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2023: Parties move for advantage in Southwest

Barely a year after the 2019 General Elections, a new political landscape is emerging in the Southwest zone of the country. Politicians and other stakeholders are already making plans for the 2023 General Election, which is three years away. Expectedly, realignment of political forces has started in earnest across the states of the region, especially among chieftains of the two leading political parties, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Reports of defections of notable politicians from one party to another have been rife just as a number of political bigwigs have either announced their readiness to shift base, or are being rumoured to be uncomfortable with their current political parties. Largely, the movement of political actors within the Southwest has remained between the APC and the PDP. With this, political pundits are insisting that the two parties will likely remain the dominant factors in the politics of the zone come 2023. While APC controls five, out of the six states in the zone, the PDP has just one.

Expectedly, the struggle for the political soul of the zone is fierce as the leaderships of the two leading parties intensify efforts aimed at repositioning and further strengthening their various bases. The APC for instance is working hard at regaining Oyo State, which it lost to the PDP in 2019; PDP leaders are leaving no one in doubt of their readiness to wrestle more states from the grip of the APC, especially Lagos State. But for either side, it appears it won’t be an easy ride when the 2023 political races finally open.

Recently, at a well-attended Southwest unification rally held at Mapo Hall, in Ibadan, the capital of Oyo State, former governor of Osun State, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, former Deputy Governor of Oyo State, Amb. Taofeek Arapaja, Senator Gbenga Babalola and other members who left the party before the 2015 general election for one reason or the other, officially returned to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Others include the 2018 gubernatorial candidate of African Democratic Congress (ADC) Alhaji Fatai Akinbade, Osun State Chairman of Social Democratic Party, (SDP) Bayo Faforiji, Prince Kazeem Adio and others.

Shortly before the Ibadan rally, the PDP in the zone had lost Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe, a former gubernatorial aspirant in Lagos State and notable allies and supporters of ex-Ogun governor, Gbenga Daniel, to the APC in a gale of defections. This was just as the Ekiti State chapter of PDP lost no fewer than 500 members, including seven serving local government chairmen and 42 councillors to APC. The defectors received by Governor Kayode Fayemi into the ruling APC fold at a rally held at the popular Fajuyi Pavilion in Ado-Ekiti.

Speaking at the Ibadan rally, Oyinlola said the PDP in the southwest is now positioned to once again chase the APC out of power in more states. He said it is time to restructure politics in southwest for the people of the region to continue to enjoy the dividends of democracy. “When I told my people that we are going to Ibadan to announce my return to PDP, some people asked me why and I told them that Ibadan is the capital city of democracy in southwest. What we are doing here is the beginning of a new political order in the southwest,” he said.

In his remark, the governor of Oyo State, Engr. Seyi Makinde, noted that the coming back of the former members of the party and others is the beginning of unity in southwest PDP, calling on the party faithful to show love and unity to the returnees because everybody is going to gain from the party. “Those we are welcoming back to our party includes members from ADC, Zenith Labour Party (ZLP), SDP, African Democratic Party (ADP). Like I said before, it is time for the APC to start packing their loads in other states of the zone. PDP is here to take over,” he said.

PDP bigwigs at the rally, which drew a huge crowd of party members from all the states of the zone, include the governor of Bayelsa State, Duoye Diri, ex-governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose, PDP Deputy National Chairman (South) Elder Yemi Akiwonmi, PDP National Vice Chairman (Southwest), Dr. Eddy Olafeso, Chief Bode George, Hon Ladipupo Adebutu, Chief Mrs. Olushola Obada, Shuaib Oyedokun, Alhaja Mutiat Ladoja, Chief Mrs. Abosede Adedibu, Senator Kamorudeen Adedibu and all the PDP state chairman.

But Ogunlewe, a former Minister of Works, said the PDP should stop rejoicing over the defection of a few lightweights into its fold. He said he had no regrets dumping PDP for the APC, which he described as a better party with good plans for the people of the zone. “I have no regrets dumping the PDP. I feel at home in APC; it is a better party with good plans for Nigerians. I dumped PDP days after the expiration of the ultimatum as the leadership crisis persisted. I have no regrets leaving a party without a chairman, and as I speak to you, I feel at home in the APC,” he said.

