By Dapo Akinrefon
THE Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, will on Saturday elect a new national chairman and other principal officers that would steer the affairs of the party.
Already, delegates from across the country have converged on Abuja in preparation for the event.
In the South-West, five aspirants have thrown their hats into the ring to clinch the position.
Originally, the party had zoned the position to the South-West because it remains the only zone yet to produce a National Chairman but the chairman of the party’s Caretaker Committee, Senator Ahmed Makarfi threw the race open to the Southern part of the country.
This, however, did not go down well with party leaders and members from the South- West, who felt slighted by Makarfi’s announcement.
The contest will be an interesting one given the calibre of political titans vying for the position.
The South-West is considered a swing vote zone and party members and leaders are already mobilising to ensure one of their own emerges chairman of the party.
Among the leading aspirants for the position are former Deputy National Chairman of the party, Chief Olabode George; former acting chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus; former Minister of Education, Professor Tunde Adeniran; former Minister of Sports and Special Duties, Professor Taoheed Adedoja; former Lagos State PDP Governorship Candidate, Mr Jimi Agbaje; former Governor of Ogun State, Otunba Gbenga Daniel and chairman of DAAR Communications, Chief Raymond Dokpesi.
Expectedly, various forces are now at play and factors that will shape the contest have panned out as stakeholders increase efforts to take pre-eminence.
However, there is also a push to have a candidate who knows the workings of the PDP and has remained steadfast with the party.
So far, most of the aspirants have criss-crossed the length and breadth of the country wooing party leaders, stakeholders and members, especially would-be delegates to support their cause.
The contest is expected to be tough as the delegates may have a hard nut choice to make over which aspirant to vote for.
Though there have been arguments for and against a consensus candidate from the zone, some of the aspirants are not in support of this for fear of being trounced.
Professor Adeniran, former Ambassador to Germany is a member of the PDP Board of Trustees (BoT). Though, he has kept a low profile and lacks the structure to see his way through, but his associates hold the view that he has a good chance to emerge as PDP leader.
There are strong indications that Agbaje is enjoying the support of some governors who are angling for a paradigm shift in the party.
Agbaje, who contested and lost the 2015 governorship elections in Lagos to the current governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, has since gone underground even at the state level of the party.
Political pundits hold the view that George is considered the most experienced of the lot.
Aside this, the former naval officer is considered an independent aspirant having no backing from any quarter.
Already, the Lagos State chapter of the PDP has endorsed George as its preferred candidate for the position.
The state chairman, Mr. Moshood Salvador, made the declaration at a meeting between George and members of the party at its secretariat in GRA, Ikeja.
Salvador’s words: “On behalf of Lagos PDP, we must vote for Chief Bode George come Dec. 9; the South-West is the rightful region to have the chairman of our great party.
“In the last dispensation, Ekiti produced the vice- chairman while Osun and Oyo states took the highest office. It is only Lagos that is left and what we want is the chairman.
“The South-East and South-South have produced a chairman before that is why it is our turn to have the chairman of PDP.”
Also, PDP chieftains like former Minister of Transport, Ebenezer Babatope; a former Minister for Mines and Steel, Elder Wole Oyelese and the party’s National Organising Secretary, Senator Abdul Ningi among others, have thrown their weight behind George’s aspiration, saying he remains the best aspirant for the position.
George, a former military governor of Ondo State, will be counting on his years of experience having risen through the ranks since 1999.
To many, George has carved a niche for himself because he is widely known as a leading politician and frontline leader of the PDP but what is not too well known about him is that he is also one of this country’s leading trouble shooters.
During the 2003 general elections, the victory recorded by the PDP in the South-West was due, in large part to his capacity for conflict resolution. He was ever ready to take to the roads to resolve any intra-party conflict in any corner of the zone.
One factor that would give him an edge at the party’s convention stems from the fact that he has rendered selfless and diligent and patriotic service to his country. Besides this, upon retirement, Chief George has continued to play key roles in the affairs of the country.
He is a respected analyst and profound commentator on public affairs. He was one of the patriots who worked for the convening of the 1994/95 National Constitutional Conference as a means of turning things around and changing the political landscape of the country. His patriotic stand on issues made him go into exile to the United Kingdom in 1997 during the regime of the late General Sani Abacha.
While in exile, he joined forces with patriotic elements to work assiduously for the emergence of democratic rule in the country.
Chief George later teamed up with other nationalists within the ambit of the PDP in November 1998. He worked tirelessly for the success of the party in the 1999 elections. He served as a member in the immediate transitional stage between the elections and the inauguration of President Olusegun Obasanjo.
This endeared him to party leaders and members as he was later elected the National Vice-Chairman (South-West) of the PDP.