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Ondo 2016: The men after PDP’s ticket

As the Ondo governorship election is drawing near, HAKEEM GBADAMOSI examines the chances of the Peoples Democratic Party  (PDP) aspirants in picking the party’s ticket for the November election in the state.

There are so many things at stake in the November 26, 2016 governorship election coming up in Ondo State. While the governing Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is determined to maintain its grip on the political lever of the state, the opposition believes the time had come to create an upset by inflicting a major defeat on PDP.

Beyond the individual desires of the parties are other powerful interests with variegated agenda. These agendas that come under different nomenclatures have buoyed horse-trading among the major stakeholders in the politics of the state. Thus, there is the talk about the Akure agenda, Akoko agenda, just to name two. Of course, the list of aspirants for the coveted seat is a long one, with the main opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) having the largest harvest.

In the Social Democratic Party (SDP), there is a former Minister of Defence, Dr Olu Agunloye. There are six contenders for the ticket of PDP, who have trying to rally support for their individual ambitions. This is despite what some observers say is the fact that the incumbent governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko is not in a haste to pick his likely successor at the expiration of his tenure.  Meanwhile, among the touted names in the PDp are the state Commissioner for Environment,  Sola Ebiseni, who is a lawyer; a former Director General of the National Sports Commission, Chief Gbenga Elegbeleye,; state Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General, Eyitayo Jegede (SAN); Senator Remi Okurinboye; state Commissioner for Local government and Chieftaincy affairs, Bamiduro Dada. Others are Olateru Olagbegi, Benson Amuwa, Citizen Omogbemi, a former deputy Speaker in the state House of Assembly, Dare Emiola and a former Commissioner for Youth and Sports, Alhaji Yekini Olanipekun.

Interestingly, these aspirants cut across the three senatorial districts of the state, viewed against the backdrop of demand for power-shift to either the South or the North, as Mimiko, hails from the Ondo Central Senatorial District. However, some stakeholders have argued the governorship candidate of the party could emerge from any of the zones. In their opinion, zoning is just an administrative convenience put in place by political elite. Others perceive it as a crime against humanity.

One thing that is becoming increasingly obvious within the PDP in the state is that, given the number of aspirants for the ticket of the party, it might become imperative for the party and Mimiko to gurantee the conduct a primary election to produce the party’s standard bearer. It should be noted that In the seven years of Mimiko  in the state, there had never been a time party primary election was held as candidates usually emerged through a special  arrangement, be it in the Labour Party or in the PDP after the governor joined PDP in the state.  However, most analysts have narrowed down their permutations on  three or four of the aspirants seeking PDP ticket as shown below:

 

Sola Ebiseni

He is the current Commissioner for Environment and hails from Ilaje Local Government are in the Southern senatorial districts.  A grassroots politician, Ebiseni was a member of the 2014 National Conference.  Some analysts place him above other contenders in the race if the leadership of PDP in the state looks towards the Southern senatorial districts where the strength of the party lies. The party has never lost to the opposition in any major election since the advent of the present political dispensation. But some pundits claim he will need a deep pocket to pursue his aspiration. Besides, he will need to work extra hard to worm himself into the heart a section of the elite, who have shown more than a passing interest in the race for Alagbaka House.

Another factor seeming threat to his aspiration is the unexpected entry of three other Ilaje politicians into the race.  Benson Amuwa, Johnson Ogunyemi and Citizen Omogbemi have indicated interest in the ticket. According to analysts, the development could split the votes of delegates from Ilaje during the party’s primary election.

 

Eyitayo Jegede

Jegede is the current state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice who joined Mimiko’s cabinet in 2009. He is regarded as an intelligent and refined gentleman with rare intelligence which made him to be an integral part of Mimiko’s administration since the government came on board more than seven years ago. Though Jegede is seen to be more of an administrator than a politician, some analysts  argue that the Senior Advocate of Nigeria has gathered sufficient practical experience on the dynamics of politics in the last seven years of being in government.

Most people never  thought he could show interest in the governorship race until early this year when there were speculations that Mimiko had anointed him as his successor. Today, he is considered as a leading aspirant in PDP, with some groups and individuals saying he is the most preferred by the elite in the state. Some also believe he has the blessing of his community, Akure, with a reasonable number of his kinsmen consciously promoting his candidature.

However, there are speculations of a possible gang up against Jegede’s aspiration by the other two senatorial zones which believe power should shift to the south or north. They insist Jegede hails from the same senatorial diacritics with the outgoing governor and it will be unfair and unjust if Jegede is picked as PDP’s candidate since the other zones had waited patiently for eight years to have their turns. But another school of thought believe the issue of where the candidate hails from may not matter in the forthcoming election but the personality and integrity of the candidate. They also claim that more importantly, the party needs to consider the area that will give it an advantage over other political parties that might field candidates for the election.

A commentator said: “Zoning will discourage the best candidate but because the state wants triumph of integrity at this critical point, somebody who has the wherewithal to take decisions without political colouration should be considered for this job. The state should root for somebody who can build bridges across all the districts and  strata of the society; somebody who can attract investors to bring in real development.”

Some pundits, however, foresee a repeat of the Plateau State scenario in Ondo State, where former Governor Jonah Jang insisted in picking his successor from his senatorial district and the PDP in the state is still licking its wound after losing the state to the opposition APC. Another group of analysts claim that a similar scenario played out in Rivers state, where both the immediate past state governor, Rotimi Amaechi and the incumbent, Nyeson Wike, come from the same districts.

No doubt, the decision of Jegede to throw his hat in the ring at this time could alter some political calculations, especially among politicians of the Akure extraction. He seems determined to achieve his ultimate goal, as he has since stepped up his aggressive grass-roots consultations and meetings with major stakeholders in the state, with those who believe in his integrity, impeccable character, intelligence and ability to build bridge across board pledging their commitment to his aspiration. Another advantage he has is the fact that he comes from Akure, which played a major role in determining the result of the last presidential election in the state.

 

Gbenga Elegbeleye

The former Director General of the National Sports Commission and former lawmaker, who represented the House of Representatives between 2007 and 2011, has never hidden his aspiration to govern the state after the 2012 governorship election in the state. He hails from the Northern senatorial districts, where many believe power should shift to after the tenure of Mimiko. This might be responsible for the influx of the aspirants from the area in APC. Though it is argued in certain quarters that even if the governorship slot is zoned to the North, the Owo/ Ose axis of the zone should produce the governor  because the Akoko axis had it turn in the late Adebayo Adefarati who was the governor of the state from 1999 to 2003. Elegbeleye may however have a former Commissioner for Sports in the state, Alhaji Yekini Olanipekun, to contend with in the area. Olanipekun is also eyeing the governorship slot. Ditto another commissioner in the cabinet of Mimiko, Bamiduro Dada who is also from Akoko.  Again, the number of registered voters from the zone could be a disadvantage for Elegbeleye. The number of voters in the four local governments in Akoko land is less than number of voters in one of the local government area in Akure, a factor that could sway PDP in picking its candidate at the end of the day.

However, the likelihood of the candidate of the party emerging from the Ondo Central is possible because most party faithful have started drumming support for the party to go for a credible candidate that can win instead of pandering to the policy of zoning or sectional aspiration. A chieftain of the party even claimed that the body language of Mimiko seemed to tilt towards Ondo Central, but how this could be achieved without rocking the boat is still unknown.