When the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in November 2020 announced that former Senate President, Bukola Saraki is the chairman of its new six-man committee on National Reconciliation with the main responsibilities of initiating peace moves among warring factions in the party especially in the states, many stakeholders in the party applauded the decision while a few skeptics believed nothing much will be achieved.
Other members of the committee are former President of the Senate and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim; former Governors Liyel Imoke (Cross River), Ibrahim Dankwambo (Gombe), and Ibrahim Shema (Katsina); as well as former House Minority Leader, Mulikat Adeola-Akande.
Four months on the job, the committee has achieved a lot in reconciling aggrieved party members across the country and ultimately, it has succeeded in stopping the mass movement of its key leaders to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), a situation which may have led Nigeria to becoming a one-party state without a viable opposition.
According to credible sources in the party, some of the PDP governors who would have pitched tent with the APC like Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi state are Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River; Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara and Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State.
Ayade, it would be recalled had sent a strong warning to the PDP, threatening that he stands on the fence and ready to dump the party if not accorded his due respect and recognition.
Speaking in Calabar during a visit by the Governor of Bauchi State, Bala Mohammed, Ayade said it was time for him to put down his foot and take a decision on the bases of what would prosper the collective well-being of the people of Cross River.
He maintained that because he played politics with ethics, his style was being mistaken for weakness.
He said: “I cannot blind myself to the challenges of PDP and decide not to know what to do at the right time for their [Cross River people] sake. I know you are somebody that doesn’t take injustice. One single injustice they will see a new Cross River state.
“And I say it as a warning because it does appears that your party seems to celebrate people who threaten and stress them. All councillors in the state are PDP, council chairmen are PDP, all House of Assembly members are PDP, all commissioners are PDP, and all the National Assembly members except one are PDP: all of them are under my leadership.”
“Now, let me say this as a very clear warning. I am a very smart person but I carry humility. One single injustice and they (PDP) will see a new Cross River State.
“It does appear that your party (PDP) seems to celebrate people who threaten and stress them. I am seated and dancing on the fence.”
Ayade’s statement did not go down well with Rivers state governor, Nyesom Wike who said ““If you want to talk about us, come out and be bold and talk about Rivers State, I am not a 419 governor. When Federal Government refunded us money, I came and announced it… some of them, they were given the same money with me, did they announce it to their state?”
“I challenge the one (Ayade) that was talking last night, invite people to come and commission projects. It’s not to shortchange your people, carry their forest reserve and sell as timber. It’s not by force, it’s not by propaganda, it’s not by giving budget that’s unrealistic, fraudulent budgets…a very poor state will be giving budgets of over one trillion when Rivers state cannot give a budget of N400 billion.”
Sensing the situation may worsen if not well managed, Saraki was said to have called both governors separately for a meeting during which he admonished them to join hands together as that remains the only way for PDP to achieve its aim of returning to power. Wike and Ayade agreed with him and promised to sheathe their swords.
In the case of Matawalle, he had also threatened to dump the PDP over his disagreement with South-South governors on the mining of gold in Zamfara state. The South-South governors had argued that if Zamfara was allowed to mine its gold and sell, they should also be allowed to refined and sell their crude oil.
Ahmed Yerima, a former governor of Zamfara state had announced that Matawalle, who was the biggest beneficiary of the intra-party feud that rocked the APC in the 2019 general elections was on his way to the APC as plans have reached advanced stage for the governor to dump the PDP.
“Yes. We are working and we are talking. Every politician tries to get more people to their party especially governors. If I can have governors with me, the party will be better. Very soon he would join,” Yarima said.
When Umahi dumped the PDP for APC, Matawalle commended him, saying he would “rather commend Umahi for his bold decision rather than condemn him “because everyone feels welcome only in a house where he feels comfortable’’.
He said he had a very bad experience recently from some of his PDP governor-colleagues which, according to him, he found “very puzzling’’.
“For instance, the South- South governors accusing me in the media are PDP governors and they are the same people who brewed controversy over the so-called Zamfara gold, premised on deliberate misinformation and outright lies”, Matawalle was quoted as saying in the presser.
The governor said that curiously it was the APC-led Federal Government that came out to defend him in the saga, noting “as PDP colleagues, I expected the governors to contact me first and find out my own side of the story before unleashing their venom in the media’’.
However, after meeting with the Saraki reconciliation committee, Matawalle has pledged his commitment to PDP, saying he has no plans to join the ruling party.
Also, in continuation of its rebuilding process ahead of the 2023 general elections, the committee has met and resolved crisis in various state chapters of the party such as Ogun, Lagos, Osun, Bauchi, Anambra, Ekiti, Ebonyi and Niger states. Its efforts is yielding results in Anambra strate as the PDP is already giving the ruling party in the state, All Progressives Grand Alliance a run for its money in the November 6 governorship election.
Aside reconciliation of party members, the Saraki committee also met with elder statesmen and former presidents such as former presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Abdulsalami and Goodluck Jonathan on the way out of the myriads of challenges confronting the nation.
Speaking with journalists after the meeting with Obasanjo at the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library, in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Saraki said the purpose of their visit was to speak on challenges currently facing Nigeria.
“It was a very useful deliberation; we informed the former president why we are here – the purpose of the committee and that it is important, as an elder statesman. The president is someone who has been in our party before and someone committed to the unity, to the success of this country”.
“I think that when we talk about kidnapping, when we talk about (a) sense of belonging, these are issues that go across party lines and what is required now is for government to provide leadership in bringing all stakeholders together. Let us discuss and see how we can address some of these issues.
“We are very hopeful for the future of this country; we are very hopeful that everybody will have a sense of belonging. I think it is important that we all must come to the table and discuss. We can tap into a lot of resources. Even on the issue of security, there are (a) lot of people with a lot of experience that we can make use of.
“My advice to government this time is that, this problem is a huge problem that cannot be left to just the government and the ruling party. I think this is the time the opposition, the ruling party and our international friends come together because the challenges before us are enormous and we need to address them,”.
While commending the efforts of Saraki and his team, Chief Olabode George, a former Deputy National Chairman of the PDP recently said he is impressed on the ongoing efforts of the committee to unite the party and return it to winning ways in future elections.
He said “The national reconciliation committee set up by the party headed by Dr. Bukola Saraki is doing a very wonderful job. I’m highly impressed with Saraki’s handling of the responsibility so far. He is calling a spade a spade and telling the truth to power”.
“Saraki is like an elephant in the room, saying the truth the way it should be said. When I listened to him, I was very, very impressed that he has really grown and developed. He is no longer the ‘Bukky’ that I knew when he first came to the villa. He is very matured, very intellectually sound and very deep”.
“He is now making a special name for himself and I said ‘Oh, we thank God. We are getting to be fathers now but all is not lost. If we have the younger ones like him coming up that we can handover the baton to, why not?’
“I had a one-on-one meeting with him in my office here. He never minced words when it comes to speaking the truth and I believe that is what the PDP needs at the moment” he said.