The forthcoming Peoples Democratic Party’s congress in Ekiti State may have renewed age-long rivalry between key political blocks in the state headed by ex-governor Ayo Fayose, Senator Biodun Olujimi, among others, ABIODUN NEJO writes
The battle for the soul of the Peoples Democratic Party in Ekiti State is not ended yet as the forthcoming congresses of the party billed for between March and April have been opening yet fresh dimensions.
The congresses, which are for the elections of party officials in the 177 wards, 16 council areas, three senatorial districts and at the state level, are being seen as avenue to take control of the soul of the party in the state.
The camps of each of the two actors at the centre of the leadership crisis in the party, former Governor Ayodele Fayose and Senator Biodun Olujimi (Ekiti South Senatorial District) are fully prepared to exploit the congresses to take over machinery of the party in the state.
While the camp of the former governor believes that Fayose as a two-time governor, who defeated incumbents on two different occasions, is undoubtedly the leader in the state, that of Olujimi is convinced that the senator, being the most senior political office from the state in the party, is unequivocally the PDP leader in Ekiti State.
The leadership contest has polarized the former ruling party along the lines of Fayose and Olujimi with each camp at daggers’ drawn with the other on any issue concerning the party.
Although both Fayose and Olujimi at any available opportunity preach peace and unity in their party, observers are quick to dismiss them as playing politics with the sermons as what happens whenever there was any issue in the party leaves much to be desired.
Fayose, late last year at a reconciliation meeting he held with party members and leaders including former political office holders, former and present party officials from ward to state levels at his Afao Ekiti residence in the Irepodun/Ifelodun Council area of the state, had asked all the members of the party to come together and work for its goodness.
He had said, “The PDP in Ekiti State needs repositioning. We need unity to forge ahead. What is crucial is for all of us to come together in the interest of the party. I am not contesting any election again, but I do not want the ladder that brought us up destroyed. I want us to reclaim the governorship. It is my duty to ensure that the party does not fail.
“Senator Olujimi; Senator Duro Faseyi; and the PDP State Chairman, Chief Gboyega Oguntuwase, should not be angry. I am sorry if I had offended them. I do not have to fight for the leadership of the party. Majority of those people dividing this party do so for selfish reasons. They do so for the purpose of what they stand to gain from the leaders.
“We are on a mission to reposition the party because truly we need a new attitude as members of this party. We must tell ourselves the truth that there is nothing to share in failure and we must join hands to achieve something tangible.
“I know some persons are aggrieved and I know we are humans. I apologize to all those that I have offended. Let us come together in unity for this our party not to die in this state. That is my priority as a leader.
“Everybody should come back to the party. I am open to reconciliation. If Senator Olujimi calls you for meeting tomorrow, go there and listen to her. All of us are leaders. Don’t let us factionalize this party. I am congratulating her and I don’t have any issue with her and I am sorry for what happened in the past.”
Olujimi, on her own, who spoke at her Omuo Ekiti hometown during a meeting with PDP leaders, said she had accepted the apology of former Governor Fayose, adding that the PDP in the state needed genuine reconciliation and unity of purpose to forge ahead.
The senator, who said she nursed no bitterness or hatred against anybody, called on PDP leadership at the state and local government levels to begin to reach out to all its aggrieved members and bring them back to the fold.
The lawmaker said, “Fayose has apologised and who am I not to accept it? We are all on the same page and shall work together as long as he would be ready to submit to the supremacy of the party constitution”.
Olujimi promised to build a party where members would have a better sense of belonging and appealed to the Oguntuwase–led PDP State Working Committee to constitute a reconciliation committee that would reunite the aggrieved members.
The senator, who advocated collegiate leadership in Ekiti PDP, said, “Anything short of collegiate leadership will be a great disservice to our members, who are yearning for good, focused and committed leadership”.
She said, “As the PDP state congress draws near, we must work together to install a strong, passionate, honest, vibrant, fair and committed party man who will unite and not divide us as chairman. Our sole agenda will be ‘Ekiti First, PDP next’. Any hidden agenda to perpetuate undemocratic and punitive tendencies will be resisted.
“I urge that we all work together to restore the glory of our party because it is crystal clear that God will only install who He pleases. I believe in the PDP and her ideals. Yes, there might be differences, but it’s the best party yet. I am happy to belong and promise to do all in my power to strengthen and reposition the party for greater opportunities in Ekiti and beyond,” Olujimi said.
She urged party members to forget about the past and come together as one family so as to face the task ahead, saying, “The party cannot move forward under an atmosphere of crisis hence the need for unity and love among members so as to build a strong an undefeatable party”.
Despite the homilies of the two leaders, happenings in their camps, especially with the approaching congresses of the party, have shown that the gulf among them created by the leadership tussle has refused to close up.
The congresses are, no doubt, a straight fight between the Fayose’s camp and that of Olujimi with a view to take control of the party.
Contenders for the number one job in the party in the state include former a House of Representatives member, Kehinde Odebunmi; a former PDP State Secretary, Dr Tope Aluko; a former Commissioner for Environment, Bisi Kolawole; a former PDP council secretary, Martins Ibikunle; and Akutupu Afolayan.
Of the five contenders, only Kolawole belongs to Fayose circle while the remaining four are believed to belong to the Olujimi camp.
Opinions differ on the expectations from the Olujimi camp. While a school of thought believes one among the four contenders would be handpicked to emerge as the party chairman, another believes that it will be fight to finish as some individuals among them would give all it takes to clinch the position.
