Also, two of the founding fathers of the party, its former National Chairman, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur and former Chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT), Chief Tony Anenih, both shared similar view on the electoral strength of the PDP when they spoke yesterday.
Against the background of complaints about the performance of the party, the former president said for the country to grow there is need to ensure strong institutions that can stand the test of time.
He warned against the weakening of institutions of democracy such as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Ex-President Jonathan made the remarks while receiving a delegation of the PDP Strategy Review and Inter party committee who visited him yesterday to give him their report.
While commending the committee for doing a good work, an obviously impressed Jonathan said the PDP was still the biggest and the strongest party in the country despite the loss of the presidential election in 2015.
“PDP is still the biggest and the strongest party, irrespective of what happened in 2015 general elections. Yes, we lost the presidential election but that doesn’t diminish us. Every other party still know that PDP is a leading party. Lossing the presidency is something temporary. We should be able to get that position back as long as we are able to get our a it together. I am happy that you people are working towards that,” he said.
The former president expressed optimism that the PDP will bounce back to reckoning by 2019, adding that the party still has the most penetrating structures in every part of the country today.
Speaking during the brief meeting with Jonathan, the leader of the PDP delegation Professor Jerry Gana expressed worry over the conduct of elections under the present INEC, lamenting that the electoral umpire is losing the independence that it gained under the Jonathan-led PDP administration.
Gana took time to explain some details about the work done by his committee of Strategy Review and Inter party affairs. He told the former president that as part efforts to rebuild and refocus the party the committee has recommended amongst others the need to mobilize the youths and women folks through empowering the formation the of youth wing and women wing.
He also briefed the former president on the progress being made to align forces with other opposition parties which he said included SDP, AD, Accord Party and some groups in APGA and Labour Party.
Jonathan, who saw the intervention made by the national caretaker committee led by Senator Ahmed Makarfi to set up the committee as a welcomed one, also noted that the best way to check imposition of candidates on the party is to make sure that delegates are not controlled by few individuals.
“The best way to stop imposition is to make sure that people don’t control the delegates. If we go by delegate election, it would be easiest to manage. How to select delegates is that at least 70 per cent of the delegates should not be under the control of anybody.” he said.
He said that the direct primary option which the committee recommended is ultimately the best form of election but cautioned that that it is difficult to manage as compared to the indirect delegate method.
He said one of the greatest challenges facing the party is the issue of imposition of candidates and lack of internal democracy, hence the move to adopt direct primary.
He suggested that the party can come up with an initiative that will ensure that people that had held certain offices in the past are made statutory delegates.
According to Jonathan, this will reduce the level of manipulation because such statutory delegates who are prominent individuals will be difficult to manipulate or hijack.
Among those that accompanied Prof. Jerry Gana to the consultative visits, were two former governors, Babangida Aliyu (Niger), Achike Undenwa (Imo), Prof. Tunde Adeniran, Prof. Rufai Alkali, Chief Roymond Dokpesi, Hon. Shehu Garbam and Senator Stella Omu.
At Alhaji Bamaga Tukur’s residence in Abuja, Jerry Gana told him that the PDP delegation had come to intimate him about the report of the Strategy Review and Inter party committee.
He described Tukur as one of the key owners of the PDP, adding that he still remains a major stakeholder despite his retirement from politics.
He said some of the key recommendations of the committee, include the introduction of direct primaries,
He said apart from the interferences in the conduct of election by INEC, the present APC administration has been associated with oppressive tendencies which has led to political prisoners which never reared its ugly head during the entire 16 years of PDP administration.
Another port of call for the PDP delegation was the house of the former chairman of BoT, Chief Tony Anenih, who lamented that the party would have gone beyond the stage it is now but for selfishness of its leaders.
Anenih advised the party leaders to support Jonathan in the task of reorganising and strengthening the party.
He said he would show more than a passing interest in issues affecting the nation even though he had last year announced his withdrawal from active partisan politics.
He said the PDP and its leaders should not be embarrassed if they see him embark on visits to either President Muhammadu Buhari or Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in order to meet minds on issues of national interest.
The former BoT chairman restated his position, which he made last year at the public presentation of his book, that he would no longer be available for night political meetings but would not be hesitant to offer advice to the PDP if the party leaders decide to tap from his wealth of experience.
He, however, had harsh words for the party leaders whom he accused of promoting their selfish interests, saying: “PDP is where it is today because of selfishness on the part of its leaders, a vast majority of whom want to be either presidential candidate or national chairman of the party.”
Anenih also slammed those who benefited so much from the party and later defected to the All Progressives Congress (APC), saying that was not the best way to reward a party that offered them its platform to actualise their aspirations.
“I believe in consistency. I joined party politics in 1978 and since then, I have never left any party that I joined for another. It is very shameful that people would do that, particularly those who had benefited so much from the PDP,” he said.
In her remarks, a member of the delegation, Senator Stella Omu, said the party had realised that for the party bounce back and to perform well in the 2019 election, peace and unity were very critical.
The committee comprises former Niger State Governor, Babangida Aliyu; Senator Ibrahim Idah, Professor Rufai Alkali, Dr. Bawa Kasali, Senator Stella Omu, High Chief Raymond Dokpesi, former Imo State Governor, Chief Achike Udenwa; Jide Adeniyi, Hon. Shehu Gabam, Hon Auwal Tukur and Hon. Margareth Itche