Ondo 2020: The plots, counter-plots

Political gladiators in Ondo State have commenced underground preparation towards the governorship election coming up in the state this year, HAKEEM GBADAMOSI writes.

 

THOUGH the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is yet to announce the date for the governorship election in Ondo State, the buildup is gathering momentum. Camps of politicians poised to challenge the incumbent governor, Mr Rotimi Akeredolu, have been buzzing with actions. Again, the contest is likely to be another straight fight between the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state.  Aside the Social Democratic Party (SDP) which has been making frantic moves to be relevant in the political space in the state, no other parties appear to have solid structures to give the APC and the PDP a run for their money.

Akeredolu, whose first term of four years will lapse on February 24, 2021, is still keeping everybody guessing about his plan for a second term. However, his body language speaks volume about his interest in re-contesting for the seat. Apart from this, Akeredolu’s foot soldiers are drumming support for him across the state, rooting for his continuation so as to consolidate on the achievements recorded by his administration in the last three years.

A hint that Akeredolu may have let the cat out of the bag as regards his speculated ambition, was his utterance during  a special prayer and meeting organised recently by the state civil servants on the first working day of the year.

Speaking at the prayer session, the governor said: “I don’t want any civil servant to wear endorsement T-shirt for me. Civil servants should not be involved in politics. I don’t want workers to do like they did before I came on board. They should focus on their jobs and let politicians play politics. We are all political animals, but workers should stay away from politics. And if they want to do, it should be done moderately.”

Many public analysts in the state saw the governor’s statement as an open declaration of his interest to seek for re-election in the next 10 months. However, his ambition may not be realised on a platter of gold as there are so many hurdles to scale within and outside the party. Some prominent members of Ondo APC were said to be working underneath to dislodge Akeredolu in the party’s primary but were hindered by the developmental projects executed by the governor in his three years in office. But many of them, said to still be smarting from the outcome of the primary which produced him as the APC governorship candidate in 2016, were said to  be bent on paying him back in his own coin.

Also, many analysts predicted a rough road for the governor based on the internal wrangling which has since torn the party apart. The governor was said to have failed to extend the olive branch to some aggrieved members of the party after his victory.

The development reportedly widened the gulf between him and the aggrieved APC members  who had withdrawn into their shell, waiting to take their pound of flesh. The aggrieved APC members, led by a former deputy governor of the state, Alhaji Ali Olanusi, refused to be placated and seemed to have found a common ground to come together under a platform known as APC Unity Forum in Ondo State.

Olanusi, on several occasions, had warned that the APC might lose the governorship election if its national leaders failed to do the right thing. Olanusi, a member of the APC Board of Trustees (BoT), said: “May God minister to the conscience of the APC leadership at the national level, so that they can do what is right. This is what can ensure the party’s re-election in the 2020 governorship election.”

But the Ondo APC publicity secretary, Alex Kalejaye, gave the governor a clean bill over all the allegations by Olanusi, maintaining that the achievements recorded by the Akeredolu administration in three years speak volume and would surely earn him a second term.

To still the raging political storm, the leadership of the party made frantic efforts to reconcile all the warring camps. But the reconciliation seems to yield no positive results as the APC Unity Forum stuck to its gun.

Within the forum are some members who seek to contest the APC primary with Akeredolu. Some of them are Senator Robert Ajayi Boroffice; Chief Olusola Oke; Chief Bukola Adetula; Ife Oyedele; Ambassador Sola Iji and Jibayo Odimayo.

Apart from them, the pioneer chairman of APC in the state, Isaac Kekemeke, said to be interested in the race, has reportedly established structures across all the local government areas. Kekemeke is seen to be one of the thoroughbred politicians in the state that can give Akeredolu a good fight over the ticket of the APC.

Observers, however, are of the opinion that Governor Akeredolu still holds the ace and that he has enough time to extend the olive branch to all the aggrieved APC members.

