TOPE FAYEHUN reflects on the power play that defined the outcome of the October 10, 2020 governorship election in Ondo State.
The race to the Alagbaka Government House of Ondo State has been won and lost. The governor of the state and the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, breasted the tape ahead of others.
But the major opposition, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state and its candidate, Eyitayo Jegede (SAN) said that they are still studying the situation.
No doubt about the fact that the October 10, 2020 election in the state was fiercely contested by three major candidates from the APC, PDP, and Zenith Labour Party (ZLP).
The winner, Governor Akeredolu of APC polled a total number of 292, 830 votes defeating two other candidates. Jegede of PDP came second in the election with 195,780 votes, while the state deputy governor, Hon. Agboola Ajayi of the ZLP polled 69, 127 votes, placing him in distant third place.
Ondo, a state with a population of over three million people, had 1,822,346 registered voters in the 2020 election, a 10 per cent increase of what the state had in the 2016 governorship election.
Only 1,478,460 collected their Permanent Voters Card, while about 343,886 PVCs were uncollected as of last Saturday’s election.
Out of this number, only 572,745 were cast across the 18 local governments of the state, while the rejected votes and cancelled votes were 18,448 and 16,709 respectively. This is less than half of the registered voters.
However, the Returning Officer, Prof. Abel Idowu Olayinka of the University of Ibadan, who declared Governor Akeredolu the winner of the poll, said he also secured more than the statutory requirement of 25 per cent of votes in two-thirds of the 18 local councils.
Prof Olayinka said, “I hereby certify that I am the returning officer of the Ondo State election and that the election was conducted and the candidates received the following votes – Oluwarotimi Akeredolu got 292,830, Eyitayo Jegede got 195,791 and Agboola Ajayi got 69,127.
“That Oluwarotimi Akeredolu secured the highest number of votes among the 17 contestants. Moreover, he was expected to score 25 per cent in two-thirds of the state but he scored it across the 18 LGAs.
“Consequently, having satisfied the requirements of the law, I hereby declare Akeredolu as the winner and he is hereby returned elected,” he said.
Governor-elect Akeredolu, in his acceptance speech, promised to take everybody along. Governor Akeredolu, however, said the renewal of his mandate in the just concluded election was an eloquent testimony to the degree of his acceptance by the people of the state.
According to him, “It affirms that the confidence reposed in our Administration remains unshaken. It is a statement on your assessment of our performance in the last three and a half years. It is unequivocal, direct, inspiring, and soul lifting. It is awesome. It is a reward for hard work, dedication, focus, honesty, and patriotism. It is also a challenge to us for rededication to service in the interest of our people. On this, we shall not relent.
“We set out on the first leg of this political adventure with the determination to make the whole State our constituency. We have not relented on our mission to bridge the huge infrastructural deficit inherited on the assumption of office.
“We hold the axiom as evidence that the welfare of the people should be the only justification for the existence of government. We have allowed this admonition to be the guiding principle of governance. We are elated to receive a scorecard through this state-wide plebiscite,” he stated.
While noting that the victory of his great party, (APC), has thrown an open challenge to all stakeholders not to choose the path of complacency, Akeredolu said he has noted few dissenting voices of protest in the referendum.
According to him, “We heard them loud and clear. We intend, to address genuine grievances. We shall continue to focus on the development of our God-given space, the Sunshine State.”
His words: “This Administration will not be distracted in the discharge of our sacred mandate. The people will continue to be at the centre of all decisions. We will proceed with our administrative style which promotes transparency and countability.
“We are determined to set our state, on the path of real development. Self-reliance is attainable. Our State has no business with poverty. Sincere, purposeful, and focused leadership should have little difficulty in harnessing the vast resources, both human and natural. We will put in everything to justify the trust reposed in us.”
The governor who also congratulated, the candidate of PDP, Eyitayo Jegede (SAN) for participating in this historic process, noted that his patriotism is not in doubt.
He said, “His love for the people is unassailable. He is indeed a worthy adversary. Our State is indeed blessed for having people of his quality.”
For Akeredolu to have won elections in 16 local councils, leaving the remaining three local government for the PDP, equally testified to his level of preparedness that went beyond his catchment area, that is, the Northern senatorial district.
He even trounced his deputy who had earlier boasted that he is the pillar behind the governor politically in Ese-Odo local government, his stronghold, and won more council in the South than Agboola Ajayi, the ZLP candidate.
With the reelection of Akeredolu, former national chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), who during the last lap of the military administration was the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in the state, a new round of unwritten political rotation among the three senatorial districts has started.
Analysts observed that the election confirmed how highly electorates in Ondo hold the issue of power rotation which became very contentious in the build-up to the election in the major opposition, PDP.
Some politicians in PDP before the election were of the view that in Ondo, as constituted after the creation of Ekiti State in 1996, should maintain power rotation which was said to have started with the election of Chief Adebayo Adefarati from the Akoko axis of the North in 1999. It moved down South to Okitipupa when the late Dr Olusegun Agagu was elected in 2003 after which the immediate past governor, Olusegun Mimiko, an Ondo man from the central district became the governor in 2009.
