PDP S/West: Lasting Peace Or Brief Respite?

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Last Monday, the much-awaited zonal congress of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) held in Osogbo, the Osun State capital. Although the elective congress was not without some drama, the highlight of the entire event was that the two men at the centre of the crisis that has rocked the PDP in the zone for almost two years now, Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State and former Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State, both vowed to accept the outcome of the congress and work together afterwards in the interest of the party.

Although there were several allegations and counter allegations between the two camps, the feud between the two PDP chieftains was largely about who should become the National Vice Chairman of PDP in the South-west. So severe was the face-off that it divided the party in the zone into two, with one in support of Makinde and the other in support of Fayose. While Makinde backed former Deputy Governor of Oyo State and former Nigerian Ambassador to Jordan, Taofeek Arapaja, Fayose supported Eddy Olafeso, a former occupant of the post.

To set the ball rolling for reconciliation at the all-important congress, Fayose wasted no time, upon arrival at the venue, to declare his acceptance of Makinde as leader of the PDP in the Southwest. This declaration came as a surprise to many at the congress, given Fayose’s earlier position that Makinde, who he described as a ‘baby governor’, cannot lead political titans like himself in the PDP simply because he is the only governor elected on the platform of the opposition party in the South-west zone.

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“Makinde can’t come out and say he is my leader; he is not my leader. No he is not. The fact that my son is the governor and I had to get up when he comes to a function does not mean he is my leader. The gentleman is a governor and I must respect his office. Governor Makinde, by all standards, is the only governor in the South-west, all South-south leaders are PDP governors. Who is the leader there? Because he is the only one we have, I used to be like that and I never said to anyone, I am the leader of the west.

“If he wants to be addressed like that, it is okay, but the fact that I got up for my son, a governor, at a function, does it mean he is my father? He is not my leader. Is governor Sanwo-Olu the leader of Asiwaju in Lagos? Or governor Wike; is he the leader of Odili? Makinde would probably be 31 or 32 years when I was governor in 2003. When we go out, we say ‘Your Excellency’ but when we are at home we are his fathers,” Fayose had said last February during the heat of his face-off with Makinde over the leadership of the party in the zone.

Responding to the attacks on him by Fayose, Makinde also fired salvos. He said: “I don’t really have anything to say about people because small minds can actually talk about events, average minds talk about people. We want to talk about issues. So, if there are issues, we will address them. When individuals decide to go low, we won’t follow them to that dirt. If there are issues, the alternative dispute resolution mechanism exists within the PDP, and that is being explored right now.

“I am occupying a very sensitive position. First, as the only PDP governor in the South-west; two, as somebody that is in the leadership position within our party. We will explore all avenues that are legitimate to get everyone to do what is right for our party, including the National Working Committee of the party. This is exactly what we are going to do.” State chairmen of the party in the zone, PDP National Assembly members in the zone, Board of Trustee members, as well as other prominent individuals and groups within the party, all took sides in the face-off.

The protracted feud it was that forced the PDP to shift its zonal congress earlier slated to hold in Ibadan two weeks back, to last Monday. The venue was also moved to Oshogbo to satisfy all parties. Fayose’s camp had protested the initial choice of Ibadan as the venue. Sources claimed Makinde had to be pacified by fellow governors to concede to the change in venue. That was the situation until Monday when Fayose offered an olive branch that was promptly snatched by Makinde, to signal the return of peace to the troubled opposition party in the Southwest zone.

When it finally held, the congress produced Arapaja, the man backed by Governor Makinde and the National Assembly caucus of the PDP in the zone, as Zonal Vice Chairman. Olafeso, who enjoyed the support of Fayose and majority of the state chairmen of the PDP in the Southwest zone, lost the election with 13 votes, scoring 330 votes to Arapaja’s 343. In a sharp contrast to the expectations of many, the congress ended peacefully as the winners were declared. Many analysts opined that the development is attributable to the speeches of Fayose and Makinde when they addressed delegates earlier in the morning.

On arrival at the venue, Fayose shocked the delegates, including his own supporters, when he declared that as the governor of Oyo State and only governor of the PDP in the region, Makinde is the father and leader of the party in the zone. He added that supporters of both himself and Makinde should not be allowed to drive a wedge between them, adding that he would readily accept the leadership of Amb. Taofeek Arapaja if he wins the election. In another u-turn, Fayose said Makinde as governor, has been making an impact in Oyo State.

