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NIGERIA: Furore in Kwara PDP over Ajibola

 The governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in Kwara State, Senator Simeon Ajibola faces a tough time as he battles stiff opposition within. Hammed Shittu writes

Political watchers in Kwara State will not forget in a hurry, the tension that characterised the conduct of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) primaries, which produced the current senator representing Kwara South senatorial district, Simeon Sule Ajibola as its governorship candidate.

The reason was not far-fetched. The PDP paraded about 12 governorship aspirants that were hell bent on picking the governorship ticket of the party and wrest power from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) government led by Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed.
These aspirants have their supporters across the state and they always mobilised themselves to wherever their principals are going, a situation that heightened tension during the primaries.

Apart from Ajibola, other aspirants include, Mr. Muhammed Dele Belgore (SAN), Professor Shuaib Oba AbdulRaheem, Mr. Sunday Babalola, Alhaji Jani Ibrahim, Ajibola, Alhaji Akeem Lawal, Alhaji Abdullahi Sanusi and Architect Kale Belgore. Others are Senator Gbemisola Rukayah Saraki, Deacon John Dara, Alhaji Issa Bio Ibrahim and Senator Makanjuola Ajadi.

Prior to the primaries, the aspirants have been accusing each other of manipulations of the delegates’ lists to be used for the primary. The development however led to the factionalisation of the aspirants into two groups in the state.

The first group was led by Ajibola and they are twelve in number while the other group was allegedly coordinated by Belgore with some top leaders of the party like the Minister of National Planning, Dr. Abubakar Sulaiman, Hajia Bola Sagaya, the state chairman of the PDP among others backing it.

Unconfirmed reports in the state also alleged that the First Lady, Mrs. Patience Jonathan was in support of Belgore, which gave the impression that he was the anointed governorship candidate of the PDP for the election. The issue of alleged manipulations of delegates’ lists caused a lot of hue and cry in the state especially the delegates’ lists of Ilorin West Local Government council chapter of the party in the state.

Some aggrieved supporters of the party from Ilorin West local government council of the party staged a protest to the Correspondent Chapel of the State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Muhammed Murtala Way, Ilorin where they called on the national leadership of the party not to allow such alleged manipulations to take place so as to move the party forward.

Ilorin West local government council has two leading aspirants of the party in the persons of Professor Shuaib Oba AbdulRaheem and Senator Gbemisola Rukayah Saraki and it is believed that any attempt to manipulate the lists of delegates would have an adverse effect on the candidature of the two aspirants during the primaries.

The protesters also went further to the national secretariat of the party in Abuja where they also expressed their dissatisfaction with alleged move to manipulate the list. But the situation which borders on the alleged plan to manipulate the lists didn't discourage the aspirants from moving across the length and breadth of the three senatorial district of the state to woo would-be delegates to the primaries.

On Monday, December 9, the primary of the party was first conducted amid tight security in Ilorin, the state capital. The Stella Obasanjo Multi Purpose Hall, Ilorin was chosen as the accreditation center while the Canta Arca Center, along Ajase-Ipo road, Ilorin was used as the voting center.

But around 9.30 pm on that day, the primaries came to an abrupt end as the delegates started to engage in a free-for-all over the alleged presence of fake delegates among them.

Although before the accreditation of delegates, the Commissioner for Police, Mr. Salihu Garba assured the people of the security of the exercise, ironically the deployment of over 2,000 security agents could not stop the delegates from throwing chairs and other weapons at the voting center. All the aspirants were in attendance at the voting center except Belgore.

Trouble started when chairmen of the party in the 15 local government council's chapter of the party were called out to identify and affirm the delegates. When it was the turn of Ilorin West local government, two chairmen came out and engaged in fisticuffs followed by their supporters who threw chairs around. Police also watched helplessly as the PDP members dealt themselves blow.

The aggrieved aspirants led by Ajibola accused the leader of the party Sulaiman and Sagaya of desperately working for the emergence of Belgore (SAN) through the back door as the governorship candidate of the party in the state.

Ajibola blamed the trio for allegedly inflating the delegate lists of 709 to over 1,000 to favour Belgore and warned that any attempt to impose any candidate on the party will be rejected. But the two leaders have described the allegation as baseless and appealed for calm.

But Belgore described the action of the eleven aspirants led by Senator Ajibola "as a gang-up driven by envy and evil machinations designed by enemies of the people of Kwara." The development however led to the end of the primary as the state chairman of the party, Hon. Oyedepo ordered the cancellation of the primary.

The situation prompted the aggrieved aspirants to address press conference at the NUJ press center on the second day, where the first primary was held and cancelled, saying they would resist any attempt to take fresh primary to any other place except Ilorin.

Ajibola, who is also the spokesperson of the group, warned that they would not accept any imposition in the state. He said the party should give a level playing field for all aspirants so that an acceptable candidate can emerge at the end of the day. The Elders’ council of the party had equally warned the leadership of the party not to impose any candidate on the state.

The elders who were led by Senator Haliru Idris at a press conference said “We have run away from the impostor and we will not allow imposition to take place in the PDP so as to win the next year general election in Kwara."

On Thursday, Dec. 11, the national leadership of the party and the state chapter of the party announced another fresh primary to be conducted in Ilorin, the state capital. As early as 10a.m, delegates have arrived at the voting center located at Canta Arca Center, along Ajase-Ipo road, Ilorin. The election was held throughout that day and ran into Friday.

