Victor Ogunje writes that the seemingly unabated crisis rocking Ekiti State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) has become so deeply percolated that it would take ingenious and shrewd management for it to subside
The present battle revolves around the two parallel congresses conducted on March 7, 2020, by both ex-Governor Ayodele Fayose and his arch rival, Senator Biodun Olujimi. The two political juggernauts had also gone ahead to inaugurate the opposing executives across the 177 wards . High wired politics is now being contrived at the national level for them to outwit each other in terms of which executive to be recognised by the National Working Committee.
The two main gladiators and their footsoldiers seem resolute in their fight over the conduct of the PDP Ward Congress .Each of them was undaunted in this fierce war and ready to assert themselves in this supremacy battle for the control of party structures at all levels.
With the party polarised along Fayose and Olujimi's factions, pundits are beginning to infer and project that the party has already started the gamble for the 2022 governorship poll, because it needs cohesion and strength to be able to confront the All Progressives Congress moving train.
The problem of PDP began prior to 2018 governorship poll when Fayose, who was then a sitting governor bungled the opportunity for less Herculean succession plan by his autocratic conduct and unbending resolve to impose his deputy, Prof Kolapo Olusola as the gubernatorial candidate.
Though he was able to achieve this through a psedo-democratic fashion, but he paid dearly for it by his failure to win the July 14, 2018 election, despite his amplified boast and grandstanding that he owes the ace in Ekiti politics
At that time, Fayose used his influence to erect pillars that made the PDP uncomfortable for other contestants like Senator Adedayo Adeyeye and his supporters . They eventually left the party to constitute a clog in the wheel of the party's progress.
Fayose at a time even threatened not to accommodate Senator Olujimi in the party on the strength that she was in consequential and not strategic to PDP winning in Ekiti. It took the timely intervention of the National Chairman, Chief Secondus to resolve the matter and kept Olujimi in the fold.
The recent crisis pummeling the PDP looks fiercer than any other ones ever witnessed in the party's history , because the gladiators are determined and unmindful of the consequences it could have on the party. With the way things are going, people are beginning to believe that the PDP has become comfortable with the opposition role it is presently playing.
It all started with a group adopting a former Commissioner for Environment and a PDP Chairmanship candidate , Mr Bisi Kolawole to take over the baton of leadership after Chief Gboyega Oguntuase's tenure through rumoured consensus mode.
But those loyal to Olujimi were rooting for a former House of Representatives member , Hon Kehinde Odebunmi. Those who belong to this fold rejected the secret consensus being pushed by Fayose, describing it as undemocratic and illegal.
Viewing the episodic scenario from a clearer and broader spectrum, this fiasco has made Fayose to lose some of his ardent and loyal lieutenants to Olujimi. Hon Odebunmi, the immediate past PDP Chairman, Gboyega Oguntuase, former Information Commissioner, Lanre Ogunsuyi, former Assembly member, Hon. Bunmi Olugbade, and over 90 percent of the immediate assembly members have abandoned Fayose's for undisclosed reasons. His hitherto solid support base is currently quaking and quivering .
Though, the State Congress has not been conducted and a Caretaker has been set up to pilot the affairs of the party,but the ripples generated by the two ward Congresses conducted by the two opposing groups are ripping the party's foundation.
The two groups have been engaging in brickbats and mudslinging with high cataclysm effect and discordance of monumental proportion that may affect the party's fortunes in 2022.
What actually fuelled the crisis was the suspicion among party members that Fayose used his influence and contacts to rig the Congress. The way the Taraba Deputy Governor, Mr. Haruna Mani , who came to conduct the election from national headquarters comported himself signalled that of conspiracy in certain quarters.
Verifiable accounts in the party revealed that on the day of the Congress , while the two groups had been on the field waiting, the Mani-led committee didn't surface until late in the evening.
Miffed by this unwholesome conduct, those loyal to Olujimi with the support of the Oguntuase-led SWC went ahead and conducted the Congress , which Fayose group had vehemently rejected, branding it an infraction and a breach of the party's constitution , which vested the NWC with powers to conduct the congresses in states.
But later that day, the Taraba Deputy Governor came and those loyal to Fayose conducted the Congress, when security agencies and officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission had allegedly left.
Since that day, the two groups had been claiming to be on the side of the constitution and waiting on the NWC to take appropriate position on the matter, which prompted Oyo State Governor, Engr Seyi Makinde to launch a fence-mending mission that never worked.
In one of the meetings held to resolve the matter, Makinde was said to have advised that the positions be shared between the two groups, which was said to have been stoutly rejected by Fayose on the premise that he remains the leader of the party.
A source said that "Governor Makinde warrned the former governor about the consequences of ignoring Senator Olujimi in the scheme of things. He said she was the only person who didn't allow the party to be shamed in Ekiti. He appealed that the former governor should shift grounds on the matter in the interest of all".
To douse the conflagrating tension, the party's NWC, in a statement signed by its National Organizing Secretary , Col. Austin Akobundu (rtd) announced the composition of a Caretaker Committee in Ekiti, thereby foreclosing the reign of Oguntuase-led executive .
The seven -man caretaker committee chaired by former Senate Deputy Chief Whip and former lawmaker representing Oyo North, Senator Hosea Agboola , has Mr Yinka Akerele, Hon. Samuel Omotosho, Hon. Tunji Odeyemi and Ariyo Afolabi, as members. Others include: Hon. Adeyemi Abiodun Sunday and Hon. Diran Odeyemi , who is to serve as secretary of the committee.
