From the moment Ayo Fayose left office as Ekiti governor, a loss of relevance within the political space was the most plausible next step as with many other former governors across the country if they are not appointed into office as a minister or elected senator.
Fayose however is never a man to be forgotten or written off so easily and he is not one who waits for destiny to happen – he makes his own destiny.
The path of vocal opposition against President Muhammadu Buhari was no longer attractive either because of Fayose’s battles with EFCC or simply because it is no longer fashionable to do so with Buhari already in his second term. The next attractive option for continued relevance in the PDP, the media and the political space was for Fayose to go after Seyi Makinde, the only PDP governor in the South-West.
In this, Fayose may perhaps mean no harm to Makinde or the party but was only after sustaining his political relevance. The lot of former office holders is indeed not attractive: they are forgotten in political conversations and simply wait in the wings to be called upon for service to the party and Ayo Fayose is nothing if not politically relevant. So the manufacturing of political battles to him is merely a means to an end, maybe not to hurt the party but to force it to recognise him as a political force even after office.
Going after Makinde was smart if you understand that relevance-focused mindset. Regional politics is the basis of political negotiations in Nigeria and where Nyesom Wike is considered the most prominent among governors from the South-South and Sylvester Ugwuanyi among governors from the South-East, the South-West simply had to be Fayose’s base. Having logically come to this conclusion, Fayose went to war with Makinde and tried to force his hand over the issue of Dr. Eddy Olafeso’s return as South West Zonal Chairman.
Olafeso had resigned to contest for governor in Ondo and came a distant third behind Eyitayo Jegede and Agboola Ajayi. Jegede polled 888 votes to Ajayi’s 657 while Olafeso got a meagre 175 votes. Makinde had backed Jegede while Fayose supported Olafeso. At a latter rally to shore up support for the PDP in Ondo, Fayose was assaulted by someone and he immediately attributed it to Makinde/Jegede and even alluded to the assault on Chief Bola Ige at Ile-Ife some weeks to his assassination.
Fayose was denied entry with the other PDP bigwigs from outside the state who rode in the same bus with Makinde and walked behind him to the stage amid tight security. His hopes of a distracting and grand entry were halted by the assault of a thug whose biggest life achievement is now that he assaulted Fayose in Akure. Again, we must understand the mindset that moves even people we do not agree with, such as this thug who according to witnesses had seen an opportunity with Fayose walking alone with Olafeso.
The fellow had tried to come close to Fayose to hail him perhaps in exchange for some cash, only to be rebuffed and then decided to hit his biggest jackpot yet: “I assaulted a former governor.”
From thereon, Fayose, alongside his closest aides, went on the offensive across media stations lambasting Makinde and rejecting him as a leader. (At what forum did Makinde ever refer to himself as the leader of the PDP in the South-West?)
When Fayose won his famous victory over the APC in Ekiti, his first political assignment as the sole PDP governor in the South-West (before Segun Mimiko joined the party) had been to organise rallies across the region. I attended the Lagos version held at the Gani Fawehinmi Park in Ojota and for Fayose, his electoral victory was an automatic claim to the leadership of the PDP in the South-West – his words were in that line and many others deferred to him in respect to his office as an incumbent governor.
Perhaps he felt Makinde should be denied something that Makinde was not focused on but Fayose imagined Makinde was eyeing, having positioned as such himself in the past. Fayose had in the past even helped Wike to install Uche Secondus as PDP National Chairman to prevent a chairman from the South-West to perpetuate himself as the only political force in the South-West.
Shortly after the Ondo election, Fayose gathered all disgruntled leaders and stalwarts in the South-West PDP, meeting with them at his Magodo residence with the sole agenda of undermining Makinde. The media covered many of several meetings called by Fayose at his residence. In Oyo State, he took as ally a certain Olopoeniyan who in a video had complained that Makinde was not allowing party chieftains to reap financial returns in the quantum expected.
That Olopoeniyan brought thugs to last week’s PDP Congress in Osogbo and they were arrested by the police.
In Lagos, where party chairman Deji Doherty had fallen out with Bode George and his entire executive committee members, Fayose found a ready ally and Doherty has been his right hand man since then.
In Ogun, following the death of Buruji Kashamu, Ladi Adebutu was the next undisputed leader. But Kashamu’s faction had fought a bitter war from state capital to ward level with the Adebutu faction and was not prepared to accept him as the leader. Former Governor Gbenga Daniel and former Speaker Dimeji Bankole moved to take over the Kashamu faction and Makinde conceded so that the PDP would have a larger and harmonised house in Ogun, but the National Working Committee was having none of it. Both former governor and former Speaker dramatically defected to the APC and Fayose’s anti-Makinde-so-that-I-can-remain-relevant crusade found another ally.
