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Grappling with leadership crisis in Southwest PDP

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From left, Governors Bello Matawalle (Zamfara), Bala Mohammed (Bauchi), Samuel Ortom (Benue), Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia), Aminu Tambuwal (Sokoto), former Senate President and Chairman of the PDP Reconciliation Committee, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, former Senate President, Pius Anyim, former governor of Cross River, Liyel Imoke, former Governor of Katsina, Ibrahim Shema and former Governor of Gombe State, Ibrahim Dankwambo, at a meeting between the Reconciliation Committee and PDP Governors Forum, held at the Sokoto State Government Lodge in Asokoro, Abuja.<br />


The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is working hard to fix the leadership crisis in its Southwest zone. The National Working Committee (NWC) had to postpone the regional congress scheduled for March 6 2021 in Ibadan Oyo State.

Few days to the postponed congress, the peace committee set up by the Waddata House in Abuja, headed by former Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, held several meetings with the leaders of the camps, the committee also met with former President Olusegun Obasanjo, in Abeokuta to discuss how the issues could be resolved.
 
But realising that the factions involved in the crisis were unwilling to shift ground but insisted on holding parallel congresses; the NWC was forced to postpone the zonal congress to allow the Saraki committee look for acceptable solutions.
  
The dominant area of disagreement is who between Oyo State Governor, Mr. Seyi Makinde and former Governor Ayo Fayose, is the leader of the party in the zone.

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Although some have argued that Makinde, being the only governor the party produced in the zone should naturally be seen and regarded as the zonal leader, the idea has not gone down well with Fayose, who described Makinde as a “baby governor”. The former governor of Ekiti believed Makinde has not displayed political experience to be entrusted with such regional responsibility.
 
Fayose did not mince words as he warned Makinde not to dabble into the crisis between him and Senator Abiodun Olujimi on who leads Ekiti PDP. Although Olujimi, who currently represents Ekiti South Senatorial district is regarded as the highest political office holder in the state, but the former governor has refused to reckon with that fact.
 
But Makinde and his supporters threw tantrums back at Fayose, labeling him (Fayose) as a political merchant, who is bent on gaining leadership control of Southwest PDP to negotiate himself out of the EFCC’s net. They also accused Fayose of warming up to support the 2023 presidential ambition of the National Leader of APC, Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu.
 
Although Fayose has declared that he will not join APC, he has, severally defended assault against Tinubu, whom he regarded as a Yoruba leader that should not be persecuted like the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, on the altar of national politics.
 
Fayose admitted that, “there has been a reasonable cold war over who becomes the executive of the zone. Governor Makinde has demanded that the zonal executive be sacked and a caretaker be fostered on the zone, which the party did.
 
“But since the caretaker committee came into being, he has not allowed them to function because he produced the chairman. Beyond that, the fact that there is a sitting governor does not say I should go to another man’s state. I’m not asking that the congress takes place in my state; if you come to my state, I will face you squarely. I will continue to respect him because he is my brother; I love him so much and I was part of his emergence.”
 
Speaking on the causes of the crises, Makinde said: “They told me that one of our leaders has been the major individual causing trouble in the South-West and we deliberated to ask why that is so; and we said maybe because of the EFCC case or something like that.

“I said that shouldn’t be, because it is better to stay with your own party. Even if you have the EFCC case, like former Governor of Plateau State, Joshua Dariye and Reverend Jolly Nyame and Taraba, who defected to APC with the aim to escape EFCC case, they ended up in jail. Even Governor Orji Uzor Kalu, it was only God that brought him out.

“So, that leader should forget about the EFCC case and do what is right for the party. Because I will just say it, for 2023, even God has rejected APC; the people of Nigeria have rejected them. They can be jumping around saying this one or that one wants to be president in 2023, if we (PDP) get in, there will be double jeopardy for him because he will have to run back from APC to PDP.”

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Some party chieftains told The Guardian that the bone of contention between Fayose and Makinde goes beyond who controls the party at the region. “It is about the impression some members have about Makinde. They alleged the governor is ‘not known to be honouring political agreement.”
 
Those peddling this story point at how Makinde allegedly frustrated and disappointed politicians that formed the coalition that helped him to win the 2019 governorship election in Oyo State. His critics often make references to how he allegedly dumped Senator Femi Lanlehin and former governor of the state, Senator Rasheed Ladoja and their supporters. They feel they are not well represented in his government, particularly the sharing of jobs and offices.
 
Indeed, the setting for the current crisis started on the eve of the Ondo State governorship primary, when the erstwhile National Vice Chairman Southwest, Dr. Eddy Olafeso, resigned to contest in the primary but lost to Mr. Eyitayo Jegede (SAN).
  
It was alleged that before Oyefeso resigned from office, he had an understanding with Makinde and some party leaders to return to his position if he did not clinch the party ticket. The meeting was said to have held in Makinde’s house. But when Olafeso lost the primary and was expected to go back to office, Makinde allegedly worked against the gentleman’s agreement.
  
