Ondo APC in search of unity as election draws nearer

The crisis within the Unity forum of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Ondo State appears to be getting worse and assuming a new dimension every other day. HAKEEM GBADAMOSI looks into the crisis tearing the party apart in the state.

 

THIS may not be the best of time for the Unity Forum group of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in Ondo State, as leaders and members of the group who are bent on stopping the incumbent governor, Mr Rotimi Akeredolu, from realising  his second term dream, are divided against one another.

The Unity Forum is a group of aggrieved party leaders in the state led by former deputy governor, Alhaji Ali Olanusi, who are working to present consensus candidate to represent the party in the October 10, 2020 governorship election. Unlike in 2016, when the APC in the state went into electoral contest as a united force, the party has become badly battered and its fratricidal crisis becoming entrenched in crisis, defying all solutions. All the political machineries put in place to settle the rancour between the two warring factions, the faction of the APC that backs Akeredolu and the Unity Forum, seems to have failed.

The protracted crisis sprouted from the outcome of the September 2016 governorship primary election of the party, where Akeredolu emerged as the party’s standard-bearer. Many of the aspirants who took part in the process alleged manipulation of the results to favour Akeredolu. Though Akeredolu eventually won the governorship election, most of the contestants have since the election distanced themselves to Akeredolu government.

However, as the October governorship election approaches in the state, the leaders and members of the group have vowed to take a pound of flesh by presenting a sole aspirant who will face Akeredolu in the party primary. The aggrieved members agreed putting in place a committee to screen interested governorship aspirants from the group, with the mandate to produce a consensus and formidable candidate to contest the party’s primary with the incumbent governor.

But the Unity Forum has been engulfed in crisis lately. The crisis and disunity among the aggrieved group took a new dimension penultimate Tuesday with the adoption of the gubernatorial candidate of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) in the 2016 governorship election in the state, Chief Olusola Oke, as consensus aspirant to contend with Akeredolu for the party’s ticket.

The announcement of the choice of Oke by the leader of the group, Olanusi, raised dust and caused further disruption in the group, as many of the aspirants and members of the group kicked against the decision, accusing the former deputy governor, Alhaji Olanusi, of taking a unilateral decision without carrying members of the faction along.

Leading the pack in the protest against the choice of Oke is the secretary of the forum’s screening committee, Professor Sola Ehindero as well as the Deputy Senate Leader, Robert Ajayi Borofice, who individually rejected the adoption of Oke as the Unity forum consensus candidate.

Whereas some of the aspirants, including Chief Segun Abraham, Mrs Jumoke Anifowose,  Dapo Adelegan and Jimi Odimayo, among others, described the choice of Oke by Olanusi as unacceptable and not a collective decision of the aspirants under the forum. The secretary of the committee,  Ehindero, in a statement issued and signed by him, distanced the committee from the purported adoption, and declared that no consensus candidate has been picked, elected or endorsed by the group. He described the purported endorsement of Oke as a sponsored, compromised and fraudulent attempt to weaken the Unity Forum and present a weak candidate who will not be able to withstand Akeredolu for the party’s ticket .

Ehindero in his statement said “The attention of the duly elected secretary of the Screening Committee of the Unity Forum set up to select a consensus candidate for the APC in the next governorship elections has been drawn to a fake report from an unauthorised person. The said fake report now in the social media, purportedly named one Chief Olusola Oke (SAN) as the committee’s elected “consensus candidate.”

“Hence, the report that has been fraudulently released by Ali Olanusi neither emanates from the accredited Secretary’s office nor does it reflect the true deliberations and conclusion of the members of the screening committee. Rather, the fake report is inspired, sponsored and programmed by known and disguised enemies of both the Unity Forum and the APC in the Ondo state and it is designed to tactically distract the attention and focus of our collective efforts.”

Some of the aspirants also came to accuse Olanusi of sowing a seed of discord in the group, and denied being consulted on the decision. Disowning the endorsement in a statement, one of the aspirant, Dapo Adelegan, described the unveiling of Oke as the choice of the group as unacceptable and cannot hold.