At the end of the fresh primary, Ajibola polled 144 votes, to come top while Belgore got 132 votes, Senator Saraki polled 113 votes, Ajadi got 107 votes, Abdulraheem polled 58 votes, Hon. Bio Ibrahim scored 45 votes, Alhaji Hakeem Lawal polled 33 votes, Engineer Jani Ibrahim polled 27 votes,  Babalola polled 3 votes, Kale Belgore got 1 vote, Deacon John Dara polled 16 votes and Alhaji Abdullahi Sanusi Kaiama polled no votes.

Ajibola, in his acceptance speech, expressed appreciation and thanked the delegates, saying he would work harder to make the PDP win the governorship race in the state come 2015.

Governor Gabriel Suswan of Benue State, who was the leader of the electoral panel, described the contest as free and fair despite apprehension and anxiety among party members and other people of the state. He said all the contestants have accepted the result of the governorship primary election in good faith, assuring that PDP would win the governorship election next year in the state.

Meanwhile, the leader of PDP in the state Sulaiman has congratulated Ajibola for his emergence as the governorship candidate of the PDP. In a congratulatory statement issued in Ilorin on Friday and signed by his Media Assistant, Alhaji statement Abdulrahman Abdulrauf, he also commended all contestants for the coveted ticket for their spirit of sportsmanship and urged them to garner support for the party’s candidate by forgetting the misgivings of the past.

"There is no doubt that they all are eminently qualified to lead the state out of the present state of inertia Kwara presently finds itself” and  therefore called on stakeholders within the PDP in the state to remain a strong united family ahead of the 2015 general election.

Twenty-four hours after the emergence of Senator Ajibola as the governorship candidate of the party, some people staged a peaceful protest to the state secretariat of the party along Asa Dan Road, Ilorin, to kick against the emergence of Ajibola as the candidate of the party.
The protesters, led by Mr. Seyi Martins, alleged that Ajibola was not a popular candidate for the party and should be replaced to assist the party to win the next year general election in the state.

As the intrigues continue over the emergence of Ajibola, leaders of the party also convened a meeting in Ilorin on Monday, December 16, where they reviewed the conduct and process that led to the emergence of the governorship candidate. About the same time, some unconfirmed reports had it that there was an alleged desperate move to substitute the name of Ajibola with another person.

Meanwhile, some party members under the banner of Freedom Group of the PDP in the state have vowed to reject any move by the national leadership of the party to replace Ajibola for another name as the governorship candidate of the party. Also, 10 of the 12 governorship aspirants that participated in the primary have thrown their weight behind the candidature of Ajibola.

THISDAY checks revealed that some stakeholders in the PDP in the state have been mounting pressures on the presidency and national working committee of PDP to substitute the name of Ajibola for alleged non-name recognition in the state. The meeting which held amid tight security was said to have deliberated extensively on the conduct of the primaries that produced Ajibola.

Sources said at the meeting, it is national working committee of the party that will finally determine the fate of Ajibola moreso, it is said that Ajibola is yet to be given certificate of return for winning the governorship primary.

Contacted on the development, the state Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Chief Rex Olawoye who said there was no tension within the party, nevertheless hinted at fears being already expressed by some stakeholders within the party that the outcome of the primary would be subject to the final decision of the party’s national secretariat.

“We have an executive meeting today to appraise the primaries so that we can take position on issues and you know some hoodlums could come  to demonstrate as reaction to the loss by their principal so that’s why we asked the police to come and be here to keep them at bay. We need to meet and review things; if there is modification that can come later and if not we go ahead”.

Asked about fears of the possible ‘modification’ of the primary, Olawoye said: “When you have a primary like this, the national body still has the final say. You remember when Rotimi Amaechi won the primary but later the party changed the thing but he went to court and won without contesting in the election. This is politics and anything can happen but for anyone to say he doesn’t know Ajibola is a lie. He has represented Kwara south for 12 years and he has done well for us and we know him very well.”

But some members of The Freedom Group in the party still maintained their warning against any planned substitution of Ajibola with another candidate. The group also dismissed religious arguments being allegedly raised against the candidature of Ajibola.

A statement signed by Tajudeen Kareem, Director of Publicity for the group said, “We wish that in the interest of democracy, freedom of choice and peace in our  party, nothing is done to tamper with Senator Ajibola’s mandate. Any attempt to manipulate the outcome of the governorship election supervised by Governor Gabriel Suswam is a recipe for electoral disaster for the PDP in Kwara State.”

In another statement issued by the other eleven governorship aspirants that took part in the primary stated that "The primary that produced Senator Ajibola was free, transparent and acceptable to all of us. We therefore accept the emergence of Senator Simeon Sule Ajibola as the Kwara State PDP gubernatorial candidate."

The statement signed by one of the aspirants on behalf of others, Deacon John Dara and made available to journalists in Ilorin declared that, "We resolved to remain united and to do our best for the electoral victory of our governorship candidate and all other candidates of the party in the coming 2015 elections".

Ultimately, with the emergence of Ajibola, the stage is now set for who will win the next year governorship election in the state. While the incumbent governor and APC governorship candidate hails from Kwara South senatorial district, the PDP governorship candidate too is from the same district.

It is now left for the electorate to decide where they will put their votes during the period as the stage is now open between Ahmed and Ajibola.

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