THE National Convention of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which took place on December 9 witnessed what some persons had termed ethnic cleansing of some sorts. By that they were referring to the emasculation of the South-West from the chairmanship race of the party at that convention. The convention also brought out the remainder of the military energy in the Atona Oodua of Yorubaland, Chief Olabode George, whose anger kickstarted the wave of withdrawals from the chairmanship race.
That the intra-party election was fiercely contested would be an understatement and for the first time, a geopolitical zone was set against the other in a contest for the chairmanship of the PDP. In previous settings, even when the understanding was that the seat was zoned to either the entire South or entire North, the power brokers usually went behind to organise a quiet weeding process, which eventually zeroed in on one particular geopolitical area. It was like that when the North held the position of PDP chairman and we saw it rotate from the late Chief Solomon Lar to Chief Barnabas Gemade to Chief Audu Ogbeh and then Col. Ahmadu Ali (rtd) all from the North-Central zone.
The same was the scenario when the post went to the South and it was held by Dr. Okwesileisi Nwodo and then Chief Vincent Ogbulafor (both from the South-East). When the seat was vacant, you did not see a race between the South-South and the South-East. So, Atona Bode George was right in his outbursts against the PDP system that apparently created mountains for South-West aspirants to climb in their quest for the post of National Chairman.
But I will not lay all the blames as regards the loss of the South-West aspirants in the convention on the PDP structure. The South-West aspirants apparently took the contest like a child’s play when it was clear their opponents from the South-South took it as a war.
Rather than blame the larger PDP for the loss by South-West candidates, I place part of the blame on the doorsteps of Atona Bode George and especially his South-West colleagues in the BoT. Ahead of that convention, it was clear that by pedigree, George was the most senior member of the party in the South-West, having held the position of Deputy National Chairman previously. By that, he was supposed to play the role of the elder, take up the leadership role, call his men to order and imbibe give and take spirit where necessary.
Ordinarily, having shown interest in the race, the others were expected to pledge their support. But this is a campaign that rests much on interests that transcend the zone. Whoever will lead the PDP will not only be certified by South-Westerners, but also by the multifaceted interests across the six zones. It is not a race for the oldest, the most cerebral, the noblest in character or the most competent. It is a race defined largely by political correctness. So, once the Atona has tested the waters and discovered that the structures of the party may not support his candidature, he should have galvanised the zone to pick a candidate the other zones would be more at home with.
At a stage ahead of the December 9 contest, Prof. Tunde Adeniran appeared to be the favoured candidate outside the South-West. But the failure of the South-West to organise a credible weeding process to pave the way for him meant that other interests would poke at the top job. And that strengthened the resolve of the South-South, which was also being fed the perceived liabilities of the professor of Political Science, even by South-West personalities. Rather than organise their house and speak with one voice, the South-West threw seven aspirants into the ring, where the contending zone had only two.
In the prelude to the botched 2016 national convention, the entire South agreed to the need to zone the chairmanship slot to the South-West. Close to that convention, the caucus of the party’s governors searched out Mr. Jimi Agbaje as their choice for the post. They started the campaign to make him the popular choice. But for the truncation of that convention, Agbaje might have been installed the chairman in Port Harcourt. Even during that contest, the division among South-West contestants had been obvious. The camp of Chief George had labelled Agbaje as a “novice” who cannot manage a party like the PDP. It was shocking to many from other zones that the same George and his loyalists who raised the hands of Agbaje months earlier for the governorship of Lagos State (the biggest state economy in the country) could turn around and label the same candidate a “novice.”
Beyond who was supporting who at the national convention, PDP actors in the South-West also provided armour to those shooting down aspirants from that zone. The South-West was the only zone that returned to court just after the party’s debilitating adventure in courtrooms, which threatened its very root. So why can’t the South-West organise itself? Why can’t someone take the leadership role in that zone? How come it is the only one parading parallel zonal chairmen at a time everyone expect a virile opposition in the polity? These are the questions that should take the Atona on the introspective lane rather than a display of open anger.