“Our expectation is that by July 2020, an APC candidate will emerge from a formal primary and will move on to emerge as the governor of Ondo State in October of 2020 by God’s grace,” said Adelegan, while Odimayo also said “I did not agree to any endorsement and there was no decision, according to the secretary of the committee, that anyone has been adopted. So the report of the endorsement is fraudulent.”

Also, Borofice, who is the patron of the Unity Forum, shortly after the controversial announcement of Oke on Tuesday, issued a statement disowning the process, even as he urged all aspirants to prepare for the primary. Boroffice, in the statement by his media aide, Kayode Fakuyi, said: “The media report suggesting that Unity Forum has adopted a consensus candidate to represent the Forum in Ondo APC governorship primary election is misleading. The fact is that Unity Forum has no consensus candidate.

“This fact is premised on two fundamental reasons. First, the political tendencies in Unity Forum could not agree on critical processes that could have led to adoption of consensus candidate. For instance, while some members opted for zoning, some members disagreed. Recently, aspirants participated in a zoning process and majority agreed that Ondo North senatorial district should produce the consensus candidate.

“Second, when the idea of consensus candidacy was mooted, the understanding was that all seven members of gubernatorial Candidate Selection Committee must unanimously agree on a consensus candidate. That condition has not been met.   “Therefore, it is the consensus opinion of majority of leaders and members of Unity Forum in Ondo North senatorial district and other parts of Ondo State that Unity Forum is yet to present a consensus candidate.”

But, a group within the faction, the Unity Mandate Agenda, commended the choice of Oke and threw its weight behind the choice, saying Oke remains the best candidate who can face and dislodge Akeredolu in the party’s primary.

They accused Boroffice of playing politics of divide and rule to frustrate the Unity Forum and has been beaten to his own game. The coordinator of the group, Mr Babatope Abisola, accused Boroffice of scheming to get the party’s ticket from Abuja and fuelling crisis in the unity group to his own advantage,  saying “all along, Senator Boroffice has been working underground to cause crisis in order for him to emerge as a neutral candidate to run. We are aware of his moves to undermine us for him to run as candidates.

“He met with Mamman Daura in Abuja and ever since, they have been creating problems for us through unsuspecting persons in the Unity Forum. We stand by the mandate given to Chief Olusola Oke.”

The Deputy Senate Majority leader, Boroffice, however, called on all the governorship aspirants to start preparations within the faction to start preparing for the direct primary of the APC in the state and said the unity group has no consensus candidate. He said the political tendencies in Unity Forum could not agree on critical processes that could have led to adoption of consensus candidate.

But the chairman of the seven-man screening committee put in place by the group, Senator Yele Omogunwa, explained how the committee arrived at the decision to pick Oke, absolving the committee of being induced to take the decision. Though he admitted receiving money from the aspirants during the screening exercise, he maintained it was not curry favour for any of the aspirants. He denied collecting millions of naira to pick Oke as the party’s consensus candidate, but said the committee only shared the sum of N1.2m given to them by different aspirants in the process of carrying out their duties.

He said “When we were holding meetings, there was no water, no biscuit and we were working day and night. Segun Abraham came and gave us N100, 000. It was in the open. Odimayo gave the committee N200, 000. Another aspirant gave us N500, 000. Kazeem gave us N20, 000 and Adelegan gave N50,000. The total amount shared by the seven committee members was N1.2m. It was out of the money we booked hotel for the secretary for three days because he was coming from Ife.”

The development forced the elders forum of the group to summon an extra ordinary meeting after noticing the heat generated by the Oke’s choice, and came out to pronounce the purported endorsement of Oke as void, dissolving the screening committee and sacking Olanusi as the chairman of the group.

The elders said the steps became necessary to bring back normalcy into the group, while alleging Olanusi of single-handedly running the affairs of the group by unanimously picking the members of the dissolved committee for the assignment. They alleged that “Olanusi deliberately manipulated the selection of the members of the seven-man aspirants screening committee to propagate his personal agenda, which is to pave way for PDP total takeover of South-West before 2023 presidential election.

