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How ambition, mutual suspicion among power blocs thwart Oyo APC reconciliation 

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Chief Adebayo Alao-Akala

Though his leadership style was not acceptable to the majority of the party leaders when he held sway as governor and party leader of Oyo State, the demise of Sen. Abiola Ajimobi has created a leadership vacuum in the state chapter of All Progressives Congress (APC), with many groups jostling to fill it.

Before his death, the late Ajimobi had put together a reconciliation committee, headed by former Governor Adebayo Alao-Akala. Though some party stalwarts had expressed reservation about the committee and appointment of Alao-Akala, the absence of a father-figure in the mold of Ajimobi has further widened the chasm among various political tendencies and blocs in the party. The rainbow and hybrid nature of the party have made the process of choosing an overarching leader an uphill task.

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As it stands now, there are no fewer than four blocs, with each working hard to ensure its interests and personal ambitions are protected.

In these blocs, there are those loyal to the late Ajimobi’s political family. Those in this camp are referred to as SENACO (Senator Ajimobi Campaign Organization). The second bloc, which is called the Alao-Alaka camp, is routing for those loyal to the Ogbomoso-born former governor. However, those who call themselves the Core Progressives are cautious in warming up to his leadership, given that he has traversed the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Labour Party (LP), and Action Democratic Party (ADP) before returning to the APC. The third is a group, which is an amalgam of those who opposed Ajimobi, especially during his second term in office, returning members of PDP and ADC in the party; they are referred to as Unity Forum. They include Sen. Olufemi Lanlehin, Prof. Adeolu Akande, Alhaji Fatai Ibikunle, Sen. Soji Akanbi, and Adebayo Shittu.

Though members of the group still want to be part of the APC reconciliation process, they want to be considered as major leaders in the belief that they deserve some privileges. 

The fourth bloc is called the Non-Aligned Force. Those in this category are routing for the settlement of the crisis in the party. Those in this group remain neutral, refusing to fully align with existing or emerging blocs. Their leaders include a former deputy governor, Iyiola Oladokun, Chief Adeniyi Akintola, and Bayo Adewusi.

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Power struggle has been between the Alao-Akala group and the Unity Forum. 

While speaking on the existence of blocs, Akintola said: “I belong to the non-aligned group. Those of us in this category are in the majority. Those of us who are non-aligned are more than those in Unity Forum and Ajimobi bloc. We are just for peace in the party. But the constitution must be obeyed.”

After the demise of Ajimobi, many analysts were of the view that Alao-Akala would naturally emerge as the leader. But that was not to be as other blocs were afraid of being sidelined and overwhelmed by Alao-Akala. This led to a series of a leadership crisis. Observing that the Alao-Akala leadership did not enjoy wide acceptability, the national leadership of the party took some steps to resolve the logjam.

One such step was the reconciliation meeting held at the Ibadan residence of Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State on September 20, 2020. The meeting had in attendance members of SENACO, Unity Forum, and others. Those at the meeting included Alao-Akala, Chairman of Nigerian Communications Commission, Prof Akande, Minister of Youth and Sports, Sunday Dare, Chief Adelabu, the former gubernatorial candidate of the party in the 2019 election, former Minister of Communications, Shittu, Akintola, and Senator Lanlehin, among others.

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The fallout of the meeting was the formation of the collegiate leadership system tagged the Elders’ Advisory Council, headed by Alao-Akala.

Speaking on the reconciliation during a media parley marking his 50th birthday, the standard-bearer of the party in the 2019 governorship election, Chief Adebayo Adelabu, said he was happy about the ongoing reconciliation process in the party. Adelabu had said there are no more crises in the party after the aggrieved groups had been reconciled, paving the way for early preparation ahead of the 2023 general election. Adelabu pointed out that the controversy over the leadership of APC in Oyo State was misplaced.
 
He declared that the general consensus of stakeholders was that there is no single leader of the party, but a college of leaders, while former Governor Alao-Akala has been chosen to be the chairman of college of leaders.

The former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria explained; “As it is today, there is no leadership crisis in APC in the state. I am part of the reconciliation process, from the meeting held in the house of Alao-Akala, to the Abuja meeting and the last one convened by Governor Kayode Fayemi in his Ibadan residence. What we have now is a collegiate leadership in Oyo APC, with Governor Alao-Akala appointed as the leader of the College of Leaders. Nobody with political ambition can be part of the collegiate.

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“The deliberations and decisions reached all the meetings are encouraging. We are ready to work together. We don’t have groups at the party again. We don’t have Unity Forum, SENACO, or any other group. What we have now is one strong APC in Oyo State.”

However, on September 23, 2020, a former Deputy Chairman of the party in the state, Alhaji Isiaka Alimi, accused Governor Fayemi of worsening the crisis in the state. In a statement in Ibadan, the party chieftain said the party was gradually returning to peace after the Abuja peace meeting but Fayemi’s introduction of extraneous consideration at the meeting held in his residence had worsened the crisis.

