The newly elected Southwest Executive Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has many hurdles to scale to unite the party, reports ‘Dare Odufowokan, Assistant Editor
Following a keenly contested election, a former Oyo State Deputy Governor, Taofeek Arapaja, a preferred candidate of Governor Seyi Makinde, has emerged the Southwest Zonal Vice Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Arapaja polled 343 votes to defeat Dr. Eddy Olafeso, who scored 330, and was declared winner of the poll by chairman of the Congress and Benue State Deputy Governor, Benson Abounu.
Ibadan-born Arapaja, a protégée of the late strongman of Ibadan politics, Lamidi Adedibu, served as a two term Chairman of Ibadan South-East Local Government between 1996 and 2003. He was also elected to represent Ibadan South-East/Ibadan North Federal Constituency at the National Assembly between 2003 and 2007. He emerged the Deputy Governor of Oyo State in 2007 on the platform of the PDP.
In 2011, Arapaja was appointed Nigerian Ambassador to Jordan and Iran. He vacated the office in 2015 at the expiration of his tenure and the presidential victory of the All Progressives Congress (APC). He left the PDP in 2016 and joined the APC. He left the APC for the African Democratic Congress (ADC) in 2018 in his quest to govern Oyo State. His gubernatorial aspiration ended when he could not get the ticket of his new party.
Last November, Arapaja led politicians from three political parties to return back to the PDP in Oyo State. He cited the developmental strides of Governor Makinde as motivation for his decision to return to the party. Upon his return, he said, “As founding members of the PDP in the Southwest, we cannot be pleased with its current state. And we will be willing to help resuscitate the party in the zone.’
With the leadership crisis that rocked the party in the zone for many years following the factionalisation of the party in almost all the states of the Southwest, many prominent politicians in the zone were touted as possible choices as Zonal Vice Chairman. Arapaja featured prominently in all the permutations ahead of the last zonal congress of the opposition party held in Osogbo, the Osun State capital. His victory at the congress brought to an end, many months of political brickbats and media war between the two leading groups within the party led by Governor Seyi Makinde and former Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose, respectively.
Since his emergence, Arapaja has been talking about returning the PDP in the Southwest to its virile and winning old self. “We want to win elections. That is the main mission of a political party. We need everybody to win elections and that is what we want to set about doing,” he said.
While many chieftains of the party within and outside the zone, especially those in support of Makinde, see Arapaja’s emergence as a good omen for the PDP in the zone, some others are still displeased with the turn of events. While Fayose has told all those who cares to listen that he is ready to work with the new leadership as well as Makinde, some of the former governor’s supporters are still of the opinion that Arapaja lacks what is needed to unite the PDP in the Southwest. They fear he will continue to play the factional cards and worsen the current situation.
The tasks ahead
Few weeks ago, Governor Makinde inaugurated the new zonal party executives in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital. At the inauguration ceremony, the governor asserted that the success of the Southwest Zonal Congress of the PDP was the beginning of the redemption of the country. He set the tasks ahead clear for Arapaja and his men. Apart from promptly uniting the party in all the states of the zone, Makinde said the new zonal leadership must lead PDP to victory in the next elections.
He pleaded with the Arapaja-led Southwest Executive Council of the PDP to put behind intrigues and politicking that took place during the congress and reconcile all aggrieved members.
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Speaking during the ceremony, Arapaja said the cardinal mission of his tenure was to bring repositioning, progress and general well-being to the party. “I know that the fortune of our party lies on the executives who are the umpire. Therefore, this newly elected executive shall strive hard and God being on our side, we shall leave no stone unturned in moving our party to greater heights,” he assured.
Hurdles on the way
But as Arapaja and his team seek to unite the party and lead it to win future elections; pundits are saying he will have to first deal with some hurdles on his way if he is to make a success of his new assignment. Prominent among the hurdles is the current state of the PDP in many states of the zone. According to very reliable party sources, Arapaja is already finding out how difficult it may be to unite the party in a couple of states in the zone. “He is aware of the difficult situations in some states. In fact, the presence of some chieftains at the inauguration and the absence of others are already sources of fresh intrigues as we speak,’ a source said.
The Nation gathered that the inauguration of the new executives sparked a fresh row within the party in the zone following the alleged recognition of some people as state chapter chairmen. According to findings, Kehinde Odebunmi, Waliu Hassan, Yinka Kukoyi, Soji Adagunodo were allegedly recognised by the organisers of the event as PDP state chairmen of Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun and Osun respectively, to the chagrin of the Fayose camp.
