With a few days to the national convention of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, the leadership of the party still appears to be divided over its choice candidate for the chairmanship post, in spite of the agreement reached to zone the office to the South-west zone.
Locked in the supremacy battle, THISDAY gathered, are two groups comprising the governors of the party, on one side, and the elders of the party, in another camp.
While the governors, according to sources, prefer a younger Jimi Agbaje, the party’s governorship candidate in Lagos in the 2015 elections, because of his integrity and cosmopolitan disposition, the elders, made up of mostly PDP founding fathers are said to prefer an older person – Chief Olabode George, a former Deputy National Chairman of the PDP – due to his experience, which he can bring to bear in running the affairs of the party.
This is however coming at a time the South-west leadership of the party, at a meeting in Ibadan, Oyo State, yesterday disowned the consensus deal brokered by Governors Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo State and his Ekiti State counterpart, Ayodele Fayose, in Akure, the Ondo State capital on Monday, which settled for George as the zonal consensus candidate.
The South-west executive committee declared that the office was still open to all from the zone without prejudice.
However, the Lagos PDP Stakeholders group threw its weight behind George, describing him as the most experienced and dynamic of the candidates. This, they claimed, followed the decision of the South-west PDP to present a consensus candidate for the office of chairman.
THISDAY gathered from party sources that the reason the governors prefer Agbaje is because he is seen as someone they can relate with, the absence of any baggage, and someone who will do a good job of cleaning up the party’s image deficit.
Although party sources who spoke to THISDAY also claimed that the governors’ support for Agbaje may not be unconnected to the search for a candidate that might be more malleable, they added that the governors have resolved to back someone who they can work with.
The governors’ preference for Agbaje also stems from their concern over the public perception of George, who was incarcerated by a Federal High Court on allegations of “contract splitting” during his tenure as Chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA). A Supreme Court was later to upturn the decision of the lower court after George had served his prison sentence.
But other stakeholders of the party, comprising mostly its elders, are gunning for George, not only because they see him as a steady hand and one of them, but also because he is seen as one who has the resolve to confront the excesses of other contending forces within the PDP.
For them, their opposition to Agbaje also stems from the fact that he is considered too much of a gentleman, alluding to how he freely dropped his battle for the Lagos governorship without putting up much of a fight.
As a result, they are said to doubt his capacity to lead the party to victory, saying “if he could not win Lagos for himself, then, he cannot win the national election for them”, adding that his disposition over the years has shown that he is not a team player.
Aspirants for Other Offices Emerge
But as the battle among the contending forces gathers momentum over the national chairmanship of the party, THISDAY also learnt that other equally crucial positions might have been resolved in other parts of the country where they have been zoned.
For instance, the office of the national secretary, sources said, had already been settled and the man up for the seat is Senator Ibrahim Ida, a seasoned technocrat from the North-west.
Although, there are other candidates angling for the office, sources said the leadership in that region has settled for Ida and the situation may not change.
For the post of deputy national chairman of the party, which has been zoned to South-south, the party has also settled for Chief Uche Secondus, the immediate past acting national chairman of the PDP, who handed the leadership to the embattled chairman, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff.
In the same vein, the office of the national organising secretary, which was zoned to the South-east, sources hinted, has been conceded to Col. Augustine Akobundu, nearly unopposed. According to sources, Akobundu’s position is about the only office that is not being contested by someone else.
S’West PDP Rejects Consensus Arrangement
Unfortunately for George, the outcome of the Ibadan meeting held yesterday by the Makanjuola Ogundipe-led executive of the party in South-west might have thrown a spanner in the works for him.
Following an emergency zonal meeting at the party’s office in Bodija, Ibadan, the South-west PDP said the position adopted by those who gathered at the Akure meeting on Monday was null and void because it ran foul of the PDP constitution on who has the power to convene any zonal meeting.
Ogundipe, flanked by Chief Pegba Otemolu and Prince Adekola Rasaq, the zonal secretary and auditor, respectively, maintained that the office of the national chairman was open to all contestants from the six states in the zone.
Reading out from the position paper at the extraordinary meeting of the constitutionally elected and legally confirmed South-west zonal executive committee (2014-2018), the party leaders said they acknowledged the hard work of the National Caretaker Committee of the party under Senator Ahmed Makarfi for his unwavering stand on party discipline, internal democracy, and more importantly eradication of impunity in the polity.
They also congratulated the zone for the opportunity to present a candidate for the office of the national chairman already zoned to it, stressing: “You will all agree with our zonal executive committee that this position (National Chairman) belongs to our zone that is made up of six states.
“Therefore, each state should be given the opportunity to either present a viable aspirant or have a say in the form of an internal arrangement.”
The zone, in a statement jointly signed by Ogundipe and Otemolu, however, lauded Fayose and Mimiko, as well as Senator Buruji Kashamu, for their efforts at ensuring the unity, stability, peace and oneness of the PDP, even as it prayed for a successful national convention.
However, rising from a meeting in Lagos yesterday, the Stakeholders Forum, in a statement read by its chairman, Chief Philips Aivoji, a former commissioner in the state, stated that the emergence of the “undisputed consensus candidate (George) of our party was based largely on his stability of purpose, his undying presence, his courage, his expertise, his loyalty, his consistency, his strong national network, his maturity and his rich experience in party management and administration”.
It added: “At the end of the deliberations, the resolve was apparent, clear and unambiguous. From Chief Yekini Adeojo to Erelu Obada, Senator Iyiola Omisore, Senator Teslim Folarin, Chief Oyedokun, Ebenezer Babatope and Senator Kofo Bucknor, everyone agreed that our candidate is the best and the most experienced candidate among the field of aspirants.”
