As political parties prepare to select candidates for the next governorship poll in Ondo State, HAKEEM GBADAMOSI and TUNDE BUSARI give an insight into some critical issues the process has suddenly brought forth.
The recent remark by the former Governor of Kaduna Sate, Alhaji Balarabe Musa on Ondo State Governor, Dr Olusegun Mimiko as a performing governor is a credit to the profile of Governor Mimiko. Given the acclaimed integrity of Musa, who is the current chairman of Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), the Ondo state governor is a happy man, for he could not have asked for more from Musa who is not given to such advertisement.
The remark, thus, implies that Governor Mimiko is still popular among Ondo people and will stop at nothing to explore the opportunity to ensure his anointed candidate succeeds him come 2017 elections.
However, the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC), which gave Mimiko’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) a hot chase in 2012 elections, is leaving no stone unturned in terminating the reign of the umbrella party in Ondo State.
The state is strategic to the South-West geo-political zone and indeed a traditional progressive enclave since the second republic when the late Chief Adekunle Ajasin steered its ship until military struck on December 31, 1983. Having it back in the progressive family of Lagos, Oyo, Ogun and Osun States, is a task the APC will spare no effort to accomplish this time after Barrister Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN), fielded under the platform of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), failed to match Governor Mimiko’s strength four years ago.
The determination of APC to overrun PDP in the state is not lost on the leadership of the party as it seemingly faces mass exodus of members to the rampaging APC any moment from now. The internal crisis rocking the party appears to have defied genuine reconciliation despite efforts so far made to mend fences, especially by the national working committee of the party.
Just a few weeks ago in Irele Local Government, a chunk of the party, led by a former Special Assistant to Governor Mimiko on Political Mobilisation, Mosunmola Awotula popularly known as Iron Lady, defected to the APC. The defectors were vice chairman of PDP in Ward four, Dayo Olajide, Chief Olorunda Ikuemelo, Comrade Soji Olowotimehin, Madam Aderotoye Abike, Comrade Ademuwagun Fakomogbo and others.
Basking on the euphoria of the low moment of PDP, many aspirants on APC platform have signified interests in carrying the flag of the party in the next election. The list is intimidating and indeed a counter-force to the likely use of power of incumbency. Barrister Rotimi Akeredolu seems to have consigned his 2012 failure into the dustbin of history as he features prominently on the new list. Senator Ajayi Boroface, a two-time member of the upper chamber is interested too. So also is Senator Tayo Alaso Adura who, like Boroface, is currently a house member in Abuja.
Others on the list include Chief Segun Abraham, Chief Olusola Oke, Victor Olabimtan, Dr Tunji Abayomi, Chief Paul Akintelure, Derin Adesida, Honourable Dele Alade, Bode Ayorinde, Alhaji Jamiu Ekungba, Mrs Jumoke Anifowose, Mr Akinboye Oyewumi, Akinrinsola Odunayo, Adeniyi Adegbonmire, Akinfenwa Awodeyi, Foluso Adefemi, Niran Sule Adesuyi and others.
The strength of the list rests on the quality of the aspirants most of whom have excelled in their respective chosen professions. They are what analysts call pride of the Sunshine State, in terms of their socio-economic status in the state and beyond.
Ondo State political observers, however, contend that the strength may turn to their weakness if their selection is not carefully done as it is a regular occurrence in this clime whereby primary elections result in bad blood and eventual dismemberment of party.
But APC leadership, especially at national level, appears to be up to the task and prepare to give its adventure in Ondo State all it will take to dislodge PDP from power. One of the areas political commentators think the party leadership will look at is categorisation of aspirants according to their age. Although there is no clear signal that APC leadership is looking at that direction, there is already a legible handwriting on the wall that one of the young aspirants would get the nod to slug it out with whoever PDP features.
The South-West Vice-chairman of the party, Engineer Segun Oni has also dismissed any fear of discriminatory selection. Oni said the field is open irrespective of senatorial district aspirants come from.
Be that as it may, some youth wing of the party, who were on the field during the campaign for the failed 2012 attempt, have begun to mobilize themselves towards delivering the party for a youthful aspirant.
To them, age bracket of governors in other APC states such as Lagos, Osun, Kwara, Kogi, Kaduna and other, should guide the leadership of the party.
While the clouts of Akeredolu, Boroface, Senator Alaso Adura, Chief Abraham, and other old horse cannot be ignored due to their history with the party, the seriousness of the new breed to breathe a new life into the state is equally important.
