Friday, August 1, 2014 5:08 pm
What could further injure the fragile existence of the Peoples Democratic Party in Lagos State ahead of 2015 is already springing up with divided support for aspirants
It started as a rumour. Gradually it turned into reality. Mr. Jimi Agbaje, a Lagos-based businessman and politician, has decided to pitch tent with his one-time political foe, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the state. Agbaje was a candidate of the Democratic Peoples Alliance, DPA, in the 2007 governorship election in Lagos State, contesting against Babatunde Fashola, the current governor and then Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, candidate as well as Musiliu Obanikoro of the PDP. Though the election, as reflected by its result, showed Agbaje as having just a little fraction of followers in the state next to Obanikoro and against Fashola, who had a field day, the exercise did not end in futility for Agbaje. It threw him up among Lagosians, as residents of the state are called, as one with some political dreams.
Agbaje, a pharmacist, finally got the dream unlatched penultimate Monday when he formally met with the 14 members of the Tunji Shelle-led state Working Committee of the PDP, an opposition party in the state, thus kicking off his ambition to become the next governor of the state in 2015. In the meeting that took place at the secretariat of the party in Ikeja, Agbaje told the executive committee and the crowd of party members on hand that he was already a card-carrying member of the party, having being registered in Ward B in the Apapa area of the state since 2012, an information not many residents and political watchers knew about. To him, therefore, the visit was just a courtesy call. “I deliberately chose the State Working Committee as the first structure to meet in Lagos PDP. We are interested in change in Lagos and the group I represent, the Lagos Agenda, found out that the only viable platform to promote this change is the PDP.” This came with a promise that he would bring into the party politicians and non-politicians and that he was embarking on a working relationship with 10 other political parties in the state for PDP’s success.
Beyond the excitement within the PDP fold over Agbaje’s public declaration of his membership of the party and, by implication, his readiness to pursue the governorship ambition in the forthcoming election, however, lies a looming crisis in the party that is still struggling to find its bearing. Agbaje was quoted as saying: “I decided to choose the PDP to realise my political ambition based on the common and aggregated opinion among the core of my supporters across the State that the party was the most viable platform interested in causing the change desired ny Lagos people.”
So far, Captain Tunji Shelle, the chairman of PDP in the state, has declared that the party is positioned for victory in 2015 and that a replica of his party’s victory in Ekiti would play out in Lagos since the party now has better chances. He has also promised to ensure a level playing field for all the aspirants so that the best and most accepted would emerge. The promise sounds interesting on the surface, but Nigerians know that in the kind of democracy practised in the country, a level playing field is always a mirage. In Ekiti, the PDP was almost destroyed with the throwing up of Fayose as the party’s torchbearer. The acrimony among other aspirants on the party’s platform is yet to die down weeks after the state governorship election.
In Lagos, the PDP has remained a divided house, with its members refusing to hold themselves under the umbrella, the party’s logo. The emergence of Obanikoro in 2007 and the subsequent loss of the party had caused friction. According to a Wikipedia profile on Koro, as Obanikoro is better known, his nomination as PDP candidate in 2007 was controversial. “Hilda Williams, widow of the murdered Engineer Funsho Williams, had been declared winner of the Lagos PDP primaries, but the PDP National Executive Committee, NEC, led by Ahmadu Ali, gave the ticket to Obanikoro. The disunited PDP under Bode George also lost the Lagos State Senate and all but one House of Representatives and 37 State House of Assembly seats to the AC,” the profile details stated, while noting that divisions between factions in the Lagos State PDP which had surfaced before the 2007 elections continued until a series of meeting in October 2009, where the differences were reconciled. Obanikoro was later appointed a High Commissioner to Ghana by the late Umar Musa Yar’Adua.
Meanwhile, that ceasefire between members of the party was only temporary. Issues relating to the alleged imposition of Ade Dosunmu on the party in the race for the governorship seat in 2011 almost tore it into shreds. Dosunmu was reportedly wholeheartedly supported by Chief Bode George, a PDP chieftain. Dosunmu had emerged winner of the party’s primary on 10 January 2010, having polled a total of 431 votes out of the 872 delegates’ votes at the event, to beat Tokunbo Kamson, who came second with 182 votes, former minister of state for Defence, Mr. Demola Seriki, who came third with 120 votes, Femi Pedro, a former deputy governor of the state, who polled 104 votes to come fourth. Mr. Owolabi Salis, Mr. Qudus Folami, and Babatunde Olalere-Gbadamosi polled 14, eight and three votes to come fifth and sixth and seventh respectively. The complaints that followed further scuttled the attempt to unify the party in the state. And Dosunmu lost the election.
No doubt, the declaration by Agbaje, a somewhat new entrant into the party, has again set him against Obanikoro, the current Minister of State for Defence, Ade Ade Dosunmu, a former director-general of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, and Babatunde Olalere Gbadamosi, another top contender for the seat within the party.
