As Nigerians appraise the conduct of the July 16, 2022 governorship poll in Osun State continues, especially on the immediate and long term implications for the 2023 general election, KUNLE ODEREMI reports on some behind-the-scene brinkmanship in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) few hours to the poll.
DATELINE: Osogbo, the Osun State capital, and the date was July 14, 2022. Top shots of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party PDP), in a last-minute move to forge a united front ahead of at the governorship poll, convened a crucial meeting. It was the last in the series of the ‘family’ reconciliation efforts to cement all cracks to guarantee a resounding victory. Few hours before then, serving and former governors had met also in the state capital to resolve the protracted feud threatening the chances of PDP in the last of the season elections before the 2023 general election. Signs that the frantic efforts had begun to yield fruits emerged when the leaders confided in our correspondent that in a matter of hours, victory was certain at the poll.
That was the scenario in the PDP in the Osun State chapter at the zero hours to the election held amid heightened tension and security web thrown on the state. Some untold details about the final interventions that secured victory for the candidate of PDP for the election, Senator Ademola Adeleke indicated that the trio; a former president of the Senate, Dr Bukola Saraki; governor of Bayelsa State and chairman of PDP 2022 Osun Governorship Campaign Council, Senator Duoye Diri and the governor of do State, Godwin Obaseki were indeed the arrowheads of the moves that paved way for his victory.
The Adelekes inherited the political legacy of the late patriarch and Asiwaju of Edeland, who was also a Second Republic senator, Ayoola Adeleke, They deployed the machinery to rally support for Senator Ademola Adeleke in his bid to become governor of the state. It is recalled that the 2018 governorship poll in the state was declared inconclusive by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Adeleke had won the first ballot, and in the controversial rerun conducted by the commission, the PDP candidate lost by 200 votes. There was anxiety within PDP that a similar scenario could play out if the major stakeholders lower their guards and paid little attention to eternal vigilance; that nothing should be taken for granted. Consequently, all hands had to be on deck by putting in the best strategies. The realization informed what some inside sources described as the decision by PDP to select some of its most experienced strategists for the National Campaign Council. According to some of the inside sources, three of the members devoted more time and resources to the campaigns, particularly in the last few days to the election and thereafter. These included a former president of the Senate, Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki; Governor of Bayelsa State, Senator Duoye Diri, and his Edo counterpart, Governor Godwin Obaseki. While Diri was the chairman of the National Campaign Council, Obaseki who has known the PDP’s candidate’s elder brother, Deji Adeleke since their days in the financial sector in Lagos, also deployed his knowledge and experience during his second term bid in 2020. Then, he had to contend with some forces in the All Progressives Congress (APC) bent on frustrating his ambition. Thus, his winning strategy was therefore consider germane. He agreed to avail the PDP the experience and in the same way the party helped him to defeat the APC forces led by th then national chairman of APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, a staunch political ally of Senator Bola Tinubu, now APC presidential candidate for 2023.
According to the sources, a number of factors informed the decision of Saraki to be neck-deep in the Adeleke project, one of which is the congruity of Osun State his state of origin, Kwara State. Saraki believes he as a party chieftain needs Osun State to guide against possible sabotage of PDP in Kwara State in the 2023 election. A PDP win in Osun will guide against any semblance of threat to the chances of the party to bounce back to power in Kwara in 2023. The other reason in the camp of the ex-president of the Senate is based on his position as the chairman of the PDP National Reconciliation and Strategic Committee (NRSC). He was able to resolve the crisis in the party in the state and as such familiar with all the issues, big wigs. Also he released imperative of peace, stability and cohesion in Osun PDP to humble other parties in July 16 poll. Therefore, Saraki teamed up with others to assist the Adelekes in making last-minute rallying of all forces and persons behind the PDP candidate to guarantee victory against a ‘divided APC.’
