Race for national chair creates hurdle for Southwest PDP
Having scaled through the protracted crisis that almost led to its extinction in the leadership tussle between Senators Ali Modu Sheriff and Ahmed Makarfi through the Supreme Court’s verdict of July 12, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) may likely find itself in another troubled water over the same national chairmanship position.
And unless the current national leadership, made up of members of the caretaker committee, steps in early enough to take proactive steps through fence-mending consultations and observance of stipulated rules, a fresh crisis of almost the same dimension with the earlier one, may be in the offing.
With the agreement that the presidential slot be zoned to the North, the southern zones are expected to produce the chairman of the party, a development that has put the South-South and the Southwest in a silent battle over who occupies the position which, reportedly had earlier been conceded to the latter because it is the only zone that has not occupied the position since the party was formed in 1998.
As soon as the apex court pronounced the judicial resolution of the national leadership crisis, interested aspirants for the position in the Southwest began underground consultations to achieve their ambition.
However, it is being insinuated that the South-South is also making move to contest for the position with the hope of not only taking advantage of the fact that it is presently the zone with the largest supporters of the party in the country, but also to reap maximally from internal disputes that could follow the large number of aspirants in the Southwest.
But the major contestant from the zone, Chief Raymond Dokpesi who is from Edo, an All Progressives Congress (APC) state not considered as core South-South, may not benefit from the advantage of popular support that an aspirant from other states in the zone would enjoy.
Before the party’s last aborted convention in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, the tussle for the position of the national chairman was a strong factor that pitched members from the Southwest against one another.
Some were of the view that the position should be reserved for old, knowledgeable and capable members of the party while others argued for the need to introduce young, fresh and agile hands that would understand intrigues of modern day politics.
To buttress their position, those who held the second view hinged their arguments on the premise that the challenges that brought the party on its knees before it was ousted from power by the APC in the 2015 general election, was caused by the older generation members of the party.
The altercations over age, experience and capacity, led to a lot of cracks and consequently factions that went to the aborted convention.
However, since the judicial verdict of July 12 restored peace to the party, former Deputy National Chairman, Chief Olabode George has indicated interest to vie for the position at the coming national convention.
In a similar vein, former governor of Ogun State, Otunba Gbenga Daniel is also said to be interested in running for the position same is former Minister of Education, Professor Tunde Adeniran.
Also on the list of contestants are Mr. Jimi Agbaje who was the party’s governorship candidate in Lagos State during the 2015 elections and former governor of Ondo State, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko.
The Chairman Olabode George Campaign Committee, Chief Ebenezer Babatope who made the ambition known to the public, said, “Chief George is now the man of destiny, he is the right choice for our party in these challenging times.”
Babatope posited that putting into consideration the challenges before the PDP, the party would need no less than the kind of George to steer the affairs of the party ahead of the 2019 general elections.
According to him, “Now, this much is our position. Now this much is our pursuit. Now, this much is our absolute declaration. We need the best of us. We are resigned and resolved to bring out the great personality that will seize the moment and steer our party back to national leadership and purposeful renewal.
“In this pursuit, in this firm resolve and contemplative clarity, we hereby proclaim and assert that Chief Olabode Ibiyinka George is the best candidate for the job.”
The former Minister of Transport added that George’s ambition to lead the PDP is hinged on collective agreement among the Southwest stakeholders of the party and even beyond. “We have weighed Chief Bode George on all complementary criteria for our party’s leadership. He is proven and tested. He is serious and dedicated. He is honest, fair, smart, sharp, intelligent, humble, sincere, patriotic, accommodating, selfless, candid, totally resolved on justice and fair play.
“He has a fantastic network that is hardly rivaled in this nation. He is never detained by tribalistic urges. He is vast, expansive in his national accommodating largeness.”
However, investigations by The Guardian across the zone indicated that there is still strong opposition to the idea of presenting any of the old folks in the PDP as National Chairman.
