The crisis within the Ondo State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) seemed to have deepened days after President Goodluck Jonathan campaigned in the state capital, Akure, and declined to raise and hand over the flag of the party to candidates jostling for both the National and state legislative positions in elections scheduled for February 28.
Last Wednesday, Mr. Jonathan refused to carry out the symbolic handing over of flags to party candidates because of a lingering rivalry for control of the party between the “Old” PDP and “New” PDP members. The crisis was precipitated by the defection of embattled Governor Olusegun Mimiko from the Labor Party to the PDP.
Speaking last Wednesday at a campaign rally at the Democracy Park in Akure, a disenchanted Mr. Jonathan admonished all aggrieved party members and leaders to resolve their differences. With the party split between those loyal to Mr. Mimiko and those sympathetic to the party’s old leadership, Mr. Jonathan rejected the duty of announcing the list of the party’s National Assembly candidates given to him at the venue.
Instead, the president acknowledged there were “issues in the Ondo State Chapter of the PDP,” and warned that the party would lose the elections in the state unless the lingering crises were quickly resolved.
“We appreciate we have issues as a party in Ondo state and we will resolve the issues, but if we don't work together, you will be surprised that [the] other party will exploit it and none of us will be happy,” Mr. Jonathan said.
Naming Jimoh Ibrahim, Mr. Mimiko, and Olusola Oke as the major figures in the internal crisis, Mr. Jonathan advised them to put the party’s house in order by sitting together to resolve the crisis in the party.
But members of the party’s different factions, who have been campaigning separately, told SaharaReporters that President Jonathan and party leaders in Abuja instigated the crisis. They said Mr. Jonathan and the party leaders struck a deal with Governor Mimiko to return to the PDP in exchange for putting him at the helm of the party. “They stayed in Abuja and told Governor Mimiko that he can come back and take over the structure of the party just like that,” one of the party members loyal to Mr. Jimoh Ibrahim stated. He added, “Who is Mimiko that he should come and lord it over us through an arrangement made in Abuja?”
Speaking last Wednesday, Mr. Jonathan seemed to recognize the depth of resentment that has sundered the party in Ondo State. “The party will work very hard to make sure that Jimoh Ibrahim, the governor (Mimiko) and Olusola Oke sit together and talk about the interest of Ondo State. They have some cold relationship now but we will heat up the relationship and we will work with them,” Mr. Jonathan said.
He added: “We cannot play with Ondo State because they have showed leadership in PDP and they will remain a PDP state and we will make sure that they all work together for the interest of our great party.”
But even as the president tried to strike an upbeat and conciliatory note, there was evidence of the split at the rally. The crowd was rowdy and disorganized as supporters of different factional candidates of the party sang different solidarity songs and raised their supporters’ banners indiscriminately.
The banners carried conflicting names of party contestants for the same positions in the national and state legislatures.
Both Mr. Ibrahim and Governor Mimiko were present at the rally with their separate slate of candidates. Some supporters of Mr. Ibrahim’s faction said they raised the banners of their faction’s candidates in order to draw the attention of Mr. Jonathan and other party leaders from Abuja that the effort to hand the party to the governor had backfired.
Earlier, Governor Mimiko strengthened his credentials with President Jonathan when he brokered a meeting between the president and some leaders of the Afenifere socio-cultural group. The group later announced their endorsement of Mr. Jonathan’s bid for a second term bid. One of our sources told SaharaReporters that members of Afenifere had advised President Jonathan during a midnight meeting against raising the banner of either faction or handing over flags to any candidates at the venue of the rally. “We told him [Mr. Jonathan] that there might be open revolt if he tried to favor one faction over the other at the rally. He listened to us.”