Of course, there was another salient factor dating back to the Second Republic. The late strong man of Kwara politics, Oloye Olusola Saraki was a colleague of the patriarch of the Adelekes in the then Senate. And Dr Bukola Saraki and the late eldest brother of the Adelekes, Isiaka Adetunji, were colleagues in the seventh and eighth Senate. Later, Ademola, the PDP candidate, replaced his late brother in the eighth Senate. The former became a staunch and loyal supporter of Saraki who was the president of the Senate. And it is on record that the Saraki and Adeleke dynasties are the only two nuclear families to have produced three members of the Senate respectively. Also, Deji Adeleke, the surviving eldest of the Adeleke brothers is a good friend of Saraki. Thus, for all these reasons, Saraki decided to throw in all the support for the Adelekes.
Saraki and his team relocated from Ilorin where he had been since the eve of the last Eid-El- Kabir festival to Ede, the Adelekes home town on July 13, 2022 and immediately held a meeting with all the PDP polling agents. The venue of the training handled by the former Senate President was the Adeleke University, Ede, where he shared his experience on strategies with the agents on their assignments on polling day and how crucial their roles to the success of the party on July 16. A source privy to the meeting said: “The presence of such a dignitary not only inspired and encouraged the party agents but also emphasised to them, how serious and ready the Osun PDP and the candidate’s campaign were about the election.” The ex-president of the Senate returned to Osogbo, the state capital with Deji Adeleke, the candidate’s elder brother to join PDP governors, who were getting ready to meet with ex-Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola at his Osogbo GRA residence. The meeting was actually at the instance of Saraki, who believed that Oyinlola was aggrieved and needed to be pacified and pleaded to support Adeleke. The party was able to pacify Oyinlola and reconciled the differences between him and the Adelekes. So, Saraki went back to Ede that same night to meet with the PDP governorship candidate and his team where the meeting reviewed the preparation for the election and checked if all the necessary boxes had been ticked concerning critical areas of election preparation, security, logistics, most importantly.
After the meeting with the candidate and his team, he returned to Osogbo again to commence another engagement with party stakeholders in the state. As the chairman of the national reconciliation committee of the party, it was not difficult for him to revisit all the issues his committee had dealt with and ensured that those already dealt with did not resurge while the ones that were pending were quickly attended to. Many of the stakeholders could easily identify with him and listen to his pleas with them. The engagements helped the party to put a strong and united front across in the last 48 hours or so before the commencement of voting.
All the trouble-shooting mission, intervention and effort heralded a new dawn in the PDP. By Thursday morning on July 14, Saraki and his team were in Osogbo to coordinate the PDP mega rally. He spent the whole day ensuring that the party had a successful rally with the ultimate goal of PDP reclaiming power in Osun. On Friday morning, as early as 8 am, Saraki commenced another series of meetings with aggrieved party stakeholders from each of the three senatorial districts. The first set was the people from Osun East, with the session lasting for almost the entire day. A significant degree of success was achieved in the pursuit of reconciliation. With the election proper just a few hours, Saraki moved into the party situation room located inside the residence of late Senator isiaka Adeleke to ascertain the level of preparedness and to test-run some of the facilities for effectiveness. He was in company of Governors Diri and Obaseki. On the day of the election, as early as 6 am, Saraki was already in the situation room to start coordination, along with Diri and Obaseki to supervise the situation room. “They were practically getting reports from party agents, field officers, and observers across the state. The three men and their teams did not sleep until the results were announced in the early hours of Sunday morning,” a top source said. According to him, it was because of the Yeoman’s role played by the trio that immediately Adeleke was pronounced the winner of the election by INEC, the PDP candidate had to reciprocate their efforts. “Adeleke prostrated before his elder brother, Deji, held tightly to each of Saraki, Diri and Obaseki for their kind, much-needed, strategic, and effective last-minute interventions that saved the day,” said the source.
Though in their separate comments on the outcome of the election, Obaseki, Diri and Saraki said it signposts the chances of the main opposition party in the 2023 general election, they were taciturn on their level of involvement in the intense intrigues, manoeuvres and deft moves at the zero hour to the election.