Assistant Editor EMMANUEL BADEJO examines the task before the Lagos State Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Caretaker Committee, which is expected to guide the party towards the next general elections.
No doubt, a herculean task awaits the newly-appointed caretaker committee of the Lagos State Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), though the nine-man executive committee is yet to be inaugurated. This may not be the best of times for the leading opposition party and the committee members, who are expected to galvanise the factionalised chapter, by enthroning unity and reshaping it for effective engagement in the state’s politics.
Chief among the goals being drawn up for the Julius Akinsola-led committee is to run the affairs of the party for the first three months, from November 2021 to February 2022. It is expected that they will deliver the process that will take the party from obscurity to the limelight, as preparations for the 2023 governorship elections seem to have started. Others members of the panel include Ade Adeniyi (Secretary), Ademola Oyede, Dr. Babs Akinlolu, Nuru Abiodun Lawal, Alhaja Babs Olorunkemi, Chief Alani Ige, Olabisi Odunsi and Alhaji Bode Oladehinde.
But, to what extent can the committee raise the bar and reposition the party for a robust engagement in the state’s political arena? This is something that many pundits are wearied about. Indeed, it is obvious that the PDP in Lagos State, which appears to be in a mute mood, has been plagued with divisions since its formation 23 years ago.
Even when it appears that the party at the national level seems to be experiencing some relative peace, the state chapter has been a hotbed of factions and constant bickering. This played out recently when the party attempted to hold its botched congress. Physically, everything appeared set for the congress, but it later came to the open that internal squabbles within the party could not allow the centre to hold, hence the gathering of party men and women at Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS) scattered without electing new managers.
Senator Abiodun Olujimi, the deputy chairman, organising committee of the ill-fated congress, gave an inkling of deep-rooted rivalry and disaffection within the party. She hinted that different interest groups within the party were a threat to its peaceful co-existence. She said: “Though voting will soon commence, it is very apparent that some people don’t want this process to go on; some people want to truncate the process. It is also clear that some people want to vote. So, there is a clash of interests and we’re trying as much as possible to resolve the issue. We tried to reach a consensus; we tried to resolve the challenge, but we couldn’t; if we had succeeded, we would have just come here today to read out the list. Notwithstanding, the exercise will be free and fair. Whether they want it or not, we will maintain law and order to do as much as we can.”
Notwithstanding her assurances, the internal rivalry eventually prevailed and the congress was abruptly brought to an end. But, close observers said this is not new as simmering tensions have been plaguing the party for close to two decades. Some observers within the party alleged that the overbearing tendencies of Chief Bode George, former Deputy National Chairman, has been undermining the progress of the opposition party in Lagos State and that they have been challenging his claim of controlling a large chunk of party structures in the state.
As a result, the sharing formula for appointments and other largesse that accrues to the chapter is skewed in favour of the former deputy national chairman. For instance, it has been said that for more than 20 years, 65 per cent of the state structure of the PDP has been under his control, while the remaining 35 percent are shared among other party chieftains in the state. When he was part of the national leadership, those in search of federal appointments and contracts kept vigil at his residence to curry his favour because he had great influence over who was appointed from Lagos. It is not certain on how either the caretaker committee or the coming executive members will tackle this anomaly. This is a matter that is of utmost concern to party stakeholders.
One recurrent factor, however, was that throughout the party’s control at the federal level, Lagos PDP hardly won elections at any level in the state. As the years went by, the divisions deepened and the fortunes of the party has dwindled. Many prominent members began leaving and even among those who remained, there was no unity of purpose.
There were also speculations that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in Lagos has infiltrated the state chapter. Prior to the 2019 elections, the party earlier lost its chairman, Moshood Salvador to the ruling party. The vacuum created by his defection sparked struggles among chieftains to take over its leadership.
The late Dr. Adegbola Dominic, a one-time governorship aspirant emerged as a replacement for Salvador in September 2018, amidst grumbling from some quarters. Those who opposed his emergence, like the former Minister of Works, Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe, who is now a chieftain of the APC, claimed the affirmation of Dominic was not constitutional, as it was against the laid down procedure in the party’s constitution.
It was clear that the discordant tune over who emerged the new chairman was a fall-out of the leadership crisis at the national level when former Borno State Governor Ali Modu Sheriff and former Kaduna State Governor Ahmed Makarfi were claiming the chairmanship before the Supreme Court finally recognized the latter.
