A Party’s Search for a New Beginning

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The choice of who becomes the national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party is crucial and demands circumspection, writes Segun James

The days of the big gambles are back and this time, it is in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as the race for the leadership of the party peaks. Principally at stake is the national chairmanship of the party, which has been zoned to the South-west zone of the country. After all, whoever becomes the chairman will automatically become the de facto leader of the party, and by extension, the leader of the opposition.

The one who occupies this position is positioned to wield enormous influence over who become the presidential and gubernatorial candidates of the party as well as those that will clinch the tickets for other positions within the party in the run up to the 2019 election. It is no wonder that people have taken up advert spaces in major national dailies and secured primetime slots on the radio and television to push their case for the position.

Unfortunately, the party right now is without a known leader as the former leader of the party, President Goodluck Jonathan is assumed to have abandoned ship since he lost the last presidential election, leaving it rudderless. Also weighing down the party is the lack of cohesion within the leadership rank as the two factions led by Senator Ali Modu Sheriff and Senator Ahmed Makarfi jostle for the soul of the once largest political party in Africa.

The decision to zone the national chairmanship of the party to the South-west followed the agreement by the party’s leadership that the presidential slot should be zoned to the north in the 2019 general election. This gentlemanly agreement has also zoned the vice-presidential candidate to the South-east, a situation which has also precluded the South-east zone from eyeing the national chairmanship position.

This has left only the South-south and the South-west zones to jostle for the position. But the South-south has only recently held the position of the president and leader of the party, and is being discouraged from contesting the ticket with the Southwest, on the basis of logic, being the only zone in the equation that has never had the opportunity to lead the party. Yet, this is being hotly contested by media mogul, Dr. Raymond Dokpesi, who has been campaigning vigorously to become the chairman.

In the South-west, however, the party is a house divided against itself. There are many factions struggling to control the zone. While Chief Bode George leads a faction supported by the elders, Governors Ayodele Fayose and Segun Mimiko lead another. The faction led by Senator Buruji Kasamu has also been formidable in the scheme of things in the zone.

Indications that the South-west is going into the race as a divided house emerged almost immediately the position was zoned to it, when Chief George declared his intention to contest the position. But his move was quickly denounced by a faction of the party in the zone, which denied George as its candidate.

Dr. Tokunboh Pearse, a factional Lagos PDP Publicity Secretary, said the party’s leadership in the South-west would determine who the party will pick.

“We are waiting for the leaders in the zone to tell us who our candidate will be. You will recall that we had a meeting in Lagos last week to bring all the factions together. We didn’t discuss the chairmanship at all. We only brought all the factions in the three states (Oyo, Osun and Lagos) that had problems together. So, Chief Bode George is not our candidate until all the leaders come together to decide who that will be.”

He disclosed that after the meeting of the South-west leaders, the Lagos delegates to the Port Harcourt convention have been divided between George’s group who was allotted 12 ad hoc delegates and five statutory delegates and Chief Kola Balogun’s faction who has eight ad hoc delegates and 20 statutory delegates. But none was allotted to the former governorship candidate of the party in the state, Mr. Jimi Agbaje.

He added that at the meeting attended by Kasamu, Professor Wale Oladipo, Senator Teslim Folarin, Elder Wole Oyelese, Senator Felix Ogunwale along with Governors Fayose and Mimiko and all the factions in the South-west, analysed the problems within the three states and sorted them out.

Pearse said it was based on this that the leadership in the zone led by Governors Fayose and Mimiko along with other leaders would come together to decide the zone’s sole candidate. He also debunked the news that the party’s governorship candidate in the last general election, Jimi Agbaje is the choice for the national chairmanship.

According to him, since the election which Agbaje lost, he had not associated with the party, and in fact, he is not even a delegate to the convention. He insisted that George like any other person has a right to aspire, “but the leadership would decide who our official and collective candidate would be. Right now, Chief Bode George is on his own.”

As the race for the position gathers steam, the question in the zone is: which of the factions carries the day and which candidate will emerge? So far, five aspirants have indicated interest in the position. They are Prof. Taoheed Adedoja, Prof. Tunde Adeniran, Mr. Jimi Agbaje, former Governor Gbenga Daniel and Chief Olabode George.

What, therefore, are their chances and is there any dark horse that might later spring an upset? These and other questions must be answered as the PDP leadership moves to reposition the party ahead of the 2019 election.

