A former junior defence minister, Musiliu Obanikoro, will be heading back to Abuja as a top cabinet member as part of a deal personally brokered by President Goodluck Jonathan, for Mr. Obanikoro to discontinue his legal challenge of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, governorship primary result for Lagos State, PREMIUM TIMES can confirm.
Mr. Obanikoro was one of the biggest casualties of the PDP gubernatorial primaries, after resigning his ministerial position to vie for the party’s ticket in Lagos for the 2015 election.
He lost to Jimi Agbaje, a relatively less known candidate, who had the backing of the party’s most powerful leaders in Lagos.
Alongside Mr. Obanikoro, former ministers Emeka Wogu, Labaran Maku, Onyebuchi Chukwu, and Samuel Ortom, also lost their bids after leaving their posts to contest in their respective states.
Mr. Obanikoro rejected the Lagos results and filed a legal challenge against the declaration of Mr. Agbaje as winner, kicking off a row that has the potential to ruin any chances the party may have in snatching Lagos from All Progressives Congress, APC in 2015.
The logjam has finally been resolved amicably with the former minister accepting to withdraw his court case, at the same time fully support Mr. Agbaje as the PDP candidate, presidency sources have confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES.
On Friday morning, a relaxed and visibly pleased Mr. Obanikoro appeared on Channels Television programme, Sunrise, to explain why he agreed to drop his court case challenging the result.
Mr. Obanikoro said he acted in the interest of the party, and reflected on how the party needs a united front to defeat the APC and win Lagos after 15 years.
“But as I’ve said to you, we want to win Lagos. And the only way we can win Lagos is if we are united and people see us as being responsible and ready to provide leadership. For 16 years we’ve had a running battle between Lagos and the federal government,” Mr. Obanikoro said. “We want a government in Lagos that will engage the federal government constructively for the good of Lagosians.”
He denied agreeing to give up his legal challenge in return for a ministerial appointment, although he quickly added that he would be ready to serve if called upon to do so.
“Any time that you are called to come and serve the public, I think it makes sense to accept and do just that. I’m in politics, for goodness sake, for the good of our people, and if an opportunity presents itself for me to come and manage the affairs of men and women, why will I turn it down?” he asked.
PREMIUM TIMES can confirm that despite his denial, Mr. Obanikoro was given assurances from the highest office in the country that his personal interests would be well taken care of if he dropped his challenge.
A source within the presidency, well aware of the negotiations leading to Mr Obanikoro’s decision to back off, said the former subordinate minister was assured by the president that he would be appointed a senior minister in January when the Senate reconvenes.
“He reached a deal to be made a full minister in January and to continue holding his position if President Goodluck Jonathan gets re-elected in February,” our source said.
Our source also said that Mr. Obanikoro was promised a prominent role in the president’s re-election campaign effort in the South West, especially in Lagos.
“We don’t know what that role would be at the moment, but it is definitely not that of actively leading the campaign in the South West since he would have been appointed a minister then but he would definitely play a key role in the President Jonathan’s campaign,” the source added.
Part of the terms reached with Mr. Obanikoro was for him to have a say in who becomes Mr. Agbaje’s running mate, as well as the right to choose some of the commissioners in Mr. Agbaje cabinet should he emerge winner of the Lagos gubernatorial election.
Our source explained that the deal literally elevated Mr. Obanikoro from being a mere candidate to a power broker in Lagos and to some extent, southwest PDP.
“As you can see, he has come out of the deal looking stronger and Bode George and (Adeseye) Ogunlewe are the losers here after all,” the source said.
Bode George, a chieftain of the party, and Adeseye Ogunlewe, a former Minister of Works, are believed to be the power brokers behind the emergence of Mr. Agbaje as the PDP gubernatorial candidate in Lagos. However, they were not at the meetings where the deal was concretised, the source said.
During the Sunrise interview, Mr. Obanikoro allayed concerns that the absence of both men may jeopardise the deal in the future saying both men eventually got what they wanted and there was no reason why they should not accept the decision of the party.
“I believe Chief Bode George is on holiday somewhere outside Nigeria and I believe that if you look at the convergence there, you will see that all stakeholders particularly the aspirants who were aggrieved… Jimi Agbaje represents Ogunlewe and Bode George’s interest as far as I’m concerned and that is what that is all about and we have all now come together to embrace Jimi Agbaje,” he said.
When asked if the absence of Messrs George and Ogunlewe during the negotiation isn’t a sign of trouble, our source said the deal was initiated by the president himself and that there is no way both men, regardless of their influence would dare to overrule the president.
“The president is the national leader of the party and no one would want to scuttle a deal he personally brokered.”