Okowa rolls out convention plan as 7,000 Taraba APC members defect
Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja and Oluwole Ayodele in Jalingo
The Chairman of the National Caretaker Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Senator Ahmed Makarfi, has said that there was no precondition for the return of former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar to the party, but the PDP will accord due respect to him and others of similar status.
He also allayed the fears of PDP members over the possibility of the party imposing a presidential candidate on them in 2019.
Makarfi equally expressed satisfaction with last Tuesday’s judgment of the Court of Appeal in Ekiti State which nullified the judgment of the lower court on the authentic leadership of the South-west zone, adding that it could have affected the smooth conduct of Saturday’s convention.
Speaking during the inauguration of the party’s National Convention Planning Committee headed by Delta State Governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, Monday in Abuja, Makarfi said contrary to insinuations in some quarters, there was no deal with Atiku to grant a special concession to him during the presidential primary of the PDP.
Makarfi’s explanation came just as the Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Timi Frank blamed the ruling party’s national leadership for the imminent massive defection that he claimed was about to hit the APC.
While speaking on the circumstances of Atiku’s defection to the PDP, Makarfi said the former vice-president never asked for any special concession, nor did the party offer him one before his return to the party.
Atiku who dumped the APC more than a week ago, formally returned to the PDP at the weekend, promising Nigerians to create millions of jobs if he is elected president.
He also said that the issues that had forced him to defect to the APC about four years ago had been resolved in the PDP.
“Atiku did not seek for a special concession and the party did not extend any special concession to him, and I don’t think we will extend any concession to anybody, other than what is due to him and other than what is due to anybody of his status that will be coming into the party.
“It is only right that we accord such people such preferential rights and the status they deserve.
“He never asked for anything and we never conceded anything to him. Whatever aspiration he or anyone coming to the PDP may have, they are free to pursue them, so are other PDP members who are free to pursue whatever political aspirations they may have.
“The party is out to establish a level playing field to enable party men and women exercise their rights and to give mandates to whomever they want to give mandates to,” he said.
Makarfi urged members to be ready to make sacrifices, as times were hard, adding that if they continued in this direction, PDP will be able to return to power in 2019.
In his remarks, the chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees (BoT), Senator Walid Jibrin, said everybody was ready to collaborate with the planning committee to ensure the success of the convention and to see that it is conducted in a free and fair manner.
Taraba State Governor Darius Ishiaku also said PDP still remained the pride of Nigerians, adding that it still remains the party that all Nigerians are yearning for.
The convention planning committee headed by Okowa immediately swung into action Monday by holding a meeting.
Okowa said only members of the committee, accredited delegates and the media would be allowed into the venue of the convention.
The governor, while reeling out stringent measures that will ensure the orderly conduct of the convention, said campaigns for the various offices of the party will cease by Friday and no one will be allowed to bring supporters or post-campaign banners to the Eagle Square, Abuja, where the convention will hold.
“If you are not an accredited delegate for the convention, it is better you stay away from the venue and watch the events in the comfort of your homes as it will be beamed live on television,” he said.
Just as the PDP was putting the finishing touches to its convention, its state chapter in Taraba consolidated its position in the state, when no fewer than 7,000 members of the APC defected to the party in Gassol Local Government Area at the weekend.
Gassol, which was a major stronghold of the APC in the 2015 general election, erupted into a frenzy when three of the most prominent political figures in APC in the council defected with their supporters in a very colourful ceremony.
The occasion, which had in attendance the state’s deputy governor, Mr. Haruna Manu, and other top government functionaries in the state, was a major pointer to the dwindling fortunes of APC in the state.
The three gladiators among the defectors – Hon. Isa Mohammed Tobi, Hon. Gagga and Musulimu Audu Harisu – ensured that APC defeated the PDP in the local government where the deputy governor hails from.
Presenting the defectors to the mammoth crowd that gathered at Mutum Biyu, headquarters of the local government, the state chairman of the party, Victor Bala Kona, said their return to PDP marked the death of APC in Gassol.
He enjoined the people of Gassol and the entire state to continue to support PDP, saying there was no alternative to the party in the state, just as he assured them that the party was well positioned to recapture power at the national level.
Addressing the crowd, the deputy governor thanked the defectors for the honour done to him by returning to PDP, just as he assured them that they would not have any cause to leave the party again.
He noted that as a representative of the local government area, in his capacity as deputy governor, he has been representing and protecting their interests just as other local governments areas and promised to continue to do so.
He appealed to the people, particularly party faithful, to continue to support the Ishaku administration and remain peaceful and law-abiding.
Meanwhile, a member of the APC, Timi Frank, has said that the leadership of the ruling party should be remorseful, following the resignation of Atiku and many others from the party.
Commenting on last Sunday’s defection of Atiku to PDP, Frank said inasmuch as the democratic system of government permits politicians to move from one party to other, the failure of APC leaders at the national level must be blamed for the recent massive defections from the APC.
In a statement issued by Frank on Monday in Abuja, he said he had warned and predicted the recent developments in APC, adding that “flagrant disregard to the constitution of the party, impunity and silence of some leaders are responsible for the misfortune befalling the APC”.
While still cautioning the APC on its future, Frank said the lack of internal democracy, disregard for party constitution, irregular meetings, inability to conduct a convention, absence of a board of trustees and arrogance by the party leadership could result in doom.
According to Frank, “Nigerians should note one very interesting thing in the politics of Nigeria today: in the past, it used to be that people decamped or left the party that had lost the election or that was in opposition to the party that is ruling.
“But here we are today, people are moving from the ruling party to the party in opposition. It is saddening but interesting the way politics is being played out in Nigeria because here we are, people leaving the comfort zone of government and the corridors of power to the opposition party which should signal danger to those leading the ruling party.”
The APC chieftain restated that the display of arrogance by some party leaders was not helping matters.
He said it was high time APC realised that politics is about numbers and every youth, man or woman is important.
“The kind of arrogance being displayed in the then ruling party led some of us out of PDP in those days but we have now realised that it is even worse in APC.
“Though it’s already getting late but if this impunity is not tackled between now and early next year, APC may witness the mother of all defections to opposition parties.
“As for me, I’m still a member of APC because I believe I have worked hard to bring about the ruling party as a young man but if the impunity does not stop, I will be left with no option.
“Not only me but some serving governors, members of National Assembly and other known party leaders across the country that have to decide their political future elsewhere,” he said.