Southwest PDP forges a united front to get national chair
The national leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) may have given tacit endorsement for the Southwest zone to produce the National Chairman of the party in the forthcoming National Convention but apart from the large number of aspirants some pockets of opposition are growing in the South-South prompting the Southwest leaders to commence forging a united front to clinch the seat.
With the national chairmanship of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) already zoned to the southern part of Nigeria and a “gentleman’s agreement” to have it narrowed down to the Southwest, the leadership of the party in the zone has taken up the challenge of putting the best man forward and strengthen the platform in the process.
Despite this agreement however, two aspirants from the South-South, former Deputy National Chairman, Uche Secondus and media mogul, Raymond Dokpesi, have announced their intention to contest for the position.
But the Southeast zone, having produced the occupant of the position twice in the persons of Vincent Eze Ogbulafor from Abia and Okwesilieze Nwodo from Enugu, appears not to be too keen to contest for the post.
Two weeks ago, the Southwest zonal leadership of the party met in Ibadan where they called on leaders from other zones where opposition to the Southwest quest has emerged, to allow the zone have a smooth sail in the December 9 National Convention.
The party leaders hinged their appeal on the fact that since the formation of the party in 1998, the Southwest has not had the opportunity of occupying the position of chairman. They also said that the region was desirous of the office to help in their membership drive and wrest power from the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC), the dominant party in the zone.
Southwest PDP zonal chairman, Dr. Eddy Olafeso who read the communiqué at the end of the parley said, “Since inception in 1998 till date, our party had twelve national chairmen and we are the only one, out of the six geo political zones in the country, that has not held the position despite our historic contributions to the development of the party.”
While, the Southwest may have a good point on the ground that it remains the only zone in the country yet to savour the position of the PDP national chairman since in 1998, the South-South is no push over in the contest going by its present strength in the PDP compared to what the former has to offer on the delegates list.
But as it is, of all the zones in the South, the Southwest has an ace in the area of voting strength when it comes to national elections and this strength was displayed in 2015 to end the 16-year rule of the PDP.
Apart from the challenges of the aspirants from the South-South, the Southwest will have to unite and agree on the best and credible candidate to present if it hopes to get the position, a flaw that the leadership is already aware of.
Another challenge to the Southwest ambition is getting the support of the northern elements in the party. As has been observed, whichever candidate from either the South-South or the Southwest that got the backing of the north may likely win the election. For now, the north seems to be confused on whom to support among the aspirants that have so far shown interest in the Southwest.
And as consultations across political groups within the PDP and individual politicians are on-going, scores of aspirants have emerged from the zone including a former Deputy National Chairman, Chief Olabode George, former Ogun State governor, Otunba Gbenga Daniel and Lagos State governorship candidate of the party in the last election, Mr. Jimi Agbaje.
Others are former Minister of Education, Professor Tunde Adeniran, former Aviation Minister, Femi Fani-Kayode and Professor Taoheed Adedoja. But the Southwest PDP, like the national leadership and in keeping with the party’s zoning culture, will have to observe internal zoning to avoid lopsidedness of party positions.
And if this is to be followed, as some prominent leaders of the party revealed to The Guardian, the position may have been zeroed to Ondo/Ogun axis of the zone because presently, Olafeso, the zonal chairman is from Ondo/Ekiti axis while Oyo/Osun axis had once occupied the position for a long time.
If these factors are taken into consideration, the race would be between the trio of George, Daniel and Agbaje who are from the Lagos/Ogun axis of the zone.
George, who appears to be the most popular and experienced in party politics, having held the topmost party positions in the zone and the entire south at various times, said during his official declaration penultimate week that he would deploy his bulk of experience and wisdom to rescue and reposition the party to regain power in 2019.
The former military governor of Ondo State also assured party loyalists that he would work tirelessly to revive the dream and principles of the founding fathers, which he said, were anchored on justice, fairness and equity, as enshrined in its constitution.
He harped on bringing back the dignity of PDP by working diligently to unite its members, while mending fences and healing old wounds for all to attain the collective aspiration of the once ruling party.
According to him, “My leadership will strive to revive the economy of Nigeria, which had been battered, working with well-meaning members of the party to get the presidential power in 2019.”
He declared that his first task, if elected, “would be to reconcile feuding factions at all levels and also accord them the recognitions they all deserve, while also protecting their interests.”
George also identified as a key factor, the party’s rejection of the founding father’s principle of justice, fairness and equity in the reasons why it failed during the 2015 election, saying, “I will never compromise our foundational principles of justice, fairness and equity, as enshrined in the constitution of our party.”
According to him, “If elected, I am willing and ready to work with everyone, regardless of personal differences, to mend the broken places, heal the ancient wounds, reconcile the feuding factions and ultimately ensure that we strengthen our collective brotherhood and speak with one voice to regain victory in 2019.
“We will equally accord all our governors and legislators at both state and national levels, the necessary pride of place and honour in this new dawn. We will protect their interests and help to enhance their effectiveness.”
