By Ismail Omipidan and Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja

The 2017 Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) National Convention has come and gone. The epic contest for party positions won and lost. However, the story of what happened at the convention will be a subject of discourse for several months to come.

 At the commencement of the campaigns for the party’s convention, it was taken for granted that the south- west geo-political zone would produce the new chairman of the party. The reason for this expectation was not far-fetched. The zone is yet to produce an occupant for the much coveted position. Besides, since the south-east has had its turn and the south-south was just leaving the presidency, the PDP leaders in the south west believe that as a matter of right, the chairmanship of the opposition party should be ceded to them.

 Stakeholders from other parts of the country, especially the northern caucus of the party, believe so too. Two weeks to the convention, the PDP Northern Elders and Leaders Forum, drawn from the 19 northern states at the end of its meeting in Abuja, openly declared support for South West zone, insisting that it should produce the party’s chairman.

Ironically, at about the same time, another group from the north after weighing the dangers of allowing the zone to produce the chairman, vis-a-vis the crisis in the zone, coupled with the fact that the zone was unwilling to reach a consensus on who among the seven aspirants from the zone should be put forward, decided to pitch tent with the south- south so as to ensure that Prince Uche Secondus emerges the chairman.

  “One of the factors that worked against the south west is the crisis in that zone. It will be dangerous to play into the hands of the ruling party. They could use any of our dissident members to drag us back through the various cases in court in the zone, “ one of the party chieftains told Daily Sun.

 “Barely four days to our convention, there was another court pronouncement over the leadership tussle in the zone. Now, it may get to the Supreme Court. So, we are afraid of witnessing another (former Osun State governor, Olagunsoye) Oyinlola scenario, where the court nullified his election as national secretary of the party in 2013. You know it was the South-west zonal leadership crisis that led to Oyinlola’s ouster.

“So, just imagine the collateral damage it will have on us if we witness such a thing in 2018? To play safe, we are looking the way of the South-south. Please, no one should blame us for taking this position, it is in the best interest of our great party and that of the country,” a member of the party’s Board of Trustees (BoT) from the north told Daily Sun.

  And as if to confirm their fears, barely two weeks after the party’s convention, the Adebayo Dayo-led executive committee of the Ogun State chapter, dragged the national executive to the Federal High Court, Abuja, challenging its powers to dissolve the committee.

The suit, which was instituted by Chief Adebayo Dayo and Semiu Sodipo on behalf of themselves and the Ogun State Executive committee of the PDP are also praying the court to replace Elder Yemi Akinwonmi, who was elected Deputy National Chairman (South) of the party at its National Convention on December 9, with Mr. Segun Seriki.

 Similarly, Chief Pegba Otemolu is also challenging the use of persons who emerged from the congresses held in Ogun State on October 21 and 28 as well as November 4, 2017 as delegates to the national convention of the party on December 9.

Otemolu, who instituted the suit on his behalf and on behalf of the South West Zonal Executive of the PDP, is praying the court to nullify the election of Mr. Aribisala Adewale as the National Treasurer and Mr. Diran Odeyemi as the Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the PDP and asks the court to replace them respectively with Chief Folorunsho Babalola and Mr Bamidele Salam.

Interestingly, prior to the botched elective convention of the PDP in May last year, stakeholders from across the country were unanimous in their views that the chairmanship of the party should go to the south west. However, the zoning committee headed by Akwa Ibom State governor zoned the position to the north east, where the then chairman, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff hails from. 

In a twist of events however, the PDP governors moved against Sheriff at the May convention, sacking him as national chairman, following revelations that he was not sincere in his dealings with the party leaders, especially the governors, elected o the platform of the party. At the rescheduled national convention held in August 2016, which was also held in Port Harcourt, the power brokers in the party settled for Lagos State PDP 2015 governorship candidate, Mr Jimi Agbaje for the chairmanship seat.

 Again, like the May convention, the rescheduled convention was scuttled by a court judgement. Daily Sun gathered that in the aftermath of that botched Port Harcourt convention, PDP purportedly met and agreed to micro-zone the position to south west.

Armed with that purported agreement the leaders of the opposition party in the zone went to sleep. But when the whistle for the contest was blown, seven candidates indicated interest, with each believing he was the best man for the job.

 The chairmabship aspirants from South west  included former PDP deputy national chairman, Chief Olabode George; former Education minister , Professor Tunde Adeniran; former Minister of Sports and Youth Development, Professor Taoheed Adedoja; former Ogun State governor, Otunba Gbenga Daniel; former Oyo State governor, Senator Rashidi Ladoja, 2015 PDP governorship candidate, Mr Jimi Agbaje and one Aderemi Olusegun.