At the state level, members who were divided along Sheriff and Makarfi camps could not bury their differences and leave the past behind to build a formidable opposition. Under the chairmanship of Chief Uche Secondus, the chapter did not fare better. Rather, it became more decimated over the chairmanship of the state chapter. During the penultimate national convention that produced Chief Uche Secondus as chairman in December 2017, observers were shocked at how some chieftains worked against the candidature of George, who is unarguably the leader and sole financier of the party in Lagos.
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Worse still, Mr. Jimi Agbaje, a former governorship candidate of the party, as well as several other candidates from the Southwest, rose against George, thus blighting his chances and that of the zone to produce the next national chairman, despite that the position has never come to the region.
Also, in Lagos, the 2019 elections exposed the seemingly intractable schism within the party with all stakeholders working at cross-purposes. The governorship candidate of the party was accused of not carrying the party along in his campaign. This was seen from the inability of the party to hold any statewide rally during the 2019 electioneering and this largely contributed to its defeat at all levels.
After the election, key chieftains left in anger over their disagreement with the party leadership under Chief George, while the late Dominic remained the chairman. Among those who left were Senator Ogunlewe, former House of Representatives candidate; Mutiu Okunola, the only PDP member in the last Lagos Assembly; Dipo Olounrinu and many others.
The National Working Committee (NWC), however, set up a three-man committee, led by Senator Ben Obi, to conduct a special congress in order to accommodate the aggrieved members. The Congress was scheduled for November 13, 2019. But, the Dominic-led executive quickly approached the State High Court where an order restraining the NWC from conducting a fresh election in the state was obtained. Justice T. A. O. Oyekan-Abdullahi of the Lagos High Court ordered that the status quo should remain in the affairs of the PDP in Lagos State.
However, the PDP committee which has two other members – Muktar Ahmed and Biodun Olujimi — went ahead to conduct a special congress at a hotel in Lagos where Deji Doherty emerged as the PDP chairman, while seven other vacant positions were filled. Other winners at the election included Akojemu Bidemi Florence for Chairman, Badagry Local Government Area (LGA), Kolawole Mike, for Apapa LGA; Amode Akeem for State Organising Secretary, Showole Olusegun Jubril, Vice Chairman Central Senatorial District, and Assistant State Secretary, Olayinka Dada.
The primary, which was meant to mend fences, further deepened the crisis as the Dominic-led executive dismissed the special congress as illegal and gross disobedience of court pronouncement which ordered that the status quo be maintained.
In the camp of Chief George, the special congress was seen as a move to weaken his hold on the party executive despite committing his resources to keep the party functional and active.
When a chieftain of the party and one-time senatorial candidate, Segun Adewale, popularly known as Aeroland took over the party secretariat proclaiming himself the state chairman, it was George that the police handed over the keys to the secretariat along Shogunle/Ikeja GRA to.
Thereafter, Deji Doherty, a former chairman of the party attempted to wrestle the structure of the party from Chief George and that further deepened the rivalry. It was believed that Doherty had the backing of some party bigwigs outside the state to challenge the status quo. But, George’s camp gave a spirited fight. At the height of the imbroglio, the national leadership constituted a Reconciliation and Strategic Committee, led by former Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki.
The former Senate president tried to reconcile warring factions across the country, including Lagos. But the purportedly achieved reconciliation was short-lived and the struggle for the soul of the party remains a hard nut for the new caretaker committee to crack. The intrigues associated with in-fighting and deep-rooted rivalry within the party, it is said, are the reasons the appointed caretaker committee is yet to be inaugurated.
A source that prefers to be anonymous said the Lagos PDP is really wobbling and except the party rejigs itself, its fortune will continue to wane.
Nevertheless, a chieftain expressed confidence that members of the caretaker committee would deliver. Tunji Shelle, a former chairman, said there was a need for the caretaker committee to avoid a vacuum in the party’s leadership in the state, adding that, he was happy about the calibre of people appointed. He said: “The caretaker committee is not a new thing in any political party. Whenever there are indications that things need to be straightened out in a political party, a caretaker committee is put in place. So, the leadership of the party has thought fit and necessary to constitute one now. I am happy that the calibre of the people in the caretaker committee is reputable; having unquestionable character and integrity. These are people that can be trusted, who know their onions and are grounded in politics.
“So, my expectation is that they will do the needful and fix our party. They’ll be able to ensure that we organise a congress that would pilot the affairs of the party to victory. The calibre of people that are in the caretaker committee is highly experienced. That said, we the party men and women should give them the needed support. If we don’t support them, taking the party to enviable heights in the state may be difficult. That means we all have the responsibility to lift the party.”
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