Makinde, who is also accused of working in agreement with former Deputy national Chairman of PDP, Chief Bode George, was said to have pushed for the dissolution of the regional executive and replaced them with a caretaker committee headed by his surrogate, Dayo Ogungbenro.
  
Perhaps, unknown to Makinde, the way he reportedly jettisoned the agreement with Olafeso did not go down well with some party chieftains, who made up their minds not to work with Ogungbenro.
  
But to convince the aggrieved chieftains of his ability to run the party, Ogungbenro quickly set up a reconciliation committee headed by the former Governor of Osun State, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, but the committee had hardly settled down before Fayose’s group set up a parallel peace committee.
 
But Ogungbenro seems not to be politically smart enough as he helplessly watched a gang up against him by some caretaker committee members to culminate into a meeting of seven out of 12 to pull the rug off his feet.
 
With the allegation of incompetency against him (Ogungnenro), the committee suspended him for negligence of duty, alleging that he failed to call any meeting since he was appointed.
 
The members in the caretaker committee, who suspended Ogungbenro at the meeting, also called on the NWC to appoint another chairman, who will live up to his duties and pilot the affairs of the party pending the conduct of the zonal congress.
 
Members of the caretaker committee that removed Ogungbenro include the Zonal Secretary, Hon. Daisi Akintan, Mrs. Funmilayo Ogun, Hon. Ayobola Fadeyi- Awolowo, Prince Nekan Olateru-Olagbegi, Hon Wahab Owokoniran, Alhaji Mustapha Sikiru and Hon. Martins Olu- Abiloye.
  
Others in attendance at the meeting are Engineer Adedeji Doherty, Hon Sikirulai Ogundele, Hon. Sunday Bisi and Chief Bisi Kolawole, representing Lagos, Ogun, Osun and Ekiti States respectively.
 
They alleged that: “Ogungbenro, had abdicated his responsibilities. He has not called any meeting since the caretaker committee was appointed, thus making the party lack direction.
 
“Even when we had elections in Ondo and Lagos, the chairman did not call any meeting to plan for the elections, hence the abysmal performance of the party.” 
 
Also, in the bid for the party to have effective media and publicity, the meeting appointed Mr. Lere Olayinka, as spokesperson for the PDP in the Southwest. 
  
Ogungbenro however described his purported suspension as wishful thinking of those who attended the meeting. He said: “They are wishful thinkers. As far as I’m concerned, I, Dayo Ogungbenro, remain the bona-fide acting Chairman of the PDP in Southwest. They don’t have any authority to do that.
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Also reacting to the removal of Ogungbenro, Governor Makinde said the dissident zonal executive members have no right to remove the chairman, noting that party members know the source of PDP crisis in Southwest. He said the Southwest chapter would continue with efforts aimed at uniting its members to ensure a stronger party in the zone.
  
He also disclosed that leaders of the party would continue to support reconciliatory efforts of the Oyinlola-led peace committee and called on “certain individuals behind the crisis to have a change of heart and do what is right in the interest of the party.”
 
He faulted the purported suspension of Ogungbenro, and maintained that members of the zonal executive who announced the meeting where the suspension took place lacked the power to do so since they did not constitute two-thirds of the executive committee as guaranteed by the party’s constitution.
 
Makinde said, “They don’t have the power to suspend the chairman. Even if you go constitutional, you know, five out of 12 is more than 45 per cent. So, let’s even say they want to go constitutional; you will need at least two-thirds by the Constitution of the party. And two-thirds of 12 is 8.
 
“So, they don’t have that power and I am speaking now as the only governor of the PDP in the South-West, the national leadership will respect my position on such matters.”
  
The zonal caretaker committee secretary, Daisi Akintan insisted that Ogungbenro remains suspended. He said: “Ogungbenro was duly removed. We removed him because he did not perform. He was not functioning and all the members tried what we could do to make him see reasons.  Maybe, he has his godfather somewhere. We reported him and sent a letter to the national headquarters that this man they put as our zonal chairman has not been performing his functions.  He has abdicated his responsibilities. So on account of that we have stepped him aside.
  
“For me, I’m a law-abiding member of the party and I believe I follow the rules. Seyi Makinde is our leader in the Southwest. Ayo Fayose is our leader in the Southwest, Ladi Adebutu is our leader, Adeleke is our leader, and Oyinlola is our leader like all others.  Bode George is our father.”
 
However, at the recent meeting held by the zonal executive, they still did not recognize the Oyinlola led peace committee, saying: “To the best of our knowledge, Prince Oyinlola only accepted to run political errand for Makinde, being a contractor in Oyo State. His so-called reconciliation committee is not only self-serving, but represents personal interest and dead on arrival.

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“As far as we are concerned, the former governor, being a decampee from the APC, is on his own because no one can be a judge in his own case.”
  
