HAKEEM GBADAMOSI in this piece, highlights the intense power play going on in the All Progressives Congress (APC) over its governorship ticket ahead of the November 10 poll in the state.
That the primary election initially slated for tomorrow to determine the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the November 26 poll in Ondo State was postponed to next Wednesday was envisaged was not in doubt. Events in the last few weeks were pointers about the pervasive apprehension and fears within and outside the party.
The shove among the main stakeholders had become a push with the ripple effects on the rank and file of the party, even at the national level. Though the issue of nomination form technically pruned the number of those who had expressed interest in the ticket from 45 to 24, the race has taken frightening dimensions. Some forces went beyond mere agitation against perceived plot to shortage their principals by resorting to actions capable of engendering trepidation and fear in the APC.
At the beginning, the wrangling among the stakeholders was over power shifting to a particular senatorial zone. The governing Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) eventually chose an indigene of Akure in the person of the erstwhile Attorney general and Commissioner for Justice in the state, Mr Eyitayo Jegede (SAN) as its candidate to settle the hide and seek between PDP and APC on it (power shift). But in a way, it became a nagging problem in the opposition party, as the different power blocs began to fire on all cylinders.
The problem of ego also served as another form of gun powder in the supremacy contest among the power blocs. None of them appears ready for compromise. This crisis of mutual suspicion led to the raging controversy over allegation of a plot by some powerful forces to impose their anointed candidate on the party. This has given rise to the emergence of a coalition of aspirants, who have promised a fight to the finish in their demand for a level-playing field based on the consistent promise of APC leadership at all levels. The coalition is opposed to what it perceives as the expansionist agenda of a certain external power bloc. The agitation of the group had led to altercations between some members of the coalition and an APC top notch.
Before the postponement of the primary election, there were indications that the 24 aspirants will individually be battling to secure the mandate of more than 3,000 delegates. However, the uncertainty surrounding the primary was underscored by the fact that nobody knew exactly the venue with about 48 hours to the crucial event. The secrecy behind it was because of the apparent inability of the APC top hierarchy to resolve the acrimony created by speculations of the endorsement of one of the aspirants, Dr Olusegun Abraham by the party’s National Leader, Chief Bola Tinubu. The crisis almost ‘consumed’ the state chairman of the party, Hon. Isaac Kekemeke, who some supporters of the aspirants alleged was backing Tinubu over the purported endorsement. The controversy led to party to choice of three chairmen of the party within a week, though the APC national leadership has since returned Kekemeke as the authentic party chairman. It also generated to accusations and counter- accusations by the supporters, and an emergency meeting of all the aspirants with the APC national leadership in Abuja. The latter however said that endorsement did not translate to imposition and promised to organise a free, fair, transparent and credible election to produce the party’s standard bearer.
Findings in the party showed that Tinubu was said to have opted for Abraham on three grounds, which include his loyalty to the party. He reportedly explained that the he (Abraham) was in the forefront during the race to win the same ticket in 2012, but ‘lost’ to Chief Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN). Notwithstanding the development, Abraham was said to have worked tirelessly during the campaign of Akeredolu. Also, Tinubu was said to be attracted to the entrepreneurial acumen of Abraham, noting that the state needed a professional businessman at this critical stage of the national economy.
Another factor said to have attracted the APC National leader to Abraham is that he belongs to no particular political group in the state. He only has structures that have remained intact in the state even after losing the ticket to Akeredolu in 2012. His perceived neutrality in terms of grouping will enable him to concentrate on governance rather than serving any narrow political interest.
At the close of nomination, 24 aspirants had scaled the first hurdle in their quest to grab the APC ticket at the primary election. The list comprises Akeredolu, Senator Ajayi Boroffice, Dr Abraham, Chief Olusola Oke, Victor Olabimtan, Tayo Alasoadura, Jamiu Ekungba, Boye Oyewumi and Bode Ayorinde, among others.
The reason for the large number of aspirants is not farfetched. The victory of President Muhammadu Buhari at the last general election and the resounding victory recorded in the state accounted for it. Some members of PDP in the state hardly waited for the result of that election to be announced before dumping the party for APC. Apart from this, the party is seen as an alternative to the ruling PDP in the state and therefore turned to a beautiful bride with many suitors.
