With leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) holding series of meeting during the week to put finishing touches to plans for the party’s national convention expected to hold either next month or later in the year, stakeholders in the southwest zone of the party are now holding divergent opinion over who, among the aspirants from the zone, should be supported for the national chairmanship position.
This is just as another school of thought within the zone is of the opinion that the southwest should jettison the chairmanship slot for the 2023 Vice Presidential ticket of the PDP.
The Nation gathered that the current situation within the party in the zone is gradually generating a lot of bad that observers fear may lead to another round of confrontations among leaders and chieftains of the party in the southwest. According to very reliable party sources, external interferences from PDP leaders and chieftains outside the southwest is not helping matters as the various chairmanship hopefuls from the southwest intensify their struggle for both local and external endorsements ahead of the 2021 national convention.
Amidst insinuations that it may zone the national chairmanship slot to the southwest, the PDP zoning committee, presided over by the Enugu State Governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, met on Thursday. The party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) had at its 93rd meeting constituted the 45-member committee to decide on the zoning of all offices of the NWC. While it appears the opposition party is set to compensate the southwest for the alleged ill-treatment it received in 2017 in its quest for the national chairmanship seat, renewed wrangling and intrigues within the party signal a zone that is not in agreement over the matter.
Still a divided house
The Nation gathered that all efforts by various stakeholders to get the PDP in the zone to adopt a consensus candidate ahead of the convention have failed as the aspirants and their supporters refused to budge. “All of them are claiming to have the backings and supports of some party bigwigs outside the southwest. Most of them are unwilling to subsume their ambition under the general interest of the party in the zone. It is not true that no effort is being made to address the worrisome disunity with which we are approaching the contest,” a party leader from Oyo state told our correspondent.
Findings also revealed that party leaders like Chief Ebenezer Babatope had called on PDP chieftains in the zone to avoid a repeat of what befell them in 2017 by uniting behind a formidable candidate instead of presenting multiple candidates for the position of national chairmanship at the convention. “Chief Babatope specifically warned that the slot my not at the end of the day, be zoned exclusively to the southwest. He suggested an arrangement that will enable party chieftains in the zone to decide on who should be the candidate ahead of the convention,’ our source, who is a zonal party official, said.
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Another PDP chieftain, who spoke in confidence, told The Nation that the Southwest caucus is working hard to put its house in order so as to ensure a victorious outing. He however laments that the reconciliation efforts embarked upon by the Taofeek Arapaja-led zonal leadership appear to have suffered some setbacks since the scramble for the national chairmanship position by some eminent PDP chieftains in the zone started. “I am saying it is not true that we are not working on reconciliation. Immediately we were sworn in, we started reaching out to those aggrieved. We worked hard and we were seeing results.
“But since this struggle for national chairmanship or Vice Presidential ticket started, the party has been thrown into a fresh, more complicated confusion. I can tell you for free that you cannot even say for sure who is with who, or who is where. The camps have further been broken down and there have been a lot of realignments. A good example is the current situation between Governor Seyi Makinde and Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola. They are currently not on the same page as far as the national chairmanship position is concerned. Don’t forget that they were in the same camp all along before now,” our source added.
Just as indications emerged that Governor Makinde may have joined the camp promoting the chairmanship aspiration of the former governorship candidate of the party in Ondo State, Mr. Eyitayo Jegede (SAN), some of his well-known political allies within the southwest zone are rooting for some other candidates. Party sources claimed during the week that the Oyo state governor has agreed to join the likes of Vice President Atiku Abubakar to see to the emergence of Jegede as PDP’s national chairman at the convention. The Nation gathered that the development is the outcome of a series of negotiations.
But former Ekiti State governor, Segun Oni, said PDP leaders and chieftains in the southwest zone were solidly behind Oyinlola in his quest for the PDP national chairmanship position. “The person that all of us are setting our eyes on is Prince Oyinlola, and he has not yet told us that he’s not going to do it. That’s the man we all want to support for the position of national chairman,” Oni said. Checks by The Nation revealed that the leadership of the party is now divided over the candidacies of Jegede and Oyinlola. Similarly, the state chapter chairmen in the zone are also said to be in disagreement over the same issue.
“As we speak today, the zonal leadership is unable to speak with one voice on the matter because both Jegede and Oyinlola boast of supporters among us. We are waiting for our leaders in the zone to wade in and resolve the issue amicably so that we all can line up behind one person at the convention. Though Governor Makinde remains the leader of the PDP in the southwest, both Oyinlola and Jegede are not politicians you can push over. So, it is understandable that the situation is as it is. Even in the various states, the state chairmen are hoping to be able to speak in one accord very soon,” our source said.
Introducing another dimension to the looming crisis, Dr. Eddy Olafeso, immediate past PDP national vice chairman, said the zone is divided into three political zones, which are Ekiti/Ondo Zone, Oyo/Osun Zone and Lagos/Ogun Zone. “Oyo/Osun zone cannot contest for the national chairmanship because it has already picked one of the three positions of theNWC that is the national vice chairman, which I contested for, but lost to the former Deputy Governor of Oyo State, Taofik Arapaja. So, Osun and Oyo states are out of the picture. If the chairmanship is coming to the South West, it would be contested by Lagos/Ogun.”
Simply put, Olafeso, an ally of former Ekiti governor, Ayo Fayose, is saying Oyinlola cannot be the candidate of the zone for the national chairmanship. “If we must go by the principles of equity and justice, Ondo/Ekiti and Lagos/Ogun should present candidates for the position if it is eventually zoned to the South West,” he added.
Aside Jegede and Oyinlola, others being named in the struggle for the national chairmanship position of the PDP from the southwest include former Deputy National Chairman, Chief Olabode George, immediate past governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose, and two-time Lagos Governorship Candidate, Mr. Jimi Agbaje. “I understand there are other people interested in the position. They are also eligible and competent. But wherever the South-West goes is where I will go. I will follow the South-West. “Wherever the Yoruba go when the chairmanship position of our party is zoned to the South-West is where I will go. It will not be a do-or-die affair. That’s all I can say for now,” Fayose had said while responding to a question about his rumoured ambition.
But as the countdown to the October 2021 National Convention for the election of new members of the National Working Committee (NWC) continues, some stalwarts within the party are said to be insisting that the zone should forget about the national chairmanship and show serious interest in producing either the presidential candidate or the running mate. A source told The Nation that ex-governor Fayose is one of those promoting the agitation for the zone to reject the national chairmanship slot if it is exclusively zoned to it.
Factional chairman of the party in Lagos State, Deji Doherty, is not hiding his preference for the presidential ticket as against the ongoing clamour for the position of national chairman. “The zone should leave the chairmanship position to the South East, or South-South. We should fight at the national convention, and at the committee, level to get the number two position in the country. That is my own candid position. It is the right time that the PDP should provide a South West vice president. The president in APC is from the North and the vice president is from the South West,” he explained.
Speaking emphatically on what should be the position of the party on the matter as the convention draws nearer, Doherty said, “If we are going to zone the president to the North for the first time in the history of the PDP, we should have a South West vice president. Everything is tilting towards that end, and for me, I am looking at a situation whereby the zone gets the slot of vice president.” Not a few people are saying the Lagos PDP chieftain may have spoken the mind of the Fayose camp, given his prominence as one of its leaders in the southwest.