It is barely two years to the next general elections in Nigeria; but various power brokers have begun serious politicking to be in control of the internal organs of the existing political parties. As the elections draw nearer, battle for the soul of the parties is becoming intense and it seems only time that will tell if the parties would ever remain the same again.
One of the parties that is currently undergoing such challenge is the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Oyo State. The party is sharply divided into two major splinter groups, which are Lamist and SENACO. Members of the Lamist group are said to be loyal to a former leader of the party in the state, Alhaji Lam Adesina, who was a former governor of the state from 1999 to 2003.
In the same vein, SENACO is an acronym for Senator Ajimobi Campaign Organisation and members of the group are believed to be supporters of the incumbent governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi. It was gathered that majority of SENACO members were those that worked with Ajimobi when he contested the governorship election of the state in 2007 on the platform of the defunct All Nigeria People Party (ANPP), while the Lamists, according to sources, are those that were with Lam Adesina in the defunct Action Congress (AC), which later became Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).
Ajimobi, who contested and won the 2011 gubernatorial poll in the state on the platform of ACN, was said to have moved his political structure in ANPP to ACN, and later to APC after the merger of ANPP, ACN, Congress for Progressives Change (CPC) and some other parties prior to the 2015 general elections. He re-contested in 2015 and won.
But since after the 2015 polls, all has never been well with the party, investigations revealed. The leadership of the party was said to have successfully managed the internal wrangling until Monday, April 3, 2017, when members of the same party took up arms against one another.
Dangerous weapons such as stones, cutlasses, axes and charms were freely used by the groups. Some people were said to have sustained varying degrees of injury.
Trouble was said to have started when hundreds of aggrieved members of the party from 10 of the 33 Councils of Oyo state staged a peaceful protest against the alleged imposition of candidates and lopsided appointments by Governor Ajimobi.
The 10 Councils are in Oke Ogun political division of the state. The leaders accused the governor of favouring SENACO members over the Lamist group.
The leaders had met in Ago-Are on Oke Ogun axis on Saturday April 1, 2017, where the group deliberated extensively on the happenings in the party and considered the chances of APC in the fourth coming elections and vowed not to accept imposition of candidates on it by the governor.
The group alleged that 95 percent of chairmen of caretaker committees in the state were appointed from the governor’s camp. The group further alleged that 80 percent of newly appointed education secretaries for the 33 Councils were equally from the governor’s camp, as the party’s list for education secretaries was said to have been upturned by the governor. Similarly, the group noted that members of Oyo State Independent Electoral Commission (OYSIEC) appointed in all the Councils were allegedly from the governor’s camp.
Last Monday’s protest was therefore a way of ventilating their grievances. The protesters lamented that the leadership of National Road Transport Workers (NURTW) was set against them as they stopped their convoy near abattoir at Moniya, Ibadan and delayed them for several hours, probably on the instruction of the” powers that be.”
But a few among the protesters that escaped during the delay came to the governor’s office and stage the peaceful protest in the morning. While they were there, another group surfaced and chased the protesters out of the secretariat with dangerous weapons, including charms.
However, by afternoon of the same day, another protest took place when those that were delayed were eventually released. They came to the governor’s office for the protest. But they were, however, chased away by the pro-Ajimobi group with dangerous weapons.
Before the pro-Ajimobi group swooped on them, they had told the Executive Assistant on Political Matters to the governor, Dr. Morohunkola Thomas, who received them Ibadan, their grievances.
Thomas, who received a letter on behalf of the governor from the protesters, appealed to the protesters to give peace a chance as those that were not accommodated in the recent appointments made by the governor would be accommodated latter.
“Everybody should go and prepare for the forthcoming local government elections. The Council poll will still hold by the special grace of God. You cannot satisfy everybody in politics. The governor has the prerogative to appoint caretaker chairmen. So, whoever is not accommodated now, will be accommodated later, and they have a window of opportunity to prepare for the Council poll which will hold in the next few months.”
The Oke Ogun APC leaders that spoke on behalf of the protesters, Alhaji Ahmed Ayinla, Mr. Salami Isiaka, and Alhaji Olalekan Abdulkazeem, appealed to the governor to allow the party to function effectively, adding that Ajimobi earlier told them “that there is no discrimination in APC that there is neither SENACO nor LAMISTS, that he is the leader of all, but he is now acting contrary to his claim.”
