After months of horse-trading and exchange of invectives, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) gladiators in the Southwest, yesterday, sheathed their swords and agreed to work together to dislodge the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the geopolitical zone.
This was in contrast to what happened at the weekend when political thugs on Saturday disrupted the Northwest Zonal Congress of the party at Kaduna International Trade Fair ground, leading to the destruction of ballot boxes and chairs.
The Southwest leaders, who spoke at the zonal congress of the party held at Women and Children Development Initiative Foundation (WOCDIF), Centre in Osogbo, Osun State, said they had agreed to use the congress to elect the best candidates to reorganise the party to win future elections and represent them at the national level. Before the poll, they agreed to accept the outcome of the elections and work with the winners.
Signals of a united Southwest PDP became obvious when the former governor of Ekiti State, Mr. Ayodele Fayose, entered the venue of the congress and went straight to hug Oyo State Governor, Mr. Seyi Makinde, and described the governor as the leader and father of the party in the region.
And just after the validation, Makinde last night won his first political battle as leader of the Southwest as his candidate, former deputy governor of Oyo, Ambassador Taofeek Arapaja, emerged as PDP Southwest Chairman, edging out Dr Eddy Olafeso, candidate of Fayose, with 13 votes. Olafeso polled 330 votes while his opponent, Arapaja, polled 343 votes. 10 votes were voided.
Fayose’s action did not only douse the tension at the congress but elicited applause from delegates from the six states of the Southwest. He warned their supporters against coming in between them and creating divisions. He said Makinde remained the leader of the party in the zone.
He said: “Governor Seyi Makinde is our leader. Our supporters and lovers should not continue to put a wedge in between us. Either way this election goes, I will accept. Even though Arapaja has abused me so much, I will be the first person to visit him in Ibadan. Nobody has offended me and if I have offended anybody, I sincerely apologise. Seyi Makinde remains our father come what may.”
Makinde in his remarks said he would accept the outcome of the election and work with those who emerge. He described the congress as a family contest saying there would be no victor, no vanquished.
Makinde said: “This is a family affair. It is an attempt to reposition our party in the Southwest. It has ramifications for our party nationally. Whatever the outcome is, we will take it in the spirit of a family contest. We don’t want to defeat ourselves, we want to defeat the APC.
“At the end of this exercise, there will be no victor, no vanquished. As the only governor of the party in the zone, whoever emerges, I will work with them to reposition the party.”
He told delegates that if Southwest PDP remained strong and united, the future of the party at the national level is assured, saying elected officers will contribute to success at the national level.
The former deputy governor of Lagos State, Mrs Kofoworola Bucknor-Akerele, expressed hope that the congress would be peaceful. She said the outcome of the congress would reflect the will of the people.
“We want to show the world that we are a democratic party and everything will go peacefully. The outcome of the congress will reflect the will of the people. We are going to vote democratically. The preparation so far has been very good,” she said.
The immediate past zonal chairman of the party in the Southwest, Dr. Eddy Olafeso, had earlier expressed confidence he would win. He boasted of excellent track records as the immediate past chairman of the zone, stressing that if elected for a second term, he would achieve more. He contested alongside a former deputy governor of Oyo State, Taofeek Arapaja.
Olafeso said: “We started from a storm yesterday when the city was invaded by thugs but along the line, the security operatives have done their bit to keep this place calm. The most significant thing we recognise is that this is a family affair. This is PDP and one of the cornerstones of democracy. I am excited that this is happening and I pray God that as it is happening very well, it will end well too.”
He said agents would not play any role because the constitution of the party stipulates an open secret ballot. He hinged his hope for victory on his track record, saying: “I am a democrat, I have track records of performance from my days in Students Union in Ife (OAU), I participated and competed.
If I win, I will celebrate and if I lose, I will congratulate the winner and walk on with my life because all power belongs to God. I am excited that I am participating and I know I am going to win,” he added.
His opponent, Arapaja, said his first priority would be to unite factionalised members of the party in the zone if declared the winner of the election.
“I am confident of victory and we will win. I am confident because we have our people and democracy is a game of number. The process so far is okay and as you can see, we are still accrediting people. We haven’t started and that’s to tell you that everything is thorough, it is straightforward and there will not be any mago mago.”
On whether he would accept the result if he loses, he said: “If it turns the other way round, I am telling you, one with God will never fail. I am positive we are going to win.”
However, some yet-to-be-identified political thugs attempted to disrupt the congress by shooting sporadically into the air outside the congress venue to disperse the delegates but they were curtailed by heavy security men on the ground led by the Commissioner of Police Olawale Olokode.
The pandemonium occurred in the evening as votes were being collated around 6:45 p.m. when some hoodlums advanced towards the gate of the WOCDIF Event Centre. Fayose was about to leave the venue when the hoodlums attempted to invade the premises. The security operatives shot sporadically to the air to scare away the hoodlums as Fayose was whisked away in a black-tinted SUV unhurt.
Meanwhile, a candidate for the office of the zonal youth leader, Mr Aremo Femi Adetola, was disqualified. Adetola was disqualified for being overaged by the electoral committee yesterday.
The disqualification was announced by Benson Abounu, the Deputy Governor of Benue State, who stood in for the panel Chairman, Governor Samuel Ortom.
The disqualified candidate, who is in the camp of Fayose, accepted the disqualification after Fayose also concurred with the development. To this end, Mr. Seyi Bamidele, the immediate past youth leader of Osun PDP vied unopposed.
Abonu said: “The candidate is 49 years old, which contravenes the provision of our constitution, which puts the age for anyone aspiring to the position to be between 18-40 years.”
Fayose who admitted that the candidate is from his camp accepted the disqualification in good faith.