Stakeholders in the South-West Chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) last Wednesday held a town hall meeting in Ibadan, the political capital of the region, with the presidential candidate of the party, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and his running mate and Governor of Delta State, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, as well as other leaders of the party, in attendance.
Those that accompanied Atiku and Okowa to the meeting include the Acting National Chairman of the party, who is also the Deputy National Chairman, (North) of the party, Umar Iliya Damagum; Chairman, PDP Governors Forum and Governor of Sokoto State, Alhaji Waziri Tambuwal; Senator Lyel Imoke; the Spokesman of the Campaign Council, Senator Dino Melaye and the Chairman DAAR Communication, Dr Raymond Dokpesi, among others.
The leaders of the PDP from the six states in the South-West, namely Lagos, Oyo, Ogun, Ondo, Osun and Ekiti, which make up the region, came with one purpose: To tell the party’s leadership and Atiku that they want inclusiveness in the party before the 2023 general election. Also, they want the incumbent National Chairman, Dr Iyorchia Ayu, to resign his appointment in order to pave the way for a southerner to take over the position.
They came with different banners to protest what they described as alienation from the top echelon of the party at the national level. They chorused that the northerners in the party are carrying on the affairs as if the southerners did not matter and they demanded a reverse of the trend.
The South-West PDP stakeholders and leaders said they had no problem with Atiku Abubakar as the presidential candidate of the party. In fact, the Forum of Former Governors, comprising former Governor of Ondo State, Dr Olusegun Mimiko and former Governor of Ekiti State, Dr Ayodele Fayose, was led by former Governor of Osun State, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, the National Assembly Caucus was led by Senator Biodun Olujimi from Ekiti State and so were the BoT members from the region and the youth group.
Speaking on behalf of the Forum, Oyinlola said it was agreed that what they wanted to put across had been passed to the leader of the party in the region and Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State to present to Atiku and his entourage.
He said it was Makinde’s duty to tell Atiku and his entourage what they want from him and the leadership of the party.
Speaking, Olujimi said she had earlier met Atiku in Dubai and told him four reasons why they would support his candidature as the party’s flagbearer in the 2023 presidential election.
She said: “Your Excellency, you will remember I met you in Dubai and I told you that there are very few reasons why my colleagues and I will support you in this journey of becoming the President of Nigeria. I said, number one, that you rose from nowhere and that we know if you get there you will do well. Number two, I said you have been one of the very few people who were in the highest echelon in our body politics when the office of the Vice President was most useful and most prominent and you did well. You know about the problems of Nigeria and you will be able to handle the problems. Number three, I said you did not need the small money that … you have seen it all. And of course, Number Four, I said that you are a believer in this entity called Nigeria and you have traversed the length and breadth of the country.
“Your Excellency we will be behind you, we will support you. We will do everything within our power to ensure that come 2023 we shall rejoice together in the Peoples Democratic Party. We know you are a bridge builder and whatever you want to do, you will do well because you are a silent achiever. We asked that as we go on, you have to carry every one of us along so that in this onerous task of getting back to government in Abuja, we will form a formidable team, the South-West will not lag behind.
Also speaking, the Governor-elect of Osun State, Senator Ademola Adeleke, promised the presidential candidate that the state would give him their votes, saying that the people realised that Atiku is one of their sons, having married Titi Atiku who hails from Ilesha in Osun State.
He assured Atiku and Okowa of the support of Osun State in their quest to become the president and vice president of the country respectively.
Then it was the turn of the leader of the party in the region, Governor Makinde, to deliver the message of the region to Atiku and the leadership of the party and the tone of the message clearly showed that the party was far from resolving its crisis.
Speaking on behalf of the South-West PDP Stakeholders and leaders in Ibadan, Makinde said they did not have any issue with Atiku and the party.
He said the PDP in the South wants Atiku to prevail on Ayu to step down in order to ensure inclusiveness.
He said, “I want to appreciate everyone for coming to this meeting and I think, at this point, we have to tell ourselves nothing but the truth. What we will do here is to speak the truth to ourselves. Yes, others have spoken here about the positive side of things, but we do have challenges and issues to address in our party. One good thing is that we have the capacity to address those issues.
“Of course, I have seen people abuse me on social media, saying this issue is about Wike, Makinde, Ortom and Ugwuanyi, but the truth is we don’t have any issue either with our party or our presidential candidate. If there are challenges, we must bring them on the table so that we can address them to ensure that our journey is smooth and we can get to our destination. So, this is not about individuals.
“I see some people talk about what cropped up during the presidential convention when somebody was selected as vice-presidential candidate. Truth is, those are issues that are behind us. They have happened, but this is where we are. Are there issues coming out of those that we really need to address so we can be successful at the end of the day? The answer is yes and we will address them. Integrity and honour must be a part of our national psyche.
