Fresh Ripples In Lagos PDP | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Fresh Ripples In Lagos PDP

Posted: May 15, 2015 at 12:53 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

By Temidayo Akinsuyi, Lagos


The Lagos State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is not a stranger to

George and Ogunlewe

George and Ogunlewe

controversies and internal wrangling. This, according to political pundits, explains why the party has always played second fiddle to the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state. Unlike the APC that has a strong organizational and leadership structure, especially at the grassroots level, the PDP in Lagos has for a long time been divided into many rival factions, and has been locked in a battle of supremacy amongst party stalwarts, a factor that has contributed in no small measure to its dismal performance and woes over the years.


Temporary Calm

Past chairmen of the party like Olorunfunmi Basorun, Rasheed Alaba Williams, Muritala Ashorobi, Setonji Koshoedo, and others tried their best to unite the party but the party became more divided. This led to the defection of key party officials, chieftains, and members few days to the governorship election in 2011.

Peace returned to the party when incumbent chairman, Tunji Shelle, a highly experienced retired naval captain emerged the new chairman of the party in the state in March, 2012. Upon assumption of office, he set upon himself the enviable task of reuniting all factions of the party ahead of the 2015 general elections. Surrounded by able lieutenants which include the state’s Publicity Secretary, Taofik Gani, a cerebral and outspoken lawyer who succeeded Wale Ahmed, now Lagos State Commissioner for Special Duties, Shelle has been able to turn the fortunes of the party around. His first task was to embark on a tour of all the local governments in the state. His tour was regarded as a “landmark in the history of the party in Lagos state and very successful.” It also marked the end of the crisis within the party and the beginning of a new love among members and their leaders. It was the tour which sources said brought an end to the rift between Chief Olabode George, and his followers on one hand and Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe and his supporters on the other hand.


Election waves

The relative peace enjoyed by the party was shattered following the outcome of the governorship primary of the party that produced pharmacist-turned-politician, Jimi Agbaje, as the party’s flag bearer. The election was marred by irregularities forcing a former Minister of State for Defence and now Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Musiliu Obanikoro, to seek redress in court with his supporters and other aggrieved aspirants alleging that the election was rigged in favour of Agbaje. Sensing this may threaten the party’s chances both in the presidential and governorship election, President Goodluck Jonathan mandated the vice- president to unite the factions. The meeting yielded positive results and all the aggrieved factions pledged to work together as one.

The election has come gone. The PDP lost the presidential and governorship election in Lagos, though many have argued that the party, for the very first time posted its best result in the Centre of Excellence so far winning five seats in the House of Representatives and eight seats in the House of Assembly. Some disgruntled elements, including state governors in the party have been calling on the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party led by the party’s National Chairman, Adamu Muazu to resign. The NWC members have also vowed not to resign and this has led to exchange of brickbats between the two groups.


Plot to Change Leadership

Apparently trying to capitalize on the situation, a group within the Lagos PDP stirred the hornet’s nest on Monday when it announced that it has impeached Shelle as the state chairman of the party. The group, which consists of 34 members of the State Working Committee, accused Shelle of mismanaging election campaign funds and manipulating the party’s primaries last year which ultimately led to the defeat of the PDP at the polls. It also announced that Shelle has been replaced by Kamal Owolabi  Olorunoje, who until his appointment was the Vice Chairman, Lagos Central Senatorial District of the PDP.

Addressing newsmen at the party secretariat in Ikeja GRA, the PDP state secretary, Wahab Owokoniran, who spoke on behalf of others, said the decision was arrived at, to protest the way the party was being run, leading to the last elections. He said: “We members of exco have all agreed that the way the party is being run should not be allowed. You will all agree with me that this party is not well run before, during and after the elections. There is need for restructuring. If we want restructuring, there is no way the Chairman can continue in office.”

Owokoniran said the Disciplinary Committee set up by the party had recommended expulsion or impeachment of Shelle having found him guilty of all the allegations levelled against him. While disclosing Shelle’s refusal to appear before the panel, the party chieftain said the party resolved to “impeach” the PDP chairman.

Outlining some of the allegations, Owokoniran accused the party chairman of unilaterally rendering the PDP structure inactive before, during and after the 2015 general polls without the approval of the State Executive, allegedly allocating “funds to various party members and officials according to his wishes of seeking the approval of the State Working Committee.” Accusing Shelle of allegedly hijacking the functions of treasurer and the party secretary, he alleged that “the money received by the party was outsourced to a third party who keeps it in his bank account and disburses from it.”


Allegations of Manipulations

In addition, he said “he (Shelle) calls party official meeting without consultation. Lawful duties were neglected especially refusing to consult with the State Electoral Commissioner until four months after he was deployed to the state. Party guideline on payment for nomination form was breached by allowing his favoured aspirants to collect forms without payment. In Epe LGA, he manipulated a draw situation between two aspirants in the party primaries to favour his preferred candidate. His candidate defected to APC after losing the election,” Owokoniran alleged.

Also speaking, Olorunoje in his acceptance speech, highlighted the need for accountability to make progress in any endeavour. He also vowed to probe the causes of poor showing the party recorded in the last elections and promised to bring about a new lease of life to the Lagos PDP, saying “the party shall be reorganised, renewed and reformed to face future challenges. The causes of the poor showing at the last elections will be reviewed and corrected before the forthcoming local government elections,” he noted.


