What started as a personality interview on Sunday Politics, a programme on Channels Television on Sunday May 1, 2016 has soon degenerated to a national controversy and an altercation between two chieftains of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the South West, Chief Olabode George and the Ekiti State governor, Ayodele Fayose. The issue centred on the PDP’s all-time controversial zoning principle, its Achilles’ heel.
During the programme, George, a member of the PDP Board of Trustees (BoT), warned the party not to let its zoning arrangement become another pitfall in the 2019 elections. He recalled that the PDP lost in 2015 because of its disregard for the opinions of party elders who are custodians of the culture of the party and its logic in making major decisions.
He stressed: “The moment you derail from what is expected to be, then you are heading to perfidy. This is why we are ringing the bell again; please let us correct the ills of the past, let’s move to a rational decision, democracy is about debating and discussing.”
Having failed to retain its control of governance in the 2015 elections, the PDP has vowed to bounce back to prominence in 2019. To achieve this, Senator Ali-Modu Sheriff was appointed its National Chairman. As soon as he assumed office, he promised to reconcile members and reposition the party ahead of the 2019 general elections.
But, the zoning arrangement released by the party ahead of the convention gave the national chairmanship position to the North East. This has not gone down well with some of the elders, including George, as they believe that the move is capable of costing the party its peace.
George, during the television programme, stated that by the new arrangement, the party had deviated from the concept of zoning which the founding fathers created, stressing that this was capable of doing more harm than good, as the party’s hope to return to national relevance would be resisted.
According to him “The former Governor of Jigawa had come out to say he has a presidential ambition because of the report by Ekweremadu that the Presidential candidate will come from the north. So, he (Sheriff) cannot continue to be the Chairman. How can the North now midwife their own presidential ambition? It doesn’t work out.”
He stated further that this would also ensure that the party has two years to prepare for the 2019 comeback plan without internal issues, adding, “It is when you have a stable platform that you can build.”
However, after Chief George’s television programme, Governor Fayose of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose took his turn to speak on the controversial subject. In his reaction, the governor said that members of the PDP are tired of old men running the party, saying that they are responsible for its humiliating electoral defeat in 2015.
He said the controversies surrounding the party’s zoning arrangement is not an indication that they were in crisis, but that the party is in a period when critical decisions are being made, and that interests must be protected. According to him, the most important thing is for the party to get things right and this they are already doing.
Reacting to Chief George’s stand on the zoning arrangement, Fayose said, “I have a lot of respect for Chief Bode George. He is our leader; we will continue to respect him. But when it comes to the nitty gritty, where is the interest? You must find out the underlining factors.
“Chief Bode George told me personally that he wants to be national chairman of the party, I told him no, I won’t support him. With all due respect to the elderly people in this party, they must take the backstage. People are tired of seeing the same old faces again.
“I have been hearing Ahmadu Alli since 1976 when we sang ‘Alli must go’ in secondary school. Chief Bode George has been governor of Ondo State almost 40 years ago. They are our leaders and we love them. But, they should take the backstage.”
Fayose also disagreed with the notion that the South West had been divided over the zoning, dismissing the meeting reportedly held to discuss the zone’s seeming disapproval. He argued that the absence of PDP’s South West governors at the meeting showed that it did not represent the opinion.
“Chief Bode George was the convener of that meeting. Most people that came to that meeting did not know what they were coming for. We are in very peculiar times when we need to address issues differently,” he warned.
Fayose blamed the PDP founding fathers for the party’s loss in 2015.According to him, “The grandfathers of PDP lost it in 2015, it’s (now) a new beginning, and they should pocket those stories”, insisting that the old members do not have the capacity to rebuild the party.
Fayose specifically mentioned Dr. Doyin Okupe as one of those who have approached him on the position and whom he would not support, even as he threw his weight behind the PDP zoning arrangement and the possible emergence of Sheriff as the party’s chairman at the national convention.
He revealed that every member of the party’s zoning committee voted for the North East to retain the position of national chairman. On allegations that he betrayed the South West region where he belongs, Fayose said, “I was the very first person to look out for Senator Bode Olajumoke (as national chairman) mentioning that it must come to the South West.
“But how many of them came or publicly said ‘I want to contest’? You don’t give positions to unwilling horses,” even as he declared his support for Sheriff, of whom he stated: “He is the incumbent and he is still going to win this election.”