He said the attempt to hand over APC to Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) elements by Governor Fayemi would not only fail, but not bode well for APC. The APC chieftain warned Fayemi not to destabilise the state chapter of the party the way he had destroyed the Ekiti State chapter. 

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“If you look at the people who he wants to hand over the party to like Otunba Alao-Akala, Teslim Folarin, Fatai Buhari, they are all PDP elements,” Alimi alleged. “They have no progressive credentials. Why will he do that? There is no provision for the position of leader in the constitution of APC. How can you impose illegality on a political party? Where there is no governor, the party chairman is the leader of the party. We are suspicious of the secret agenda that is driving this imposition of a leader. It is illegal and will only make the case worse for the party.

“Let Otunba Alao-Akala be a leader to the people coming with him into the party. He cannot be a leader to the people he met at the party. He was a PDP governor, not a progressive governor. Since 2007, we have defeated him at every election in 2011, 2015, and 2015. So what is he bringing that qualifies him to be a leader? They only want to hijack the APC for the PDP.

“Alhaji Alimi calls on the national leadership of the APC to call Governor Fayemi to order so that he does not further destabilise the party the way he has desrabilised the party in Ekiti State.

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“We cherish our progressives’ credentials and that is why we are comfortable with President Muhammadu Buhari. The attempt to hand over the APC to conservative elements will not work. Unfortunately, it has only worsened the crisis in the state chapter of APC.”

Reacting, however, Fayemi through his spokesman, Yinka Oyebode, said his principal was on an assignment on behalf of the National Reconciliation Committee of APC in charge of the Oyo State crisis.
 
Oyebode said: “Governor Alao-Akala emerged as Chairman of the Party’s Advisory Council with other distinguished personalities like former Deputy Governors Iyiola Oladokun and Alake Adeyemo, together with the party Chairman, Akin Oke as members. They emerged as automatic members by virtue of being the highest elected officeholders in the party.

“Other Senatorial districts like Oyo South and Oyo Central are to nominate three members each to the advisory council. The main responsibility of the advisory committee is to help oversee the activities of the party through registration. 

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“At no point was any leader chosen at the Ibadan meeting. Governor Fayemi has reported back to the national headquarters the outcome of the meeting of party stakeholders in Ibadan. Governor Fayemi was only a representative of the reconciliation committee. At no time at the meeting or thereafter was any leader foisted on the party.”

As if that was not enough, on October 1 and 2, 2020, another crack emerged as Unity Forum and Minister of Sports and Youth Development, Dare opposed the Otunba Alao-Akala-led Oyo APC Elders Advisory Council. The minister in a statement explained that the idea of handing the party over to a few individuals to the detriment of others would spell doom.

The minister said: “The notion of entitlement or personal ownership of Oyo APC will keep the party stuck as if caught in wet cement. No one of us owns the party. We all do. The party is an institution of collective membership, but also collective ownership.

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“The only banner we should raise is the APC banner. Any idea that some informal and nebulous sub-faction should rule and is more important than the party itself must be tossed out the window. To exalt some small group over the larger one is against the democratic spirit of the party and it will take us all to a troublesome and adverse future.

“Either you are an APC member or you or not. There are no conditions or caveats that govern us. The different political tendencies in the party must now discard their adversarial colorations so that we may coalesce and strengthen the party. Currently, Oyo APC is less than the sum of its individual parts. We must reform how we interact so that the party becomes greater than the sum of those individual parts.

“APC Oyo is beyond the Ibadan crowd or Ogbomoso crowd or Oke Ogun crowd or any crowd, for that matter. Together we win. Separate and tendentious we lose.

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“The APC State Executive must embrace a new, more inclusive, and collegial mentality else they drive the party aground. The fragmentation of the party and the unfair treatment of members associated with a rival faction must stop. A party does not become strong by crushing internal opposition, it becomes strong by reconciling it. And only a strong, unified party will win the majority of elections it faces. The idea of handing the party over to a few individuals to the detriment of others will spell doom. You might win the battle for supremacy in the party but may well lose the greater war, which is the general election.

“Unless we bind our wounds and rebuild, we will lose respect and focus as a party. This will allow a lesser party to take the victories and the chance to govern this beloved state that should rightfully be with us.”

Similarly, the Unity Forum dismissed the statement by the Akin Oke-led State Executive Council ratifying the Akala Council of Elders leadership. In a response jointly signed by its Chairman, Alhaji Abu Gbadamosi, former Deputy Governor Moses Alake Adeyemo, former Senators Olufemi Lanlehin, Ayo Adeseun and Soji Akanbi and Shittu, the Unity Forum stated that the Akala council of elders is a contraption of PDP elements in the party, who saw the meeting with Governor Fayemi as an opportunity to foist a PDP leadership on our progressive party.

