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A week after his return from medical vacation, the National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Iyorchia Ayu, Tuesday, presided over a stormy meeting of the National Working Committee of the party.
The meeting was also attended by the NWC members demanding the resignation of the national chairman.
A national officer of the party, Timothy Osadolor told The PUNCH that the PDP Deputy National Chairman (South), Taofeek Arapaja; (South-South), Dan Orbih, as well as the National Vice Chairman, (South-South), Stella Effah-Attoe all turned out for the emergency meeting.
Last week, Arapaja and five others returned various amounts paid into their bank accounts to the party, questioning Ayu’s authority to approve such amounts.
The NWC members were said to have returned N122.4m rent stipends paid into their account, alleging that they got the strange bank credit alerts after they queried the whereabouts of over N10bn realised as nomination fees during the party’s primaries.
The N10b was said to have been depleted to N1bn in uncertain circumstances, leading to tension in the NWC.
They also questioned the morality of the payment against the backdrop of media reports which accused the chairman of bribing NWC members to silence them for demanding accountability over the depletion of the N10b party fund.
But a confident Ayu returned to the Wadata plaza headquarters of the party Tuesday where he chaired the NWC meeting.
Speaking with The PUNCH, the PDP National Youth Leader, Osadolor explained the agenda of the meeting and the implication of the weighty allegations made by Arapaja and five others.
He stated, “They (NWC members) all attended. I am aware that the embarrassment the six officers brought to the party was part of the agenda of the meeting. As a national officer, I am aware that the constitution of the party frowns on any action that will bring the party to public opprobrium, which they have done.
“The NWC has the character and capacity to institute disciplinary measures against any of its officers. That is on the table.’’
Asked if the six officers may be sanctioned, Osadolor stated: “PDP is a democratic party that can checkmate the excesses of its members and put its house in order.
“I don’t see how they can commit an infraction on the party’s constitution and go scot-free. There is no way they will escape the disciplinary committee that will be set up today (Tuesday). The issue is too weighty to be swept under the carpet.”
Ayu raises committee
Rising from its marathon meeting, the NWC resolved to investigate the allegations that the housing allowance paid to the NWC members was a bribe.
According to a statement by the PDP National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba, the National Legal Adviser of the party, Kamaludeen Ajibade SAN, will investigate the allegation and report back to the NWC within one week for further action.
The statement read, ‘’The National Working Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party at its meeting on Tuesday, October 4, 2022, thoroughly examined the strange publication by a particular newspaper which reported that the Housing Allowance legally paid by the party to its National Officers was a bribe.
“After thorough scrutiny of the payment by the party, the NWC in the session established that the payment was not a bribe but housing allowance duly approved and paid to National Officers of the Party in line with the Conditions of Service and Entitlement of the Staff and Principal Officers of the party.
“The NWC also established that the payment passed through due process procedures of the Party by all extant financial regulations and payment approval processes of the party.
“It is also instructive to state that the National Officers who returned their Housing Allowances equally confirmed and affirmed at the meeting that the payment was not a bribe but their due entitlements in line with the Conditions of Service and Entitlement of the Staff and Principal Officers of the party.
“The NWC resolved to conduct an extensive investigation into the circumstances surrounding the said publication in The Nation newspaper of September 26, 2022, which was targeted to cause disaffection among members and stakeholders of the Party as well as bring the Party to disrepute before our teeming supporters all over the world, particularly in an election year.
“Consequently, the NWC has set up an Investigative Committee headed by the National Legal Adviser to conduct an inquiry into the source of the said malicious and injurious publication contained in The Nation newspaper of September 26, 2022.”
Our correspondent gathered that the NWC was very stormy as the participants attacked their colleagues who returned the allowance to the party coffers.
A source said, ’’The NWC members were shouting on top of their voices, hitting the table over the issue of the returned allowances by some members of the party. The meeting chaired by the National Chairman of the party, Sen. Iyorchia Ayu lasted for more than three hours.’’
But another party official claimed the meeting was frank and only discussed how to move the party forward.
He noted, “I wouldn’t want to say that the meeting was defined by members shouting at the top of their voices. The meeting was about selling the ideals of the party with the members being frank with themselves.
