By Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
The outcome of Saturday’s governorship election in Ondo State is a major test run for President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election bid in 2019, presidency sources have said.
According to THISDAY checks, the Buhari camp of the All Progressives Congress (APC) is determined to win Ondo State, first to make a statement in terms of who is in charge of the party, and two, to set the path for the 2019 general election.
Sources in the presidency hinted that with the decision to edge out certain players in the APC over the Ondo governorship poll, and the decimation of the most formidable opposition, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in the race, the camp of the president is out to test its popularity as well as capacity for political strategy in the lead up to the 2019 elections.
A source hinted that though the president is very keen on a second term in office, he is taking it slowly because of the state of the country, but would not mind taking his chances if the atmosphere is right.
It is for this reason the presidency is said to have gone out on a limb over the Ondo governorship poll slated to hold this weekend. The source noted that if, with all that has been at play in the Ondo theatrics APC wins, then Buhari would throw his hat into the ring come 2019.
However, if the outcome of the election does not go as planned, it may not necessarily mean that the president would automatically abandon his re-election bid, but he might only take a more cautious approach to his second term bid for the presidency, especially if the mood of the public remains the same.
Although the source did not address the allegation of interference by the presidency in all that has gone on in the state, especially within the PDP, it is generally believed that the presidency actually had a hand in the crisis in the main opposition party, particularly the bid to stop the candidate of Governor Olusegun Mimiko, Mr. Eyitayo Jegede (SAN).
Another source told THISDAY that the general consensus is that if the outgoing governor is able to get Jegede on the ballot, then the dream of the president to realise a Rotimi Akeredolu governorship might be in jeopardy, hence the alleged attempt to frustrate Jegede’s candidacy through the courts.
It is against this backdrop that the president’s foot soldiers are said to have resolved to not only frustrate the emergence of Jegede, but ensure that Akeredolu emerges the next governor of Ondo State.
Another reason the Ondo saga is believed to have become really messy is the alleged decision by a former governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, to extract his own pound of flesh from Mimiko, who was believed to have worked against him in 2014 when he sought re-election but was defeated by Governor Ayodele Fayose.
Sources informed THISDAY that Fayemi is taking the Ondo election personally because of Mimiko, and is the very reason the Minister of Solid Minerals Development has not hidden his desire to oust the PDP and Mimiko’s candidate at all cost.
He was even said to have been responsible for some of the problems the Alliance for Democracy (AD) candidate, Olusola Oke, had at the time he (Oke) defected to the AD.
All he wants, sources said, is to clear the road for Akeredolu and would stop at nothing including decimating whoever stands in APC’s way.
Another presidency source also volunteered that the angst of the National Leader of the APC, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, over the party’s primary in the state, which threw up Akeredolu was self-inflicted.
He said Tinubu had no reason to hold a grudge against the party or Buhari over the primary because the National Chairman of the party Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, at the outset, gave Tinubu his due as the national leader of the APC and its leader in the South-west geopolitical zone by consulting with him and sharing with him the delegates’ list.
“However, Tinubu’s camp tried to hedge its bet by backing three candidates for the primary. Rauf Aregbesola was backing Olusola Oke, Tinubu’s wife, Remi, was pushing for Senator Robert Ajayi Boroffice, while Tinubu was supporting Dr. Olusegun Abraham.
“So Akeredolu who was not given much of a chance came and decimated the field of Tinubu’s contestants in a very close race to win the primary. If you recall, he only beat Abraham who was second by 31 votes while Abraham beat Oke who came third in the primary by 97 votes.
“The reason it was so close was because Tinubu’s camp was hedging its bet and did not want to put all of its eggs in one basket, so it could not make up its mind by backing one candidate against Akeredolu.
“As such, the votes that could have gone to Abraham was split among other candidates that they were backing,” the presidency source explained.
He also revealed that once Akeredolu emerged the party’s candidate in the Ondo poll, the APC, its governors and presidency were in no mood to change the outcome of the primary despite the recommendation of the review panel that it should hold another primary, citing other instances such as the Katsina and Adamawa primaries in 2014.
“If Buhari could accept the outcome of the Katsina primary in which his preferred candidate, Hadi Sirika lost to Aminu Masari, and former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar accepted his candidate’s loss to Jibrilla Bindow, we would have expected Tinubu to do likewise by embracing Akeredolu as the APC candidate in Ondo.
“However, he has refused to do so, forgetting that the loss of his candidate to Akeredolu was self-inflicted,” he said.
Meanwhile, APC has asked the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) not to postpone this weekend’s governorship election in Ondo State on account of the internal crisis in the PDP.
APC said that it opposes the call made by PDP on the electoral body to shift the election date to allow it settle its internal crisis.
A statement yesterday by its National Secretary, Hon. Mai Mala Buni, said that the crisis in the PDP was self-inflicted and as such the party could not hold Ondo State and the country hostage on account of its internal problem.
“The attention of the APC has been drawn to a bizarre request by a faction of the PDP on INEC to postpone the November 26 governorship election in Ondo State on account of the PDP’s internal crisis.
“APC calls on INEC to ignore PDP’s bizarre request and concentrate on delivering a free, fair, credible and transparent ballot on election day.
“The PDP in continuation of its wild conspiracies on the Ondo governorship election has also accused the APC of colluding with the judicial system, INEC and security agencies to ‘manipulate’ the outcome of the Ondo State governorship election.
“The PDP crisis and the aftermath governorship candidate tussle within its ranks are self-inflicted and the PDP cannot hold Ondo State and indeed the country hostage on account of its internal crisis.
“Instead of making the ridiculous election postponement request on INEC, the PDP should focus and redirect its energy towards putting its house in order.
“The APC is not party to any scheme to subvert justice and undermine the very progressive and participatory democracy which the APC fiercely stands for.
“The Ondo electorate is wise and will vote for the candidate with a proven track record of performance on election day,” it said.