The ruling Peoples Democratic Party yesterday held its shortest ever National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting in Abuja: it lasted only 15 minutes without resolving many issues including granting of automatic tickets to President Goodluck Jonathan and governors seeking a second term in office.
The development, LEADERSHIP FRIDAY gathered, was sequel to the decision Wednesday night of a PDP caucus meeting at the presidential villa, which lasted until the early hours of yesterday. The party stakeholders were said to have agreed at the meeting to shelve the contentious issues on the grounds that they could tear the party apart and widen the gulf between the various aggrieved members of the party.
The meeting, which formally began about 2:46pm when Jonathan arrived at the Wadata Plaza national headquarters of the party in Wuse, Abuja, went into a closed-door session at exactly 3pm. But at exactly 3:15pm, journalists were invited to the hall by the party's interim national publicity secretary, Mr Tony Okeke, for a briefing.
Former vice president Atiku Abubakar was absent at the NEC meeting, fuelling speculations that he may dump the party for the newly registered Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM).
But Malam Garba Shehu, head, Atiku Media Office, told LEADERSHIP FRIDAY last night that "Turaki had a prior appointment for the renewal of his visa at the United States embassy in Abuja. For this reason, he could not turn up for the NEC meeting".
We'll disappoint doomsday prophets over PDP's future - Jonathan
President Jonathan admitted there were differences within the party but boasted that those predicting its implosion would be terribly disappointed.
Speaking on the crisis within the party, the president said, "I was not expecting to see so many people, especially our senior party members, but when I came in and looked across and saw the faces, I thanked God that even though people believe that PDP will have issues, that we are divided, they will all be disappointed."
He continued: "As I came in, the vice president whispered something to me about some lapses somewhere in the party. There may be disagreements; and in all institutions, even at the family level, there must be disagreements and issues. But the key thing that makes life go on is our ability to resolve our crisis. No matter the disagreement, no matter the interests, politics, they say, is a game of interests. We will resolve these differences amicably to make sure that every member of the party is happy. And those who continue to think that PDP cannot come together, that PDP cannot manage success, will be terribly disappointed."
In a clear reference to the All Progressives Congress (APC), Jonathan said the merger was indicative of their being intimidated by the credentials of the PDP.
He said: "Because of the intimidating credentials of the PDP, people started meeting, parties started coming together, and new ones are being formed, which is a blessing for all of us --all because people are confused about how we will manage PDP, and they will continue to be confused."
He assured party members that his administration would carry on the mandate of the party based on the party's manifesto, adding that "no matter what anybody is saying, we will put things on ground, so that they can compare what the PDP government is doing".
PDP states represented at the meeting include Bayelsa, Sokoto, Kano, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kebbi, Taraba, Niger, Ebonyi, Adamawa, Enugu, Plateau, Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Kogi, and Cross River.
But the governors or deputy governors of Delta, Abia, Rivers, Benue, and Katsina did not attend the meeting.
South-West Congress postponed
The NEC, nonetheless, postponed the August 24 South-West Congress because of a court injunction issued in Ado-Ekiti following a suit instituted by the former south-west vice chairman, Segun Oni. It however approved and ratified August 31, 2013, as the date for the special National Convention of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Reading the resolution of the NEC, the spokesman of the party, Tony Caesar Okeke, said: "NEC commended the special congresses and convention planning committee for the efforts so far put in place in preparation of the convention.
"NEC acknowledged the service of a court injunction restraining the conduct of the South-West Zonal Congress earlier scheduled for Saturday, 24 of August 2013. In line with our avowed disposition to uphold the rule of law and in deference to the court ruling, NEC unanimously approved the postponement of the South-West Zonal Congress. Consequently, NEC directed the National Working Committee (NWC) to follow through the court process and, when concluded, set a new date for the South-West Zonal Congress."
In his opening remark, the national chairman of the party, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, called on party members across the country to sheathe their swords and enthrone enduring peace.
He urged party members to take their grievances to the reconciliation committee or other organs of the party entrusted with the task of restoring peace in the party.
He further sought support for Jonathan, adding that the transformation agenda has been hugely successful.
Why meeting lasted 15 minutes
But the subtle means to grant Jonathan an automatic ticket at the presidential primary of the PDP led to the shortest PDP NEC meeting since the inception of the party.
A credible source had confided in LEADERSHIP FRIDAY last night that loyalists of the President had contrived the Right of First Refusal Clause to be inserted as an amendment to the party's constitution at yesterday's NEC meeting.
The amendment was intended to give the president and governors who are currently serving their first tenure, automatic tickets for the 2015 elections.
The president's men were to, through a motion at the meeting propose the inclusion of "the right of first refusal" in the party's constitution.
The source said that if the motion, which is expected to be the high point of the crucial deliberations at the NEC meeting was approved, it would be taken to the national convention of the PDP for ratification on August 31, 2013.
Article 31, sub section (3) of the 2012 PDP Constitution as amended states that , "The decision of the NEC shall be binding on all organs and members of the party."
But another highly-placed source told LEADERSHIP FRIDAY in confidence that the debate of the Right of First Refusal Clause was stood down in order to avoid a rancorous NEC of the party.
That, according to the source, was the reason the NEC lasted only 15 minutes.
He added that the presence of some anti-Jonathan governors at the emergency NEC of the PDP indeed, caused the party's national chairman, Bamanga Tukur to stand down the automatic ticket item on the agenda of the meeting.
The source said, "The truth of the matter is that the issue was meant to be discussed but for the surprise presence of the governors who have been up in arms against both Mr. President and Tukur.
"Before the meeting, a lot of consultations had actually taken place to ensure the debate and possible passage of the item but it was not wise on the part of the party to go ahead with the meeting when the aggrieved governors did not budge to entreaties.
"So what we intend to do is to continue with our consultations and reconciliations so that at the end of the day, the PDP will come out stronger and stronger before the 2015 race continues".
It was gathered that Governors Sule Lamido (Jigawa); Babangida Aliyu (Niger), Murtala Nyako (Adamawa)as well as the deputy governors of Sokoto and Kano had met at one of the Governor's Lodge in Asokoro before the NEC meeting.
The pre-NEC session was said to have taken stock of the pressure mounted on them to show understanding on the issue of automatic ticket for the president.