Wednesday, August 10, 2016

PDP Chairmanship: Govs, Others Torn Between Agbaje and George

Olawale Olaleye, Segun James in Lagos, Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja and Ademola Babalola in Ibadan

With a few days to the national convention of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, the leadership of the party still appears to be divided over its choice candidate for the chairmanship post, in spite of the agreement reached to zone the office to the South-west zone.

Locked in the supremacy battle are two groups comprising the governors of the party, on one side, and the elders of the party, in another camp.

While the governors, according to sources, prefer a younger Jimi Agbaje, the party’s governorship candidate in Lagos in the 2015 elections, because of his integrity and cosmopolitan disposition, the elders, made up of mostly PDP founding fathers are said to prefer an older person – Chief Olabode George, a former Deputy National Chairman of the PDP – due to his experience, which he can bring to bear in running the affairs of the party.

This is however coming at a time the South-west leadership of the party, at a meeting in Ibadan, Oyo State, yesterday disowned the consensus deal brokered by Governors Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo State and his Ekiti State counterpart, Ayodele Fayose, in Akure, the Ondo State capital on Monday, which settled for George as the zonal consensus candidate.
The South-west executive committee declared that the office was still open to all from the zone without prejudice.

However, the Lagos PDP Stakeholders group threw its weight behind George, describing him as the most experienced and dynamic of the candidates. This, they claimed, followed the decision of the South-west PDP to present a consensus candidate for the office of chairman.

THISDAY gathered from party sources that the reason the governors prefer Agbaje is because he is seen as someone they can relate with, the absence of any baggage, and someone who will do a good job of cleaning up the party’s image deficit.

Although party sources who spoke to THISDAY also claimed that the governors’ support for Agbaje may not be unconnected to the search for a candidate that might be more malleable, they added that the governors have resolved to back someone who they can work with.

The governors’ preference for Agbaje also stems from their concern over the public perception of George, who was incarcerated by a Federal High Court on allegations of “contract splitting” during his tenure as Chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA). A Supreme Court was later to upturn the decision of the lower court after George had served his prison sentence.

But other stakeholders of the party, comprising mostly its elders, are gunning for George, not only because they see him as a steady hand and one of them, but also because he is seen as one who has the resolve to confront the excesses of other contending forces within the PDP.

For them, their opposition to Agbaje also stems from the fact that he is considered too much of a gentleman, alluding to how he freely dropped his battle for the Lagos governorship without putting up much of a fight.
As a result, they are said to doubt his capacity to lead the party to victory, saying “if he could not win Lagos for himself, then, he cannot win the national election for them”, adding that his disposition over the years has shown that he is not a team player.

Aspirants for Other Offices Emerge

But as the battle among the contending forces gathers momentum over the national chairmanship of the party, THISDAY also learnt that other equally crucial positions might have been resolved in other parts of the country where they have been zoned.

For instance, the office of the national secretary, sources said, had already been settled and the man up for the seat is Senator Ibrahim Ida, a seasoned technocrat from the North-west.

Although, there are other candidates angling for the office, sources said the leadership in that region has settled for Ida and the situation may not change.
For the post of deputy national chairman of the party, which has been zoned to South-south, the party has also settled for Chief Uche Secondus, the immediate past acting national chairman of the PDP, who handed the leadership to the embattled chairman, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff.

In the same vein, the office of the national organising secretary, which was zoned to the South-east, sources hinted, has been conceded to Col. Augustine Akobundu, nearly unopposed. According to sources, Akobundu’s position is about the only office that is not being contested by someone else.

S’West PDP Rejects Consensus Arrangement

Unfortunately for George, the outcome of the Ibadan meeting held yesterday by the Makanjuola Ogundipe-led executive of the party in South-west might have thrown a spanner in the works for him.

Following an emergency zonal meeting at the party’s office in Bodija, Ibadan, the South-west PDP said the position adopted by those who gathered at the Akure meeting on Monday was null and void because it ran foul of the PDP constitution on who has the power to convene any zonal meeting.

Ogundipe, flanked by Chief Pegba Otemolu and Prince Adekola Rasaq, the zonal secretary and auditor, respectively, maintained that the office of the national chairman was open to all contestants from the six states in the zone.

Reading out from the position paper at the extraordinary meeting of the constitutionally elected and legally confirmed South-west zonal executive committee (2014-2018), the party leaders said they acknowledged the hard work of the National Caretaker Committee of the party under Senator Ahmed Makarfi for his unwavering stand on party discipline, internal democracy, and more importantly eradication of impunity in the polity.

They also congratulated the zone for the opportunity to present a candidate for the office of the national chairman already zoned to it, stressing: “You will all agree with our zonal executive committee that this position (National Chairman) belongs to our zone that is made up of six states.

“Therefore, each state should be given the opportunity to either present a viable aspirant or have a say in the form of an internal arrangement.”
The zone, in a statement jointly signed by Ogundipe and Otemolu, however, lauded Fayose and Mimiko, as well as Senator Buruji Kashamu, for their efforts at ensuring the unity, stability, peace and oneness of the PDP, even as it prayed for a successful national convention.

However, rising from a meeting in Lagos yesterday, the Stakeholders Forum, in a statement read by its chairman, Chief Philips Aivoji, a former commissioner in the state, stated that the emergence of the “undisputed consensus candidate (George) of our party was based largely on his stability of purpose, his undying presence, his courage, his expertise, his loyalty, his consistency, his strong national network, his maturity and his rich experience in party management and administration”.

It added: “At the end of the deliberations, the resolve was apparent, clear and unambiguous. From Chief Yekini Adeojo to Erelu Obada, Senator Iyiola Omisore, Senator Teslim Folarin, Chief Oyedokun, Ebenezer Babatope and Senator Kofo Bucknor, everyone agreed that our candidate is the best and the most experienced candidate among the field of aspirants.”

While disclosing that a five-man reconciliation committee had been set up to bring back aggrieved members in the zone, the group pleaded for the understanding of the other contestants who lost to the consensus candidate.

Aivoji announced the committee members to include Alhaji Yekini Adeojo, Dr. Olu Alabi, Senator Bucknor Akerele, Chief Eddy Olafeso and Chief Salimot Badru.
He said an olive branch had been extended to all by the candidate, whom he said would be unveiled today.
“We appeal to Prof. Tunde Adeniran, Prof. Toaheed Adedoja, Mr. Jimitota Agbaje and Mr. Gbenga Daniel to please respect the wishes of our leaders in the South-west and quickly rally round our candidate.”

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