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Published On: Sun, Aug 14th, 2016

PDP Convention: Zoning tears party apart

With just days to the August 17 National Convention of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) billed for Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, the party remains a deeply divided house with clashes of individual and group interests.

Although the opposition party’s Board of Trustee Chairman, Senator Walid Jibril had on Monday last week, assured that the party would be able to settle its lingering crisis and hold a successful convention, there is no indication yet that it would be able to do so.

While there had been series of meetings by different stakeholders in different zones aimed at addressing grievances and building consensus ahead of the convention, all had done little to calm frayed nerves even as the rift is taking regional dimensions.

Investigations by BusinessHallmark reveal that there is a subtle superiority contest between the North and the South West on one hand, and the South South and the South West on the other hand.

It would be recalled that after the Port Harcourt meeting of the party’s Southern leaders where they zoned its chairmanship position to the South West, certain figures in the North supposedly took offence and vowed to flout the South’s zoning arrangement.

States like Kastina, Kebbi, Jigawa and Kano as well as elder Statesman, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai had repordely backed the candidature of High Chief Raymond Dopkesi, the founder of Daar Communications Limited who is from Edo State, South South for the job.

A move some party faithful say was probably informed by the North’s intention to back a southerner who will best protect their interests.

Recalling how former president Olusegun Obasanjo was selected in 1999 as against the South West choice of Chief Olu Falae, a party source from the zone who craved anonymity suggested that it was a possibility that the North would be interested in fostering their favoured candidate on the South, but dismissed it as highly unlikely.

“Yes, we all remember what happened during Obasanjo’s time, such is always a possibility, but it would not be possible under these circumstances.”

On his party, the party’s Publicity Secretary for Lagos State, Mr. Taofik Gani told BusinessHallmark that it would be unfair on the South West for the North to fault the zoning arrangement which ceded the party’s leadership it.

“We have put zoning as part of our way of life,” he said.

“Don’t forget that we made similar mistake of not obeying our zoning arrangement and that’s probably why we lost the last presidential election.

“Therefore, it would be contradictory for the North at this time to want to insist on supporting an aspirant who is not from the South West,” he concluded.

In another twist, there is a brewing animosity between some interests in the South West and party leaders, especially governors in the South South.

While the South South which is currently the party’s key political and financial support base is said to be favouring the candidature of Mr. Jimi Agbaje who was the flag bearer of the party in last year’s governorship election in Lagos, their stance is being resisted by certain groups in the South West, especially those loyal to other candidates.

The decision of the South South to back Agbaje, Hallmark learnt, was informed by their believe that the party needed a fresh candidate who neither belongs to any faction nor has outstanding issues with any group or interest in the party and would therefore be in the best position to unite it.

Agbaje himself is basing the strength of his candidacy on the above premise. Speaking to journalist in Abuja after picking his nomination form, he noted that since he did not belong to any of the existing factions in the party, he stood a better chance of getting everyone to agree.

“What I bring to the table is that I am not a member of any faction or any tendencies,” he said.

“I am in a position to talk to everybody, to ensure that if you love the PDP, then it is time to come back to the zone. I will appeal to those who feel very strongly to join us because Nigeria cannot make the progress it deserves without a viable opposition and that PDP is going to provide that opposition as an alternative government and in a responsible manner.”

However, some groups in the South West is interpreting South South’s support for Agbaje as an attempt by a “politically less relevant” zone to dictate to them.

The South West Consultative Group (SWCG) had for instance, suggested that it was an insult to the zone for the South South governors to contemplate imposing Agbaje on them.

In a statement by its Chairman, Mr. Soji Fadairo, the group said that the Yoruba were enlightened and sophisticated enough to make a proper choice for the position of the party’s chairman and warned the governors to mind their own business.

“It is downright insulting and outrightly rude for the South-South governors to start dabbling into our affairs. Agbaje is by no measure a credible candidate. This neophyte who keeps jumping from party to party is hardly the face of the disciplined leadership of our people,” Fadairo said.

Meanwhile a meeting organized by the governors and party leaders of the zone in Akure last week with the aim of reaching a consensus ended in deadlock as some of the parties to the election disagreed with the recommendations.

Of the three positions ceded to the South West, including the National chairman, the Deputy Publicity Secretary and the Treasurer, it had been agreed at the said meeting that the post of national chairman should be zoned to Lagos and Ogun states where three aspirants: Chief Bode George, Jimi Agbaje and a former governor of Ogun State Gbenga Daniel came from.

On the other hand, the position of treasurer was zoned to Ekiti and Ondo states while Osun and Oyo states were given deputy publicity secretary.

However, other aspirants for chairmanship who are not from the Lagos-Ogun axis like Prof Tunde Adeniran and Prof. Toaheed Adedoja have since faulted the arrangement. Adeniran said the Akure meeting was a mere jamboree.

Asked why the Akure meeting did not produce a consensus candidate, a key figure of the party in Lagos said that contrary to media reports, there was indeed a consensus candidate who he suggested was Chief Bode George, but it was not announced in other not to escalate the existing disagreement.

“We reached a consensus in Akure, but it was not announced because other contestants will not agree. What we are doing now is to speak to them, including Prof Adeniran and Prof Adedoja. We want them to see the need for the party to work together at this critical time.”

While the rift is ongoing, it remains in doubt whether the whole convention would not be null and void even if the party managed to hold it. The existing leadership tussle between the Ahmed Makarfi and the Ali Modu Sheriff factions is still ongoing. Sheriff, it would be recalled had obtained judgement from an Abuja High Court presided over by Justice Okon Abang to the effect that he was the authentic chairman of the party even when other judges had ruled on the contrary.

Mr. Taofik expressed concerns about the possibility of those who feel they were not favoured by the convention teaming up with Sheriff to fight the party, saying such would be most unfortunate at this time.

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