The political fortunes of the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) in Ogun State has been badly battered over the years because of the internal crisis within the fold.
The party wants to use tomorrow’s local government elections in the state as a dress rehearsal to prepare for the next general elections. The party executives are struggling to manage the aspirations of different interests within the chapter, to prevent them from undermining its chances in the election.
The party has been trying to put its house in order since the Bukola Saraki-led committee brokered a peace deal between the warring factions a few months ago. Since it lost power to the All Progressives Congress (APC) about 10 years ago, the party has been experiencing one crisis or the other each time election draws near. The latest struggle has been mainly between factions loyal to the late Senator Buruji Kashamu and former member of the House of Representatives, Oladipupo Adebutu.
They have been at loggerheads over the control of the party structure. The death of Kashamu last year, due to complications from the Coronavirus pandemic, has brought in its wake a struggle to take control of his structures among his followers. The faction loyal to Adebutu is equally interested in taking over the late Kashamu’s political empire.
A similar struggle for supremacy between the two factions overshadowed the preparations for the last general elections; the party had two governorship candidates. The PDP national leadership did not help matters; its decision to side with the Kashamu faction further protracted the crisis. At the end of the day, when it became obvious that was not in serious contention for the governorship, the two factions were compelled to back one party or the other.
While the Buruji camp supported the candidature of the APC candidate who eventually won the election, Adebutu and his supporters aligned with Ibikunke Amosun’s anointed candidate, Adekunle Akinlade who contested on the platform of the Allied Peoples’ Movement (APM).
After Buruji died last August, observers had predicted a return of peace to the group, but emerging development thereafter proved otherwise. In fact, it appeared as if the Buruji group was badly hit, as some of its loyalists changed camp. But, some have vowed to continue the struggle. Their stance, observers insist, has continued to threaten peaceful co-existence within the PDP.
But, miffed by the unsavoury development, the national leadership has decided to forestall further disintegration within Ogun PDP. Hence, it has set up a reconciliation committee led by the immediate past Senate President, Saraki.
In March, the Saraki-led Reconciliation and Strategy Committee announced a breakthrough in its efforts to reconcile feuding factions in Ogun State. It said efforts to resolve the over 10-year-long political feud was believed to have yielded fruit after both parties shook hands and agreed to work together to reposition the party. A statement titled, ‘Buruji Kashamu, Adebutu Groups in PDP Reconcile’, was signed by the Secretary of the Committee, Linus Okorie
It was clearly stated that both parties have resolved to work together and withdraw all cases pending in court. The two groups also agreed that the PDP remains the best platform through which the unity and development of Nigeria can be achieved, sustained and guaranteed. They signed an agreement to that effect.
But, in spite of the well-publicized reconciliatory deal, observers believe the rivalry within the party is far from over. Indeed, many have ascribed the abysmal performance of the party in the last three general elections to the crisis of supremacy between the factions in the party.
With the current turn of events, observers say the efforts of the Saraki-led committee to unite the two factions have not yielded the desired result, as the two groups have renewed their rivalry, as preparations for tomorrow’s election got underway.
For instance, two factions are battling for the recognition of the Ogun State Independent Electoral Commission (OGSIEC). A chieftain of the party, Akinloye Bankole, said the OGSIEC erred by giving forms to one Leke Shittu, a loyalist of the late Kashamu. But, the commission chairman, Babatunde Osibodu, said he does not recognise anybody other than officials of the political parties.
Osibodu said he had met and discussed with the various factions of the part. And that the commission has been able to identify the authentic faction based on the documents provided. Osibodu who made the remark on a live radio programme said: “The spokesman of the PDP in Ogun State, Akinloye Bankole, had earlier raised the alarm that the OGSIEC had given forms to one Leke Shittu, a loyalist of the late Senator Buruji Kashamu.”
Osibodu said he does not recognise anybody other than officials of the political parties. He said he had met and discussed with the various factions and that the commission has been able to identify the authentic faction based on the documents provided.
The OGSIEC chairman said no faction was recognised. His words: “I do not recognise anyone called Buruji Kashamu or any other name, other than the officials of political parties. Factions have come, they have given us their documents; we have discussed with them and we have taken a decision that this is the one that is the authentic faction and we have indeed given our nod to the authentic group; meaning that we have accorded them recognition. Other than that, I really can’t say anything.”
Although Osibodu did not reveal which of the factions he recognizes, sources within the party have indicated that the commission has been meddling in their party affairs and recognised disgruntled members of the party. Osibodu said the court case has nothing to do with OGSIEC’s preparation for the election and, therefore, all hands are on deck to have a hitch-free election.
He denied allegation of recognizing the Kashamu faction, saying the two groups brought documents to him and he chose the one he believes is the authentic one from the point of view of the law. He said: “The law is that you must be in substantial compliance with the law and as long as you fully comply with the law, then you are good to go. We believe we are in substantial compliance in every matter, as far as this election is concerned.”
He said arrangements have been made to guarantee security during the election.
The chairman of the Adebutu faction, Sikirullahi Ogundele said he does not see the need for the government to go ahead with the election tomorrow. This is because the whole arrangement falls short of what is required.
Ogundele said: “The point is, an election has to go through some processes like the release of a list of candidates, display of voters’ register etc. As we speak, we do not know the names of the candidates and there are a lot of issues in court.”
To him, OGSIEC is not independent, as it is being manipulated by the government to suit its purpose.
He said: “One, members of the OGSIEC are appointed by a party to that election and he who pays the piper, dictates the tune. There is interference in the affairs of our party by the Ogun State government through OGSIEC and this creating unnecessary tension in our party.
“Yes, we had differences but which have since been settled. But, it (OGSIEC) is now coming with their mischievous intention to recognize an individual. For that reason, we have sued OGSIEC and we are hopeful that the court will decide in our favour. It is public knowledge that there is consent judgment, but it is unfortunate that Osibodu could not interpret that simple verdict.”
Ogundele said his group, which is the mainstream of PDP, has petitioned the National Judicial Council (NJC) and the Nigerian Bar Association over the matter.
But Shittu, a PDP stalwart, whose faction was recognised by OGSIEC said preparations for the election were at the top gear. He added that OGSIEC recognised his faction and that the list of the candidates in the 20 local government areas is out. But, he maintained that the infractions within the party will not affect its chances of winning at the polls.
He said: “The fact that some people are disgruntled within the party for one reason or the other would not affect our chances. Are we not all PDP members? The fact that there is a rift within the party does not stop us from doing what we should do as a party. Whatever the issue, we can always settle our differences, as it is not a new thing to have a disagreement in a family.
He said OGSIEC recognized the Adebutu faction during the last time local government elections were held and that as faithful party members, they all went out to vote for the PDP. He urged all party members to exercise caution and work towards ensuring that the party records a landslide victory tomorrow.