As the governorship race in Ondo State crystallises, CHIBUZO UKAIBE and TOPE FAYEHUN capture the intrigues trailing the emergence of the top candidates, Ondo State governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu of the APC and his major challenger, Mr. Eyitayo Jegede of PDP.
Finally, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the major opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have picked their candidates for the October 10 governorship election in Ondo State, but not without one crisis or the other.
Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN) emerged the candidate of APC, while his major contender in the 2016 governorship election, Mr. Eyitayo Jegede ( SAN), also emerged the candidate of PDP. Akeredolu had defeated Jegede in the 2016 contest to the same seat.
Few months to the primary election of the ruling party APC, it seemed, to some political observers that the chances of Governor Akeredolu retaining the ticket of his party to contest for his second term would be a tall order. This was because he had to fight battles from within his cabinet and the party.
As the tempo for the governorship polls rose, the governor had to deal with the antics of his deputy, Agboola Ajayi, who was nursing an ambition to unseat him in the forthcoming election. The friction between them came in light of reports that Akeredolu had entrusted much political liberty to Ajayi especially in the state.
While the deputy governor’s eventual defection from APC to the PDP in search of the governorship ticket provided some respite for Akeredolu, the seeming gang up against the governor by some members of APC still raged somewhat.
Much like in every political setting, Akeredolu and some other leaders of the party were not on the same page. While the complaints were not related to his developmental strides in the state, some APC aspirants lamented how he neglected them immediately after he won the 2016 governorship election in the state.
It was believed in some quarters that it may be difficult for Governor Akeredolu to fly the ticket of the party based on the internal wranglings between him and some leaders of the party before the primaries.
The crisis had led to the creation of a group within the state chapter of the party, named ‘the Unity Forum’. At least seven governorship aspirants including Chief Olusola Oke, Hon. Isaac Kekemeke, Mrs. Jumoke Anifowose, Engr. Ife Oyedele, Dr. Olusegun Abraham, Prince Jimi Odimayo, and Mr. Olaide Adelami earlier agreed to push for one of them to confront Akeredolu in the primary.
But weeks before the primary election, indications that Akeredolu will not only get the ticket but would defeat other contenders with a wide margin, became obvious as the agreement by the Unity Forum failed with the emergence of Chief Olusola Oke (SAN) as its consensus candidate based on the choice of a committee that was assigned for the task.
Oke’s emergence as the forum’s candidate did not go down well with some of the stakeholders in the group, which made some of the aspirants part ways with the group to start their separate campaigns.
What’s more, the decision of the national leadership of the party to adopt the indirect primary election also gave the Akeredolu a big boost even though the governor had repeatedly maintained that he was comfortable with any form of primary election that was adopted.
However, when it became obvious to most of the aspirants that the odds were turning in favour of the governor, some of them began to step down and declare their support for his re-election bid.
As the profile of governor rose, three aspirants withdrew from the race less than 24 hours to the commencement of the election. The aspirants are Engr. Ife Oyedele, Dr. Olusegun Abraham, and Prince Jimi Odimayo. They all premised their decision on the intervention of prominent members of the party from both within and outside the state.
The politicking got more intriguing as followers of the three aspirants hurriedly joined forces with Akeredolu, saying they were convinced in his ability to win the general election and also perform creditably well.
For Akeredolu’s supporters, however, his emergence as the APC flag bearer did not come as a surprise because, before the primary, the governor had the backing of top hierarchy in the party and the presidency for a second term ticket. The party’s national leadership was confident that Akeredolu was a marketable candidate going into the election. For them, there was no rationale to change a winning team in the middle of the game, especially in light of the developmental efforts he had done in his first term.
And so, he won the primaries albeit effortlessly. But, realising that he cannot go into the main governorship contest alone, the governor embarked on a reconciliatory mission to pacify other aspirants, less than 24 hours after the primary.
Akeredolu met with Chief Olusola Oke in his house at Ijapo Estate, where he indicated his resolve to mend fences with all those he had offended since he assumed office in 2017 in order to allow peace to reign in the state.
The governor equally met with other aspirants in their private residences. Akeredolu, when he met with the reconciliation committee of the party led by the governor of Niger State, Abubakar Bello in Akure, said, “We must allow for peace. Let us get all of us, the aspirants, to sign that whoever wins, others will support him. Anybody, I have offended I will apologise to the person. We must allow peace.”
While saying that his administration has delivered in terms of the yearnings and aspirations of the people of the state, Akeredolu said, “In our short time here as servants of the people, we have tried to do our best. Not because we are the best, but because God has allowed us to do it. I’m confident and I give all glory to God.
“I want to assure you that this is a safe state for APC. We will win this state, except we come with shenanigans, and today, it is a thing of the past. In a free and fair primary, we will win. Leaders and other members of the party must give room for reconciliation.”
One of the multiple sources that spoke with LEADERSHIP, however, maintained that with the reconciliation effort of the governor, those who are angry with him may not have sheathed their sword to work with him to retain the state for the APC.
Others, however, argued that the governor had done what was expected of any practical and party-loving politician in reaching out to all those who contested with him.
But whether his efforts will yield a desirable result for him and his political party at the end of the day or not, the answer is in the womb of time. As it stands, he seems to have positioned his team and the party for a robust engagement with the electorate ahead of the much anticipated polls.
In the major opposition party, PDP however, the candidate of the party, Mr. Eyitayo Jegede (SAN), seemed to have no issue in picking the ticket of his party until the state deputy governor, Hon. Agboola Ajayi joined the party on June 21.
