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For Southwest PDP, it’s time to repeat 2003 victories

By Niyi Bello (Head, Politics Desk)
20 July 2017   |   3:47 am
Former Osun State governor, Olagunsoye Oyinlola, a close ally of Obasanjo is also rumoured to be on his way back to the PDP, the party that provided the platform for him to become one of the beneficiaries of the 2003 tsunami.

PDP Secretariat, Abuja

• From the ashes of yesterday, Southwest PDP approaches tomorrow with new hope

In the last few days, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has been busy reorganising itself not only to play a virile opposition to the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) that removed it from power in 2015 and create a wider space in Nigeria’s political system, but also to reverse the defeat by winning its way back to Aso Villa.

The resurgence of the PDP after a spell of post-defeat shock and long drawn internal leadership squabbles that were put to rest by the Supreme Court only last week, has allayed the fear of Nigeria walking the road to a one-party state and raised the hope of a keenly-contested election in 2019.

In the Southwest geo-political zone where it got the stiffest opposition outside the old northern region during the preparations for the last general elections, the PDP is said to be planning a massive return into political power by expanding its frontiers beyond Ekiti, the only state currently in its control.

The party had its first foray into the Southwest in 2003 when, with military tact of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the allure of joining mainstream national politics and disenchantment of the electorate with the inward-looking conservative politics of the old Western region, the Alliance for Democracy (AD) was swept out of power in all the states except Lagos.

Under the firm grip of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the AD in Lagos, which resisted what was then described as “the PDP tsunami,” later metamorphosed into a strong regional platform that regained most of the lost grounds in 2007 before finally finding its way to national politics by collapsing its structure into the All Progressive Congress (APC) in 2014.

While the mainstream Southwest could not immediately penetrate Ondo, which it regained only last year, because of political differences with former governor Olusegun Mimiko, the APC is struggling to have a rebound in Ekiti, a state in the firm grip of Ayodele Fayose, the Chairman of PDP Governors Forum (PDPGF) who is seen and heard as the main opposition figure to President Muhammadu Buhari administration.

Because of internal wrangling which is not unconnected with attempts to reduce the influence of Tinubu and the perceived generally low performance of the party at the national and state levels which is attributable to bad economy and socio-economic challenges, the APC may be losing its massive following in the Southwest.

The loss, a fortnight ago, of the Osun West Senatorial District bye-election which was a fallout of mismanagement of the internal crisis between Osun State governor Rauf Aregbesola and some chieftains including those in the camp of late Senator Isiaka Adeleke as well as public discontent against the party, have shown that the APC in the region could be drowned by another tsunami from the PDP.

Also the last general election, in which the PDP had an inroad into Lagos, a yet unconquered territory since 1999, by winning six seats in the House of Assembly and garnering large votes in the governorship poll, has exposed the soft underbelly of the APC that the opposition can penetrate to have political control.

Apart from the rebellion of some of the closest allies of Tinubu who are said to have discovered new godfathers in the Abuja corridors of power to undermine their benefactor, the leadership of the party in Ogun and Ondo are believed to be against the continued dominance of the former Lagos governor.

In fact, Tinubu was humbled in Ondo as his anointed candidate, Olusegun Abraham could not secure the party’s ticket while incumbent governor Rotimi Akeredolu, who got the support of anti-Tinubu forces within the party, emerged as the candidate that went ahead to cross another hurdle created by the former Lagos governor at the gubernatorial election.

The activities of these individuals may likely weaken cohesion within the party especially in the preparations for governorship contests and attendant struggles for space and relevance by gladiators and create room for the PDP to wreak havoc.

Although the PDP does not look good enough to be able to take advantage of all these weaknesses in the ruling party, some high profile politicians who have left its fold either in the wake of the party’s defeat in 2015 or recently as a result of the leadership tussle, are said to be on their way to rejoin the platform.

One of them is Chief Olusola Oke, a two-time governorship candidate in Ondo State and the party’s former National Legal Adviser who was allegedly frustrated out by the coming of Mimiko into the PDP.

Oke, who was recently conferred with the title of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), is a very strong grassroots mobiliser who has large following across the state. He had been in the PDP since 1999 and contested on the party’s platform in 2012 before the vagaries of the state politics pushed him to contest the last exercise as the candidate of the AD.

In the same vein, former Osun State governor, Olagunsoye Oyinlola, a close ally of Obasanjo is also rumoured to be on his way back to the PDP, the party that provided the platform for him to become one of the beneficiaries of the 2003 tsunami.

One of the three governors that lost their positions to the judicial processes instituted against the PDP after the 2007 elections, Oyinlola, who later reconciled with his successor, incumbent governor Aregbesola, is said to be uncomfortable with the low public ratings of the APC in Osun.

The PDP is however facing several challenges in some of the states in the zone as the recent leadership crisis has driven a wedge along the line of the rival factions that fought for the national control of the party. In the course of resolving the crisis, several members have also left the platform.

In Ogun State, where the internal crisis is most intense and has generated several court cases, former two-term governor Gbenga Daniel, who like Oyinlola was thrown up by the party’s onslaught against the AD in 2003, is having a running battle with the Senator representing Ogun East, Buruji Kashamu who was the party’s chairman of Contact and Mobilization Committee.

In Osun, where the party hopes to consolidate on the Adeleke victory, a reconciliation process has commenced to realign all the forces while in Oyo; the party is faced with the challenges of organizing a congress to fill executive positions to provide leadership for the platform.

Unmindful of the challenges of harnessing its potentials and take advantage of the identified weaknesses of the ruling party, the PDP, according to its Vice-Chairman, Southwest zone, Eddy Olafeso, is already taking measures to put its house in order and prepare for the onslaught.

Olafeso, former Deputy Chairman of Gooodluck Support Group (GSG), a platform for all the associations campaigning for former President Goodluck Jonathan’s failed second term bid, told The Guardian yesterday that the PDP in the zone is ready to take the gauntlet against the ruling party.

He disclosed that efforts were on to resolve the pockets of conflicts in some state branches of the party within the zone to further strengthen the platform and prepare it for a clean win in the coming elections.

According to Olafeso, “we are definitely on the path of getting back all that we have lost in the politics of the Southwest to the antics of the APC. Our party is being reengineered and refocused to play our roles, not only as a strong and virile opposition, but also as a government in waiting to rid our people of the misrule of the ruling party in the last two years.

“We have identified our areas of priorities and have also embarked on the process of achieving our goals. But first, we are bringing everybody on board, reconciling members and calling back those who have left our fold for one reason or the other. We must not abandon Nigeria in this moment of need for good governance.”

The true test of the readiness of the PDP to recreate 2003, will surely come next year when the party would present candidates to retain Ekiti governorship seat and attempt a take-over of Osun.