Politics

Zonal Congress: PDP faces litmus test in S’West

The stage is set for this weekend’s battle for the soul of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the South-West between Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State and ex- Governor Ayo Fayose. WALE ELEGBEDE reports

 

The internal cohesion of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the South-West is up for another litmus test this Saturday when the rescheduled congress in the zone is expected to take place in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, amidst vicious disagreement among two major contending blocs for the leadership of the opposition party in the six states of the region.

 

Scramble for leadership

 

The feud in the South-West PDP is between two gladiators in the zone and rather than abate, it is festering by the day. The two players in the game are Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State and the former governor, Ayo Fayose, of Ekiti State.

 

Interestingly, just over two years ago, precisely in the run-up to the 2019 elections, Fayose was the one dignified with the honor to present the PDP flag to Makinde at the commencement of the party’s campaign in Ogbomoso.

 

The PDP candidate eventually won the election ousting the ruling party in the state. Fayose, at the presentation, said, ““It’s a new dawn in Oyo State in 2019. Makinde is our man, a brother who has relied only on God to fulfill his dream of governing Oyo State.

 

“In governance, red pen signifies authority. I used it for eight years in Ekiti State. Today, I present this red pen to Seyi Makinde and I present this flag on behalf of our party, PDP and the leaders.” But fast forward to 2021, the cordiality and brotherhood has vanished into thin air.

 

The once proclaimed and cherished bond has been sacrificed on the altar of interest and partisanship. Expectedly, each bloc has its loyalists and supporters, and this has set them against each other, thereby endangering the political fortune of the party in both the states and the zone at large.

 

The biggest stake both groups are slugging for it’s the composition of the zonal executive committee of the party especially the position of the National Vice Chairman of the party who will also double as the South-West chairman of the party. For Makinde, the reason for his preference is two.

 

First, his state, Oyo State, has been off the radar of affairs of the zonal leadership, hence, the time to lead the zone is now. Second, he opposed the second term bid of the immediate past leadership who opined that there tenure was marred by series of court summons from those opposed to them.

 

On their part, Fayose and his supporters averred that there was an agreement that Governor Makinde was a party to that says that the former leadership will be returned to place the zone on the path of continuity.

 

It was learnt that the loggerheads became evident immediately after former National Vice Chairman Southwest, Dr. Eddy Olafeso, lost the PDP Ondo State governorship primary to Mr. Eyitayo Jegede (SAN), few days after resigning to contest the election. It was gathered that prior to Olafeso’s resignation from office, he had an understanding with Makinde and some party leaders to return to his position in the zone if he did not clinch the party ticket.

 

The meeting was said to have held in Makinde’s house. However, when Olafeso lost the primary and was expected to go back to the office, Makinde allegedly moved against the agreement and that sets the stage for the current fireworks. Corroborating this, chairman of Lagos PDP, Engineer Adedeji Doherty, said there was actually 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.”

 

The Ekiti PDP conundrum

 

Since the party lost in the last gubernatorial election, the PDP in Ekiti State has gradually turned into a shadow of its former self. Interestingly, the two gladiators in the heart of the crisis Fayose and his former deputy, Senator Abiodun Olujimi, were once allies, but politics for what it is can only be a game of interest.

Olujimi was once a special adviser and deputy governor in the administration of Fayose. She also got the senatorial ticket to represent Ekiti South during Fayose’s era.

 

But the centre is not holding between the duo and reason is nothing but political interests which started at the commencement of the presidential campaign in 2018.

 

The battle for the leadership of the party in the state has also dovetailed to the zonal politics with Makinde purportedly backing Olujimi against Fayose, a development the former governor would have none of it.

 

Fragmented caretaker team

 

With Olafeso not able to return, it was learnt that Makinde, who has the backing of former Deputy National Chairman of the party, Chief Bode George, was said to have pushed at the national leadership for the dissolution of the zonal executive and replaced them with a caretaker committee headed by his ally, Dayo Ogungbenro.