All seems set for the main opposition party in the state, the PDP, ahead the election. The bond of unity in the Ondo PDP is seen to be responsible for the large number of aspirants eyeing the party’s ticket for the 2020 election. No fewer than 19 members of the party have signified their intention to contest the poll.

Confirming the number of aspirants, the Ondo PDP director of publicity, Mr Zadock Akintoye, said the party did not zone its ticket but assured that the best would emerged among the contenders. He said: “Our party in Ondo State has never zoned its governorship seat and there is no history where you would find the party deliberately zoning his gubernatorial ticket. We have always ensured at all times that we give visible examples to show that we are a party that promotes free and fair electoral process. We will allow all contestants regardless of the zone they come from to contest in the election.

“The best of them will emerge in a free and fair election. At the moment, we have 16 aspirants that have indicated interest to contest for the ticket of our party. Our job as a party is to ensure that there is freedom of choice by party members as to who would become the party’s candidate.”

Some of the PDP aspirants known to be interested in the election include the party’s standard-bearer in the 2016 governorship election in the state,  Eyitayo Jegede; Chief Sola Ebiseni; Dr Eddy Olafeso; Dele Akingboye; Senator Boluwaji Kunlere and Dayo Fadahunsi, among others.

However, there is no ruling out the possibility of a crisis within the Ondo PDP fold due to the large number of contestants. Many analysts opined that the conduct of the party primary to pick its candidate would go a long way to sustain the existing intra-party harmony.  However, the PDP chairman in the state, Mr Clement Faboyede, promised a free and credible governorship primary.

 

Factors that may shape the election

Many people in the state believe that the election will be defined by some issues revolving around governance, infrastructure, incumbency and others factors, especially the disposition of the electorate. Among the factors are performance, incumbency, internal cohesion, security, workers welfare and payment of salary, alignment and vote buying.

Those who believe that performance and capacity will be a big determinant argue that the fulfillment of campaign promises should be sacrosanct if the state must derive more dividends of democracy.

Prompt payment of salary remained an issue against the PDP in the state, as workers were owed about seven months’ salaries before the exit of the PDP government in 2017. The backlog of unpaid salaries will still be an issue of campaign in the coming election. The unpaid salary was one of the factors responsible for the defeat of Jegede in the 2016 election.

On the other hand, the Akeredolu administration, upon assumption of office, cleared six out of the seven months outstanding salary and this has endeared him to the workers who regarded him as a worker-friendly governor. A political analyst noted that workers in the state seemed to be at peace with Akeredolu and would be ready to mobilise support for him.

The issue of security within the state and the role of Akeredolu in the bid to ensure regional security is another factor that may sway the votes for him if he eventually emerges as the APC standard-bearer The role of the governor in the formation of the South-West regional security outfit, Operation Amotekun, even in the face of stiff opposition from the APC national leadership, has increased his popularity, not only in the state but also in the region.

Since former Governor Mimiko successfully broke the second term jinx in the state, it has become a tradition for subsequent governors to go for  second term. Apart from this, many people in the state will see it as unfair if Akeredolu were to be replaced by any of the contenders from the Akoko axis of the Northern senatorial district where he hails from. Akoko, which has four local government areas, has produced a three-term senator; a governor and a deputy governor, while Owo has only produced Akeredolu as governor in the present political dispensation since 1999.

Many others are agitating for power shift to the Southern senatorial district, alleging marginalisation in the political schemes of the state. This may account for why there are more PDP aspirants from the area. The argument was based on the fact that Agagu remained the only elective governor from the area since the commencement of the present dispensation, even as the North and central senatorial districts were said to have completed two terms each and thus power should shift to the South.

 

Vote buying would remain a strong factor in the election unless INEC device a means to curb it. Given the grinding poverty across the country, the electorate would still believe in being paid before they exercise their voting right.

Undoubtedly, the race towards the governorship election in Ondo State would be another intriguing contest between the two leading political parties in the state, the APC and the PDP but will the opposition dethrone the APC and Akeredolu in the election?

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