The protesters contended that names of members of opposition parties were on the recent list of zonal leaders of APC, adding that the governor picked nominees for caretaker chairmanship of the 10 Councils without wider consultation with the party leaders.
The party leaders, who insisted on transparent primary election at all times, alleged that a female Permanent Secretary in the state (names withheld) punctured the party list from each of the 10 local government in Oke Ogun “and sad enough, she is not a politician and if she wants to be one, she should resign honourably and join the political terrain. She attempted that at a time by contesting for House of Representatives in 2004 and how she came back to civil service job remains debatable.”
But the protesters did not vacate the secretariat after Thomas addressed them. They sat down under the trees in front of Oyo State Civil Service Commission, which is beside the governor’s office. They were there, until Governor Ajimobi came to his office at about 4p.m on the day.
Daily Sun gathered that after the governor was briefed on the agitation of the protesters, he sent Morohunkola Thomas and other government officials to the protesters that he wanted to have a meeting with them. He asked them to choose two representatives from each of the 10 Councils, making a total of 20 persons. But the protesters reportedly refused to send representatives, saying the governor should come and address them outside.
Sources said members of pro-Ajimobi group, who were already camped in the secretariat, heard about the refusal of the protesters to meet with the governor, and considered it an affront on the governor. Few minutes after, they swooped on the protesters again. It was gathered that the situation would have been worse, but for the swift intervention of security personnel that dispersed the warring groups with tear-gas canisters.
Many of the anti-Ajimobi protesters ran from the frontage of governor’s office to the main gate of the Secretariat and the pro-Ajimobi group members went after them and beat them as they tried to escape.
The free-for-all, which started at 4:30p.m, lasted till about 30 minutes. Many workers at the Secretariat who had just closed from work abandoned their cars on the road and scampered for safety. They came back for their vehicles when normalcy had been returned to the area.
The following day, Speaker of Oyo House of Assembly, Michael Adeyemo, read the names of nominees for chairmen of Caretaker committees for 28 Councils and 29 Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs). The names were referred to the House Committee on Local Government, Chieftaincy Matters, and State Honours for further legislative action.
And by last Thursday, the lawmakers confirmed 55 of the nominees. The governor administered the oath of office on them, the next day. The governor at the ceremony said series of meetings were held between Thursday and Friday last week to strengthen the party.
At one of such meetings on Thursday, Ajimobi inaugurated APC Elders Council at Lafia Hotel, to rejuvenate the party. The elders were said to have been drawn from the 33 Councils and 35 LCDAs in the state.
The inauguration of the Elders’ council was believed to be a political solution to the crisis. But the developments that followed revealed that many members of the party are still aggrieved. One of the aggrieved persons is the Minister of Communication, Adebayo Shittu, who hails from Oke Ogun axis of the state.
The minister featured on a TV current affairs programme mointored in Ibadan last weekend, where he accused Oyo State governor of plans to hijack the structures of APC in the state ahead of 2019 general election.
He raised the alarm that the inauguration of the Elders’ council for the party and appointment of caretaker chairmen for Councils as well as LCDAs were calculated by the governor to achieve his mission, contending that the governor’s actions were alien to the APC constitution.
But the Director of Publicity and Strategy of APC in the state, Mr. Olawale Sadare, told Daily Sun on phone yesterday evening that he would not react to the allegations made by Shittu until he watched the video clip of the interview granted by the minister.
Shittu had said: “The appointment of zonal leaders or elders advisory council for APC in Oyo state is unconstitutional and it is a clear attempt to make the state executive of the party irrelevant. It is so clear. There is no position of zonal leaders in our constitution. We must challenge that because it will be used for sinister motive.
“The supreme structure for the state is the state executive, representing various parts of the state. The interest of our people must be of utmost priority. What is the motivation for that? Where do you put all our leaders who worked tirelessly for our success in 2015 election? Why do you want to make them irrelevant to people you think will do your bidding. I don’t think it is patriotic.
