Politics

South-West PDP’s leadership tussle pits Fayose against Makinde, George

South-West Nigeria witnessed what political pundits described as a political tsunami in the first quarter of 2003 when in what appeared to be an unprecedented realignment of political forces, the dominance of the then largely regional party, the Alliance for Democracy, was brought to an abrupt end with the sweeping victory of the Peoples Democratic Party, which was the then ruling party at the federal level.

A retired Nigerian Navy Commodore and former Ondo State Military Governor, Chief Olabode George, at some point was the National Vice Chairman (South-West) and later Deputy National Chairman (South) of the PDP. Working with the like of the late Chief Sunday Afolabi, who served as Minister of Internal Affairs under Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and the late Chief Lamidi Adedibu, with the alleged connivance of the then Inspector-General of Police, Tafa Balogun, executed the political coup which aligned the traditional stronghold of opposition politics with the centre for the first time since independence.  Only Lagos, with Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu as governor, withstood the storm.

But since falling out of favour with ex-President Obasanjo, George has struggled to maintain relevance in the raging political sea which South-West politics has become. On a number of occasions, George tried but failed in the task to win Lagos for the PDP. Internal strife over party tickets has contributed in no small measure to the inability of the party to produce a governor in the state.

In the build-up to the 2007 elections, George and his supporters rooted for Mrs. Hilda Williams, wife of the late Funsho Williams, a move which Senator Musiliu Obanikoro opposed. Obanikoro won the PDP primary but lost the governorship election to Babatunde Fashola (SAN).  Obanikoro and George were at it again in 2015 when George gave preference to Jimi Agbaje when Obanikoro felt he was the better candidate. Obanikoro, who was the Minister of State for Defence, had barely a year earlier worked with others to win Ekiti for the PDP and install Ayodele Fayose as governor. Little wonder Fayose recently called for the retirement of George from politics.

He was recently quoted as saying: “It is high time Bode George is told to go and retire. Let him be a support stand for younger ones in the party (sic).”

With George largely quiet, Fayose has also picked on the Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde, who is the only PDP governor in the South-West and his main challenger in the quest for recognition as the party’s leader in the zone.

Member of the House of Representatives representing Obokun/Oriade Federal Constituency of Osun State, Wole Oke, while speaking on the issue, said, “By convention and practices of the PDP, Makinde, who is the only PDP governor in the South-West is the leader of the zone and no loyal, committed member of the PDP family should challenge the noble arrangement in the overall interest of the party, except for selfish interests.”

In recognition of this, the Uche Secondus-led National Working Committee of the PDP appointed Makinde to lead reconciliation efforts in the zone.

However, Makinde’s peace efforts, especially in Ekiti State, didn’t sit well with Fayose. Fayose’s supporters and those of Senator Biodun Olujimi held parallel congresses and elected separate state executives.

The fallout of the 2018 Ekiti State PDP governorship primary, which threw up the then deputy Governor, Prof. Kolapo Olusola, as the party’s candidate and the struggle for the 2022 governorship ticket, is believed to be the root cause of the current crisis.

Fayose has insisted that the zonal leadership of the party should not interfere with the structure of state chapters.

After a meeting with national delegates, including state party chairmen in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, in September, Fayose was unequivocal in his comments about the existing tension.

He said, “There has been a reasonable cold war of who and who becomes the executive of the zone. Governor Makinde has demanded that the zonal executive be sacked and a caretaker be fostered in 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. Nobody should come to 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 (sic).”

In the same vein, some South-West leaders of the party, including state chairmen under Fayose’s guidance, issued a communiqué in which they resolved that no state in the zone should be governed by another.

The communiqué read in part, “…it must also be noted that the leadership of His Excellency, Governor Seyi Makinde is not in question.

“It must be noted that each state has its own leaders as politics is local and its leadership structure must be respected, but no state is ruled or governed by another.

“It has been established and a decision is taken that the existing zoning formula in the zone for the zonal executives of the party should not be tampered with.

“Our position is that any other formula for the zone in the South-West will not be acceptable to us.

“We use this opportunity to let the National Working Committee know that it is nothing but free, fair, transparent and no violent congress is what is acceptable to us and we are ready to comply with all legitimate processes to determine the outcome of the zonal congress.

“The Eddy Olafeso-led zonal executive only spent two years from November 2017 till date; it should be allowed to complete the very credible job they’ve commenced in the South-West. The team must be allowed to complete its tenure.

“We reject any style of leadership that does not respect democratic norms. Everybody must be carried along for the sake of equity and fairness.”

In another move considered by many as an affront, Fayose led some state chairmen of the party to a private meeting with Secondus in his Abuja residence and later tweeted about it, with accompanying pictures. State chairmen, who accompanied Fayose to the meeting, were those of Lagos, Ogun, Osun and the leader of the faction of the Ekiti State chapter of the party loyal to him.

A party leader who pleaded anonymity so as “not to derail the peace process,” said, “What our national chairman unwittingly did by granting audience to the group without Makinde’s knowledge is to align with the former governor to further diminish our party’s influence in the South-West. It was the party that gave Makinde the task of reconciling members in the zone, in what capacity did Fayose lead state party chairmen to hold this meeting?’’

The PDP South-West caucus in the National Assembly, which consists of all elected members of the party in the Senate and the House of Representatives, did not hide their displeasure at the development.

In recognition of alleged moves to undermine Makinde’s leadership position, the caucus met and re-issued the communiqué of an earlier meeting held on August 26, 2020. In it, they warned the NWC against taking a position about the party’s affairs in the zone without recourse to Makinde, who they noted as the zonal leader of the party.

A communiqué issued by the caucus read: “At a meeting of the National Assembly Caucus of our party, the PDP, held in Abuja on the 26th of August, 2020 the following decisions were unanimously adopted.

“That the leader of the party in the zone is the Governor of Oyo State, Seyi Makinde, that all PDP issues in the Zone must be channelled through him as our leader in the South-West Zone, that all elected members from the zone are solidly behind him, that the National Working Committee should take note and act accordingly.”

The communiqué also read, “All leaders and members of the party in the zone are hereby enjoined to team up with the leader in his efforts at re-positioning the party for more electoral successes in the zone.” The resolution was signed by Senator Ayo Akinyelure, Senator Kola Balogun, and Oluwole Oke, among others.

Amidst the tension, yet-to-be identified hoodlums removed Fayose’s cap during the grand finale of the Ondo State PDP governorship campaign. The former governor accused Makinde and George of being the brains behind it, an allegation Makinde’s Chief Press Secretary, Taiwo Adisa, dismissed. Some pundits have attributed PDP’s inability to replicate its victory in the Edo State governorship election in the just concluded Ondo State election to disagreements among party leaders over strategy. Many also agree that unless the party gets its acts together, electoral victory for the party in the zone in 2023 might be a mirage.

Chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees, Senator Walid Jubin, has however, been optimistic that current reconciliatory efforts will yield the desired results nationwide. He described the PDP “as a family” where disagreements are bound to occur but where at the end of the day, the family will come out stronger.

Source: punchng.com