The challenge to rebrand Kwara PDP
LATE radical lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi championed the cause that culminated in the plummeting of political parties in the country. He propelled a landmark judgment by the Supreme Court that further opened up the political space for more parties than the number that fielded candidates when Nigeria restored civil rule in 1999. So at a time, there were more than 50 political parties registered by the Independent National electoral Commission (INEC). The figure has since tumbled, following the inability of most of the parties to make any meaningful impact during competitive polls. Today, only the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), All Progressives Congress (APC), Labour Party, Accord, All Progressive Grand Alliance and a couple of others are on the front row. A number of the parties have either been deregistered or only known on the pages of newspapers. In fact, only the PDP and the APC have greater presence in across the six geopolitical zone of the country.
In Kwara State, both parties remain dominant in terms of spread and membership. While the PDP has had the misfortune of losing power in the state, the APC is trying to consolidate its grip on power. But, the leaders of the PDP say they are undeterred by what they regard as a temporary setback their party has suffered in the power game in the state. They believe the major task before them now is to keep the governing APC on its toes , as they try to rebrand the PDP in Kwara, as in the words of one the leaders, a vibrant opposition is critical to the survival of democracy. Their self-chosen task is notwithstanding some serious challenges facing the party at the moment.
However, the question on the lips of many observers is if the PDP has so far been doing it right in Kwara as the main opposition party. The teaser is against the backdrop of the myriad of challenges confronting it in its desire to play the role of opposition. Some members, who pleaded not to be mentioned, told our correspondent that the party was facing some obstacles in its effort at rebranding. Some stalwarts of the party are said to be locked in a fierce supremacy tussle over the control of the soul of the PDP in Kwara. Another source said some of those scheming to hijack the party machinery lacked the necessary structure to convince majority of the PDP members that they were capable of making a difference and retuning the party to its winning path in future elections.
However, the state leadership of the PDP is optimistic that the party would soon come out stronger. In fact, the state chairman, Akogun Iyiola Oyedepo, said the party, which had ruled Kwara for consecutive 16 years, is doing it well in its status as the leading opposition party. He said the party, which lost to the APC in the March 2015 election had embarked on rebuilding PDP, expressing the belief that the party would bounce back in future polls in the state.
The leaders appear to have gone back to the drawing board shortly after its dismal outing during the last general election. They said some fifth columnists colluded with some renegades to land the PDP in tis precarious condition as an opposition party. While speaking to our correspondent, Oyedepo put the lacklustre performance of the PDP in the election in a proper perspective. According to him, the loss of the March 2015 election by the PDP was due to the activities of the party's 'garrison commanders' and disunity among other members. He explained that candidates were too engrossed in the super power of the Presidency to clinch election victory for them, instead of going to the field to convince voters on the competence and eligibility. Coupled with that problem, according to another source, was the huge number of contestants, with most of them not ready to compromise or put the overall interest of the party above personal ambitions.
Oyedepo gave a further insight: "We went into an election and we failed; we failed because we were not united. We were fighting a sitting government and the weapon we could have used was unity of purpose. That we lost completely. About 13 people wanted to be governor in our party. We made a lot of efforts to bring them together, provide a platform of unity, so that we would bring the most formidable of them to face the incumbent governor, but our people had a mentality that once you had the PDP ticket, you are already a success. So, all of them were struggling for this ticket; they never thought that you could have a ticket and still lose the general election in PDP.
"Well that might be excused, because PDP prior to that time had never lost in any national election. So, our people that wanted to be governor fought bitterly in a bitter struggle. The type that you will never envisage being in a family of a political party. We didn't behave as a family. And when one eventually emerged, some of those contestants simply walked away. Some of them went straight back to APC as if they were sent to come and destroy the chances of the party. Some that didn't go away pretended to be with us and at the end of the day, they urged their supporters to vote for APC in the election. Some were even following us among them with the belief that would be part of the presidential money that may come for election to recoup their losses during primaries. So, at the end of the day, it was like a party divided among four groups. I cannot see how such a party could have achieved victory. Thatís the main reason we lost the election," he said.
The PDP chairman also said that those that lost the governorship primaries behaved as they were already in government, alleging that they made reconciliation impossible. "When you ask them that you are not yet the governor, they were already thinking of what they would do against those that were against them in the primaries, even while we were still running election. So, how can you make it in such a situation? So, we lost the election," he said. The PDP chairman, who said the task of rebuilding the party in the state was a Herculean one, added that the party comprised garrison commanders, who "hoodwinked some people in the party to be their followers, and they maintained that dedicated followership not because of their superior ideas, ideology or principle, but with material possessions. Money, clothing, rice, ram during Ileya and because of level of poverty, they were able to maintain that followership. So, you canít move forward with that kind of people. That was my first hurdle. How do we tame the garrison commanders? They have influence, exposure, money and if you want to tame them they would react. So, that's still the greatest problem." Who are the garrison commanders? Majority of them are those that contested governorship election. They believe that having contested the election, they are political leaders in their own rights, even if they lack necessary structure. They act like they can pocket the party and the chairman, which I have resisted. So, they resorted to blackmailĒ, he said.
The PDP in the state parades such eminent politicians as a former VC Unilorin, and former Federal Charter Commission, Proffessor Oba Shuaib Abdulraheem , former Sports Minister, Bio Ibrahim, Deacon John Darah, former ACN governorship candidate, Dele Belore (SAN), Senator Simeon Ajibola, fomer minister of National Planning, Sulyman Abubakar and Abdulrahman Abdulrasaq and Chief Joel Ogundeji. When confronted with the allegation that he favoured some contestants before primaries, Oyedepo said: "During the governorship contest, I had my preference, especially for Dele Belgore. It was not for any other thing but for the fact that even gauging public opinion, people thought that's the person they could vote for. I mixed with people and know their views. I only wanted to win election. I didn't manipulate for him. I didnít change delegates list for him. And when Belgore couldn't make it as it went to Senator Simeon Ajibola, I shifted to Ajibola. I even persuaded my friends to donate for his campaign. I couldn't have worked against him like his so called friends did in the elections."
Meanwhile, the chairman says he has decided to take the party to the people in their local governments, selling a new idea of being financial members of the party, having regular meetings, formation of committees, stakeholders forum at wards, local and state levels at gathering people of influence, etc to move the party forward, particularly as local government lurks around the corner in the state. The PDP chairman said a weekly radio programme had commenced to explain issues on governance and politics to people, added that the programme among their activities had put the state government and officials on their toes. He said that other activities were being hampered by paucity of fund. "There's practically, no money. That's the problem. If we have money, in fact, I can tell you that this place will be too stuffy for the people in government," he stated.
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