By Samuel Ogundipe
Feuding within the Lagos State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is frightening national leaders and members across the state who believe that fictionalizing the party in a crucial state like Lagos is capable of making a mincemeat of the party’s quest to embark on a critical internal reforms that could help it bounce back from its electoral disaster across the nation this year. The rift pits the youthful Senator Musiliu Obanikoro wing of the party against the elderly caucus led by Chief Olabode George, and it’s widely seen as a sequel to an infamous duel that pervaded the party’s primaries in the final weeks of 2014.
Shelle Removed, Ex-Chairman Kicks…
On Monday, news broke that Mr. Tunji Shelle, the chairman of the party in Lagos State, has been removed by 34 out of the 39-member State Working Committee. The aggrieved committee members, led by the state Secretary, Mr. Wahab Owokoniran, reeled off 14 offenses against Shelle and announced the appointment of Mr. Kamal Olorunoje as the new chairman.They said it had become necessarily to do away with Shelle because he allegedly mismanaged campaign funds and that he’d also lost the moral standing to remain the chairman of a party he failed to lead to victory.
was short-lived when President Goodluck Jonathan timely waded in and returned Obanikoro, in a peerless case of eating one’s cake and having it, to his cabinet position, albeit as a Minister of State, Foreign Affairs, II. Obanikoro subsequently threw his political weight behind Agbaje and activated his political machinery for the candidacy of his party’s choice. His independent campaign groups, like KoroNation, worked assiduously for Agbaje and he funded a PDP election situation room to coordinate development from polling stations across the state on Election Day. But his magnanimity was largely seen as inchoate by some elements within the party who said it was merely an eye service to keep his job at Abuja than anything else.
Shelle kicked, arguing that he remains the chairman of the party because the rules under which he was allegedly ousted were alien to the party’s Constitution. He said he would lead the party for another year after which he will consider to voluntarily step down. He said they should allow him continue his stay in office because the election of 14 candidates to State and National Assembly seats on the party’s platform this year was an unprecedented feat for the party in Lagos State. Sources within the party said the timing of the battle makes it even more unfortunate. It is coming at a time the party at the national level is enmeshed in a bitter recrimination that cropped up in tandem with its historic defeat at the just-concluded general elections. This, the sources said, has made it difficult for the national body to intervene and subdue any attempt to factionalise its arm in a politically-significant state of Lagos’ magnitude.
Crisis Traceable to Governorship Primaries…
While the battle at the national level only started–at least publicly–after the general election, the wrangling within the Lagos PDP can easily be traced to its governorship primary. The primary, which eventually took place on December 8, elicited the steepness of supremacy battle between the two subsisting caucuses in the state. In October 2014, as the 2015 campaign began to gain steam, Obanikoro resigned his federal cabinet position, as a Minister of State for Defence, to contest the party’s primaries against Mr. Jimi Agbaje, a career pharmacist with deep connection to progressives politics who publicly joined the party a stark 3 months earlier, allegedly on invitation of George who saw a better candidate in him than Obanikoro or any other long time aspirant within the party. Agbaje emerged victorious in the primary amidst widespread controversy that emanated from an ambiguity in the number of accredited delegates, 806, and votes cast, 863. A serious political battle that ensued thereafter
“No matter how hard he tries, Obanikoro was simply unable to satisfy Chief George wing of the party,” said political analyst and on-air personality, Juliet David. “You can’t blame them though, the primary left a really deep wound.” Like the previous 3 cycles before it since Fourth Republic, the party lost the 2015 governorship election to the progressives and its members swiftly rekindled their pre-primary battle, amplified by a growing call for the party to sift its wheats from uncanny chaffs. The latest fight that climaxed at the factionalisation of the party last Monday can be traced to Mr. Babatunde Gbadamosi, a real estate magnate, who’d earned his share of political acrimony for championing an internal reform of the party.