The zonal executive called on PDP members in the Southwest to shun any meeting called by Prince Oyinlola and cautioned him “to be mindful of bringing APC’s divide and rule culture to the PDP.”
  
They however set a parallel peace committee for the purpose of reconciliation and settlement of all other sundry issues. The committee is led by Engineer Femi Babalola, with Chief Kolapo Ogunjobi, Barrister Ahmed Okandeji Mustapha, Chief Idowu Odeyemi and Chief Tunde Akindehin as members, while the Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the party, Prince Diran Odeyemi, is the secretary.

The zone also mandated the Babalola-led reconciliation committee to work in collaboration with the National Reconciliation Committee set up by the NWC of the party.
  
Makinde’s aide, Dare Adeleke cautioned Fayose not to drag Oyinlola’s name in the mud and called on the NWC to warn the former governor of Ekiti not to destabilise the party to the advantage of the opposition.
 
According to him: “The power to suspend or remove an official in that position under the PDP Constitution lies with the National Executive Committee (NEC) specifically, the NWC on behalf of the NEC. One wonders if they have never read the Constitution or they are just a bunch of reckless mutineers.
 
“Ayo Fayose, in his greed for power and desperation to betray the party, is trying to balkanize the party and, in the process, turn the Southwest zone into a Banana Republic.

“It is bizarre and a misnomer for Fayose to bestow the position of zonal media coordinator on his ‘servant’ boy, Lere Olayinka. As a matter of fact, it is laughable. In what capacity does he have the right to appoint Olayinka as spokesperson?”
 
Another member of the committee, Mrs. Funmilayo Ogun also described Makinde as an accidental governor and a mistake that PDP would no longer make.

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Ogun argued that by choosing to relate with individuals not recognised as State chairmen of PDP in Ekiti, Osun and Ogun states, Makinde is only saying that he is more powerful than the NEC and that as far as he is concerned, decisions of the NEC are not binding on him. She said it is a matter of concern to her that Governor Makinde could refer to the State Working Committee in Ekiti as “factional” despite being part of the NEC meeting where the congresses in Ekiti and other states where approved.
 
Adeleke denied that there was an agreement between Makinde and party leaders, to allow Olafeso return as zonal chairman. It is Fayose who thwarted the traditional zoning arrangements in the party. Eddy Olafeso, who was the former chairman in the zone, hails from Ondo while the National Treasurer Aribisala Adewale, was imposed on the party, when Fayose was governor in Ekiti.

Traditionally Ekiti and Ondo states share one position but with those two positions, they deprived the other four states of their rights. Normally, the treasurer is supposed to be given to Oyo. Fayose has proven to be a leader, who is determined to set his own house on fire.”
 
Another chieftain of the PDP, Alhaji Adebisi Olopoeyan berated those claiming that the crisis is aimed at destabilising the party, with the ultimate objective of rooting for Tinubu’s presidential ambition in 2023. Those behind the propaganda are mischievous and politically naive,” he said. 
 
He said the Olafeso faction held a meeting with Oyinlola and Balogun where they insisted that the agreement made with Olafeso to return to his office must be honoured.
  
According to him, “At the last meeting with Oyinlola, Balogun and others, we told them to tell Makinde that nobody is dragging the leadership of the party with him. But he must fulfill the agreement made in the party. We insisted on Olafeso as the zonal chairman of the party.

“We told them that in Ekiti State, they must pick two persons from the Abiodun Olujimi faction and Fayose faction.  And the same thing should be done in Oyo and Lagos States.”
 
Speaking on how to reposition the party, Fayose insisted that the erstwhile Information Commissioner in Ondo State, Olafeso, should be the next PDP National Vice Chairman Southwest. He disclosed that was agreed on earlier at Makinde’s house in Ibadan.

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Also speaking on the way forward, a PDP member Barrister Olayinka Kukoyi said, “The leadership of the party in the Southwest led by Makinde should call on the national leadership to bring all aggrieved factions together by ensuring that whatever we agreed upon at the zonal level should be the final decision that will be approved by the national leadership of the party without any interference whatsoever from any individual or group of people.
 
Meanwhile, Chairman Lagos PDP, Engineer Doherty, corroborated Fayose’s claim that there was a consensus to return Olafeso. “After Olafeso lost the Ondo governorship primary, Makinde did not live up to the agreement. And that was what created the crisis. Some of the leaders actually don’t want Olafeso to return.
  
“There is no contention on who is the leader. Fayose cannot be the leader and he has never claimed to be the leader but he is the one leading majority of us that are ready to stand by our agreement.”
 
As matters stand, the contention between those who want Oyefeso to return to office and Makinde’s group that has formally declared support for former Oyo State Deputy Governor and Ambassador to Lebanon, Chief Taofeek Arapaja to lead the party at the zonal level is what the Saraki reconciliation team must deal with for peace to return to Southwest PDP.

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