Ajisafe and the task of restoring fortunes of Southwest PDP

Although the newly elected National Vice Chairman Southwest of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Kamorudeen Ajisafe, is expected to reinvigorate the party across Yoruba land, the truth is that the former council chairman in Osun State and erstwhile Special Adviser on Tax Matters to Governor Ademola Adeleke may not be able to deliver beyond what Adeleke and Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State want.

On January 24, 2023, Ajisafe’s position as the national vice chairman Southwest was ratified at the instance of Governors Makinde and Adeleke, indicating that the two governors are not only his political godfathers but also that his mode of operations must have their endorsements. Like the incumbent Deputy National Chairman of the party, Ambassador Taofik Arapaja, who is regarded as Makinde’s stooge, Ajisafe is seen by many political observers as a tool in the hands of the two Southwest PDP governors.

The motion to ratify Ajisafe as the national vice chairman of the party was moved by the Oyo State PDP chairman, Bola Ajao in the presence of Makinde and Adeleke.

The ratification, which took place at the Agodi Government House, Ibadan, Oyo State, was also witnessed by the Chairman Board of Trustees (BoT), Adolphus Waba, who led the delegation from the National Working Committee (NWC) in Abuja.

Also present at the event were former Governors Olagunsoye Oyinlola (Osun) and Segun Mimiko (Ondo); the Deputy National Chairman, Taofik Arapaja, Ogun State gubernatorial candidate of PDP in the last general election, Ladi Adebutu and all the party chairmen across the six states.

In their separate but similar remarks, Makinde and Adeleke expressed gratitude to God that the misunderstandings between them, which some naysayers had said would not be resolved, were finally settled; declaring their joint resolve to move the party forward in the zone.

Adeleke was specifically happy that Ajisafe from Osun State replaced the late Soji Adagunodo, who died in May 2023. He expressed confidence that PDP would have a new leap in the zone. In a similar vein, Makinde urged all the party members to join hands not just for the purpose of building the PDP but also Nigeria as a whole.

He also tasked Ajisafe to ensure that the unity of the party in the zone was paramount in his agenda, noting that with a united house, the party could reclaim its lost glory in the zone.

In his acceptance speech, Ajisafe thanked the party leadership both at the federal and zonal levels, especially Makinde and Adeleke, for facilitating the ratification. He promised to immediately commence the tour of all the states in the zone to ensure peace and unity.

The ratification of Ajisafe raised the hope of the Ekiti and Lagos chapters of the party, which promptly asked for help, saying the state of affairs in their chapters was nothing to rejoice over. The absence of former governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose, who was recently fraternising with the All Progressives Congress (APC), and the party’s gubernatorial candidate in Lagos for the 2023 polls, Abdul-Azeez Olajide Adediran aka Jandor at the event lent credence to the assertion by the two state chapters.

So, will Ajisafe be able to address the enormous misfortunes that have befallen the party across Yoruba land in the last few years? Can he withstand the political weight of the likes of Fayose in Ekiti or bring back the likes of Adebayo Dayo, who had defected to the ruling APC in Ogun State? What weight does he possess to reunite the ‘scattered’ political gladiators of the PDP in Lagos State? How does he intend to confront the billionaire politicians in his home state, Osun, who are currently working on a parallel line with his godfather, Adeleke?

It is expected of Ajisafe to mediate in the Oyo PDP crisis, where Makinde seems to be operating like an emperor. Can the incumbent national vice chairman speak to the likes of former Governor Rasheed Ladoja, former deputy governor, Hazeem Gbolarunmi, erstwhile minister, Jumoke Akinjide and a host of others, who have been allegedly sidelined from the affairs of Oyo PDP and convince them to still be loyal to the party?

These are questions political pundits are asking, especially as many of the aggrieved PDP stalwarts in the zone are already romancing the Federal Government led by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a Yoruba man.

While some considered Ajisafe’s new position as a king with a crown but without a throne, others were of the view that his ratification was merely an exercise orchestrated by Makinde and Adeleke to settle their political scores and to fulfill all righteousness, since the slot belongs to Osun State.

Notwithstanding, Ajisafe’s first task has been cut out for him in Ondo State, where the PDP’s governorship primary will hold in a few months ahead of the November 16, 2024, governorship poll.

Can he lead the tattered Ondo PDP to take advantage of the political imbroglio in the ruling APC to win the coming gubernatorial poll? Surely, he would want to but he has his predecessor, Dr. Eddy Olafeso, to contend with. The Guardian learnt that until now, Olafeso is aggrieved over how Makinde and some other gladiators orchestrated his removal as national vice chairman. Although Olafeso did not defect from the PDP, he is alleged to have tactically distanced himself from the party. Will he be favourably disposed to supporting Ajisafe to succeed in the coming Ondo governorship poll?