“That four out of the seven man committee were earlier alleged of bribery and corruption during the process of their assignment by some aspirants and leaders of unity group, while two members of the were sidelined in the preparation of the said report, only the chairman and three others that are Alhaji Ali Olanusi’s cronies prepared the purported report.”

They also alleged that Olanusi single-handedly approved the report and dispatched copies of the purported report put together by the four-man (instead of seven) committee to national secretariat of APC in Abuja and the national leader Senator Bola Tinubu. The elders in a communiqué issued at the end of its meeting and signed by the chairman, High Chief S. A. Idris and the secretary, Chief Bayo Olafusi, aligned with decision of nine out of ten aspirants from the group and said “in the interest of fair play, while Alhaji Ali Olanusi is hereby removed as the chairman of All Progressives Congress Unity Group in Ondo State, for his high handedness and manipulative tendencies, the seven-man aspirant screening committee is hereby disbanded, and their purported report hereby declared null and void.

“To avoid vacuum, an interim management committee is hereby put in place with immediate effect to oversee the affairs of All Progressives Congress Unity Group in the state.

Political observers are, however, not surprised with the turn of events in the factional APC in the state, noting that the primary aim of chasing Akeredolu from the seat of power has been overshadowed by each of the aspirants’ selfish interest.

Analysts note that all the groups within the factions have been working at cross purposes and risk being defeated from onset. A political commentator in the state, Ojo Alafe, noted that one of the aspirants eyeing the number one seat in the state, Isaacs Kekemeke, dumped the unity group to oil his political machinery and pursue his aspiration on his own, when he noted the divisions among members of the group.

Some other commentators said Olanusi was being seen to be using the unity forum platform to settle personal scores with Akeredolu, but has never shown sincerity of purpose in turning the table against the incumbent. It will be recalled that a group within the forum, the Unity Group Foot Soldiers, led by Alhaji Faust Kazeem, had alleged that Olanusi collected money from all the aspirants before screening them.

Olanusi dismissed the allegations as baseless and untrue, describing those behind the group as faceless and not known to the group. He said they are disgruntled elements. “We don’t know them in the Unity Forum,” he said.

Analysts note that with the turn of events in the group, they are strong indications that the group is not ready to turn the table against Akeredolu who seems to be unperturbed by the threat the group might pose for his second term aspiration. Akeredolu, who is banking strongly on his achievements in the last three years, believes his achievements will speak for him.

A member of the Unity Forum told Sunday Tribune in confidence that the group lost out when they failed to receive the blessings of the national leaders of the party who visited the state last year July. He said the plans of the South West and national leaders of the party to bring the party under one umbrella to win subsequent elections in the state was thwarted by members of the Unity group who wanted Akeredolu out by all means. He also disclosed that the plans of the opposition elements who tried to stop President Muhammadu Buhari from visiting Ondo during the third year anniversary failed and that those behind the plan were disappointed with the comments of an impressed president who declared openly that Akeredolu has performed phenomenally well, especially in the area of infrastructural development in the state.

The Forum’s member, however, predicted the APC might be on the verge of losing the state to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) if it fields an unpopular candidate for the election in October.

Speaking through his Information and Orientation Commissioner, Donald Ojogo, the governor denied sponsoring the crisis currently rocking the Unity Forum but said, “I am prepared to go into party primary with any of them. Remember that I defeated all of them before. So, this will not be an exception.

“The lesson from what is happening in the Unity Forum is that there is a limit to the speed of lie. Every lie has an expiry date. The limit of every lie is truth and conscience. There is none among those governorship aspirants that the governor has not had a personal encounter with in terms of conflicting relationship, but they will always come together as leaders of the party and they will settle.

“We have an Olusola Oke there; we have Ife Oyedele, Segun Abraham. Who, among them, will now make himself available to be used? In any case, they all know that the most unexpected person to strike a deal within that manner is Akeredolu because he won’t have time for that,” Ojogo said.

Whichever camp presents the governorship candidate for the party in the election, the crisis may not go away unless the national leadership body of the party intervenes to save the party.

 

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