The battle of titans in Ondo APC

With two weeks to the governorship primary election of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Ondo State, HAKEEM GBADAMOSI, gives an insight into the ongoing permutations in the various caucuses in the party.

The preparation for 2016 governorship election in Ondo State has started gathering momentum already. But as the All Progressives Congress (APC) primary approaches, many indigenes – both at home and abroad – are indeed apprehensive about having “the right candidate” flag the party’s banner.

This apprehension is not unfounded considering that more than 50 aspirants, including one female, are jostling for the party’s ticket – even though not all have obtained the nomination forms. And the need to effectively harmonise and manage these diverse interests is key to the party’s success in the next race.

The array of political gladiators jostling for delegates’ votes remain perhaps the biggest hurdle for the APC in the state because many indigenes, indeed party loyalists, share the view that the November 26, 2016 election could be won or lost majorly based on who eventually would bear the party’s flag at last. A public affair analyst from the state, Olusola Akinkunmi argued that the process through the APC candidate “emerges is critical to the party’s victory.” He thus referred to the politics of 2012 election. He said: “ACN could have done better in the 2012 elections but for the poor management of the candidate selection process and the electoral campaign which got the candidate fighting on several fronts.

In 2012, there were more than 20 aspirants and it was difficult selecting one since the party at the time decided against conducting primary election. Akinkunmi opined that “selecting a candidate should have been the headache of the delegates but party leaders decided it was their headache. Therefore, the process and factors that led to the emergence of the candidate did not reflect the pulse of the people and it made the election a bit easier for the incumbent whose popularity was already ebbing towards the red zone.”

“If those two mistakes are corrected – that is ensure emergence of candidate in a rancour free manner and a well managed campaign process – the party can coast home to victory,” said Akinkunmi who believes that both Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN) and Dr Olusegun Abraham, two foremost aspirants in 2012, still ticked all the boxes as the “right candidate.”

According to a preponderance of opinions across the state, there are perhaps five leading aspirants at the moment, including Akeredolu and Abraham. The three others are Professor Ajayi Borroface and Senator Tayo Alasoadura, the senators representing Ondo North and Central senatorial districts respectively and Olusola Oke, a frontline politician in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), whose defection to the APC was forced by the incumbent Governor Mimiko’s defection to the PDP.

The political exposures of the two senators and Oke however appear to be their albatross in the public opinion. A range of views said the APC should go for a technocrat instead of a typical politician because the incumbent, Dr Olusegun Mimiko, has been a typical representative of traditional politicians “promise and fail” campaign. “If you look at states where technocrats are in charge as governors in Nigeria, you will see the marked difference compared to states where typical politicians are in charge. Despite the huge resources in the state, it is one of the least developed in Nigeria, it is therefore a no no for another traditional politician to take over” said a civil servant, Akeem Adekunle.

This view may likely be a detrimental factor to the APC should either of Boroffice or Alasoadura emerge as its candidate. The former is a long term ally of President Obasanjo and many consider him culpable in the scandal that trailed the two space satellites launched during Obasanjo’s tenure. The later was fingered as the prime suspect for ACN’s loss in 2012, for failing to properly utilize mobilization fund.

Some party loyalists believe it would be more honourable for Mr. Akeredolu to reciprocate Mr. Abraham’s gesture in 2012 by “stepping down” for him. Mr. Abraham was one of the three final aspirants considered for the party’s candidacy in 2012 and he agreed to step down for the renowned lawyer.

Others called for support for the only female candidate among them, Jumoke Anifowoshe, the daughter of Chief Ajasin. But apart from the gender factor, there is little else that Anifowoshe has going for her. Having served as a commissioner and party chairperson in the state, opinions favoured Abraham who has always sacrificed personal ambition for the overall interest of the party.  Indeed, a recount Mr Abraham’s politics in Ondo State reveals a narrative of a disciplined life “propelled by a heart to serve.” These two combinations are currently hot on the lips of many residents of the state who are eagerly weighing in on the next governor of the state among many aspirants. Many politicians in the state still refer to the 1999 episode when he opted not to serve in an administration that he helped to establish. Former Governor of Ondo State, late Chief Adebayo Adefarati considered him for a commissioner appointment in his administration between 1999 and 2003. Such was Abraham’s contribution to the campaign of the Alliance for Democracy’s candidate that he was deservingly offered the appointment.

However, Abraham preferred to return to his businesses after the election and declined the offer. He would later accept Adefarati’s offer as the chairman of the then moribund Owena Hotel. Within months, the hotel went from being indebted to being profitable and while Abraham served in that position, he never collected a kobo as salary. This quintessential record of voluntary service in government is rare now but it was commonplace at a time, particularly in Southwest Nigeria, the bastion of progressive politics. It was commonplace for politicians to leave office only with the title of office, still retaining the same social status before their appointments. Some, like the second republic governor of Ondo State, Chief Adekunle Ajasin, even left office poorer than they went in. For voluntarily serving to turn around the fortune of Owena Hotel, Abraham is seen as the archetypal progressive politician that Southwest Nigeria was known for – perhaps he represents the last generation of that political philosophy, many opined.

For all of his active partisan political experience, his activities have always been geared towards building the common good, against the dictate of modern day politicians’ proclivity for feathering personal nest.

In deciding the election of principal officers of the National Assembly, the APC jettisoned zoning principle, even though it was stridently canvassed by different quarters as the best factor for apportioning legislative offices. Since the zoning principle is not as cardinal as it is in the PDP, therefore, there is no hope that the party will consider it as a factor in deciding the Ondo gubernatorial race.

However, majority of Ondo residents and even some aspirants are of the view that zoning is already an “unspoken rule” in the political history of the state, with each senatorial district taking turn to produce the governor since 1999. Some are therefore of the view that the party may burn its finger, as it did during the National Assembly election, if it goes against zoning principle.