APC, PDP scramble for Yoruba land

As the battle to control the South-West geopolitical zones is fast culminating in renewed political alliances and realignments, KUNLE ODEREMI highlights some of the underlying factors and the dramatis persona.

 

THERE is a gradual buildup to replicatiing the 2003 scenario that existed in the South-West. It will be recalled that the  ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from May 29, 1999, had mustered all resources towards routing the Alliance for Democracy (AD), the main opposition party from Yoruba land. Leading the PDP forces were loyalists of former President Olusegun Obasanjo along with the party’s national officers, including Chief Olabode George. Many tested politicians and statesmen fought fiercely in the vanguard to preserve the value the AD stood for.

Today, most of those eminent and distinguished politicians have either naturally quit the political stage or are maintaining a low profile, while their foot soldiers are digging in as the renewed scramble for Yoruba land gathers momentum.

In all the six states making up the geopolitical zone is the raging battle, fired by offseason elections. With Ondo almost around the corner, the clock has fast forwarded in the frenetic struggle from within and outside the zone similar to the pre-2003 general election in which the PDP succeeded in snatching four of the states, leaving only Lagos for the once vibrant AD.

Already, the PDP in the zone has put the impending titanic battle in a proper perspective. It is just in the mode to overrun the APC in its bid to return to its winning ways when it controlled more than two thirds of the 36 states in the country. Rising from another crucial meeting meant to fine-tune strategies in the ongoing scramble for the soul of the South-West, held in Ibadan last Friday, its leaders resolved to erect an impregnable wall and fire with all furnace in the days ahead.  At the closed-door meeting hosted at the Government House, Agodi, Ibadan, the array of PDP leaders in attendance included a former deputy national chairman of the PDP, Chief George; former governor of Osun State, Prince Olugunsoye Oyinlola; former Ekiti State governor, Mr Ayo Fayose, his predecessor in office, Engineer Segun Oni, and of course, the deputy national chairman of the PDP, Elder Yemi Akinwonmi, who presided. In the communique, it was staed, among others, that “The Leaders of the PDP South-West, from the six States of Lagos, Ogun, Ekiti, Ondo, Oyo and Osun met today, 19th June, 2020, discussed extensively on various issues bordering on the unity, oneness and togetherness of the South-West PDP.

According to the leaders, the resolutions “are intended to create a sense of belonging, fairness, justice and unity and will be fully implemented as we progress in our programmes in the future to come.”

The underlying message in their meeting and outcome was apparently reinforced by the visit of the PDP national delegation led by the national chairman of the party, Prince Uche Secondus, to Akure on Monday to receive defecting deputy governor of Ondo State, Honourable Agboola Ajayi into the PDP. With Oyo State already reclaimed by the party, Secondus was optimistic that Ondo State was next to be reclaimed in the ongoing quest by the PDP to control the political lever of Yoruba land.

On the side of the All Progressives Congress (APC) are prominent politicians such as Senator Bola Tinubu; governors of Osun, Ondo, Ogun, Lagos and Ekiti states; as well as the immediate past governor of Oyo State, senator Abiola Ajumobi and another ex-governor, Adebayo Alao-Akala, members of the National Assembly, ministers, among other major stakeholders of the APC. Though their relationship is akin to a still water, which runs deep, they often exhibit the façade of conviviality.  And just like Secondus, leaders of the APC also believe nobody could stop their party from staving off all forms of opposition in the ongoing battle for the South-West. For instance, the governor of Kogi State, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, who survided a scare from the PDP during the  November 16 2019  governorship poll in his state, is emphatic about the APC consolidating in Ondo State, come October this year.

There’s is no let down in the schism between the two divides in the political class and elite in Lagos State.  While the loyalists of the clique that has been controlling power in the state since 1999, a strand of revolt which since emerged from the bloc is backed by some outside forces determined to break the jinx and create a new powerful coalition. Built around a couple of ministers from the zone and sympathisers from the northern political establishment. However, the renewed efforts of the PDP, to rally support for its sustained battle to break the hold on the state by the said bloc is beset by lack of cooperation, collaboration and sometimes, contradictions among the crusaders. In spite of the frequent peace moves to close ranks, the opposing camps lack cohesion, unity and team spirit simply because of ego and hegemony. The PDP, which unarguable is the phase of opposition in the quest to change the status quo and usher in a paradigm shift is yet to fully embrace the essence and spirit of the reconciliation effort midwifed for Lagos PDP earlier in the year. Thus, the APC super-brats have moved to further consolidate their grip on power by banning caucuses that have suddenly become threats and distracting in the battle ahead 2023.

In Ogun State, there’s a gradual dismantling of the hitherto power architecture. Having kissed the dust in subsequent elections, the state chapter of the PDP is in the throes of unbridled power struggle between two main power brokers. The litany of litigation has made the possibility of compromise forlorn, difficult and a tall dream. Threats and counter-threats by the factions loyal to Senator Buruji Kashamu and Honourable Oladipupo Adebutu weaken the resolve of the PDP to achieve its control of the major parts of Yoruba land preparatory to the politics of 2023. Conversely, the APC in the state revels in its capacity to have retained power in the state. The feat was achieved through a coalition of forces at home and outside the state. The dust triggered by the energy-sapping contest between two formidable forces led by a former governor of the state in the aborted Third Republic, Chief Segun Osoba in collaboration with other eminent politicians is yet to settle. While one camp is tied to the spring string of the corridors of power in Abuja, the other is in collaboration with a dominant power bloc in the South West.

