources say the PDP seems to be at a loss on how to effectively deal with the issue, without backlash, especially as some of its leaders have recognised the Elumelu group.
The PDP Board of Trustees (BoT) Chairman, Walid Jibrin, while receiving the group in his Abuja residence, shortly after their emergence pledged his support to them.
”We are going to defend what you have done to the best of our ability (so) that these people elected will remain in the House of Representatives,” Jibrin told Elumelu and his team.
Besides, some of the “rebelling” lawmakers are believed to have the support of their state governors.
But by last Thursday, the BoT chairman made a U-turn, saying the opposition party’s National Working Committee (NWC) and the BoT will wade into the crisis over the minority leadership.
“As a result of the fracas in the House of Representatives during the selection of the PDP/Minority principal officers, the BoT and the NWC have decided to intervene immediately. I want to assure all that the NWC and BoT will continue to work together in order to move the party forward,” the BoT chairman said.
How PDP failed to install House leadership
On Monday June 10, leaders of the PDP were engaged in several meetings at different locations in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). It was the eve of the inauguration of the ninth National Assembly. Thus, the marathon meetings were imperative to ensure that the opposition party had a fine outing in two chambers of the National Assembly the following day.
First, the governors met at the Bayelsa Governor’s Lodge in Maitama. They were joined by the members of the PDP NWC, as well as senators and members of the House.
At the end of the meeting, the party leadership convinced that it has tied all loose ends, announced the adoption of Senator Ali Ndume and Umar Bago as its preferred choice for the Senate Presidency and Speakership of the House of Representatives, respectively.
In a statement by the PDP in the wee hours of June 11, the opposition party directed its members to vote en mass for the duo.
The statement signed by the PDP National Secretary, Senator Umar Tsauri, noted that “after very extensive consultations with critical stakeholders resolves to support Senator Ali Ndume and Umar Mohammed Bago for Senate President and Speaker of House of Representatives respectively, ahead of National Assembly inauguration on Tuesday.
“The final resolution on Senator Ndume and Bago was reached at the end of a decisive meeting of members of the National Working Committee, party leaders, state governors as well as senators and members-elect on the platform of the PDP.
“This decision is in the best interest of the nation, in line with our party’s determination to deepen democracy, ensure a strong and independent legislature, strict compliance with the principle of separation of powers as well as constitutional checks and balances in the polity.”
However, the opposition party got its first shock few hours later, after the votes for the Senate presidency revealed that Ndume only polled 29 votes, while Senator Ahmed Lawan, who was nominated by the All Progressives Congress ( APC) polled 68 votes to clinch the coveted seat.
For the contest for Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu scored 37 votes to lose the seat he occupied for 12 unbroken years to Senator Ovie Omo-Agege. Ironically, the PDP has 44 members in the 109 member Senate.
The opposition party was in for more surprises in the House of Representatives, as its members openly identified with the APC preferred candidate for the speakership contest, Gbajabiamila.
Not a few were surprised when Lynda Ikpeazu, a PDP member representing Onitsha North and South Federal Constituency of Anambra State, seconded the nomination of Gbajabiamila for the speakership seat.
Gbajabiamila was to later poll a total of 281 votes to defeat Bago, who scored 76 votes. The paltry votes polled by the Niger born lawmaker indicated that despite his endorsement by the PDP, majority of the opposition party 127 lawmakers voted against him.
Exasperated by the outcome of the National Assembly leadership elections, the PDP at its National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting a fortnight ago, resolved to investigate the betrayal of the party by its members in the parliament and impose necessary sanctions.
Speaking at the opening of the 86th NEC meeting of the opposition party in Abuja, the National Chairman, Uche Secondus expressed disappointment with “the embarrassing roles” played by some lawmakers elected on the platform of the PDP during the election of the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives recently.
He stated that that “party loyalty demands that you stick to your party at any given situation. When personal interest clash with party interest, personal should drown into that of the party, that’s what real democrats are expected to do.”
The BoT chairman concurs. Jibrin told journalists in Abuja that the party “is supreme. Any member of the party is answerable to the party hierarchy. If the party has come up with their stand, it has to be obeyed by every member. If you go astray, you are not a good member of that party because the party put you there and you contested on the umbrella of the party. You did not win as an independent candidate. So you have your guide and your guide is the party and if the party says this is our decision, there is nothing you can do. You must follow what the party said.
“That is why many people are not very comfortable with what has happened, but we cannot jump the gun. We have to investigate everything that happened and surely when the investigation is over, the party will take its own decision. I cannot now tell you what that decision is going to be until the investigation is over.” the BoT chairman said.
He added that opposition lawmakers, who disobeyed the party directive on who to vote for during the National Assembly election, would not go unpunished, adding that “we have set the ball rolling for the investigation to start and once that investigation is concluded, then the party will meet and take its decision. We are not in a hurry to dismiss anybody in our party. What we will ask of our members is to be patient and not cause any violence at all.”
In its bid to get to the root of what happened during the election of presiding officers of the National Assembly, the PDP set up an investigative panel headed by former President of the Senate, Adolphus Wabara.
Indications however emerged last week that the opposition party may shelve plans to sanctions its members who disobeyed its directives to support Ndume and Bago. But it appears bent on sanctioning Elumelu and his group.
A member of the PDP NWC told Daily Sun that the party is more interested in finding why its members worked against in the elections of presiding officers of the National Assembly, rather than punishing anybody. He said this is because of fears that imposing any sanction will further widen the gulf within the lawmakers and the opposition party.
“You don’t sanction people, in crisis situation like this,” the source added.
But a member of the House, Mark Gbillah insists that the party must sanction the erring lawmakers.
Gbillah, who is one of the supporters of Bago, told Daily Sun that the PDP must also sanction Governors David Umahi and Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Ebonyi and Enugu states respectively, for allegedly instructing lawmakers from their states to go against the party directives.
“It is not just the members. Even some governors sabotaged the party. They instructed their members to go against the wishes of the party. And I will not mince my words- the governors of Enugu; the governor of Ebonyi. They clearly and openly supported their members going against the party. These are supposedly PDP governors. And I believe that the party should not let this matter be swept under the carpet, because some of us will hold the party accountable, if these erring governors are not made to account for their actions,” he stated.
But one the PDP lawmakers in the House of Representatives, who worked for the emergence of Gbajabiamila said they have not done anything wrong to warrant any sanction.
“How can they accuse us of anti- party, when no PDP member was contesting for the speakership? They said we can support candidates of our choice only to turn round by 1.30 am on June 11 to say they have adopted a candidate. How are we supposed to obey that directive? “
However, with the turn of events in the PDP caucus in the House of Representatives, the party at the moment seems to have wielded the big stick by suspending Elumelu and four others. What will be the lawmakers’ next line of action? It seems only time will tell.
But analysts say whatever the opposition party does or fail to do will have great implications for the PDP, going forward.