Not many were surprised that the incumbent governor of Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu, returned unruffled in Saturday’s pulsating governorship election.
By the time results from 12 of the 18 local government areas of the state were announced in the early hours of Sunday and Mr Akredolu had won nine of them leaving three for his closest rival, Eyitayo Jegede of the People’s Democratic Party, it was visible to the discerning where the pendulum would swing.
The cerebral and gentle Jegede was in a haste to appear before the presence of God on Sunday morning to offer thanks. He told a congregation of the Redeemed Christian Church of God in Akure where he had gone to worship with his family members and friends, that “although the election is yet to be declared, I have come to give thanks to God.” He said the election was a process that would produce a winner.
“It is either you win or lose,” Mr Jegede said.
The end of “winning or losing” came by the electoral means of weeks of rigorous campaigns by the respective political parties and their candidates who travelled to the nooks, crannies and creeks of Ondo to curry the support of voters. Although 17 political parties were registered to contest the election, only the PDP, APC and the ZLP had the mettle and the widespread support for the challenge.
The final results as declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission, saw Mr Akeredolu winning with 292,830 votes (51.1 percent).
He was followed by Mr Jegede, who scored 195,791 votes (34.2percent). Mr Ajayi came third with 69,127 votes (12.1 percent).
The total accredited voters for the election was 595, 213, which represents 31.6 percent turnout of voters. The total valid votes however stood at 572, 745. Also, 18,448 votes were rejected, while about 16,000 votes were cancelled. It was a season of betrayals, slanderous political statements, accusations and counter accusations. It was a season of angst and violent reactions as supporters clashed with supporters. The “enemies” were many and pouring from different directions. Mr Akeredolu, candidate of the APC, had the deputy governor, Agboola Ajayi, of the Zenith Labour Party to contend with on one hand and PDP’s Jegede on the other.
The three-way battle offered political watchers an interesting drama of intrigues as each attempted to outwit the other in his area of strength. This is the way of politics, even though the language of survival and the bottom line is money.
True to predictions, Mr Akeredolu had all the advantages and had the high ground throughout the entire stretch of the battle. He is the incumbent APC governor in the state, backed by the APC federal government.
Visibly, the preponderance of campaign billboards, the frequency of radio and television advertisements, the widespread of posters and the nature of their location, told who was on top. He entered the race with a blast, deploying all his campaign machinery from the start to the finish. He sustained the flow of information and seized every opportunity to tell and show Ondo people his works and strides in the development of the state.
Victor Olabintan, a former Speaker of the Ondo State House of Assembly, was the state collation agent for the APC campaign. He said the Akeredolu campaign touched everywhere and campaigned fervently in all the local governments of the state. He attributed the victory to the governor’s performance in the last four years and the people’s acceptance of the leadership of the governor.
This is also true of all the other two political parties who made efforts at reaching the poor masses at their local communities. The election period is the only period politicians have the opportunity to see first hand the depth of poverty in the land as they tour the hinterlands.
However, the campaigns were stronger in their strongholds. Mr Jegede dominated campaigns in Akure and the sound of his trumpets were heard even from the lips of the young and old. “Eyi o gbodo bale egbe…” echoes tore through the air.
Owo, the governor’s home town was a no-go-area for other contestants. Mr Jegede’s attempt to campaign vigorously in Owo met with stiff resistance. The PDP candidate made several complaints to security agencies on the intimidations and violence perpetrated by the APC zealots against his campaign train. He had explained his ordeal while participating in one of the debates, saying he got to a spot in Owo and found his billboard damaged. Mr Jegede said he put a call through to Mr Akeredolu who promised he would rectify the problem. But to his amazement, by the time he was returning, the bill board had been completely removed from the spot and replaced with the governor’s.
Evasive deputy governor
Mr Ajayi did not attend the first governorship debate organised by the Face the Voters Initiative. He had told journalists that the organisers were issued and were in the employ of the Ondo State Government. He also squandered another opportunity availed him by the Channels Television debate to reach the voters in the state. He also cited reasons of time constraint, saying he was too busy with the campaigns to be part of the debate. Much has been said about his intellectual deficit, and his failure to attend the debate appeared to give credence to the allusions.
Mr Ajayi however indicated that most of his supporters might not have access to a cable television with the lack of power in most parts of the rural communities to watch the debate and that he would rather concentrate on his interface with the voters directly. The results have nonetheless shown the efficacy of his efforts during the campaigns.
Adedayo Afe, a lecturer at the Department of History and International Studies at the Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba Akoko, itemises the factors that worked against Mr Ajayi:
“One, the ZLP and the candidate had no big money spender backing them. Two, the candidate started with the party barely a month to the election which is too late. Three, the quality of the candidate was not good enough to win the election. And four, the people from his area did not see him as the kind of person that should represent them as governor,” he said
The violence came early during the day. It started with the local government election in August and set the stage for the fray in October. Party supporters clashed in Akoko, Ipele and Owo. Few days to the election, bloody clashes were recorded in Akure and Idanre.
Several persons were brutally injured and vehicles were damaged. The PDP and the APC blamed each other for the clashes and the damages. The police did not do much to stem the tide besides deploying men to the area after the damage had been done.
The violence depicted the level of desperation of the parties and their candidates and also moderated the freedoms of the parties in conducting their campaigns. The police had earlier streamlined and mapped out the campaign routes for each of the parties to minimize conflicts.
