Unending conflict: Aregbesola, Oyetola’s men return to battlefield in Osun

Unending conflict: Aregbesola, Oyetola’s men return to battlefield in Osun

15th July 2023

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BOLA BAMIGBOLA examines the continuing fight between supporters of the immediate past governor of Osun State, Gboyega Oyetola, and his predecessor and former Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, despite efforts to reconcile the two factions

Notwithstanding the victory recorded by the All Progressives Congress in the 2023 general elections, where it retained its hold on the Presidency, the party has failed to halt its free fall in Osun State since surrendering power to the Peoples Democratic Party in the July 16, 2022 governorship poll. Before the election, precisely at the point of electing new executives for the parties in 2021, the uneasy calm pervading the ambiance of the state chapter of the APC split the party into factions.

One of the factions that enjoys the backing of the immediate past Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, adopted the former state Secretary of the party, Rasaq Salinsile, as its chairman, while the group loyal to then governor, Adegboyega Oyetola, went for ‘Gboyega Famoodun. With that development, the track for two parallel executives for the party was well laid as the race for the governorship ticket gathered momentum.

All along, despite obvious signs that Oyetola and Aregbesola’s relationship had hit the rock, the two refused to admit not being on good terms. But some of their supporters, who most times hid behind the veil of anonymity that social media provides, kept on fuelling the crisis, even as the leaders of the two groups sat back to enjoy the online fight like an emperor relishing gladiators’ spilling of blood in the Roman amphitheatre.

With the widening gap between Oyetola and Aregbesola becoming more visible, some leaders of the party made efforts to prevent the gradual descent of the APC into factions, but all moves failed to yield the desired results and just days before February 19, 2022 governorship primary, Aregbesola openly declared support for Moshood Adeoti, the man who served him as Secretary to the Government.

Following the successful conclusion of the party’s primary, which produced Oyetola as the APC candidate, some non-aligned members of the party expected a reprieve. But the warring factions would not back down. Adeoti, the Aregbesola group’s preferred candidate, went to court, seeking an upturn of Oyetola’s candidacy.

While Aregbesola’s men were patiently waiting on the court to do their bidding, governorship campaigns started in June and the two factions though maintained a safe distance, it was not without occasional scornful looks accompanied by disparaging remarks targeted at each other. The APC entered into the July 16 governorship poll divided, raising fears about its chances. Also, keen followers of the development did not mince words in expressing fear that the party was heading toward doom.

With the looming governorship poll as a test case, some reasoned that if Oyetola could manage to emerge without Aregbesola’s input, it would cement his hand on the party. But with victory eventually going in favour of Ademola Adeleke of the Peoples Democratic Party, Aregbesola’s men became an object of intense suspicion for anti-party activities.

But the group denied supporting any candidate at the election, insisting that its supporters did not have a candidate for the governorship poll. Addressing a meeting in December 2022 in Osogbo, where all factional groups under The Osun Progressives, a body used by Aregbesola’s men to challenge the mainstream party leadership in the state before the poll, ex-Speaker of the Osun State House of Assembly, Najeem Salam, called for genuine reconciliation to reposition the APC for future elections.

Salam had said, “We are gathered here today, given the trajectory of our party and the electoral misfortune we suffered in the governorship election of July 16, 2022, leading to our painful loss, to espouse our resolve and the way forward. I am here to announce the dissolution of all factional tendencies in the party with the sole goal of uniting all core Omoluabi progressives on a rebuilding mission that will return us to the leadership of our state and people.

“We are hereby dissolving The Osun Progressives and the faction of the party associated with it to facilitate the unity of purpose that this time requires. For effective closure, we will have a truth and reconciliation forum within the party when it is fully restructured, with the sole purpose of preventing any recurrence of the ugly past. With this hand of fellowship and olive branch, I believe that a new vista of hope, vision, passion and action will emerge in our party.”

In reaction to the move, the state APC Chairman, Tajudeen Lawal, directed Aregbesola’s men to return to their various wards and join the party’s campaign groups ahead of the 2023 general elections. The APC leadership said it welcomed the decision of members of a faction to rejoin the party and declared that Oyetola was not opposed to genuine reconciliation.

Lawal said, “The state leadership of the All Progressives Congress in the State of Osun received the news of the decision by The Osun Progressives to formally disband the group and the factional executives at all levels of the party in the state with an open arm, which, it is believed, would translate to the reinvigoration of the party in all ramifications.

“The decision of TOP to toe the path of working with the mainstream is a welcome development, as our leader, the immediate-past governor, Gboyega Oyetola, is also favourably disposed to any genuine and authentic reconciliation.

“Therefore, we call on all members of the now disbanded group to reintegrate with the party at their respective wards and local governments, and join in the party’s activities towards the 2023 general elections in respect of the presidential, national and state assemblies elections.

“On behalf of the state leadership of our party, the current state executive committee of our party and the entire leaders and members of our party across the state, I hereby state that we are not opposed to genuine reconciliation. If one does not forget the injustices of yesterday, it will be pretty difficult to have playmates.”

Notwithstanding constantly expressing the desire for reconciliation, Oyetola and Aregbesola’s groups failed to hold meetings and they went into the 2023 general elections maintaining different positions on the crisis rocking the party.

Hide-and-seek game continues

Having lost all National Assembly seats and won only one seat out of the 26 in the Osun House of Assembly, Aregbesola’s men blamed the division in the party for the woeful outing that the APC recorded and demanded genuine reconciliation, but the group kept receiving knocks for its alleged involvement in anti-party activities, which aided the PDP to victory. Oyetola’s men were also of the view that a total takeover of the party’s leadership was the desire of the rival group and urged members loyal to Aregbesola to return to their wards and submit to the leadership.

