Despite the call for postponement by some of the parties, the governorship election in Ondo State will hold on Saturday as scheduled. There is an increased tempo of campaigns and political activities by the various actors. The drumbeats of war are dying down. The candidates are reaching out. And as the Election Day draws near, the candidates and their parties are becoming even more conscious that the voter armed with his voter card is king.
So much has gone into preparations for the elections. The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, said on Tuesday that all was set for the exercise. According to the Resident Electoral Commissioner, Olusegun Agbaje, all the sensitive and non-sensitive materials are on ground for the election. “Ad-hoc staff have been trained, stakeholders have been sensitized and security has been mobilized.”
The race is now before the candidates, whose only goal is to win and become the next governor of Ondo State. Having emerged from their respective party primaries as victors, they are prepared to test their popularity among the electorates whose votes would determine their fate on Saturday.
About 28 political parties and their candidates are standing for the coming election. However, only four of the parties have shown seriousness in the race. This informed the invitation of only four candidates for the Ondo 2016 governorship debate which held in Akure on Monday. The candidates are Oluwarotimi Akeredolu of the All Progressives Congress, APC; Olusola Oke of the Alliance for Democracy, AD; Eyitayo Jegede of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP; and Olu Agunloye of the Social Democratic Party, SDP.
Three of the four parties, PDP APC and AD, had entered the race for Alagbaka from controversial primaries and prolonged litigations. While the APC and the AD appeared to have managed to quell the legal storms that rocked their political campaigns, the PDP’s troubles have failed to abate. The SDP, which held a modest primary, had Agunloye without any contention.
The September 3 primaries of the APC was destined for tribulations. It began its faulty march to the election with so many candidates showing interest in the ticket. Then came the endorsement of Olusegun Abraham, one of the aspirants, by a national leader, Bola Tinubu. The crisis started. It spilled over into the primaries and with allegations of fraud and doctoring of the delegates’ list, the APC was no longer a home at ease with itself. Mr. Abraham, the runner up, went to court and he is still in court, but Mr. Oke left for the AD. Ajayi Boroffice, who did not leave the party, had become withdrawn, after reaching a truce with Mr. Akeredolu to halt hostilities. But the decision of the party to have Mr. Akeredolu fly its flag stood.
Mr. Oke’s trip to the AD met with a legal backlash, as some of the old members of the party refused to recognize him as the party’s candidate. A youth group within the party protested his entrance and sudden emergence as the candidate of the party after replacing Akin Olowookere, who was earlier picked as the candidate. A youth group in the party questioned the decision of the leadership to circumvent the process of membership of the party in admitting Oke. The party’s legal adviser, Kehinde Aworele, went to court to seek the nullification of the candidature of Mr. Oke on the grounds that he was not properly elected as the flag bearer of the party. His sojourn in the courts came to an end recently when he was prevailed upon by the elders of the party to let peace rain. The legal adviser has since joined in the campaigns for the man he rejected initially.
The PDP is currently embroiled in legal intra party conflict which has distorted its hitherto smooth-sailing campaigns. Two factions of the party laid claims to the ticket to run for the office. The Ahmed Makarfi faction in the state is led by the governor, Olusegun Mimiko, and is the most formidable and better organised. It produced Eyitayo Jegede as its candidate. The Ali Sheriff camp, chaired in the state by Biyi Poroye, successfully elected businessman Jimoh Ibrahim as its candidate for the governorship election. Confident that it had followed all due process in compliance with the Electoral Act, the Makarfi group submitted Mr. Jegede’s name to INEC as the authentic candidate for the party. However a High Court decision changed that status quo as Jimoh Ibrahim became the candidate of the party. This development sucked out the steam off the campaign of Mr. Jegede, who had started his run earlier than the rest of them. He rode on the wings of the state government as the anointed of the government and governor, Mr. Mimiko. His campaign train thinned out as the legal tussle to reclaim his place on the INEC list of candidates lasted.