The Contenders

Taoheed Adedoja

Professor Taoheed Adedoja is a two-time gubernatorial aspirant in Oyo State; a former Commissioner for Education in the state; Chairman State Universal Basic Education Board and former Minister of Sports. He is an administrator fondly called PTA, being the acronym of his name.

A graduate of the University of Ife and Oklahoma State University, United States of America, he became a professor at 42 at Bayero University, Kano and worked for four years with Prof Jubril Aminu at the University of Maduguri.

Kano, Jigawa, Kaduna, Borno and Delta states are his second home, where he has childhood friends, academic colleagues, and political associates. He speaks fluent Hausa. Adedoja is the Mogaji of one of the prominent Ibadan traditional families of Igbonna compound of popoyemoja.

Tunde Adeniran

A Political Scientist and product of the University of Ibadan, Nigeria and the Columbia University in New York, U.S.A, Professor Adeniran was a staff of the United Nations Organisation in the mid-seventies and taught in some American Universities before he took up appointment at the University of Ibadan, where he worked for twenty years before he retired to go into politics in 1998.

A recipient of many honours and winner of many distinctions, Ambassador Adeniran was a beneficiary of scholarships and fellowships as a student (including being the first Nigerian to win the Youth foundation fellowship and the first African to win the Dana Backus Award).

While serving as Minister of Education, he was said to have initiated bold reforms and championed changes designed to restructure and reposition the Nigerian education sector for rapid development.

A distinguished church leader, Adeniran is deeply involved in community service and charity organisations set up to cater for the needs of the poor and the disadvantaged. He is patron of eight different youth and student organisations.

Jimi Agbaje

Born on March 2, 1957 in Lagos to the late Chief Julius Kosebinu (a banker) and Mrs. Margaret Olabisi (a teacher) Agbaje, Jimi is the second born and first male child of five children. In 1982, he founded his own company, JAYKAY Pharmaceutical and Chemical Company Limited and was Managing Director until 2005, when he ventured into politics.  He was a member of the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (1999 – 2006); National Secretary of the Nigerian Association of General Practice Pharmacists (NAGPP) from 1987 – 1990; National Chairman NAGPP (1990 – 1993) and Chairman Pharmaceutical society of Nigeria, Lagos State (1994 – 1997). He was a member, Lagos State Task force on Fake and Adulterated Drugs (1989 – 1993), National Drug Formulary and Essential Drugs List (1986 – 1993) and Lagos Hospitals Management Board (1994 – 1997).

On how he ventured into politics, Agbaje once said: “It had to do with the Moshood Abiola/Bashir Tofa presidential election,” adding, “I saw the annulment as a personal insult and an assault on the Nigerian people. This led to my first entry into what I would call activism, working with other concerned professionals” such as Prof. Pat Utomi, Dr Ayo Ighodaro, Asue Ighodalo, Billy Lawson, Oby Ezekwesili, Tola Mobolurin and Hassan Odukale.

Jimi was in one form of resistance group or the other which ultimately led his joining the socio-political organisation, Afenifere, where he served as the national treasurer.

Based on his affiliation with Afenifere, he joined the Action Congress (AC), his first political party. In 2007, Agbaje who had initially aspired to contest for the Governor of Lagos State on the platform of the Action Congress (AC) left the party to join the Democratic People’s Alliance (DPA). He was among the 11 aspirants that turned their back on the Action Congress (AC) when it was alleged that former Governor Bola Tinubu had already anointed someone else to succeed him even before the party primaries.

He left DPA in 2011 and went on to join the Peoples Democratic Party following deregistration of DPA by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). On October 29, 2014, he officially indicated his interest in giving the Lagos State gubernatorial elections another shot by picking up the PDP nomination form. On 8th of December 2014, he emerged as the candidate of the PDP for the 2015 gubernatorial election in Lagos State, which he lost for the second time.

Gbenga Daniel

Born on the 6th of April 1956, Chief Gbenga Daniel is a politician and former governor of Ogun State from 2003 to 2011. He is a member of the PDP under which platform he won his governorship ticket for the two terms.

As governor, he attracted heavy criticism and commendations as well. His programme on Public Private Partnership attracted several businesses into the state. Yet, his administration was accused of several misdeeds, some of which he is still standing trial for. However, he is well commended by a majority of the people of Ogun State, who believe his government was people-friendly.

Daniel was born in the old City of Ibadan in the then Western Region. He attended the Baptist Boys High School, Abeokuta from 1969 to 1973, followed by studies at The Polytechnic, Ibadan, and the School of Engineering of the University of Lagos. He became a fellow of the Nigerian Society of Engineers and taught briefly as a lecturer in the School of Engineering, Lagos State Polytechnic.

