Almost two years after losing the seat of power in Oyo State, the All Progressives Congress (APC) seems to be waking from its slumber, with the main gladiators forging a common front, writes WALE AKINSELURE of Tribune.
Going by the attendance at the February 1 meeting of the Oyo State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) held in Ibadan, alone, members of Oyo APC are right to sing Hosanna to the highest heavens that its prolonged years of crisis, cracks, factionalisations is over. For the first time in about six years, the likes of Chief Adebayo Alao-Akala, Alhaji Fatai Ibikunle, Chief Akin Oke, Professor Adeolu Akande, Barrister Adebayo Shittu, Chief Adebayo Adelabu, Senator Teslim Folarin, Mr Sunday Dare, Dr Fola Akinosun, Barrister Iyiola Oladokun, Senator Ayo Adeseun among others were all seated in the same room at the new party office in Oke-Ado, Ibadan. Though they had converged to strategise ahead the commencement of the party’s registration and revalidation, the meeting was convened in response to the yawning desire of members to forge a strong and united front towards reclaiming the governorship seat in Oyo State.
The various personalities that converged on the upper room of the party office had, in a battle for the soul of the Oyo APC, hitherto, formed various factions to include Unity Forum, SENACO and LAMISTS. While legal practitioner, Adebayo Shittu; Senator Monsurat Sunmonu; Honourable Dapo Lam-Adesina; Mr Fatai Ibikunle; Professor Adeolu Akande; Dr Wasiu Olatunbosun; and others formed a faction called Unity Forum, those loyal to the late Governor Abiola Ajimobi formed the SENACO bloc, while those loyal to a former governor of the state, the late Alhaji Lamidi Adesina referred to themselves as LAMISTS. The burgeoning crisis in the party came into the open during the party’s congress in 2018, when two groups held parallel local government congresses and state congresses. The factionalisations ran into the 2019 general election with the party losing the governorship seat to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its candidate, Governor Seyi Makinde.
Following his party’s loss in the 2019 election, the late Governor Abiola Ajimobi, on several occasions, demanded forgiveness from those he intentionally or unintentionally offended. To attend to the demands of aggrieved members and resolve the crisis, Ajimobi set up a reconciliation team headed by former Governor Adebayo Alao-Akala. The terms of reference of the Alao-Akala led committee is to propose mechanisms for resolving internal crisis/misunderstanding; propose a strategy to reposition and populate the Oyo APC; meet with all APC candidates in the 2019 elections, APC aspirants with or without forms, APC returnees and non-APC members; identify contentious issues, offer suggestions and target reconciling people with the party.
The reconciliation committee also had an arduous task with some factions regarding the committee as dominated by members of the SENACO faction. The Unity Forum also expressed reservations about leader of the reconciliation, Adebayo Alao-Akala assuming position as leader of the party. Reconciliation meetings convened by Alao-Akala were largely attended by persons perceived to belong to the SENACO faction. With the various factions standing their ground, it therefore looked as if the Oyo APC was moving from once crisis to the other. The mandate by national leadership of the party to members to carry out registration of re-validation of party members might have served as the pull factor for members of the various factions to come together.
The exercise mandated all members had to come on board to commit resources towards the registration and re-validation exercise so as to claim their stake in the party. Though the mind could be so deep, the fact that the faces across turned up at the same venue was a major step in the long journey towards reconciliation of the fragments in the party. While intents, ambitions may differ, members of the various factions are united in their desire to reclaim the governorship seat in the State. Members also expressed commitment to working in committees (Finance and Budgetary Planning, Technical and Strategic Planning, Media and Publicity) and committing resources to ensure success of the registration and re-validation exercise in their various zones. On the formula that made the factions collapse their structures, Alao-Akala pointed to God’s intervention, patience and the fact that there was no permanent enemy in politics as critical.
Avowing that the Oyo APC now boasted of a united front, he said the party was on track to win the 2023 governorship election. Alao-Akala said: “Everybody has buried the hatchet and we are all one. You can see that those who hitherto have not been coming to our meeting are now around. Everybody came here today and that is the beginning of a strong party. We have started very well and this continues with registration. There is no problem in APC again. We are all together. God and patience was the formula to get all together. Politics is about interest. No permanent enemy; no permanent friend. We thank God. The people at Agodi should be ready to pack their load and leave that place for APC.”
Similarly, the Governorship candidate of the APC in the 2019 election, Chief Adebayo Adelabu affirmed the party had rediscovered itself. With a consensus to remain united, Adelabu said the APC would easily win the next Governorship election in the State. “With the calibre of people we have and have come together, it will be very easy to get back to the government house. We have made pledges that from today onwards, there will be unity,” Adelabu said.