Mr. Jegede through the ordeal, although relocated to Abuja to focus on the legal battle, continued to reach his supporters through radio jingles. He had no time for large rallies and city-to-city rides, to assure the people to vote for the PDP. A strong supporter of Mr. Eyitayo’s PDP, Moses Adekunle, had complained that the fears within his camp are that should the people vote for the PDP and the court fails to deliver judgment in his favour, the unintended outcome of a Jimoh Ibrahim governorship, would, as he said, “inflict pain and hardship” on the people of the state. Some of his supporters had moved to other parties. Yet others sat on the fence, hoping that a favourable judgment few days to the election could reignite the Eyitayo movement and rally him to victory. That judgement came from the Appeal Court on Wednesday and INEC has since restated that Mr. Jegede is PDP candidate.
THE CANDIDATES, THEIR CHANCES
Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, born 60 years ago in Owo, the northern senatorial district of Ondo State, is a legal luminary, whose tenure as President of the Nigeria Bar Association marked him out as an activist committed to the wellbeing of the common man.
The Senior Advocate of Nigeria was a member of the Legal Aid Council from 1989 to 1991 and became its Chairman in 2005. He was a member of the Governing Council, Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies between 2008 and 2010, a member of Council of Legal Education, a member of Council, International Bar Association and Pan African Lawyers Union during the same period. He currently serves as NBA representative in the National Judicial Council, NJC.
Mr. Akeredolu was the governorship candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, in the 2012 election. He is a greatly misunderstood character in the Ondo political landscape. He, however, enjoys the support of the leadership of the APC in Abuja. This factor informs the audacity of his supporters. Mr. Akeredolu and the APC in the state are wooing the people with the benefits of bringing Ondo State to the mainstream politics, promising developmental projects from Abuja. President Buhari has been part of the campaign and his presence is thought to possess the ability to sway votes in Mr. Akeredolu’s favour.
Some voters who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES said they are not sure if the Buhari factor would have any effect on the decisions of many of the electorates, in the midst of the ongoing recession, hardship and unpaid salaries, largely blamed on the president’s inability to turn the economy around for the better.
Mr. Akeredolu is largely popular in Owo and other parts of the northern senatorial district. But he has an albatross in the rising profile of Olu Agunloye, who appears to be the weeping boy among the four major candidates in the contest. Mr. Agunloye of the SDP is also from Akoko, in the north. Those in the central zone are still holding on to Eyitayo Jegede. Now that Jegede is back in the fray, Mr. Akeredolu may have problems with garnering enough votes in the central zone to guarantee his victory.
Mr. Akeredolu is still being hunted by the split that occurred at the party primary where he emerged as the candidate of the party. Three of the contestants who were runners up in the exercise had opposed his election. Mr. Tinubu known for his sweeping influence in the south west, has also refused to reconcile his interest with the candidate, choosing to stay away from his campaign. He had not hidden his opposition to Mr. Akeredolu and he is believed to be backing the protests against him from within.
Aspirants Abraham and Borrofice, believed to be allies of Mr. Tinubu, although still in the party, refused to identify with Mr. Akeredolu in his campaign to win the election. They refused to appear in any of the rallies along with other aspirants.
They were also absent at the meeting the other defeated aspirants had with President Muhammadu Buhari last Saturday in Akure. This negative signals point to the rumoured anti-party posture of the aggrieved aspirants. The attendant rifts and conflicts would appear to have weakened the party, coupled with fractionalization and a gale of defections to other parties.
Other political parties have voiced their fears that the election may be rigged in his favour using the federal might. But if the pledge of the police and the INEC to ensure transparent, free and fair election on Saturday is anything to go by, then Mr. Akeredolu will need to do more than the anti-corruption campaign to curtail the rising popularity of Olusola Oke, who could be his major threat to clinching the trophy of Alagbaka.