Apart from the South west contestants, Prince Uche Secondus and former chairman of Daar Communications, Chief Raymond Dokpesi were also in the contest. Secondus and Dokpesi are from South South geo-political zone.

All efforts to get the zone to agree to a consensus candidate from among them was unsuccessful. Adedoja in a telephone interview with Daily Sun had flatly rejected the consensus option, saying that it was those afraid of a contest that was behind the idea.

Also, Adeniran, who spoke through the Director General of his campaign team, Shehu Gabam, also said he was not interested in any consensus arrangement. The former minister said he would prefer a situation where aspirant would withdraw from the chairmanship race on their own volition.

 How South-west played itself out

 Rather than work towards presenting a consensus candidate from the zone, key stakeholders from the area mounted pressure on the immediate past leadership of the party, albeit unsuccessfully, to ensure a micro-zoning of the chairmanship position to their zone. 

It was not until few days to the convention that the south west aspirants started thinking of forging a common front on the contest, by which time positions had been taken by other zones.

 But even at that a meeting of the aspirants held on the Wednesday preceding  the convention at  Ladoja’s residence in Abuja on the consensus issue did not yield the desired fruit.

 Confronted with imminent defeat, the south west chairmanship aspirants started withdrawing from the race a day to the convention.

 The first to withdraw was George. Announcing his withdrawal few hours to the convention, the PDP leader said he entered based on the understanding that the position would be micro-zoned to the south west.

“I did not enter the race for any personal benefit or for any pecuniary reason. I entered the race due to the micro zoning arrangement. This micro zoning has been trashed, dumped on the dust bin for personal reason. It appears that PDP is bent on self destruction. It has lost its soul. The PDP is now mangled,” he said.

 He did not however say he was stepping down to boost the chances of any of the other aspirants from the zone.

 On the day of the convention, three other aspirants from the zone also withdrew. They are former Oyo State governor, Rashidi Ladoja, 2015 Lagos State governorship candidate, Jimi Agabaje and former Ogun State governor, Gbenga Daniel. Ironically, their withdrawal made little or no meaning as investigations revealed that it wouldn’t have changed anything in favour of the zone.

 Speaking on South West’s inability to speak with one voice, a member of the party’s Board of Trustees (BoT) from the north said “the north has sympathy for South-west. If they had actually managed the issues very well and came up with one person, perhaps we may not have had any justification to dump them. But from the way they have mismanaged this chairmanship issue, if we give them the position, we may never get out of the crisis that will follow till 2019 general election. And we want to avoid that pitfall.

“Fayose, who is the only PDP governor from the zone and who is the chairman of the PDP Governors’ Forum made it clear that he does not want the position, either in his state or in the zone. He threatened that if we insist that South-west must have the position, he will leave the party. For God’s sake, what do you want us to do? We reckon that South-west is a very important and strategic zone that we must not ignore, but their leaders have not done anything to help their case? “

The former Oyo governor, in a statement announcing his withdrawal,   specifically urged all the South West aspirants to rally round Adeniran as the consensus chairmanship aspirant of the zone.

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He said after their meeting, which held two days before the convention “we all agreed that the chances of one person winning are better than those of seven people who are likely to divide the votes coming to the zone.  … I am of the opinion that Professor Tunde Adeniran should become our  consensus candidate for the South West zone. I am hereby appealing to all lovers of the South West Zone to support the candidature of Professor Tunde Adeniran to clinch the position of the National Chairman of our great party, the PDP.”

But minutes after Ladoja’s letter was received and read, Professor Adedoja countered, saying he was not party to the consensus arrangement and that he was still in the race. But in the end, he did not even vote himself and he scored no vote.

George curses PDP

Unlike the three others who withdraw from the chairmanship race and wrote the party to politely say so, as at time the election commenced, the party said it was yet to receive any letter of withdrawal from Geroge.

 But George who addressed Journalists the night before the convention said he was withdrawing from the race because the position “has been sold to highest bidder.”

According to him:” since the ancient days when the Yoruba people began their historical challenges on the plains and the hills of Ile-Ife, we have always been defined by our instinctive integrity, our methodical industry, our consistent loyalty and our steadfastness in protecting and defending the truth.

“It is in all these characterization that I have personally lived my life. It is in all these summative portraits that I have pursued my personal and political engagements, strengthened in the resolve that truth, sincerity of purpose, fearlessness, equity, ethical balance are the basic ingredients of a purposeful life.

