TRACKING___Can the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) spring back in the South-West in 2023? This is the poser the recent unification rally of the party held at the historic Mapo Hall, Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, seeks to answer. WALE ELEGBEDE writes
Ibadan, the Oyo State capital is known for many things. But one of the things that distinguishes the ancient city is its clout as the political headquarters of the South-west zone. The city is considered, more than any location in the zone, as strategic to political considerations in the region.
But beyond the political influence, there is a historic building in the ancient city that has the bragging rights of being the epicenter of the political, social and cultural movement of the Yoruba people. This building is known as Mapo Hall and every political gathering there usually come with its significance.
Mapo Hall, an historical heritage bequeathed by the colonial masters had its construction commenced in June 1925 and the only structure with similar sense of antiquity is the famous Buckingham Palace in London.
Over the years, the hall had played host to major political and social events in the city, shaping the socio-political direction of Nigeria in general. The sixth annual convention of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) was held there on May 5, 1955 and it was there that Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe delivered his presidential address.
In May 1967, the Western Leaders of Thought also met there and it was there that Chief Obafemi Awolowo outlined his thoughts on the Nigerian Civil War and he also held a campaign there in 1983. Even President Muhammadu Buhari in the run-up to the 2019 elections, had his campaign at the historic structure.
Perhaps, abreast of these facts about Mapo Hall, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the South-West zone decided to toe the line of significance which Mapo Hall offers to its users by holding its unification rally for all the six states in the zone at the hall last Wednesday. Incidentally, that was the first time leaders and members of the party in the zone met since after the 2019 general election.
Aside from congregating as a party to reappraise its state and chart new ways of moving forward just one year after the last elections, the party also used the rally to welcome defectors and some of its bigwig returnees from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) back to its fold.
Since the outcome of the 2019 general election, the worth of the party in the zone has been flat like a ruler, especially in the face of lingering crisis trailing many of its state chapters including Ogun, Ekiti, Osun and Lagos states.
Although PDP presidential flag bearer, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, vigorously solicited for votes in the region and even dangled restructuring before the people of the zone, the South-West people instead chose the APC and its candidate.
After the election, the APC candidate and incumbent, Muhammadu Buhari, was declared winner of the keenly contested poll after polling 15. 1 votes million against Atiku’s 11.2 million votes, thereby returning to Aso Rock with a margin lead of 3.9 million votes.
Atiku lost to Buhari in the South-West with a margin of 259,780 votes after polling 1.7 million votes against APC’s Buhari’ 2.03 votes. However, the PDP candidate won two states in in the zone, namely, Oyo and Ondo.
At the gubernatorial level, the party contested the three vacant seats in Ogun, Oyo and Lagos. While it was able to secure the Oyo State seat, it lost woefully in Ogun and Lagos to its perennial albatross, the APC.
In the senatorial election, the party won four seats out of the possible 18 in the zone. The PDP won two seats in Ondo and one each in both Osun and Oyo states. However, the party also got one via the tribunal, which upturned APC’s victory in Ekiti State.
Across the states that made up the zone, protracted internal crises became the order of the day and traits of betrayal, conspiracy, greed, inordinate ambition and thirst for power and personal interests were proffered as reasons for the party’s loss in states like Lagos, Ogun and Ekiti.
Expectedly, the managers of the party in the zone, led by Dr. Eddy Olafeso from Ondo State, went to work to see how it can evoke the good old days of the party in the zone. Recall that between 1999 and 2007, the PDP was on cruise control in the zone especially during 2003 general elections where it won five out of the six states in the zone.
To return the party’s fortune, the only PDP governor in the zone, Engr Seyi Makinde, has been serving as the middleman in all the crisis-ridden state chapters of the party. The governor earlier held a stakeholders meeting of leaders in the zone at the Oyo State government house and it was from there that it was agreed that the unity rally held last Wednesday should take place. He also visited Lagos and Ekiti states in an attempt to unite the leaders in the state.
On the day of the unification rally, all roads led to Mapo Hall in Ibadan as the gathering witnessed a large turnout of party chieftains, members and faithful supporters of PDP from across the region.