Echoing similar optimism was Oyo South Senatorial aspirant in the last election, Dr Fola Akinosun who described the meeting as one that signals a rebirth of the Oyo APC. He also downplayed contention about the leader of the party, noting that each member knows who can classify as his or her leader. Akinosun said, “It is a rebirth of the party. The party has turned over a new leaf. People are willingly donating money towards the cause of APC in Oyo State. APC is the party come 2023. We will win the State and all Senate, House of Representatives, House of Assembly positions by the grace of God. By the grace of God, rancour has been buried; all issues of misunderstanding, faction and misinformation went underground. Every hatchet has been buried.”
At the end of the registration cum re-validation exercise, former Minister of Sports and Special Duties, Professor Taoheed Adedoja said the APC was poised to showcase itself as the biggest political party in Africa. Like Adedoja, Minister of Youth and Sports, Mr Sunday Dare said the party intends to register the largest number of Nigerians as members. Dare explained that all factions resolved to come together recognising that a united front was important to attain desired political offices, across various levels. Dare said: “It was a meeting that was long overdue. You could see the desire for continuous unity of the APC. Almost every critical stakeholder was there. The basic fundamentals for our unity have been established. The factions came together under one roof to speak with one voice; we recognise the party platform as vehicle for power and to move the party forward. What we need to do is to work together as a team to put APC first before any other. It is only unity that can lead you to being a Governor, a lawmaker.”
One of the latest entrants into the Oyo APC, Senator Femi Lanlehin said the party was on track to rebuild from the scratch, restructure and expand its membership base. Lanlehin emphasised the importance of an all-inclusive registration and re-validation exercise for the State to reclaim the Governorship position. “We have been able to start well and understand the fact that for us to make progress, take this State back, we must work together, put in our little bits. We want to have an all-encompassing registration. We’ve realised that everybody must come on board, improve on the past and move forward,” Lanlehin said.
Another attendee at the meeting, personal assistant to the late former Governor, Lamidi Adesina, Alhaji Fatai Ibikunle gave a firm verdict that the February 1 meeting signaled an end of PDP in Oyo state. “This is the beginning of the end of PDP in Oyo State since we have come together as one family. By 2023, we’ll dislodge PDP. Anybody that God says will be elected in 2023 will continue and we’ll completely erase PDP in Oyo State. We know what happened in 2019 and now we have come together, examined the shortcomings and corrected it. And we’ll continue to be more harmonious in the party. The Who-is-Who in the progressive party in Oyo State was there today. That signifies the good things to come from the party come 2023,” Ibikunle said.
Also a former Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, expressed joy at the coming together of the various factions, stressing that with a united front, the APC will sweep the various elective positions in the State in 2023. “We are happy that all the disparate groups have come together as one united front prepared to undertake a successful party membership registration and revalidation exercise so that as a united front, we can move ahead electorally. We are preparing for all elections come 2023. As a united front, we will be able to make a lot of waves,” Shittu said.
Meanwhile, the party’s registration and revalidation exercise begins on Tuesday, February 9, in all the polling units across the state. From polling unit, the three-week exercise will move to ward, local government and then state level. It needs to be mentioned that the success of the February 1 meeting is just one out of many other steps if the party is to truly boast of a united front. Moving forward from the February 1 meeting, Senator Teslim Folarin did identify the task ahead as members consolidating and sticking together. Folarin said, “We will work very hard to stay as one and then lawfully effect a change of government in 2023. That is the objective. The challenge is to make sure we stick together. Everybody must be made to feel being a part of the party in decision making. The major task now is registration, having a good turnout. That will give us an indication of our strength.”
Acknowledging fears in the current drive for unity, Caretaker Chairman, Oyo APC, Chief Akin Oke stressed that the party was not in support of any member hijacking the party structure. He urged members to shun enmity noting that anyone destined by God to attain positions will get there. Furthermore, he called for love among urging members to disappoint all naysayers about the strive for a united front. On the registration exercise, he noted that if things go awry in particular local government, it will be easy for the party to identify the critical stakeholders at such place and mandate them to arrest the situation. He stressed that the party was well positioned across all zones of the state and boasts of smart members to take over the State again.
Suffice it to say that observers will be keen to see the level of transparency of the registration process. This is against the backdrop of fears that the process of registration may be hijacked by members with inordinate political ambitions. It also waits to be seen whether the process will be rancour and violence free across all zones of the State. Though the party has asked interested members to downplay their political ambitions, the battle for the soul of the APC has surely commenced and will increase during time for congress. It is expected that those intending to vie for political offices will have begun to pull strings to put them in good stead for the political battle ahead.
After registration, the real litmus test will be how the party will go about its congress where party executives from ward to Local Government and state level will be elected. Knowing that the crisis in the party stemmed from the 2018 congress, the conduct of party members will show whether the factions have been truly collapsed for one Oyo APC. The crescendo of the test of unity of the party will come when it’s time for primaries of the party to select candidates for elective positions. The time of primaries will show whether the hitherto factions will resist the temptation to throw up various aspirants. Will those who lose out in getting the party tickets stay and work for the candidate that emerges, leave the party or stay in the party to play a spoiler role? Time will tell whether a united Oyo APC is a mirage or reality.