In the last seven days, the discordant tune within the fold of Peoples Democratic Party in Kwara State had manifested ditto at the national level of the party leading to palpable anxiety in the political circle that the party is sliding into brinkmanship. Ahmed 'Lateef takes a cursory look at the implication of division within the opposition family in Kwara.
The 2015 general election was a litmus test for the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party to put its widely acclaimed popularity to the front burner within the political firmament of Kwara State.
Prior to the poll, majority of those who called the shots in the political arena were die-hard members of the party as it was then the ruling party in the state.
No sooner that the 'political empire' of the state left the scene and made a paradigm shift to the opposition All Progressives Congress (as it then was) that the strength of the umbrella hold the structure of the PDP nose-dived and gradually became a shred.
The harbinger of the weakness of the then ruling but now opposition was the mass exodus of political apparatus in the state, a number of them who were displeased with the path the party was treading to at the national level. The development resulted in dissenting voices in the then largest party in African region.
Unable to stomach their grievances, the political gladiators led by former Governor of the state, Senator Bukola Saraki teamed up with ex-Vice President Atiku Abubakar and other dissenters among aggrieved governors elected on the platform of the party to form a breakaway faction and it was named new Peoples Democratic Party (nPDP).
The crisis persisted for sometime until it became a subject of litigation.
Consequently, many of the angry members known to be major backbones of the party eventually left for the then opposition and joined the APC that won the keenly 2015 poll.
Ever since the exit of the top notches of the PDP, the centre could not hold again, and it became a discourse within the political fora that the opposition has turned a house divide against itself.
In Kwara State, the party which assumed the position of opposition after Saraki led his teeming loyalists and supporters to out of the party has been riddled with lots of controversies ranging from battle for the soul of leadership of the party in 2014 prior to the governorship as well battle of wits to secure governorship ticket.
Akogun Iyiola Oyedepo, a barrister at law clinched the chairmanship seat in a fierce contest held at Mariam Hall along Ajase-Ipo, Ilorin while other members of the executive also emerged.
Oyedepo's emergence at the election did not come with ease following desperate moves by party stalwarts and money bags sympathetic to the party to bring their loyalists on board. Though the dream of some materialized while it perished for others.
Before the last general election was held, the party boasted of wrestling power from the government of Kwara State under the custody of the APC, but all attempts made became futile
The battle for governorship ticket and other elective posts provoked internecine war within the fold of the party, but eventually saw Simeon Sule Ajibola, among others, clinching the covetous gubernatorial flag.
However, the governorship poll was fought and won with Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed returning for a second term in a landslide victory that tacitly sent the opposition into political oblivion.
Leaders of the opposition who became during the pre and election period took back seat in the political scene, thus making the pundits to conclude that they have resumed the role of spectators like in a theatrical scene where actors enact different episodes on the stage.
As the national leadership of the PDP was enmeshed in a tussle following emergence of Ali Modu Sheriff, two-term governor of Borno State, ditto Kwara chapter of the party that was also battling with internal strife that had since split the party into two factions.
In preparation for the national convention of party slated for May 21 in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State, its leadership had directed all state chapters to conduct congresses from the ward, local and state levels with the primary objective of forming new executive committees. Except Ondo, Edo and Kogi States that were exempted, other states across the federation including Kwara were asked to hold the congress.
Last Monday and Thursday were the fateful days that birthed the polarization of the party in the state with re-election of Oyedepo as chairman at a congress held at Stella Obasanjo Hall, Ilorin while his main contender in the congress, Prince Sunday Fagbemi, who reportedly withdrew from the race, was also elected chairman in another venue away from where Oyedepo emerged.
At the Stella Obasanjo Hall congress venue characterized by pockets of violence on Monday, Oyedepo was returned unopposed, though some party chieftains protested the alleged affirmation used indifferent to the voting process that would have taken place.
Addressing newsmen, a chieftain of the party, Yunusa Ayinla Folorunsho, faulted the affirmation used in conducting the congress claiming it was a ploy to edge out other contestants.
The party chieftain also threatened that in the event that the state executive failed to conduct the congress in accordance with due process, members of the party would be left with no option than to convey its grievances to the national headquarters of the party.
"There supposed to be PDP congress, and that is what is going on. But there is a mixture of things. The present executive wants to do affirmation. We members of the PDP want a congress. It is the congress that the national leadership of the party asked us to do, and all along, the state chairman has been saying that there would be no congress, that they are going to do affirmation. We members of the party are not going to allow affirmation but congress.
"It was the national body that announced that all states except Kogi, Edo and Ondo, all the rest including FCT must go for congresses", Folorunsho said.
In what appeared like a stage play, on Thursday, Fagbemi led some party stalwarts to the sprawling complex of the Kwara State council of Nigeria Union of Journalists along Offa Road, GRA, Ilorin where he declared himself chairman of the PDP in the state.
Fagbemi claimed at a jam-packed press conference that the state congress of the party that produced him and other members of the executive was supervised by five out of the seven- man electoral panel dispatched from Abuja for the exercise and security agencies.
He was flanked by PDP stalwarts in the state including the pioneer chairman of the party in the state, Barrister Kunle Sulyman; former Presidential Adviser on National Assembly Matters, Senator Suleiman Makanjuola Ajadi; Alhaji Ayinla Folorunsho and former Commissioner for Special Duties in the state Alhaji Rasaq Lawal.
Fagbemi urged the public to dismiss another congress where the former chairman of the party, Oyedepo was purportedly affirmed to continue in office.
He accused the former executive members of imposition, intimidation and electoral malpractices, saying that some contestants were barred from the venue of the state congress held at Ilorin Stella Obasanjo hall.
Fagbemi, who said the party's congresses at ward, local government and state government levels were manipulated, added that nomination forms and result sheets were made available to contestants favourable to Oyedepo.
The PDP chairman, who said the development led to conduct of a fresh state congress at a different venue same day, added that new executive members thus emerged, where he became the chairman of the party in the state.
Describing the congress held by Akogun-led execo as pre-determined, Fagbemi claimed all delegates from eight local governments in the Kwara Central senatorial district including, Offa, Isin and Ekiti LGAs were barred from participating in the congress.
"Efforts to correct the anomalies at different levels of the congress were rejected by electoral panel. I had to force my self into the hall when about 29 contestants were denied entry. The scenario led to riotous moment, sporadic gun shots by political thugs, tear gas and discovery of a vehicle laden with dangerous weapons, arms and ammunition at Stella Obasanjo hall", he said.
Fagbemi, who lamented happenings in the opposition party in the state, said the PDP had never fared worse before now with no single electoral victory in all the available elective offices across the three tiers of government in the state .
He also said that efforts were not made to forge unity in the party by the immediate past executives, adding that his members would not fold their arms to see the opposition party destroyed.
Pundits were of the opinion that with the emergence of two executives laying claim to the leadership of the party, the crisis may linger for long time to come especially now that a by-election into the vacant seat of Oke-Ero Constituency of the state House of Assembly was a few days away. Late member of the constituency, Moses Afolayan, won the seat in the last general election on the banner of the APC.
Already, the Independent National Electoral Commission had fixed May 21 for the election and with the leadership tussle that had taken centre stage in the affairs of the party, its chance of having a fruitful outing is shrouded in mystery.