The Southwest PDP has been enmeshed in crises since 2003 when it came back from its abysmal performance in the 1999 elections to trash the defunct Alliance Democracy (AD), which loomed large in the region then. The PDP held onto power in the Southwest from 2003 to 2011 when its fortune began to dwindle. Between 2015 and 2019, the party was severely weakened in the zone but it had a saving grace in Makinde, who through an alliance reclaimed Oyo from APC in 2019. Then in 2022, Adeleke also reclaimed Osun from APC. However, the last general election depleted the party’s fortunes.

For instance, in Lagos State, PDP is known to be the major opposition party; it once won some seats in the State Assembly and eight seats in the House of Representatives. But it lost that pride to the Labour Party in 2023. The party was the second runner up in the gubernatorial poll and was unable to win any of the legislative seats.

There was a similar development in Ogun State, where the party failed to take advantage of the infighting in the ruling APC. Today, the PDP is back to its pre-2003 period in the zone when it had only one senator.

The 2007 general election actually marked the beginning of the reversal of fortunes of the Southwest PDP. It went into the 2011 general elections with only two out of the five governors. If there is any zone in Nigeria where the PDP has been struggling to get its acts together, it must be Southwest. Although the party has never had it all good in the geopolitical zone even during the administration of former president Olusegun Obasanjo, things went awry after the prolonged leadership squabble between Senators Ahmed Makarfi and Ali Modu Sheriff.

For instance, when former governor Akinwunmi Ambode conducted local council elections in 2016, the Lagos State Independent Electoral Commission (LASIEC) was confused as to which of the PDP factions was the authentic structure to deal with. Then, Mr. Segun Adewale, a loyalist of Modu-Sheriff, and Captain Tunji Shelle-led executive of the Makarfi camp conducted parallel primaries to select candidates for the election. At a point, Shelle was forced to adopt the Labour Party (LP) as the platform for the council polls pending the determination of the leadership tussle by the Supreme Court.

In the Ogun State chapter, the former executive led by Adebayo Dayo aligned with Makarfi, while Sikirulahi Ogundele’s executive recognised Modu-Sheriff. In Ondo State, the crisis cost the party the 2016 governorship despite being in the saddle then.

The Osun and Ekiti chapters were not left out. Former Governor of Ekiti State, Mr. Ayo Fayose, could not install a successor in the 2018 governorship poll due to internal fighting in the party. A former National Publicity Secretary of the PDP Caretaker Committee, Mr. Dayo Adeyeye, Senator Biodun Olujimi and others had disagreed with Fayose over his choice of Prof. Kolapo Eleka, his then deputy, as the party’s candidate. Adeyeye eventually defected to APC where he later contested the 2019 senatorial seat for Ekiti South against Olujimi of PDP and won. However, the court later reversed Adeyeye’s victory in favour of Olujimi. Adeyeye subsequently worked against PDP, which gave APC the opportunity to reclaim Ekiti. Today, the party does not have a single legislative seat in Ekiti.

Recall that after the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Makarfi on July 12, 2017, the Southwest zone exploded in another crisis. As a result, the zone could not settle for a consensus candidate in the December 2017 national convention for the national chairmanship. None of the over eight aspirants agreed to step-down to brighten the zone’s chances.

Those who had contested for PDP national chairmanship in Southwest but lost included former Deputy National Chairman, Chief Olabode George; a former Minister of Education, Prof. Tunde Adeniran; 2015 governorship candidate in Lagos, Mr. Jimi Agbaje; a stalwart of the party from Oyo State, Prof. Taoreed Adedoja, and former governor of Ogun, Gbenga Daniel, who is now an APC chieftain and senator representing Ogun East Senatorial District.

Considering this array of challenges and many more, Ajisafe is expected to team up with Arapaja and a host of others to reposition the party as soon as possible if it still hopes to retain Osun and Oyo.

It is certain that the ruling APC will want to put in all efforts to reclaim Osun in 2026 just as it would not leave any stone unturned to ensure it brings back Oyo into its fold come 2027. In Ekiti, it is believed that the electorates in the state have soft spots for the PDP but the party has no clear leader to stir it to victory at the polls.

A chieftain of the party in Lagos State, Olatokunbo Pearse, said while Ajisafe is expected to do his part “the national leadership of PDP must be consciously involved in the efforts to return the party to its glorious days in the region.”

To him, if there is any moment the PDP has the greatest opportunity to reclaim its hitherto towering place in Southwest politics, “it is now when the APC administration is performing woefully at the centre.”
“Nigerians need a change and the region is not left behind,” he declared.

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