“I have gone through many travails in my life; I have climbed the highest hills. And I have been through the lowest valleys. But in all, I have been guided by the holiest of heart’s affection, the genuine and the utmost surrender to the will of the Lord.

“But I have never been afraid of a good fight. I have never disengaged from a meaningful challenge. I have always committed myself to any struggle with absolute dedication and unflinching, resolute vision.

“It is in this spirit and clarity of selfless engagement that I decided to run for the national chairmanship position of our great party. I did not enter the contest for any personal benefits. I did not throw myself into the fray because of some pecuniary benefits. I have come to serve. I have come to offer myself because I believe in the greater glory of our party and in the growth and development of our nation. I have served continuously for 10 years in various high level positions in our party administration, including the second highest echelon of Deputy National Chairman.

“With all sense of humility, I can say that I know the workings and all the administrative processes and the tools of making our party work. The zoning principle, which was publicly reinforced last year in Port Harcourt, had specifically and rightly affirmed the South-West as the zone to produce the National Chairman. This binding proclamation was based on equity, fairness and natural balance that hold any organisation together.

“But this old, legitimate and morally sound micro zoning principle has now been trashed, dumped in the waste bin, flung into the gutter by very little men who have compromised the pivotal moral anchor of civilised engagement for temporary selfish gains.

“Everywhere you look, the Yoruba people are now being brazenly insulted. The very traditional fibre of our founding fathers are now being trampled upon, debased and soiled by external forces and mercenary traitors within.

“It appears the PDP is now bent on self destruction. It has obviously allowed money moguls to dictate its thematic largeness. The party has lost its soul. It has lost its principled beginning and the predications of righteousness. It has traded the finer principles of democratic guidance and equity for the squalid, dirty and shameful resort to mercenary agenda where nothing matters save the putrid, oafish gains of the moment.

“I cannot be part of this screaming aberration. And as the Atona of Yoruba land, I do not expect any well meaning, well disciplined, forthright, sincere Omoluabi of Yoruba land to continue with this deceit and shameful theatre.

“As a result of these observed aberrations wherein the position of the national chairman has been apparently sold and auctioned to the highest bidder, I, as an Omoluabi and as an authentic Atona of Yorubaland, will not partake in this charade.

I, hereby, withdraw from this brazen fraud and absolutely preconceived, monetized, mercantilist convention.

“The Yoruba people have been openly maligned. The Yoruba have been savaged, tormented, treated with contempt, scurried, scoffed at, humiliated and denigrated by little men whose sun will soon set. As a Yoruba patriot and the pathfinder of Yoruba land, I will stand by our people, I will stay with them thick or thin, I will fight for their good cause without compromising any ethics,” George declared.

The winners, the losers

Although the new national chairman has said there are neither victors nor vanquished in the contest, the reverse is the case; as there are actually winners and losers.

The main victors are the PDP governors, particularly Governors Nyesom Wike and Ayodele Fayose of Rivers and Ekiti State respectively.

Since the inception of the present democratic dispensation, governors elected on the platform of the PDP have always called the shots. They have always dictated who gets what in the party. And how long the chairman survives also depends on the governors too.

However, in the run-up to the just concluded national convention, some interest groups in the party plotted to whittle down the powers of the governors, by ensuring that the latter is not allowed to have the upper hand in the contest for the chairmanship race.

But  Secondus’ victory is more or less a triumph of the governors over their “adversaries.” The new PDP chairman was the choice of the PDP governors.

On the other hand, among the losers are former Minister of Information, Professor Jerry Gana; former deputy senate president, Senator Ibrahim Mantu; senator representing Ogun East, Senator Buruji Kashamu among others.

Gana, Mantu and Kashamu in their determined bid to ensure that the governors do not have their way in the chairmanship contest had mobilised serious support  for Adeniran.

Mantu at the flag-off of the Adeniran’s chairmanship campaign had said “God revealed” to him that the former Education minister was the next chairman of the PDP.

For Kashamu, the outcome of the national convention is more or less a personal loss. The Ogun senator, who has been having a running battle with the party leadership, after the Supreme Court sacked Senator Ali Modu Sheriff as PDP chairman, had hoped to relaunch himself into reckoning with the convention.

One of the biggest losers is George. For a man who served the party for ten unbroken years, the icing on the cake for him would have been to serve as national chairman of the opposition party.

Last line

From all indications, how the many PDP presidential aspirants manage their personal ambitions will go a long way to determine the party’s fortune in next year’s presidential contest.