In Ekiti, Senator Biodun Olujimi had fought a bitter battle to win her election as the only PDP officeholder in the state. Fayose had campaigned in a video deliberately put out by his camp against Olujimi, urging Ekiti voters to vote for all PDP candidates except Biodun Olujinmi. That Olujimi claimed her senatorial seat through the election petitions tribunal as the only PDP candidate to do so became an irony since she was the only PDP candidate Fayose campaigned against. What is not an irony is that Fayose’s video, which is still on YouTube till date, was not enough to earn him a reprimand from the party – nothing ever seems enough to warrant even a warning when it comes from Fayose.
In any case, Olujimi also felt she deserved some slots in the leadership of the PDP in Ekiti. But again, the NWC was having none of it and so her own parallel Ekiti PDP Congress produced a parallel executive committee which went to court against Fayose’s NWC recognised ex-co. She found an ally of sorts in Governor Segun Oni who returned to the PDP with eyes on the gubernatorial ticket which Olujimi had sought in the past.
Olujimi and Oni quickly aligned with Makinde to find some space for themselves outside Fayose’s camp. They were soon joined by Olusola Eleka, Fayose’s former deputy governor and candidate of the PDP in the last gubernatorial election. Eleka left Fayose’s Oshoko Political Assembly when Fayose endorsed Bisi Kolawole, the incumbent party chairman of his faction as the next gubernatorial candidate of the PDP in an election two years away from now.
That endorsement was done hurriedly to ensure a united faction behind Fayose in Ekiti as some stakeholders in the state had begun to query the wisdom of fighting with the sole PDP governor in the South-West who had supported the same Fayose faction financially just months before and during the ward congresses.
In Osun, Makinde again advocated the harmonisation of interests between the dominant Adeleke faction and Senator Fadahunsi’s alongside House members like Wole Oke, former governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola, Olusola Obada and many others. Fayose quickly aligned with the Adelekes and the NWC again acceded to their demands for the removal of the party chairman in the state, Soji Adagunodo, who was deemed not loyal enough to the Adeleke cause.
That case too like Ekiti’s is still in court. Oyinlola, 70, had sought to meddle into the Fayose vs Makinde battle with the backing of some national leaders of the PDP but Fayose’s media aide had dismissed him as “…a former Governor who had become a glorified houseboy to Makinde” – it was after this statement that he fully sided with Makinde directly.
The case of Ondo would be most laughable were it not so unfortunate. Eddy Olafeso having aligned with Fayose found himself without allies – neither the gubernatorial candidate of the PDP nor even the party chairman in the state was in his corner. He had sitting Senator Nicholas Tofomowo behind him while the other PDP senator from the state, Ayo Akinyelure, stood with Jegede and Makinde.
With four chairmen backing him from the SW (Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun and Osun factional), Fayose’ strength was almost impregnable in the zone and he began to force the hand of the National Working Committee against Makinde. By the time other zones were to hold zonal congresses, those of the North-Central, North-West and South-West were postponed to give some time for the Saraki Reconciliation Committee to wade into the matter.
Wike had once traveled from Port-Harcourt to Ibadan to resolve the matter but Fayose after promising to show up eventually claimed that the party leaders behind him refused him permission to attend the meeting. Wike uncharacteristically remained silent about that event but it was widely reported in the media.
Wike perhaps did not want to call Fayose out publicly or, as many later insinuated, he was siding with Fayose who had been his ally in the past as brother-governors. By the time the zonal congress of the South-West was postponed, Makinde spoke up for the first time and warned against “arrangee court injunctions.” This was in reference to a court case that had been brought by Ladi Adebutu against the PDP to restrain the party from conducting the South-West zonal congress. Saraki’s intervention managed to yield something: the court case was to be withdrawn and April 10 was fixed was the date for the three rescheduled congresses to be held.
Fayose’s faction kicked against this date and particularly against Ibadan as the venue of the congress, despite Oyo State being the sole PDP state in the zone. Makinde accepted both decisions and congress was moved to Oshogbo. Fayose’s men complained about the specific venue chosen in Osogbo, the choice of Dino Melaye as screening committee chairman, the use of Amotekun as security by the Osun State Government and so much else.
The press releases kept streaming in at dizzying intervals from the ever-busy Fayose media team. One claimed that ballot boxes had been stuffed with ballot papers in favour of Makinde’s candidates and another said 150 thugs had attempted to mob Fayose. The allegation of ballot stuffing forced the National Organising Secretary of the party to put out an angry statement debunking it, all these while the zonal congress was about to start and throughout the process itself.
Zonal congresses in the past and as witnessed in other zones except the North-West are usually filled with camaraderie without any actual contests. Party leaders meet prior to the congress and zone positions to states which are then ratified at the congress with much fanfare and pomp. The South-West Congress was the first one in a very long while to be an actual contest. I can remember none as competitive before this one but perhaps it is for good as it upsets the traditional power structures.
Despite Fayose enjoying the support of the state chairmen who control the bulk of the delegate structures of four states, Seyi had a shaky alliance of only senior statutory delegates but managed to unite them on the basis of pure logic and mutual self-interest. He was also guided by Chief Bode George who explained that the six states of the zone were usually paired to allocate positions with Lagos/Ogun as a pair, Oyo/Osun as another and Ondo/Ekiti as the third pair.