While disclosing that a five-man reconciliation committee had been set up to bring back aggrieved members in the zone, the group pleaded for the understanding of the other contestants who lost to the consensus candidate.
Aivoji announced the committee members to include Alhaji Yekini Adeojo, Dr. Olu Alabi, Senator Bucknor Akerele, Chief Eddy Olafeso and Chief Salimot Badru.
He said an olive branch had been extended to all by the candidate, whom he said would be unveiled today.
“We appeal to Prof. Tunde Adeniran, Prof. Toaheed Adedoja, Mr. Jimitota Agbaje and Mr. Gbenga Daniel to please respect the wishes of our leaders in the South-west and quickly rally round our candidate.”
Agbaje Still in Contention
The consensus arrangement, notwithstanding, Agbaje has not given up on his desire to lead the party and pledged yesterday to lead it back to power in 2019 if he emerges national chairman of the PDP.
Agbaje, who picked his form to contest for the chairmanship position of the party at the temporary PDP headquarters, also promised to unite the party if given the opportunity and canvassed for a level playing field for all aspirants.
When asked how he would contest against George, one of his political benefactors, he replied that that would be addressed in house.
“We accept that mistakes were made in the past in the PDP, especially with our internal democracy. So we have to go back to the position of the founding fathers of our party on internal democracy.
“And that means is that we have to go back to our constitution. That is very important. We have to be all-inclusive as we have been thus far. It is about bringing people nearer rather than sending them far away from the party. Everybody must feel like they are part of this party.
“So what I bring to the table is that I am not a member of any faction or any tendencies. I am in a position to talk to everybody, to ensure as you love the PDP, then it is time to come back to the zone.
“And I appeal to those who feel very strongly to join us, because Nigeria cannot make the progress it deserves without a viable opposition and PDP is going to provide that opposition as an alternative government and in a responsible manner,” he said.
Speaking on the zoning within the party, he said: “We must understand what is playing out. The party is very clear, what the party zoned is the national chairmanship to the South. It is the south on its own now that is running to see if it can get some measure of consensus.
“It is already very difficult to get consensus under circumstances where everybody feels that he is qualified. The beauty of democracy is that you must be able, and shouldn’t be afraid to contest,” he said.
Sheriff Speaks on Rift
Meanwhile, the peace committee set up by the Board of Trustees of the PDP, led by Prof. Jerry Gana, met with the embittered former national chairman of the party, Senator Sheriff, at his office in Maitama, Abuja yesterday.
The meeting which started at about 9 p.m., saw both sides, Sheriff’s group and the BoT peace committee, opening up on the crisis that has bedeviled the party in the past few months.
The meeting first had an open session before the leaders went into a closed-door session that stretched deep into the night.
The leader of the peace committee and one of the founding fathers of the party, Prof. Gana, said that they had come to explore avenues for lasting peace in the party.
He said the party has mandated them to reach out to Sheriff and to discuss peaceful ways of resolving the conflict that has threatened to dismember the once vibrant party.
“We are here because we mean well. We want to seek ways of resolving the problems facing the party in an atmosphere of brotherly love and understanding,” he said.
It was all smiles and exchange of banter among those present who acted like nothing was amiss.
However, it was Sheriff who opened up on his ill-feelings, which he said had to do with the attempt to re-enact the inglorious days of impunity in the party’s affairs.
Sheriff told the peace delegation that he was never desperate to become the national chairman of the PDP, but that some of the leaders of the party were the ones who pleaded with him to come and help reposition the party.
“I want to put it on the record that I never asked or wanted to be the chairman of the PDP, some people simply asked me to come and put the party back together,” he said.
Sheriff also said that there is a lot of misinformation being peddled around about him with regards to his role in the PDP crisis.
He promised to talk to the peace team during the closed-door session on some of the contending issues and what he felt went wrong, and how it could be remedied.
“Most of the problems we are facing today, if our leaders had taken up their responsibilities, we will never have had this problem. Some us here are part of the problem.
“People want to use one impunity to correct another impunity and that is the problem we are having,” he said.
The meeting was still in progress at press time.
Among those at the meeting were Senator Stella Omu, Fiedelia Njezie, Senator Olujimi, Chief Okwesilieze Nwodo, Senator Idah and Bode Olajumoke.
But even as there was some glimmer of hope that Sheriff may shift grounds after meeting with the BoT peace committee, the former Borno State governor still spoke defiantly against the continued existence of the National Caretaker Committee led by Makarfi.
Earlier in the day, he told the Edo State women’s delegation that came on a courtesy call that as far as he was concerned the PDP governorship candidate for Edo State remains Matthew Idurioyekemwen.
He described the Edo governorship candidate of the Makarfi-led caretaker committee, Mr. Osagie Ize-Iyamu, as an illegality that will never stand.
Sheriff jokingly said that since Ize-Iyamu is a member of the PDP, he is free to campaign for Idurioyekemwen.
“If Pastor Ize-Iyamu likes, let him campaign from now to a thousand years to come, the governorship candidate for Edo State is Matthew Iduoriyekemwen; nothing can stand on nothing.
“There is no basis for his candidacy. He cannot come from a non-existent caretaker committee and rush to say I’ve come to become a governorship candidate of the PDP.
“I always laugh when I see Pastor Ize- Iyamu saying he is the candidate of PDP in Edo. I say if this man knows, he should keep his savings and stop wasting his time because he is working for Matthew Iduoriyekemwen,” he said.
He said he would wait for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to release the list of Edo governorship candidates to lead the campaign for his candidate.