“We have spoken about the movement, the youth and what they are looking for. Our people are in a state of hopelessness, which the APC brought upon us and it is the reality. But we are supposed to give hope to our people. We want them to listen to us, to hear our message to them. In order to do that, we must lay a good example.
“We say we want to rescue Nigeria. Our candidate is a unifier and he will unify Nigeria. We want to restructure Nigeria. I have listened to our candidate both publicly and privately and we have had several interactions. Our party is talking about government of national unity because eight years of APC have left us badly divided. Well, the issue is, we must practice what we preach.
“If we want to unify Nigeria, we must unify the PDP first. If we want a government of national unity, the faces in the PDP must reflect national unity. If we want to restructure Nigeria, we must be willing to do what is right to bring inclusivity into the PDP. Do we have the capacity? Do we have the candidate with the capacity? The answer is a resounding yes.
“So, the message from the South-West is that there are few things you can do for us post-election. But before the election, the South-West PDP wants a situation whereby your message to Nigerians can resonate. The only way that can happen is if everything the PDP stands for, in terms of restructuring and national unity, must be reflected in the PDP’s movement towards the election.
“Your Excellency, the South-West PDP is asking that the National Working Committee of the PDP should be restructured. We must resolve what we have in the face of Nigeria by asking the National Chairman to step down so that the PDP in the southern part of the country will feel included in the top hierarchy of the party. So, that is the message, sir.”
Responding, Alhaji Atiku said he was very happy to be in Ibadan to interact with the members of the party.
He said, “The most important event facing us today in the country is the 2023 general election. We are here to interact with you on how to win the election. I want to tell you from what I have seen in Lagos yesterday (last week Tuesday) and today (last Wednesday) in Ibadan, we can win the general election, if we want to.
“I recall that when I was Vice President between 1999 and 2003 and precisely the election of 2003 when I led the campaign of the PDP nationally; I took over the South-West states, except Lagos. I want to say that it is possible to take over Lagos State. More so, when our new Electoral Act has improved our electoral system, you can’t write election results any longer.
“If you send thugs to steal ballot boxes, it will become an exercise in futility. So the era of snatching ballot boxes and writing results is over because we have improved the electoral process. The only thing is that if you have registered to vote, go and vote, then protect your votes at the polling units. If you want anything from the local government, state or federal level without bringing good and favourable results from your polling units, you are wasting your time. So let us all go back to our wards and our polling units and make sure that our votes count.
“The PDP is the oldest party in Nigeria. Overtime it has developed its constitution, lots of processes, zoning, talk of anything which will bring about the unity of the party and the unity of the country. I am a foundation member of the party and I am not bothered and have no problem with where any member comes from.”
Responding to Makinde’s demand, Atiku said, “What Governor Makinde is calling for is achievable under our constitution, under our convention , under our regulations and under our procedures. It must come out from our constitution, our convention and procedure. Those institutions must guide our decision in whatever changes we make. That is why we cannot do anything outside the constitution unless our constitution is amended and our laws and rules are amended to what we wanted them to be. So distinguished leaders and stakeholders of our party, we won’t say people should not have different views, but all views must go through our constitution, rules, regulations and practices, otherwise we cannot give this country the kind of leadership that the people want. We cannot.
“I have been a founding member of this party. I watched it grow to what it is today and I will still continue to be a member of this party. So distinguished leaders of our party in the South-West, I don’t want us to lose focus. Our focus is to win the next election. I want to assure you that it is doable, it is achievable and we have the capacity to do it. We have done it before. We have Oyo State now and we have Osun State. Soon we are going to have Lagos State. We are going to have Ogun State.”
Most of the party leaders who spoke with THEWILL insisted that the former Vice President had failed to address the issue and that what he said was just full of rhetoric.
Former National Leader of the party, Chief Olabode George, said some people were saying that removing Ayu or asking him to step down was a constitutional matter. “In May this year, we elected our presidential candidate in the person of His Excellency, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, setting aside the principle of rotation as enshrined in the constitution of our party in the interest of peace and unity of our party. Today, we are in a situation in which our National Chairman is from the same zone as our presidential candidate.
“Some people are insisting that there is nothing wrong with this present arrangement. Some have argued that this happened during Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, where the candidate and the national chairman were from the same zone.
“Let the truth be told, there are remarkable differences in the scenario then and now. Then we had the leader of the party who was then a sitting president from the South and the candidate was from the North.
“In addition, the National Chairman, Dr Ahmadu Ali, was then on his way out. Today we have no sitting President from our party in Aso Villa so that argument falls flat. We need to stop playing games and being zombified.”
The meeting was intended to resolve differences in the party, but it seems to have achieved nothing as all the party leaders from the South-West went home disappointed.