By Olumide Abayomi
As the race to decide who clinches the gubernatorial ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Lagos State gets intense, tension is building up ahead of the party primaries later this month over alleged plans by the leadership to skew the process in favour of an aspirant. The favoured aspirant is Mr. Jimi Agbaje, who recently defected to the PDP.
Some of those who have indicated interest to contest for the governorship on the party’s ticket include former Minister of State for Defence, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro; the party’s governorship candidate in the 2011 general election, Dr. Ade Dosunmu; the Nigerian Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago, Ambassador Tokunbo Kamson; 2011 governorship candidate of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), Dr. Dominic Adegbola; and two other governorship aspirants of the PDP in 2011, Messrs Babatunde Gbadamosi and Owolabi Salis. Others are Branco Rhodes, Segun Adebayo, Gabriel Pearse and Deji Doherty.
On the other hand, those jostling to govern the state on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) are the state Commissioner for Works, Dr. Kadri Hamzat; a former Accountant General in the state, Akinwunmi Ambode; senator representing Lagos West Senatorial zone, Senator Ganiyu Solomon; Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Adeyemi Ikuforiji; and former Commissioner for Health, Dr. Leke Pitan.
However, one factor that will influence which of the two parties would gain the upper hand in the battle for Alausa is the choice of their governorship candidates and the way and manner the candidates will emerge.
In the PDP, most of the aspirants are not comfortable with alleged plans to foist Agbaje on the party as its governorship candidate, as he is being speculated to have the backing of some powerful forces in the party. However, the move of some top party hierarchy to present the 2007 governorship candidate of the Democratic Peoples Alliance (DPA), is already causing rancor within the rank and file of party faithful.
In spite of the determination of his sponsors, one of which is the Lagos-based national leader of the party, Chief Olabode George, to sell the ‘Agbaje project’ to the presidency, his defection to the PDP has raised the dust in the once settled house of the Lagos PDP, with stakeholders seriously skeptical about giving their party ticket to a ‘stranger’.
There are a handful of reasons for party faithful in and outside the state to be wary of the ‘Agbaje project’ based on his antecedents, in particular, his perceived lukewarm disposition towards criticizing the present regime of the APC he intends to displace using the PDP platform.
As a former member of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and one time chairman of the APC Manifesto Committee, who was at a time close to being nominated as Vice Presidential candidate to Muhammadu Buhari in the failed alliance talks between the ACN and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) ahead of the 2011 general election, there has been no serious efforts till date by Agbaje to clean off the kitchen sink being tarred on him by skeptics that he was planted in the PDP as an APC mole to thwart the PDP’s long nurtured dream of delivering democracy dividends to the people of Lagos since the advent of the fourth republic in 1999.
It was only until recently during an interactive session with PDP youths and women leaders that a lame attempt was made to debunk the raging insinuation that he is like a time bomb planted by the national leader of the APC, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu within the PDP. He made assurances to his audience at the forum that he had no plan of dumping the PDP for any party whether he wins the party’s ticket at the primary or not.
He said: “People say I am a mole. Impossible, I have not benefitted from Tinubu. I even supported his campaign financially. If anything, he owes me. So, I cannot be a mole. I never went to Tinubu’s office, except once and that was during the Ikeja Cantonment bomb blast. Even when he was giving out things, I did not take anything from him. I was the treasurer for Afenifere.”
However, being a leading voice during the Occupy Nigeria protest in January 2012 that vociferously campaigned against the removal of the petroleum subsidy by President Goodluck Jonathan, there is little left to the imagination about doubts of his genuine intention to not only deliver Lagos to the PDP but furthermore, work assiduously for the reelection of President Jonathan.
The doubts raised by Agbaje’s ‘saintly’ antecedents, some of which include his being used by Tinubu to split the Afenifere organization, are strengthened by recent developments in the polity. With the party now left to lick its wounds over the defection of Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal to the APC, there are concerted efforts by the national leadership of the party to weed PDP of members who are ‘pigeon birds in the daytime and bats at night’, often fraternizing with the opposition APC.
Also, a cursory look at happenings in opposition states of Ogun and Oyo in the southwest calls for serious concern and thorough scrutiny of the personalities behind the masquerades beating the drums of ‘Agbaje Project, owing to the recent desperation of some people, whose recent game is the divisive politics of religion in a pluralistic and cosmopolitan society like Lagos.
According to an observer, Kazeem Olaniyan, “with the likes of what Governors Ibikunle Amosun and Abiola Ajimobi of the APC are doing to their party structures in their respective states of Ogun and Oyo after being gifted their party ticket for the 2011 election, all efforts must be geared towards avoiding the situation where a party ticket is given to an outsider on a platter of gold, who will in the future call the bluff of PDP stakeholders after getting hold of power.”
Perhaps, it is in the light of this that leading gubernatorial aspirants and prominent members in Lagos PDP are mobilizing to stop Agbaje from being imposed as the candidate of the party in next year’s election.
This explains why they have unanimously called for a free and fair primary to be conducted in November 29 and the reason they are presently resisting any subtle attempts to doctor the delegate list of last Saturday’s ward congresses in the state to favour the likely imposition of a stranger on the party.
According to a source in the camp of one of the aspirants, he confirmed that the report of some backroom maneuvers to tamper with the delegate list was true, but that they are already looking into contesting some of the areas once the ward election is released.
“When a big fish is admitted into any party, it is always done with an open declaration where he is official introduced to party supporters at a rally, I am surprised that the sponsors of Agbaje have only deemed it fit to smuggle him into the party and also go ahead with their plans to impose him on other committed party men through a backdoor consensus arrangement and dubious dropping of names of President Jonathan,” he said.
A party man, Rotimi Osunsan, advised the Lagos PDP to embrace equity and fairness, and remain united in the days leading to the 2015 elections, if it hopes to secure the people’s vote. “Senator Obanikoro should focus on his message to the party delegates rather than be distracted by the negative insinuations of a division between him and party chieftain, Chief Bode George. I urge Bode George to continue to foster fair play without partiality as the father of the party in Lagos.
“We have been through more than enough. We must be united to swim or drown together. In my personal opinion and with all due respects, Jimi Agbaje should be excused from the equation at this point. He stands to divide the party and once again deliver us to the APC. He doesn’t smell good to me. We don’t want to find out after the facts, particularly when it will be too late.
“Likewise, I would advise President Jonathan not to get involved with the selection of the candidate. He doesn’t know Lagos whereas; Obanikoro has been trending on social media platforms in the last few days running issue-based campaign. If Agbaje is the fear of the APC, he should be the one they always attack. Politicians only attack those they consider to be a threat to them. They know Obanikoro is not a pushover for any of the APC candidates.”
Abayomi writes from Lagos