By Abdulwahab Abdulah
His incarceration at the Kirikiri prison notwithstanding, the former Deputy Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Chief Olabode George is one politician who knows his onions and utilizes same to maintain his relevance in the party.
Before now, there were several efforts made at getting him released through the law courts, unfortunately for him, the Court of Appeal sitting in Lagos recently sealed his hopes of securing his freedom ahead of the end of his jail term.
For almost two years when Bode George was serving his jail term, the PDP, in Lagos State has been maintaining a balance that kept the party relevant in the scheme of things, especially by protecting the political interest of its members, no matter their status.
It was not in doubt that there were pockets of crises within the party before Chief George went to prison, one of the fallouts being the loses recorded by the party after the 2007 general elections.
However, the national leadership of the PDP, realizing that it has to put its house in order, especially in Lagos State worked relentlessly to reconcile all contending groups within the party as a sine qua non to the party’s repositioning ahead of the election. But with the imprisonment of Chief Bode George, who is one of the arrow heads in the party, there were fears that the party’s efforts to reconcile warring groups would suffer in his absence.
The major contending groups within the party which are products of division of the party along factional lines are the Establishment Group, headed by George: the Solidarity Group, headed by the High Commissioner to Ghana, Ambassador Musiliu Obanikoro and the Mandate Group, under the leadership of the former Minister of Works and Housing, Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe.
Other minor groups include the ‘Alagbon 14’ Forum of Local Government Candidates and the Elders’ Forum.
While the activities of the reconciliation committee set up by PDP leadership lasted, the recognition of George as the de-facto leader of the party in Lagos was never in contention. However, those who are not comfortable with the structure then were querying the extent to which they were prepared to accept George as the leader of the party.
Though, it has been rumored that the jailed PDP chieftain controlled the party behind the four walls of the Kirikiri prison, the truth however was that his group is having an upper hand in the power game, because he played a major role in the installation of the incumbent executive of the PDP in the state. Undoubtedly, the state party leadership is expected to show their support for the politician, whether he is present in their midst or not.
What is so significant in the absence of Chief George was the ability of the politician to keep together his team, in spite of his absence to oversee the party. There was even the fear that with his confinement to the Prison for the period of his sentence, other agitating groups might try to outsmart the leadership of the party in the state. This was however impossible, considering the much power wielded by the politician while in the midst of his people and when he was in the prison.
While Chief George was away, there were series of horse trading in terms of who hold sway as the party leader, especially in determining the allocation of goodies such as ministerial appointments and other national political offices.
The recent conduct of the state party primaries with little bickering from the party big wigs also further confirmed the leadership and the firm grip and control of the party by George and his team.
The landslide victory of Dr. Ade Dosunmu in the party’s gubernatorial primaries and that of some other national political office holders at the primaries, showed the superiority of his faction over others.
Dosunmu was said to have received George’s blessing confirming his leadership superiority.
Dosunmu had floored other PDP aspirants, including, Femi Pedro, former Deputy Governor of Lagos State, the immediate Minister for Defence, Demola Seriki, Tokunbo Kamson and Owolabi Salis. The PDP candidate polled 431 votes of the total 864 votes cast at the primary, beating his closest rival, Tokumbo Kamson, who polled 182 votes to come second while former Minister, Demola Seriki emerged third with 120 votes.
The former Lagos state deputy governor, Mr. Femi Pedro picked the fourth position with 104 votes; Owolabi Salis, scored 14 votes, to come fifth; Kudus Folami, came sixth with 8 votes and Babatunde Gbadamosi, scored only 5 votes.
In one of his interviews with reporters, Dosunmu had said, “We believe Lagosians should have a positive life and we will ensure that the economy of Lagos gets what it needs from the Federal Government. Lagos generates a lot of money but the masses have not fed well in the past years.
“We need to take care of the welfare of the people through infrastructural development. We don’t want a mega city with bricks but the people have to be happy and there should be a good atmosphere for businesses to thrive.
“We have a team that can win Lagos State, and by God’s help we will win. The people coming into the state on daily basis need federal help and we believe that if we win, we will have a government working with the federal government to improve the state.” He added.
The state secretary of the party, Captain Tunji Shelle has said with or without Chief George physically present among them, the party is one happy family, that is ready to wrestle power from the ruling Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN in the state.
According to him, Chief Bode George would continue to play his role in the party notwithstanding his incarceration noting that George has been a key player in Lagos PDP. Besides, he is optimistic that the PDP would be able to put its act together.
Shelle said, “We have missed him (George) in so many ways, he has been a pillar in the party, and he has been a mentor, a motivator of many people within the party. Missing him is an understatement. His absence, though has affected the party emotionally and in some other ways, but he is happy and he has capable lieutenants to carry on the activities of the party while he was away. I am sure he would be happy with what we are doing so far.
“I want to inform you that PDP has not won bye_election before, but with the wealth of experiences he (George) shared with some of us, with his tremendous power of organization, we have been able to achieve something tangible.”
Speaking on the plan of the politician to regain his freedom, Shelle said, “I thank God for his life, because he had so many things for so many people, especially in the South_West and beyond, he has lots of goodwill. It is part of his goodwill that has kept us going. I am sure those who have been shying from expressing that goodwill will now come out to support the party. His coming back will translate the party chances to better fortune.”
Speaking on settlement of internal wrangling, he said: “I will like to say that the coming together happens in an instance and that is when a candidate emerges or various aspirants show their intention publicly to run for governorship, Senate, House of Representatives etc, definitely you will see politicians rallying around them. And by the time one person is chosen, everybody crystallizes together.”
Following Dosunmu’s victory in the state primary, the coast now appears cleared for George to once again test his popularity against the ruling Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN led by Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and the incumbent Gov. Babatunde Raji Fashola.
It has also been argued that Bode George absence cannot be an impediment to PDP success in the next election, especially in Lagos state. Though, a party chieftain said George never took part directly in electioneering, but only gave instructions and got people to work on the instructions.
With all things now set for Chief Bode George to regain his freedom and return to the political field, there seems to be a big relief for the party in the state.