Oladele Ogunsola – Ibadan
With the inauguration of the state executives of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Abuja on Monday by the outgoing National Chairman of the party, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, the crisis rocking the party in Oyo State could be said to have been laid to rest, albeit temporarily. Temporarily because, the aggrieved members, under the aegis of the Unity Forum are yet to be persuaded.
The Monday event in Abuja did not come as a surprise to every keen observer of the political drama that had been unfolding scene by scene and act by act.
At the state Congress of the party held on Saturday 12th May this year, the crisis rocking the ruling party in the state climaxed as the two groups struggling for the soul of the party gathered in two different places- Lekan Salami Stadium, Adamasingba and Obafemi Awolowo Stadium (former Liberty Stadium), Oke-Ado, both in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital to hold state congress. While the group loyal to the state governor, Sen. Abiola Ajimobi converged on the stadium in Adamasingba, the other faction that comes with the name ‘Unity Forum’ met at the Oke-Ado venue.
Without prejudice to the feelings of the members of the ‘Unity Forum’, anybody conversant with the nation’s current political process knows that statutorily, what they did was a jamboree. Over the years, it has been the norm and constitutionally recognized opinion that any gathering of such nature that has no representatives of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as observers and such congress administered by the party sanctioned officials from its headquarters is a mere waste of time and of no effect whatsoever. None of these two organs was present at Oke-Ado venue of the Unity Forum’s congress, whereas, they were at Adsmasingba. This above observation must have informed the dismissal of the Oke-Ado event as a jamboree (afefeyeye) with a wave of hand by the state governor, Sen. Ajimobi, while addressing party delegates and supporters at Adamasingba venue after the conduct of the congress.
Equally, the five-man APC State Congress Committee headed by Alhaji Abdullahi Gwarzo from the party’s National Headquarters, Abuja, which conducted the congress, while addressing delegates, Gwarzo said the committee was not aware of any parallel congress, adding that the only valid congress was the one conducted by the committee and witnessed by INEC officials. “The congress was conducted in line with the directives and guidelines of the party. We did our best. We were able to elect the leadership of Oyo State APC without any rancour. You can see that everybody is happy, including the governor. The congress was well-organised and we are not aware of any other congress or faction. APC is one united party. Nomination forms were sold to all aspiring members of the party in the state and Lekan Salami Sports Complex is the recognised venue”, he added. Other members of the committee included Alhaji Haruna Tilde, Mr. Muhammed Sanni Sidi, Mr. Emeka Okolie and Mr. Ayuba Idris. The INEC officials were Mr. Olubunmi Ariyo from Abuja and Mr. Ayodele Folami from Ibadan.
Aside from the statutory failure of the Unity Forum’s congress, the group had every other things going well for it. For instance, if one was not opportune or privileged to visit the two venues and witness the conduct of the Congress, one may be tempted to conclude that the Oke-Ado group had taken over the party from the state governor in terms of both the large crowd recorded and the political quality of some of those that graced the occasion. A place, where the likes of the only Minister from Oyo State and the Minister of Communication, Barr. Abdul-Raheem Adebayo Shittu, Sen. Monsurat Sunmonu, currently representing Oyo Central Senatorial District in the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly, some of the members of the House of Representatives, former appointees of the governor like Dr. Wasiu Olatunbosun, Alhaji Fatai Ibikunle, Prof. Adeolu Akande, Dr. Yunus Akintunde, Dr. Busari Adebisi, Hon. Dapo-Lam Adesina, Hon. Bosun Oladele, Ademola Solalu among several others as well as party big wigs like Dr. Ismail Adewusi, the immediate past deputy state chairman of the party, Alhaji Isiaka Allimi and a handful of the current members of the State House of Assembly gathered could not be dismissed with a wave of hand. The crowd no doubt elated the Communication Minister, who in his remark posited that anybody dismissing the group could only be doing such at his peril.