 

Of course, the move didn’t go down well with some party chieftains, who made up their minds not to work with Ogungbenro leadership. That was where Fayose eventually stepped in to lead the onslaught against the lone governor of the party in the zone.

 

To give a positive impression of his capacity to administer the party, Ogungbenro inaugurated a reconciliation committee headed by the former Governor of Osun State, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, but the Fayose group ignored the committee and called to question the party loyalty of the chairman, Oyinlola.

 

With the assistance of four state chairmen of the party, namely, Engineer Adedeji Doherty, Hon Sikirulai Ogundele, Hon. Sunday Bisi and Chief Bisi Kolawole, representing Lagos, Ogun, Osun and Ekiti States respectively, seven out of the 12 committee members suspended Ogungbenro over allegations of negligence of duty and failure to summon executive meeting since he was appointed.

 

Upon the suspension, the seven members in the caretaker committee urged the party’s 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.

 

 

The seven 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.

 

The members also appointed Mr. Lere Olayinka, as spokesperson for the PDP in the Southwest. However, the embattled Ogungbenro described his purported suspension as the wishful thinking of those who attended the meeting, adding that, “They are wishful thinkers.

 

As far as I’m concerned, I, Dayo Ogungbenro, remain the bonafide acting Chairman of the PDP in Southwest.

 

They don’t have any authority to do that. Also reacting to the removal of Ogungbenro, Governor 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 eight. “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.”

 

 

As matters stand, the contention for the zonal leadership is between Olafeso, a former Commissioner in Ondo State, who has handled the affairs of the zone with immense capacity and loyalty over the last four years and former Oyo State Deputy Governor and Ambassador to Lebanon, Chief Taofeek Arapaja, who also ticked the box as a formidable administrator.

 

A troubled congress

With the zonal congress suffering previous postponements, the March 6 date appeared sacrosanct until the polarized and vested interests of the two opposing blocs necessitated a postponement from the party’s national body.

 

While some other zones like South- East, South-South and North-East are already through with their regional  congresses, the South-West kept its place around North-Central and North- West geopolitical zones for pending congresses.

 

Announcing a fresh date over the weekend in a letter jointly signed by the PDP national chairman, Prince Uche Secondus and the party’s national secretary,

 

Senator Umaru Tsauri, and addressed to the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, the party said the rescheduled congresses will now take place on April 10, 2021.

 

In the letter dated Wednesday March 31, 2021, the party leadership said: “Please refer to our earlier letter with Ref No: PDP/DOM/GF.2/VOL.1M/21-015, in which we informed the commission (INEC) of postponement of our planned zonal Congresses in North West, South West and North Central. “We now wish to inform the commission of the New dates for North West, South West and North Central Zones.”

 

According to the party, the congresses scheduledforSaturday, April10, 2021, hold as follows: in the North West zone, the event will hold in Kaduna, Kaduna State, whileIbadan, OyoStatewillhosttheSouth West. The Congress for North Central is billed for Makurdi, Benue State.

 

The party, however, added that all its activities “shall be in accordance with the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) Guidelines on Covid-19 as they concern social/physical distancing of people gathering in one place.”

 

Legal fireworks beckon

 

Already, some members of the NWC are not in tandem with the scheduling of the South-West congress for this Saturday, insisting that going ahead despite a court order restraining the party from conducting it pending the determination of a suit contesting the venue of the congress, may become a political albatross for the party.

 

Justice C J. Aneke of the Federal High Court, Lagos, had ruled on January 19, 2021 that status quo ante bellum be maintained pending the determination of the originating summons in the suit number FHC/L/CS/63/2021.

 

The suit was filed by some members of the South-West Zonal Caretaker Committee, seeking an order of the court directing that the zonal congress be held in Abeokuta, Ogun State. Apart from the PDP, other defendants in the suit are the National Chairman of the party, Prince Uche Secondus and National Legal Adviser, Emmanuel Enoidem.