Again, looking at the aspirants, a large number of them hail from the Ondo North senatorial districts and there were insinuations that the party may zone its governorship ticket to the area, considering the zoning arrangement in the state. The leadership of the party has said it repeatedly that the party’s ticket will not be zoned to any particular senatorial district. But considering the body language of the party, the governorship ticket will likely go Northward.
Former Chairman of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Rotimi Akeredolu is one of the top contenders for the ticket from the North senatorial district, in the ancient Owo town. He was the standard-bearer of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in the 2012 governorship election in the state. Though, this gives Akeredolu an edge over other contenders, he was alleged to have disappear from the state political radar, after the 2012 election in the state, only to reappear to join in the race to Alagbaka.
But Akeredolu is said to look good to win the primary with his grip on a large percentage of the delegates who will participate in the shadow election and he has built statewide machinery that can be mobilised to win the primary election. Aketi, as fondly called, though on a familiar terrain, is said to have little knowledge about Ondo politics. Again, he is said not to be in the good book of some party leaders both at the national and the state.
Former Speaker of the Ondo House of Assembly, Victor Olabimtan, former PDP legal adviser and aspirant in the 2012 governorship election, Olusola Oke and the Senator representing Ondo central, Senator Tayo Alasoadura who are all of PDP extraction in the state are also seen as strong contenders.
Alasoadura joined the party in the days of ACN after parting ways with PDP in 2011, while Olabimtan also dumped PDP after the marriage of inconvenience of PDP and Labour Party in the state in 2014. But Oke who stayed in PDP till after the 2015 Presidential election hardly waited for the announcement of President Buhari as the president-elect before he joined the APC and quickly positioned himself as a governorship aspirant.
The three former PDP members hail from the three senatorial district in the state. Oke from the South, Olabimtan (North) and Alasoadura is from the central. Despite being new in APC, Oke commands a great respect in the party because of his antecedents. He is a great politician with his tentacles spread across the state. He is a member of the House of Representatives during the aborted Third Republic, a former Commissioner on the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) who later became the Chairman of the Ondo State Oil-Producing Area Development Commission (OSOPADEC).
Some political analysts believe Oke would have been the preferred candidate of PDP if he had remained in the party. Despite this, many believe he is the only politician in the race that can give PDP a good fight.
Olabimtan, another PDP chieftain, who joined the APC at the wake of 2015 general election is also aspiring to become governor of the Sunshine state. The former House of Assembly Speaker is one of the few politicians in the state that understand the state’s political terrain and hail from the Northern districts where many believe APC will pick its candidate but like Oke, Olabimtan may suffer the same fate from the leadership of the party.
Olusegun Abraham is another contender whose aspiration is now causing stir in the party. Abraham, a businessman and politician contested for the ticket of ACN in the 2012 governorship election in the state before Akeredolu was picked by the party leadership then.
He is an ally of the leader of the party and hails from Ikare-Akoko in Akoko North East local council. Abraham was one of the three contenders considered for the ticket in 2012 but decided to step down for Akeredolu.
Abraham belonged to the old political brigade of the region through his membership of the Alliance for Democracy (AD), should however reap from his 2012 gestures by clinching the ticket but analysts have at various time queried his political exposure and appear to be an albatross to his aspiration.
Though Abraham has a deep pocket to finance his ambition but his strength in the race lies in the endorsement of the National leaders of the party who believe in his ability to govern the state. Though, many aspirants had raised eyebrow over the choice of Abraham but it is becoming clearer that he might emerge as the party flagbearer at the end of the day.
Senator Robert Ajayi Boroffice, a two-term Senator currently representing Ondo North at the Senate is another top contender for the top job. The Professor of Human Genetics is also a top contender for the top job in 2012. Though he defected from the Labour Party to ACN in 2011 after his election into the Senate and has remain a loyal member of the party since then.
Though Boroffice won the Senate for the second term in 2015 but clinching the governorship ticket might not be an easy task . He was said to have promised the people of Owo from the Northern senatorial district of his support for an Owo governorship aspirant if they voted for him during the election. But the people of the area have vowed not to vote for the pioneer Director-General of the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) if he wins the party’s ticket.
Apart from this, Boroffice ambition failed to receive the blessing of the National leader of the party in the region but the lawmaker has vowed to pursue his governorship ambition to the end.