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OYO PDP CRISIS: MENDING THE LEAKING UMBRELLA

By NBF News
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Chieftains of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Oyo State appear to have realised the truth in the common saying: 'United we stand, divided we fall,' albeit the hard way, perhaps, belatedly.

In the build up to the April 2011 elections, the PDP was a house divided against itself. While it lost formidable leaders like the former governor of the state, Senator Rashidi Ladoja, who shipped out with his numerous supporters to form the Accord Party (AP), following irreconcilable differences, others such as Chief Yekini Adeojo with Senator Lekan Balogun, former Senate Leader, Teslim Folarin, ex-deputy governor, Hazeem Gbolarumi, former Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Sarafadeen Ali, and members of the G8 lawmakers in the House of Assembly, as their followers worked assiduously for the victory of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) candidates for the governorship and other elective offices.

With the mass desertion and all arrows pointing at him, ex-governor, Adebayo Alao-Akala, and his band of followers were easy game for the opponents. The result was PDP's massive defeat and the government of unity subsequently formed by ACN's Abiola Ajimobi, in which the new governor accommodated his PDP allies.

Even afterwards, the isolated faction of the party led by Akala, witnessed further crack that pitched him on one hand and his deputy, Taofeek Arapaja, along with some elders of the party on the other, against one another, over alleged nepotism and perceived self-centredness of the former helmsman of the state.

But the main issue which caused the rift in the party is ironically bringing all the splinter groups together again. And that is the issue of who controls the state executive, the party's machinery. The dissidents had left, or being forced to abandon the party, due to Akala's stranglehold on the Dejo Afolabi-led executive, which the other camps wanted dissolved, alleging that it was illegally constituted.

With the opportunity of a fresh start, post-2011 polls, however, the scales seem to have fallen off the eyes of the gladiators. Compromise is now the word, as the stakeholders try to embrace new moves at reconciliation and election of a new state executive of the party. Of course, not without self-interest and prejudices by the various groupings.

Efforts at restoring peace back into the fold were initiated by the South West zonal leadership of the PDP, which identified PDP's colossal electoral loss in the region to division within the party in the various states. This culminated in the convening of a conference involving key stakeholders representing the major axes of the state-Ibadan/Ibarapa, Ogbomoso and Oke-Ogun/Oyo. The parley, held at the Airport Hotel, Lagos, late last year, deliberately to shield it from the prying eyes of the local press, was said to have been largely successful as it was attended by virtually all the leaders.

Besides, it took far reaching decisions. One of these is raising an 11-man transition committee that will calcify the reconciliation of the diverse factions, compile a new membership register and organize fresh congress. To this end, sources said, the stakeholders agreed to meet on zonal caucus basis to nominate members into the new body.

With this step, another reconciliation effort hitherto being spearheaded by one of the party elders, Dr. Saka Balogun, who served as Chief of Staff in the Akala administration, died a natural death. So did the erstwhile Afolabi-led executive.

The Ibadan caucus, including Balogun, Folarin, Adeojo, Gbolarumi and Arapaja, reportedly held a meeting shortly after and drew a list of nominees into the proposed body. Akala was said to have been approached for nominees from Ogbomoso. But, the former governor was said not to have been forthcoming.

Instead, Daily Sun learnt that he drew up an exclusive list and submitted it to the South West zonal leadership. The others were thus also forced to furnish their nominees, leaving two slots vacant for the input of the former governor.

A party source said the National Vice Chairman of the party in the zone, Alhaji Tajudeen Oladipo, adopted the list from the other groups, as this was considered as more representative of the stakeholders'' wish as against 'Akala's individual list.' This, to the PDP zonal boss was an opportunity to mend fences with the party leaders in the state, who he had alienated by his perceived bias and support of Akala while the former held the reins of power. The development, of course, infuriated the former governor.