“We are calling facts as they are. What is more important is that the party remains unsinkable by lies and vendetta.”
Arapaja and Effah-Attoe could not be reached for reactions as they failed to respond to several calls made to their phones.
Orbih refutes probe
However, Orbih on Tuesday shed more light on the return of N122.4m paid into the NWC members account.
He also the aggrieved NWC members would not be probed.
He said, “I was never in any meeting when that approval (housing allowance) was given. We also established that they should say the date the meeting took place when that approval was given. It was also observed by all those who returned the money that their decision to return the money was based on the story reported in The Nation Newspapers that the money was a bribe.
“It may well be that even the administrative staff may be responsible for the leakage because one of them went to Arise TV to justify the payment. We want to know the source because having been informed by the NWC members that this is not the first time such would be leaked because there was even some money paid to some NWC members under Muazu, the vouchers were even published.
On the allegation that the money wasn’t a bribe, he said, “Well, it’s not an allegation, we stated in our letter that this money is being returned based on the stories in the newspaper that the money paid was a bribe.
“But most of us who were present and who had alerts on our phones showed that there was no narrative accompanying the payment. So, there’s no way they would have known from heaven that the money was for allowance.”
NEC members speak
However, a member of the PDP’s National Executive Committee, Ibrahim Tsauri, explained why Ayu might be probed, noting that the approval limit of the chairman is N10 million.
While insisting that there’s nothing wrong in approving housing allowances for NWC members, the former PDP National Secretary noted however that such must have the approval of the working committee.
He stated, “This is only becoming an issue because there is a crisis in the party. I was the only National Secretary who spent four years in office so I think I know much of these things. I am talking to you, as a person who is experienced and knows the constitution of the PDP.
“What the chairman did is normally done by the financial secretary. If there is money available, what the party does is that the NWC will instruct the financial secretary to make a budget of what is to be given to NWC members. They don’t have salaries; they only go with these legitimate allowances.
“If people are complaining that the money is too much, that is a different thing. But for housing allowance, it is legitimate. There has to be a budget and the budget has to be approved by the NWC, and taken to NEC for approval before payment is made. Why they returned the money, I don’t know. I don’t know if it was a bribe.
“The establishment manual of the PDP pegged the approval limit of the National Chairman at N10 million. But why should he approve something above his limit?”
Also speaking, an NEC member who served in the Uche Secondus-led NWC said the matter had not come before NEC.
Speaking with The PUNCH in confidence, he said, “It has not come to NEC. Yes, as an individual, as a chairman, he can only approve N10m. But he can go above that provided such an amount is discussed and approved by the NWC.
“Allowances are made available when there is money. The issue they have not cleared is whether the issue was discussed. If it was not discussed, then there will be genuine calls for probe,” he stressed.
Forum tackles Ayu
In a related development, the Forum of PDP Candidates and Aspirants has passed a no-confidence vote on the PDP national chairman, national secretary, Sen. Samuel Anyanwu, and deputy national chairman, North, Umar Damagum.
The group also said it has petitioned the national executive committee of the party and demanded either the resignation or removal of the three NWC members within 48 hours.
They threatened to institute a suit against the party chiefs if they failed to comply with their demand within 48 hours.
This was contained in a statement by the forum’s coordinator, Chris Ogbu and secretary, Dauda Yusuf.
The group accused the party leadership of extorting aspirants during the congresses, primaries, and special national convention of the party.
It further alleged fraudulent substitution of candidates after the party primaries.
Ogbu said, ‘’Sharing the money paid for nomination forms instead of utilizing it for the prosecution of the historic 2023 election of the party is very provocative and indicting to the image of the party.’’
He emphasised that the activities of the party’s leadership greatly contributed to the annulment of the governorship primaries in Zamfara and Ogun states, stressing that many cases are still awaiting court judgment.
But the media aide to the PDP chairman, Simon Imobo-Tswam, dismissed the forum, saying it did not exist.
“They said they are a forum of aspirants; who are they now, where is their office? You called me for a reaction; that is mischief,” he stated.