The death of the former governor of Oyo State, Senator Isiaq Abiola Ajimobi has deepened cleavages and rivalries in the Oyo State chapter of All Progressives Congress (APC). Not fewer than four groups within the party are in a battle of wits to produce a successor to the late leader, who died of COVID-19-related complexities.
Indeed, the party has, in the last two months, lost many prominent leaders, including Chief Solomon Mojere Akindele, Chief Samuel Farinu and former chairman of the party, Alhaji Salaudeen Olalere to the cold hands of death. This has deprived the party of some elderly people that should help in reconciling the various tendencies in the power struggle.
Ajimobi’s group, known as SENACO, has been controlling the party for about a decade now. It is also said to be holding strategic meetings to continue with the hegemony. But the group loyal to the former governor of the state, Chief Lam Adesina, otherwise known as LAMISTS, are said to be battle-ready to take over the leadership of the party. There is also Unity Forum and a new emerging group being led by the Minister of Communications, Mr. Sunday Dare, who is yet to be firmly rooted in the politics of Oyo State.
In the Unity Forum are prominent politicians, such as former Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, Chairman of Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Adeolu Akande, Chief Goke Oyetunji, Isiaka Alimi, and Chief Michael Koleoso to mention a few. The LAMISTS group has politicians like the son of Chief Lam Adesina, Hon. Dapo Lam-Adeshina, Fatai Ibikunle, Senator Monsurat Sumonu, Hon. Wasiu Olatunbosun, Senator Soji Akanbi and Hon. Bosun Oladele.
There is also a group of Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) decampees, led by the former governor of the state, Otunba Christopher Adebayo Alao-Akala, Senator Teslim Folarin, and Senator Fatai Buhari.
Although some analysts are of the opinion that the PDP decampees will join forces with other SENACO leaders like Chief M. K. O. Laoye, former governorship candidate of the party, Adelabu, Joseph Tegbe, and Mrs. Florence Ajimobi to hold on to their control of the party.
Ajimobi emerged as the leader of the party immediately after the death of Lam Adesina in November 11, 2012. But Ajimobi was a Senator in 1999 when Adeshina won election to become governor of the state. Ajimobi got the party’s ticket as a member of the LAMIST group that had absolute grip on the party at the time.
But at the 2013 election, which the then Action Congress of Nigeria (CAN) lost to the PDP, did not only whittle down the political influence of the progressives camp in the state, but allowed for a self-restructuring which Ajmobi led. And this paved the way for the progressives to win almost all elections conducted in 2011 when Ajimobi became the governor of the state. His leader, Lam Adesina died a year after and Ajimobi naturally emerged as the party leader.
However, the perks of office polarised the progressives’ camp and those, who felt shortchanged by the Ajimobi’s government, accused members of SENACO of taking all the juicy contracts and viable political positions in the state. Although Ajimobi in his lifetime constantly denied the existence of the group, but the rivalry among the two groups became evident during the 2015 general elections and the subsequent loss of the governorship election in 2019.
The primary election that produced Adelabu as the flag bearer of the party at last year’s election worsened the crisis and further polarised the leaders. On the eve of the election emerged the Unity Forum, populated by a majority of APC governorship aspirants. The forum disagreed with the choice of Ajimobi and was of the view that if the late governor succeeded in choosing his successor, then SENACO would continue to call the shots. In fact, they tagged Adelabu’s candidacy as a third term for Ajimobi. Although Ajimobi had his way, but the political acrimony continued till Ajimobi breathed his last.
Some members of Unity Forum decamped to the PDP, some went to African Democratic Congress (ADC) while those who stayed in the party worked against its interests.
That APC in Oyo State is yet to recover from the post-election crisis and internal leadership tussle is not in doubt. And it was in realization of this and the need to get the party back on track that made Ajimobi to set up a reconciliation committee headed by Alao-Akala, but the committee had not made any significant impact before Ajimobi passed on.
Alao-Akala, who joined APC a few weeks to the 2019 election, had shortly before Ajimobi’s death called for memoranda from the aggrieved leaders. But Adebayo Shittu, who allegedly escaped from being suspended by the party, had given conditions for genuine reconciliation of the aggrieved members. Shittu, who spoke to some council party leaders that paid him a visit, demanded a refund of money paid by aspirants for the nomination forms during the last state congress, but who were not allowed to be part of the party primaries.