Those who spoke on condition of anonymity believed that the likes of George should, for the sake of unity, progress and posterity, leave the stage for fresh blood to handle the party while they continue to play the advisory role in the party’s Board of Trustees (BoT).
For Daniel, his current ordeal with Senator Buruji Kasahamu, who represents Ogun East on the platform of the PDP, may pose serious challenge to his ambition.
The former governor’s allegation and counter allegations of threat to his life by the senator, if not resolved before the party’s national convention, is likely to affect his chances to emerge as the zone candidate for the position.
Daniel has petitioned the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris over an alleged “assassination attempt” on his life in which he also copied the Director General of the Department of State Services, DSS, Lawal Daura. He blamed Kashamu for the incident.
But Kashamu has since denied the allegation, saying, Daniel’s allegation was a “hoax” and also described him as the accuser, the investigator, prosecutor and judge in his case against him.
Those who spoke on condition of anonymity said aside the fact that Daniel is having serious issue right from his base in Ogun, he is not likely to get the support of strong and influential stakeholders in the zone following his inability, as the incumbent governor, to retain Ogun for the PDP during the 2011 governorship election, which saw the emergence of Ibikunle Amosun of the APC.
For Agbaje, there are two major hurdles he would have to contend with as he sets his eyes on the position in the next convention.
The Lagos State PDP governorship candidate for the 2015 elections is currently being branded as a traitor in some quarters within the party, particularly from the George’s camp, which believes that under no circumstances should he (Agbaje) have indicated interest when he was fully aware that his mentor in the party is also interested in same position.
Secondly, another group is also looking at the fact that such position of national chairman is a shoe too big and delicate for new entrants like Agbaje, whom they claimed joined the party at the wake of the preparations for the 2015 governorship election with the assistance of Chief George and some others.
It has been insinuated that despite the fact that Agbaje was new in the PDP to gone for such position, his controversial entrance to the party in 2014 led to the lackadaisical attitude of some PDP strong members to the fortune of the party thereafter.
Meanwhile, Agbaje may enjoy the support of those already canvassing for younger and experience hands that will handle the party instead of the likes of Chief George and Prof. Adeniran.
But Agbaje in his comment said individual ambition is not the utmost for now but rather a collective effort to ensure that the Southwest got the position for itself by interacting positively with other zones in the South “this is what should be paramount and what I hold in high esteem for now.”
For Adeniran, the former education minister has also been categorized among old folks who were expected to have taken the back seat and allow the younger generation to thrive. Aside this, he is said to have all other credentials and the required experience to lead the PDP ahead of the 2019 election.
The immediate past governor of Ondo State may have all that is takes to become the chairman of the PDP for the fact that he is still within accommodated age limit of those who don’t want older people and his experience in the party and as a governor. But a strong factor against him is the allegation that his mismanagement of the party’s fortune during the 2014 governorship election cost the PDP the state.
Also within the Southwest zone, there have been a disagreement over which of the six states should produce the candidate. Some in an argument had said that George, who had served as Deputy National Chairman of the party in the past is from Lagos and by virtue of that, should allow other states from the zone to produce the chairman.
Current National Vice Chairman of the PDP Southwest, Dr. Eddy Olafeso has however dismissed the argument of old and fresh blood as criteria to be used by the zone to decide who leads the party saying, “this position is alien to the party’s constitution. Nobody votes by age but by experience, competence and capacity to deliver.”
Olafeso disclosed that the race is open to the entire South since the presidency had been zoned to the north “what we are doing in the Southwest now is negotiation across the South with the motive to convince other regions to support our ambition.”
When asked the list of those that have already indicated interest in the region, Olafeso simply replied that the list would be made available in the nearest future adding, “what is paramount to us now is the support of other zones, principally the South-South and the Southeast geo-political zones.”
On the insinuation that South-South zone is planning to hijack the process from the Southwest, Olafeso said, “It was all rumour and you do not expect me to be reacting to that. We are yet to decide as consultation is still ongoing.”
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