The National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) took place last week, providing an opportunity for President Goodluck Jonathan to persuade the party chieftains about the urgent need to withdraw petroleum subsidy. Leon Usigbe reports.THE 57th National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Peoples Democratic Party ( PDP) did not quite have an extra-ordinary outcome given the issues that were thought to have been brought before it. In fact, it was believed at a time that the meeting would not hold because of the perceived threat of PDP state governors to take President Goodluck Jonathan to task over his alleged role in the denial of a return ticket to their colleague and governor of Bayelsa State, Chief Timipre Sylva. There was the issue of zoning of party offices, as it seemed that new interests wanted the present arrangement which zoned the office of the national chairman to the North East and the national secretary to the South West to be tinkered with. The Federal Government's resolve to withdraw subsidy on petroleum products also provided a point of friction among party chieftains. There was, therefore, the belief that the meeting survived only because it was a constitutional requirement that it must hold before the end of the year.Indeed, in order to douse the tension that had brewed between the president and the governors, both parties did not come straight to the meeting at the scheduled hour. Rather, they went into the office of the national chairman on the top floor of the Wadata Plaza national secretariat of the party to hold a pre-NEC meeting, while the other delegates waited downstairs in the NEC hall venue of the meeting.The outcome of the NEC meeting suggested that the pre-NEC meeting had succeeded in its objectives as the NEC meeting was, contrary to expectations, later held under a convivial atmosphere, at the end of which the politicians agreed on various way solutions for both for the PDP and the nation.Before the meeting went into a closed session, Jonathan assured that his administration would put in place measures that would mitigate the harsh effects of the planned removal of petroleum subsidy.Arguing the necessity of the deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry at this time, he reiterated that he and the governors of the 36 states of the federation were convinced that deregulation was the best thing for the country.He said that his administration would not want to bring pain to Nigerians and would, therefore, do its best to make sure that any discomfort arising from the removal of petroleum subsidy was definitely cushioned.He argued: "On the issue of deregulation, people will like to ask why the PDP government is inflicting pains on Nigerians. But there is no way I and the governors (will do that), because we have discussed it over and over and we have agreed that the only way is to resolve the problems and relieve the pains of our people is to completely deregulate the down stream sector of the oil industry (otherwise, this country will enter into a serious crises). We are not taking the decision because we want to see Nigerians suffer, but we want to see a situation where more Nigerians will be able to get jobs; the economic activities should be stimulated so people will have the opportunity to survive with or without government."Jonathan conceded that there would be hard times for Nigerians at the beginning of the implementation of the policy but was confident that just as it was in the case of the introduction of GSM in the country when it was very expensive, prices of goods and services were expected to crash later. "As we progress, we will really see that at the beginning, Nigerians, knowing who we are, will want to express frustration and exploit the issue and if you relate it to the issue of GSM in the country then, to get a SIM card was a problem; people were hoarding the SIM and creating artificial scarcity. At times, people had to tip people to get SIM card. Now, some of the service providers will be giving out free SIM card, with even some credit, just to attract you to be using their network."Another driving force for the move to deregulate the petroleum downstream, he told the politicians, was the fact that the industry was better operated by the private sector rather than government. Since that was the case, he believed, when the sector was fully privatized, it would benefit all Nigerians. Jonathan, who stressed that the the 2012 budget was targeted to refocus the economy because the nation could not continue to depend on oil, said there was the need to diversify the economy, especially against the prediction by experts that crude oil deposits in the country might not last beyond the next 35 to 40 years.Jonathan also praised the PDP state governors for sticking and working with the party since April general election even when things had not gone according to plan with the PDP and congratulated the party for its recent success in the Kogi State gubernatorial election and was hopeful that the PDP would win many of the ongoing cases in the election tribunals even though he warned the party to expect some losses too.In his address on the occasion, the acting National Chairman of the PDP, Alhaji Ababakar Kawu Baraje, warned that the PDP would continue to address the issue of lack of discipline among its members, revealing that some returnees to the party were refused waivers to contest election because of their past poor disciplinary record.While no mention was made of the Sylva issue in the communique released at the end of the meeting, it did say that the NEC had accepted the proposal for the zoning of party offices in view of the forthcoming national convention where new leaders were expected to be elected but no final decision had been reached. The communique stated that additional consultations needed to be done in this area before a final decision could be taken and communicated to party members in due course. The communique confirmed that Vice-President Sambo comprehensively briefed NEC on the move to withdraw petroleum subsidy after which NEC endorsed the plans and urged all Nigerians to embrace the project as a sure way to avoid the collapse of the economy.The NEC also urged party members to educate fellow citizens nationwide on the benefits of the removal and called for vigilance against those who it observed wished to sabotage the programme. "Some of the highlights of the proposal is that the proceeds of the fuel subsidy removal shall be channeled to various critical sectors of the economy such as education, health care, road and Rail infrastructure, hydro electric power and industrial development," the communique said.The meeting reviewed the state of the party since the last meeting held on the 28th of July 2011, especially preparations for primaries in the five States ordered by various tribunals including Adamawa, Bayelsa, Sokoto and Cross River States. It noted that, so far, the party had successfully held primaries in Kogi, Bayelsa, Adamawa and Sokoto States. The NEC commended the National Working Committee (NWC) for a thorough job in handling of the primaries in the affected states and urged all party members to accept the outcome of the exercise in the spirit of party loyalty, unity and cohesion. It also received a report on progress of work at the new National Secretariat and noted with satisfaction that work is going on according to schedule with the building now on the 10th floor out of the targeted 12 floors.On the forthcoming congresses to elect party officials at all levels, the NEC commended the enthusiasm shown by party members nationwide, especially the smooth conclusion of the update of ward registers and also expressed its determination to see to the successful conclusion of the transition exercise. The PDP dismissed speculations in some circles that plans were underway to dissolve some State Executive Committees before the expiration of their tenures and affirmed its commitment to provision of the party constitution on tenure of officials while also urging officials concerned to disregard such rumours.The party leaders were also briefed on the progress of the PDP Constitution review Committee lead by the National Legal Adviser, Chief Olusola Oke, and it noted that the committee was still working but had made substantial progress in fashioning a new constitution which would be in tune with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Electoral Act. Click here to read full news..