At the Lekan Salami Stadium, Adamasingba where the incumbent Chairman of the party in the state, Chief Akin Oke and the Secretary, Mr. Mojeed Olaoya, were among party executive returned for another term of four years, there were equally political big-wigs, including the immediate past governor of the state, Chief Adebayo Alao-Akala, Speaker of the House of Assembly, Hon Olagunju Ojo, a former Senate Majority Leader, Senator Teslim Folarin and Senator Abdulfatai Buhari. Other APC chieftains in attendance included Chief Niyi Akintola (SAN), Mr Sunday Dare, Mr. Zaccheus Adelabu as well as members of the House of Representatives, Hons. Akeem Adeyemi, Jide Olatunbosun, Dokun Odebunmi, Saheed Fijabi and Abiodun Awoleye. Among the new executive members, who emerged through voice votes were Dr. Azeez Olatunde (Publicity Secretary) and Mrs. Mabel Williams (Women Leader), while Mr. Lekan Adeyemo emerged as Deputy Chairman.
Speaking after the election and swearing-in of the 35 state officials of the party at Adamasingba, Sen. Ajimobi, who maintained that those ganging up against him and his loyalists were only engaging in ‘afefeyeye’ because “it is where we are that God is”. An elated Ajimobi, who rhythmically danced to the songs by Ibadan-based Fuji crooner, Wasiu Ayinde Merenge told the mammoth crowd that his assertion of God being on his side was based on the fact that all the party apparatus from Abuja were there with him and his people. Not only that, he said, “President Muhammadu Buhari, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Chief Bisi Akande, former Governor Adebayo Alao-Akala, former Senate Leader, Teslim Kolawole Folarin, Sen. Fatai Tayo Buhari, former member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Kamil Akinlabi, some of the current members of the lower chamber of the National Assembly, some of the state lawmakers and other very important political big weights are all here with us”.
Saying that the calibre of people in the gathering gladdens his heart, the governor remarked that “it is natural to have enemies and I’m not in anyway disturbed that I have my own share of the natural phenomenon, but, what emboldens me the more is the fact that nobody fights me and win, I’m always a conqueror. As powerful and all-knowing God is, He still allows the devil its own space to operate, but those of us here are true children of God. Don’t be carried away by long and whitish beard of some people, it doesn’t really mean that they know God or very close to God. We have faced similar opposition in the past, but, where are the members of the group today? They have all fizzled out. Those towing the same path will fail. We have elected new party executives and that is certain and we stand by what we have done”, he added.
Governor Ajimobi, who described those claiming to be LAMISTS (a group within the Unity Forum) as ‘alarmists’ maintained that nobody could lay claim to the name, ‘Lam’ (Lamidi Adesina), the late former governor of the state more than him, adding, “I inherit ‘LAMIST’, he raised my hand up, where were they then? The State Chairman, Chief Akin Oke, who has just been re-elected was put there by the late Lam Adesina, I didn’t remove him. The same goes for some of the other members of the executive council in the state that have been serving and are still serving the party. As I said, they are ‘alarmist’. They are radio and newspaper tiger, making noise all about that they are all in all. They are saying we want to kill them, can we kill? They are the ones harbouring killers and may God not allow them to kill us and we shall not be killed by God’s name. I thank the new members of the state executive council, God has given us the party and nobody can take it away from us. I’m not interested in making noise and I’m not ready to join issues with them. What I know is that we don’t lose election and whatever they claim to be does not mean anything to me, let them meet us at the poll. Lion is the king of the jungle. I charge you all to go away, telling those ganging against us to retrace their steps, we have beaten them in the game of politics. So many people pursued us yesterday, where are they now”?, the governor charged.
Similarly at Obafemi Awolowo Stadium, Oke-Ado, where the only Minister from the state and Minister of Communication, Barr. Abdul-Raheem Adebayo Shittu, Sen. Monsurat Sunmonu, some members of the House of Representatives, few of the state lawmakers and other party chieftains held the parallel Congress, the immediate past State Deputy Chairman of the party, Alhaji Isiaka Alimi became the chairman. Barr. Shittu, in his remark said the gathering of the people defied the insinuation by the governor and his acolytes that the group has no members, stressing that with the large crowd from across the state, the group had shown the whole world that it could not be ignored. The Minister noted, “who can say all you people gathering here today are rabble rousers and inconsequential? The struggle we have embarked upon will be pursued legally to a logical conclusion. Whoever says a gathering like this does not matter in a political party must be a joker”.
