Makinde and the politics of Lagos PDP
Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State has achieved several successes in his private and public life at a very early stage in life. He is probably one of the youngest governors Nigeria has produced in the Fourth Republic who was also able to defeat the candidate of an incumbent ruling political party in the 2019 gubernatorial election in Oyo State. Political observers are, however, waiting to see if he would succeed in the new task of reconciling the protracted crises in the Lagos chapter of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) committed to his care by the National Working Committee (PDP) of the party.
This is a critical assignment that can stand him out and also bolster his political credentials if successfully managed and peradventure results in PDP taking over Lagos State from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the coming 2023 elections. Indeed it was a task, which two former presidents, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, despite putting everything at their disposals, including what was described, as ‘federal might’ in 2003, 2007 and 2015 respectively, could not achieve. It would also be recalled that former governor of Ekiti State, Mr. Ayo Fayose and a former Senator that represented Ogun East among some PDP top heads across the country failed in their bids to bring peace and harmony back to PDP Lagos chapter before the 2019 gubernatorial elections.
But as all the warring factions in the troubled Lagos chapter are eagerly awaiting to see the extent to which Makinde would go to reconcile their ranks, the Oyo State governor boasted a fortnight ago during a meeting held at the office of the former Deputy National Chairman of PDP, Chief Olabode George, that the party would soon overcome its lingering crises and be repositioned in time to give the ruling APC a good fight and ousts it from power in 2023.
Leading a reconciliation team that include the former governor of Delta State, Mr. James Ibori, Makinde gave assurance that all issues causing division in the party had been critically addressed and concerted moves were being made to ensure unity. Perhaps, one of the outcomes of Makinde’s findings why PDP has not been able to taste power in Lagos since Nigeria returned to civil rule in 1999 was not basically because of the might of APC, but simply the disunity in the major opposition party, which APC has always preyed on over the years. As a matter of fact, the PDP stood a good chance of taking over Lagos from the ruling party in 2011 and 2015 but for the internal rumblings.
A cursory look at the issues Makinde would deal with as he sets out on his reconciliation assignment indicate that he might have to appeal first to the warring factions in the party to withdraw the pending case in the court against the incumbent chairman, Mr. Deji Doherty, who was elected at the congress organised by representatives of the NWC.
It would be recalled that in November last year, a special election, committee set up by the NWC, conducted an election to fill key executive positions in spite of an alleged subsisting court order stopping the party’s national headquarters from doing so. The controversial election produced Doherty against the outcry of the immediate past Chairman, Dr. Dominic Adegbola, and other executive members under him. Dominic secured a restraining order from a Lagos State High Court against the conduct of the congress.
The vacant positions, as contained in a memo by the National Organising Secretary of PDP, Col. Austin Akobundu (rtd) were that of the state chairman, state vice chairman (central), state organising secretary, state legal adviser, assistant legal adviser, party’s local government areas chairmen in Apapa and Badagry local governments.
Although Dominic had alleged before the congress that there were grand plans to sideline the former deputy national chairman and the leader, financier of the Lagos PDP, Chief George, judging from the desperation demonstrated by the NWC. But the National Vice Chairman (Southwest), Dr. Eddy Olafeso, who has been part of several reconciliation committees to ensure harmony in the Lagos chapter denied knowledge of any court order that restrained the party from holding the congress.
To ensure peace, Makinde might need to pacify the aggrieved faction of Dominic to stay out of court. How far he would be able to achieve this is left in the realm of imagination.
Another crucial challenge Makinde will face is the cost of financing the reconciliation. From the grapevine, The Guardian leant that majority of the party’s members, especially the top brass, are unhappy over the management of Lagos PDP finances in the last couple of years such that monies realised through the sale of forms and other avenues are allegedly not properly accounted for, especially during the last general elections. As a source from the party disclosed, “This is one serious aspect Makinde may need to apply local wisdom.”
According to the source, “Since the new and controversial chairman came on board, he must have embarked on renovation of the party’s secretariat with his personal money. The question is, what happened to the party’s account and who are those in charge?”
