By NBF News

Ahead of the election to determine the next occupant of the Okefia Government House in 2011, the race for the exalted position in the 'state of the Living Spring' has started in earnest. For political observers, if not for other parties, the race, at least has started for members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state.

But for the people of Ijesaland, the race seems to have started on a shaky note. Of the 17 governorship hopefuls that had indicated interest in the seat, 12 are of the Ijesa extraction while the remaining are from Ife axis with two of Osun West Senatorial district.

On the list of Ijesa aspirants were Alhaji Lateef Bakare, Fatai Sarumi, Dr. Wahab Toye, Mr. Femi Alafe-Aluko and Akin Jegede. Others are Mr Diran Odeyemi, Dosu Fatokun, Gbenga Onigbogi, Akinrogun Tunde Odanye and Mrs. Remi Olowu.

Apparently overwhelmed by the crowd of aspirants for the seat and in a bid to ensure a common front, Ijesa PDP Elders Caucus initiated a process to prune down the large number of governorship aspirants. But the exercise seemed to be an uphill task. After an initial meeting leading to the reduction of the number to six, the elders met again March 7 to announce its final decision. The decision however sparked protests from aspirants who failed to make the shortlist.

At the meeting, which was initially fixed for Ilesa before it was abruptly relocated to Ijebu-Ijesa home of Pa Ayo Faseru, a chieftain of the party, the elders announced Hon Gbenga Onigbogi and Chief Dosu Fatokun as its preferred candidates for the race. According to the Deputy Chairman of the Elders' Caucus, Chief Duro Famojuro, one of the two preferred candidates would later be dropped a month to the state primaries of the party where the main standard bearer would be picked.

To him, the decision of the elders was based on the aggregate reports from other sub-committees raised to assess the capacity, political strength and acceptability of the candidates not only to the Ijesa people but also to other zones of the state. He explained that all political office holders, party chairmen and council bosses in Ijesa land as well as other stakeholders, including professional unions like National Union of Road transport Workers (NURTW), were involved in the selection of the two aspirants.

'Our intention is not to divide Ijesas but to take cognizance of the efforts of these people. Although the party's decision is final, we want to take care of ourselves before moving to the centre. What the party then decides later, we will abide with it. 'This is not a primary within a primary; it is an in-house arrangement suitable for Ijesa PDP. What happened to us in 2003 and 2007 are enough lessons. Millions of naira was committed but we came back with nothing.

'History will not forgive us if we fold our arms and 13 people started fighting in Osogbo for the same trophy and none of them gets it. All the aspirants were carried along. But if any one of them has complaints, he has the democratic right to carry along his campaign. The process was so transparent and everybody was carried along', Famojuro explained. But his explanation fell on deaf ears as several of the aspirants denounced the action as self-serving and undemocratic. The barrage of criticisms that preceded the decision was massive and seemed to have put a big question mark on the claims of the elders that their intentions were altruistic.

Few days to the elders' meeting, a socio-political group in Ijesa land, the Ijesa Redemption Group (IRG), had kicked against the selection of a governorship aspirant for 2011 election by the Ijesa Elders Caucus.

Addressing newsmen in Osogbo, spokesperson of the group, Hon. Gbenga Fowowe, accused the selection committee members raised by the elders of under-hand play, warning that their action might spell doom for the ruling PDP in the state.

He pointedly accused the elders of handing the ticket to the 'highest bidder' among the horde of aspirants jostling for the governorship seat from Ijesa land. While insisting on an Ijesa man as the next governor of the state in 2011, Fowowe explained that such candidate must not only be a man of integrity but marketable and acceptable to all Ijesa people.

'From the above, it is very clear that the recent activity of the selection committee, along with few leaders in the final picking of PDP governorship candidate from Ijesa land, is a calculated attempt to plunge the Ijesa PDP into chaos and to frustrate the activities of other gubernatorial aspirants in Ife/Ijesa Senatorial district', Fowowe stated. Reacting to the elders' action, one of the affected aspirants, Akinrogun Tunde Odanye (ATO), accused the elders of jumping the gun, maintaining that the earlier agreement with the elders to let the aspirants agree among themselves on a consensus candidate was ignored.

Odanye, who defected from the comatose Alliance for Democracy (AD), explained that the aspirants had earlier met and agreed to work together in the spirit of Ijesa interest, a development, which he said was communicated to the elders through a letter dated March 6, 2010. The aspirants' meeting, it was stated in the letter, was a follow up to the initial one held at the Ilesa residence of former Minister of Transport and Chairman, Ijesa Elders Caucus, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, on February 27, 2010.

Another leading aspirant from the area, Alhaji Lateef Bakare, also dismissed the action of the elders with a wave of the hand, saying that it couldn't hold water. Bakare, who is the Managing Director, Nigerian Wire and Cable, Ibadan, refrained from openly criticizing the elders, but insisted that if 'PDP wants the best, they will come to us'.

But in his reaction to the outburst of the Ijesa Redemption Group, Chairman, of the elders' caucus, Babatope, said that members of the group have a right to support whoever they want as their candidate while the elders too have a right as Ijesa people to pick a candidate of their choice.

'The elders' caucus did not bar anybody. We will make our recommendation to our people. That choice did not put a ban on other candidates. All those aspiring are free to continue their campaign till the day of final primary of the party', Babatope stated.

On the allegation of monetary inducement of members of the caucus, the PDP chieftain equally accused IGR members of collecting money from non-Ijesa aspirants to cause confusion among the people of Ijesa for their own pecuniary interests. At the elders' meeting of March 7, Babatope had explained that the elders swung into action to stop a repeat of what happened to them in 2007, 'when a boy from Lagos rattled all of us'.

Unfortunately for Babatope and his elders' group, the state executive council of the party disowned their activities, describing it as illegal and uncalled for. Regardless of the discordant tunes from Ijesa caucus, subsequent unfolding scenarios within the party in the state have shown that the action of the Ijesa elders might eventually be an exercise in futility. At its monthly State Working Committee meeting, the party reversed its earlier decision of zoning the

governorship ticket to Ife/Ijesa zone of the state and promised to ensure a level-playing ground to all contestants for the coveted seat. The decision was taken after the initial uproar generated by the previous stand of the party that it has zoned the governorship ticket to Ife/Ijesa alone.

What this turn-around posture of the party machinery portends for all aspirants especially the stand of Ijesa elders could best be imagined.

But as of now, things have surely fallen apart in Ijesa caucus of the PDP and the centre, it clearly shows, can no longer hold. Happenings in the next few weeks will decide where the pendulum of political calculation would eventually swing.