Ondo Guber Crisis Keeps PDP Reconciliation at Bay

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  • Party’s governors accuse APC, INEC of rigging plot
  • Akeredolu denies rift with Tinubu, boasts he’ll defeat Jegede, Ibrahim combined

Tobi Soniyi and Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja

Recent efforts by the factional leaderships of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to restore peace to the party could hit a brick wall owing to the tussle for the party’s ticket in the November 26 governorship election in Ondo State.

Sources from both sides of the divide in the PDP dispute have said that the fragile understanding that exists between the key actors in the conflict — the Chairman of the National Caretaker Committee, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, and the ousted National Chairman, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff — is being threatened by the decision of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to substitute Eyitayo Jegede’s name with Jimoh Ibrahim’s as the candidate of the party to fly its flag in the Ondo poll.

Jegede, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, had emerged the candidate of the party last August after it held its primary in Akure, the state capital, that was monitored by INEC.

However, Ibrahim emerged as the candidate of the party recognised by the Sheriff-led faction of the PDP, in a primary held a few days later in Ibadan, Oyo State.

Subsequently, Ibrahim challenged the emergence of Jegede as the candidate of the PDP at the court, and obtained a ruling declaring him the candidate of the party.

On this basis, INEC, which had earlier rejected the factional candidate of the PDP in the Edo State governorship election, last Friday, surprisingly recognised Ibrahim as the candidate of the PDP in the Ondo poll.

Since the decision, the state has been enveloped in tension, with protests breaking out over INEC’s decision at the weekend.

THISDAY gathered from sources yesterday that both sides have temporarily abandoned negotiations and are now strategising on how to outwit each other and to secure the ticket for the Ondo governorship election.

Before the clash of interests brought about by the court-ordered substitution of the governorship candidate of the PDP, the opposition party’s reconciliation was already encountering problems over how to constitute the reconciliation panel and the national convention committee.

However, the tussle between the rival governorship candidates of the two PDP factions has further exacerbated the problem and is putting the peace talks in jeopardy.

The uncertainty over the PDP’s reconciliatory efforts came just as the governors of the party yesterday raised the alarm over a puported plot by the All Progressives Congress (APC) with the help of INEC to rig the Ondo State governorship election.

The PDP Governors’ Forum, in a statement by its secretary, Patrick Okon, also called for INEC’s overhaul.

It alleged that APC was bent on capturing Ondo State by all means and had enlisted the assistance of INEC to execute its plan.

The governors said: “We are aware of the plan by APC to get Ondo State by all means, including enlisting the assistance of INEC.

“We are warning that we will not fold our arms to watch this impunity and daylight robbery. INEC is an umpire and should play its role very well so that the electorate will have confidence in it.

“From the way things are going, the people are already losing confidence in the commission. INEC should stick to its electoral mandate and should not subvert the law of the land.

“INEC should conduct itself very well in this forthcoming Ondo State governorship election to avoid a repeat of what happened in the Edo election. We call on Mr. President to caution his party, APC, and INEC to be fair in this coming election schedule for November 26.”

Akeredolu Boasts, Denies Rift with Tinubu

But as the PDP reels with internal division and the crisis that has arisen over its governorship candidate in the Ondo poll, the APC governorship candidate, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN), has boasted that he will defeat both Jegede and Ibrahim if they both combined to face him as candidates of the PDP in the state.

Akeredolu, who was formally presented to President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday as the candidate of the party by the Plateau State Governor, Solomon Lalong, who also doubles as the chairman of Akeredolu’s campaign team, added that there was no rift between himself and the National Leader of the party, Senator Ahmed Bola Tinubu.

Akeredolu had emerged the winner of a disputed primary alleged to have been marred by irregularities.

His emergence became contentious, compelling some stakeholders in the ruling APC, including Tinubu and former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, to call for the resignation of the party’s National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun.

Tinubu and some other stakeholders had called for a rerun of the primary, alleging that the leadership of the APC compromised the process leading to Akeredolu’s emergence.

Asked what his chances were facing Ibrahim as the candidate of the PDP, Akeredolu said: “I can assure you I would have been happier facing both of them together. If Eyitayo Jegede was chosen as candidate and Ibrahim as his deputy, I will still win.

“In fact, Jegede happens to be a friend, Ibrahim too. Jimoh Ibrahim went to University of Ife. So, we have known ourselves for long. I have no fear of both of them. We know that we are going to win this election and I have no doubt.”

On his purported rift with Tinubu, the APC gubernatorial candidate said: “I don’t have any rift with him. Since the primary you would see that as the leader of the party, he has not said anything about it. He has accepted the primary and we are moving on. So I don’t have any rift with him at all and we are moving on.”

He asked the state’s incumbent governor, Olusegun Mimiko, to ensure that there is security and peaceful co-existence in the state, alleging that those demonstrating on the streets of the state capital were paid miscreants by the state government.

According to him, local issues in the PDP should not be externalised. He called on the security agencies to be up and doing so as to restore normalcy to the state.

Explaining why he is leading the Akeredolu campaign organisation, Lalong said: “A few weeks ago, I was given the responsibility of leading the campaign on behalf of the National Executive for the Ondo election.

“And the candidate since the election at the primary has not come to be presented to the leader of our party, that is Mr. President. So, today we came in with the candidate and to confirm to the president that APC has only one candidate, unlike other parties that are fighting over who is their candidate.

“We have only one candidate and that candidate is Chief Rotimi Akeredolu.”

On the chances of APC winning in Ondo, the Plateau State governor said: “Well that is not a problem for APC. Since inception, you knew what happened in Kogi, you knew what happened in Edo, we won the elections. It was as if it was going to be very difficult for us, but we won the elections.

“Today again we are going into Ondo. All the mistakes we made in other states we have corrected them; we are envisaging a very smooth election; not only a smooth election but the credibility of the candidate itself is something worth selling.”

Commenting on Mimiko’s recent visit to Buhari, Lalong said: “Let me say that it was even wrong of them to start running to Mr. President to help them solve the problem of the PDP.

“Mr. President is the President of Nigeria and he is not a member of PDP, even when we have problems in APC, we don’t run to Mr. President. If he has a problem in his state, he is the governor, so let him stay there and resolve the matter.

“It’s an internal matter between PDP and PDP and those matters are in court. So why should you run to the president? Is the president the chief judge of Nigeria? He is not the INEC chairman either.”

Lalong said Buhari as a loyal party man endorsed Akeredolu as the party’s candidate for the Ondo governorship election.