Shittu had picked the nomination form for N22.5 million before he was screened out for not having National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) certificate. The former minister also canvassed the dissolution of the party’s executive committee at all levels, with a new executive to be constituted at the ratio of 50/50 between members loyal to Ajmobi, called SENACO, and the aggrieved members, who belonged to Unity Forum. Shittu also insisted that the state chairman of the party must come from the Unity Forum, noting that SENACO group has continued to produce the chairman since the formation of the party in the state.
The Unity Forum and LAMISTS group are said to be working together to support one of their own to take over the leadership of the party. But a source within the alliance said the proposal maybe difficult to achieve because of the reality on the ground. According to the source, “Yes, it is true that we are working together to have another leader. And we are ready to support anybody apart from members of SENACO group. There is no way anybody from Ajimobi group can lead this party again. They have done their best and we saw their best in 2019; the time has come for power to change to other groups, and that is democracy.
“Let me say this: people should not see our position as taking advantage of Ajimobi’s death. That has been our position even before 2019 election; his refusal was one of the reasons for the party’s dismal performance in the last election.”
However, SENACO group loyal to Ajimobi is also still unsettled and yet to recover from the death of their leader. Akala, Folarin and Buhari remain the highest political holders within the cycle but they are still relatively new in the party and may need to do more than the ordinary to convince the core progressives in the group. The group consists of many politicians who often traced their political affiliation to the defunct Action Group (AG), Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), Alliance for Democracy (AD) and the ACN.
A source close to the group told The Guardian that it would not be easy to replace Ajimobi, but opined, “that the new leader will naturally emerge among Ajimobi’s loyalists”. To him, the structure laid down by the former governor will last for a long time in the party
He said, “We hope that the leader will emerge naturally. To be a leader, you must be widely accepted and you need money. Those who have money are not widely accepted and those whose acceptability is visible in all the nooks and crannies do not have deep pockets. That is why I said the new leader would emerge naturally. But I am sure that the symbol of leadership will still rest with Ajimobi”.
But the current exco of the party, led by Chief Akin Oke has denied any faction in the party and “warned those peddling the rumour to desist or face retributive justice”.
Oke, in a statement he personally signed, took a swipe at some people he categorized into “two groups of mischievous elements, who either seek to portray the party in bad light to the outside world with a view to actualising their own selfish political goal and the other one made up of shameless persons who want to return through the backdoor after abandoning the party over two years ago.
“These groups of unscrupulous and insidious characters move about to give the impression to the outside world that our party is fragmented when, in fact, we have only one Oyo APC with Executive Committees at ward, local government and state levels as well as elected representatives comprising two senators out of the three from the state, 10 House of Representatives members out of 14 and six House of Assembly members.
“The same people giving a wrong impression of belonging to factions are those who participated in the last general elections as aspirants, candidates and members of other political parties. Despite putting their best into the mission to stop all the candidates of APC, including President Muhammadu Buhari, they ended up failures and this explains why they have no serving elected official they can call their own as at today.
“However, there is no denying the fact that most of these people are former members of our party, who left for personal reasons and if any of them now decide to come back, we shall be glad to welcome them back to the fold. We have always been magnanimous to them as we have not, at any time, attempted to block the chances of some of them, who have secured federal appointments through the backdoor. In actual fact, our doors are widely open for them to come back home if they want to.
“To this end, we are ready to reach out to known aggrieved members of our party across the state and this we shall do to complement the efforts of the Reconciliation Committee set up by our late leader, Sen. Abiola Ajimobi, with a clear mandate to resolve all issues and further strengthen Oyo APC. The committee, headed by former Governor Otunba Adebayo Alao-Akala has started its work in earnest and the State Working Committee of the party is determined to carefully consider their reports and recommendations for possible action as soon as possible to enable us plan ahead of future challenges.
“More significantly, the people of the ‘Pacesetter’ state have seen clearly the difference between the administration of APC and that of PDP in just a year. The clamour in town today is for us in the progressives’ fold to put our house in order and ensure that credible candidates are again fielded to contest in 2023 even as we look forward to holding more transparent party congresses in 2022 to usher in new set of executive committee members at all levels.”