He said: “Thank you for the endurance and tolerance we have all gone through. The issue of this congress is a circumstantial one, which is still in the public domain. Who is the leader? Governor Seyi Makinde is our leader. Therefore, we should not allow, particularly those who are our supporters and lovers, continue to put a wedge in between us. Our leaders; Governors Oyinlola, Oni and former Deputy Senate Majority Whip and all serving senators, I want to assure you that we will make exploits together because this must not divide us.

“I stand here to tell you today that either way it goes, I will accept it. Therefore, if Arapaja becomes chairman, I will be the first to visit him in Ibadan because there is nothing that will last forever. Nobody has offended me and if I have offended anybody, I sincerely apologise. “Don’t let them give us the name we do not bear in Yorubaland. I want to say again that Governor Seyi Makinde has made an impact in Oyo State and he won’t fail. Seyi Makinde and I are one. No matter what, he is our father and may God continue to do wonders through Him.”

Governor Makinde, also addressing delegates at the venue of the congress declared that there would be no victor or vanquished in the election. He further declared the process as a family affair of the PDP. He added that whatever the outcome of the congress is, it would be accepted in the spirit of a family contest. He maintained that the congress is an attempt to reposition the Southwest PDP, though it has ramifications for the party nationally.

“This is an attempt to reposition our party in the Southwest. But it has ramifications for our party nationally. So, whatever the outcome is, we will take it in the spirit of a family contest. We don’t want to defeat ourselves but we want to defeat the APC. So, at the end of this exercise, I promise you that there will be no victor and no vanquished. As your only governor in this zone, whoever emerges belongs to me and I will work with the team to reposition our party in the Southwest. So, let me thank you ahead for a peaceful and orderly conduct,” Governor Makinde said.

Going by the results announced in all the positions contested for, it is obvious that Governor Makinde camp swept all the offices. Officials announced that 675 votes were cast out of which 10 were voided. Benson Abounu, Benue deputy governor, who represented his principal, Governor Samuel Ortom, as Chairman of the Electoral Panel, announced the result of the election. Abounu commended the spirit of sportsmanship exhibited by the contestants and the delegates for making the process free, fair and peaceful.

But barely a week after the show of camaraderie, there are fresh concerns within and outside the party over the new found peace. According to insiders, unless prompt action is taken by the national leadership of the party to further cement the gains of last Monday by inviting the two camps and resolving whatever issues that may still be thorny, the respite offered by the peaceful conclusion of the zonal congress, following the public display of sportsmanship and brotherhood at Osogbo, may not be for long.

“There are new indications suggestive of fresh hostilities. The winners are not doing enough to assure the losers that they will be carried along in the scheme of things. Some party elders are bent on revenging perceived hurts and those on the losing sides are also preparing themselves to resist any form of injustice or revenge. Such scenarios will hurt the party more. We must avoid that if truly we want to enjoy the new found peace for long,” a chieftain of the party from Osun State, said on Thursday.

To buttress the worries in some quarters, Fayose, during the week, complained that both Makinde and Arapaja are not behaving as he expects them to. According to him, he, in spite of what he described as obvious irregularities in the election that produced the new zonal leadership, has called both the Oyo State governor and the new zonal chairman after the election, but neither of them had deemed it fit to return his calls. Like some other worried PDP chieftains, Fayose urged the national leadership to take action before things go out of hand again.

Speaking on Wednesday, “I have accepted this result not because they won but because I am one of the people that can’t defect to another party. I conceded not because they won. “I conceded because the PDP is a bigger picture. I want to say that conceding does not amount to defeat, it is sheer exhibiting leadership.” Fayose has also called the election that produced Arapaja a scam while also insisting that his conceding defeat does not mean Makinde’s candidate won. Take a look at the result and the characters behind the result before I will tell you the issue.

“I am on one side alone; I (we) have on the side of Governor Makinde, two former governors – Segun Oni and Olagunsoye Oyinlola. They have on their side seven deputy governors and two speakers and serving senators. The results in quotes, Arapaja scored 343. My candidate, Eddy Olafeso, scored 330, a difference of 13 votes. I’m glad because that is a show of strength. Whether the result is right or wrong, the world can see in the one-man army that has faced them all and without rigging, they lost.”

A new twist was also introduced into the unfolding drama when Fayose alleged that he behaved the way he did on Monday because there was a plot to kill him at the venue if he had behaved otherwise. “I have seen this video, what this gentleman was saying at the time, they came to the venue saying “we are waiting for you here Fayose; we are going to kill you.” This is the chairman of the road transport workers in Oyo State, these people came with Governor Makinde’s convoy. Everybody knows,” Fayose claimed.

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