Olusola Oke, a native of Ilowo, Ilaje Local Government Area of Ondo State, is a lawyer by profession, having been called to bar in 1987. He has held several positions in the Ondo State government before he was elected a member of the House of Representatives (Ese-Odo federal constituency) in 1992 on the platform of the Social Democratic Party.
In 1999, he was appointed a member of the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, to represent Ondo State. He was appointed the Chairman of the Ondo State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission, OSOPADEC. He is a one-time National Legal Adviser of the PDP. He contested the 2012 governorship election under the PDP and lost to the incumbent governor who was then in Labour Party. His sojourn in the PDP followed the failure of Goodluck Jonathan to return as President in 2015. He had complained of the discomfort created by the defection of Mr. Mimiko to the party, which resulted in realignments and power blocs within the party.
Mr. Oke left the PDP for the APC. However, after the APC’s controversial primaries where he came a close third, he joined the AD.
He began his campaign on a wobbling note because his new party lacked structures and personalities to help drive and sell his candidature. It is believed by many that with the support of Bola Tinubu and his allies, his campaigns have risen in strength and lengths to endear him to the people of the state. This is buttressed by the fact that a loyalist of Mr. Tinubu, Bola Ilori, a leading politician in Ondo West, where Mr. Mimiko hails from, is the Director General of the Oke Campaign Organisation.
The colourful billboards and large banners found nearly in all the nooks and crannies of the state, coupled with the huge crowd he is able to mobilise at his different rallies, suggest that his campaign is well funded. Mr. Oke himself has denied the allegation that he was receiving funding from Mr. Tinubu for his campaign.
“Tinubu is in the APC and I am in the AD, our paths do not cross and he cannot be funding my election,” Mr. Oke said, while responding to a question at the governorship debate on Monday. The fact is that Mr. Oke has risen from a struggling candidate in the race to a strong force in the entire equation. This is due largely to the dwindling fortunes of the PDP.
Politically, the southern senatorial district, which is his traditional home, is a PDP stronghold. He is now faced with the trouble of sharing the votes in the region with the wounded Mr. Jegede backed by the incumbent Governor Mimiko. Several people believe that Mr. Oke stood no chance of winning the region with the Mimiko factor. It is, however, arguable that Mr. Oke would take the misfortunes that befell the PDP to take adequate control of the area before Mr. Jegede fully bounces back to reckoning. His new following in the south also results from the fact that he is traditionally a PDP person, who only left the party to actualise his dreams to become the governor of the state.
With his state wide political structures and financial resources available to prosecute the governorship race, the 60-year-old politician has a brighter chance of emerging victorious at the polls on Saturday. However, he has the formidable force of APC’s Mr. Akeredolu and a wounded Mr. Jegede to contend with. Going past Mr. Akeredolu at the polls could be Mr. Oke’s major task.
Olu Agunloye hails from Erusu-Akoko. He emerged the governorship candidate of the SDP for the November 26 governorship election in Ondo State through a party primary where he was the only aspirant. However, his candidacy was endorsed by 291 of the 310 delegates from the 18 LGAs of the state.
He was also the pioneer Corps Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC. He is a former minister of power under the administration of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo. Before then he had had a stint in the academia and distinguished himself as a scholar.
His campaign has been well articulated and his messages straight to the point with the view to change the political thinking of the Ondo voters who are inundated with the trends of money politics and corruption. His plan to develop the state through industrial revival has been considered well proposed and realizable.
But his performance at the polls on Saturday could be affected by the fact that the SDP is weak in the state. Except Olu Falae, the national leader of the party, whose name came up on the list of beneficiaries of the Dasukigate, the party lacks other prime movers who could give it the tonic to woo voters. His record of changing parties, especially his defection from LP to ACN and back to LP shortly before and after the 2012 governorship election in the state, respectively, has been seen as another weak point.
