Former Governor Rashidi Ladoja
Tunde Sanni looks at the fresh issues in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Oyo State, threatening the reconciliation moves of the party
The picture the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) cuts in the eyes of the people of the state, especially is sympathisers, is that of a party in disarray even as the crisis of confidence rocking the party, especially among its elders, has continued to escalate.
The party’s loss of the state in the 2011 general election had initially made many thought that its members would bury the hatchet to regain the PDP’s lost glory. However, this seems not to be so. The continued bickering among party leaders who cling to primordial cleavages has given way to a regime of hopelessness among party members.
When on February 3, last year, the Minister of State for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Ms. Jumoke Akinjide, brought the elders to a reconciliatory meeting at the Premier Hotel, Ibadan, not even the pathological critics of the party opposed the bid.
Everyone at the meeting praised Akinjide for her boldness and frankness. Interestingly, it was revealed at the meeting that both Akinjide and former Senate Leader, Teslim Folarin, boarded the same flight to the Ibadan meeting, thus signposting that the meeting was bound to be a success. Akinjide had contested for Folarin’s position on the platform of the party but lost the election.
It was gathered that the bitterness that edged Folarin out of the senatorial contest and gave Akinjide the party’s ticket was deep, that some of the founding elders of the party took sides with the former senate leader and bid their time against Akinjide.
However, Akinjide’s diplomatic shuttle to the homes of the founding leaders and other leading chieftains who might be aggrieved about her emergence and happy for her loss of the senatorial race and again embittered over her ministerial appointment in a seeming pacification move, disarmed the elders who started preaching reconciliation and integration in the party.
They tasked the minister to sustain the tempo. Soon, they reconciled Akinjide and Folarin which climaxed in the general reconciliation later on February 3. The elders smiled out of the meeting venue but did not purge themselves of the misgivings and anti-party activities that made the party lose the coveted seat.
But as the elders met, two personalities were absent: former governors Rashidi Ladoja and his successor, Adebayo Alao- Akala. THISDAY gathered that the reconciliation was pursued more by the party because of Ladoja’d bid to return to the party following pressures from former president Olusegun Obasanjo and other stakeholders.
The calculation was that Akinjide being the most senior federal appointee from the state who, with her portfolio would be having access to President Goodluck Jonathan should champion the reconciliation.
Though, Alao-Akala was absent at the meeting, it was announced that he sent a representative. Also absent at the February meeting were all the elected National Assembly members of the state and some of their state counterparts. The presence of some elders from the Ibarapa and Oke-Ogun axis of the party however saved the meeting from ethnic tag.
But weeks after, signs that the meeting might take a new dimension began to surface. The nomination and appointment of Alhaji Taofeek Arapaja, former deputy governor in the Alao-Akala administration, provided the first threat to the reconciliation.
Arapaja had travelled to the Lagos detention camp of the EFCC to pay homage to his former boss and express the compliments of the elders and stalwarts of the party. Arapaja returned with a signed document from his boss, tipping Senator Brimo Yusuf from Ogbomoso as the state ambassadorial nominee.
The elders kicked and instead, forwarded the name of the deputy governor to the former president who was then coordinating the South-west ambassadorial nominees’ list. The nomination, according to one of the elders, Dr. Dejo Raheem, was done in Arapaja absence.
An ethnic conspiratorial plot was read into the name substitution, especially from the Alao-Akala camp and from then, a wedge was put between the former governor and his deputy. Because majority of the elders who had agreed on Arapaja as the substitute for Yusuf were from Ibadan, the new crisis subsequently assumed an ethnic turn.
The argument of the pro-Arapaja-for-ambassador elders was that with the lone senator coming from the Oke-Ogun axis of the state, the majority leadership of the House of Representatives coming from Ogbomoso, it is political wisdom for the ambassadorial slot to come from Ibadan.
But the argument of the pro-Yusuf group was that since the position of ambassadors is not an elective one like that of the ministers and with a minister coming from Ibadan, it could make a better political bargaining for the ambassadorial slot to go outside Ibadan with Ogbomoso being the best area to produce the candidate.
Unfortunately, the deed had been done; the deed to cut off the deputy from his principal. Arapaja found a receptive hand in Akinjide and they soon formed an alliance- an alliance that later held a factional congress of the party which is still battling for recognition.
The arraignment of Alao-Akala on graft-related offences by the EFCC and the reported jubilation among some elders of the party who claimed responsibility for the prosecution affected the morale of the former governor’s supporters, providing another tag of ethnicity to the fresh crisis in the party
The ward, local government and state congresses of the party became another crisis that stymied the reconciliation. The elders could not agree and harmonise the lists of their supporters for the various vacant positions. It led to some of the elders flaunting their influences at the national headquarters on the list.
Again, the elders were divided on whether Ladoja who had indicated interests in returning to the PDP should be accommodated in the emerging party structure. The disagreement later led to further ill-feelings and distrust among the elders.
Fifth columnists also cashed in on the disagreement. The most vulnerable among the elders in the activities of the fifth columnists is the minister whose apparent strangeness to the party structure and hierarchy was exploited to the fullest.