Meanwhile, the question of who heads the proposed panel also became another thorny issue. The grandfather of the party in the South West and former President Olusegun Obadanjo, reportedly gave Chief Richard Akinjide (SAN) the privilege of nominating the chairman. The aging politician named one of his loyalists, one Akintoye from Lagelu Local Government area of the state for the job. But other stakeholders kicked, arguing that the old man lacked the political muscle to dictate on the matter. Also, some of the leaders noted that he has already got more than enough patronage as the only ministerial slot allocated to the state went to his daughter, Ms. Jumoke Akinjide, (Minister of State for the Federal Capital Territory). Accordingly, Akinjide's nominee was dropped, although he still made the list of the transition panel membership.

Eventually, Mr. Gbeminiyi Olalewu, a dark horse from Ibarapa axis of the state was picked for the top job. He was nominated by Ajibola Muraina, the South West caucus' controversial candidate for the speakership of the House of Representatives, who was given the honour as one of the only three federal legislators elected from the zone in the 2011 elections. Muraina, sources said, made the choice after 'wide consultation' within the party.

Olalewu was quickly sworn-in on Thursday, December 29, 2011 by Oladipo and the same day he arrived Ibadan the state capital he inaugurated other members. This development forged an unusual alliance between Akala's camp and the club of elders, who both feared that they would lose relevance by the new arrangement. Both parties had been estranged owing to dispute on nomination for the ambassadorial slot allotted the state. While Akala pushed the name of Brimo Yusuf, a kinsman of his, the elders nominated Arapaja, his former deputy, who was eventually confirmed.

But the common threat of marginalization united the erstwhile foes, who in a half page advertorial in a national daily recently condemned the composition of the committee's membership, toeing the old line of argument that the sponsors of the nominees lacked the moral right to make input into it, because of their perceived past anti-party activities. This is an open allusion to the Baloguns, Folarins, Gbolarumis and Adeojos.

The disagreement was again brought before Obasanjo who counselled the party chiefs against squabbling over an ad -hoc body that would be disbanded as soon as its assignment is over. He advised that the committee membership be expanded to accommodate other divergent interests.

Efforts to comply with this directive and the one- week national strike called by labour however, prevented the panel from beginning its work, until Wednesday last week when it had its inaugural meeting at the Premier Hotel, Ibadan.

It was learnt at the weekend that three nominees including two from Akala's camp- one Dejo Olaniyan (Ogbomoso North) and Mathew (Surulere), have since joined the panel bringing the members to 14.

Speaking to Daily Sun on the rapproachment in the party, Balogun said the various groups have agreed to co operate and let the transition committee succeed. He said it was, however, up to the panel to assert its independence, 'observe the rule of law, respect democratic values and ensure justice and fairness to everybody. If they can do that we shouldn't have any problem bouncing back and reclaiming power'.

'I have told them that there should be no rigging, that hoarding of membership cards must stop and there must be transparency, everybody that wants to belong must be registered. PDP in the state was destroyed by the notion some people had that they can determine who belongs to a party. That's only possible in Nigeria, not in Europe or in America, where democracy is a game of number and the definition of party politics is the more the merrier. 'We really don't all have to be friends to have common membership of the party. But the truth is that we are all related somehow and should be able to succeed with this attempt.'

As if to confirm this view, the search for candidates to assemble into a new state executive appear to have become a joint task, whereby the various camps seek the opinion and possible endorsement of their choices from the others to ensure they will be acceptable to the generality of the party members.

Daily Sun learnt that there is already a consensus that the party chairman will come from Oke-Ogun/Oyo axis of the state. However, all the factions are said to be searching for a credible candidate to fill this position, which they believe is crucial to ensuring PDP stages a come-back into governance in the state.

A source in Akala's camp hinted of such collaboration between his group and the Balogun faction. According to him, his principal has so far proposed two aspirants – his former chief of staff and elder of the party, Saka Balogun as well as a former Special Assistant on Political Matters, Mr. Adetoro, for the chairmanship, but the two failed to receive the nod of the Balogun group. Consequently, the former governor has played the ball into the latter's court, asking it to name its own options for consideration.