Lagos and Oyo despite being the two most populous states in the South-West had never had a chance at producing the zonal chairman. And so Oyo was favoured this time with Makinde fielding Taofeek Arapaja while Lagos got the position of zonal secretary with Rahman Owokoniran as well as zonal auditor and zonal ex-officio.
Positions were shared across the other states too with loyalists of Makinde producing the candidates to face candidates of the Fayose group which was equally or even more formidable. Only Oyo and Ondo had party chairmen with Makinde and party chairmen were the real power blocs in the absence of governors in those states. The close margin of victory was therefore a resounding victory as it was an upset of traditional party bases that had held the PDP in the zone for many years.
Olafeso had personally midwifed most of these state executive councils. That a two-year-old governor pulled off an upset by the slimmest of margins is no mean feat. But Fayose who had earlier vowed to resist and even campaign against Makinde’s return as governor for a second term suddenly reversed positions just before voting started and declared that Makinde was not only the Leader of the PDP in the SW, but was also “our father”.
After being defeated though, he alluded in a concession statement to the slim margin of victory as a pointer to the necessity of his faction being carried along and also that there was over-voting.
Fayose is not done with a battle that has kept him relevant in the polity two years after his exit as Ekiti governor. To be done, he will need another battle to keep him relevant. Not for him the patience of Oyinlola or Oni or the daring of Mimiko to found a new political alliance or the reluctant forced exit of Gbenga Daniel. Fayose will stay and remind us of how close the congress results were and why Makinde and the entire PDP should put some respect to his name.
His aides will be all too eager for war also – Inarobo Gomina and Governor-General are two nicknames coined by Lere Olayinka. But they won’t be alone this time for sure: Olujinmi/Oni/Eleka having emerged on the winning side will want a major stake in the PDP structure of Ekiti.
In Osun, the Oyinlola group will back Akin Ogunbiyi against Adeleke and in Ondo, the Jegede group will claim dominance against Olafeso. The cost of Fayose’s sustained relevance is the peace of the PDP in the South-West and Arapaja will have his hands full trying to resolve differences. The hope here is that Fayose does not set out on another warpath with Makinde soon enough to stay relevant – a forlorn hope as I wrote this article while in Osogbo only to return to Lagos on Wednesday and watch Fayose on television doing what Fayose does best. His ability to make remarkable U-turns is one he has demonstrated in the past.
Makinde on the other hand is attractive to young and upwardly mobile persons across the South-West. He is urbane and young. An absolute Omoluabi. And he is providing good governance in Oyo State. This can serve as a rallying point for the restless young people of the country and can be held up to show that PDP is different from APC.
Instead, we have allowed Makinde to become bogged down by the politicking of a former governor – history will never forgive some of us if we continue to keep quiet because this is a matter of principle and the principle here is clear: we rallied around Fayose when he was sole governor in the South-West PDP and we will accord Makinde the same respect.
The respect Makinde commands with even non-partisans must be a source of distress to Fayose but it is a strength for the PDP and some of us will stand behind him, not worship him. If Fayose is right tomorrow and Makinde is wrong, we will call Makinde out but on this matter, he is right – PDP should harmonise various factions in South-West states to become stronger.
The politics of exclusivity and winner-takes-all which Fayose is practising in Ekiti and backing in Ogun, Osun and Lagos will not help PDP. It is the same one he refuses to accept in the aftermath of the PDP South-West congress, brandishing tight margins but failing to ask whether the likes of Oyinlola do not deserve a stake in the PDP structure of Osun or Olujinmi in the Ekiti PDP structure as the only serving senator from the state.
Makinde is the leader of the PDP in the South-West and if the likes of our leader, Bode George, who was a military administrator as far back as 1988, Olagunsoye Oyinlola, who was a military administrator in 1993, and others can defer to Makinde by his position and he accords them all respect, then anyone who is PDP in the South-West should have no problems doing the same.
The PDP can harness the strength of both men but the leadership must be fair and courageous. Fayose should be called to order and boldly so. Let me remind us here that former President Olusegun Obasanjo cautioned then-President Goodluck Jonathan when Buruji Kashamu was made the major force of the PDP in the South-West. The crux of the matter then was that it was a slap to the face of all Omoluabis.
Some of us are pragmatic enough to appreciate the role of different characters in politics but between an Omoluabi who preaches harmonisation in every state, is well-loved outside the party, is a performer in office as governor and someone who preaches sole ownership of party structure and spurns no chance to jump into the media space and throw caution to the wind, we know who we will support and it is a principled decision.
In a recorded chat I had with Afenifere leader Ayo Adebanjo recently, he said that Governor Makinde is the only political officeholder he respects in the entire country and on both sides of the political divide. Anyone who does not understand the opportunity that Makinde represents for PDP in the SW does not understand politics at all.
Or perhaps they understand and are merely playing the role of spoiler for certain outside interests.
*Demola Olarewaju is a political and corporate strategist, PR practitioner and member of the PDP in Lagos.*