Unfolding events in the political space in Osun State has become more intriguing, with the hand of Esau and voice of Jacob in the affairs of the APC. Many party faithful discuss in hushed tones the smouldering cold relationship between Governor Oyetola and his predecessor, now minister of interior, Rauf Aregbesola, which is perceived as a stretch of the struggle for the soul of the state in 2022 and the 2023 general election. Even though Oyetola is said to be most concerned about delivery of his pre-election promises to the citizenry, some of his critics believe he needs to strike a balance with his political constituents. A preponderance of loyalists of his predecessor are raising issues of inclusiveness and reward after ensuring his victory in 2018.  The irony in Osun is that the incumbent governor is believed to enjoy a reasonable measure of popular support among key leaders of the main opposition party, PDP, for prioritising welfare of the people and inclusiveness in the running of the state. however, there is still a long road for the state PDP to travel, due to ripple generated the recent suspension of the state chairman, Soji Adagunodo.  The interim executive of the party in Osun State is grappling with teething problems. Undue rivalry, ambition and other tendencies seem to be   threatening the fabrics of the party. A couple of leaders have, for the umpteenth time, advocated the governor of Oyo State, Seyi Makinde broker peace among the Osun PDP members as the leader of the party in the zone.

But, the PDP in Oyo State has its own cross to carry. More than a year after the general election, the party is making efforts to resolve the perceived subdued agitations among the coalition of parties that brought it back to power in the state. At the inauguration of the elders’ advisory committee recently, Governor Makinde mandated the members to reconcile the desperate elements within the coalition. The action of the governor generally further affirms his strategic position in the quest of the PDP to restore its glory. From controlling five out of the six states in the zone, the party only has Oyo State in its kitty.  Thus, the governor has a Herculean task of PDP quest for Yoruba land in the ongoing scramble for zone.

On the other side of the coin is the APC family in the state that is still smarting over its defeat in the last governorship election in the state. Angry party faithful spread across caucuses loyal to some of APC leaders are sulking over the electoral setback and the attendant effects on their political relevance and future. Though former Governor Alao-Akala, heading a reconciliatory committee, is optimistic that his committee would deliver on its mandate, with the leadership crisis in the APC at the national level, the party seems to have its hands full in the desperate battle to consolidate grip on the South-West. Key gladiators in the party in the zone are preoccupied with self-preservation by holding tight to their individual constituencies towards augmenting their bargaining chips and powers at auspicious opportunities.

 

Ekiti

The major characters in the battle for the soul of the South-West in Ekiti State have never for once lowered their guards. Overtly or otherwise, they have consistently been at each other’s throats, not necessarily on issues of development and welfare of the citizens but political ambition. There is no ceasefire even after elections have been and concluded sometimes at the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court. With the governorship poll coming up in 2022, the main actors have gone beyond banal attacks and hurling insults in their individual bid to capture the political space for themselves and other interests they represent in the quest to seek relevance in Ekiti, the South-West and at the national level. Therefore, there appears to be no state in the zone except Ekiti where the battle is well-defined between home-based politicians and those described as the Abuja group, with the latter comprising former and serving presidential aides, members of the National Assembly and top functionaries of federal agencies.

In the APC, the fight is between the camp of the governor and a caucus loyal to a Presidential Adviser, Senator Femi Ojudu. A former governor of the State, Ayo Fayose and Senator OlubunmiOlujinmi pull the string in opposite direction in the state chapter of the PDP, and some party faithful are skeptical about the reconciliation committee set up by PDP national leadership making a headway, due to misgivings trailing its activities.

According to pundits, the acid test for the strategies of the disparate interests and groups in the South-West is the governorship election coming up in October in Ondo State. It is their contention that the outcome will go a long way in shaping other phases in the battle for the soul of the South-West. This, in their view, could determine the template or basis to progress and approach the offseason elections in Osun and Ekiti states in 2022. This mentality is believed to underlie the desperation of the major stakeholders in Ondo State and the South-West zone generally.

For the APC, there is the apprehension that the outcome of the October governorship poll could be a dirge for the party in the state where it controls just one senatorial district to PDP’s two. It could also signpost the eclipse of the political career of many of its current major actors and gladiators across board within and outside the state. At the level of individuals, the result of the election is capable of throwing up new set of power blocs with capacity to  displace those kingmakers that are at the moment call the shots in the ruling APC.

It is equally no surprise that the PDP is putting all it takes in the move to return to power after it crashed out about four years to the ‘superior’ fire power of the APC. In the words of a leader of the PDP in the zone, it will be an icing on the cake for the party after it bounced back to Government House in Agodi, Ibadan, Oyo State in 2019.

Head or tail, the outcome of the election will influence the choice of a fresh round of alignments, alliances and permutations in the buildup to the 2023 general election in the main, and the off-season polls in Osun and Ekiti states, in the immediate.

 

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