Opening the floor, Olafeso, said the gathering showed party leaders were working to put the house in order ahead of 2023 elections, adding that Governor Makinde initiated the unification rally and that he had been channeling the path to reconciliation and giving party members a sense of belonging.
Taking over the podium after Olafeso, the host-governor, Makinde said the rally marked the beginning of unity in the South-West and, by extension, in the country, disclosing that the rally held against the expectations of some naysayers.
His words: “I want to talk about two things here. Firstly, some people said we should not hold the rally because of the Coronavirus. This is admittance by the leaders of the other party that there is coronavirus in their party. But we don’t have Coronavirus in our own party, the PDP.
“Secondly, I want to condemn here those protested against Operation Amotekun in Lagos and those who protested in Ekiti State. I want to say it here that they are not true and authentic Yoruba. But either they like it or not, Amotekun has come to stay with us here in the South-West.”
Former Osun State Governor, Olagunsoye Oyinlola, one of the prominent former PDP leaders who returned the party, also addressed the gathering in Yoruba, saying his former party, the APC, lied to Nigerians on restructuring.
Oyinlola, who led several other chieftains from Osun State, including a former Secretary to the State Government during his administration, Alhaji Fatai Akinbade, back to the PDP said: “When I told my people that I am going to Ibadan where I will be formally joining the PDP, some people asked me why. I told them that Ibadan is the source of politics in Nigeria. And also about politics in Nigeria, things are not properly done by those in power now. I know about how these people got to power. We went into the APC because we talked about restructuring. But they got to power and they said they don’t know anything about restructuring. This is all deceit.”
“We are all concerned about the ongoing lopsided appointments into public offices. When Kemi Adeosun was removed, she was replaced with one of their own. When the former Director-General of the Nigerian Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ayodele Oke, was removed, he was replaced with one of their own and now, when they removed Dakuku Peterside as the DG of NIMASA, he was replaced with one of their own,” he added.
While assuring that the PDP will regain its lost grounds, the former governor admonished leaders of the party to be selfless and follow a common purpose of ousting the APC from the zone in 2023.
On his part, a former Deputy National Chairman of the party, Chief Bode George, said the PDP was open to everybody because it had no virus infection, but working to harmonise its rank ahead of the next election.
He said: “The party is ready to sweep South-West and I am sure that will be the same thing all over the country, and this is just the beginning. If their leader declared publicly that Coronavirus is in their party, who wants to catch virus? It’s a plague. We have no virus in our party; let people who are ready and willing join our fold.”
Other dignitaries present at the unification rally included Governor Douye Diri of Bayelsa State; PDP National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, represented by the National Organising Secretary, Col. Austin Akobundu (rtd); former Governor Ayo Fayose; Alhaji Shuaib Oyedokun and Tajudeen Oladipupo; wife of a former governor of Oyo State, Senator Rashidi Ladoja, Mutiat; PDP presidential candidate in the 2019 elections, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, represented by his son, Adamu; Oyo State deputy governor, Raufu Olaniyan and the chairman of Adamawa State chapter of the PDP, A. T. Shehu.
Others are Deputy National Chairman (South) of the party, Yemi Akinwonmi; former Deputy Governor of Osun State, Erelu Olusola Obada; Otunba Oyewole Fasawe, a former senator representing Oyo North, Gbenga Babalola; former Osun PDP governorship candidate, Senator Ademola Adeleke, and spokesperson of the Atiku Presidential Campaign Organisation, Segun Sowunmi.
With the unification rally done and dusted, it is left to be seen how the party will comport itself in the zone over the next few months. If anything, it needs to test-run its new-found cordiality in the forthcoming Ondo State governorship election.
No doubt, the rally might have shed off some weights of bickering and disunity in the South-West PDP, but only time will tell the accuracy and sincerity of its consequent fitness to face the APC in the 2023 general election.
Email us @ tracknewsng[at]gmail.com
Call or Whatsapp: +2347010000762, +2348123398260