Another school, which, however, believes that there is no vacancy in the party chairmanship office, is of the view that the incumbent, Oguntuwase, is Olujimi’s candidate, and that he will be returned at the fullness of time.
The chairmanship contest, however, took another dimension on Sunday when leaders of the party in the Central Senatorial District, led by former Governor Fayose, at a ceremony, openly endorsed Kolawole for the PDP state chairmanship position.
Fayose, who thanked leaders and elders in the district “for not letting down the party by embracing pot of porridge”, charged all members of the party to remain united even as they pursued their interests.
Kolawole thanked the leaders and elders for standing by him, promising to be fair to all party members when voted into office, as he assured that he would not backstab anybody.
Miffed by the development, the PDP in the state dismissed the event, saying it had not endorsed any of the candidates seeking the party’s chairmanship position and as well other offices in its forthcoming congresses.
PDP State Publicity Secretary, Jackson Adebayo, who alleged of plans in some quarters to ambush the party through endorsement of particular candidates, said “the purported endorsement of any member of the party for positions in the coming congress by individuals or groups should not be taken as the opinion of the party hence such should be disregarded”.
Adebayo said in a statement, “Any member or officer of the party who attends any of such meetings has not been directed by the party. Any member or officer of the party who expresses opinion at any meeting aside from the one from the secretariat of the party does so on his or her own”.
Adebayo reaffirmed the party’s “determination to conduct a free, fair and acceptable congress that will reflect the wishes of the majority members.’’ He added, ‘‘The PDP will give equal rights and privilege as enshrined in the constitution to all members to contest all the positions irrespective of group or interest.
“The PDP hereby calls on all members to be at peace with one another as the congress approaches. It is in togetherness that we can rescue the state from the fraudsters in government today,” he stated.
Also reacting, Senator Olujimi, in a letter to the PDP State Chairman, Chief Oguntuwase, said she had just read of the endorsement of one of the candidates, which she described as “the ugly way of the past that ripped through our party and our leaders”.
Olujimi advised the chairman, “I believe you need to address the party members on the issue. Nobody is bigger than the party. I am not aware, as at today, that the zoning of positions has been done by the State Working Committee, which is the lawful organ that can pronounce such.
“We agreed on collegiate leadership to which I believe we must adhere and anything short of that will be unacceptable. There’s an urgent need for caution on the part of true leaders of our great party, so that desperation for the soul of party does not precipitate unnecessary crisis.”
But Fayose’s media aide, Lere Olayinka, described the endorsement of Kolawole by leaders of the party in the Ekiti Central Senatorial District, as their preferred candidate for the state PDP chairmanship as sacrosanct, saying “others are also free to openly endorse their choice aspirants”.
Olayinka stated, “I read with interest the statement made on behalf of the party in Ekiti State by the State Publicity Secretary, Mr Adebayo, concerning the endorsement of Kolawole by leaders of the party in the Ekiti Central Senatorial District. I also read the open letter addressed to the State Chairman, Chief Oguntuwase, on the same issue by Senator Olujimi.
“It is a common knowledge that both Adebayo’s statement and Olujimi’s open letter came from the same source as the two are working together.
“I wish to state, and clearly too, that in politics throughout the world, aspirants getting the endorsement of stakeholders is part of the process because in every politics, there must be interests and divides.
“Importantly, in our party’s guideline for the conduct of congresses and national convention, nomination forms of aspirants must be signed by a stipulated number of card carrying members of the party as a form of endorsement.
“Therefore, the endorsement of Kolawole by former Governor Fayose and other leaders in the Ekiti Central Senatorial District is right and legitimate, and other aspirants are also at liberty to seek the endorsement of Senator Olujimi and other leaders of the party.
“Fayose that you and I know does not hide his positions on issues. He is a very clear character and that is what he has demonstrated in the endorsement of Kolawole.”
Olayinka further alleged that Oguntuwase was bothered by the endorsement because of his interest in returning as the party chairman, saying, “It is no longer news that you (Oguntuwase) are interested in returning as the state chairman and we have it on good authority that you are Senator Olujimi’s preferred candidate.”
He told Oguntuwase, “Rather than ranting, and having boasted that you would defeat Fayose’s candidate in the congress, it is better for you to go and prepare for a free and fair contest”.
In the build up to the congresses, Fayose had summoned leaders of the party to a well-attended meeting at his Afao Ekiti residence in Irepodun/Ifelodun Council area of the state late last year.
The meeting was an opportunity for the former governor to tell his loyalists who are interested in the party offices to notify such and work towards achieving the aim.
The former governor, who assured them that there would be no imposition of candidates, said vibrant, viable and competent members were free to contest for party offices in the congress, saying, “It will be better for those who are financially stable to occupy the leadership positions in the party.
“We want financially independent candidates to occupy our party offices – those who can function whether or not financial resources come from the party, people who will not depend on anybody before making decisions.”
But the PDP State chairman, Oguntuwase, dismissed the meeting, calling it an affront as he queried the capacity in which the former governor summoned it without informing the chairman, secretary, the state publicity secretary or other relevant party state officers.
Oguntuwase, while setting the tone for the congresses, bemoaned indiscipline and lack of respect for party supremacy in PDP, which he said was the bane of the party, saying concerted efforts must be made to re-orientate members and infuse discipline.
The PDP chairman said the party leadership in the state would do everything possible to ensure the party no longer fall into the same pit that resulted in its being ousted from power in 2018, adding: “We are going to ensure that primary elections are conducted and supervised with clear mind, open minds and fear of God”.