The national leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP was last night locked in a meeting with the remnants of the party caucus in the House of Representatives in Transcorp Hotel, Abuja. Last night’s meeting was one of several carrot and stick options initiated by the party hierarchy to hold other fidgety legislators contemplating leaving the party. The day before the meeting 37 members of the PDP caucus in the House defected to the All Progressives Congress, APC turning the once dominant majority into a minority.
One of the responses from the presidency was the decision of President Goodluck Jonathan to absent himself from the presentation of the 2014 budget proposals to the National Assembly. In his stead, the coordinating minister of the economy and minister of finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala presented the proposals to the two houses of the National Assembly. It was the first time that a sitting and fit president would present the country’s financial projections to the legislature in absentia.
Stakeholders were, however, divided whether the president was right to absent himself from the presentation or not.
The absence of the president some alleged, was out of apprehension that the APC members and especially the new ones just decamped from the PDP would embarrass the president by booing him.
It was, however, learnt that this year was not the first time that such threats of booing the president were perceived.
One source revealed that in the past when such threats were made, the then Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly, Senator Joy Emodi took time to identify the source of such threats and worked on them to mollify them and sometimes, got some of the members to clap for the president during his budget speech.
However, Mrs. Emodi was eased out of office few months ago following an alleged face off between her and some presidency officials who sought to create what she allegedly described as a parallel and divisive support structure for the presidency in the National Assembly.
Wednesday’s defection inevitably made the PDP to for the first time since the advent of democratic rule in 1999 to lose its plurality of members in the House of Representatives as the party slipped in membership strength from 208 to 171.
What was a loss for the PDP turned into a gain for the APC which transformed itself from a minority party to the majority party in the House with 174 members.
Even though the APC now has the highest number of members, the party is still short of an overall majority in the 360 member House.
Labour Party, the All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA and Accord, together have a membership of 17, giving the impression that they could become the deciding factors in any partisan dispute. That prospect is, however, diluted by the fact that as many as 40 other members of the PDP are also waiting in the wings to leave the party.
The 40 or so members who are allegedly waiting, it was learnt, were those who decided to tread the path of caution, apparently afraid that their seats could be endangered by whatever scheme that the PDP could marshal to hit at the renegade legislators.
It was as such not surprising that 57 of the lawmakers supportive of the now defunct nPDP in the House and 20 senators also inclined to the faction of the PDP went to court for an order to restrain the PDP or the National Assembly leadership from declaring their seats vacant in the event of defection.
The members were guarding their seats against the background of constitutional provisions that members who leave their parties must vacate their seats except in the case of the factionalisation of the party on which they were elected.
The PDP leadership has on its part sought to pooh-pooh insinuations that the emergence of the nPDP does not amount to the emergence of a new faction and have cited the court pronouncement that the Bamanga Tukur led mainstream of the party is the only recognized leadership.
It was being expected that the party would raise such issues with the members last night as the meeting was yet to commence as at press time yesterday.
In a recent meeting with senators, Tukur had issued the carrot of a return ticket to senators, a promise, that inevitably quickly boomeranged given the aspiration of many second term governors to move to the Senate or to stop some of their senators from returning.
It was following that interaction with senators that PDP governors again called for the removal of Tukur as national chairman. What was thought to be a respite for the beleaguered national chairman following the exit of the five nPDP governors from the party, it seemed, was not a respite after all.
So, at yesterday’s night meeting the national chairman was expected to be more tactful in making any promises of giving re-election tickets to the legislators as a quid pro quo for their remaining in the party.
Whatever the actions of the PDP leadership, it is certain that the PDP in the House of Representatives would in the foreseeable future play a secondary role in the affairs of the House.
After his heartfelt umbrages against the policies and points men of the administration, there are few doubts about the political inclinations of Speaker Aminu Waziri Tambuwal. Though he did not join the other 10 members from Sokoto State to defect, few doubt that Tambuwal is heart and soul in the APC.
His remaining in the PDP according to some sources is just a matter of convenience as defecting would do little to his continued leadership of the House.
The same, however, cannot be said of others on the PDP side of the leadership, particularly the deputy speaker, Chief Emeka Ihedioha who given his alleged gubernatorial aspiration in his native Imo State would think twice about defecting.
Sources in the House have told Vanguard that a change in the leadership would be effected on resumption after the yuletide break. It was learnt that an attempt may be made to alter the rules of the House to preserve the status quo, but how successful such a move could be has remained an issue.
However, Ihedioha as deputy speaker was elected by the House and not by a party caucus and unless the APC members are able to mobilize two-thirds of the members they may be unable to shove him aside. His personal chemistry with members may inevitably determine his fate.
However, for the other party leaders who were appointed by the party caucus, it is expected that they would automatically revert to minority positions in the New Year.
The prospect of the incumbent minority leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila becoming the Majority Leader and leading the affairs of the House is probably one of the factors that may have agonized the PDP national leadership and the presidency.
Gbajabiamila, a strong critic of the Jonathan administration is also one of the closest allies of the APC leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
There are suggestions that in the new dispensation that Gbajabiamila would skip the presentation of government bills as majority leaders have done since 1999, and leave same for the minority leader from the PDP.
The outlook for the PDP has never been this bad and it was thus not surprising that the president skipped his normal schedule of presenting the budget yesterday.
Pitiably, he has plenty more of such days ahead!