Ogun PDP: An atomistic party at war with itself

by Max Amuchie

In the 1980s when we were admitted into the University of Calabar two things would happen to a fresher. One is that he or she would get to know about Eskor Toyo, the fiery professor of economics, who as a Marxist scholar, was very popular among students. No matter one’s department, no serious student in Unical could ever miss any public forum where Eskor, as he was popularly known to students, would be speaking.

The second was that the Unical fresher would get to be told what Emmanuel Ayandele said about Cross River State. Ayandele, a respected professor of history, was the pioneer vice chancellor of Unical when the university was established in 1975. Before then it was a campus of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Ayandele, we were told, described Cross River State (which then included the present Akwa Ibom State) as an atomistic society perpetually at war with itself. Though the Cross River elite did not find Ayandele’s statement amusing but what he said was a true reflection of the state of affairs in the old Cross River State at that time. Before Akwa Ibom State was created, there was serious schism between the people of Akwa Ibom State and those from the remaining Cross River State. The state civil service and Unical, which was and still is a federal institution, were the battlefields. Ayandele, as vice chancellor, had to cry out because the struggle for supremacy by the local elite was affecting the smooth running of the university.

In the last few weeks, the struggle over those who will carry the flag of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Ogun State for various elective positions in the forthcoming elections has made headlines and the issue appears not resolved three weeks to the beginning of the elections. Last week, a federal high court in Abuja dismissed the petition filed by the faction loyal to Gbenga Daniel, governor of Ogun State, challenging candidature of Tunji Olurin, a retired major general of the Nigerian army and former commander of ECOMOG, as governorship candidate of the ruling party in the April election. Daniel faction’s candidate is Gboyega Isiaka, a former managing director of Gateway Hotels. With the judgment, Olurin has become the party’s candidate even though the PDP has appealed against the court decision.

The scenario playing out in Ogun State is actually a battle of supremacy between former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the state governor, Gbenga Daniel. Every PDP aspirant in Ogun State had to queue behind either Daniel or Obasanjo and stood the chance of picking or risk of losing the ticket based on the collective fortune of each camp. With the latest development, the Obasanjo camp has upper hand. That means that all those whose primaries were conducted by the Joju Fadairo-led State Executive Committee of the party have lost out. The Fadairo Executive Committee is the camp loyal to Daniel.

It may eventually turn out to be a pyrrhic victory for Obasanjo. The scenario unfolding in Ogun State is similar to the dilemma faced by the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) in Lagos State during the aborted third republic when the party was torn apart by the crisis caused by the struggle for the governorship ticket of the party between Dapo Sarunmi and Femi Agbalajobi in 1990/91. The two opposing groups could not resolve the issues between them before the party went for election. The result was that while the SDP won majority seats in the Lagos State House of Assembly, the party lost the governorship election. That was how Michael Otedola, candidate of the defunct National Republican Convention (NRC) became the governor of Lagos State.

The camps of Obasanjo and Daniel have every reason to close ranks before the election. Among the six states of the Southwest, the PDP currently controls only two, Ogun and Oyo states while the rival Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN)controls three namely Ekiti, Osun and Lagos. The Labour Party is in control of Ondo State.

The ACN has not hidden its desire to control the entire Southwest. As far as the leaders of the ACN are concerned, Ogun and Oyo states need to be ‘liberated’ from PDP and the best time to do so is next month’s election. It is actually easy for ACN to strategise on how to take Ogun and Oyo states because there will be no governorship election in Osun, Ekiti, Ondo and Edo (the other state controlled by ACN) next month for reasons well known.

If because of the intimidating profile of Obasanjo, the ACN felt it could not pick Ogun State even though its governorship candidate, Ibikunle Amosun is not a pushover but with the present crisis, the ACN will be going into the election with joyful expectation. The party’s leaders and strategists led by Bisi Akande and Bola Tinubu, former governor of Lagos State, will want to humiliate Obasanjo by defeating him in his home state of Ogun.

If the Abuja court decision subsists, the PDP cannot dissuade Daniel, as sitting governor from entering into an alliance with the opposition, in this case Amosun, with a view to delivering the state to the opposition in the election. He will not be the first to do so. There is already precedent. In 2007, Lucky Igbinedion, then governor of Edo State, worked against Oserheimen Osunbor, who was candidate of the PDP for the 2007 governorship election in the state. Igbinedion pitched his tent with Adams Oshiomhole, the ACN candidate, who was eventually declared winner after the court sacked Osunbor, who was declared winner by INEC.

In the second republic, Olusola Saraki, the patriarch of Kwara politics had used the same strategy. After falling out with Adamu Attah, whom he had installed as governor of Kwara State in 1979 on the platform of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN), he worked against Attah’s re-eclection bid in 1983 by working for the victory of Cornelius Adebayo, candidate of the opposition Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), now defunct.

He did it again in 2003 when he decamped from the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) to ensure that the late Mohammed Lawal, whom he installed as governor in 1999 was defeated by his own son, Bukola Saraki, candidate of the PDP.

It is clear that what will be uppermost in Daniel’s mind at this time is self-preservation. He will want to be assured that his interest will be protected when he leaves office on May 29. Given the deep-seated animosity between the camp loyal to him and the Obasanjo camp, it is unlikely he will trust any agreement reached with Olurin. Already there are insinuations that the former ECOMOG chief will want to probe Daniel if he is elected governor. This may decide fate of PDP in Ogun State.

Addendum: Just after completing this write-up there was information that Daniel and his supporters have decamped from the PDP. This is not the best of times for the ruling party in Ogun State.

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