The Bode George factor is also a big knot Governor Makinde and his team may need to carefully address. A source said, “There is the belief that the overbearing nature of the former deputy national chairman is one of the factors weighing down the party and has also led to the defection of many influential members to APC in recent years.”
Giving examples, the source said, “Since 1999, there were insinuations that George has always been the issue in Lagos chapter. He is accused of always trying to impose his choice candidate for the gubernatorial elections, which is one reason PDP has been losing Lagos. From the era of a former High Commissioner to Ghana, Ambassador Musliu Obanikoro, to that of the governorship candidate of the party in the 2015 and 2019 elections, Mr. Jimi Agbaje, there had been fierce internal leadership crises that threatened to tear members of the party apart.”
But loyalists to George rebuffed the allegation as baseless, saying the former Military Administrator of Ondo State remains the most consistence member of Lagos PDP and that he is always ready to fund the party even at critical periods.
Reacting on the perceived ill-treatment to George, a member of the Board of Trustees (BoT), Chief Ebenezer Babatope, decried what is happening in Lagos chapter thus: “What is happening in Lagos is very interesting, because Lagos as state PDP should have made concerted efforts to take from APC. We can achieve this, but the NWC is not permitting democracy to have its root in Lagos. I am not saying this because I am a personal friend of Chief George, who is PDP’s leader in Lagos. I am saying it because if the NWC should put its full weight behind George’s efforts in Lagos, honestly, we will beat the ruling party. I must say this again, not because I want to deride my party. No, I want PDP to win, even though we are getting old. The way PDP deals with its experienced people is so alarming. APC does not deal with its old and experienced people that way. I can’t join APC. Never, but I need to emphasise that the ruling party doesn’t mess up its leaders like our party does.”
Just before the party’s NWC decided to conduct a fresh election to fill the vacant executive positions, Adegbola and another chieftain of the party, Mr. Segun Adewale, had laid claims to its chairmanship in Lagos State. The factional dispute was the outcome of the national chairmanship tussle between the National Caretaker Committee led by Senator Ahmed Markafi and the Ali Modu-Sherrif chairmanship, which was eventually laid to rest in favour of Markafi by the Supreme Court in July 2017.
The state’s party executive positions had always been shared along the line of consensus agreement especially between the George camp and in recent times, the Agbaje and Mrs. Aduke Maina camp. It is not clear if that agreement had been jettisoned in the newly-constituted executive, but there are indications that the election was meant to prepare the way for a new breed of leaders that are expected to take over the affairs of the party ahead of the 2023 general elections. A party source alleged that the NWC was doing the bidding of the National Chairman, Mr. Uche Secondus, and the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike.
Meanwhile, Doherty, who was obviously absent during Makinde’s visit to Lagos, said the issues in the party would be resolved, and pointed to the renovation exercise going on in the party’s secretariat and also a series of meetings being held to reposition the party.
The incumbent chairman denied any rift with Chief George as being speculated, noting, “That I didn’t attend the reconciliation meeting wasn’t deliberate. The Makinde team is reaching out to all members of the party.”
Chief George said issues affecting the party were discussed, saying solutions were being proffered. He said the reconciliation was an ongoing process, as the Makinde committee would still meet other stakeholders.
The underlying challenges, however, may not be unconnected with plans ahead of the 2023 election as some forces in the party are working ahead of the time to establish their political structure in the Southwest and especially Lagos. It is being insinuated that George, who has declared his intention to contest the next presidential election, is allegedly encouraging Mr. Babatunde Gbadamosi, who contested the last gubernatorial election in the state on the platform of Action Democratic Party (ADP) to return to PDP with the aim of vying for the governorship ticket in 2023. Doherty, who is also said to be interested in vying for same ticket, is uncomfortable with Chief George and his new ally, Gbadamosi.
Gbadamosi himself disclosed that he had returned to PDP at the instance of George and Doherty, but was quiet about his ambition to contest PDP ticket in 2023.