“We have the state executive of the party recognised by the constitution. With due respect to Mr. Governor, he does not have a role to play than managing the state executive of the party.”
Shittu, who signified his intention to contest the 2019 governorship poll in the state, further stated, “I don’t want to be handpicked by anybody. I want to contest a primary that if I lose, I will be happy. I can assure you that the primary will be fair. With the national executive of the party that I see and with the symbolic style of President Muhammadu Buhari, it will be transparent. If the President will go through primary, why would others be different?
“As at today, the party is at a stage where the bubble may burst, the only power I have now is to speak out my mind so that perhaps, that will inspire people of like minds. If I discuss with him with the rate things are going and he says no, will I have the moral backing to come to the open and start talking? For me, I think the party leadership at the highest level should intervene. People are frustrated; these are people who contributed to the emergence of the governor in 2011. We don’t want the APC to go the way of PDP.”
Meanwhile, Governor Ajimobi has assured people of the state that his administration would conduct elections into the Councils and 35 LCDAs of the state when the litigation against the election is decided. He said he expected the case to be settled within the next three months.
Sixteen Baales (village heads) in Oyo Federal Constituency had in January filed a motion ex-parte before a Federal High Court in Abuja through their counsel, Mr. Ahmed Raji, SAN, against the conduct of local government poll in the state, which was slated for February 11, 2017 over the creation of 35 LCDAs in the state and the boundaries of the LCDAs.
The injunction was granted by Justice John Tsoho of the court, who ordered the Oyo State Independent Election Commission (OYSIEC) not to proceed with its plan to conduct the election, and the election was postponed indefinitely.
The litigation prevented appointment of caretaker chairmen to the affected five Councils – Afijio, Atiba, Oyo West, Oyo East and Oriire as well as six LCDAs under them, making 11 councils.
Reacting to charges against the governor, Special Adviser on Communication and Strategy to Governor Ajimobi, Mr. Yomi Layinka, said it was untrue that his principal created dichotomy within the APC in the state as being speculated in some quarters.
“I can say authoritatively that the governor has insisted on equitable distribution of political appointments among all stakeholders’ groups that make up the APC in the state. The governor believes it is unfair to have one section of the party in whatever name or guise dominate anything because all party members worked for the success of APC at different levels during the elections and even now.
“Therefore, the opportunity to work for the party and the government is spread round. So, he would not on his own, put his so-called people in any advantageous position over any other group. As far as he is concerned and as leader of the party, it is his responsibility to create a harmonious and integrated party that is based on fairness and equitable distribution of resources and opportunities to all members.
“So, he will not destroy the house that he is trying to build by creating dichotomy. I know as a matter of fact that the governor is clearly not interested in the dichotomy. We are in a political environment and understandably, everybody, especially politicians would want their own interest secured, even if it is at the detriment of equity and fair play. The perceived dichotomy within the APC, which is thought to be between Lamists – supporters of the late Alhaji Lam Adesina, and the SENACO group, which is supposed to be supporters of Senator Abiola Ajimobi, is a thing the governor has spoken extensively about in public, especially at party events, about the fact that he is no longer interested in the dichotomy within the party.
“He has said it categorically that he’s not sponsoring and not supporting anybody calling himself a SENACO representative. As far as he is concerned, there are no Lamists and there are no SENACO people in the party. APC is one because we are all in the same party. Further to that, he has also upbraided people who claimed to be SENACO in public, he told them that they are on their own because he has not sent anybody out to make those claims.
“He has also said to the people who called themselves Lamists that they are actually pretending to the throne far more than the genuine heir to the throne. For instance, who can be more Lamist than the son of the late Lam Adesina, Honourable Dapo Lam-Adesina, – a member of House of Representatives?
“Dapo, with all intents and purposes, considers Governor Ajimobi as his surrogate father; just as Governor Ajimobi considers the late Lam Adesina as his surrogate father. With all intents and purposes, it was the late former governor, Lam Adesina that technically made Ajimobi the governorship candidate of the APC, which was then ACN. As far as the governor is concerned, it is therefore a cheap blackmail to divide the party along Lamists and SENACO lines,” Ajimobi’s spokesman, said.