Checks by The Nation revealed that the four chieftains are factional chairmen of the party loyal to the Governor Makinde camp. In their various states, the Fayose camp parades other persons as chairmen of the state chapter of the PDP. In Ekiti, Bisi Kolawole is the state chairman of the party while in Lagos, Deji Doherty is the chairman of the PDP as far as Fayose and his people are concerned.
In Osun State, Sunday Bisi is the state chairman known to the Fayose camp while Dr. Sikirulai Ogundele is their recognised state chairman in Ogun State. The national leadership of the party, led by Prince Uche Secondus, also recognises the Fayose favoured state chairmen in the four states in contention. Only Ondo and Oyo state chapters are not being contested by the Fayose camp.
The Nation however learnt that Arapaja is already making moves to reconcile the various factions in the state as part of his plan to unite the party. “We have plans to tackle the issues from the very roots. We will go to the state and talk to the various groups and other stakeholders. We will heal all wounds and reconcile all differences. It is a huge task but we have started the moves and we are getting good results. PDP is a family and when we fight, we settle,” an aide to the new zonal chairman said.
Another hurdle before Arapaja on his way to uniting the PDP in the Southwest, according to observers, is former Governor Fayose. In spite of his announcement that he will accept and work with Arapaja as the new leader of the party in the Southwest, the former Ekiti governor is still expressing some reservations about Arapaja, Makinde and the new PDP leadership in the zone. This, many pundits claim, is a sign that trouble may not be over yet within the opposition PDP.
Also, the conspicuous absence of prominent PDP chieftains like Fayose, PDP governorship candidates in Osun and Ogun states, Senator Ademola Adeleke and Hon. Ladi Adebutu, respectively, as well as the immediate past Zonal Chairman of the party in Southwest, Dr. Eddy Olafeso, among numerous others, at the inauguration of the new zonal leadership by Governor Makinde in Ibadan, is sending out wrong signals about the party’s readiness for peace.
Fresh signs of trouble
“What we expected to see at the inauguration was a united party, following the soothing statements of peace and reconciliation that followed the election in Osogbo. But what we saw was a more divided party. The absence of Fayose, Adeleke, Olafeso, Adebutu and many other party chieftains, especially those in Fayose’s camp, is not an indication that peace is on its way to the troubled party. If anything, it is a sign that the worst is yet to happen,” Sola Mac-Oduwole of the Democracy Watch Initiative (DWIn) observed.
It would be recalled that hours after accepting the result of the elections that produced Arapaja and others, Fayose described the entire exercise as a scam. Speaking on a national television programme after leaving Osogbo, the former governor accused Governor Makinde of using ‘thugs’ to manipulate the poll. He also alleged that attempts were made to assassinate him in the course of the election.
“I have accepted this result not because they won but because I am one of the people that can’t defect to another party. I conceded not because they won. I conceded because the PDP is a bigger picture. I want to say that conceding does not amount to defeat; it is sheer exhibiting leadership,” Fayose said while explaining why he congratulated the winner in spite of his belief that the election was rigged. According to him, dead people were accredited to vote during the now controversial election.
“We compelled them to announce publicly how many people were accredited. They resisted that and said they will announce state-by-state. The norm is for you to announce accreditation and tell us how many people came and how many votes are expected. By the accreditation, they initially said Oyo State had 115 people on the list, 104 accredited. Out of 104, 82 people voted. At the end of the exercise, the accreditation was 675, publicly announced. Ekiti voted first, followed by Ogun, Lagos, Osun then they purposely allowed Oyo to vote last. When you look at the alphabet, you will realise that a game was obviously going on,’ he claimed.
Also, The Nation gathered that the Makinde camp is yet to fully trust Fayose and his group. “While both Makinde and Arapaja are publicly mouthing peace and reconciliation, as politicians, they are cautious in dealing with Fayose and his people. In politics, some people can stoop to conquer. Fayose’s current political correctness is suspicious as far as some of our leaders are concerned. Many of our leaders, within and outside the zone are urging caution in dealing with Fayose,” a source told The Nation.
Hon. Adetokunbo Pearse, a chieftain of the party in Lagos State, while speaking on the current state of the party in the zone, insisted that it will be foolhardy of anybody to trust Fayose completely. “Governor Makinde and the Arapaja team must be mindful that a political barracuda is lying in wait for them. Ayo Fayose is still on the loose, working assiduously to derail their efforts. It is reasonable to assume that these leaders and most PDP stakeholders are wise to Fayose’s antics. But here is an appeal to others who may admire his shenanigans or are entertained by his theatrics: Take a careful look at Fayose’s words and actions, if you do, you will find a disturbed man who seems to be harbouring a political death wish. Please do not let him drag you into the grave with him,” he warned.