A statement by the group said; “We stated clearly in our initial response to the charade in Governor Fayemi’s house that the meeting deviated from the mandate of the National Reconciliation Committee directing it to choose three members from each of the two contending groups to superintend the forthcoming registration of members in the party.

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“The flooding of the Fayemi meeting with over 60 representatives by the Governor Akala/SENACO group against the agreement of 15 representatives each was an ungentlemanly approach to politics symptomatic of PDP elements, who now found themselves in the APC. The present attempt to foist a PDP leadership on the party is a grand design to deny the people of the state a choice between the conservative PDP and the progressive APC.

“We have made it clear that the so-called Akala Council of Elders is an exercise in futility and cannot solve the lingering crisis in the APC in Oyo State. The past week has clearly demonstrated that the so-called Akala Council of Elders, like the meeting at Governor Fayemi’s house, has worsened the crisis in the party.

“What the APC needs is a genuine, sincere, all-embracing, and collective effort at reconciling the contending groups in the party. We regret to state that the present charade is a road to nowhere.

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“We, therefore, restate our call on the National Reconciliation Committee to return to the Abuja Agreement of September 10, 2020, requiring each of the two contending groups to nominate three representatives that will work with the state executive of the party for the forthcoming registration of party members and other party activities until the dissolution of the state executive council alongside the councils in the other 35 states of the federation.”

INVESTIGATIONS conducted by The Guardian revealed that the main challenge in the party remains suspicion between Unity Forum and the Alao-Akala political family. It was also gathered that SENACO members have mostly joined the Alao-Akala camp. 

This was corroborated by an impeccable source at the party.

The source said: “The main issue is mistrust. People are suspecting that if Alao-Akala gets the party, he will favour his people in PDP. That is why Abuja is more comfortable with the combination of Sunday Dare and others at the party. Alao-Akala people are mostly PDP and conservatives. If they give the party to Alao-Akala, there won’t be a difference between PDP and APC, but we want a clear-cut difference. It’s only with a clear-cut difference that we can win an election. If it is with Alao-Akala, Teslim, and others, that means we are wasting our time. There is nothing like a leader in the constitution of the party. It is an arrangement and convention. It has no constitutional backing.”

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Nonetheless, a former governorship aspirant, who spoke in anonymity, said those against Alao-Akala’s leadership were not honest with themselves, wondering if those people were asleep when the national leadership of the party persuaded him to return and handed over the party to him in order to win the 2019 governorship poll. 

The source continued: “The hierarchy of the party is in Article 12 of the party constitution; the most important organ is the National Convention followed by Board of Trustees. They are not being factual. We should be guided by the constitution of the party. The most important organ of the party is the National Convention, which membership includes the national chairman, the president and vice president, former president and former vice president, the governors and former governor, the deputy governor, and former deputy governor, the speaker and deputy speaker. Alao-Akala was a former governor. Alao-Akala, being a former governor, falls under category two, immediately after the president. After the primary that was manipulated by Ajimobi, Alao-Akala left for ADP.

“But when the governorship election was approaching, the national leaders of the party, that is Mr. President, sent presidential aircraft to pick Alao-Akala and they took him to the vice president and all the national leaders of the party. They persuaded him to come back. Were those opposing him now not alive then? The man left and came back immediately at the prompting of the national leadership of the party, including the then national chairman of the party. They all begged him and he came back.

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“On the authority of the president, vice president, and national leaders, including Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, they all railroaded him back to the party and he became the former governor under the power of the party. Were they not alive when he was called back by the leaders of the party?  

“But many of them, because they want to create issues, have forgotten that you can’t interpret a law outside the other provisions. You have to read them together.”

Also, a public affairs analyst who is conversant with happenings in the internal workings of the party, said: “The meeting at Fayemi’s house had solved the problem because that was what many people were routing for – a collegiate leadership. That is what was done at Fayemi’s place by setting up an Elder Advisory Council headed Alao-Akala. The two former deputy governors are members, with three representatives from each senatorial district. The council will be advising or working with the executives.”

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The analyst stated further: “Naturally, Alao-Akala should be the leader but just that they don’t trust him. One, they don’t see him as a core progressive. Two, they don’t even trust him, as he’d junketed from one party to another. Three, Alao-Akala will exert the influence of his PDP loyalists on decisions in their favour. 

“They are being driven by personal ambitions. Their coming together will be problematic because all of them have ambition, both at individual and group levels. All of them are just working hard to hijack the party structure. There is no group that can get what it wants. 

“Sunday Dare is an evolving member of Ajimobi group, but his problem is that he had not been integrated into the Ajimobi bloc before Ajimobi’s demise. His aim is the governorship ticket. But Ajimobi had a governorship candidate before his demise. He is like a loner using his ministerial position to wield influence, but it is not going to work, except for those who call themselves Core Progressives, those eating under him.”

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