Beyond stressing the compelling need to be placated after the alleged injustice meted to the zone at the 2017 national convention of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), stakeholders from the South West zone are cautioning against a repeat of such scenario, failure of which they insist the party’s fortunes will further nosedive.
Amid this caution, the stakeholders hold divergent views regarding what to settle for between the national chairmanship position, and a vice-presidential ticket, as the countdown to the October 2021 National Convention for the election of new members of the National Working Committee (NWC) continues.
Ahead of the convention, indications are rife that the party might zone its presidential ticket to the North while conceding the national chairmanship slot to the South.
But sources within the party also hinted The Guardian that the party might also micro-zone the position of the national chairman to the South West for strategic reasons, while the vice presidential slot may be taken to South East to appease Ndigbo, as they are yet to produce the president since the return to democratic rule in 1999.
The newly appointed 44-member zoning committee headed by Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State is already plotting the formula for sharing positions that will appease all and sundry.
Indeed, intrigues within the South-West geopolitical zone further suggest that the party may eventually concede the position of national chairman to South West as a way of placating the region for the perceived injustice in the December 2017 national convention, when Governor Nyesom Wike, allegedly pushed South South’s interest and got Uche Secondus in the saddle, after the South West failed to produce a consensus candidate.
In the wake of Secondus’ emergence at that national convention, many strong stakeholders from the South West quit the party angrily, with the development also seen as one of the major factors that cost PDP victory in the 2019 general election.
With former governors of Osun and Ekiti states, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, and Ayo Fayose, as well as the gubernatorial candidate of the party in the last Ondo governorship poll, Eyitayo Jegede (SAN) in the race already, the zone is the only one that has since shown interest in producing the national chairman.
Oyinlola, a very close ally of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, is said to also have the tacit support of the former President of the Senate, David Mark, and erstwhile governor of Jigawa State, Sule Lamido, among others.
However, some interest groups in the North are averse to Oyinlola’s ambition as they fear that if his dream is realised, Obasanjo would remotely control the party through the former Osun State governor and one-time military administrator of Lagos State.
Some PDP groups in the zone are also sceptical about Oyinlola leading the party effectively as he had once defected to APC, and also worked assiduously against the party during the 2015 general election, as well as the governorship election in Osun State.
A member of the party confided in The Guardian that Lamido’s recent visit to Obasanjo had to do with Oyinlola’s ambition.
Jegede is alleged to have been drafted into the chairmanship race by Wike, and former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar.
Wike, according to some members, is attracting Jegede to the race, while also positioning himself as running mate to any northern presidential candidate. Atiku, on his part, also allege plans to use Jegede to achieve his aim of getting the party’s presidential ticket.
But Jegede’s ambition does not resonate with those that are aggrieved with the way that Wike has been trying to rubbish Secondus because of his personal ambition, as well as the insults that he allegedly hauled at South West during the 2017 convention.
On his part, Secondus is said to be enjoying the support of some governors of the party from the North, especially those who felt that Wike cannot continue to dictate to the party.
Still in the North, some powerful forces are also preparing Fayose for the race. One of the reasons adduced by them is that the former Ekiti State governor is neutral and cannot be manipulated by forces that are bent on achieving personal objectives as against the general interest of the party.
Although key PDP groups in the North deliberated about getting the former Ekiti State governor on board, last Tuesday, some groups even visited him in Lagos and enumerated several reasons for him to join the race.
Fayose neither confirmed nor denied the development when contacted, but insisted that the position has not been zoned to any region.
He said: “The position has not yet been zoned to the South West. Even if it has, it is for the benefit of our people in the zone. So, we have to do due diligence. It’s not about contesting, but making a success of the office.
“I understand there are other people that are interested in the position. They are also eligible and competent. But wherever the South West goes is where I will go. I will follow the South West. Wherever the Yoruba go when the chairmanship position of our party is zoned to the South West is where I will go. It will not be a do-or-die affair. That’s all I can say for now.”
Speaking on the development, the immediate past vice national chairman South West Zone of the party, Dr. Eddy Olafeso, expressed fears that what played out in 2017 was gradually playing out again, as he “fears an imposition where individuals will not have a say in what is going on. But I am very confident and hopeful that we will realise our failures in 2017 and begin to do the needful to correct that.”
He said South West is usually divided into three zones, which are Ekiti/Ondo Zone, Oyo/Osun Zone and Lagos/Ogun Zone. As it is, Oyo/Osun has already picked one of the three positions of the National Working Committee (NWC) that is the national vice chairman, which I contested for, but lost to the former Deputy Governor of Oyo State, Taofik Arapaja. So, Osun and Oyo states are out of the picture. If the chairmanship is coming to the South West, it would be contested by Lagos/Ogun.”
By implication, Olafeso is saying that Oyinlola is not eligible to contest for the national chairmanship since Arapaja is from Oyo in the same zone as the retired general.
According to him: “If we must go by the principles of equity and justice, Ondo/Ekiti and Lagos/Ogun should present candidates for the position if it is eventually zoned to the South West.”
On the present pressure being mounted on Fayose, Oyinlola and Jegede by interest groups, Olafeso said: “They are eminently qualified to contest, but I wonder who are those people mounting pressure on them? They are qualified whether there is pressure or not.”
To a former Chairman of PDP in Ogun State, Adebayo Dayo, there is the possibility that the zoning committee will concede the national chairman position to the South West to placate the region for the maltreatment of 2017.
He, however, expressed reservation that some elements within the zone are clamouring for the vice-presidential ticket as a way of balancing in the next general election.
According to him, “The argument is if the APC zones its presidential ticket to the South and South-West in 2023, the vice will go to the North. The proponents of the vice president coming to South West will create a kind of balancing in the election. This is where we may have issues and need to sit down for proper deliberations.”
A former member of the PDP Board of Trustees (BoT), Chief Ebenezer Babatope, said: “When the South-West PDP led by Chief Olabode George meets very soon, we shall issue our position to the entire world.”
But another founding member of the party in South West, who preferred anonymity warned that the South West will not tolerate the excesses of Governor Wike, not even the way the Rivers State governor insulted people that are old enough to be his father the last time.
For the Lagos State PDP Chairman Adedeji Doherty, who is a member of one of the national zoning committees: “The zone should leave the chairmanship position to the South East, or South-South. We should fight at the national convention, and at the committee, level to get the number two position in the country. That is my own candid position. It is the right time that the PDP should provide a South West vice president. The president in APC is from the North and the vice president is from the South West. If we are going to zone the president to the North for the first time in the history of the PDP, we should have a South West vice president. Everything is tilting towards that end, and for me, I am looking at a situation whereby the zone gets the slot of vice president.”
However, the National Publicity Secretary of PDP, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan said he could not speak on zoning for now until the committee in charge submits its report to the National Executive Council (NEC).