For instance, Oyewumi is considered as a political strategist who made a name during the days of Hope 93, preparatory to the aborted June 12 elections. The Oke-Igbo indigene was a committed member of the team that worked for the late Chief Moshood Abiola’s victory and gave a good account of himself. Like the National Leader of APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Oyewumi also was a member of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), a group formed in 1994 in protest against the annulment of June 12 elections. His understanding of politics has gone beyond bullying opponents to submission. He is reputed for his campaign for politics of ideas, whereby aspirants mount the rostrum and sell what they have for the people to them in the plain language they can understand. Unassuming but bold, the soft-speaking Oyewumi does not believe he can be intimidated when the turf becomes tough. His academic attainment, his exposure and right connection with actors that matter in the party are his asset to carry on and see his aspiration through.
Interestingly, Oyewumi recognises other aspirants and their strength and believes the collection is a plus to the APC. Niran Sule, Adegbonmire Akinfenwa, Adefemi and Awodeyi are also aspirants with young blood who also maintain a prominent presence in the race.
The plethora of group and individual’s agenda under different nomenclature has increased dynamics that hitherto substantially influenced the process and direction of victory in the past. Now, there is the talk about the Akure Agenda, Akoko Agenda, among others. In the past few weeks, however, the Akure Agenda had become the most focal issue of discourse because of the body language of those considered as kingmakers in the political circle. It is generating a seeming bad blood among aspirants and elders in the governing Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) owing to insinuations that those in authority favoured Tayo Jegede (SAN) as possible candidate for the governorship poll in November.
In a way, the development has created a domino effect in the main opposition All Progressives Congress (APC), where two distinct tendencies have become pronounced. One tendency strongly believes that the APC could be taken a great risk if does not key into the Akure Agenda, while the other favours Akoko land. The Akure Agenda has become a hot political issue in Akure and by implication in the state because Akure has not produced the governor under any democratic regime. Owo, Akoko, Ilaje/Igbokoda and Ondo have all produced governors in late Chief Michael Adekunle Ajasin, Chief Adebayo Adefarati, Dr. Olusegun Agagu and incumbent Dr Olusegun Mimiko respectively, thus the current high sentiments for Akure governor among the indigenes and non-indigene residents of the town.
The Deji of Akure, Oba Aladelusi Aladetoyinbo, and other notable Akure indigenes and some of the Akure governorship contenders have openly expressed support for the cause. Prominent religious leaders, businessmen and women are also of the opinion that Akure has capable hands among candidates: Jegede,, who until recently was the Attorney General and Dele Alade, a USA Judge, Honourable Dele Alade. However, while Akure seems to home and dry in PDP as Jegede appears to have the support of Mimiko, the APC and its leadership are believed not well disposed to Akure candidacy. According to an APC top shot, although it is a legitimate fact that the current governor is from Ondo Central Senatorial District and Akure is in the same district, it may not be politically wise for APC to foreclose an Akure candidate. He said: “If Jegede becomes the PDP candidate, then it poses a tough challenge for APC to win the election if the party presents a non-Akure candidate. Akure which has two local governments (Akure South and Akure South) delivered the most votes for APC in the March 2015 presidential election that President Muhammadu Buhari, won in the state. Akure also has the largest number of registered voters.”
How will APC respond if PDP presents Jegede, who is among the most beloved candidates by Akure people? Sources in the APC say the party is not likely to present an Akure man as its candidate. The view within the party is that Akure, being a cosmopolitan town, cannot in a big way change the outcome of the general election. They also think that the non Akure residents in Akure will not necessarily vote for an Akure candidate. Consequently, the APC is banking on Akoko or Owo residents in Akure to vote for APC candidate if he is either from either of the two areas. The sources said the APC leadership might give Akure the post of deputy governor, which might not appease the natives following indications that they may vote for a party that gives its ticket one of their own. This is borne out of their belief that their votes will be enough to propel an Akure candidate to victory in November especially in a fairly close election.
Most stakeholders in the state believe it has its own peculiar and distinct political terrain from other South-West states. Closely related to Ondo in political colouration is Ekiti State. Already, there are indications that the governing Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) calculation is to field Akure candidate with the deputy governor from the South senatorial district. The Ondo Central Senatorial District and the South Senatorial District are PDP/Labour party strongholds, especially the South senatorial district. With an Akure candidate and Akure being the largest voting bloc and Mimiko dominating Ondo/Ile Oluji axis, PDP hopes to win big in the central and then fight for Akoko and whatever votes they are able to get in Akoko, they believe, will give them victory. They are confident that they will get at least a third of the votes in all the local governments in Ondo North Senatorial districts. Going by the results of the 2012 and 2015 elections, the APC may be having a difficult task in its hands. To defeat the Mimiko political machine, especially with Akure people on his side, will be very hard. If the two parties present Akure candidates, then the field will be leveled, otherwise the party that presents Akure may have an edge in the election.