A ray of hope, however, appeared when Oyetola, on Monday, May 1, 2023, inaugurated a committee headed by a former Minister of Health, Prof Isaac Adewole, with the mandate to stimulate and reposition the APC in the state. While inaugurating the committee in Osogbo, the state capital, Oyetola said Osun State remained the home of progressive politics in the South-West and called on members to take necessary and decisive steps to reposition the party and make it more formidable.

At the event attended by party leaders across all local government areas in the state, the ex-governor said, “I appeal to our party members and supporters across the state not to allow themselves to be intimidated. They will want to harass you but do not be cowed. They will even want to provoke you, but do not allow yourself to be provoked. I appeal to you to maintain the peace, religious tolerance and harmonious relationship, which our state is known for. Soon, we shall see the light at the end of the tunnel.

“You all made this day possible. You unanimously supported the idea of having this committee with a view to charting a new course for our party. This address will not be complete without paying glowing tributes to our elders and party stakeholders for accepting to serve on this committee. Posterity will always be kind to you all.”

Speaking on behalf of members of the newly inaugurated committee, Adewole pledged the panel’s readiness to provide a credible pathway to reconciliation. The committee was given eight weeks to submit its report.

The leader of the defunct TOP, Mr Lowo Adebiyi, while reacting to the move, expressed the group’s readiness for reconciliation, but raised concerns over the composition of the committee and its likely mode of operation.

Asked if Aregbesola’s men would appear before the Adewole committee, Adebiyi, a former acting state chairman of the Action Congress of Nigeria, said, “It is a welcome development, but we are not aware of it. It is a good thing if they think it’s now time to reposition the party; we are still in the APC, but we are not aware and not involved in the committee issue. How do we appear before the committee? Is that a panel to probe us? If they feel like coming to us, we will let them know the way forward, but we will not appear before them; it is not possible.

“If they say we want to meet at the party secretariat, we will meet there. The party is what we want to talk about. What are the terms of reference of that committee? The composition will determine a lot. We will study it but as of now, we have not seen it. That is what we have been asking for ever since. Let us have a meeting together and see how to reposition the party. It seems what happened to them has now opened their eyes to see that there are a lot of things to do for them. They are waking up to their responsibility now.”

In the course of the committee doing its job, Aregbesola completed his tenure as minister and returned to the state, asking for forgiveness from anyone that felt slighted by him or his group and harped on reconciliation. His return, rather than calm frayed nerves, somehow threw up a fresh challenge for the party with those close to him stressing that having served two terms without interruption, he (Aregbesola) should lead the party’s charge to return to power in Osun State.

A close associate of Aregbesola, who pleaded anonymity, while responding to questions by our correspondent regarding the current status of the ex-minister in the APC, which has a former deputy governor, Senator Iyiola Omisore, currently serving as the National Secretary, and the immediate past governor, Oyetola, both currently leading the party in the state, said Aregbesola must be handed the baton, having served two-terms uninterrupted as a governor.

“Former governor, Bisi Akande, was in charge in 2003 and put up the structure here and there, but can the structure deliver? We all knew such a structure could not have won us anything. It was Rauf (Aregbesola) that came, reorganised the party, and a few years down the line, our party won and formed a government,” he said.

Ex-factional secretary of the state APC, Lani Baderinwa, who argued along a similar line of thought, said Aregbesola had demonstrated the capacity to provide leadership that could return the APC to power in the state, hence he should lead the party.

He said, “It was Rauf, who came and did everything humanly possible. There wasn’t anything he didn’t do. He provided money, strategies and everything needed. Without Oranmiyan (Aregbesola), we wouldn’t have won the 2007 election not to talk of going to court where we were pronounced the winner and took back the government in 2010. Leadership isn’t just about, ‘I’ve been a governor before’; it is not like that.

“Leadership isn’t about ‘I held a political office before’. It is about being able to know what to do. To organise the party properly and know what the party should do next; that is leadership. Of course, it’s about providing funds. Money is necessary or how to raise funds to do things. Leadership isn’t about ‘because I held a political office before’.

“In real term, leadership is about providing what will make you gain power, which is the ultimate sense of a political party. If they think they are still capable like they erroneously thought before the July 16, February 25 and March 18 elections, where they flunked all the positions, let them carry on.”

But this position was rejected by the spokesperson for the Osun State APC, Mr Kola Olabisi, who stated, “What qualifies him (Aregbesola) to be the leader? Akande was a governor before Aregbesola and he did not claim to be the leader of the party in Osun State presently.

“Though he is one of the leaders, constitutionally, as the immediate past governor of the state, Oyetola is the statutory leader of the party in the state. There are many former ministers in the party, why are they not qualified to be the leader of the party? Why is it that it is Aregbesola? What qualifies him?”

When asked about the Adewole committee, whose eight-week deadline to submit its report had lapsed, Olabisi said, “It is only when two people are fighting that they talk about reconciliation. What we are working on is repositioning because we are not fighting with anybody.

“We are hopeful that very soon something tangible will come out of that committee. I’m not a member of the committee. So, I don’t know if Aregbesola’s people have gone to the committee. It is after the committee has submitted its report that we will know whether they came or not.”

Only time will tell if efforts made to achieve reconciliation between Oyetola and Aregbesola will yield the desired result for the party to move forward and probably muster enough strength to unseat the ruling PDP in Osun State come 2026

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