2023 presidency: South-West crisis threatens PDP

With two factions of the Peoples Democratic Party PDP) South-West caucus adamant over their disagreements, indications are that the crisis is spreading to other political zones in the country and stakeholders, write KUNLE ODEREMI and SUNDAY ADEPOJU

THE Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is walking on a tight rope as the buildup to the next general election gathers momentum with plots and counterplots by powerful forces at each other’s throat. At the national headquarters, the main organs of the PDP are polarised by the politics of 2023 presidency, perceived awkward leadership of the national chairman of the party, Prince Uche Secondus, and issues bordering on the management of the resources at the disposal of the party. However, what literally constitutes a keg of gunpowder is the protracted crisis in the South-West PDP, with its spiraling effects across the board. With the zone widely acknowledged as a game changer based on its role from the  Obasanjo presidency down to the Yar’Adua and Jonathan leaderships of the country, coupled with the enthronement of the Buhari presidency, the South-West remains the backbreaker cum beautiful bride at major elections.

But, the PDP is best with how to overcome both centrifugal and centripetal forces desperate to dominate the political space. Frantic efforts at national and zonal levels to pull the party from the precinct of an alley pale into insignificance due to the  clash between two major tendencies, one loyal to the governor of Oyo State, Seyi Makinde, and the other comprising the allies of former governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose. The bitter struggle has caused a stalemate to elect a new zonal executive, split the PDP national leadership and created mutual suspicion and distrust between South-West leaders and the governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike.

The simmering conflict has necessitated dozens of meetings and consultations among the main stakeholders in the PDP at the national, zonal and state levels. While the reconciliation committee set up by the PDP Abuja with a former president of the Senate, Dr Bukola Saraki, has made frantic efforts to resolve the crisis. The two factions engage in offensive and counter-offensives almost at equal rapidity, setting up parallel executives and reconciliation committees in an attempt to cancel one each.

 

Distrust between the two camps in the feud 

There are series of permutations of fresh pending political alliances and plots to frustrate ambitions of either serving of prospective candidates for higher elective offices in the party from the South-West and Rivers state, where Nyesom Wike holds sway as governor in the next political dispensation. This is because of the strategic place of the South-West in the pattern of votes and sagacity of the electorate. Another theory is to truncate the second term ambition of some high profile politicians of the PDP extraction for not making their words their bonds after collaboration to win elections into public offices. Thirdly, a speculated ambition of Wike to either seek the office of the president or vice in 2023 is generating heat in the South-West PDP with insinuations that his recent peace mission to the South-West PDP was a smokescreen for political engineering and decoy to curry favour of the zone. It is believed that the hidden agenda of the loquacious governor is to use the result of the peace effort as a bargaining chip in the contest for whatever he might seek in 2023.

Talks about fresh alignment of forces are equally rife among politicians following the unending PDP crisis. Before the governor of Oyo State, Seyi Makinde, pooh-poohed  acclaim by a group of All Progressives Congress (APC) elements on Monday, there were claims that the camp of the governor was considering an option to forge alliance with like-minds to prepare grounds for the next political dispensation.

It is recalled that the party had a difficult time before it could wriggle out of the crisis that led to the exit of a former national secretary of the PDP, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, before the 2015 elections. According to stakeholders, the current crisis poses a serious threat to the chances of the party in the 2022 governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun states, as well as in the 2023 general election. The crisis, they said, denied full concentration of energy by the party to the governorship election in Ondo State, which the APC won. The fallout of the party primaries was felt in the course of electioneering by the party for the poll.

While the PDP is yet to formally announce its stand on the zoning of offices in the next political dispensation,  names of prospective presidential hopefuls are in circulation. They include the governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal and a former president of the Senate, Dr Bukola Saraki, to name just two. There are speculations that Wike could run for either the presidency or vice depending on the zoning formula to be adopted by the PDP with serious implications for the continued stay of Uche Secondus as the national chairman of the party.   One of the theories is that he wants to build bridges across the South-West PDP in order to put himself in good stead and enhance his bargaining chips at the most auspicious hour. And to be able to exert more strength and voice, the position of the PDP national chairman must go to another zone other than the South-South.  An elder of the party queried: “Therefore, Wike’s move to settle the rift is not genuine. One, he has a personal hidden agenda and an issue to grind with Secondus. If he has the formula to resolve the conflict in other places, why can’t he deploy the same formula or magic wand to resolve the cold war between him and his godson, Uche Secondus?”