Jegede who had remained with the party despite his losing to Akeredolu in the 2016 election, had also tried to be active in the activities of the party at state and national levels. As such, it would seem like he considered himself a front runner for the ticket long before the contest crystallised.
Nevertheless, as soon as Ajayi, with the backing of some PDP governors, joined the party, the political calculations changed for the Jegede. The party’s 2016 candidate who had enjoyed the support of the major stakeholders in the party needed to put in extra effort to actualise his dream of governing the state.
Before long, pressure began to mount on Jegede to step down for Ajayi and become running mate to the deputy governor, but he refused entreaties. For Jegede, he had invested so much time and goodwill in upholding the party to pass up the ticket so easily.
Some people who are close to Ajayi prior to the primary election boasted that the deputy governor was politically savvy and very much popular among his people in the Southern senatorial district of the state. According to them, Ajayi commands respect among politicians and electorate so much so that he could sway the political compass in the district.
Ajayi actually gave Jegede a run for his money and the election wasn’t predictable until the end. After some high-level politicking, Jegede defeated his closest rival, Ajayi, with 888 votes against 667 votes and aspirants, including the deputy governor, congratulated the winner.
Like the candidate of APC, Jegede, who was also the standard-bearer of PDP in 2016 started off by visiting the other seven aspirants who participated in the party’s primary to reconcile and solicit their support with a view to ensuring PDP returns to power in the state.
Although Jegede was said to have had a heart-to-heart with the deputy governor about how PDP could wrestle power from the APC-led government in the state, nevertheless, Ajayi’s governorship ambition is unquenchable. This was coming against the backdrop of insinuations that Jegede’s emergence was against the run of play of some governors in the party who were rooting for Ajayi.
It was gathered that the rivalry between Ajayi and Jegede was a manifestation of the larger tussle between some blocks within the PDP.
This much was evident in the seemingly cold reception that trailed Jegede’s emergence in some quarters of the party. Giving a fillip to this scenario, some PDP stakeholders raised concerns over the division within the party caused by the emergence of Jegede as the party’s candidate.
They warned that the failure of the PDP National Working Committee (NWC) and other party leaders to close ranks and support its flag bearer in the October 10 election would amount to a disservice to the party and may ruin its chances of winning the election.
The stakeholders under the platform of Vanguard for Justice and Fairness in PDP (VJF), spoke in light of moves by Ajayi to dump PDP after his failure to clinch the party’s ticket.
In a statement yesterday, VJF president, Malam Abubakar Abagi, said they were worried by the “anti-party activities” of ranking officials of the party following Jegede’s victory at the primaries.
“We are fully aware that Mr Jegede is seen by these unhappy leaders as being a follower of the political ideology championed by the former vice president and PDP candidate in the 2019 presidential election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. However, Mr Jegede still remains the choice of the people of Ondo State and the entire PDP followers in the state and that should be respected.
“We can’t go into the election with a divided house as APC members in the state are on a daily basis uniting and closing ranks while we are busy with anti-party activities that may ruin our chances of kicking Rotimi Akeredolu and his All Progressives Party (APC) out of power and in turn, free the people of Ondo State from the grip of poor governance.”
Abagi cited Akeredolu’s recent visit to Tinubu in Lagos to introduce his running mate, Lucky Aiyedatiwa, noting that Tinubu was regarded as Akeredolu’s erstwhile political antagonists.
“If Akeredolu could unite with Tinubu, I don’t see why the victory of Jegede should be a problem to our leaders.
“We therefore call on the national chairman of our great party, the PDP, Mr Uche Secondus, to rise to the occasion by rallying all party leaders and faithful behind our candidate, Mr Eyitayo Jegede to victory. He owes all of us that responsibility of bringing peace and harmony at this very important time,” he said.
But the call by the group didn’t change much as Ajayi moved to the Zenith Labour Party (ZLP) and is now the governorship candidate of the party ahead of the poll.
Confirming Ajayi’s defection earlier, the spokesman of the party, Olatunde Felix, said that “Barring last-minute changes, Ajayi would run as the party’s candidate on October 20.”
Felix stated that the ZLP was fine-tuning moves to substitute the name of its earlier candidate, Rotimi Benjamin with that of Ajayi to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) before the poll.
The ZLP spokesman said: “The party was fine-tuning the details of Ajayi’s adoption and the substitution of the earlier candidate, Rotimi Benjamin, who was picked at the party primaries and whose name has been submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission.
“The deal is almost concluded. He will be coming into the party as our governorship candidate for the October 10, 2020 governorship election,” he said.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, however, a PDP chieftains said: “Our candidate has told the leadership of our party to decide on who would be his running-mate. He said he’s not going to dictate to us but wants us to have serious input in the decision-making so that we can come up with a very popular and acceptable personality to deputize him. Eyitayo Jegede is not a leader who wants to dictate and impose anyone or idea on members of our party.”
Nevertheless, the battle for the top seat in Ondo State seems to be a familiar one as Akeredolu faces Jegede in the October 10 polls. While some wonder what impact Ajayi will have in the contest, others believe that his recent political moves might repulse stakeholders ahead of the polls.
However, the people of the state are warming up for the October 10, 2020, gubernatorial election to elect who they would want to be in charge of running the affairs of the state for another four years. No doubt, some other political parties would be participating in the election, but whether they would make a serious impact or change the narrative in the political milieu is a magic every political observer is looking forward to seeing on October 10, 2020, in the state.