Apart from the aforementioned, others interested include Chief (Mrs.) Remi Adiukwu-Bakare, former commissioner for Commerce in the state, Adedeji Doherty, who contested the party primary in 2007 and 2011, Setonji Koshoedo, a former House of Representatives member, and Mr. Demola Doherty. They are all believed to be warming up for the battle for the party’s ticket when electioneering begins later this year. This number is aside other top party members of the party who are yet to make their declarations public. In fact, Obanikoro, it was learnt, has begun, with his loyalists, on a discreet campaign and is reportedly meeting with important figures in the party to clinch the party’s ticket.
Obanikoro, believed to have the heavy backing of the presidency, hit the ground running once appointed a minister by President Goodluck Jonathan. Some analysts had argued that his appointment was to fortify him ahead of the 2015 election. Obanikoro also understands the principle of loyalty in politics and has not failed to show this to his boss since his appointment. First was to become critical of the Babatunde Fashola administration. Then he, with others within the PDP, helped achieve success for the party in the last governorship election in Ekiti. Ayo Fayose of the PDP floored the incumbent Kayode Fayemi of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in the state election. Obanikoro is also looking to record a feat for the party in the 9 August governorship election in Osun State.
Obanikoro is also said to be using selected elders of the party in the state to reach out to camps opposed to his candidacy within the PDP in 2015. A member of the party told TheNEWS that the former senator is aware that the anger of some of the party members has to do with the campaign fund released to him by former president Olusegun Obasanjo. “We are still nursing old wounds and he knows he must douse frayed nerves. Moreover, the situation is tough because of the number of people trying to give a shot at the seat. I also know that the chieftains of the party are so far divided along the line of support they have for their aspirants. But, however we look at it, Agbaje’s entry into the race will further split us. Some of our leaders are even known to support more than one aspirant already,” he explained, emphasising the division in the party and suggesting a sincere resolution of its internal crises.
Those rooting for Agbaje, on the other hand, are capitalising on the perception that he is free of controversies. They further argue that coming third place in the 2007 governorship election despite contesting on an unpopular political platform played him up as one with the clout to win the governorship election for the party in 2015. There are also insinuations that his aspiration comes with support from Olabode George, thus increasing the confusion as to who, between Agbaje and Dosunmu, would Chief George be supporting this time.
What is yet to be known is how the party could give Agbaje such an opportunity in spite of the many that had toiled and patiently waited for a chance to contest. One of such is Gbadamosi, a tax and property consultant. He was one of those that contested for the PDP ticket for Lagos governorship in 2011 and maintains that is where his talent would not be wasted. Every other office is a no-go area for him, he said. “I couldn’t go in as a legislator because that’s not me and I’m not a talk-short type of person and I could not go in as a council chairman because I need to have unfertile executive power in order to achieve the things I think we can achieve in Lagos State,” he said. “There was no way I would have wanted to be appointed as a commissioner because one still will want to bow to the whims and caprices of the governor. You might have great plans as a commissioner but if your governor can’t see your dreams then they are dead. I see myself as helping people achieve their dreams so I thought as a governor I would have helped Lagosians achieve their dreams of becoming a true 21st century state.”
Gbadamosi, who has also shown interest to try again, explained in an interview sometime ago that, “At the last PDP primaries, mistakes were made by me and by the party; we have learnt from those mistakes. I think we have realised that the method we used in playing politics at that time was not what it should have been and we saw that the blunder we made at that time became very obvious during the election itself. Lessons have been learnt, certain people have shown the caliber that they are made of, people have been seen either as loyal or disloyal to the party and the party has grown as a result. I am contesting in 2015 by God’s grace and I am coming out strong. We will make history.”
On his part, Doherty has clung to the belief that he has better chances to win the ticket because having experience in marketing and farming, he knows where exactly the problems of the state lie. “I’m trying to give back to society what I got from them. The society made me. I come from the farm, I also come from the market. These are what have brought me to where I am today. What am I going to work at? I’m going to look at our health policy. Lagos State health policy has to be revived. Privatisation is good, but the privatisation of some departments in the health sector is not good. We have problems in the education sector. There are still pupils writing on class walls. We have children sitting on the floor in Lagos state,” he said in a published interview adding: “we have to look at our roads. We need roads , and we need to expand our roads to cut short our trips. Till today, we don’t have a short cut to Badagry. We only have one road leading to Ikorodu till today. We don’t have the 4th Mainland bridge.”
Although Doherty denied the existence of factions in the PDP in Lagos, it is well known among party members and residents of the state that factions have existed in the party for long. And as the members forge ahead of 2015, political analysts fear that the love for ‘self’, which has become a major issue in the party could arise again, with the consequence being a woeful showing in 2015.