 

Elusive South-West PDP unity

The South-West PDP leadership tussle became manifest when a former governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose and the senator representing Ekiti South senatorial district, Senator Biodun Olujimi’s factions held parallel congresses in the state. The two factions were unable to reach a compromise leading to the holding of parallel congresses. Fayose had accused Makinde of interference in the crisis in Ekiti PDP and taking sides with Olujimi’s group. The list of executives of the parallel congress held by the Fayose group from ward to state levels were confirmed by the party, and the courts.

A member of the House of Representatives representing Obokun/Oriade Federal Constituency of Osun State, Wole Oke, was once quoted as saying: “By convention and practices of the PDP, Makinde, who is the only PDP governor in the South-West, is the leader of the zone and no loyal, committed member of the PDP family should challenge the noble arrangement in the overall interest of the party, except for selfish interests.” Sometime last year, the PDP South-West caucus in the National Assembly affirmed their support for Makinde.

 

The Saraki committee

To arrest the slide into total confusion, the party’s NWC mandated its peace, reconciliation and strategy committee to swing into action. The committee is headed by Dr Saraki; with former Gombe State governor, Hassan Dankwambo; former House of Representatives Majority Leader, Honourable Mulikat Akande-Adeola; former Cross River State governor, Liyel Imoke; a former Katsina State governor, Ibrahim Shema and former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, as members initiated moves to reconcile the factions with no visible change in status quo ante. While the NWC is worried that the feud between the two gladiators could impair the party’s efforts to win the zone in the 2023 elections, the chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees (BoT), Senator Walid Jubin, is optimistic about the cuurrent reconciliatory effort..

 

State chapters

In Ekiti, the home of Fayose, the Court of Appeal affirmed the party’s executives loyal to him from ward to state levels. The other group, led by Olujimi, has strategised to approach the Supreme Court to seek redress on the issue. In Lagos State, the PDP had, once, thrown its weight to the group. Buttressing this is the support by a former deputy national chairman of the party, Chief Olabode George, a former military governor in Ondo State. In Osun, there is division. At least two groups exist, as it was learnt that one is led by Akin Ogunbiyi, the other is championed by the Adeleke family of Ede.

 

Osun

The forces loyal to the camp of Makinde comprise PDP elders, some of whom are former national officers and members of the National Assembly. They said they are opposed to impunity and disdain for party constitution and authority by the hawks. The camp insists that Honourable Soji Adagunodo remains the rightful chairman of the party in the state. Besides, they claimed that members of the last zonal executive of the PDP were not elected but selected by certain individuals, one of who was no longer in the party, due to exigencies at that time. When Adagunodo was suspended from office in a controversial circumstance thrown up by a petition, the action paved the way for an acting chairman. Initially, Sunday Bisi was named in an acting capacity before Sunday Akanfe stepped in. A court order soon threw him out of office but Bisi bounced back into the office through the decision of the court.  He belongs to the other tendency in the imbroglio over the soul of the South-West PDP. The loyalists of Adagunodo run a parallel state secretariat after the hitherto office of the party was reportedly sold out in the festering conflict and intrigues in the state chapter of the PDP.

 

Season of meetings

The Fayose group boycotted a meeting called in Ibadan by Makinde to reconcile all the tendencies with insinuations of a cold relationship between Makinde and Akande-Adeola. Alhaji AbdulRasheed Adebisi Olopoeyan, who is a staunch PDP chieftain and follower of the strong man of Ibadan politics, Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu, is not hiding his support for Olafeso.  Recently, Olafeso visited Olopoeyan, who has been having a running battle with Makinde over alleged marginalisation in the political appointments and patronage. In the midst of the frosty relationship, the State Working Committee of the party, on January 26, suspended the PDP chairman in Ibadan North-East Local Government Area, Mr Taiwo Iyiola, who was said to be loyal to Olopoeyan.