Sen. Sunmonu in her comment said the group’s clamour ”is to let the whole world know that a political party is not an estate of personal individual, but, a platform for collective interest, which created the platform for the current holders of political offices. It is undemocratic for somebody to make himself God over others in a political party setting. We all have equal rights and whatever may be the desire of any party member should be subjected to the collective decision of party members and not an individual, that’s what is called democracy”, the Senator representing Oyo Central Senatorial District affirmed.
The state governor, having firmly secured the party in his fold has shifted ground and seemed to have backed down on the high horse as he waved olive branch to the aggrieved party members after the inauguration of the party state executives in Abuja on Monday. While congratulating the Akin Oke-led team on the inauguration through his Special Adviser on Communication and Strategy, Bolaji Tunji, the governor described the event as historic. The governor in the statement announced that a reconciliation committee would be set up. He said, “let me use this opportunity to say that in Oyo APC, we are all members of one big family. As a result, I want to categorically say that it is a no victor, no vanquished scenario with today’s event. We are all winners. Consequently, a reconciliation committee is being set up with the mandate to reach out to all our aggrieved brothers and sisters in order to move the party forward in the true spirit, norms and practice of democracy. I hereby implore all and sundry to take advantage of this globally accepted platform to resolve our differences. By embracing reconciliation, our party will surely come out much stronger to face our immediate and future obligation of building a more virile nation”.
Governor Ajimobi posited that “as the number one party in Africa, the ruling party in Nigeria and the party in power in twenty-four (24) states of the country, including our dear Oyo State, it is not unexpected that there would be differences of opinions, methodology and strategy in accomplishing our constitutional responsibilities within and outside the party. Our role, therefore, must be to successfully address and tackle the challenges such differences may pose to us. It is in the light of this, that I strongly appeal to our highly esteemed membership to embrace peace, reconciliation and the tenets of statesmanship in resolving our differences. I equally streets that the APC would continue to work hard in order to sustain its dominant position for the continued progress and development of the country”.
He also extended his gesture of felicitation to the elected party officials at the ward and local government levels, noting that the inauguration of the state executives led by Chief Akin Oke by the national headquarters of the party confirmed the ratification of their own elections.
The governor also rejoiced with the National Working Committee of the party, saying, “I congratulate the NWC of our great party, the APC on the successful inauguration of party executives today. I also rejoice with my state chairman, Chief Akin Oke for being part of this historic moment”. It may not be out of place to say that the governor had on the day of the state congress given an indication to the current rapprochement despite his earlier posture after the swearing-in if the newly elected state party officials at the Lekan Salami Stadium, Adamasingba. While addressing journalists after the exercise, an elated governor Ajimobi had expressed willingness to accommodate all aggrieved party members, adding that the quality of good leaders was determined by their level of tolerance and ability to accommodate opposing views. He said “in the spirit of true democracy, aggrieved members would be accommodated but the party won’t tolerate acts of thuggery, brigandage and unnecessary discord”. The governor, while charging the newly-elected executives to pursue peace and do everything within their means to unite the party, said “politics is about give and take. It is about reconciliation and interest. The most important is to accommodate others”. Also, Alao-Akala, who expressed satisfaction with the conduct of the congress, volunteered to lead the team that would reconcile aggrieved members in the larger interest of the party.
All said and done, the big question begging for answer now is that where does the whole thing lead to? Will the aggrieved party be pacified? What becomes of the ambitions of the arrowheads of the aggrieved group? Will the aggrieved group make good its threat to quit the ruling party? How united will the Unity Forum be at the critical moment of taking far reaching decision on the future of the group? Answers to all these questions and many more are buried in the bowel of time. One thing that is however certain is the fact that the coming out of the party unscathed remains an herculean task and largely dependent on how receptive the top echelon of the party is.