He said Buhari, with his recent steps, had started doing what the progressives had been yearning for, adding that the APC will remain the winning party. Ogunlewe also said he was motivated to join APC because of his belief that the party would zone the presidency to the Southwest in 2023. He said if that eventually happens, the National Leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu would be a good choice for Nigerians. Ogunlewe described Tinubu as “a cerebral and visionary politician, who he possesses the right leadership skills to move the country forward.”

PDP: Start packing, APC: No worries

To the Deputy National Publicity Secretary of PDP, Prince Diran Odeyemi, the APC is in trouble ahead of the 2023 general election. While expressing delight at the coming back into the party by Oyinlola, he said the PDP is the only political party that makes promises to the electorates and fulfill same without any flimsy excuses. “The coming back of Prince Oyinlola is a signal that all is now set for PDP to capture the Southwest and indeed the country, beginning with the governorship election of Ondo State later this year and till 2023 when the presidency will be taken back and the economy will be revamped and rejuvenated.”

Odeyemi, however, appealed to all members of the PDP in the whole of the six states in the Southwest to listen to the appeal of Governor Makinde and be accommodating with the new brothers and sisters who have come back to join the party. He appealed to them to adopt the style of Oyo State and unify themselves. “That way, we will be able to accomplish our desire of removing the APC from every government house across the states in the Southwest zone,” Odeyemi said.

Similarly, Chief Gboyega Oguntuwase, the chairman of PDP in Ekiti State, while speaking on plans by former Ekiti State governor, Engr. Segun Oni, to return to PDP, said he is confident that the PDP will come out of the ongoing alignments stronger and better. “We believe that a revolutionary person like Segun Oni, with a record of integrity, has no business in the first place being with APC. When former President Olusegun Obasanjo and other nationalists detached themselves from the principles of President Muhammadu Buhari, I knew the likes of Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola and Segun Oni have their days numbered in the APC.

“I want to tell you that PDP is not a stagnant organisation and you know that the issue during the last convention in Abuja was that we must encourage internal democracy; we must discourage imposition and operate an open door system that will accommodate those who had protested against us, who were ordinary members of the party, because we are responsive. I believe and I want to say that there is more improvement to make us and the ordinary man believe that those who have taken adventure in APC should know that PDP is much better and is getting better and PDP is responsive to the complaint of ordinary members of the party,” he said.

However, the chairman of APC in Ondo State, Ade Adetimehin, said the party will not lose sleep over the defection of Oyinlola, Oni and others. He insisted that the development will not affect the fortunes of the APC in the region. According to him, despite the defections, the APC had continued to wax stronger, saying many prominent politicians in the PDP had also joined the APC, especially in Ondo State. Adetimehin said he was confident that his party would win the next governorship election in the state.

“Politics is very dynamic and the situation is that as some are leaving, many are coming to join us. This is happening in all the states in the region and we are confident that more people will join the APC. Oyinlola and Oni that you mentioned are leaders but other prominent leaders are also joining us and they are bringing their followers in tens of thousands. That these leaders joined the PDP does not pose a threat to the APC in the region.

“About two weeks ago, the founding chairman of the PDP, Col Samuel Awodeyi (retd), left the PDP and joined the APC and he came with a large number of his followers. Olabisi Johnson, a prominent leader of the PDP, also joined the APC. A former deputy governor of Ondo State, Alhaji Lasisi Oluboyo, and others also came to join the APC from ZLP. Our party is waxing stronger and if you look at other states in the region, you will see that the APC is waxing stronger there. I believe that Ondo State will remain an APC state after the coming governorship election,” he boasted.

Also, former Commissioner for Public Transportation in Lagos State, Chief Lanre Razak, has said merit, track record of service and pedigree of APC politicians rather than stomach infrastructure and primordial sentiments such as ethnicity and religion will guide southwest voters in electing their leaders. Razak was reacting to comments by Governor Makinde and PDP stalwart, Chief Olabode George that the APC should be ready for defeat in Lagos State come 2023.

The APC chieftain noted that the sterling performance of Governor Sanwo-Olu across all sectors so far, including key infrastructures like construction and rehabilitation of major roads and bridges, provision of educational and health facilities, human capital development, sanitizing the hitherto chaotic transport sector and ensuring a cleaner environment in less than a year in office will make the dream of the PDP leaders more herculean and a pipe dream.

“We, the electorate in Lagos State, are happy and fully appreciate the progressive governance instituted by the National Leader of the APC and the architect of modern Lagos, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, when he was governor between 1999 and 2007 which has transformed the state to be the most economically and financially viable among the 36 states, especially his financial wizardry,” he explained.

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