Why Akeredolu won
A public commentator and political analyst, Arongbolo Israel, said Mr Akeredolu was able to win the election because of the powers at his disposal as the incumbent governor of the state. He also pointed out that all the aspirants worked together for his re-election, unlike what happened with the PDP candidate who was not supported by some aspirants in the build-up to the election.
“Another major factor that contributed to the victory of APC in Ondo is the intervention of the government at the federal level which gave its full support to the incumbent governor as a result of his proven track records,” Mr Israel noted.
Although the details of these supports are not apparent, there are indications of financial and logistical support. Even the collusion of security operatives at polling units during vote buying can be listed as part of the federal support.
A number of groups such as YIAGA Africa and Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) had in their reports indicated the role of vote buying across the polling units on Saturday.
Although the groups did not single out any political party in the act, Mr Israel believes that vote buying by party agents across polling units in the state was also a major factor which contributed to the victory of the APC at the poll.
“Our mission won the people’s hearts, the money of the ruling class won their votes,” was the title of the reaction of the candidate of the Young Progressives Party, Ojon Dotun, to the outcome of Saturday’s election.
Mr Dotun polled a total of 398 votes in all. He said the vote buying was an indication of the level of poverty in the land especially among women folk.
Mr Afe also considered the issue of vote buying as a dangerous trend that would cripple the economy, considering the huge amounts deployed for the illicit act. He however said all the parties were involved in vote buying and a matter that should be dealt with by the security agencies.
The APC’s national campaign council has denied the reports and allegations so far, insisting that the governor won on merit and that the people were prepared to trust him with their destiny for the next four years.
It was the reasoning of informed citizens that the zoning arrangement was in favour of the incumbent governor. It is believed that since Olusegun Mimiko who is from the central zone had completed eight years administration, the northern zone should have the same portion of the sauce. The southerners gave him their support with the hope that it would be their turn when the tenure of Mr Akeredolu expires. This calculation secured a block and overwhelming vote from the entire northern zone in support of Mr Akeeredolu.
Mr Afe said while the zoning worked positively for the APC candidate, it became the downfall of both the PDP and the ZLP candidates. He argued that while other zones don’t want Mr Jegede to win because his zone had been taken by the Mimiko administration, the southern zone wants the support of other zones when it comes to their turn in 2024 and so wanted Mr Ajayi to step aside.
But Mr Akeredolu, within the three and a half years of his administration, has attracted a few industries to the state through his synergy with a Chinese Company that established the Ondo-Linyi Industrial Hub in Ore, as well the construction of the Ore Interchange bridge. These landmark achievements were major features of the Akeredolu campaign.
However, there is little evidence beyond the sentiments that the people really cared about his performance. For instance, a resident of Oda town complained that the road leading to his town from Akure had been delayed, and work on the road had been slow even though it was started about a year ago.
“If he wins will he complete the road or will he abandon it after winning knowing he has nothing to lose?” was the question in the mind of Festus Ajayi as he went to vote for the candidate of his choice on Saturday.
The role played by external political forces would remained a matter of conjectures. The Jagaban’s talisman has been a factor in most elections in the region, but with its failure in Edo, there are doubts that it had anything to do with the outcome of the election on Saturday.
The national leader of the APC, Bola Tinubu, supported Mr Akeredolu in 2012 to be governor but did not succeed. He turned around to oppose him in 2016, and also failed. Gbenga Abimbola, a lecturer at the department of Mass Communication, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba Akoko, had predicated before the elections that the hands of Mr Tinubu would not sway the voters in election a governor in the next four years.
However, with the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, as Chairman of the APC campaign council for the election, you can risk a guess that the national leader was fully behind Mr Akeredolu this time. Also with governors like Yahaya Bello of Kogi State, Dapo Abiodun of Ogun, and Adegboyega Oyetola of Osun State, Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State among others, the moral impetus was well established.
The cost of disunity
The duo of Eyitayo Jegede and Agboola Ajayi matching up against Mr Akeredolu under one umbrella was expected to change the game. But this did not happen. The PDP was more acceptable that the ZLP and with Mimiko’s support, there would have been more to celebrate. But this was also a day dream.
Despite the permutations, Mr Akeredolu won 15 out of the 18 local government areas in the state, with well over the required 25 percent of the votes casts all the local councils, while defeating his deputy in his (Ajayi) Ese Odo Local Government Area.
Even the combined scores of Messrs Jegede and Ajayi would still have fallen short of victory, as it only amounted to 264,918 and with only three local governments acquired. This calculation would suggest that the much touted synergy between the two to secure victory would certainly not have been a sure bet as the figures now have shown. However, some have opined that with “one chasing a thousand, and two ten thousand” philosophy, the combined effort of Messrs Jegede and Ajayi would have yielded a better performance even if it did not result to victory.
Key members of the PDP were said to have left the party to give support to the candidates from their zones by the same sentiment of zoning, leaving the candidate to the harsh weather of APC campaigns and naira rain.
“In fact, the PDP was sharply divided, and this in turn, played out in the outcome of the election,” said Mr Israel. The PDP division also played out during the grand finale when a former governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose, was assaulted at the campaign rally by youths suspected to be loyal to a chieftain of the party, Bode George, with whom Mr Fayose is in conflict.
The lamentation of Mr Afe is the gloomy future of the nation in terms of the sustenance of democracy in the country. He fears that the huge amount of money needed to conduct elections is denying the ordinary people of the needed development, causing untold hardship in an already endangered and fragile federalism like Nigeria’s.
“We cannot sustain this democracy with the kind of billions politicians are deploying for elections,” he said. “We are heading for a catastrophe with youth unemployment and poverty. I fear for our survival, for my survival.”