Gbadamosi Moves against George…
Hardly had the dusts settled over the election, which was won by APC’s Akin Ambode, before Gbadamosi took to the public to accuse George of deliberately working against the fortunes of the PDP not only at the last election but the previous 3 before it. “Bode George is a actively working for Bola Tinubu to undermine the PDP in Lagos State,” he said, calling on him to either relinquish his leadership of the party or get blown away by an approaching wind of change. Gbadamosi participated in the controversial primary, and he’d not publicly forgiven George whom he alleged was behind the “sham exercise.” George swiftly dismissed Gbadamosi’s allegation, saying such “insults” on his person can come only from a “mentally unbalanced” individual. The battle spiraled out of containment when Obanikoro wing signed off on the “George Must Go” bandwagon. A sustained assault on George’s image was also coordinated on the Internet. It is unclear if Gbadamosi belongs to Obanikoro wing or building his own political structure, but he’d mostly supported Obanikoro’s position on which direction the party should be focused. Making George the bogeyman of their campaign for a change in leadership of the party was a meticulous ploy by the more youthful Obanikoro wing to wrap him to the necks of the Shelle-led executive committee in the state. “They’ve been called George’s boys for so long that they no longer bother to refute the allegations,” said political analyst Victor Okhai. “It has become stick.” A united PDP, strategists say, is required to build a broad network of support, enlist a squadron of image managers and raise the necessary funds to compete in a state which has remained under the political leadership of Tinubu since 1999. Lagos PDP is hardly an outlier with its infighting. The party’s national leadership and most of its state chapters across the country have been ensnared in perpetual internal wrangling since the elections were concluded last month over allegations that range from campaign finance theft to outright betrayal. Analysts agree the party definitely needs reforms, but say it will be counter-productive if not approached in a painstakingly thought out manner.
“No one is arguing about PDP needing reforms, but the outcome will be desirable only if it’s agreeable,” added Okhai. “Should the old guards be pushed out? Most likely. But what political experience do the youthful ones agitating for their ouster bring to the table?” Shelle and Olorunoje have continued to maintain that the other is not the genuine chairman of the party in Lagos State. Press conferences have been held by the two factions to cast aspersions on each other and cite legal frameworks that support their positions. While Shelle and Olorunoje are positioning themselves as the real faces of the battle for the PDP’s soul in Lagos, the authentic beneficiaries remain George and Obanikoro. Although none of the parties has approached the courts for pronouncement on the matter, either Obanikoro or George is likely to control the party’s affairs for the next four years when the matter inevitably ends at the courtroom. If Shelle remains the chairman, he’s expected to leave George’s structure in place across the state until he steps down in a little over a year. If Olorunoje gets confirmed as the authentic party chairman, Obanikoro’s quest for sweeping reforms will be actualised. It is widely believed that he wants to hand over most of the party’s affairs to his son, Jide. Late last month, Obanikoro summoned about 6 young PDP strategists to a meeting at his residence on the outskirts of Abuja. A source within the meeting told WESTERN POST that the nation’s top diplomat instructed them to “go and fashion out a new direction for the PDP in Lagos.” The plan initially was to let them draft out a rebranding plan for the PDP in the entire country, but they later concluded that this will be too much of a task for them. They decided to focus on repositioning the party in Lagos first. At the meeting, WP’s unimpeachable source said, the leader instructed his on, Jide, to lead the fray. But was quick to add that they didn’t plan to prepare Jide, who lost a bid for State Assembly seat by 200 votes in the last election, for a 2019 governorship run.
National Party Leaders May Intervene…
If the PDP in Lagos cannot unify, strategists say, national party leaders will have to ultimately intervene. “They’re like feudal lords fighting among themselves instead of a common enemy,” said Gbenga Shogunro, a long time PDP consultant and political analyst. “At some point, you’re going to have to have the national party step in. You’re going to have adult supervision and someone saying, ‘You’ll have to get along.’” Many believe the lingering rancour within the PDP is natural for a party still reeling from defeat, but warn that it must be carefully managed for the party to remain intact.
Top players within the party appear lackadaisical to let go of the crisis as they continue the blame game from last week. On Thursday, Governor Babangida Aliyu openly called for the immediate removal of the party’s chairman, Adamu Mu’azu. He threw a series of verbal punches at the former Bauchi governor, despite President Jonathan’s repeated call for all members to desist from openly attacking themselves. If the ongoing infighting results in the collapse of the PDP as a major political party in the country, historians are more likely to attribute its demise to political suicide in lieu of a progressives renaissance that never was, considering the fact that the APC’s chromosomes contain at least 50% of PDP’s DNA.