Nigeria: PDP contenders fight for power in south-west

By Nwokoye Mpi
Posted on Tuesday, 26 January 2021 20:10, updated on Wednesday, 27 January 2021 08:11

People's Democratic Party (PDP) logo seen on display in Enugu, Nigeria November 22, 2018. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

Two opposition heavyweights in the south-west of Nigeria are slugging it out for the leadership of the main opposition party, just as the region is threatened by clashes between local farmers and nomadic herders from the north.

This fight for power in the opposition – between the technocratic-style governor of Oyo State Seyi Makinde and the veteran political bruiser and former governor of Ekiti State Ayo Fayose – could complicate the rivalries between the farmers and herders.

READ MORE Nigeria: Will insecurity, kidnapping and crime get worse in 2021?

Some activists suspect that this uptick in violence in the south-west is linked to the prospect that the next president of the country could come from this region after eight years of a president from the north-west, as part of the informal system of political rotation.

That has raised the stakes in the battle for the regional leadership of the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), between Makinde and Fayose.

Makinde vs Fayose

Makinde calls for talks and reconciliation between the two communities, mindful of the clashes that have cost hundreds of lives and driven thousands from their homes in the country’s middle belt.

Fayose, an old-style populist politician with a chequered history, is recruiting local hunters as vigilantes to protect the farmers against the herders.

These security arguments came to a head on 18 January, when Rotimi Akeredolu, governor of Ondo State, ordered all herders to leave their bases in the state’s forest reserves within seven days. If they don’t, state security would chase them out, said Akeredolu.

Akeredolu had accused the herders of running kidnapping gangs from the forests, preying on people driving across the state’s main highways. It has quickly turned into a matter of dangerous identity politics.

‘Gangsters and criminals on both sides’

The settled farmers are mostly Yoruba in the south-west; the herders are mostly Fulani from the north. But there are several shades of reality in between.

READ MORE Nigeria plans to end herder-farmer conflicts

There are gangsters and criminals on both sides. That was clear from the farmer-herder fights in the middle belt. Politicians, from both the opposition PDP and the ruling All Progressives’ Congress, eagerly exploited the clashes as they riled up their local constituencies. ]

Akeredolu’s expulsion order to the herders prompted a furious response from President Muhammadu Buhari’s government in Abuja. Describing the order as ethnic targeting, Buhari’s spokeman Garba Shehu said it was unconstitutional.

The Presidency followed up with an order to the Inspector General of Police Abubakar Adamu to arrest Sunday Igboho, an Oyo State resident, shown on video with a band of armed men ordering herders to leave the state.

This issue cuts across party loyalties

Akeredolu is in the ruling APC, but is backed by Fayose of the opposition PDP on his policy on herders. But Makinde, also in the opposition PDP, takes a position much closer to those in the ruling APC calling for community-based mediation to resolve what could balloon into a regional crisis.

Apart from their differences over the clashes, Makinde and Fayose are competing for the chairmanship of the south-west zone of the PDP. Regional elections for the post are due next month.

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In June last year, Eddy Olafeso, PDP national vice chairman for south-west, left the position to contest the party’s primaries ahead of the governorship election in Ondo State. After he lost the ticket, a disagreement arose over whether he should retain his position in the party, a party member told us.

Lere Olayinka, of the South-West Zonal Caretaker Committee of PDP and Fayose’s spokesperson, said the former governor and his supporters are throwing their weight behind Olafeso.

“On the issue of zonal congress, he (Governor Makinde) sold the idea of Eddy Olafeso to return as Southwest chairman to Fayose and others, but now he wants [to] change his decision because his mentor, Ossy Agboola wants to be chairman. We in Fayose’s camp have the majority.  We have four state PDP chairmen with us. We are the majority. We stand on the agreement reached earlier to support Eddy Olafeso. Being the only PDP governor in Southwest does not make Makinde the leader of the party,” said Olayinka.

“(Makinde) is just governor and premier. He cannot say because he’s the only governor and so he should impose people and that is what Fayose is against.

‘Baby governor’

Last month, two senators from Ondo State led a delegation to Fayose’s Lagos home, where the former governor described Makinde as a “baby governor.” After that, the PDP in Ondo suspended five members of the party who accompanied the senators on that visit.

Akeem Olatunji, Oyo State PDP spokesperson and an ally of Governor Makinde, said while party members in the region are pushing to change the status quo, others want to maintain the old order.

“As far as PDP is concerned in Southwest, Governor Seyi Makinde is the leader of the party and even Mr Fayose cannot contest that,” said Olatunji.

This dispute won’t hurt party unity ahead of the national elections in 2023, insisted Olatunji.

READ MORE Nigeria’s ruling APC starts to push PDP out of electoral strongholds

“There is no way the crisis will affect 2023 because, after the convention, everybody will come together again.”

Makinde is trying to make changes within the party, Olatunji said, and they expect resistance.

“The party is paramount in the mind of the governor and we are solidly behind him and every step he has taken. Oyo must produce a south-west PDP chairman.”

“PDP started in 1998 and other states have been producing south-west chairman. We are the only PDP controlled state and those that have been excluded should be allowed to also participate. We are behind the candidate that the governor is supporting.”

Bottom line

In the 2019 general election, the APC won in 15 out of the 29 states where elections were held; PDP won in 14. In 2015, the PDP won in 12 states. Observers say if the rift between the two PDP leaders is not mended soon, it could affect the party’s chances not just in the south-west but across the country, in 2023.

READ MORE Nigeria’s ruling party: Looking into growing schisms inside the APC

“We have constituted a reconciliation committee headed by former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and the committee is looking at the differences between the duo,” said Kola Ologbodiyan, the PDP spokesperson.

“By and large, the situation is not as bad as the media is painting it. The matter would be resolved even before the Congresses. That’s what I can assure you.”

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