With this configuration, it was lucid that the two feuding leaders were recognised and the party demonstrated neutrality. The duo of Omotosho and Ariyo are Fayose's Loyalists while Akerele and Odeyemi were Olujimi's cult-like supporters.
Commenting on this intractable bedlam, Olujimi said the state leadership of the party has taken definite position on the controversy surrounding the conduct of the ward Congress in Ekiti, by swearing-in the authentic ward leaders on Friday, May 1, in line with court's pronouncement and party's constitution.
The Senator thereby described the inauguration done by Fayose on April 30 as illegal, null and void, insisting that the group inaugurated by Gboyega Oguntuase- led State Working Committee was the authentic ward executives.
"My attention has been drawn to a purported inauguration of Ward Executives in Ekiti state on 30th April ,2020 by one Barrister Niyi Idowu who is based in Lagos and not a member of our party, PDP.
"I wish to state categorically that no such inauguration ever took place in Ekiti State and we stand solidly by the position of the State Executive Committee of the Party as expressed by its Chairman, Gboyega Oguntuase to the effect that the said purported inauguration has no basis in law and fact should be disregarded.
"Our people should learn lessons from the pronouncement of our Courts to the effect that only the State organ of a Party can inaugurate its local chapters.
This is the extant position of the law as pronounced by a High Court in Calabar just a few days ago.
"The true position of events in Ekiti State is that only the Ward Executives elected on 7th March 2020 conducted by the PDP and monitored by the Independent National Electoral Commission, and security agencies in line with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 and Section 85 and 86 of the Electoral Act remain authentic and have assumed to work as from 1st May 2020.
"As the tenure of the last Ward Executive ended at 12 midnight on 30th April 2020, the tenure of the authentic Ward Executives begins from May 1 and they have been duly inaugurated and begun to function".
Olujimi charged the new ward executives to carry every member of the party along in decision making and embark on aggressive mobilization of all factions in their various Wards to building a united, cohesive and well grounded PDP in Ekiti.
Countering the position canvassed by Olujimi, Fayose through his Media Aide, Lere Olayinka posited that his opposition only treaded a path to perdition by resorting to litigation ,rather than settling their differences through party internal mechanism.
Fayose said the process leading to the conduct of the congress of March 7 with Taraba Deputy governor firmly in charge and the subsequent swearing in were legal and without ambiguity.
The former governor said, first, those loyal yo Olujimi were the ones who went to court to challenge the conduct and result of the congresses, saying the judge was very clear by saying that the congresses which they came to court over were not in dispute as the congresses had been conducted and concluded.
"When the process had been concluded, it means that there must be a result. It is like when a governorship election had been concluded, and somebody goes to the tribunal to challenge the result, will that stop the winner from assuming office?
"No, the person will assume office while you go on with your case. Again, from the letter dated April 25, 2020, sent by the National Working Committee, it was clearly stated who the new executive members are, based on the expiration of the tenure of the current executives, and (they) shall hold office for a period of four years pursuant to Section 47(1) of our party's constitution as amended.
"That was on April 30, 2020. When the national body says that the tenure of the ward executive begins April 30, when will they (ward excos in Ekiti) be sworn in", he stated .
On the crisis of confidence trailing the ward Congress, Oguntuase said the issue is redeemable with a seeming iron cast mindset that the bedlam will be resolved by the court.
Oguntuase insisted that the swearing in done for some ward executives loyal to Fayose by a Lawyer, Mr Niyi Idowu, was an abuse of powers and privileges.
"All the actions taken by the Notary Public was a nullity. Only the State Chairman can swear in a ward executive . If the state chairman refuses to perform such function, only the NWC is vested with such powers .
"Those who brought in a lawyer and non-PDP member to perform the swearing acted ultra vires of their powers . They also acted subjudicially because the matter is in court already", he said.
Oguntuase said the party under him had written the lawyer on the need for him to retract his decision and tender apology, failing which he would be reported to the Legal Practitioners' Disciplinary Committee for punitive actions.
"They only embarked on act that embarrassed the PDP. How can we allow a non-member to take actions that can destroy our party?
"They even came at a time there was a total lockdown in Ekiti. They have to explain how they entered Ekiti despite the border closure and how they assembled over 600 people for the swearing in without breaching the social distancing order.
"We are confident that the court will look at the two parallel ward Congresses and adopt the one that was conducted in substantial compliance with the party's constitution and provisions of the Electoral Act", Oguntuase said.
The fear among the party members is that, the party may lose abysmally in 2022, if it's still entangled in attritional war and remain in tatters as it is.
Now , the PDP itself had alleged that the APC has begun a subtle process to poach his members because of the existing cracks. Again, some APC bigwigs might want to make political capital from the crisis by wooing the aggrieved Olujimi to their side the way they did to Senator Adeyeye in 2018, which gleefully paid off.
If the envisaging permutations work, the APC may likely have an easy ride in 2022 , by coalescing federal and state mights to overrun a beleaguered opposition in spite of former Governor Segun Oni's defection to the PDP to advance his political career.
The problem of PDP began prior to 2018 governorship poll when Fayose, who was then a sitting governor bungled the opportunity for less Herculean succession plan by his autocratic conduct and unbending resolve to impose his deputy, Prof Kolapo Olusola as the gubernatorial candidate. Though he was able to achieve this through a suspicious fashion, but he paid dearly for it by his failure to win the July 14, 2018 election, despite his amplified boast and grandstanding that he owes the ace in Ekiti politics