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2023 Elections: How protracted crises in Southwest PDP may scuttle Atiku’s chances

By Seye Olumide
10 July 2022   |   4:05 am
In the aftermath of the recently concluded presidential primary elections through which it settled for a candidate from the North, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has been contending with a number of challenges on various fronts in the southern part of the country.

Atiku. Photo: CFR

In the aftermath of the recently concluded presidential primary elections through which it settled for a candidate from the North, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has been contending with a number of challenges on various fronts in the southern part of the country.

There have been some rumblings over the nomination of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State as the running mate to presidential candidate, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, as against Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, just as there have been dissenting voices in the Southeast over the region’s quest to produce President Muhammmadu Buhari’s successor.

And with less than seven months to the 2023 presidential elections, there are growing fears that the unresolved crises in the party in Southwest may jeopardise the chances of the party in making any significant impact compared to how it fared in 2019.

Although the party is making critical efforts to pacify Wike, as a committee has been set up to meet with the Rivers State governor, the other critical block that Atiku and PDP might be hoping to win in the South is the Southwest, which is currently beset by different crises across the six states.

In the 2019 general elections, Atiku, who was also the PDP presidential candidate, made some remarkable impact, especially by winning Ondo and Oyo states, which were presumed strongholds of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).

In contrast to boasts by the Southwest APC stakeholders before the 2019 polls that it would trounce PDP in Yoruba land, PDP won in Ondo and Oyo while it gave the ruling party a serious contest in other states. In Lagos, the APC scored 580,825 to PDP’s 448, 015. In Ekiti, APC recorded 219, 232 to PDP’s 154, 032. In Ogun, APC had 281, 762 to PDP’s 194, 651. In Oyo, APC polled 365, 229 to PDP’s 366,690 while in Osun, APC recorded 341, 634 to PDP’s 337, 377 and in Ondo, APC had 241, 769 to PDP’s 275, 901.

There are now concerns that Atiku and PDP may not achieve much in the Southwest in the next general elections except the party addresses the lingering crises in its various chapters before the February elections.

One of the factors likely to determine how PDP and Atiku perform in the Southwest next year is Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s candidacy for the APC. Unlike in 2019 when Atiku contested against a fellow northerner, President Buhari, the narrative may not be the same now due to the well-oiled and strategic political machinery of the former governor of Lagos state in the region.

While most Yoruba electorate may give sympathy votes to Tinubu, their kinsman, sentiment votes may also work in favour of APC in the Southwest.

Another setback the party will face is the call on the National Chairman of the party, Senator Iyorchia Ayu, to resign and allow a Southwest person, expectedly Alhaji Taofeek Arapaja, the deputy national chairman to take over.

Before the party’s presidential primary, the Southern Governor’s Forum (SGF), had insisted that the presidency must return to the South after President Buhari’s tenure, which the north objected to on the platform of PDP.

Makinde. Photo/facebook/OfficialSeyiMakinde

In the party’s quest to elect a national chairman, Ayu emerged as the consensus candidate, while the south did not show much interest. Ayu promised to step down if a northerner emerged as the presidential candidate. Against the Southern agitation to produce the next president, Atiku emerged as the party’s candidate. As a result, the south is now asking Ayu to resign.

Following a recent crisis in the National Working Committee (NWC), some stakeholders shared divergent views on the demand for Ayu’s resignation. While some said Ayu has no moral justification to stay longer than necessary, others said the timing was not right for him to resign. Specifically, proponents of Ayu’s continued stay said he could wait till after the elections in February and that if Atiku wins he could then resign.

But a former Deputy National Chairman of the party, Chief Olabode George said it was better for the incumbent National Chairman to honour his words and save the party from unnecessary crises. He said the PDP must do everything possible and expedient to ensure that Nigerians see the party as one that represents the interests of all the six geo-political zones and not that of the North alone, which has Atiku, Ayu and another northerner as BoT chairman.

He said, “My concern is that necessary things must be done to ensure that PDP wins the presidential election and performs well in the Southwest including if Ayu must resign now and bring in a southerner.”

Also calling on Ayu to resign immediately, former Chairman of Ogun PDP, Adebayo Dayo, said it was inconsistent on the part of the national chairman to say he would resign after Atiku wins the presidency next year. “That is not acceptable and it will not work. The PDP would have no moral justification to come to the South to campaign. How is it possible that the presidential flag bearer is from the north, the national chairman from the north and chairman BoT from the north when we are going into a general election? We are only planning to lose. It is like ostracising the entire South.”

A former National Vice Chairman, Southwest Zone, Dr. Eddy Olafeso said calling on Ayu to resign now is a wrong timing.

According to him, “The party regulates its own decision and we are getting ready for a presidential election. Ayu can resign and allow a southerner after Atiku might have won the presidency. That’s my personal opinion.”