In 1983, he obtained a job with Schroeder (W.A.) Limited, Lagos, rising to the position of the deputy managing director and becoming the first African to hold that position in the history of the company. He left Schroeder to start his own business. In 1990, he founded Kresta Laurel, an engineering firm, which specialises in elevators, overhead travelling cranes and hoists.

After many deliberations and reconciliatory meetings, orchestrated by the national leadership of PDP, Daniel, who had technically left the PDP in the wake of the 2011 elections, eventually returned to the party in October, 2014.

Olabode Ibiyinka George

A former military governor of Ondo State, and later Chairman of the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), George was the national vice-chairman in the South-west zone of the party, a position which guaranteed him as the Southwest party leader. Born on November 21, 1945 in Lagos, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Lagos and an MBA. He rose to become a Commodore in the Nigerian navy, and was appointed military governor of Ondo State between 1988 and 1990.

He became the Principal Staff Officer to General Oladipo Diya, when the latter was Chief of General Staff, between 1993 and 1997. George was also a Director at the Nigerian National War College (NWC). George, who was appointed NPA Chairman in 1999, was close to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who made him PDP’s National Vice-Chairman, South-west zone in 2001, after which he became the Deputy National Chairman, South, and then the National Deputy Chairman of the PDP.

In August 2008, the EFCC under its new head Farida Waziri arrested George in Lagos and arraigned him and four others on a 163 count-charge of conspiracy, disobedience to lawful order, abuse of office and alleged illegal award of contracts worth N84 billion while he was chairman of the NPA. After the trial had started, the EFCC reduced the charge to 63 counts.

In October 2009, George was found guilty and sentenced to jail for 30 months. The sentence was handed out by Justice Joseph Olubunmi Oyewole. The judge found the defendants guilty on 47 out of the 68 counts. The total sentences added up to 28 years, but the counts for disobedience to lawful order were ruled to run concurrently for six months, and the counts for contract inflation then to run concurrently for two years.

On December 13, 2013, the Supreme Court discharged the conviction of Bode George. The court, headed by judge John Afolabi Fabiyi, said the EFCC had no evidence that George intended to commit fraud at the NPA, and the charges of “contract splitting” was unknown to law.

The State of PDP

Today, as the PDP moves towards another national convention in the aftermath of the one marred by leadership selfishness, former President Goodluck Jonathan has promised to intervene in resolving the crisis rocking the party.  The former president made the promise when the zonal representatives of the PDP Board of Trustees led by its Chairman, Senator Walid Jubril, paid him a courtesy visit. He said although he had been holding consultations with individuals, he would do more to resolve the crisis, noting that ‎Nigerians expected a vibrant opposition to the ruling party and that PDP must rise to the occasion.

“Unfortunately, we have challenges, but I think you should not be discouraged. Challenges are part of life. It comes up in homes and religious places. What is important is our ability to resolve them. This should not be beyond us, but I believe that collectively, we can resolve it. Any sincere PDP member should know that PDP is superior to any individual, and that members have sacrificed their interests for the party. Even the nation expects a more vibrant opposition.

“I have been talking to individuals but not in a way that is exposed to media but I believe I should do more,” Jonathan said even as he regretted the conflicting court orders on the party’s crisis, saying it was “unfortunate that the Nigerian environment is that way to have conflicting court judgments.’’

Speaking earlier, Jubril said the board had decided to pay Jonathan a courtesy call in recognition of his former position as former president and to brief him on the present state of the party.

“It is sad to note that the party has not less than 15 court cases with verdicts given on some and appeal pending.‎ We have realised after our meeting that there was also the need for reconciliation and there were committees set for reconciliations and the reconciliations are ongoing.

“We have decided to organise a special reconciliation committee while the process for the convention is going on. We want the reconciliation to go on. We want you to come into the reconciliation, we are sure that when you do that, we are going to have a way forward in this matter. We have great respect for you in spite of the fact that you have not been appearing in our activities,” Jubril said.

The need for a virile opposition is not far-fetched. Not with the prevailing political and economic realities in the country today. This is why many desperately look up to the PDP to rise from her problems and live up to billings. But should the PDP fail, the political space is not only going to be compromised and left to battle the winner-takes-all syndrome, the future of the nation’s democracy also faces such uncertainty that even time will be unable to predict.