Youths Protest against Action

Shortly after the news of the group’s action broke out, some youths stormed the secretariat of the party to protest Shelle’s removal. The youths led by one Shamsideen Lawal said they will not allow the acting chairman, Olorunoje and his team to function until the decision is reversed. According to them, Shelle’s removal as the party chairman is “unfair, unjust, uncalled for and unconstitutional”. He said the state chairman should be commended and not condemned for his sterling leadership as witnessed in the just concluded general elections.

Speaking further, he said the aim of the Olorunoje faction is to destabilise the party ahead of the local government elections so as to give the APC, which is sponsoring the faction, an edge.

According to him, “We will not accept this kangaroo impeachment. How can you say you impeach a man who gave us five seats in the House of Representatives and eight seats in the House of Assembly in a state that is the stronghold of APC. It is unheard of.”

Also speaking to Daily Independent, another chieftain of the party who spoke on condition of anonymity said the ultimate aim of the Olorunoje faction is to decamp to the APC. He claimed leaders of the party in the state have genuine information that the group had received financial gratifications from the APC to join the party. “We know their antics. We have verifiable information that they have been paid to decamp to APC. Their aim is to cause confusion in the party and when they are expelled, they will just capitalise on that and announce their defection to APC,” he said.


Shelle Stands His Ground

Reacting to his alleged impeachment, Shelle, who described members of the group as jesters working in tandem with the opposition to destabilize the party said it is only the National Executive Council, NEC, of the party that can remove him from office.  He also described the alleged impeachment as an exercise in futility insisted he remained the state chairman of the party.

He said “they are jesters, they are jokers. They are a set of irresponsible people, I do not even know them because they do not belong to the PDP. They have not followed the party’s constitution and in any case, the South-West leadership has already rebuked them. I was at a meeting of the South West leaders when I got the message and the South west has ready reacted on it. Similarly, the national leadership has rebuked them because I am a member of the National Executive Council of the party, they do not have the powers to remove, impeach or even suspend me. They have committed a huge blunder because they will regret getting involved in the first place.”

In addition, he said “I have worked for the party, I have done what no other person has done for the party before. The party has never won elections in the past because in my time, we won some seats. Now these nonentities have been sponsored to remove me. They must have been sponsored because they are a group of hungry people, they do not have pedigree.”

While exonerating himself from the accusation that he manipulated the primary that produced Jimi Agbaje as the governorship candidate of the party in Lagos State, he said: “I am not a controversial person. I believe in doing my best. I have the singular opportunity to serve the party and I have done my best. Jimi Agbaje remains the credible candidate that I know and my pedigree and integrity remains impeccable. Only the NEC of the party has the powers to impeach me, definitely not Owokoniran and Olorunoje. They have missed it because they failed to follow the party constitution. I remain the chairman.”


Leaders condemn shake-up

Also kicking against the group’s move, foremost Leader of the PDP in Lagos state, Olabode George said the actions by the members, whom he described as renegades is not sustainable, insisting that there was nothing the Chairman did to warrant his removal by anyone.

He described the removal of Shelle as a charade, which according to him, was orchestrated by those who he said never mean well for the PDP as a party in Lagos state. According to him, the gang up with plot to remove the chairman, amounted to anti-party activity on the part of the masterminds, just as he hinted that those behind the plot would be sanctioned. “They definitely will be sanctioned. It is like trying to do a coup, which definitely has no constitutional backing, and you fail. They will be sanctioned for anti-party activities.”

George noted that only the National Executive Committee had the power to remove a party Chairman. He said that Owokoniran was only an acting secretary and thus had no power to call such a meeting. To him, the SWC should rather be praising Shelle for leading the PDP to its best performance in Lagos State rather than calling for his impeachment.

Another governorship aspirant of the party, Adegbola Dominic, also shared George’s view. According to him, the major bane of the PDP is insubordination and indiscipline on the part of members.

Dominic said: “The action of the group is something that is embarrassing at this point in time to the party. We expect at this time that all hands must be on deck to see how we can salvage whatever is left of the party, but some people have decided to cause confusion within the party. The procedure they have taken is unconstitutional. The constitution of the party states that the state chairman of the party as a national officer can only be removed by the NEC of the party.”


Party Reacts Against Action

The party has, however, announced that it has initiated disciplinary actions on those involved in the purported removal of Shelle. Addressing newsmen after an emergency meeting of the party’s Lagos State Executives, Shelle said that necessary disciplinary action will be taken against those involved in the attempt to usurp the leadership of the party.

“We have reported the matter to our NEC for advice in accordance with the provisions of the PDP constitution. They went too far. They even went as far as storming the party’s state headquarters and dragging away secretariat staff from office. They are out to sabotage the efforts of the party. Their plans were muted long before the Lagos PDP party primaries. We tried to accommodate their excesses so that their actions will not affect us during the elections. They tried to divide the party along personality lines. They will be sent back to their sponsors” he said.

Speaking further, Shelle said that the emergence of Jimi Agbaje as the party’s flag bearer for Lagos State in the just concluded governorship election was never well received by the group involved in the alleged removal.  He also debunked allegations that he mismanaged campaign funds, pointing out that candidates of the party in the elections were mobilised directly and not through him.

“They were disappointed and have not stopped looking for ways to fight back. We have no regrets to have presented Agbaje and given another opportunity, I will do the same. We gave APC a good fight yet this group did not relent. They want to hijack the party structure. The election result in the 2015 election in Lagos was the best from PDP in the last sixteen years in the state.”