In Ogun State, there are two groups: Buruji Kashamu and Ladi Adebutu. The Kashamu group has declared support for Makinde. According to its statement, “It is evident that Governor Makinde has what is required to move our party forward in the South-West. As the only PDP governor in the zone, he is automatically the leader of the party in the zone. Ahead the forthcoming zonal congress, we are declaring our support for Governor Makinde and the Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola-led Reconciliation Committee. The decision was unanimously taken at an extraordinary meeting of the State Executive Committee of the party.” Some observers say the Kashamu group cannot be regarded as the mainstream PDP chapter in the state. It is said that the faction led by Ladi Adebutu is occupying the party’s state secretariat. That faction led by Zikirulahi Ogundele is loyal to Fayose.

 

Leadership question

When he marked his three years in office, Uche Secondus listed  his achievements in spite of  all odds. He emerged as the national chairman in 2017 despite being not the favoured candidate based on the fact that only PDP South-West stakeholders had never produced chairman out of the six zones of the country. Professor Tunde Adeniran and Chief Bode George had insisted that there was an understanding for the post to be zoned to the South-West, technically knocking out Secondus from the race for chairmanship. But the then national caretaker committee led by former Kaduna State governor, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, the party had approved that the post of the national chairman should go to the South, encouraging the axis to micro-zone the post to any of the three zones comprising the region. The final decision was taken at a national convention despite criticisms by notable contestants and George withdrew from the race and Secondus returned creating a path of discord. He had promised: “No more imposition, no more impunity.”

But taking stock, he said: “It has been 36 months of ups and downs and I am proud to report that the party is not at the level where we met it. We took over the party when it was still trying to come out of the trauma of losing the election and being in opposition for two years under an intolerant ruling party, the APC. We met a psychologically traumatized party struggling to adjust to opposing life after 16 years in power. We inherited a party that had issues with internal democracy, delegates were not having the final say on who flies the flag of the party in an election. Names of winners were randomly and blatantly changed in Abuja with disregard for the people and the requirements of our constitution.”

For Wike, there are issues with the tenure of the PDP chair: “An opposition party ought to be united, to work, to take over the affairs of government because people are waiting for this opportunity, but the current leadership of NWC is not prepared for that. Rather, what they have done is to constitute some people to sow a seed of discord among governors for their own selfish interest. And that will boomerang; that will consume them.” Wike declared in a statement, adding: “PDP ought to have harvested from the inefficiency of the APC, from the maladministration of the APC. Ordinarily, that is what the opposition party ought to do. If you ask me, are Nigerians waiting for a change? Yes. If you ask me as a member of PDP, am I ready to support PDP to take over? Yes! But, if you ask me currently as it is, is the leadership of the party willing for us to harvest this opportunity for a change? I will say no!” The governor further alleged that the NWC as presently constituted was merely interested in retaining the current structure of the party to remain in power, and not to win the 2023 election, thus, validating what other members fear.  “The present National Working Committee is not interested or doing anything to take over the realms of government in 2023. When your interest is to remain in power, you are no longer interested to win the election,” he said.

 

At the beginning

On March 13, 2020, PDP leaders held what they described as a unification rally at the Mapo Hall in the heart of Ibadan. It was at the instance of Governor Makinde, the only governor elected on the PDP ticket out of the six states in the zone, who in his speech, stated: “Today is the beginning of unity in the South-West region. If South-West is united, the whole country will be united. We are using this opportunity to welcome our brothers and sisters from APC, ADP, ZLP, SDP and ADC.” A former governor of Osun State, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, also spoke on the significance of unity, stating: “I appeal to us not to feel too wise about handling matters within the party, because the end result, sometimes, could lead to failure. Let us be sagacious in whatever we are doing. My second advice is that we must learn to unite ourselves, work together with one another to achieve a common aim. So, I appreciate you all for your support and the massive turnout, which you have all showed to me and my supporters. We thank you for accepting us back to this party. Lastly, I want to pray that the Almighty God will, in His infinite mercy, restore the lost glory of the PDP.” Sadly, a few months thereafter, the umbilical chord snapped again, resulting in parallel organs of the party.

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