By Ehichioya Ezomon
Any political party, especially in the opposition, will be thrilled to have a candidate of the calibre and clout of Ekiti State Governor Ayodele Fayose, willing and faithful to wrest power from the ruling government. That’s exactly what Mr. Fayose has promised to achieve for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2019 elections.
At his formal declaration for the position of president on September 28 in Abuja, the governor presented himself as the only candidate that could unseat President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
He boasted: “My party leaders, standing before you is Peter (The Rock) Ayodele Fayose, the man already destined by God to take Nigeria out of the present political and economic stagnations. We (PDP) must be mindful of the fact that our party needs a candidate like me, with a penchant for defeating incumbents.
“Twice, I defeated incumbents to become the Governor of Ekiti State and I am confident that with your support as my party leaders and supporters, I will defeat the incumbent President, Muhammadu Buhari, in a free and fair election.”
But metaphorically, it’s been a ‘Night of the Long Knives’ in the PDP since the governor formally declared his ambition. The party top shots are not amused, as they view his action as breaching a code of conduct or “gentleman’s agreement” couched in the zoning arrangement of rotating the presidency between the North and South of the country. And they are primed to prevent him from assuming awesome powers and disrupt the well-choreographed plan of the party for 2019.
Surely, Governor Fayose acknowledged the PDP zoning and yet, chose to query the absence of aspirants from the region, even as he recalled that other aspirants contested in 1999 and 2003, and also in 2007 when the party allocated the slot to the South and North, respectively.
He said: “If PDP gives me ticket, I will use it and win. They say they have zoned presidency to the North, what if nobody comes out from the North? Whoever wants to contest for the seat of president, what are they afraid of? Let them come out. We don’t want to package anyone for president again. God forbid.”
Chances are that due to his self-appointed over-sight of President Buhari and his administration, Governor Fayose has been very busy to realise the depth of loathing, and rejection his audacious aspiration has caused in the PDP platform he intends to use.
Truly lately, rather than blame himself for the political drubbing he’s facing from members of his party, he switched to holding the President responsible for allegedly instigating the EFCC to seize his aides “because they (Buhari and the APC) know I will defeat them in 2019.” No wonder he quickly sensed the biblical “The Voice of Jacob, The Hand of Esau” (the ‘Voice’ representing Buhari and the ‘Hand’ implying EFCC) in the anti-graft arrest and detention of his commissioners.
In a press interview, he cautioned his traducers: “My ambition to contest the presidential election in 2019 is God’s project and no human effort can thwart it. Democracy allows for people to aspire to occupy public offices and I have not breached any law doing that. Those who think they can get to (sic) me by harassing my aides and supporters would soon hit a dead end.”
Still, to PDP leaders, Governor Fayose is his worst enemy: for deliberately flouting the party arrangement to produce the president from the North in 2019. Hence, he needed reminding about that position at the Port Harcourt convention. The first reminder came from the governor’s home turf of Ekiti – from the PDP spokesperson, Prince Dayo Adeyeye, who wants to replace Fayose in 2018.
To Adeyeye, Fayose is not eligible for the position he’s aspiring to. “The highest organ of the party, which is the national convention, zoned the presidential ticket of the PDP to the North. That has not changed,” he said. And when the governor continued rationalising his action, the Chairman of the National Caretaker Committee of the PDP, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, delivered the knock-out punch.
At a meeting in Abuja with Northern leaders and elders of the PDP on the zoning for the 2019 elections and the convention in December, Makarfi picked his words carefully: “Anything that has to do with the party, it is from the leadership of the party that you will hear and that is why I have reaffirmed that the zoning position of the party has not changed. It was the decision of the Port Harcourt May 21, 2017 convention. The decision is supreme.
“I wish to emphasize that the Supreme Court, in affirming the authenticity of our caretaker committee, has also reaffirmed the supremacy of decisions of the (Port Harcourt) convention.”
Senator Makarfi previously told journalists in Kaduna that, “He (Fayose) is on his own. What he is doing is not in compliance with the position of the party. The party’s position has not changed. The convention has zoned the presidency to the North and the chairmanship of the party to the South.”
The fear in the PDP is that Governor Fayose’s success or failure in capturing the candidacy has the potential to sow discord in the party – a marked departure from their embrace of his “triumphal entry” into the Abuja mini-convention of August 12, when they thought his hint about running for the presidency “was a fluke.”
But the governor’s formal declaration has changed the calculus. His initial clever-by-half letter that his ambition was “without prejudice to the party’s position” but “in the interest of the party and Nigeria, as I know how to defeat incumbents,” has not mollified the PDP leaders in their resolve to stop him “before the damage is done.”
So, the long knives have been drawn from all sides, threatening to sink a once-promising ambition of an enfant terrible to replace the very President that’s his butt and plaything, before he sinks the PDP itself in the bargain!
* Mr. Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.