OPINION…. PDP’s Man For This Season, By Felicia Osoba

Jimi Agbaje 1

In the unfolding political calculus within Nigeria’s main opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), gladiators may not see eye to eye on everything else, but they agree on one item.

Like the Phoenix, the party needs to rise from the ashes of defeat and return to winning ways –and urgently too!

But who will lead the charge? This daunting question, party leaders and delegates must answer at the December 9 National Convention for which preparations have reached fever pitch.

The Ahmed Makarfi-led Caretaker Committee will on that day supervise a make-or-break intraparty election billed to usher in substantive elected officers to steer the party again.

MICRO-ZONING

By far the most important position in contention is that of PDP National Chairman. The post has been zoned to the South. The North will take the Presidency. In the South, the position was initially micro-zoned to the South-West.

However, the presence of non-Yoruba aspirants on the starting block has raised questions about the sanctity of that micro-zoning agreement.

Already, no fewer than eight aspirants have shown interest in the position. The last man to throw his hat into the simmering ring is former Oyo State Governor, Senator Rasheed Ladoja. Until lately a returnee to PDP from which he vamoosed to lead the Oyo arm of the Accord Party, Ladoja is an old warhorse.

He zoomed into Oyo Government House in 2003 with the pack of five PDP governors who routed the erstwhile favourite AD incumbent governors in an election that saw only Bola Tinubu of Lagos State as the last AD Governor standing in the South-West.

Apart from Ladoja, others in the line-up of PDP chairmanship contestants are: Professor Tunde Adeniran, former Education Minister; Otunba Gbenga Daniel, former Ogun State Governor; and Chief Raymond Dokpesi, founder, Daar Communications; Chief Olabode George, former PDP National Deputy Chairman; Professor Taoheed Adedoja, former Sports and Special Duties Minister; Prince Uche Secondus, former PDP acting National Chairman; and Mr. Jimi Agbaje, PDP governorship candidate for Lagos State in 2015.

COSMOPOLITAN JIMI AGBAJE

Many things have been said about Agbaje’s candidacy. In fact, analysis shows that this highly cerebral, colourful and amiable politician from Lagos State has several things tuned in his favour…and a few against him, no doubt. He is highly popular and cosmopolitan. His involvement in Lagos PDP has added immense value to the party, which reaped its greatest harvest of legislators at the State House of Assembly and the House of Representatives principally due to JK’s 2015 candidacy.

Agbaje is a silver-spoon who shunned his inheritance and elected to pull himself up by the bootstraps. He established JK Pharmacy, which he grew into a mega-bucks international pharmaceutical giant. Although not as young as 39-year old Macron of France, Jimi Agbaje is by far the youngest of the contestants, and represents the long-sought generational shift.

The former Lagos State PDP Governorship Candidate in the last 2015 polls had a good standing in the August 2016 National Convention in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, but for its hasty postponement. A few of the candidates even went as far as accusing the leaders of the party, especially the then host, Rivers Governor Wike, of structuring that National Convention to railroad JK into office.

But Agbaje’s support base was clearly beyond Wike. Several sitting governors, former governorship candidates and party fathers rooted for him. Calculations are that he would have been crowned at the aborted National Convention.

The main caucuses, including the National Assembly caucuses, had thrown their weight behind him.

Back then, the main voting blocs, North-East, North-West, North-Central, South-East and South-South had their minds fixed on Agbaje. But the South-West, which by far posted the greatest number of aspirants, pulled in different directions, and no one candidate could boast confidently of exclusively monopolising the bloc votes there.

In fact, today, Governor Ayodele Fayose, Ekiti Governor and Chairman of the PDP Governors’ Forum, has counselled gladiators from the zone to close ranks and present only one candidate from the zone. This is unlikely to happen.

OPAQUE CRYSTAL BALLS

However, if truth be told, the 2016 unalloyed pro-JK crystal balls have since turned opaque, and unclear. New aspirants have joined the fray, such as former Governor Ladoja and Professor Adedoja. There are speculations that a former VP now in APC is interested in the process and is throwing his formidable war-chest behind a particular aspirant.

Meanwhile, muckraking is being marshalled against Agbaje. And this can hurt. Antagonists are littering social media with adversarial propaganda. This includes what role he played in the court cases.

But those who should know actually know that this claim lacks any modicum of truth; he was in court with Makarfi severally –PUBLICLY!

Another minus for Jimi is that other gladiators may have made inroads, since August 2016, into his erstwhile trusted strongholds, North, South, East and West.

THE MAN FOR THIS SEASON

Even then, some insist that the JK magic still holds. They believe that JK is PDP’s man for this season. His integrity is intact and unassailable. Except for one or two other aspirants, Agbaje only is the one without a formal charge of corruption or conviction hanging on his neck.

For this reason and more, Nigerians within and outside PDP see him as the symbol of a clean break from a shady past, for which PDP is today paying a high price of being downgraded from the ruling party to the opposition.

A drowning APC will clutch at anything to stay afloat in the 2019 general polls. The corruption charges (many of which will justifiably collapse in court) are nooses hanging around the necks of those PDP chieftains facing such charges, and these can be tightened at the whims of APC.

Justified or otherwise, these charges cast upon such beleaguered politicians a pall of challenged and anaemic integrity. EFCC, ICPC and other anti-corruption agencies will be mobilised to go after a PDP Chairman suffering a slur to his integrity. APC will not spare any propaganda that will ensure Nigeria’s biggest opposition party and a PDP Chairman facing corruption charges have no breathing space for the next election.

The big issue is: With all it stands to gain and lose in 2019, can PDP still afford to elect a National Chairman whose personal issues will prove a liability to the party in the election year?

If PDP will maximise its chances at the 2019 polls, the critical mass of delegates at the December National Convention must hang the party on the aspirant with unassailable integrity.

They must pin PDP on a man whose freshness represents the generational shift as well as a clean break from the party’s history of impunity. Such is the man for this season, the man who will help the PDP Phoenix resurrect from its tomb of ashes. 

FELICIA OSOBA WRITES FROM LAGOS