The obvious lack of funding of the Agunloye campaign when compared with the three other contending parties is likely going to adversely affect the number of votes that would be registered against his name. This is because of the mindset of people who would follow only those who are willing to part with a lot of money. His media aide, Tunde Fajimbola, however, said his lack of funds should be a strength rather than weakness.
“People should know that if it is said that he doesn’t have money, it means that when he was minister of the federal republic of Nigeria, he did not steal, or he is so generous that he did not have so much savings to prosecute the election in the way others are doing,” Mr. Fajimbola said.
However, his choice of a female deputy governorship aspirant and his style of going from door to door to humbly woo voters are his strongest points. He certainly lags behind the APC and the AD candidates ahead of the election on Saturday.
Mr. Jegede, a legal practitioner, is the immediate past Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General of the state.
After graduating from the University of Lagos in 1983 and called to bar in 1984, he was counsel with the law firm of Murtala Aminu and Co, Yola, in the then Gongola State and served there for 12 years before setting up his law firm, Tayo Jegede and Co with offices in Yola and Abuja in 1996.
He was appointed a Notary Public by the Chief Justice of Nigeria in 1992 and was elevated to the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria on December 16, 2008. He was deeply and actively involved in political cases and election petition matters, an area of law where his industry and practice is noted and respected.
Mr. Jegede, is a member of the Council of Legal Education in Nigeria, the body responsible for setting standards for legal education in Nigeria.
He emerged as candidate in the primary election conducted by the Ahmed Makarfi faction of the party with little or no resistance, as the incumbent governor, Olusegun Mimiko, had paved the way for a smooth ride for him to take the ticket. A parallel primary by the Ali Sheriff-led faction shortly after, challenged his legitimacy as the party’s candidate.
His name remained on the list of chosen candidates for the election until October 27, when INEC published the final list of candidates, as his name was substituted with Mr. Ibrahim’s on the order of a Federal High Court in Abuja. In the last 25 days, Mr. Jegede’s campaign which had lighted the entire state with colour and fanfare, was drowned in the noise of legal battles. To many of his admirers and party officials, all was over for him, as Jimoh Ibrahim held on to the ticket through legal manipulations. The Appeal Court judgment on Wednesday was a final breather for the candidate. He is now back as the authentic candidate of the PDP in the Saturday election.
But the campaigns are no longer where he left off. His campaign train was the first to hit the streets of Akure and its environs and was prepared for every battle. The governor and commissioners were all out campaigning and wooing voters for him. Many people liked him and his handsome and gentle looks cut him out as governor to be loved. Then the crisis began.
The Publicity Director of the PDP, Ayodele Fadaka, admitted that some party persons left following him while the case in court lasted.
“Grounds have been lost and we are calling on those who were misled to return so we can recover outperform lost grounds to ensure victory on Saturday,” he said.
The Governor of neighbouring Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose, whose comments reflected the sorry state of the Eyitayo campaign, said “This is not the best of times for the PDP, it is not the best of times for the judgment.” His conclusion was that a postponement was necessary to allow the PDP campaign in Ondo State be put back on track for it to perform well on Saturday.
While in court, Mr. Jegede retained his radio and television jingles and got some persons to move around the towns distributing his posters and rallying support for him. As Mr. Fadaka said, the campaign structure was not dismantled altogether.
He would have to rely heavily on the machinery of the Mimiko administration to kick-start his campaign which has less than 48 hours to catch up with that of Messrs. Oke and Akeredolu. His chances of emerging victorious in the polls have been narrowed by his party’s crisis and sadly too his enemies are unrelenting.
INEC PLEDGES FAIRNESS
The Chairman of INEC, Mahmood Yakubu, has assured that the next governor of Ondo State will only be determined by Ondo State voters.
The Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, has also reassured that the election on Saturday will be transparent and credible. If the two crucial agencies act based on their pledges, which by implication means they would be neutral and not rig the election in favour of any candidate, then the voter can certainly cast his vote on Saturday with the confidence that only the popular candidate will win.
This is the only guarantee for peace when the new governor is eventually announced.