By Dapo Akinrefon
FOLLOWING the Supreme Court’s ruling affirming Senator Ahmed Makarfi as the National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, the race for the national chairmanship slot has gathered momentum.
With Makarfi handed an additional four-month mandate as chairman of the National Caretaker Committee, NCC, the PDP must hold a national convention to elect its national chairman in December, 2017.
Already, a host of contenders have thrown their hats into the ring in the jostle for the top job, which is being narrowed down to the South West, the only geo-political zone that is yet to produce a national chairman.
Among the leading aspirants for the position are former Deputy National Chairman of the party, Chief Olabode George; former Minister of Education, Professor Tunde Adeniran; former Minister of Sports and Special Duties, Professor Taoheed Adedoja; former Lagos State PDP Governorship Candidate, Mr Jimi Agbaje; a chieftain of the party, Mr Owolabi Salis; former Governor of Ogun State, Otunba Gbenga Daniel; and immediate past Governor of Ondo State, Dr Olusegun Mimiko.
Indeed, the contest will be an interesting one given the calibre of political titans vying for the position.
Factors, forces that will shape contest
Expectedly, various forces are now at play and factors that will shape the contest have panned out as stakeholders increase efforts to take the pre-eminence.
One of such factors is the desirability of the PDP Governors’ Forum to pick one of their own to emerge as national chairman of the party.
Perhaps, this necessitated the late entry of former governor of Ondo State, Dr Mimiko, who was said to have been drafted into the race by some serving and former governors of the party.
However, there is also a push to have a candidate, who knows the workings of the PDP and and has remained steadfast with the party.
So far, most of the aspirants are criss-crossing the length and breadth of the country wooing party leaders, stakeholders and members, especially would-be delegates to support their cause.
The contest is expected to be tough as the delegates may have a hard nut to crack over which aspirant to vote for.
Though there have been arguments for and against a consensus candidate from the zone, some of the aspirants are not in support of this.
The likes of Adeniran and Adedoja have expressed their reservation on the emergence of a consensus candidate.
Professor Adeniran, former ambassador to Germany is a member of the PDP Board of Trustees (BoT). Though, he has kept a low profile in the party his associates hold the view that he has a good chance to emerge as PDP leader. He is working underground to woo delegates to throw their weight behind him when the convention is held in December.
There are strong indications that Agbaje is enjoying the support of some governors who are angling for a paradigm shift in the party.
Agbaje contested and lost the 2015 governorship elections in Lagos to the current governor, Mr Akinwumi Ambode.
He has since gone underground even at the state level of the party.
The pharmacist-turned politician believes he stands a better chance to unite all the contending forces in the party, if given the mandate.
The United States of America-based lawyer and accountant cannot be said to be a newcomer to Lagos politics, having battled unsuccessfully to clinch the PDP Lagos governorship ticket thrice. He claims he has the magic wand to turn things around for the PDP as the 2019 general polls approach.
There is, however, a move by some governors and party leaders to throw up George, who is considered the most experienced of the lot.
George, a former naval officer, will be counting on his years of experience having risen through the ranks since 1999.
To many of his supporters, George has carved a niche for himself because he is widely known as a leading politician and front line leader of the PDP but what is not too well known about him is that he is also one of this country’s leading trouble shooters.
During the 2003 general elections, the victory recorded by the PDP in the South-West was due, in large part to his capacity for conflict resolution.
He was ever ready to take to the roads to resolve any intra party conflict in any corner of the zone.
One factor that would give him an edge at the party’s convention stems from the fact that he has rendered selfless and diligent and patriotic service to his country.
Besides this, upon retirement, Chief George has continued to play key roles in the affairs of the country. He is a respected analyst and profound commentator on public affairs. He was one of the patriots who worked for the convening of the 1994/95 National Constitutional Conference as a means of turning things around and changing the political landscape of the country.
His patriotic stand on issues made him go on exile to the United Kingdom in 1997 during the regime of late General Sani Abacha.
While in exile he joined forces with patriotic elements to work assiduously for the emergence of democratic rule in the country. Chief George later teamed up with other nationalists within the ambit of the PDP in November 1998.
He worked tirelessly for the success of the party in the 1999 elections.
He served as a member in the immediate transitional stage between the elections and the inauguration of President Olusegun Obasanjo.
This endeared him to party leaders and members as he was later elected the National Vice Chairman (South West) of the PDP.
Bode George will transform PDP – Babatope
Speaking recently with newsmen on the issue, former Minister of Transport and chieftain of the PDP, Chief Ebenezer Babatope said: “It is only right and fair that the South-West should produce the chairman since it has not produced any since 1999. Our party, the PDP was in power for 16 years of unbroken democratic governance. In this particularization, every zone had enjoyed the helmsmanship of our party leadership except the South-West. This is troubling, this is not fair, this is unacceptable,”
Justifying his support for George on the belief that the former Board Chairman of the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) remains the”best man to pilot the affairs of the party to a new and glorious beginning,” he said he was leading a mobilisation support team for George based on his conviction and other South-West leaders in the ability of the party chieftain to lead the PDP.
Describing George as morally upright, he noted that his conviction for corruption had been nullified by the Supreme Court which described his conviction as a “frame up.”
He called on party members in the zone to bury their hatchet and support the aspiration of George.