At the end of the day, two congresses were held with some elders coming together to conduct a congress supervised by the national headquarters and the electoral agency while another congress was conducted at another location without the national supervision and INEC. Till now, the party is still torn between two parallel executives with the national secretariat backing the legal one.
The Ladoja PDP switch is another example of the petty sentiments in the party.
The elders became divided in their interests in Ladoja. A camp of the elders believed that the return of the former governor could diminish them and their interests while some others who included Akinjide, Arapaja and Alao-Akala and their supporters believed that the return of the former governor would brighten the PDP chances and give it an edge over the ruling Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).
The return of Ladoja later became a media issue with a group insisting that there was no value the former governor’s return would add to the party while the pro-Ladoja in PDP maintained that those who are afraid of the return of the former governor are afraid of their own shadows and are feeling threatened that the former governor would stop their reign of confusion and intra-party activities.
The pro-Ladoja group contended that most of the anti-Ladoja forces are those that engaged in anti-party activities in the last election and thus wanted to fence off a powerful interest that would halt their disloyal tendencies. But the former governor has since aborted his plan to switch to PDP. Instead, he has been receiving some PDP chieftains into his Accord Party.
There is also distrust among the elders, especially, between the Alao-Akala and Senator Hosea Agboola, the lone senator representing Oyo North in the National Assembly. Speculations have been rife about an agreement between Agboola and Alao-Akala in 2011.
According to sources, in the count down to the 2011 polls and because Alao-Akala did not want the senatorial seat to fall into the hands of the opposition party, he had allegedly sponsored his then Commissioner for Local Government, Agboola, with whom he allegedly had an agreement of a term in the Senate while he takes a shot at the Senate on the completion of his second term in office which was not to be as he lost the bid.
Though he lost his election, his investment in the senatorial election paid off as Agboola won the polls.
Agboola’s election was also challenged at the tribunal, but he triumphed. Agboola became the Senate Deputy Whip on account of the party’s zoning formula and has since been enjoying the perks of a principal officer in the senate.
Coincidentally, Alao-Akala, Agboola and another businessman, Gbenga Babalola, were at EFCC over graft charges. But latest developments indicated that the once chummy relationship between the former governor and his erstwhile commissioner has gone sour as Alao-Akala is said to be oiling his campaign machinery for Agboola’s seat in 2015 while Agboola was said to have vowed not to let go of the senatorial seat.
There is also the alleged misgiving between Folarin and Akinjide over the control of their indigenous local council, Ona-Ara local government. It is being speculated that the minister may attempt another shot at the senatorial seat and has started regrouping her supporters as well as resurrect her campaign structure in the Oyo Central senatorial district which has 11 councils spread as far as Ogbomoso.
This is the reason many believed she has made up with Ala-Akala. The cause of the rift between her and Folarin is not known yet; the truth is that they are not on good terms.
Worst hit by the unpredictable development in the party is the state executive committee that is daily assailed with stories of possible dissolution by the national headquarter to pave the way for the harmonisation of the interests of some aggrieved elders of the party.
A litigation threat lingers as a group among those controlling the structure has vowed to head to the court if anything is done to the structure.
The camp contended that everything about the structure is legal and would amount to an illegality if the structure is tinkered with.
THISDAY however gathered that the structure is a conglomeration of many interests and as such, no single individual can claim sole authority on the executive committee.
“We have candidates of Senator Lekan Balogun, Alhaji Yekini Adeojo, Otunba Adebayo Alao-Akala, Senator Teslim Folarin, Senator Hosea Agboola, Hon. Ajibola Muraina on the executives to mention a few, so no individual can say that it has the monopoly of the executive, a party source told THISDAY during the holiday.
The source dismissed claims that the control of the party structure was an investment for the sponsors because of the gubernatorial ticket. “For now, we have not even got to the gubernatorial bridge so the claim of somebody benefitting from the structure does not arise. History showed that politics does not work that way and it may not go like that when the time comes because there are so many interests involved in the party in the state.”
For now, there is too much disquiet in the party; too much inaction which has boosted rumour mongering in the party. The party has many camps which, rather than boost its chances for the 2015 polls and the council polls later in the year, may hold it down and distract the attention of its chieftains.
As things are, none of the chieftains is ready to concede the leadership of the party to each other and the leadership pendulum of the party is between Akinjide who is a serving minister, Agboola the deputy senate whip and of course, Alao-Akala, the former governor.
The absence of a leader for the party has been responsible for the rudderless nature and lack of cohesion in the party.
The party’s national hierarchy may have its support for Alao-Akala for the party leadership, but some elders are not ready to let go the past misgivings while the former governor too is disturbed that despite his olive branch to some estranged party chieftains, he has been swindled in the bid to restore normalcy to the party.
An example was the last party congress which former governor Ladoja himself referred to in a live local radio personality interview with a remark that he had to stay out of the PDP in order not to be swindled the way Alao-Akala was swindled.
Apparently disturbed by the trend, the former governor recently confessed to have stormed the national headquarters of the party and urged the leadership to step into the crisis. It is not certain the strategy the national leadership would evolve to reconcile the chieftains and rein them in for the success of the party. The image the party has continued to court is that of a jinxed political party perpetually rooting for self destruct.