Also speaking in line with Olafeso, another chieftain of the party in Lagos, Dr Olatokunbo Pearse, said: “I don’t see any big deal in allowing Ayu to stay till the end of the election next year. But it is no longer a PDP matter now, we have people who would love to vote for us but trust the opposition APC will use that to campaign seriously against us in the South.” Pearse said the issue of Ayu’s resignation may look simple but when the general election comes, PDP may pay for it.

In each state chapter of the Southwest, the party is still polarised along factions. The party’s woeful performance in the June 18, 2022 governorship election in Ekiti State gave insight into the worse fate it could face in the next general elections.

Before the Ekiti poll, the party was polarised. Former governor of the State, Ayodele Fayose allegedly monopolised the gubernatorial primary, which forced the likes of erstwhile Governor Segun Oni out of PDP to contest the election on the platform of Social Democratic Party (PDP). The party came a distant third in the poll.

There is a possibility PDP may perform worse in the presidential poll in the state next year. A fresh crisis has hit the Ekiti chapter, as two persons, Mr Alaba Agboola and Deji Ogunsakin emerged as substantive chairmen of the party. While Agboola was said to have been nominated by a group loyal to Fayose, Ogunsakin was said to be enjoying the support of anti-Fayose members.

The party has been led by the Deputy Chairman, Lanre Omolase after the resignation of the Chairman, Mr Bisi Kolawole, who became the candidate of the party in the just concluded governorship election. With the development, PDP is prone to further weakness in Ekiti ahead of the 2023 elections.

In Ondo State, there is unending rivalry between the South and Central senatorial districts over who will produce the successor to the incumbent governor, Mr Rotimi Akeredolu, who is from the north senatorial zone. This may also affect PDP’s performance next year.

Although Atiku got more votes than Buhari in Ondo in 2019 the dynamics at play now may not allow history to repeat itself in the next general election. Former deputy governor, Eyitayo Jegede, who was the party’s candidate in the last gubernatorial election is from Akure Ondo Central. Jegede is said to be supporting Atiku in anticipation that if the former vice president wins in 2023, the party’s governorship ticket will be returned to him as compensation in 2024. But members of the party from the north senatorial district are not thinking that way, especially now that Agboola Ajayi, a former deputy governor, who is from South, has returned to PDP.

Recall that Ajayi and Jegede slugged it out for the PDP governorship ticket in 2020 but Jegede won. In the South, Agboola won the Senatorial ticket for 2023 but the political view now is that the governorship in the next two years should rotate to the south.

The South has always been the strongest base of PDP since 1999 in Ondo State. So with these two key players, if Atiku wins the presidency next year, Jegede would have an edge to get the ticket in 2024 at the expense of the people of the South.

The southern people are allegedly working against Atiku since they were sure that if an APC person becomes president, the rotation will follow the normal procedure and the next governorship ticket is most likely to come to the south.

The Ogun chapter is not also immune to crisis at the moment. A new faction of the party led by Samson Bamgbose has described the declaration of Hon. Ladi Adebutu as the governorship candidate as illegal and an affront to the judiciary.

The National Working Committee (NWC) had on June 7 presented a Certificate of Return to Adebutu in Abuja, confirming him as the party’s gubernatorial candidate in the state. But the Bamgbose-led exco, who claimed to be the authentic executive, said the Sikirulai Ogundele–led executive, which conducted the governorship primary election that produced Adebutu was not known to the law and therefore acted ultra vires.

Eddy Olafeso PHOTO: Facebook

Expressing fear over what is currently happening in Ogun PDP, a former state chairman, Adebayo Dayo warned that the party is fragmentised and may not perform to expectation in next year’s poll.

Another contender, the Segun Showunmi-led faction held a parallel governorship poll, which produced him as the governorship candidate. While Showunmi is also saying he is the party’s governorship candidate, another contender, Jimi Lawal, has written to the NWC, calling for the cancellation of the primary election over alleged manipulation of the delegates’ list.

Dayo told The Guardian that Ogun PDP is still struggling and if its crisis is not resolved, it will affect its output both in the governorship and other polls.

THE Lagos chapter is yet to get its ass together, which has caused it several defeats by APC since 1999. What may likely compound its challenges is the ongoing speculation that its governorship candidate, Azeez Adediran aka Jandor, has settled for an actress, Funke Akindele as his running mate against the wishes of party members. Majority of party faithful confided in The Guardian that Akindele would not add any value to the fortune of PDP in next general elections.

In Oyo, the party is still polarised especially as most of its members are leaving in droves to APC and New Nigerian People’s Party (NNPP) in protest against the one-man show Governor Seyi Makinde is allegedly running. The party also risks losing the state if it fails to address its internal challenges.

Analysts have also said the outcome of the July 16 gubernatorial election in Osun will determine how the party will perform in the state next year.

From the developments across the various Southwest states, there is the possibility that the major opposition party may perform below what it did four years ago.