 

The hearing of the suit, which was previously set for March 29, 2021, was rescheduled for April 16, 2021. Meanwhile, New Telegraph learnt that the party’s National Chairman, Prince Secondus, who is currently out of the country, was said to have frowned at the desperation of a few members of the NWC who were pushing for the conduct of the congress, querying what their interest was.

 

Sources within the party said he was opposed to the decision to go ahead with the congress, noting that himself, the National Secretary and National Legal Adviser who are defendants in the suit will be the ones to face contempt charge should the order be disobeyed.

 

However, it was gathered that the party’s National Organizing Secretary Colonel Austin Akobundu (Rtd), National Finance Secretary and Abdullahi Hussein Maibasira are said to be NWC members, who reportedly supported the conduct of the congress this weekend.

 

It was learnt that there is a move by some stakeholders of the party to file a court case to stop the congress as division deepens over who becomes the national vice chairman, South-West.

 

Makinde’s riot act to NWC

 

Just as he commended the party’s NWC for eventually scheduling the zonal congress for Saturday, Governor Makinde equally warned them against any attempt to shift it again, stating that it will be sign of compromised hierarchy if that ever happens. He said, “As the only serving PDP governor in the Southwest and an invested party in the PDP’s growth and development, I commend the National Working Committee (NWC) for the decision to go ahead with the Southwest Congress.

 

“I am glad that they bowed to superior reasoning regarding the congress. I am also happy that the congress will be held in Ibadan, Oyo State, in line with our party’s constitution and as stipulated in paragraph 8 (1) (g) of the Guidelines for the Conduct of Ward, LGA, State, Zonal Congresses and National Convention for the purpose of electing Party Executive Committees at all levels which was issued and signed in January 2020.

 

We look forward to hosting other members of the Southwest PDP come April 10. “However, it has come to my notice that some divisive elements within the party are trying to unduly influence party decisions on the national level. It is shameful that while the peace and reconciliation committee is going about trying to bring the party together, some people are determined to factionalise it.

 

The NWC must not reward these individuals who are working against the party’s overall interests. “I must warn that any attempt to shift the Southwest Congress’s date from April 10 is a signal that the hierarchy has been compromised.

 

Such an action would have dire consequences. For one thing, we will be forced to take all necessary measures to take back our party, “The NWC should rise to its responsibilities and prevail on the person or persons acting as clogs in the wheel of the party’s progress. Remember, the PDP is greater than any individual. We must show Nigerians that we are the real deal,” he said.

 

Four state chairmen carpet

 

Oyo gov Responding to Makinde’s statement, Chairman of the State Chairmen of the PDP in the zone, Sikirulai Ogundele, who is also Ogun State chairman of the party, said it was shocking that a man who called himself a governor could insult and threaten the custodians of the party just because they choose to obey an order of the court.

 

 

Sikirulai, who spoke on behalf of the PDP chairmen in Ekiti, Lagos and Osun States, Otunba Bisi Kolawole, Engr Adedeji Doherty and Hon Sunday Bisi respectively, said they were not surprised “because Governor Makinde has never for once been stable in the party, being a serial decampee, who only returned to the party in 2018.”

 

Thestatementread; “Wereadwithdisgust, the statement credited to Governor SeyiMakindeof OyoState, warningleaders and member of the National Working Committee (NWC) of our great party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

 

“We would have ignored his ranting as it did not come to us as a surprise because we are aware of his negotiations with the All Progressives Congress (APC) as made public by leaders of the party in Oyo State. “We are not equally surprised because Governor Makinde has never for once been stable in the party, being a serial decampee.

 

 

“There is a general saying that if there is peace in a household, it is because the bastard among the family members has not grown to adulthood. “We are, however, shocked that a man who calls himself a governor is insulting and threatening the custodians of the party just because they choose to obey an order of the court.”