According to them, the current occupant of Alagbaka Government House, who had started his first term in office in 2016, should be allowed to finish his second term, then power should shift to the southern senatorial district.
Although not observed in the real sense of the word, as politicians were always coming up with analyses to justify why a particular zoning formula should favour them, the politics of the state has an almost natural succession system that has followed, since 1999, this principle of power rotation.
The reelection of Akeredolu has concretized the power that was shifted back to the Owo/Ose axis of the North which had last tasted power in 1979 when the highly revered Chief Adekunle Ajasin was elected as the governor in 2016.
Again, before the polls, there was a controversy in the ruling party(APC)over the pattern that their primary election should take, especially as more external forces were at play ahead of the primaries.
The outcome of the primaries created fears in the minds of political observers in the state on the fate of the winner, Governor Akeredolu if the party goes into the election with a divided house.
But the quick intervention of some leaders of the party both in the state and at the national level doused the tension and restored hope in the party ahead of the polls. The development, no doubt, will have effect on the direction of national politics, especially the conduct of the 2023 general election would take, if sustained.
However, reacting to the outcome of the election, Eyitayo Jegede Campaign Organisation, thanked the people of the state who voted for its candidate according to their conscience.
Speaking through its spokesman, Gbenga Akinmoyo, said, “thanks to the loyal members of PDP at local, state and national levels who took ownership of this project and executed it. This is God’s project and since it remains so, “We Wait, Eyi ni is Oluwa.”
Some analysts posited that the zoning arrangement was part of the reasons why Jegede lost the election. Jegede comes from the Central, the same zone as the immediate past governor, Dr Mimiko, who ruled the state for eight years. Also, this same zoning agitation was one of the significant factors that cost him the election in 2016.
Also, the polarisation immediately after the emergence of Jegede at the primary of the party, contributed significantly to his failure at the polls. While some aspirants, who vied for the ticket with him, pledged to support him in the election, some left the party while others, who chose to stay back, remained silent throughout the electioneering campaign.
Among those who stayed back and drummed support for Jegede are Sola Ebiseni, a former commissioner in the state, and Bode Ayorinde, a former federal lawmaker.
Other aspirants who stayed back in the party but have been silent during the campaign are Boluwaji Kunlere, a former senator representing Ondo South between 2011 and 2015, and Eddy Olafeso, immediate past chairperson of the PDP in the southwest.
But for the ZLP candidate, Agboola Aayi, analysts believe that he was over ambitious to have contested against his boss in the governorship election.
Ajayi was the leading voice in the song of the southern agenda in the election. But his performance surprised political pundits who had seen him be a political juggernaut in his senatorial district.
Reacting to the election, the Director-General of AGBOOLA/GBOYE Campaign Organization, Dr Kola Ademujimi, commend the resilience, doggedness, and strong determination of the National Leader of our party, Dr Olusegun Mimiko, the Ondo State chairman of ZLP, Joseph Akinlaja, all members of the State Executive Committee, party leaders and the good people of this state.
Ademujimi said despite the naked intimidation, harassment, threat, and blatant abuse of state powers by the ruling APC government before and during the election, people still came out to support the party.
He said, “The party, after the collation of reports from our various field officers, may take an official position on this election in the coming days.”
At many of the polling units, the cash-for-vote method was openly employed by the parties to win the electorate without any hindrances from security agencies.
It was observed that the inducement of voters was partly responsible for the large turnout for voting. When words got around that there was “something” for their efforts, many of those who had stayed back, especially women, made it to the units.
Condemning an alleged inducement of voters by political parties, Yiaga Africa, an election monitoring group, accused security agencies, who were deployed to provide security at the polling units, of collaborating with vote buyers to induce the electorate.
Aisha Abdullahi, Co-chairperson of YIAGA Africa, and her counterpart, Ezenwa Nwagwu, disclosed while updating journalists in Akure, the state capital, on the exercise.
The group who said its observers deployed to monitor the exercise noticed massive vote-buying in five local government areas of Ondo, noted that “Yiaga Africa received reports of vote-buying from Akure South LGA, Ose, Ondo West, Ilaje, and Akure North.
“Across several polling units, the secrecy of the ballot was severely compromised despite attempts by polling officials to prevent voters and party agents from showing how ballot papers were marked.
“These electoral offences occurred in the presence of security personnel who did not attempt in some cases to reprimand the culprits.
“In St. Paul’s Anglican Primary School, 001 of Ifon 1 ward in Ose LGA, party agents accompanied voters to the voting cubicle to see how they marked their ballots.
“In Ajegunle Erumana LA School 012 of Aheri Ward, Ilaje, voters showed how they marked their ballots to polling agents that were stationed at the polling unit.
“Vote-buying was also reported in Polling Unit 007, Ward 9 in Oba-Ile, Akure North LGA.”