However, in spite the fact that many notable leaders of the Southwest PDP rose in support of George during his declaration in Lagos, Daniel’s ambition for the same post is posing a big threat to his interest.
The former Ogun State governor has been receiving support of many PDP stakeholders in the North and the South-South including the likes former Military President, Ibrahim Babangida and the former Minister of Education, Ibrahim Shekarau. He has also requested the support of former President Olusegun Obasanjo who many believe has left the party but whom George said “has enough influence to determine which way the PDP would go.”
The former Ogun governor has also sought the support of other big notable chieftains of the party like General T.Y Danjuma, Sule Lamido and Bamanga Tukur.
Daniel also remain a force to be reckoned with in the region for the fact of being a former governor whose former colleagues and those serving may likely have sympathy for instead of George, who some claimed is too old and may be too rigid to control.
The main strength of Daniel appeared to be from outside the zone while many of those who opposed his emergence pointed to the fact that he had at one point left the PDP, a point that could not be raised against George who had been a PDP chieftain all through.
What Daniel, who flagged off his campaign in Abuja yesterday, is banking on according to some sources, is the Babangida factor, as the former military ruler is believed to have the capacity to mobilize or influence delegates from the northern zone to support him.
Addressing a crowd of supporters yesterday, Daniel said, “I think I am most eminently qualified to correct some of our mistakes of the near and remote past having served as a Chief Executive officer of one of the most complex States in Nigeria, Ogun.
“Having supervised and won elections twice under the platform of the PDP, I have conducted and managed not only national elections, but also local government elections with all their attendant complexities.
“I have built a network of personal relationships across the length and breadth of Nigeria, both in my private capacity as a businessman and public life as a governor and politician; these networks are expected to come handy in the process of healing wounds and building bonds and synergies necessary in rebuilding the political party.”
But the candidature of Agbaje has always been linked to the influence of the duo of governors Nyesom Wike of Rivers and Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti who are said to be the powers behind his chairmanship ambition even though he is not as visible as the others.
It was alleged recently that the two governors sponsored Agbaje’s trip out of the country recently to shield him from influences that may jeopardize his ambition before the December convention. The purpose, according to sources was to prepare the former governorship candidate to take up the chairmanship when the time comes.
But there had been several questions about the appropriateness of Agbaje to aspire for the chairmanship because of the claim by a faction within the party that he was not qualified to lead the PDP being a new entrant.
But when called to clarify the allegation whether it was true some governors are backing him, Agbaje said, “There was nothing like that. No governor asked me to go and hide outside the country. It was true I traveled but on my own volition and I am back to Nigeria.” He however declined to comment on his ambition to run for the national chairmanship of the party.
Worried by the number of aspirants and the possible intrigues that could cause the Southwest zone the opportunity to get the position, leaders of the party have commenced the process of narrowing down their interests and produce a single aspirant to brighten their chances.
At a meeting in Lagos convened by Fayose and attended by George, Chiefs Dapo Sarumi and Rashidi Ladoja, former Oyo State governor who recently rejoined the party and many others including Tajudeen Oladipo, former Southwest Zonal Vice-Chairman, the leaders agreed to forge a common front for the zone.
Although Daniel was absent at the parley, Fayose confirmed he would be at the next meeting of the forum, which is expected to have more leaders from across the six states of the zone.
While speaking at the meeting Fayose said, “Our aim is to take a position ahead of the convention. We don’t want to attend the convention with a divided house. Our aim is to go to the convention and come back with joy, not to be disappointed. We have to talk extensively and ensure everyone is happy with the meeting. We have decided that the meeting must be inclusive and all stakeholders must be present in the meetings.
“The meeting was endorsed by our leaders here and we all believe that it must not end here. All our stakeholders must be present from the next meeting and if there is anybody that refused to attend, we might conclude that person has a different agenda.”
Ladoja who disclosed that he is now a full member of the PDP announced that he would soon declare his ambition to contest the chairmanship position, a decision that may have put more pressure on the process of managing the aspirants.
He said, “Before the end of the month, I will declare my ambition. At this moment, I am still consulting. I have left Accord Party and I am now a full member of PDP. I have obtained my membership card.”
Speaking in the same vein with Fayose, Oladipo said the meeting was called at the instance of the only PDP governor in the zone whom he described as the rallying point for the leaders and members of the party.
He said, “PDP in the Southwest has only one leader and he is Fayose. He is the rallying point in the zone and he is the one taking our position to the party at the national level ahead of the forthcoming convention. The meeting is being held for all of us to take a position before the convention and all other stakeholders in the zone will join the meeting subsequently.
“We have endorsed the calling of this meeting so that we can take a joint position before the convention. It is our privilege that we have him as our governor. And other stakeholders will be joining us which would be not long.”
An elated George, who saw the meeting as the only means to streamline the aspirations of the party and reduce intra-party tension, said, “This meeting will show the people that we are prepared and this is a solid ship and not any rudderless meeting.”