 

“Who cares if he chooses to leave PDP this time too? Is he not even already a sinking ship in Oyo State, placing members of the SDP and ADC over and above those of the PDP?

 

“This is a man that has just exhibited crass indiscipline and disloyalty to the PDP by handpicking Chairmanship and Councillorship candidates, who are not registeredmembersof theparty, contrary to the PDP Constitution and Guidelines for the Primaries to strengthen the PDP internal democracy.

 

 

He has virtually destroyed the PDP in his Oyo State and he is struggling in vain to compromise the NWC not to right the wrongs on these primaries,” the chairmen said.

 

Stakeholders speak

 

A member of the South-West PDP Caretaker Committee, Chief Taiwo Kuye, said the party is in full preparation for the congress. He said he expected the NWC to allow the zone to have the congress this time around. “I believe that with the statement of His Excellency the Governor of Oyo State Eng. Seyi Makinde we believe the NWC would be more proactive in doing what is right to the teeming members of the party in the southwest.

 

“And to make sure that the congress goes as directed by the Bukola Saraki-led National Reconciliation Committee, it was the committee that recommended to the NWC to conduct the outstanding zonal congresses in southwest, northwest and north-central on April 10 before the commencement of the holy month of Ramadan on April 12,” he said. On the issue of hosting the congress in Ibadan, Chief Kuye alluded to the fact that it is constitutional to hold the congress in Ibadan, Oyo State capital.

 

According to him, the venue for the congress is not Makinde’s doing. He noted that the party’s constitution stated that all zonal congresses should be held at the capital of the headquarters of the zone and Ibadan is the headquarters of southwest PDP. “Likewise, Makurdi is the headquarters of the north-central PDP and northwest is Kaduna.

 

 

So it is constitutional. There is no ambiguity about it, no questioning and it is very constitutional that it should be held at Ibadan. You see all these people like Fayose is not needed at this party. I’m surprised why people at the national level of the party would be tolerating Fayose knowing the kind of person he is.”

 

Another chieftain of the party in Lagos State and former deputy chairman in the state, Chief Ola Apena, said he expected the congress to end the crisis and unite the party in the zone.

 

He insisted that hosting the congress in Ibadan would give Governor Makinde added advantage. He said the norm in the party is that the most senior governor of the party in the zone is the leader of the party. “And that is where we normally host the congress.

 

When Mimiko was the most senior governor, we held it in Akure, when Fayose was the most senior we held it in Ekiti. So I don’t know how the venue confers any advantage because the offices are already zoned. We have three zones in the southwest, Lagos-Ogun Zone; Oyo-Osun Zone and Ekiti-Ondo Zone. “So that is how it is.

 

And these positions are already micro-zoned even among two states that make up one zone. We have already done which position would come to Lagos and which one to Ogun. It is based on this zoning that the forms were given out and as a result, I do not see the advantage it will confer on Makinde,” he said.

 

The party chieftain regretted that the problem in the zone is that there are some mischief makers who are bent on destroying the party in the southwest. He pointed out the former governor of Ekiti State is one of those causing division in the party.

 

“Fayose was respected as the leader of the party when he was the only governor but today he does not want to extend that courtesy and respect to the man that is there now claiming that he was in primary school when he was this and that. He was in primary school too when some people were governor and they are still in the party.

 

“So for me, I don’t think they are doing the bidding of the position because I cannot fathom somebody claiming to be a leader of PDP and campaigning for the presidential aspiration of a man in another rival party. For me, I’m beginning to have a feeling that Fayose and his cohorts are just trying to destabilize the party so that we will not be strong opposition to the ruling party in the southwest. I hope my think is not in tandem with what they are doing but that is what I feel.”

 

However, speaking to New Telegraph, Lere Olayinka, warned against holding the congress against a subsisting court order, adding that the outcome of deliberately ignoring a court injunction may not be palatable for the party.

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